After hightailing it through Central America, Andrew Evans is now traveling on the National Geographic Sea Lion to Panama (he’ll explain why he had to ditch the bus below). Be sure to watch on the Panama Canal Cam tonight at around 6 p.m. ET to see the ship pass through the Miraflores Locks. And click through to see a video tour of Andrew’s cabin on board the ship.
Nineteen buses in eight days wears you out big time. By the time I reached Costa Rica, I looked and felt (and smelled) a bit like the kind of people you often see riding buses and try to avoid. I would have avoided me too.
Fortunately I was able to clean up in time to meet my fellow travelers for the next week: passengers with Lindblad Expeditions who were flying in from Miami to Costa Rica. It felt odd stepping into the airport after more than week of bus stations and border crossings. The morning chaos at the San Jose airport reminded me how glad I was to not be flying on this trip. I felt sorry for all the people waiting in line–there were about a hundred waiting to check into a flight to Houston–where I had just come from (OK, “just” is relative, but it made me realize how far I have come, given that this city that I had passed through was now a faraway international destination).
At Arrivals, I spotted my fellow passengers thanks to the National Geographic logo on their Lindblad luggage tabs. Pretty soon we were swapping travel stories and talking about the trip ahead. I learned very quickly that Lindblad attracts the hardcore travel aficionados–people who have crisscrossed the Earth and who want to make new journeys to remote and unknown places. Now here we all were, about to head out for a week-long expedition through Costa Rica and Panama.
Now why am I along for the ride? Well, as all of my very intelligent readers have pointed out, you can’t cross the Darien Gap in a bus because there isn’t any road. As I’m determined to make this journey the old-fashioned way (by land and sea), I hitched a ride on the MV National Geographic Sea Lion which happened to be sailing the length of the Panama Canal right as I need to be crossing it and heading on to South America. At the San Jose airport, I boarded my 20th bus of the trip: a giant Lindblad tour bus that was air-conditioned (hallelujah!) and stocked with lots of cold drinks and lunches. Definitely one of the nicer buses on my trip so far. We quickly turned off the Pan-American Highway, and for the next two hours, we headed down the winding road to the Pacific Ocean. The nature in Costa Rica is simply astounding, and despite my exhaustion I stayed glued to the window watching the greenery and the roaring mountain streams. I saw scarlet macaws, a toucan, and crocodiles–all from my bus window. If I had questioned where I was before, I now knew for certain that I was in the tropics.
We boarded the National Geographic Sea Lion at sunset, and I immediately had to explore every corner of the ship. It’s quite a nifty vessel, and it reminded me of the exploration ships used by Jacques Cousteau on the documentaries I grew up on–lots of comfortable cabins, a lounge and library, and a big galley. Yet it’s also compact in size and fitted out for one thing, getting people to (and into) obscure places. And another thing: This is not a cruise ship. There are no shuffleboard games or “bingo on deck 5.” Instead, everything is built for exploring the local habitat and wildlife to the fullest extent.
Thus I settled into my cabin: After a sumptuous dinner, I lay down on my new bed for the week and passed out in about 14 seconds. I had come this far by bus, and I still have a very long way to go, but for the next seven days, this boat would be my home.
Andrew is currently on board the National Geographic Sea Lion, which is traveling from Costa Rica to Panama. Follow his Twitter feed here @Bus2Antarctica, bookmark all of his blog posts here, and get the full story on the project here. All photos and video by Andrew Evans.