Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Playa Venao, Panama

This is going to be fun! An adventure! I was psyching myself up for traveling by bus from Boquete to Playa Vaneo. Lonely Planet said it was off the beaten path and part of the fun is getting there. Travel days are always the hardest days. I have to give up control and go with the flow. Bring food or go without. Ration water consumption because who knows when you get a bathroom break and I don't want to wet my pants! And try to be on the least number of buses. But the most important is to start out early.
Chantal excited for the Chicken bus.
Chantal and I arrived at the Boquete bus stop and excitedly jumped on our first Chicken Bus!!! I had been looking forward to this! The Chicken buses are school buses used for public transportation of people, luggage and animals. We gave our backpacks to the driver, boarded the bus and were off to David. We were told it was a half hour. We realized Panamanian time is never right so we had planned an hour to arrive in David. The bus rolled out of the station!  It went 50 feet and stopped to pick up a couple people. Again and again. We never really gained speed because the bus stopped every 50-100 feet. Ugh! This was going to be slow! At one stop, a 13 year old boy from Tennessee got on and started talking to us. We found out he had a vivid imagination when he asked where we were going. We told him Playa Venao and then to Colombia on a boat. Big mistake! He started telling us how we were going to be shot and killed. He was making up crazy stories. All of his stories started with "Imagine you are walking down a street and there is a sign that says to stop or you will be killed..." It always ended with me getting killed in some horrible way. He told us Egypt and Iraq where safer then Colombia. I told him he was creative and should get an agent. He asked if I knew one. I told him "of course because everyone in Los Angeles has a psychiatrist and an agent." He proceeded to ask for my agents number, which I made up with the typical movie telephone number of 555-1234. He asked me to repeat the number and I did. Yes, I probably destroyed the poor boys dreams but he was going on and on. I was tired. Why not play along with him?
We finally arrived in David after an hour and 20 minutes. We were behind schedule and needed to make up time to get on the 14:00 bus to Eco Venao. It was unlikely that would happen. We stood in line for 60 minutes before getting the next bus. We were 1.5 hours behind schedule. We still had a couple more buses on this journey. The next bus dropped us off at the Divisa "bus station" which was actually a bus stop. We asked where we get the bus to Las Tablas and were told "short walk, turn right to bus stop." Off we walked with our packs up the hill looking for the next bus stop. We dropped our packs and waited by the side of the road for a Las Tablas bus.

We waited....and waited...and waited. Finally, a Panamanian guy convinced us to follow him and take the Chitre bus and get the Las Tablas bus from there. We arrived 2 hours later in Las Tablas. We had missed the Eco Vaneo bus and had to decide if we would take a taxi the next 33km or take a bus to Pedasi and then a taxi. We negotiated a taxi for $30 with a stop for a six pack of beer and chips and salsa. Expensive? Yes, but we were exhausted, hot a sweaty. We were going to need something to celebrate our arrival. The beer, chips and salsa were waiting. When we passed this sign I knew we had to be getting close.

Finally, we saw the sign to Eco Venao, 12.5 hours after we had departed. Yippeee!
We checked into our casita overlooking the hillside and cracked open the beers. Cheers to us! We watched as howler and spider monkeys jumped through the branches overhead.
It was fun to watch them from our hammocks. They swung from one branch to the next. Typically we could hear the howler monkeys before we say them. My first night I thought it was a dog howling. Nope! Big male making too much noise as the sun was setting. I guess he was the party animal. Eventually, I got use to it and just laughed when I heard him. This was living the good life! I enjoyed the jungle and my little casita on the top of the hill. 
Eco Venao La Casita
Chantal and I decided to hike to the waterfall one morning. We had been told it was a short 15 minute hike. We followed the two signs and went hiking into the hillside.
We hiked up over the first hill. We rounded the hill and down to the river. Obviously, this was correct. A waterfall should be near the river. I swore we could hear it. We crossed the river to the path on the opposite side and continued up the hill and through a barbed wire fence. We walked for an hour but no waterfall. Huh?!! There was no other path. We eventually gave up when we were walking a fence line and the path disappeared. We decided to backtrack and see where we had missed the path and signs. We never found the waterfall but we came across this happy cow!
We continued walking to the top of the hill and found a hut with two hammocks overlooking the bay. This was fantastic! We made ourselves at home in the hammocks. As we lay swaying in the wind, we had a visitor. Another cow. He walked up to the hammocks and checked us out. It was a beautiful spot and I think we scared him a little by intruding on his space.
As we hiked back to our casita, we passed more monkeys in the jungle. It had been a great day even though we never found the waterfall.
Chantal and I were exhausted and decided to spend the evening reading. As I sat on my bed enjoying my mystery, Chantal asked if I wanted to see something really cool. Sure, why not. I waited to see what crazy thing she was going to say. Was she going to put on her latest mix-matched colorful outfit while I laughed and called her Skittles- A rainbow of color? She points to the floor and tells me a scorpion just crawled into our room and was going under my bed. A scorpion?!?! Cool to see? Yes. But I did not think it was cool when it was now living with us. Suddenly she realized what this meant and told me to google search if they climb walls. I grabbed my phone and started searching. Yes, it was a scorpion. Yes, they do climb walls. Yes, they do sting. Chantal asked "how poisonous is a scorpion?" Really?!?! I don't want it in the room. She agreed to watch it while I walked down the hill to get help. I stopped at the Big House and asked a group of retirees to help and they refused to leave their domino games. Darn! Then I walked down to the main lodge/restaurant. I got a guy willing to come kill it. He told me he had killed several and was good at stomping them. Great. He turned and walked to the dorms. I stopped him and told him I was at the top of the hill in the casita. He refused to walk the hill at night. Lazy jerk! I turned and saw the couple staying next to us and they agreed to help us. We walked up the hill with our headlamps on. Half way up, I hear rustling in the bushes to my left. Suddenly, I see a large armadillo bounce across the road. I screamed! I look at our neighbors and we are all standing in the road with our mouths dropped. What the hell!?! We could not believe it! I never knew armadillos bounce. We laughed as we continued up the hill. Out of breath and scared from a bouncing armadillo, we now had to kill a scorpion. Chantal was sitting on the bed. Our neighbors said they had spray to kill a scorpion but none of us knew if it would work or how long it would take to work. We pulled the bed out from the wall to get close enough to spray. It seemed to slow it down. Then it was Chantal's turn to kill it. She put on her hiking boots and stomped it flat.
No more scorpions in our room. I was going to keep my eyes open for scorpions for the next few days.
Playa Venao has become known as a surf beach.  There are 4-5 hotels in the area but it is relatively quiet. A beautiful bay with stretches of sand and surf.

Locals surfing on Playa Venao

It was a nice beach to walk and enjoy the sunny days.  Playa Venao had a beach with sand volleyball, hammock hut, yoga hut and places to relax. It was great for relaxing and being a beach bum for a few days.
The remainder of the time, we spent reading or blogging in the tree house, lounging in the hammocks and playing with the 5 month old puppies. The puppies were full of energy and loved any attention. I laughed the day I found this guy exhausted and sleeping in the lodge by the children's play area. This is how I felt when I went to sleep each night.
Playa Venao was relaxing and I am finding I am enjoying the slower pace of life. I spent the first 3/4 of my trip traveling at lightening speed. Now, I want to slow it down and savor every precious moment. I realize time is running out and I will be returning to the "real world" soon. Playa Venao was a nice beach getaway. After 5 nights, we left Playa Venao for Panama City. Time to get supplies for the sailing trip to Colombia.

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