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Friday Feb 16, 2001

Friday Feb 16, 2001

The yard was covered with snow this morning, an accumulation of about 6 inches.  We worried that getting to the airport might take longer, so we called Anand (who was going to drive us) and asked him to come a little early.  Luckily, he has a 4 by 4.

Getting to the airport was no problem, and after the de-icing, we took off with almost no delay.  In Atlanta, where we changed planes, the plane was almost 2 hours late, though, because of a thunderstorm.  According to the tower, winds were gusting up to 56 miles an hour. 

On the plane, I sat next to an attractive young Panamanian woman, Neiva.  She was on her way home after visiting relatives in Queens, New York.  She and I started talking in Spanish about various places to visit in Panama.  It was my first real Spanish conversation in a long time, so I was pleased that I could still speak and understand the language.  Neiva was extremely friendly, and ended up giving me her phone number, in case we ran into any problems, or needed anything in Panama.  She told me never to pay more than 3 dollars for taxis, or 5 when going to certain areas.  She also warned us about certain areas that were unsafe.  As we got off the plane, she made sure that we knew where we were going, helped us through customs (even though it was relatively straightforward), and was glad to see that there was a taxi waiting for us.   Going through the immigration line was a little frustrating—there were two lines, and the other line was twice as fast because there were two immigration officials serving it, and only one for our line.  Finally we switched lines, even though the other line was much longer, and got through a little faster.

The taxi was also waiting for some other Americans to the hotel (Hotel Covadonga).  I’m sure they get many of their clients, the foreign ones at least, because they have a very positive listing in the Lonely Planet.  The other Americans were two couples that looked like old hippies.  They’re going to be renting a 4 by 4 tomorrow.   The hotel is nothing special.  Our second floor window looks over a little alley, and it’s generally a little dingy.  I slept really well, though, because the loud air-conditioner covered up the sound of Eric’s snoring.

 

Saturday, February 17, 2001

Breakfast (not included in the $22 price of the room) downstairs was two scrambled eggs for me, and eggs and bacon for Eric, accompanied by fried bread.  As we were going out to check out the city, we realized that the compass, which has been so handy when traveling, had come off the backpack where we had hung it.  That was a sad moment.  The walk around town basically turned into a hunt for a compass (which I now know is called a brujula).  We eventually bought two, neither of which were anywhere near as good as the one from REI that we’d lost.  The area we walked around in was the Avenida Central, where there’s tons of department stores combined with grocery stores, selling absolutely everything.  There were also lots of street vendors, selling watches, hair accessories, cell phone accessories, etc.  And everywhere, people selling lottery tickets.  I’ll have to ask someone how that works, I don’t quite understand how so many people can sell lottery tickets. 

One of the compasses that we bought was at an Army Navy store.  We had asked many little sidewalk vendors if they had compasses, or knew where we could buy one, and one watch repair man told us to go to the Army Navy store nearby.   At the store, an older

Polish guy helped us find a compass.  He was curious about where we were from, and where we were going, and we ended up chatting for a while.  He came to Panama about 40 years ago, and aside from having the Army Navy store, also does some importing of goods.  Very friendly.  Eric was glad to have someone to speak to in English.  I’ll bet he was Jewish, because from his accent, it seemed like his native language was Yiddish.   He warned us to be careful in the Casco Viejo (old town) area, and said it’s okay to carry a small amount of money there, like $5, but don’t carry a lot.  At that point we actually had all our money on us, something around $700.  Yikes!

We ended up going to the Casco Viejo area, close to the shopping areas on Avenida Central.  It’s basically the second Panama City, after the first one was plundered by pirates.  Our guidebook has some warnings about this area being unsafe at night and on side streets, and I believe it—right after you walk into the neighborhood, there’s almost nobody around.  The only tourists we saw were 3 single guys.  In one ruined old army building, there were policemen on mountain bikes.  One of them came up to us and told us that they were there to make sure that criminals didn’t hang out there, and that we were welcome to wander around at will, and that if there’s anything he could do for us, we should let him know.  Very friendly, as all the Panamanians we’ve dealt with have been.  Both of us were definitely feeling pretty nervous in this neighborhood, especially when we passed a group of young men that looked to be in their late teens, and didn’t look like they were very law abiding. 

Right across from the San Jose church in Casco Viejo, another policeman on a bicycle told us that we should be very careful, and not go into certain areas.  He pointed down the road, and said stuff like, “See where that guy is going, with the red shorts?  Don’t go in that area”.  We basically took it to mean that after checking out the church, we should head out of that area.  The church was famous for having a golden altar, but to me it just looked like it was painted with gold paint.

Right outside the church some little kids asked us to take their pictures.  I thought at first they wanted to get paid for it, but no, they just wanted to have their pictures taken.  All of them (two boys and one girl, I guessed they were about 5 or 6) posed in the type of postures seen in rap movies, crouching down and making weird hand gestures.  It’s sad, the influences they’ve had in their lives. 

We saw our first Kuna Indians here.  It’s only the women that look recognizably different from the average Panamanian, mainly because they still dress in the traditional style.  This means a multi-colored blouse with appliqué front and back, a solid set of beads on their calves, a small discreet gold nose ring, and a multi-colored skirt.  They’re also quite a bit shorter than the average Panamanian.  I was itching to take a picture of them, but I didn’t.  We saw one Kuna family eating lunch in the same place we did (a pizza place that served relatively large personal pizzas, but without any tomato sauce).  Instead of having one pizza each, all four of them (parents with 2 children) all shared one pizza.

After Casco Viejo, we took a taxi to the intersection of Via Argentina and Via Espana.  There’s a bookstore there which is apparently the best in the city, according to the guidebook and our taxi drive (cheap—only $1.50), but I was pretty disappointed—it was small, and had absolutely no nature guides like I was looking for, such as books on the plants and birds of Panama.  Still, the woman in the store was very friendly.  It’s funny—it seems like all the stores off the main Avenida Central have their doors shut and locked all the time, but had someone stationed at the door to open it when a customer comes by.  I assume it’s for security reasons.

We went back to the room to do some more planning on what we wanted to do for the rest of our time in Panama.  I was in favor of spending some time on Isla Taboga, very close to Panama.  Doing that would mean that we won’t be able to pick up the car when we thought, though, so we tried calling the Budget rental car place to change the pickup date.  They never answered the phone, though.   We didn’t want to call from the room, since it’s 50 cents a minute, so we went out and bought a phone card to use at a public phone.  The guy that sold us the phone card at a Texaco station was very friendly, got out some chairs for us so we could wait in air conditioned comfort for some other people to get off the phone, and then finally invited us to go upstairs in the office to make our call when it seemed like the other folks would be on the public phone for a while.

We ended up going to the Budget rental agency, where they didn’t know a thing about their phones being down.  Eric was able to get them to change the reservation to a few days later.

We were going to have dinner at a typical Panamanian restaurant not far from our hotel, but when we drove by in the taxi (we took a taxi because the guy at the hotel basically said that walking at night wasn’t safe) it turned out to be closed, so we drove back and ate at the restaurant belonging to the hotel.  I had a very good seafood soup and fruit salad, and Eric had some kind of fried chicken thing with fried plantains, plus cream of mushroom soup. 

 

 Sunday, February 18, 2001

We got up early to take the 7:45 ferry to Taboga today.  The taxi we took was a Toyota Tercel with 326,000 miles on it—so mine, with only about 90,000, has a lot of life left in it, I hope!  There was a woman already in the cab—apparently taxi drivers double up on passengers sometimes.  Also, last night when we took a taxi, the driver stopped and got $3 worth of gas when it was on empty.  We assumed from that that the taxi was shared, and he was just renting it for the night to make some money.

Taboga is a small island not too far from Panama City.  As a matter of fact, you can see the city from here.  It’s quiet and peaceful, though.  We ended up staying at a place called Hotel Chu, about a 5 minute walk from the pier where the ferry docks.  It’s a pretty rustic place, no air conditioning and no private bathrooms, but right next to the ocean, and with a huge open-air restaurant downstairs that has great views. 

We took some walks around the island.  The road is very narrow, and basically for pedestrians, although we did see some 4 wheel ATVs.  It’s a pleasure to walk around here where there aren’t any cars.  The main hotel here, Hotel Taboga, sits right next to this beach spit that goes out to Isla El Morro.  We walked out there and checked out the little island a bit.  Another American was out there as well, and we chatted together a while.  He’s a “Canal Brat”, he said—grew up here, and has a lot of memories of what it was like back before the canal was given to Panama.   He was a member of Panama Historical Society, and a big bottle collector.  The island of El Morro was formerly the headquaters of the Pacific Steamship Navigation Company back before 1850, and there’s all kinds of old equipment here, rusted up and half submerged in the water.  There’s also many bottle shards around, from large black bottles that apparently have the crest of the steamship company on them.  We never saw a whole one, but the other guy thought he found one embedded in the concrete, and tried digging it out.  It didn’t work, though.

We went back to the hotel for lunch, which took forever to come—they had quite a few people here, and there was just the old guy and his daughter doing all the serving.  After lunch, we relaxed, reading, for a while, then took a nap to avoid the noonday sun.  At around 4, we walked towards the western side of the island, hoping to see some of the WWII fortifications.   There’s 2 big Quonset huts out there, all overgrown, and some concrete fortifications, but that’s about it.  We found another beach which looks very nice—might need to check it out tomorrow for snorkeling.  It only takes about half an hour to walk out there if you don’t stop, like we didn’t on the way back.  Got some more photos of the old ruined equipment on Isla El Morro on the way back as well, since the tide was way out and there was much more to see.

Apparently the restaurant was closed tonight, but they made us some dinner anyway, thank goodness.  We were the only ones eating here.   From the time we got here, at about 6:30, and about 7, it went from quite light to completely dark.  Definitely no extended twilights here.  Eric had Chinese style fried rice with chicken, and I had seafood soup (it was better at the other restaurant), plus we had fried yucca, a plate of pineapple, and one of papaya.

 

Monday, February 19, 2001

Eric and I got up relatively early, and without having breakfast went for a walk to the top of the island.  It took us about an hour to get to the top, stopping occasionally to look at various plants and insects.  We didn’t see any birds except for the ubiquitous vultures and brown pelicans, though.  The road up was very well maintained, considering that it was a dirt road.  All the vegetation was cleared out along the sides, and it was pretty smooth going.  There was one very nice looking piece of property, all fenced, on the right which had an interesting concrete slide going into it.  I assume that, since the incline towards the house was so steep, they just slid supplies in on the slide, instead of carrying it down. 

At the top of the hill is an old lookout from WWII.  There’s a wonderful view from up there of Panama City, the boats waiting to go through the canal, and the surrounding islands.  Lots of pelicans were soaring right next to the lookout, because the thermals came up on a steep cliff right next to it. 

There were dozens of white domed instruments right next to the lookout.  We had a hard time figuring out what they were, but we lifted the dome off one of them, and Eric recognized that they were radio beacons for airplanes.  Also, there was a much more elaborate navigation array on a peak a couple hundred yards away.  This explains why the road was so well maintained, and the power lines were so much more robust than those supplying the town with power: the navigation array is maintained with federal money for the nearby international airport.

We came back around 10:30 and had a very late breakfast (there was only french toast and eggs, so that’s what we had, along with papaya).  The past few meals that we’ve had, we’ve been all alone in the restaurant.  I guess the only busy time that they have is on weekends.  After breakfast we relaxed in our room, and planned for further travels.  Around noon we went to ask about the schedule for the ferry.  Noon is definitely not the time to be outside here—the sun is very strong, and hits you right on top of the head. 

We had also talked to the manager of the hotel here about where good spots for snorkeling are.  He suggested that we rent a guy to take us around the island on a boat.  We thought about it, but ended up not doing it, since the sea seemed a little rough.

Eric got a little frustrated at not speaking Spanish after we went and talked to some people who were filleting fish close to the water.  Apparently these are fish that they were given by some of the ships containing freezers full of frozen fish that are waiting to go through the canal.  One of them in particular, the Green Reefer, has been there ever since we came there.  The man used the word, “regalan”, which means to give as a gift, but it seems a little unusual that the fishing ship would just give them the fish without getting anything else in return.  The fishing boats prefer tuna, so most of the fish that they were given were other types (one called dorado, and another that I think was called gallo, or something like that).  The people were filleting it, and then putting the fillets into plastic grocery bags.

We also saw a boatful of young kids that delivered lunches to the larger ship.  The guy from the hotel said that there was some kind of “contract” with the boats for the delivery of the lunches.  I didn’t really understand the details, though.

At around 4, after the heat of the day is over, we went for a walk down the fork of the road that we missed when going up the hill this morning.  It didn’t take long to get to the end, which had some pretty small old buildings from WWII.  There were some great views along the way, but the best views were occupied by smelly garbage dumps, unfortunately.  The piles of the more recent garbage were covered with vultures, picking through it.  I was wondering before what they do with garbage here—now I know.  We also noticed that the sewage just goes straight out from the hotel and from other buildings into the ocean via a long wide pipe.  I guess that’s the cheap way to do it, and there’s not enough money her to do it any other way.

 

Tuesday, February 20, 2001

After another cold shower this morning (which is not so bad given that it is pretty warm here) we had breakfast this morning at the Hotel Chu.  Ordering was interesting because every second item seemed to not exist.  After breakfast at 9am we briefly met a young American couple (carrying remarkably heavy backpacks) headed for the same boat we intended to use to go back to Panama City, 45 minutes early.  Eric entered the nearest phone booth and changed into Early Man at the thought of missing the boat.  We had two sources tell us that the boat was to leave at 9:45am.  Needless to say, we rushed to pack up and head down to the pier where we stayed in line for 30 minutes!

In Panama City, we hoped into a cab driven by a very good English speaker.  He described a number of sights as we passed them.  Also, he was the first source which described Colon as less than dangerous!  He said that some evangelical Christian group had converted all the gang members and had them spreading the Word instead of violence.  Given all the information which ways that Colon is so bad, we took his description with a handful of salt.  The cabby dropped us at the Budget car rental agency.

At Budget we dealt with the same woman who we had delay our reservation by two days.  She was very friendly, which mad up for the fact that it took more than an hour to get the paperwork in order.  Eric was very careful to indicate every scratch and mark on the car.  By the end of the inspection, the paper indicating problems was all speckled with pen marks!

We hopped into the rented Toyota 4-Runner and sped into Panamanian traffic.  Again, as in Turkey, Eric’s naturally aggressive driving style came in handy.  We drove to a chain of three islands connected by a causeway and had lunch at a pretty fancy place.  There were a number of other Americans there as well.  They seemed to be doing business there.  After lunch we went to a park which was funded by the Smithsonian Institute.  Best bathrooms we have seen yet!  I guess where the environment is at stake, money is no object.  We had fun handling some sea life interpreted by employees there, as well as viewing Pacific and Caribbean fish in what had to be the worlds most expensive fish tank!  We also walked in a ‘dry forest’ which housed a three toed sloth and various other kept animals.

We then drove to the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal.  The locks were well touristed by Panamanians and foreigners alike.  We saw a couple very large boats go through, both of them Pana-max boats which are designed specifically to fit to the dimensions of the canal.  Trains which cost more than 2 million a piece are used to haul the boats through the canal with as little as 2 feet clearance on either side.  It was neat to see such large vessels so close.  We also viewed a 10 minute movie in English in which the history of the canal was outlined.  Before the film an employee asked the group where they were from.  When we said America, he asked “where?”.  We then said from the United States, at which point he continued on.  Evidently calling ourselves American is not Kosher in this part of the world.

We then took to the road again and started our way to Porto Bello.  Getting nearer to Colon (a place to be avoided) we noticed a remarkable number of highway advertising everything from watches to perfume.  We stopped at a large super market (El Rey) and bought some food.  Here we had our first encounter with a man who said he would watch after our car.  Eric paid him a quarter when we got back to the car.  The prices in the store seemed to be quite high and we figured that most locals would be unable to afford items from there.

We started back on the road but soon realized that we had missed our turn, and were headed, gasp!, directly into the city of Colon!  Images of being dragged from our car and robbed leaped through our minds (we had heard so many bad things about Colon).  We turned around and asked a man at a gas station the way to Porto Bello. He directed us back to the crossroads at the super market.

It was dark when we arrived in Porto Bello.  At one point Eric had to use 4-wheel drive to back out of a steep driveway.  He was quite excited to make use of it!  We had a hard time finding a place to stay, but ended up at a dive center which rents little bungalows for $30 a night.  Luckily the air conditioner works, but there are mosquitoes!  Eric hates mosquitoes.  However, this trip we were prepared with 100% deet and a mosquito net. 

 

Wednesday, February 21, 2001

The outside of this little cabin is great—nice balcony, hammock, the ocean about 3 feet away.  But inside, not a lot of effort was put into cleanliness. There was still sand on the floor and mattresses, plus smashed blood-filled mosquitos on the wall.  We slept fairly well, though. Got an early start, with peanut butter sandwiches, bananas and oranges for breakfast.  There’s a German family next door who had oatmeal for breakfast.  I guess if you make some effort, you can eat pretty healthily even on vacation.  They were traveling with 2 little girls, one of them about 3, and the other a baby.  It must be pretty difficult to travel like that.  They did have a car, a 4 by 4, with Nicaraguan plates, so I assume that they rented it there.  Later on the lady from the hotel told us that their kids weren’t doing very well, that both of them were crying all the time and seemed kind of sick, so they went to find a doctor.

This morning we toured the ruined Spanish fortresses from around the 1500’s.   We’d seen them last night when we were driving around trying to find a place to stay—they were these big hulking ruins looming in the darkness.  They’re actually quite impressive, with lots of old cannons, corral cut into blocks to make the fortification, etc.  We were pretty worried about leaving the car alone, and had a scare where when a car alarm sounded when we were away from it.  Walked back to the car, and moved it to another location that seemed a little better.

There’s 3 separate fortresses here with fairly similar architecture.  The smallest, unnamed one is a steep climb up a hill south of town.  It’s small and square, with a moat around it and a well inside.  Great view of the bay from up there. 

On our way back to the car we stopped for a soda and popsicles at the Chinese grocery store here in town.  I say Chinese because last night when we stopped there for directions, there was a Chinese guy there, and this morning there was a Chinese woman at the cash register.  It’s amazing how Chinese people get around and open stores all over the place (later, we were told that the Chinese mafia does all the paper work for the Chinese families.  The first generation are indentured servants, basically, the second pays back the mafia and the third is free).  They weren’t particularly friendly.  There’s an interesting assortment of food there—very little produce, I think they only had plantains, potatoes, and cabbage.  Prices weren’t low on the things that I recognized—for instance, they had jello for about 45 cents, which is similar to in the US.  And vegatable oil was sold in all kinds of tiny sizes, down to little pouches that held less than half a cup of oil.  I figured that they can’t afford the larger sizes, so they buy the small ones as they need it. 

As we were sitting and eating our Popsicles, a British couple walked up to us, and asked us where we were staying.  They were older, maybe mid 60’s, and carried one larger backpack and three smaller ones.  It seemed pretty inconvenient to have so many separate pieces of luggage to deal with, especially traveling on bus as they did.   They were retired, and for the past 6 years or so had done numerous trips around the world, usually of a couple months at a time.  They did say that they were getting to the end of there traveling.  Although I admire having the gumption to get up and do some fairly rough traveling at that age, frankly, I don’t think I’d want to do that in my 60’s.  I’d want some more comfort.  Heck, I want more comfort now!

We told them about our place, and offered to drive them there (it’s a couple kilometers out of town).  They thought it was too expensive, so we drove them to another place, similar to this one, which was even more expensive at $35 a night.  Plus, the woman there was really strange, and seemed almost retarded.  We then drove them back to town, where I asked around for lodgings for them.  We ended up looking at that place that was pointed out to us last night.  They had rooms for $10 and $15, but they didn’t seem all that desirable, plus the bathroom smelled bad.  They seemed to expect something quite different from Portobello.  Apparently their guidebook (the Let’s Go guide to Central America) has Portobello listed as a place with tons of hotels, and many beaches.  But there aren’t really any beaches here, you have to take a boat to them.

They finally took our stuff, and said that they would probably just take a bus back to the junction at Sabanitas, and head on somewhere else from there.  I felt kind of bad for them, like they weren’t having very much fun on their vacation.  

Back at our place, we asked about doing a snorkel trip. The lady here said she could arrange a trip to a beach where we could snorkel, and they would just leave us there for however long we wanted, then pick us up.  The price is $14, which seems reasonable.  Eric and I packed up a lunch and the other things that we’d need, and got in a long boat, meant for divers (basing that on the fact that they had many places meant for storing air tanks).  The ride out was rough.  I’m not a big fan of going rough water in small boats, so I was pretty nervous.  But we got there fine, to a small beach with lots of trees around it for shade.  There was a guy there in one of those tiny wooden canoes, collecting fruit from neglected trees at an abandoned farm (I asked what he was doing).  He had 2 stalks of bananas, 2 or 3 oranges, and a couple fruits I didn’t know by the time he left.

The beach was great.  There was quite a bit of garbage around, but not enough to really spoil it.  Lots of trees overhanging the water, good shade.  There doesn’t appear to be much of a tide here, maybe only 2 or 3 feet or so.  We went snorkeling for the first time there.  Snorkeling was decent, although the water wasn’t that clear.  We saw quite a few fish, and other sea life.  I remembered how different it is when you actually dive down a little bit—it makes a huge difference in how much color you see. 

After snorkeling we hung out, read, took a mini-walk on the beach (there wasn’t much to walk on, if you didn’t want to walk in the jungle), and ate lunch.  The boy was late picking us up, and on the way back, the engine was sounding really strange.  We were going at just above idle speed, it seemed like.  We were worried that th engine might quit altogether and leave us stranded in a rough ocean, blowing us into a rocky shore nearby.

After we got home, Eric took a quick shower, then we went for a drive to Nombre de Dios, and then Puerto Lindo.  It was our first experience of real countryside here.  Good to have our own wheels.

It gets dark here at around 6:30.  At around 6:45, we were driving along on our way home, and had a dog dart out in front of us.  Bang, thud, thud.  I looked through the rear-view mirror, and saw it get up, limping.  It must had some really bad internal injuries, though.  We didn’t know what to do—go back, face some poor irate Panamanian who would potentially try to extort money from the foreigners?  Or just drive on, feeling guilty?  We chose to drive on.  I don’t think we would have decided differently even now.  There’s nothing we could have done, and we weren’t at fault.  This must happen all the time, what with all the dogs loose on the road.  We even had to steer around dogs that were lying in the middle of the road.  Also, the collision broke the plastic shield for the right turn signal; we’ll probably have to cough up some bucks to the rental company.  We hope it’s not too much.

 

Thursday, February 22, 2001

We got up pretty early from our last night in Porto Bello, leaving around 8am or so.  We first drove to Gamboa, hoping to see some confiscated Nazi cranes which are described in our guidebook as particularly amazing.  Unfortunately, we could not find them when we got there and a fellow at a gas station said that the cranes were moved south along the canal to perform some work.  We then started to drive around Gamboa, and discovered that it is an old US military base.  We were quite interested in the old military housing.  Three stories tall with parking and tool shed on the first floor, kitchen and living room on the second and bedrooms on the third.  It looked like each building would house two large families.  Some of the housing was in terrible repair, with all sorts of the building stripped away, while others were occupied by locals and even others which looked to have been fully restored which seemed to either be for sale, or used to house guests of a nearby resort.

There was not much more to Gamboa.  We found the resort there which seemed to tout itself as an eco-tourism place.  They had a tram which would take you into the forest, and also had other nature dohickies to look at.

We left Gamboa and headed back towards Panama City, stopping off at a trailhead into the Parque National Soberania.  At the trailhead there was a guy dipping sticks of wood in tar.  It turns out that there was a crew improving the trail there, using the tarred sticks.  We walked along it.  About half way, we heard monkey sounds!  We couldn’t see any, but some Panamanians that Sylvia talked to at the end of the trail said that in the morning and evening there are a number of monkeys to be seen.

Driving further on we saw a sign for “Canopy Towers”.  We had heard a bit about this place, and parked at the gate and started walking up to the summit (a sign at the road said that the “road” didn’t like being driven on, and that if you did not have reservations the “road” would like it if you walked.  Anthropomorphizing roads is not my sort of thing.  The road up was one of those which teases you as to how far it is.  Perhaps only a little farther!  We took about 30 minutes walking up the steep road, arriving at an old US radar installation.  We rang the call button at the gate and were greeted by a boy who said that we could not come in!  After a walk like that, and also given the fact that the sign at the bottom suggested that we were welcome to walk up to the facility.  Not very friendly.  We walked back down and continued on. 

A few kilometers down the road, we stopped at a small zoo where we paid a buck each to enter.  There were monkeys, birds and large cats at this zoo.  Interestingly enough, the monkeys were with in touching distance of us.  Not something that you would find in a US zoo.  We did, in fact, touch the tails of a couple monkeys.  They seemed nonplussed.  There was also a very large crocodile there, at least 15 feet long: very impressive beast.  On our way out, we each got a hot dog and shared a slurpy.

We then headed past Panama City towards a popular beach area.  We stopped at on place which seemed to have nice rooms, but they only had availability for one night (Carnival starts the next night).  We decided to drive on, hoping to find a place which could put us up for at least two nights.  Along the main highway, we saw signs advertising “XS” which Sylvia recognized as a place run by Americans and described as “intriguing” by the Lonely Planet guide book.  We pulled in, and discovered that there was availability for two nights.  The place is run by Dennis and Sheila.  The first night we where there, there was a large gathering of Americans who live in Panama at the restaurant.  Dennis described XS as being a “club” for Americans in the area.  They were doing a pretty good business in the restaurant.  Sheila ran the restaurant and hotel, while Dennis ran a kayaking business, and maintained the place.  Upon talking to them, we found that they have had many problems with the Panamanian way of doing business.  Evidently to get anything done in Panama, you have to establish a relationship with those whom you want to do business with, and only then can you expect any kind of service.  Not the American or European way of doing things.  We noticed that the Americans here smoke and drink a lot here.  We had dinner there, took a quick walk, looking at the brilliant stars, and went to bed.

 

 

Friday, February 23, 2001

-         went kayaking on the chame river which was very low (even lower than they expected)

-         our guide was Sven – German livin here for 7 years. – married to a panamainian/argintinian woman – speaks Spanish very well. – very tanned face. – had white lines in his face

-         Bill from the Yukon territories joined us, he said that if he knew he was going to live this long, he would have taken better care of himself

-         Bill works in the oil field – manual labor perhaps – worked every where – austrailia. – typical Canadian – very friendly

-         Sven does not like gringos – narrow minded

-         Saw river birds – herons egrets – yellow and black ones (nigger geese)

-         Saw cattle on the river – saw locals fishing and swimming and cleaning cloths in the river.

-         Had Vienna sausage, cheese crakes, saltines, raisens and and apple for lunch

-         Got very hot as the trip went n – we put on several layers of sun shade – it probably saved our lived J

-         The river was so low that we ended up dragging the boats quite often

-         We talked with Sven a lot – learned a lot about panama – after 3 months employed you have to start paying social security.

-         Bill got burned

-         The river got murky towards the end – also got tidal near the end (near the sea)

-         River was really clear at first

-         We could have gone farther, but the sun was very high up, and it would have been had work

-         After trip, went to the Canadian compund where we met ralph and his wife where we had 3 drinks

-         They were very friendly – drank and smoked non stop

-         Talked with dutch guy and his Columbian wife

-         She taught bonsai cutting on a cruise ship.

-         Bill was there – Sven was there

-          

 

Saturday, February 24, 2001

-         left XS

-         Drove to Penenome to see carnival

-         Floas were later than advertised

-         Saw water guns

-         Got cash

-         Drove to el vialle

-         El valle very nice – beautiful, cool, clear

-         Expensive houses

-         Met Manfred – german owner – very interesting – intereting life

-         Saw painted rocks – hired kid to take us there – rocks were really painted

-         Saw dinky water fall

-         Sugar boat story

-         Driving car into hotel and buying it in Spain

-         Buffet dinner

-         Circular room

-         Ibeam construction

-         Talking about labor issues – retirees having 50% off hotels, 25 off restaurants

-         17% occupancy from 15 over 3 years.

 

Sunday, February 25, 2001

Talked to manfried more in el valle.    

Small French toast for eric, I had pancake.  Service has weird lapsese, like they take aay some dirty plates, and leave some.  Manfried was telling us more about trials and problems with the help.

Gave some bread with butter.

Found out he haad  a family at one time, when he asked for a raise in germany, and ended up working in us.   Lots of stories about how he worked all over the world, absolutely everwhere—iraq, iran, emirates, Saudi Arabia, us, Africa on a ferry system, etc.  germany

Bought  7 molas for for 32 dollars from a kuna Indian.  Also tshirt and little rooster container, broke other one. Market was very enmpty.  Internet café, slow connection.     Power outage, manfried needs to have generators for freezers if out for more than 8 hours..

Drove down to main road again, selling furniture.  In picture looks like miniature, because is crude. One legg guy

Blown up stuff from invasion.   Library that looked like shower.  All police have been very friendly

Then drive to las tables.  Lots of police checkpoints.

Parking was easy, 3 bucks.

  Lots and lots of drunks, most of them seem to be below 25.  actually most between 15 and 20.  glassy eyed, swaying, bloodshot, holding on to eachother, carrying coolers.   Disappointing that we didn’t see any real floats.  People friendly, didn’t see fights.  Asked army where to take pictures, he told some guys to show us around.  Got police escort around.  Stopped when a guy insulted them, picked up dollar, they were preoccupied, stopped showing us around.

We ate rice, chicken, ribs (very good),soda (4.5) little skewers of meat for  .25, little ice creams for 25.  all quite good.  Talked to ron, a guy from the southern us, for a whilein a restaurant.  He confirmed everything about how there’s a very different attitude here, etc.  thought canal would become less functional because maintenance wouldn’t be as strong.  Talked about wife and schooling, said that she could either go to work or school, but had to do one.  Cosmetology.  Didn’t say to much about what he does—he said he hangs around, is retired, makes contacts.  We wonder-drugs?  Retired from military?  Goes to costa rica to get around immigration requirements of leaving the country every 3 montsh. Told details, plus all the costs involved in it. Used lots of picturesque expressions.  Talked very southern.  Also talked about the 3 month employment thing being really bad.  One house around here, far off road, and also a house in panama city.  Long blond red hair, mid 40’s. 

Left, drove to Santiago. 

Stopped at cockfight, but nothing was happening right then.  Friendly group has us sit with them, want us to drink, but we said we’re driving, so we can’t.  one of them spoke a little English.  Very friendly. 

 

Blinkers, drunk drivers, weaving.

cockfight

mcdonalds for dinner.

 

Monday, February 26, 2001

Got up in Santiago.  Hotel was a pretty good value, large, they seemed to be organized pretty well.  Had breakfast at the little restaurant attached to the hotel.  Service was really poor, the guy didn’t understand what was up even when I pointed to the combination on the menu that I wanted.  Maybe he was illiterate. 

Up road.  Nancito, stopped at carvings.  Interesting, more so than ones at el valle, which have been painted over.  These have a little bit of paint or chalk in them, but not too much.  Very abstract designs, very interesting.  Kids with 2 women there, staying for holidays. Chatted a bit.  Her brother in law in new jersey.  Down road, great view of valley emptyin ginto ocean.  Aimed for boquete, but missed turn (which wasn’t marked at all!) went to turnoff to volcan, realized, went back.  At least people very helpful when ask directions.  Stopped at Kentucky fried chicken for lunch—they wen’t as on the ball as at mcdonalds.  Didn’t give us roll-asked, said don’t have any.

Long empty road up to david.  People blinking for cops.

Toyota place closed.

Up to boquete, lots of cops asking for id on the road. Beautiful town.  Saw place we’d booked at—pension Virginia, looked run down, so drove around.  Other places full, went in.  first room sucked, later room nicer, lots of light.  Still kinda run down.  Out to tourist office, guy lived in charlotte 5 years! Studied English, business at cpcc.  English wasn’t good at all, though.  No maps of area that they’re supposed to have-typical.  Great view from there.  Other place-gringo motor scotter rental—had maps.   Very friendly.  Told me about Sendero Los Queztales. 

 

Walked up paved narrow path that went by lots of houses.  First time saw coffee.  Friendly people, one guy running down with guitar.  Lots of people with machete, then hat, then little woven bag that they carry.  Picked orange, peeled, suck out inside.

 

Stopped at price smart, which is owned by Costco.  Very interesting to go in-like an island of America here.  Prices not great at all, little selection of produce.   Fun to see interesting packaging, huge sizes.

 

Dinner at Mexican rest.  Nachos and chips—cheese very unsalty, but good.  Eric had chicken breast a la nortena, with wine—his was very good.  Mine was just a chicken in soft tortilla thing loaded with melted cheese—not great.  German couple there, with a couple phrasebooks, and a panama guidebook different from ours.  Then large panamian family.

 

 

Tuesday, February 27, 2001

Up and out pretty early. Out to do sendero los queztales.  Road up to there was great, lots of photo opps, light was super.  Saw sign for path, very confusing.  Went up, looked like a private house, went another direction with barbed wire fence, turned back, were going to go up another road, but a taxi with 2 americans in it stopped in.  we asked them, they said this is it.  So we went up.   They had 2 fancy binoculars.  We went up, left the behind.  Beautiful.  No birds or anything, though.  No trash, mainly—unusual, prob because only tourists.  Lots of pipes.  Ended up at water pump area.  Tried looking for another path, but couldn’t.  gorge.  Turned back. 

Backery place—had massive huge bun thing, like bear claws but 3 times the size, not greasy or very sweet at all, some raisins.  Very doughy, but I got to like them.  Decent for breakfast.  Also only .25 each.  Also bought these things like cinnamon rolls for .20.  also not sweet, not as doughy, though.  Had those for snack.  Pasture.  Cows.  On way back, saw bull and thought it was vicious—staring at us.  A guy working on slope whistled at us, and we thought he motioned to not go through.  We looked for alternate path on river, didn’t find.  Walked all around on slope.  He ended up coming down, motioned us to come right in.  turned out the bull was no problem, that he saw us hesitating and was motioning us to go straight through.  Funny. 

Then up 4 wheel drive road.  First for eric driving. Made good use of 4 wheel drive.  Eric liked.  Very rough.  Good views.  Stopped at unoccupied ranger station, then walked.  Couple guys fixing road, throwing big rocks in car, etc.  one car looked like it was going all the way through to the other side (volcan).  Going down, things less interesting, no view. 

 

Picnic at ranger station.  Bench  homemade, wood all warping.

 

German family with teenagers, walked all way up.  Also british couple with guide (camo sneakers),they were getting picked up at other side.

 

Touched nettle things, hurt.

 

Masks on cows that were plowing because of spraying. 

 

 

Mi jardin es su jardin.  Talked to guy—who worked there, 10 to 12 k expenses a year. 15 employees. Interesting place.  Owner owns hotels, other businesses in Miami. Lots of people there, mostly from here, no gringos.

 

Back, have ice cream (.25, have grape nut flavor that has little grape nut things in it.  It wsn’t good, though. Yesterday had what American guy here called grape nut flavor, but it was rum raisin.  American guy wasn’t as interesting as manfried.  Didn’t speak much Spanish, was kinda slow.  Friendly, though. Here 5 years.  Mother in law owned place, she’s dead, now property going through probate (restaurant, hotel). 

 

Called car rental place and told them that we wanted the car for a little more.  Then back to the bakery to try those folded over cheese pastries again, that were good yesterday.  When we tried them now, though, they weren’t good at all, even though we went to the same place.  I guess there’s not a lot method to these places, and they might make it differerently from one time to the next.

 

Dinner was at a very local place here.  It was great—I had the chicken special of the day, with rice, chicken, salad, and cooked plantains and eric had the beef special, the same with a beef potato stew and a soda for 3.55.

 

Took drive around the Volcancito loop, where road up to volcan baru is, the one where supposedly you need a winch.  Lots of great houses, some with great views.  Of course some really small dirty shacks as well.  Lots of Indians wearing their typical dress (women only), which is pretty much a brightly colored very loose smock, with some embroidery on it.  I really wanted a picture, but couldn’t think of a good way to ask to take one.  I asked for directions a couple times from Indians.  I don’t think they understand Spanish that well—I had a really hard time making myself understood. I think they live in these really small concrete shacks in rows that are right next to the coffee fields.  What I don’t know is if they live there permanently.  They’re incredibly small.  The Indians that we stopped to ask directions of off, whether this was the road to boquete, were very dirty—arms and hands all black with dirt or soot, and frankly looked pretty primtive.  I think that they would deal with some nasty looks in town if they didn’t clean up better.  Then again, we did see lots in town that looked much cleaner. They tend to be very short and stocky.

 

Back at the Pension Virginia, we saw the red haired woman with the baby, the one we were wondered about, whether she was here alone.  It turns out she is.  We chatted with her for about 2 hours.  Eager to talk, always brought up new things to talk about.  Very nice, chatty.

 

From tenessee

Traveled all over world, speaks Spanish well (semester abroad at age 15 in spain,

Natives in san blas islands grabbed her kid, made him sensitive, he didn’t let anyone else touch him after that, would cry when anyone else came up.  Kid blond, blue eyed.

Traveled all over central, south America

Pampers.

Can’t imagine what it would be like to travel like htat.  She seemed to be very exhausted at the stress of traveling with a child. Said that at home everyone said she was crazy to travel alone with a kid, and although she’d never admit it to people at home, now she thinks it was a bad idea. 

Hard time finding places that would accept kids

Talked a lot about traveling in India, stayed at $1 a night places, ripped off by taxi drivers.  Very very dirty, polluted.

Lived in equator.  Took husband back to there, where she was blown away by el nino.  Town really depressing now, husband started drinking again.

Lived in costa rica with older man and wife, somehow connected with them.  Like paradaise, grew all own fruit and stuff, baked own bread.  Then husband died, and wife moved back to a nursing home in tenessee, very depressing.

Husband carpenter, makes 24 k a year.  Good for tenesee, bought house for 58 k, 500 mortgage  a month (fixer upper that they’re fixing up)

She said India has highest per capita income in world.  Don’t know how that was defined.

Name Linda, kid Matthew.

Husband didn’t want to come, wanted to work on the house instead.

 

Wednesday, February 28, 2001

We were going to go to El Sabroson again for breakfast, since we got such a great deal yesterday on dinner.  But we saw Laura and Matthew down in the Restaurante Virginia, having breakfast, and so we decided to eat with them.  We had the best pancakes we’ve had.  They brought us out guanabana jam, which I didn’t like but Eric did.  Also some fresh squeezed orange juice, and an amazing hot chocolate for eric—they make it with nutmeg and cinammon, and it just tastes wonderful.  I’m going to try to reproduce the taste when I get back home.

We wanted to take a drive around that last loop (palo alto) that we didn’t get to yesterday, and.  Laura was interested in coming as well, so off we went, with Laura in Matthew in the back (I offered them the front seat, but Laura was afraid Matthew would grab the steering wheel or something. The light was great that early in the morning, so I took more photos, we stopped and looked at horses.  Also went to the Café Ruiz tour, which is aplace that ferments and roasts coffee.  Fun seeing all the stuff.  They only pay 2.50 for a huge container of “cherry coffee”, that looked about like one cubic foot.  That looks like a ton of work for very little money.  Apparently they used to pay 10.00, but prices have fallen a lot.  Had a great tour, free, from Eusebio, who spoke in English pretty well.  Fermenting vats, roasting machines, etc, different types of roast (French, Italian, etc.)  Laura bought some coffee for her husband (she’s not a coffee drinker). 

 

 Then checked out of Pension Virginia, tried to get some of the really doughy buns we had yesterday at the backery, but they didn’t have them.  So we just drove towards david, stopping at the Toyota dealership.  Unfortunately they didn’t have the part we needed to replace the front turn signal that broke when we hit the dog.  They should have it in tomorrow, though.  Then on to Honconcito, then Boca Chica, then Isla Boca Brava.  There’s a place here with cabins and a restaurant run by a german guy, Frank.  Really unique looking guy, with really thick long blond hair going gray.  The cabins are fine, but like everywhere on the beach, there’s tons of bugs.  22 a night.  They also very rustic little shacks, all bamboo, for 7 a night, plus you can sleep in a hammock for 2 a night.

 

On the way, saw and ate cashew apple (funny tasting, all juice, not bad).  Drunk couple on the road, asked directions, were going to offer ride, but they looked liked they’d been rolling in the dirt.  American couple from Idaho stopped, we chatted a while.  They drove from Idaho in truck, slept in back (a short bed truck, too, so not much room), cooked for themselves, etc.  very simple living.  Very interesting. 

 

Beach, water not clean

 

I had shark, eric had snapper for dinner.  Both good.  Dinner with Patrick and Quincy (couple from Idaho).  Very very interesting couple.  She does all kinds of stuff, is taking anthropology classes now, before was taking architecture.  Does white water river guiding, now will do fly fishing guiding on salmon river.  They live in a yurt that he built (it’s a hobby of his to build yurts, but mainly he’s a carpenter of custom homes).  She’s traveled quite a bit, he hasn’t.

 

He’s now building custom home for them, 1 bedroom and a loft.  Sounds cute, but not too good for resale market. They’ve looked at some of the same books about building small houses that I have, that have  a lot of houses in the san juan islands (the not so big house book).

 

Ski bums.

 

Traveling is a really good way to meet very interesting people.  Especially here in panama, in a place that isn’t heavily traveled, you meet only the most interesting travelers.

 

 

Meet really interesting people here.

 

Got slow start here, didn’t enjoy the start of the trip because it felt like too soon after we’d been traveling (turkey). But getting to like it now, things are fine.  I like panama, there’s lots of interesting places to see.  People are super, very friendly, haven’t gotten ripped off at all, very nice.  Getting up into the highlands has been wonderful, with the coolness of it. 

 

Thursday, March 01, 2001

Slept all right last night.  There were noises of either a monkey or a porcipine climbing on the roof this morning (we asked just now, and that’s what Frank said it could have been).  It was fairly hot though—the breeze that was so refreshing in the cabin at around noon was completely absent.  Eric was sweating.  Took a little walk in the morning and saw the monkeys outside that Patrick and Quincy saw yesterday.  I believe that’s the first time I’ve seen monkeys in the wild.

Breakfast was decent—toast, fruit plate, that excellent passion fruit juice (not something that’s mostly sugar, but something that tastes like passion fruit, ground up in a blender with ice, water, and sugar.  Plus eggs, and Eric had some sausage thing with fry bread.

At nine, a guy called Elvis came with the boat that we’d prearranged last night.  It was 6 people—Eric and myself, Patrick and Quincy, and two guys, Vince and Peter.  Vince is from Vashon island, but just moved to Everett.  He was previously doing marketing for a physicians directory, but is trying to transition to being a guide for adventure travel—all on his own, not through a guiding company.  We’ll have to check out his web site—recruiting for Exodus when he comes back.

It took a long time to get out to the island, at least 45 minutes, in one of those fiberglass boats that coast about 1200 dollars (mostly materials, apparently).  Elvis had his son with, also called Elvis. 

We went first to a beach, very nice white sand with plenty of shade towards the back.  Elvis and son went off by themselves, and the rest of us tried snorkeling for a while.  The snorkeling wasn’t good at all, though—a combination of strong currents, cloudy water, and just not much to see. A couple parrotfish, a few brightly colored small fish, and that was it.  We gave it up pretty quickly, and headed back.  Eric was especially worried about the currents, since they were quite stong.  Back at the beach, Vince started climbing a coconut tree that had steps cut into it already.  He knocked down a couple green coconuts for us, got the husk off, and we all shared some coconut juice (called pipa here), which I like.  The jelly-like stuff inside (later to become coconut meat) was good too.  We also tried some brown ones, which had regular coconut meat in it.  I ate quite a bit of it—I always enjoy eating whatever can be scavenged from the wild.  Hermit crabs were everywhere at this beach.  We had a hermit crab race, where we drew a circle, and everyone put their chosen crab in the middle.  Eric won the first race, then his crab gave up and crawled inside his shell.

We played around in the water a little without snorkeling gear on.  Then Patrick lost his prescription sunglasses, so we all went in with our masks, and searched for it.  I ended up finding it, by sticking close to the sea floor. He was very appreciative, which was nice.

Since the snorkeling was so bad there, we asked Elvis to take us to another spot.  We ended up going to a spot and just snorkeling from the boat. I was a little anxious at first that I might drift away or something, but it ended up fine.  The snorkeling was still not good at all, though—not many fish, reefs far down, cloudy water.  We did see some interesting looking starfish.  Other than that, though, there wasn’t much to see.  Quincy was very hands-on, picking up all the starfish, putting them on her head, etc.

After snorkeling off the boat we went to another beach, that I thought was prettier than the first.  Loads of hermit crabs, like on the first island.  Excellent shade, with nice sand underneath.  This beach must completely disappear at high tide.   I read my Agatha Christie mystery novel in Spanish, then Eric and I took a little walk around.  We saw some interesting looking tide pools, with sea urchins, some little fish, and tons of crabs (not hermit crabs).   Very nice.  We also saw some spots where natural sea salt had formed in little pools of water that were continually replenished from spray, and then dried out.  Getting back to the beach was a little dangerous, because the tide had come in a couple feet.  But we got back fine, although a little wet.

Lunch was some fried bread things from the hotel, filled with either ham and cheese or ham and vegetables (which were much better).  Quite filling.

We headed back around 4.  I had my hat on, my long sleeved shirt (which I’d had on all day, even snorkeling), and put the towel over my legs.  I don’t think I got burned on the way back, but at some point I did get a sunburn, on my upper thighs, where I forgot to put sunblock on.

Back at the hotel we took a cool freshwater shower, which felt great.  We sat with Peter and Werner, an Austrian guy for a while, just relaxing before dinner.  Patrick, Quincy, and Vince joined us for supper, and Vince showed us his photos from his 2 or so weeks in a small village in the Darien, which he went to for the sole purpose of living with an Indian tribe for a while.  Pretty impressive.  He also did something similar in Ecuador last year.  People were pretty impressed with our digital camera, the Canon Elph.  It’s a great little gadget. 

For dinner I had a filet of arenera (some kind of sand fish, but Frank didn’t know the translation), and Eric had shark.  I ordered it with the same sauce, but it didn’t turn out as well—instead of being made with tomatoes, green peppers and onions, it seemed to be only onions.  It was still pretty good, though.

Quincy told the story of how she broke her back, climbing, in Thailand.  It sounded very scary.  It was only a 15 ft drop, but because the bottom was compacted mud at a funny angle, she actually broke her back.  She spent about 2 weeks in a hospital in Thailand, with language barriers, and doped up with morphine, which she got addicted to.

 

Friday, March 02, 2001

Got up early today, hoping to get the water taxi out at around 7.15.  That worked out well, and we were in David, replacing the broken turn signal on the car at around 9.30.  After that we went to the airport, and bought tickets for Boca del Toro, and from there to Panama City.  We also checked the Budget car rental place at the airport, to make sure we could return it at the airport tomorrow.  No problems there. 

Then, out to Volcan.  Volcan is another one of those cool and refreshing mountain towns that I like so much.   A little further up the road are the towns of Cerro Punto and Guadalupe.  Stopped at a few fruit and vegetable places to stock up on things like bananas and oranges, but the selection was quite bad, and the bananas looked like they were all rejects.  Strange, because this area is well known for fruit and vegetable cultivation.  

We drove up the road to Cerro Punto and Guadalupe, and ended up staying at the Hotel Cerro Punto.  It’s a nice little place of the main road, with lots of wood finish.  The woman that showed us the rooms was extremely polite and friendly, with a real service orientation.  I would almost say that she must have worked at a really fancy hotel at some time.  It was very different from Isla Boca Brava, where the woman seemed to think she was doing you a favor by bringing you food.

We also looked at the Hotel Los Bambito, which was a really expensive place for $105 a night.  I don’t think they had very much business at all.  Across the road from it was a trout farm, with lots of tanks stuffed with trout.  As you walked by, they would get really excited and congregate around you, thinking you had brought them some food.  You could also cause a lot of excitement and jumping out of the water by just putting your hand out over the tank, pretending to scatter food.

After we’d gotten settled at the hotel, we drove around.  The road up to the sendero Los Quetztales (the trail called “Los Quetztales) was very pretty, with all kinds of small farms and alpine style houses.  Apparently a lot of swiss people settled here about 100 years ago, thus the building style.  We walked up the trail a bit, saw massive 10 foot tall thistles, and also found some fruits that looked like blackberries, but didn’t find any ripe ones.  That’s what I thought, at least.  Later on we bought a bag of these fruits off a boy on the road, tried them, and couldn’t find any that I thought tasted ripe.  Strange.  Made ourselves a tuna fish sandwich up there as well.  The bread, just regular white bread, has held up very well considering that it’s been sitting in the heat of the car for about a week now. 

We also drove up to the Parque International La Amistad.  They would have charged us $7 for taking a walk around there, though, so we skipped it.  I really don’t like it when the prices charged foreigners is different from those charged to locals.  They were charging foreigners $3, and locals $1.

Went to the internet café in Volcan, where we confirmed that I had actually understood correctly, and there had been a 6.8 earthquake in Seattle.  I’m bummed that I missed it!  Apparently there were no deaths and no serious injuries.  Paul had sent me some mail saying that both my place and Eric’s seemed fine.  We were very glad to get that.

Stopped at a little panaderia/refresqueria (bakery/refreshment store).  Eric had a tasty creamy pastry, while I had a hard crusty one, plus a tamarind juice.  All for just 85 cents.  Great deals on these types of things here.  We also stopped at a roadside stand for strawberries and cream.  According to the guidebook, the strawberries here are great.  I found them to be pretty average strawberries, drowned in a cool-whip type topping.  Not exactly what I was thinking of, but still tasty.

For dinner we ate at the hotel restaurant, and it was really good.  We were the only people there, which makes things a little less interesting, because you can’t look at other people and wonder where they’re from and what they’re doing here.  I had fish “a la criolla”, with fried plantains, and Eric had pepper steak.  Mine was really good, basically steamed fish with a topping of onions, tomatoes, green peppers, and capers.  Service was by far the best we’ve had here.  I chatted with her for a little bit, just about what grows here (too cold for coffee and oranges), and things like that.  I really miss not talking to people in Spanish very much here.  I’ll have to make a greater effort next time.  Eric gets pretty antsy when he doesn’t understand what’s being said, so whenever I talk to somebody in Spanish I have to make an effort remember what’s being said so I can tell him later.

 

Saturday, March 3, 2001

Breakfast at the Hotel Cerro Punta was pretty good.  I got pancakes, and Eric on my urging got some kind of corned beef with tomatoes that I thought was great, but he didn’t like that much, so we traded.  Service was great even thought there was a different person serving.

We had a few hours to spare before going to the airport to drop off the car and fly to Bocas de Torro, so we decided to  go to the Lagunas de Volcan, or Volcan Lakes.  A miserable road down there, and the lakes were pretty disappointing—just swampy and closed in. 

In town we stopped at another grocery store to check it out.  It’s totally amazing what a terrible selection of produce there is, both in quality and variety, considering that this is a big fruit and vegetable growing area. It was Chinese owned, of course, as are most of the stores around here.  I wonder if the Panamanians feel resentment at that.  All it means, though, is that there aren’t enough Panamanians with the means or ability or desire to do it.

On the way to the main highway, we stopped at Artesania Cruz, which is mentioned in the guidebook.  As soon as we got there, Senor Cruz asked me to write my name on a piece of paper.  I was a reluctant, because I knew he’d try to make me some kind of souvenier.  He did, of course.  He carved out my name on a piece of wood, added a little flower to the end, and then gave it to his daughter to finish up and paint.  I really don’t like that kind of situation, where friendly people force something on you that you don’t want.  It was a little uncomfortable.  He did end up making me a nameplate, something that I never would have bought in a million years.  But, I told him that my father makes miniature furniture, and asked him if he could give me a selection of tropical woods.  He busied himself with finding some wood for me for a while, and then labeled it all with the name of the wood in Spanish, which was great.  I asked him how much I owed him for it, and he said, “whatever you like”.  So, I gave him $5.  Eric thought I was overpaying, and I probably was, but it was quite a bit of wood. I took the little name plate that they made me as well. 

After that, we hightailed it to the airport in David.  We got there with plenty of time, returned the car at the Budget station there, and met a guy by the name of Russell while we were waiting for the flight.  He owned quite a bit of property on Isla Bastamientos in the Bocas de Torro area.  We heard all about him, his life in Cincinatti (he thinks it’s one of the most boring places in the world), his work in stained glass, how he had a house built for $350 in labor last year.  He said it looks like a kid built it, but hey, for $350—what can you expect?  He was a very interesting guy.  This property on Bastamientos is his investment for retirement.  He’s only 53, but looks a little older, frankly.  I mentioned going over to his place to take some pictures of it, and he was pretty excited about it.  He said that he’d taken a camera down before, but it broke before he could use it, and also bought a video camera which had some kinds of problems as well.  We’ll try to get over there to photograph it, and also just to chat with him and see the place.  It’s fascinating to talk to foreigners who come to Panama to live, especially out in the boonies.

I actually had my little fanny pack searched before going on the plane, and they took out Eric’s Swiss army knife, and said I should ask the captain for it when I got off the plane.

The flight was fun—we followed the road up and over the central mountain range, and then flew west to the islands.  We were able to walk to town after getting off the plane—it’s about a 5 minute walk.  Eric was getting pretty hot.

 

searched

 

 

Eric mosquitos

Russell 350

Fly to bocas

Hot get hotel

No fruits

Food expensive

hippies

bike – really cheap one

 

Sunday, March 04, 2001

-         Ate breakfast at that cheap place – Sylvia had a tamlie which ended up having a huge chunk of fat it in – hippies eat there a lot too – probably for the cheap prices

-         When to bike rental place on the outskirts of town and rented much better bikes – from and back shockswhich turned out to be usefull – we had to bike on some pretty rough roads – also biked thru a lot of sand – that was tough

-         Stopped at a surf beach when there was a couple out there surfing.  We watched for a while and then two other cars showed up with 6 or 7 more surfers – we watched them for a while taking sneak pictures and then rode back

-         There was a piece of property for sale for 30 bucks a square meter – I think about 115,000 per square acre

-         Got a picture of a guy on a horse and an Indian family was out picking coconuts for the water.  We were given one and they opened it for us.  It was very green, but the water inside was quite good.

-         Had batidos with papaya – these had a lot of vanilla and sugar in them – more like a milkshake

-         Went back and hung out until about 2:30 when we went out to get a boat.

-         We went to bastamiento island where we walked around a little and rented a double kayak and paddled over to russles place

-         We saw russels two houses and property.  Pretty neat.  We met a couple of parties who purchased some land from russel.  One was a network engineer from Georgia and his wife and another was a photograpther.

-          

-         We had peeled oranges from the street – not all that sweet

2 dollars each to go to isla bastamiente.  Cheaper than in book.  On our way there we saw somebody with a kayak.  Asked around where could rent, rented double for 7 half day.  Sit on top kayak.  Funny to listen to people talk—strange mixture, Spanish, English, island English.  Enterprising woman rent kayak, also rent rooms.  Concrete walkway through “town”.  Even more laid back than boca, if possible.  Lots of people laying around, dominos,  outhouses over sea, bought ice cream (always .25 here) cherry flavor, pretty good.  Must make decent profit

at russels place, he’d fortgotten our name.  Too much pot.  Fill up all water tanks in one hour of heavy rain.  Chatted with him for a while.  He’s more eccentric than we thought.  His “girlfriend” lilia, that lives next to the airport that we saw before, was there as well.  Seems like a dirty old man who can only get some here in the islands.  Told lots of dirty jokes.  Knew 10,000, but couldn’t remember our names.  Told us we should make up excuses for coming back later to the island, like we were in an accident, or I ran away with a panamian guy and eric needed to get me back.  He said good snorkeling, eric didn’t want to.

 

Back from russells place, another boat, this time even smaller.  Not very heavy seas, though.  Ate at Buena Vista, owned by an American couple from san fran.  I was supposed to have a terijaki chicken sandwich, but it was just plain chicken.  Packed place, mostly Americans.

 

Home, watched matilda in Spanish on tv.  Fun. 

 

Monday, March 05, 2001

Up early this morning to catch the flight to Panama City (or just Panama, as they say here).  It’s fun to be able to walk to the airport from your hotel.  I bet there’s not too many places in the world where you can do that.  The airport, even though it had a tile floor, was infested with those tiny biting bugs that they call something like chichas, but they seemed to go away after the cleaning lady came by and mopped the floor with a bleach solution.

Got to Panama City, took a $3 taxi ride to the same hotel that we’d stayed at before, the Hotel Covadonga.  It looked quite a bit more deluxe this time than when we arrived from the US.  The restaurant associated with the hotel also looks really fancy and clean—quite the opposite of what it looked like when we first arrived in Panama.  It’s amazing what a stay in the boonies will do for your perspective.  We just spent the day walking around on Avenida Central, the main shopping street, where there’s an amazing amount of department stores that sell all kinds of things.  Right now there’s huge back to school sales.  In the front of most of the stores are big displays of either light blue or white shirts, and dark blue pants or skirts, plus dark blue socks, plus black shoes.  Really low prices, too, like 2.99 for a shirt.  We even saw some shirts for $0.49, but they were clearly low quality.  There’s such a hustle and bustle on the streets, vendors selling all kinds of things, buses honking with these really loud horns.  Lots of fruit and vegatable sellers—I bought some mangoes, the only ripe ones that I saw here.  The variety and quality of the produce here is much, much more than in the provinces, where we saw very little for sale.  I remember in Boquete, which is a big orange growing area, we had a hard time finding oranges.

We went back and looked at the plate sets that I was thinking of buying, the ones with 3 place setting for $6.  It turned out that they were of very low quality,  and must have been rejects somewhere, with bumps and irregularities on them.

We also went to the handicrafts market, behind the anthropology museum (closed Mondays, which is today).  I asked a policeman where it was, and he led us to it.  We ended up buying 7 more molas for $15.  They were mainly used, but that still seems like a pretty good price.  I think the guy that wrote the book doesn’t know how to bargain well at all.  He said you had to pay $5 for a small souvenier size mola, and we’ve been buying normal sized ones for much less.  Or maybe he just didn’t go to the right places.  Laura (the woman we met in Boquete traveling with her small son), who bought hers in the San Blas Islands, paid lots more--$25 each for 2 molas. 

Cops have been amazingly friendly here.  We see the cops labeled “tourist police” quite a bit, but frankly, we practically see no tourists at all.  We saw the group of 4 italians that were on the same plane from Bocas, and I spotted one other couple that looked like tourists.  But other than that, nobody that looked like a tourist at all. 

We also saw Ron again.  He’s the guy we met at the Carnaval in Las Tablas.  He was doing just what he told us he did all day, hanging out with some guys on the corner.   I gave him our internet address, and told him his picture would be on the web.  He said he’d check it out as soon as they got the internet connection thing straightened out (there’s a long complicated story behind that). 

Went swimming on the rooftop pool for a while, then back out on the busy streets to buy a couple snacks for our trip tomorrow.  Then dinner at the restaurant next to the hotel.  And packing, and then homeward tomorrow!  To be honest, we’re looking forward to getting home quite a bit.  I think I’m most looking forward to catching up on news, reading magazines.  Seeing fancy, deluxe surroundings.  Maybe even taking a walk in the rain!  Eric is most looking forward to the lack of biting bugs. 

 

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