Christmas 2014 - Panama (Part 2 of 3)

After five days in Panama City it was time to pay up on my promise to give Mick a beach for Christmas. I'd spent a lot time researching where we should go. We wanted something off the beaten path and I finally stumbled on to a hostel in Venao Cove.

 Venao Cove Beachfront Hostel
 The hostel looked awesome online and had great reviews.

The hostel looked awesome online and had great reviews.

Venao Cove is located on the Azuero Peninsula and was a five hour drive from Panama City. About half of the drive was on the Pan-American Highway - a series of highways that connects Alaska to Argentina. We spent a lot of time on it this summer driving from Seattle to Guatemala.

Our plan was to stay at the Venao Cove Hostel for two nights, checking in on Christmas Eve and leaving on 12/26.

 In this 5 hour trek we covered about 1/3 of the length of the country. Yes, Panama is that small.

In this 5 hour trek we covered about 1/3 of the length of the country. Yes, Panama is that small.

Before leaving Guatemala I uploaded open source GPS maps to our Garmin so we'd always know where we were headed. The maps worked great but often the highways and roads on the GPS were unlabeled/unnamed. No matter, all we had to do was follow the pink line.

 We were driving on "the Road" and in 8.0 km we needed to turn right onto "the Road". If only the GPS showed all of the pot holes along the way...maybe Mick wouldn't have broken the plastic hubcap on the rental car, a $25 surcharge. 

We were driving on "the Road" and in 8.0 km we needed to turn right onto "the Road". If only the GPS showed all of the pot holes along the way...maybe Mick wouldn't have broken the plastic hubcap on the rental car, a $25 surcharge. 

Once we turned onto the peninsula the highways got a little less smooth but the scenery was nice. Rolling country farms everywhere you looked.

 Roadside scenery in panama on the way to Venao Cove

We arrived at the hostel after sunset on Christmas Eve and got the kids in bed so Santa could come. The staff and other guests were very nice and helped us get situated. The other guests were from all over the globe - Germany, Australia, Austria, Canada, Jamaica and even one couple from the US.

Mickelle and I appeared to be the oldest guests and the only ones with kids, but the others welcomed us like family. The place had a great vibe.

Before going to bed Elle put together an offering for Santa and the reindeer. We had planned to bake cookies for Saint Nic but the kitchen had no oven, only stove top burners, so we had to forego the cookies. As a consolation we put out a clump of chocolate chips that had melted together in the car, and some carrot slices.

 The chocolate chips were not for the cookies. They were Ghiraradelli  dark chocolate  chips that Mick bought in Panama City as a special treat for us to snack on (we can't get them at a reasonable price where we live).

The chocolate chips were not for the cookies. They were Ghiraradelli dark chocolate chips that Mick bought in Panama City as a special treat for us to snack on (we can't get them at a reasonable price where we live).

This was our first time in a hostel with the kids and we weren't sure how it was going to go. The only room available was a dorm room with four sets of bunk beds. The four of us were sharing a room with four others. It was a hot night, very hot. Around 10:30 pm, Tag woke up hot, sweaty and tangled in his mosquito net. He was crying and throwing a temper tantrum. We removed him from the dorm room, where two others were already sleeping, and into the common bathroom area. The next room over was the dining area where the 20-something Germans were busy partying. Thankfully their partying was drowning out Tag's tantrum. He proceeded to scream, kick and cry for about 15 minutes before I took him out to the rental car and cranked up the AC. He fell into a deep sleep right away. A half hour later I put him back in the bunk bed and the partying Germans gave me a beer for my patience. Tag didn't remember any of this the next morning. Luckily, no one held it against us but I'm not sure they remembered it either!

All night Elle kept looking out the window to see if Santa had come. She was confident he'd find us even though we were on a remote beach. Around 9 am the next morning she looked out the window, saw that Santa had made it and excitedly woke up Tag.

 YES! Santa found us. He left the presents on this wooden counter top after eating all the carrots and chocolate.

YES! Santa found us. He left the presents on this wooden counter top after eating all the carrots and chocolate.

The kids were ecstatic with their gifts, and the other guests in the hostel enjoyed watching them play with their new toys. Several people sat next to Tag to watch him build his new Lego sets.

After gifts we started to explore the property. We were right on the water (just look behind the kids in the picture above). We found out Venao Cove is a popular spot for surfers. It's remote, away from the resorts and produces medium sized waves with very little undertow. Many refer to it as the perfect place to learn to surf. 

 Arial shot of Venao Cove

Arial shot of Venao Cove

The rest of the grounds around the hostel were ideal for a beach front place. Ammentities included:

  • Coffee, Soda, Beer and Surf Boards available on the honor system
  • A large and well organized shared kitchen
  • Free Wi-Fi (which was almost, but not quite, good enough for calling the States on Christmas)
  • A BBQ on Friday night
  • Board Games (we must have played 15 games of Backgammon as a family)
  • Book Swap
  • Hammocks galore
 Just grab a board and get out there. When you get back you note how long you had it. They'll charge you when you leave.

Just grab a board and get out there. When you get back you note how long you had it. They'll charge you when you leave.

 Partial view of the counter between the kitchen and dining room. Look carefully on the watermelon and you'll see red magic marker scribling. Since we shared the kitchen everyone wrote their names on their food. 

Partial view of the counter between the kitchen and dining room. Look carefully on the watermelon and you'll see red magic marker scribling. Since we shared the kitchen everyone wrote their names on their food. 

After a few hours we decided this was a special place and we changed our reservations from two nights to four.

The owner told us about two hikes that can be taken by foot from the hostel to nearby waterfalls. We got directions and set off.

 Tag found this stick and decided he wanted to take it to the waterfall. About 3/4 of the way there he decided to put it down and leave it in the woods "so the monkeys could play with it".

Tag found this stick and decided he wanted to take it to the waterfall. About 3/4 of the way there he decided to put it down and leave it in the woods "so the monkeys could play with it".

 The hike was a little over a mile and it was hot. The dip in this natural waterfall was just what we needed. Since there was no one else anywhere near, Tag decided to swim in the buff shortly after this picture was taken.

The hike was a little over a mile and it was hot. The dip in this natural waterfall was just what we needed. Since there was no one else anywhere near, Tag decided to swim in the buff shortly after this picture was taken.

Needless to say this was an incredible way to spend Christmas!

One afternoon we were hanging out at the hostel and all of a sudden we heard someone honking a horn. It was "the fish guys". They stop by once a week and sell freshly caught tuna, dorado, corvina and red snapper. I split a corvina with one of the Germans. It was an incredible filet for only $3. A fruit and veggie guy also stops by the hostel twice a week. 

 The price, convenience and freshness of this fish could not be beat.

The price, convenience and freshness of this fish could not be beat.

After a few days our food supply was getting low so we headed to the nearest town, Pedasi. Pedasi is a small town with a small grocery store. Its about a 20 minute drive away from the hostel. On the way into town we saw a sign for Bull Beach and decided to check it out. Oh man are we glad we did...

 The beach was gorgeous. The tide was coming in and the waves had started to smash into the rocks.

The beach was gorgeous. The tide was coming in and the waves had started to smash into the rocks.

 Mick and I climbed out on to the rocks with just enough time to snap this pic and quickly get back to shore before the waves got us.

Mick and I climbed out on to the rocks with just enough time to snap this pic and quickly get back to shore before the waves got us.

 While Mick and I were at the coast line, the kids were farther inland playing with locals in a big, safe tidal pool. The local kids were using driftwood to act as boats in the water. 

While Mick and I were at the coast line, the kids were farther inland playing with locals in a big, safe tidal pool. The local kids were using driftwood to act as boats in the water. 

When it came time to leave the beach the kids did not want to go but we were all hungry. Surprisingly the sleepy town of Pedasi, with its 2,000 residents, had several restaurants. We ate at "the Bakery" and were very happy with our choice.

 We split a loaf of freshly baked bread and a pizza.

We split a loaf of freshly baked bread and a pizza.

I went on two runs while staying at the hostel. Both times I saw wild monkeys. On our last morning I set out for a solo run along the beach then up one of the nearby trails. When I was headed back I heard a branch snap in a tree overhead. I looked up and saw a tree full of howler monkeys.

I ran back to the hostel and returned with Mick and the kids. It was really cool to see the monkeys roaming around freely in their natural habitat and to share that with the kids.

 We counted at least a dozen in the tree (including two babies).

We counted at least a dozen in the tree (including two babies).

Shortly after, we headed back towards civilization. Next stop, Rio Hato. We spent four nights at the hostel with no AC and the family was ready for a climate controlled room. I had us booked at just the right spot.