we arrived in portobelo on saturday morning- fresh off the boat, we headed to the port masters office to get our official stamp into the country. this proved to be a bit of a mission. as it was saturday, our captain gave the port master and his assistant a bit of a sweetener to come in for us. when we got to his office, he had only just got there- out of breath from the short walk, he waved john our captain aside as if to say 'can't you see i'm sweating here, i need 5 minutes to sit down.' so that's what he did. and john waited the 5 minutes. then came the issue of passport copies- they don't have a photocopier here on saturdays, so john walked down the road to someone's house (which also doubled as an internet place) to get them. after 2 hours of sitting around, waiting, and john (legend, organised all of this for us) jumping through hoops, it was done. passport stamped, hello panama.
we went to the local hostel as soon as we got our passports and paid $2 for a shower and to use the wifi- the best shower i've ever had (despite on the first attempt having the water run out as i stood butt naked in the bathroom). it came back on after 45 minutes though so it was all good. my 2 friends weren't so lucky- they were covered in shampoo and soap so the hostel guy walked them down the street in their towels to his mates' place to wash it off- brilliant!
for a town that was pretty small and didn't have a lot of shops, portobelo had one hell of a bakery. we grabbed a roll and a juice and hailed down the chicken bus to begin making our way to bocos del toro, via panama city. the chicken buses here are all bought from america. they are old decommissioned school buses- big chunker things, you wouldn't want to mess with them on the roads. the bus drivers funk them up, putting feathers on the inside walls, giant boom box speakers which pump out super loud latin american music and pop songs (it feels like you are in a club), flashing lights, colourful seat covers and painted windows- they are a world away from any bus i've been on at home and i loved the spirit of them. we hit this bus with one change over to get to panama city, then hopped on an overnight bus to bocos del toro. from there, you jump in a water taxi, and at about 7am the next morning, you're stepping off the boat onto the islands in the far north of panama. good little mission.