Keeping An Eye On Our Box
06.12.2012 - 09.12.2012 30 °C
Overnight Stays: Somewhere between Mendoza (Argentina) & Santiago (Chile); Panama City (Panama) (2 nights)
DW - Somewhere around 3am our bus came to a halt, atop the Andes, on the Chilean/Argentinian border, with temperatures near freezing. We had expected for such a stop, but hadn't predicted the conditions, and bound with only a pair of shorts, thongs, and a wife-beater, the last thing I wanted after a nice couple of hours sleep was to stand around and get a stupid necessary stamp. Not sure what the altitude was, but it was certainly high enough to make things freakin' cold, and for the air to be thin, making even the simplest task of breathing more difficult than it should be. Next to me, Loz sat with her head in her hands, with tears streaming down her pretty face; it was obvious the altitude had struck her the worst, giving her her first ever migraine. As the weary crowd disembarked the bus we were ordered to line-up and stand in the freezing winds until it was our turn; something you'd expect on a Holocaust film, although thankfully our fate was much less serious than those poor people. Shivering, we were eventually marched into Immigration where we were stamped out of Argentina, and into Chile; a task that took far too long for anyone's liking. Despite the ungodly hour, this place was packed and there were buses galore, everywhere you could see, surrounded by barely alive specimens who only hours before resembled homosapians. Back on the bus and heads on the pillow, lets get this bus moving; but the horror wasn't over yet, we were barely halfway done.
After another long-winded wait, the bus started to move, hooray we thought, until it stopped only 20 metres ahead, where we were again instructed off the vehicle, and into a concentrated line; time for bloody Customs. Here we stood, a thin layer of glass the only thing separating us from the bitterness outside, for an hour, while all our bags were taken off the bus, and searched high and low, for contraband. One (1) lady seemed to be carrying something she shouldn't have been, which held us up longer, but eventually, after two (2) painstaking hours in the middle of the night, on the coldest hill in history (don't look that up, it may not be substantiated), we were in Chile.
The Chilean currency, their Peso, is crabwonka. For every $1AUD you get 500 Chilean Pesos, bloody hell! This means that a bus fare costs about $1,500 ($3AUD) and a standard $200AUD withdrawal is 100,000 Pesos, wowza! Anyway, it was a nice morning when we arrived into Santiago, and we quickly boarded a bus to the airport where we sat and waited around for about half the day. Waiting would have to be the worst part of travelling I reckon. When we had Betsy in Europe there was no such thing as waiting, we could just get up and go wherever and whenever we wanted, and it was blissful. When you're relying on buses and planes, waiting occupies far too much of your time, and it can get the better of you at times, especially when all you're waiting for is a long flight or bus ride, which is equally as boring.
But we waited, and waited, and eventually were called for our seven (7) hour flight to Panama, poor Loz still riddled with a horrid headache.
Panama was so far from what we expected, and was a very pleasant surprise. The airport is out in the sticks and felt very small-islandy, we almost felt like we should have been layed on arrival by women in hulas and hibiscus button-ups, but we weren't. Once we got in towards the city, the landscape completely changed from green and tropical jungle, to concrete jungle (not the one dreams are made of, but close), and we felt like we were in the US again, and it was nice. High-rises all around, banks, hotels, casinos, everything you'd expect from a big city in the states, but most certainly not in Central America. We later found out why it's such an American city, but I may explain more later (I may not either, who knows?).
Just down the road from our comfy hotel was a huge shopping mall, air-conditioned and very first-world, it seems an eternity since we'd seen something like this. Inside the food-court reaked of America and we totally lapped it up; Taco Bell, Maccas, Burger KIng, KFC, In-N-Out Burger, all your usual suspects, and uber-cheap, time for some dirty tacos.
The following morning, after our best brekkie for months (including waffles), we were picked up by a fella named Jeff, a Canadian-born champion, who worked for Barefoot Panama, our tour-company for the day. We were the only two (2) passengers in the van, and remained that way for the entire day, woohoo, another private tour (like China), winner. We'd booked the Monkey Island and Indian Village Tour, which started with a boat-ride on the Panama Canal in a little fishing boat, in search for monkeys, sloths, crocs, and whatever we could find. The canal is really odd; you'd be in this tiny little speckle of a boat, then a monstrous tanker would steam past, coming from Asia to Europe, or something like that. The canal is one (1) of the most important stretches of water in the world, as it connected Australia and Asia to the Eastern Americas, and to Europe and Africa. Before it was built, boats would have to go all the way around the bottom of South America, which is thousands and thousands of miles away, it would've taken weeks and weeks extra to move cargo etc, so the canal is super important. On our boat-ride we did spot a few monkeys, but sadly no sloths or crocs, they must've known I was coming.
Back on dry land we were on our way to the Indian Village when Jeff got word that the Indians weren't doing their thing today, it was Mother's Day, damn it. This threw a spanner in the works, and Jeff instead offered to take us on a city tour for the second half of the day, sounds good. We headed to the other side of town for lunch, where we sat at a very flash marina, looking back to the sky-lined city, under the blazing sun, eating beautiful seafood, meat, and inhaling some Panamanian beers. Nearby we pulled into a little aquarium kind of thing, on the hunt for sloths, my favourite animals (having never seen one before). Before we knew it, one (1), two (2), three (3) sloths, all chilling in the trees, doing their thing, ever-so-slowly, sitting stoned, taking in the beautiful world around them. They were my favourite animal before seeing them, and they still remain my favourite, and I'm super jealous of the lazy life they lead, just sitting and watching, chewing, scratching their bum. One (1) had set himself up very well, as he found himself wedged in a perfect fork of a tree, with the best open view of Panama City in the distance, wonderful stuff. We also spotted our first racoon in the wild, which is the closest animal to look like Batman I reckon (even more so than bats).
Back in towards town, our next stop was old-town, which we absolutely loved. It's exactly what you'd expect a Central American town to look like; old run-down buildings, missing chunks here and there, with people sitting out the front, just watching, chatting, taking it all in, staring at tourists who stare back. Around a couple of corners Jeff took us to his favourite coffee-shop, where we tried some Geisha Coffee, apparently super-rare and exclusive, and delicious. It was very nice, but at $6 a mug we won't be hurrying back. Not sure what makes the coffee so rare and smooth; I just hope it's not a stitch-up, some sort of coffee bean that's digested by a rodent, then well... You know the rest. After some basel-flavoured ice-cream (don't judge, it's nice), Jeff dropped us off at the hotel, just in time for us to return and demolish some Taco Bell for dinner, love this city.
Our flight for Cuba left at 9:30 the next morning, and we cut it fine, walking straight onto the plane just in time, this holiday is ending far too fast! On the plane I did some reading about Cuba and discovered that they require (and will often ask for documentation) all visitors to have travel health insurance upon their visit. We have travel insurance, but what I discovered on the plane was that it had three (3) exclusions:
3. The Carribean, oh dear, this may get ugly...