The World Nomads Podcast: Panama

Panama, the land of diversity and hair frizz-inducing humidity; oceans of plastic, how to reduce your trash footprint, Jimmy Bad Boy plays some reggae, and we spill the beans on Panama's latest coffee fad.


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Episode 3: Panama

Panama is a country in Central America bordered by Costa Rica to the West, Columbia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south, and, according to visitors, it delivers the most unique Latin American experience in the region.

The capital, Panama City, is a modern, sophisticated metropolis that resembles Miami, but on the doorstep of a rainforest. We will explore the city, the beaches, its coffee and music, plus discuss the effect the humidity has on your hair!

In Travel News, find out the best place to sit for great servicein economy on a plane .

And we speak with Dr Denise Hardesty about the massive pile of floating garbage off the Caribbean coast that's full of everyday plastic items including chip packets, cutlery and zip lock bags. We explore what you can do to reduce your trash footprint while traveling.

Image: Caroline Power

The photographer who took these shocking images has allowed us the use of her photograph, and also asked that we urge you all to make a donation to the Roatan Marine Park to help fund their environmental work... so do it!.

What’s in The Episode

00:55 Intro

03:29 Phil’s Quiz Question

04:00  Macca Sherifi - travel blogger, photographer and presenter talks about Panama and Panama City.

06:06 “…up in the North of Panama you've got Bocas Del Toro, which is some islands, about nine different islands. Very Caribbean and Latino. They're this beautiful merge of cultures there and it's incredibly relaxing - Macca Sherifi - travel blogger, photographer and presenter.

08:42 Panama’s music history

12:19 Checking in with world nomads

13:05 Trash is filling our oceans, so how do you reduce your plastic trash footprint?

16:51 “The proliferation of single-use itmes in today's culture is a real problem given waste mismanagement... -Dr Denise Hardesty, principal research scientist for oceans and atmosphere at the CSIRO. 

22:52 World Nomads partner TeachPTY talks about teaching English in Panama.

24:25 “…if you get accepted, you get full accommodations. You have your own bed, you have your house basically. You'll have your meals during teaching days.” – Jose TeachPTY

27:06 Ask Phil

29:59 World Nomad’s contributor Rosie Bell on why she has come to love Panama.

32:37 The coffee Panama is going crazy about.

36:56 Travel News: The danger of taking prescription drugs on your travels. Adults-ony cruising with Virgin (the company!). The place to sit on an airplne to get the best service.

41:13 What’s next in Episode 4

Who’s on the Show?

Macca Sherifi who runs the blog An Adventurous World and currently lives in Panama and loving the island life.

Jose from TeachPTY, a social enterprise that offers travelers the opportunity to teach English to children and experience the Panamanian way of living.

Scientist Dr Denise Hardesty on a massive pile of garbage in the waters off the Caribbean island of Roatan spanning kilometers.

Jimmy Bad Boy’s song "Bailando". He’s a Panamanian reggae singer and his song is considered part of Panamanian culture

World Nomad’s contributor Rosie Bell spills the beans on Panama’s latest coffee fad plus her blog The Beach Bell features a story on the best remote working spots for digital nomads In Panama City.

Resources and Links

US National Parks Service search for volunteers

World Nomads' article on how to reduce your trash footprint when traveling.

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About World Nomads & The Podcast

Explore your boundaries and discover your next adventure with The World Nomads Podcast. Hosted by Podcast Producer Kim Napier and World Nomads Phil Sylvester, each episode will take you around the world with insights into destinations from travelers and experts. They’ll share the latest in travel news, answer your travel questions and fill you in on what World Nomads is up to, including the latest scholarships and guides.

World Nomads is a fast-growing online travel company that provides inspiration, advice, safety tips and specialized travel insurance for independent, volunteer and student travelers traveling and studying most anywhere in the world. Our online global travel insurance covers travelers from more than 135 countries and allows you to buy and claim online, 24/7, even while already traveling.

The World Nomads Podcast is not your usual travel Podcast. It’s everything for the adventurous, independent traveler. Don’t miss out. Subscribe today.

Recording: The World Nomads Podcast. It's not your usual travel podcast. It's everything for the adventurous, independent traveler.

Kim: Hello again wherever you are listening in the world. That sounded like a story book opening, didn't it? Hello again. But seriously, thanks for tuning into our podcast delivered by World Nomads, the travel lifestyle insurance brand covering more than half a million travelers. My name is Kim and,

Phil: I'm sitting comfortably and my name is Phil.

Kim: And are you wearing socks today, Phil?

Phil: I'm looking at you [00:00:30] through the round window.

Kim: I know, I know. I did sound very playschool, didn't I? No, you didn't wear socks to work this week.

Phil: No I forgot them. I commute by bicycle to work and I forgot to pack them, so I was walking around sans socks.

Kim: Sans socks, but he had that look, you know where you've got the cuff on the end of your jeans?

Phil: Yep.

Kim: So the whole ankle was on show. Very tantalizing.

Phil: Thanks very much.

Kim: Now, in this episode. Last episode, of course, was Canada. This episode, we're heading to [00:01:00] Panama in Central America. I want you to tell me more about that place, Phil.

Phil: Well, this is an isthmus connecting two massive continents. Actually used to belong to Columbia. They sort of partitioned it so they could build the canal through the middle there. Imperialism at work. Democracy, we deliver. Look, Panama's flora and fauna is incredibly diverse. They've got something like 900 different bird species. They've also got plenty of still [00:01:30] thriving, indigenous tribes as well. But, in contrast, the capital, Panama City, is likened to Miami. Apparently, it's a big great metropolitan, modern metropolis, which apparently is really jumping and thriving and quite sophisticated.

Kim: So to find out more about Panama in this episode, we'll catch up with Macca Sherifi. I made the mistake of thinking Macca was an Aussie. Macca.

Phil: G'day Macca.

Kim: No, he's a pom and he runs ... Are we allowed to say that? He's [00:02:00] British.

Phil: People may not understand. I did notice actually the other week you mentioned budgie smugglers as well and I did mean to put in the show notes that that means gentleman's racing swimming wear. Speedos.

Kim: Exactly. I thought that too. You just assume that, you know-

Phil: That's what budgie smugglers are.

Kim: ... it's part of the global language. Macca runs a blog called An Adventurous World and has spent three months living in Panama. Also, Jose from Teach Pty, wasn't he an enthusiastic, really nice chap?

Phil: He's great.

Kim: He Skyped us when it was raining, really-

Phil: [00:02:30] Pouring rain.

Kim: Yeah, you can hear it, pretty much at the start of the podcast, at the start of the chat with him. He has a social, or Teach Pty is a social enterprise that offers travelers the opportunity to teach English to children and experience the Pan Amam, aw that's going to help-

Phil: Speaking of teaching English.

Kim: I've got to learn to speak it. The Pan Amam-

Phil: And done it again.

Kim: Here we go, third time lucky. Experience the Panamanian way of living. Woohoo. [00:03:00] And scientist Dr. Denise Hardesty on a massive pile of garbage in the waters of the Caribbean and it's spanning kilometers. That was incredible, if you haven't seen that story.

Phil: You know, when you hear those stories about that sort of island of plastic that's supposed to be in the middle of the Pacific, well now it's off the coast of Honduras. Shonduras?

Kim: And we are in charge of a global travel podcast.

Phil: Come on get me out of here. Come on.

Kim: All right, we'll also have music, travel news and, [00:03:30] Phil's quiz question. What have you got for us in this episode? Episode three of The World Nomads Podcast.

Phil: Here's my quiz question, okay. Obviously about Central America, Shonduras and Pamena. Do you know how many countries there are in Central America? That's not the question by the way, I was just wondering if you know?

Kim: No, I don't.

Phil: No? There are seven. So here's the question. How many of those seven Central American countries have just one coastline? The answer at the end of the show.

Kim: I'm going to stick around for that. [00:04:00] Macca Sherifi is a travel blogger. He's a photographer and presenter who spent a few months already ... I'm just kicking myself that I wasn't going to say it ... a few months living in Panama and he agrees with your description at the start of the episode, Phil, that it is the Miami of Central America.

Macca: Yeah, it is. I mean, I think when you're traveling through Central America, a lot of the countries have the beautiful beaches, they have rainforests, but yet, Panama City, the capital of [00:04:30] Panama is incredibly built up. We're talking about huge skyscrapers, it's got really big malls, which are very common in Miami and America, lots of banks and commerce. And another thing, as well, is they use the dollar there, so at times it honestly feels like you're in a very Latino America, basically.

Kim: So that sounds unusual for me, only because whenever I chat to anybody about Panama, it's always about the Panama Canal and about shipping, so [00:05:00] obviously it's so much more.

Macca: Yeah, there is so much more. I mean, Panama City itself is an incredibly beautiful city. You've got kind of a Casco Viejo, which is the old town, so you've kind of got the old colonial buildings and beautiful architecture that you can kind of walk around and really immerse yourself in the history of the city. And then from there you can actually look over it and see all the skyscrapers from the banking districts as well. Yeah, there aren't many cities like that in Central America, so I think it kind of makes that very special.

Kim: [00:05:30] What is the difference between island life and city life?

Macca: The difference is so drastic. I guess in the city life it is very business focused. You have a large number of banks and commerce in Panama City, so it's very money orientated. You'll see people wearing suits, you'll see lots of expats there working in suits and it's very business, hustle and bustle, fast and furious. And then you travel a few hours and you get to the beaches or to the islands and it's just [00:06:00] chill time. It's cocktails on the beach, it's this, it's sunbathing, it's relaxing.

In the north of Panama, you've got Bocas del Toro, which is some islands, about nine different islands very like Caribbean and Latino. The color is like a beautiful merge of cultures there and it's incredibly relaxing. It's just chill time. You can go diving, they've got loads of really nice bars and restaurants there. You're going to hire bikes and cycle around the islands. They've even got [00:06:30] a couple of night clubs, which are in the water. One's an old, disused, abandoned, ship-wrecked boat, which is in the water and you can party, face the [inaudible 00:06:43]. Yeah, it's really cool, like it's really unique. Yeah, Bocas del Toro is incredibly beautiful.

And then to the south, you've got the San Blas islands which are 360 tiny, tiny islands. We're talking about a few palm trees and just beautiful [00:07:00] golden beaches and they are without a doubt one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. They are just incredible. They're pretty hard to get to, they're very remote. You can only get out to them by boat. But you can stay on the islands, you can speak to the local Kuna people there and eat with them because they're incredibly kind. They fish for lobster and king crab and snow crab every day. Yeah, in Panama I think it's incredibly [00:07:30] diverse. I think people kind of just think of Panama Canal and I don't know, I guess that's quite a cultural thing, but they don't realize it's got the cities, it's got the beaches, it's got the water sports and hiking and everything else.

Panama is a country that is almost like Turkey, where East meets West. Panama is kind of at this confluence point where it links Central America to South America so you have huge Latino influence there. You've got incredible food [00:08:00] from the impanados on this like street food scene to a really up and coming gourmet scene as well, which is incredible to see. You've got, kind of like the dance, you've got loads of influences from Puerto Rico and again from Columbia so you've got the salsa. Yeah, it has so many little things going for it that create this perfect blend of a wonderful place to travel around.

Kim: And a tip from Macca as Panama is one of the only [00:08:30] cities with a rainforest within its city limits, it gets very humid, so if you're prone to frizzy hair, you've got to pack some product to control it. We'll have a link to his blog, An Adventurous World, in our show notes. Now, in that chat, so with Macca he mentioned the music. You can't think of Central America or South America without thinking of the music, really, can you?

Phil: Absolutely. It's always in the background of everything that you see. It's just fantastic, so vibrant.

Kim: Absolutely and Panama has a really rich and diverse music history and [00:09:00] are important contributors to calypso, rock, bolero, jazz, salsa and believe it or not, reggae. Jimmy Bad Boy is a Panamanian reggae singer and he started his musical career when he was 13 years old and we thought we'd share this song, Bailando, it's part of Panamanian culture.

[(singing) 00:09:17]

[00:12:00] That's Jimmy Bad Boy, Bailando. Now it's time to check in on our World Nomads.

The best cardio was probably America and Australia. Take everything spontaneously and just see how it goes, prepare the minimum, the bare minimum, [00:12:30] I'd say and then just see how everything goes and enjoy your time.

Sometimes we think the world is just mostly where we live, but there are so much different cultures around the world, very interesting to know about it. Just go, ready, set and go. I would say it's one of the best things to do in life, you know, travel.

Honestly, going out on things, going out on a limb, experiencing things, throwing myself out there more than anything. A lot of people when they travel they worry about where they're going to stay, they worry about [00:13:00] money and everything and safety. You've got to get out and just do it, honestly.

Phil: There's been an article doing the rounds recently and it's quite shocked quite a lot of people, we told you about it in the beginning. Just off the Honduran island of Roatan. Can I just say, I can't wait until we get to Iceland?

Kim: Oh, Iceland is already causing me sleepless nights.

Phil: Anyway, this island's off Honduras-

Kim: We're coming to our own in that episode, won't we?

Phil: Off this island [00:13:30] near the coast of Honduras, is this massive pile of floating garbage. I doubt if you've seen the pictures, it's absolutely stunning. It spans kilometers of ocean and it's full of everyday plastic items. All the stuff that everybody's throwing away all the time like chip packets, plastic knives and forks, zip lock bags and even thongs. Apparently, the recent hurricanes have contributed to gathering up all this rubbish and stick it in this part of the Pacific-

Kim: Which is why it's all in one big heap.

Phil: One big heap.

Kim: Well, [00:14:00] we are going to be chatting to principal research scientists for oceans and atmosphere at the CSIRO who's described it as shocking and confronting. And Dr. Denise Hardesty joins us by Skype right now.

Phil: Hey, Denise I can understand why plastic gets washed up into one place, we've all seen rubbish stuck in the corner of a river. But, what's astonishing about this one in Honduras is just how big it is.

Dr. Denise: It's pretty confronting I think, to see the amount of plastic in those photos or, you know it's not just plastic, it's [00:14:30] building timbers and all sorts of things that have really been washed out there. It's an astonishing amount from the photographs that I've seen as well.

Phil: And that's partly due to the really bad hurricane season that they've had this year, is that right?

Dr. Denise: That is my expectation, that seems like the most parsimonious explanation. Sorry, I shouldn't say those sorts of things like that.

Phil: No, that's all right, we've got brains. We're okay, we're with you.

Dr. Denise: No, but I realize I do talk in the geek speak a little bit. Yeah, my understanding, [00:15:00] the first thing I thought when I looked at the photos that they were showing to me, was, oh yeah, well we've just had a huge storms come through there, this is clearly a result of their storms washing, destroying buildings, destroying the homes, destroying restaurants and businesses and everything along the waterfronts and in these islands and that it's just washing out to sea and creating these huge rafts of material floating around out there.

Kim: We've had storms here and just walking to work this morning and I walk along a beach, there were just [00:15:30] pockets of debris and amongst it, plastic bottles, sunscreen bottles, knives and forks, plastic knives and forks. What sort of stuff did you see?

Dr. Denise: Well we find everything from cigarette butts and beverage containers and cans and broken glass and things like that. Everything from that to toothbrushes and cigarette lighters, all sorts of floating things. We've also found, which I find really interesting, we find [00:16:00] intact light bulbs.

Phil: What?

Dr. Denise: [inaudible 00:16:03][crosstalk 00:16:03]

Kim: How do they end up in the ocean?

Phil: Well, I guess they float when they get thrown away. They go down the water into the ocean.

Dr. Denise: Exactly. So those things float as well and you're going to find those, as you were mentioning on your walk along the beach this morning, you're going to find those in those accumulating areas. Those areas that we call sinks that are basically going to respond or absorb, sort of, all the local trash that gets washed up in there and in their sorts of [00:16:30] coves and gulleyways that are just going to accumulate all that trash that floats down the rivers, gets out into the coastal margin and washes right up on those beaches.

Phil: But I guess the most worrying part of all that is the stuff that gets called disposable, but isn't. All that plastic stuff. All the bottles and throw-away cutlery and things like that. That's the biggest concern, right?

Dr. Denise: Well, you know the proliferation of single use items in today's culture is a real problem given waste mismanagement, given [00:17:00] actually what the true cost or true value is of these products that we make, use, dispose of. If you watch one of those videos that shows the making of a plastic spoon and how it gets made and the chemicals that it's used and how it gets packaged and then transported and the miles it takes to get to a place to end up in a plastic bag in a supermarket so you can buy it for 10 cents at an individual item. Then I think the tagline for one of those videos is, Is It Really Too Hard To Wash? So many things in our [00:17:30] society that are throwaway. And we see those things on our beaches, on our coastlines, along our waterways and rivers and floating out there in the ocean sometimes.

Kim: It's hard as a traveler though when you go to countries and you need to watch the water, for instance, it's very convenient to buy a plastic bottle of water. I guess it then comes down to how responsible you are with that plastic bottle once you've finished with it.

Dr. Denise: How responsible you are, what you can do around that in a lot of places, you know they have the large refillable, [00:18:00] 20-liter vessels that you can use. Sure, you know many places that we go, if you go to hotels and things like that, you're served things in plastic bottles and things, so I suppose you can ask, you can make responsible consumer decisions and try to make the choices that are in accordance with your values. And you really can do the very best that you can to make sure that things are disposed of properly and appropriately in places where there isn't clean drinking water and where some of those issues are a really significant challenge.

Kim: [00:18:30] What's the future of our oceans with this particular problem?

Dr. Denise: Wow. It's not just going to be our oceans, it's going to be our land, it's going to be our rivers, our streams, it's going to be everywhere, right? With the proliferation of thin, lightweight plastic items that we use and throw away, our land is going to be full of it, our rivers are going to be full of it, our oceans are going to be full of it as well.

Phil: I'm going to say I think it's a really good thing that the pictures of this rubbish gyre, I think that's the right word, in Honduras [00:19:00] have become so public. But it's not the only one, right? There are several of these around the world, is that right?

Dr. Denise: There are these accumulating zones, or gyres, as I say it with my American accent-

Phil: There you go.

Dr. Denise: ... that are known. There are five major gyres out there in our oceans and there are many other accumulating points. But I think the thing that's really interesting or really relevant to consider is that most of that plastic, most of the trash that gets out there into the oceans remains in what I call, that sort of [00:19:30] coastal margin or that littoral zone, which is l-i-t-t-o-r-a-l rather than litter zone. But the littoral zone seems to also be a littered zone because that's where we really find so much of the trash and the plastic.

Phil: I take it you've seen one of these accumulation zones. You've been there, have you?

Dr. Denise: I actually worked out on Midway Atoll in the middle of the Pacific island region many, many years ago. So those photos from Chris Jordan of seabirds full of plastic in their gut, I actually have slides, [00:20:00] if you remember old-school slides from back in the day, of exactly those same sorts of things. So I've been out there in the middle of the Pacific working on one of those very remote islands that we found so much trash and so much of was picked up. And this was in the 90s, and this was cigarette lighters. There were crates and crates of those stacked in rooms. So, yes, I have seen it.

Kim: Well, let's hope these pictures come to our attention and make us rethink [00:20:30] what we do with our plastics.

Dr. Denise: You know, I think they're a really great visual that can hopefully act as a catalyst to increase people's awareness to be thoughtful about just about these really extreme weather events and what can happen, but how those items that we think are being carefully managed, how they still can leak out into the system and end up out there floating in our oceans. And I don't think any of us want that.

Kim: Well, what did you make of that Phil?

Phil: Mate, it's just astonishing, isn't it, how much stuff is out there and [00:21:00] how we can make just little changes to ... hopefully we can make little changes to make an improvement. But look, it's so hard when you're traveling because you can't take your kitchen with you. You can't pull a plate out of the drawer because you're traveling, so the temptation there is always to get a takeaway container. So, you've got to try and think about those sorts of things.

Kim: But as Denise was saying too, it's ... Even if you're responsible with that takeaway container, at some point it's very possible it'll end up in our ocean.

Phil: [00:21:30] Disposable is a dirty word, let me tell you. But look, if you want some practical tips on how you can reduce your plastic, rubbish footprint, your trash footprint while you're traveling, I've actually written an article, which we've published on World Nomads, so I'll put a link to that in the show notes as well. But really practical stuff, take your own knife and fork with you, get a spork, and look at bamboo products. Toothbrushes, you can get bamboo toothbrushes. Think about how many toothbrushes get thrown away. The big one though, because when you [00:22:00] try to get onto an airplane, you're not allowed to take a bottle of shampoo and you're going to get the less than 100 mil thing-

Kim: Or champagne, you have to buy it on the plane.[crosstalk 00:22:08]

Phil: I know what type of traveler you are.

Kim: Yeah, exactly.

Phil: But there are millions of people traveling every year who get through the security check and then buy mini bottles of shampoo and conditioner and soap. They're all in little plastic bottles. Get some reusable ones and bring that through with you and you'll be able to cut out millions of bits of plastic garbage.

Kim: All right, we've got a new segment for The World Nomads Podcast. We've got Ask [00:22:30] Phil, we've got Phil's Quiz Question and now we've got Phil's Tips for Traveling.

Phil: All right, but listen, go read the article because there is one thing you can do that will change your plastic trash footprint forever. The one thing you can do to reduce your plastic footprint.

Kim: So you can read that in the article. Where do we find it?

Phil: Go to the show notes. There'll be a link there, it's in the explore section on World Nomads.

Kim: Now, at World Nomads we're always encouraging travelers to immerse themselves in the local culture and that could be as a volunteer English teacher. [00:23:00] Jose founded and runs Teach PTY in which volunteers help improve English language skills in underdeveloped communities and we'll let Jose fill you in with the details.

Jose: Well, Teach Pty it's a Panamanian way, or a new way here in Panama, to get to know our country by submerging yourself in it and helping the community by sharing places and cultures they will otherwise very unlikely discover [00:23:30] through the introduction of a tool and valuable as a language. So basically it's a volunteer organization dedicated to teaching basic English, using interactive and creative methods. We just want to attract young college student, graduated recently individual, anybody who wants to contribute and get to know the beautiful country is more than welcome and we will provide the tools to make that happen.

Kim: So before we go on to how it was founded [00:24:00] and what your background is, what do you mean by teaching English through interactive methods?

Jose: We got the curriculum from MEDUCA. MEDUCA is the Minister of Education in Panama, so what we did is we got the English curriculum and we divided it into months and that months into weeks and the way we teach is using games, for example.

Kim: So what is included if you're successful as a volunteer?

Jose: So, if you get accepted, you get full accommodations, [00:24:30] so you'll have your own bed, you'll have your house, basically. You'll have your meals during teaching days. Teaching days are from Monday to Thursdays. So Monday would be, we plan the class for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursdays. We teach from 3:30 to 5:30, so two hours in the afternoon Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursdays. Mondays we plan the class, so we're preparing what we're going to teach. So I give you the meal so [00:25:00] it's breakfast, lunch and dinner during teaching days, so that's Monday through Thursday as I just mentioned. We have an inside cook and it's Panamanian food, which, I must say I'm a little biased because I'm Panamanian, but our food is amazing, it's very tasty. So we give you that taste also.

Then from Friday to Sunday, obviously you can stay and you can have your accommodation, [00:25:30] have a kitchen, you can cook, you can stay here, but I encourage you to explore Panama. I help you out also planning the trip. If you want to go to an island, if you want to spend the weekend here in the mountains, if you want to go hiking. Anything you want to do, I encourage you to do it and I help you also plan it and that's obviously extra cost, because that's whatever you do on the weekends. But I encourage you to explore Panama because that's the whole point about it. Panama [00:26:00] is very, very compact. We have so many things in such a small territory so we need the world to see that. We have so many things to see.

Also, I offer you two nights in Panama City, one city tour at your arrival and transportation when you arrive and when you leave Panama City to this town in Pedasi that is four hours away from the [00:26:30] city and it's so different.

Kim: Excellent. Well, let's wrap up with asking what your ultimate goal is?

Jose: My ultimate goal is to create a different type of these centers throughout Panama and that be volunteer or traveler will travel through its center and travel Panama through it's center. One will be teaching English the other one will be wildlife, the other one will be environmentally, so different kind of things that we can offer the community to help them while discovering, [00:27:00] while helping, while exchanging cultural and others people ages and [inaudible 00:27:06]

Kim: Thanks for that, Jose. We'll have a link to Teach Pty in our show notes, but right now, it is time to Ask Phil.

Phil: We've been searching for an intro. What do you think, Kim, do you like that one?

Kim: I think it's a start, Phil. I think it's a start.

Phil: We can probably improve on that one though, right?

Kim: And now, King Phil.

Phil: [00:27:30] Yes, King Phil.

Kim: That's very cute.

Phil: All right, let's get into it.

Kim: Thanks for the laugh.

Phil: Yeah, okay, all right. Moving on. I've been delving into the questions and answers in our community forum, Ask A Nomad, and this is an absolute beauty. Baby asks, "Which country do you think is the best from these three, Costa Rica, Panama or Nicaragua? I'm a 20-year-old student looking for adventure. I like to see landscapes and natural beauty and [00:28:00] would love to go scuba diving and hiking." Pretty clear question there. Which of those three is the best? First two answers, people suggest Guatemala. It's not on the list, people, but anyway, [inaudible 00:28:11] Let's just say that I've been to Costa Rica and Panama. I loved Costa Rica, especially if you want to include some adventure in your travels. Suzanne says, "I'd pick Nicaragua as it's the new in place to visit and supposed to be more affordable with lots to see and do." Best answer comes from JD, "I've been to Costa Rica twice and it's never disappointed [00:28:30] me. If you're the adventurous type, you'll find tons of stuff to do. While I couldn't tell you much about scuba diving spots, I know there are some. Hiking and wildlife watching venues are a plenty. Arenal Volcano area is beautiful and great for outdoor adventures like hiking, kayaking at the lake and at the hot springs. We also went canyoning in this area as well and it was one of the best experiences and they've had a warning, there you get completely soaking wet." Sounds fun.

Monte Verde also offers some quite diverse wildlife as it's [00:29:00] a cloud forest rather than a rainforest. Which is like ... rainforest is the rest of Costa Rica. And a word to the wise, go on a guided hike unless you're an extremely proficient wildlife watcher. Other parts where you can see different wildlife are Tortuguero and Corcovado. Opposite ends of the country ... I knew you'd laugh at me. Opposite ends of the country so have to do both on a limited timeline. Another activity from JD [00:29:30] that they highly recommend is whitewater rafting up Rio Pacuare. It's a full day activity, but well worth it. The scenery is unparalleled and the rafting itself is very fun.

If you have a travel question, or think you can provide an answer, go to and ask a nomad.

Kim: Okay, well, I think it's time to find out a little bit more about Panama, Phil. What it's like to live there and while we've mentioned it, we actually haven't spoken about [00:30:00] the Panama Canal.

Okay, Phil. Meet Rosie Bell, she's a World Nomads contributor. Rosie, meet Phil.

Rosie: Hi Phil. Hello.

Phil: Hi Rosie. This is amazing talking to the other side of the world. I love technology.

Kim: Yes. It is pretty cool. Now we've spoken to Macca who's a travel blogger, as I said you happen to be a World Nomad's contributor. What we didn't touch on with Macca, is the canal. We've got to a point in the podcast where we probably need to touch on the elephant in the room. What can you tell us [00:30:30] about the Panama Canal?

Rosie: Okay, well would you like the boring stuff, like dates, launch dates, who built it, all that stuff? That you can get on Google?

Phil: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Because we're all about boring stuff on this podcast, so.

Kim: No, we want to know who swam nude in it. That kind of stuff.

Rosie: Oh, I don't know his name. I've forgotten his name, but people have swum. It's been done. Well, it was built by U.S. engineers between [00:31:00] 1904 and 1914. It was started by French engineers actually, but they abandoned it because of the high mortality rate of all the workers. In a nutshell, it's basically a trans-isthmian canal with locks at each end to lift ships up to a man-made lake called Gatun Lake, which is above the sea level and then brings them back down to the opposite coast, so it essentially connects the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.

Kim: Why is it then that when you think of Panama most people [00:31:30] only think of the Panama Canal, but we're clearly finding out that there's so much more to Panama.

Rosie: Well, because it's just amazing. It's an amazing feat of engineering.

Kim: Phil, you're a bit of a romantic, aren't you?

Phil: Allegedly, yes.

Kim: Rosie, he tries. What can you tell us about this sunrise and sunset in Panama?

Rosie: Okay. Well, Panama is the only country in the world where you can see the sun rise on the Pacific [00:32:00] and set on the Atlantic. It's the only place in the entire world where you can do this and that can be done at the top of Volcan Baru, which is a volcano in Boquete, which is a small town in the west of Panama, which is known for it's coffee plantations and the Los Quetzales Trail for spotting Quetzals. That's pretty much the only place that you can do this, but apart from that magnificent, amazing feat, Panama has so many beaches and so many islands and so many archipelagos. [00:32:30] Where else better to see the sun set or rise on a beach?

Phil: That sounds pretty good to me.

Kim: It does and he likes coffee. Tell us about the coffee in Panama. Is it good?

Rosie: Well, Panama becoming known for geisha coffee. I'm not sure if you've heard about it?

Phil: Sorry. No. Go on.

Rosie: Okay, okay. Good, good. You're hearing something new. Geisha coffee is being described as the Ferrari of coffee, whatever that means. It's not cheap and it supposedly kind of tastes like tea. It's grown [00:33:00] in the mountains of Boquete where the aforementioned volcano is. And I actually am not a big coffee drinker, I've never had a full cup of coffee before I went to Panama, believe it or not. But I went to a café here in Panama City called Mentiritas Blancas, which means little white lies, don't ask. And I tried it and it's really nice. It tastes like kind of diluted coffee mixed with tea and something else, a third magical ingredient that I don't [00:33:30] really know. And it's definitely not cheap.

Phil: Rosie, why are you in Panama? What got you there? Why have you moved there?

Rosie: I actually wanted to come to Costa Rica two years ago because in my mind Costa Rica was just the most beautiful place, heaven on earth, blue water, toucans everywhere. And I went to Costa Rica two years ago and I found it a little bit disappointing. It's very expensive, and it just didn't feel Latin at all. It felt very, very, very Americanized.

And [00:34:00] I just decided to go to Panama on a whim just to sort of check it out for a couple of days. I thought I'd be there for five days tops. I ended up never going back to Costa Rica. I absolutely fell in love with it. It was so much cheaper than Costa Rica. The same nature, if not even more beautiful. Really, really lovely people. Very down to earth. You can actually connect with and see people from indigenous tribes, they're not hidden somewhere in the mountains. In Panama City you see Kuna, Indian women walking with [00:34:30] their traditional clothes. The beaches, I mean my blog is called the Beach Bell. The beaches are absolutely stunning and before I came here I'd been to Hawaii and that was the most beautiful place I thought I'd seen. But coming to Panama I was just so taken aback by just how beautiful it was. And in Bocas del Toro, which is absolutely my favorite place in the whole country, your mode of transportation is by water taxi and personally the novelty of that never fades for me.

Phil: What sort of adjustments [00:35:00] have you had to make to the way that you live? Obviously, there's a Panamanian style of living. Describe that for me. What's it actually like there?

Rosie: Well, apart from being beautiful and warm all the time, there are some drawbacks. Every paradise has its problems. And one thing that's very difficult and that most expats here will tell you, is that just getting things delivered to your house, there isn't a mailing system, [00:35:30] so you can't really order things from Amazon or whatever. There's quite a long-winded system where you have to get a mail box with Mailboxes, Etc. and then you open something in Miami and then it goes there and then it comes here. Or you have to use couriers. I've known somebody who had a bank card replacement posted to him to a hotel that he was staying and the hotel received it two years later. Things like that.

Kim: I want to pick up on something Macca said from girl to girl. [00:36:00] He said living in a city by a rainforest, massive humidity, hence a lot of defrizzing needed for the hair. Can you agree with Macca's sentiment?

Rosie: Oh, my gosh, yes. I actually considered mentioning that too. My flat mate, who I live with had poker straight hair when she lived in Brussels and now her hair is sort of Nicole Kidman in the 90s. It's [00:36:30] just crazy.

Phil: I've got one more question. And that is, have you got a spare bed at your place? I'm on my way. It sounds awesome.

Rosie: I've got a lovely room with this fabulous cascading view of the city and I see the Pacific when I wake up. I don't know if there's space for you though. I don't know.

Kim: Phil, I'm devastated for you.

Phil: Aw, shocking.

Kim: Thank you so much for the chat.

Rosie: No problem. Thank you so much for asking me. This has been brilliant.

Kim: Phil, what's Travel News this month?

Phil: Well, here's a reminder to check [00:37:00] the rules about taking prescription drugs into another country when you travel. With a British woman facing jail, or even the threat of execution, for taking strong morphine-related pain killers into Egypt. Let's not get into detail or jump to conclusions about what she did, but she says it was all very innocent and she was just taking them to her husband who lives in Egypt.

Have you ever been on a cruise, Kim?

Kim: I have. I did the, I say, I pronounce it the straits of Malacca, okay, which I think in Greece is something different, isn't it.

Phil: Isn't the Straits of Malacca [00:37:30] in Singapore?

Kim: Yeah, it's Malacca is it?

Phil: I'm with you.

Kim: I did that, I did that. It was about four days and yeah, we had a seven-year-old with us so we thought it was a perfect kind of thing to do.

Phil: Well that's right. I mean, lots of cruising is really popular with families, but Virgin I've got to get in on as well, Virgin Voyager they're calling it. It's not usually when kids are around, it's not usually independent adventure travel, but they say they're going to change that. They've just laid down the keel and they're going to launch pretty soon a ship [00:38:00] that is strictly adults only. Nobody under the age of 18. A Virgin spokesman said they would provide a sophisticated ship and a transformational experience for passengers to enjoy both day time activities and an exciting night life. Do I sound like the Virgin spokesman?

Kim: Yeah, you did.

Phil: So between that massive floating party bus, right. I'm not convinced. One word I want to give you about cruising, all right. Norovirus.

Kim: Oh, yeah, totally.

Phil: Yeah. Look, a flight [00:38:30] attendant has revealed the best places to sit on a plane to get great service. And no, it's not business class. If you're there on the back of the bus as they say in economy, get yourself right down the back, near the galley at the back. She said flight attendants don't like answering call buttons where passengers want another mini bottle of wine when they're at the front, because they have to take it all the way up the aisle, and everybody sees it and they all start pushing their buttons going I want one too. But if you're there in the back near the galley, they'll happily slip you another little mini bottle.

Kim: Yeah, but that where the loos are [00:39:00] too. On a long haul flight.

Phil: What do you want, wine or loos?

Kim: Yeah, I'll take the wine.

Phil: All right, Iceland based budget airline, WOW is beginning service, I think you pronounce it that way, who knows?

Kim: You probably don't-

Phil: It's Icelandic.

Kim: We will find out in our next podcast when we visit Iceland.

Phil: When we visit Iceland. Anyway, WOW is beginning services from the East Coast USA to Europe starting from $99. Yep, wow. The flights include a stopover in Reykjavik [00:39:30] and it must be part of a return fare, but JFK to Europe for under $200, as they say, wow. Good on your wallet, they are a budget airline, so they charge an extra fee for everything like booking over the phone, seat allocation, breathing, you know, that sort of stuff.

Kim: You've got to be careful of hidden costs, too.

Phil: Absolutely. Okay, now here's a nightmare flight for you, okay. Qatar Airways flight from Doha to Bali had to make an emergency landing in India recently after a passenger on board discovered her husband was cheating on [00:40:00] her. While he was sleeping she used his finger to unlock his phone and she discovered the affair. Now I wish I could sleep that soundly on a plane. Alright, [inaudible 00:40:10] yeah, but pretty soon he wasn't sleeping anymore because she was going ballistic at him. And she wouldn't calm down. They tried to get her to calm down and she wouldn't do it so the captain decided I'm going to have to divert, so he landed at Chennai, they offloaded her, her soon-to-be ex-husband, and their child and flew on to Bali. What a scene that would have been on the plane.

Kim: [00:40:30] Wow.

Phil: Last bit. The U.S. National Park Service, what a great time of year it is right now to go to a national park in the U.S. by the way.

Kim: Beautiful.

Phil: Fall, it's great. Anyway, they're taking applications for places in next year's intake of volunteers. They're hoping to recruit a million volunteers either in one day programs, short programs or others that can last up to months. There's an artist in residence program that you can apply for, photography and art and all those things. And there's even some living volunteer project that you can take part in, so you get to live [00:41:00] among that beautiful scenery.

Kim: That's amazing, isn't it? Anything else you'd like to share with Travel News?

Phil: I'd just say if you want to know more about that head over to and check out the opportunities. I'll put that on the show notes as well though.

Kim: Okay, let's wrap this episode up on Central America featuring Panama. As we've joked about, and the reason we're joking about it is because you and I, we have traveled with even the basic of names, we're heading off to Iceland.

Phil: It's going to be ugly is all I can say.

Kim: [00:41:30] It's going to be very ugly. So make sure you look out for that one on iTunes and,

Phil: Google Play and Stitcher and your favorite podcast player.

Recording: The World Nomads Podcast. Explore your boundaries.

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