They say bad luck comes in threes... that's a load of bollocks.
Our 48 hours of bad luck started at 2am with the bed bugs and continued to follow us around like a bad smell (the bad smell might actually have just been us). (Bad luck-omiter - 1)
We took a taxi round 10ish to the bus terminal half an hour away to make the 11am bus to Necoclí, located on the eastern side of Gulfo a large bay west of Cartagena and east of Capurgana. From Necoclí we could get an 8am boat the following morning to Capurgana, a small fishing village very close to the border with Panama. After a couple of nights there our plan was to take another boat across the border to Puerto Obaldia on the Panama side, and then a small plane to Panama City. It all sounds rather long and complicated but it sounded like an adventure too. Our other options were 1. fly from Cartagena but flights are expensive (plus where's the fun in that). 2. Take the San Blas Adventures boat all the way from Capurgana, through the San Blas islands and landing at Carti where you can take a jeep across the country to Panama City, however this would set you back $480 and the dates didn't match up with our time frame. 3. Walk through the Darien Gap, a dense rainforest which marks the boarder between the two countries and is controlled by the drug cartels. It is also supposedly the last strong hold of Colombia's guerrilla terrorist group FARC. We decided this would be a little too much of an adventure and opted to float along the edge.
As far as do it yourself options go, this one was pretty out there. So anyway, we got to the bus station and were told a bus was leaving in 5 minutes and would take us the whole way to Necolcí, not needing to change at Montería as we'd read online. Maybe this should have seemed odd to us but at the time we thought great, no need to make a connection. She said it would take seven hours and it cost 70,000COP each. (Just over £20)
Fast forward six hours and we were only at Montería the place you normally have to change buses. Low and behold, we were the only passengers remaining and the bus had "given up". The driver and conductor spoke in very fast Spanish and wouldn't slow down so we had no chance of understanding what they were saying. They grabbed our stuff and put us on a minibus. They made it seem like there was a big hurry and by the time we could stop and think, they had gone. We realised we didn't have a ticket for the rest of the journey, tried to find them, but they had disappeared. They had spoken to the driver of the new bus though so we presumed we'd be fine.
That minibus waited over an hour so there was no hurry after all. But once we left, the conductor came over for our ticket. We tried to explain but it didn't work at all... after saying speak with the driver etc. And the driver 'knowing nothing' we realised we'd been had by someone and had to pay again 30,000COP each. (About £10) (Bad luck-omiter - 2)
About an hour into the drive, the tyre burst but luckily we rolled down a hill and there was a mechanic at the bottom. Half an hour later and we were back on the move. (Bad luck-omiter - 3)
Shortly after the bus stopped in the small town of Arboletes about a hour and a half from Necolcí and everyone got off again. Shit. I argued with the conductor to get some money back. He gave us half and said another bus would be along to take us the rest of the way. It was now 8pm, dark and we had no idea if there was a bus this late on a Friday night. However, a minivan came tearing along the street and stopped where we were. Another 24,000COP each lighter, on we got, hoping this would be the final leg of the journey. (Bad luck-omiter - 4) So that is the story of how we paid three times for the same journey. 110,000COP instead of 70.
That night we ate at a chorizo stand right by the hotel and the guy was an absolute legend and had only opened two nights ago. He ended up teaching us some Spanish vocab, and telling us about his secret Chorizo recipe. As we left he gave us his number and the number of his son in America, just in case we should ever need to call them. Faith in humanity restored, we went to bed happy, maybe our spell of bad luck was finally over... Nope!
In the morning we awoke at 6am and went to the pier at 7am to book on to the 8am boat. But it was full so we bought tickets for the 10am. (Bad luck-omiter - 5) With two hours to kill we went back to the hotel to make use of their wifi as the next few places we are headed have nothing. Back to the pier around 9am, we checked in, bought huge thick bin bags to protect our luggage, and waited. And waited some more. Eventually the boat left at 11am however after five minutes at sea we were back at the pier as there was a problem with one of the motors. (Bad luck-omiter - 6)
10 Colombian minutes later, or 50 actual minutes, we were off. Then comes the scary part.
At first the waves were big but it was fun. People were screaming and whooping as you do on a rollercoaster when you're having a good time. The front of the boat would lift up then slam back down, meaning you had to hold on pretty tight to the grab rail in front and brace yourself for when the boat landed. So far so good. However once we'd dropped some people at Acandí and headed back out of the calm bay, the waves were noticeably bigger as we were now out of the protection of the bay. Here's where it stopped being fun and people were actually fearful. The bow didn't clear three massive waves, and so the front of the boat ploughed into the faces, causing an absolute shit tonne of water to wash into the boat. I don't know how the lady behind managed to keep hold of her new born baby at this point. They moved all the people sitting in the front two rows to the back, we were on the 4th row. The girl in front was crying and her dad was doing his best to comfort her. It really was terrifying, and I've never been more pleased to arrive somewhere than I felt on that day. (Bad luck-omiter - 7) Surely now our bad luck was over...
The icing on the cake was receiving back my luggage, and seeing there was a huge rip in the plastic bag it was in. My bag was soaking and felt really heavy when I put it on. When we arrived at our hotel and got everything out, the heaviness made sense as every single item was soaked through. (Bad luck-omiter - 8) After hanging everything up on every available space, we headed out.
I'll talk about Capurgana later, as here I'm still wallowing in our bad luck. Walking back from the beach, Will tripped on a slap of concrete and sliced the tip of his big toe open. We patched him back up at the hostel with our first aid kit. (Bad luck-omiter - 8)
We thought the universe had thrown enough at us in the last 2 days but it had one surprise left - somewhere in between grabbing a beer and going to a restaurant for dinner, we lost our wallet. FFS!!! (Bad luck-omiter - 9). To make matters worse only the day before we had put about £70 worth of Chilean pesos in there to change as normally they are in the bottom of Helens big bag and we keep forgetting to exchange them. (Bad luck-omiter - 10)
The village itself was small; with a few hostels to chose from, a few restaurants, a football pitch that had a cross road running through it, a beach with blaring reggaeton music, the port and beyond that was jungle and the Darien gap. We wondered around when we first got there, but upon realising there really wasn't much there, we relaxed on the beach as best we could with said music. Capurgana is a popular holiday destination with Colombians and as it was the start of Semana Santa, the week leading up to Easter, the little village was full to bursting point. This made for a really fun vibe at the beach as everyone was on party holiday mode.
We watched as the local bus went past, a horse and cart with plastic chairs attached to a rickety wooden cart. A bar on the front became our go to place for a beer. There is also an excellent place for pizza run by an Italian in the tranquil garden at Gecko hostel. The only issue is there are no cash points so you need to be stocked up before you get there.
One enthusiastic guy by the beach kept trying to rent us bicycles however with one small street, a sandy beach and dense jungle we think he needed to rethink his business plan. In the evenings we sat with the locals by the port on white plastic chairs watching the last few boats come in and unload their cargo of fish and people. The locals had their chairs facing the other way huddled round a small screen watching the football, there seemed to always be an important football match on somewhere.
On the scary boat over we got talking to a lovely German couple called Max and Alexandra. Whilst spending a fair few months traveling South America they had taught themselves the art of Macramé (Making really intricate bracelets and necklaces). When they heard about our bad luck they gave us one each in the hope to change our fortunes. I hoped they would as we still had to take another small boat across the border and then catch a tiny plane.
The day before we were due to leave and the morning after we had lost our wallet, we went to immigration to stamp out of Colombia. The guy started asking us if we had a credit card. We showed him Will's as mine had been lost the night before. Then he was asking where was our wallet. We didn't know what was going on, did we need to pay an exit fee? But when he started saying ID, the penny dropped and we said we lost our wallet last night with the ID and credit card in. He said he knew who had the wallet. He stamped our passports, walked us outside and spoke to a guy on a bike, who pulled out our sodden wallet from his pocket. In it was all the cards we had just cancelled, plus both our driving licenses, minus the money. He said he had found it that morning by the port. Hooray! (ish).
Puerto Obaldia (Panama)
We thought we'd better cross into Panama a day early in case the sea was rough and we couldn't make our flight. We had read on Wikitravels that the only thing to do there was plan how to leave. We didn't want to take too much notice of this and have low expectations of a place, instead we wanted to make up our own minds.
We landed in Puerto Obaldia and had to jump straight into the water as the pier is still being built. We were greeted by four big army guys who needed to look through our bags before allowing us to go through to the immigration office to be stamped into Panama. Once this was done we found a place to stay at Dona Primitiva guest house. Prima is a lovely little lady who conveniently also runs the Panama Airline office and apparently most of the town. Whilst sitting about outside Prima's place we got talking to an American guy who now lives in Capurgana and does this route a lot. He told us a little about the town, namely that there's nothing to do here and that he had a charter flight out that day as he never wants to stay a night here.
We went for an explore and quickly realised that this has to be the most remote place we've been. Even though it is close to the two villages on the Colombian side, it is completely cut off from its own country. So whilst Capurgana has regular big boats to bring supplies from Necolcí, Puerto Obaldia has only the tiny planes which arrive three times a week from Panama City. It was considerably less developed than its neighbours. We ended up playing noughts and crosses with white and black stones for a while in a open sided shack by the sea, reading and watching the local school kids play a baseball match, boys vs girls. The beach was full of rubbish, the pier was still being built, but at least the water was crystal clear and we tried to spot turtles. A father and his three sons were fishing from the end and were doing pretty well. Nearby, a group of old women in flowery dresses were locked in a heated bingo game, using little stones to mark off the numbers, with a little pot of cash in the middle for the winner. There is a military base just out of the village and the sorriest looking graveyard I'd ever seen where some of the ex-residents have sunroofs.
All of this exploring didn't take long and for the rest of the afternoon/evening, we watched Narcos, the Netflix series about Pablo Escobar. A stale roll and cheese slice sandwich for dinner and it was time for bed.
The following morning we went next door to check in for our flight, which involved weighing our bags on an ancient set of scales, and then weighing ourselves too. The flight list had 11 people on it. A five minute walk and we were at the airport. A small waiting room with plastic chairs inside and not much else. There we saw a German lady who had been trying to get on a flight for a few days. She seemed half mad after spending so much time here. The smallest plane I've ever seen landed on the runway. After twelve people and their luggage were unloaded into a small pile on the runway, we all got on and off we went.
The views of the rugged coastline were exceptional, this is Kuna land and hardly anyone visits these areas. Within an hour we were flying over Panama City and the contrast could not be greater. Huge skyscrapers filled the scene, and beyond were hundreds of colossal cargo boats queuing up to pass through the canal. South America was now behind us and we were excited to experience Central.