Life Nomadic: The Pan Panama Road Trip Begins!

The best adventures are the unexpected ones.

We sat at La Novena, an amazing Vegetarian restaurant on Via Argentina in Panama City. We order the same thing every time. Soup of the day, avocado salad for me, almond and pear salad for Todd, and whole wheat pasta with eggplant and tomato. We ordered it so much last year that when we returned the chef already knew exactly what we wanted.

After a predictably amazing dinner we stood in front of the kitchen chatting with the chef, Arturo. He used to be an engineer, and it shows in his meticulous preparation of the food.

Next to him was one of his employees, chipping away at the shells of dark brown beans, putting the cleaned bean in a small tupperware container.

“Que hace ella?”

And that’s when our education on the making of chocalate began. From a town near the Costa Rican border, called Al Mirante, came the raw cacao beans. Then they fermented them, roasted them, chipped away the shells, and ground them into cocoa powder.

Amazing. Todd and I are huge fans of dark chocolate. Anything above 85%. Can we try one of the beans?

The beans were delicious. We’d had both tried packaged cocoa nibs back in the states, but this was something different. They were barely bitter, just an overpowering chocolate explosion with a subtle fruity flavor.

We were hooked. Arturo put some of the beans in a cup for us to take home and Todd and I resolved to make the twelve hour drive to Al Mirante try to visit a chocolate plantation.

After dinner we headed to an internet cafe. A quick search revealed that Thrifty would rent us a car for only $8.10 a day.

“At that price, let’s just get the thing for two weeks and go everywhere.”


We instant message our friend Vince, who is also in Panama, to see if he wants to come.

“Where are you planning on going?”

We never plan. We just go and let the adventure unfold ahead of us. The rental car wasn’t available the following morning, which had already put an annoying delay in our adventure.

From meeting fellow travelers during our time in Panama we know of a bunch of places that are worth visiting. David, Boquete (our first stop), Bocas Del Toro, El Valle De Anton, and of course a stop in Las Tablas for Carnaval again.

And so now I write this from the car as Todd drives like a madman through the Panamanian frontier. I occasionally glance up to find us in the oncoming traffic lane as he passes a car. Besides going relatively lightly on the horn, he’s adopted the Panamanian way of driving.

Thus begins the great “Pan Panama Road Trip” of 2009. Stay tuned as we go everywhere in Panama and let you know what can and can’t be missed. If you’ve been to Panama and want to suggest somewhere not on our list, let us know and we’ll probably go check it out.