This weekend, Ellen and I are leaving Villas Mastatal for the open road again. We have absolutely loved being here on the farm – we’ve worked hard, our Spanish is much better, and we’ve learned a lot about how agriculture works on a mostly self-sustaining family farm. But then, we also like being on the road, being excited about the next destination, and watching the world roll by out of the bus windows, wondering what’s over the next hill.


This sunset is beautiful, but sunset on the open sea would be lovely too.

When we planned our Latin American adventure, we knew we’d start in Costa Rica, and we knew we would eventually hit Colombia because our cousin Daisy lives there. Other than that, our itinerary was open. As our month on the farm has ticked away, Ellen and I have been asking ourselves where to go next. We’d both love to go north and see more of Central America, but we also intend to go south because that’s where our cousin is. We finally decided to head straight to Colombia after leaving this farm, and line up our next destination from there.

We’ll leave here on Saturday morning at about 5:30am, to catch the bus to Puriscal, the nearest town. From there, we will make our way overland to Panama City. We had agreed from the start that we would rather avoid flying between destinations, both because it saves money and because you see more and experience more on a bus than on a plane. When we get to Panama, we are going to try to line up a ride on a boat along the Caribbean coast to Cartagena, Colombia.

Travelling overland from Panama to Colombia is neither legal nor safe, due largely to the drug trade. If you’re trying to get from Central to South America, your choices are to fly or take a boat. Several tour companies offer yacht tours that take you across the border with various stops at local islands along the coast. Some of them are party boats, some focus on cultural tours, most are all-inclusive except alcohol, and most of them cost between $500 and $600 for the five-day journey at an easy pace. At least, those are the prices our online searches have come up with. Ellen and I have decided not to book online.

When I travelled in Thailand and Cambodia, it struck me that the people who booked their tours from outside the country paid much more than those who spent an extra day asking around when they hit the ground at their destination. Here, too, when I ask people about how they arranged their volunteering stints, those who arranged them from outside the country paid almost twice as much to a booking agent as we were quoted in-country. At the hostel in Puerto Viejo, we met several people who claimed it was possible to approach the tour operators directly in Panama City or the captains in San Blas and negotiate a much more favourable price. All we have are third-party reports to go on, but it sounds like we’ll be able to find a ride to Colombia for half the price we saw online.

Ellen and I are not quite sure this will work. We are, after all, travelling in the week before Christmas, so we may have more trouble finding a boat. Our Spanish isn’t excellent, so we may not be able to negotiate a price that’s significantly lower than the ones we’ve already found online. We may spend so much money on food and hostels while finding a boat and waiting for it to leave that we negate any savings from organizing it independently. We may end up spending our Christmas in Panama or on a boat rather than in Colombia with our cousin as planned.

But hey. Travelling is about going outside our comfort zones and taking risks that help us grow. All may not go according to plan, but if we don’t end up in Colombia right away, I’m sure Panama will be lovely too.