WON’T YOU TAKE ME TO BOCAS TOWN?

We  abandoned our original plan to visit Bocas Town for three weeks at the end of our stay here.  Bocas Town is intense (think Key West, Central American style) so we decided to stay three days. My husband Sam loves to drive, so we also decided to drive the 8 hours to get there.

Things were going along great along the international highway, when my extra astute husband detected a tire problem.  We had yet to traverse the mountains to get to the Caribbean side of the island, so this was concerning.  We finally found a spot to stop.  The tire was bulging along the sides and apparently ready to blow.  Sam changed the tire but we were halfway between Coronado and our destination.  Should we continue the mountainous terrain on the spare which was not much bigger than a candy life saver?

 

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Handy Husband

I won’t keep you in suspense, we continued.  It was stressful to be sure and the trip over the mountains was punctuated by winding roads, chickens crossing the road, Indians walking along the narrow highway and banana trucks and busses were whipping around corners.  Finally, we arrived in Almarante, where we were told that a man on a bicycle would meet us at the fork in the road and take us to Leezas parking where we would park the car and take the 30 minute water taxi to Bocas Town.  Weirdly, it happened just as described and we couldn’t have been happier.

We arrived before nightfall in Bocas Town and actually walked to our hotel which was very nearby.  I was so happy to get settled, freshen up and have some of that great seafood that everyone talked about.  I was starving so I was excited.

We were just about ready to leave our hotel room when ALL of the lights on the island went out.  We carry a flashlight so we wandered around a bit, but the restaurants closed quickly and since we had no idea what to do or where to go we stayed at our hotel.  They have a nice restaurant which was also closed but the beer was still ice cold.  So keeping with my husbands adage that “beer is food” we sat on the candlelit deck sipping beers.  It wasn’t terrible.  The lights did go on again after about 30 minutes and we were able to have one of my favorites, Corvina also know as Panamanian Sea Bass.

I had several must-do’s in Bocas, one was Starfish Beach which is in all the travel magazines.  The next day we packed our beach things and caught the local bus to the beach.  People were packed in pretty tight.  We were told it was a five minute walk through the jungle to get to the beach, more like 15 though.

The water is said to be very clear and there are starfish everywhere and tourists are admonished not to touch them.  Unfortunately, the beach was great but starfish were not plentiful and I am sure tourists have driven them further out but we did scope out a few.

 

Next day we took an excursion to several islands.  Zapatillo Cay was first.  It is totally uninhabited and you are dropped off on the beach and you can explore on your own.  There are no restaurants, no beach chairs, nothing.  It was really beautiful though.  We had lunch and relaxed at another beautiful island where you could look in the water right on the dock and see some beautiful fish and relax on a hammock.  Then we took a fast ride through the mangroves and saw sleeping sloths in the trees.  We also stopped to watch dolphins.  Another great day.

Later, we walked around Bocas Town.  There was a festival where adults scream at a devil and pretend to beat him with sticks.  There is a kid version, where the devil is smaller but just as much screaming goes on.  We discovered a great bar with great music and nice people.  Bocas has a lot of tourists, surfing is good and backpackers are plentiful.  There are people from all over the world.  Also, we ran into an old friend from last year that moved to Bocas, CeCe.  We were so happy to see her and catch up.

It was a great trip!

 

 

Lovely Coronado, Home of Picassos and Lagartos

 

We arrived in Coronado, Panama two weeks ago and I must say I am in love.  First of all we are staying in a gorgeous apartment on the 10th floor of the Coronado Golf Tower.  The thing about this breathtaking mountain and ocean view apartment is it’s affordable.  We would never be able to afford this in any other location I can imagine.  Coming from Aruba, we are constantly impressed  by how cheap it is to live, eat and play in our beach location which is approximately an hours’ drive from Panama City.

When we first studied this location last year, we made a trip here to visit our ex-pat friend Don.  He was sweet enough to show us around and introduce us to his friends who are mostly other ex-pats.  Picassos Restaurant is the epicenter  for networking, entertainment and good food.  My first impression was “Ah ha, so this is where all the hippies from the 1960s went”.  So did I really want to hang around here for an extended period of time?  As charming as flowers in the hair, granny dresses (for real) and orthopedic flip flops can be, is this for me?   Given its incredible beauty, we decided it was worth a shot.   As it turns out, the people are great.  They are friendly, eclectic and very entrepreneurial.  It seems almost everyone has a business and on Tuesday mornings at Picassos, business cards are passed out freely.  There is the egg seller known for his double yolks and heavenly Panamanian coffee grown in the mountains and processed in small batches.   There is a concierge service, a massage and reiku expert, numerous real estate agents and artisans of all persuasions.   As you can imagine there are also musicians from all over the world.  We were treated to an impromptu blue grass concert featuring local and visiting artists. As our new friend Scott the harmonica player and former tennis pro said “it was magical”.   If you closed your eyes you would swear you were in South Carolina, minus the moonshine.

With our lovely apartment came a golf package.  Sam has been practicing his game for a few years but I honestly was never too excited about the idea. But given the beautiful course literally at our feet and the idea that we could do something together, not to mention the fun of racing around in a golf cart, I said why not?  I will give this a fair shake.  As it turns out, we play nine holes every other afternoon around 4ish when its not too hot and I really like it.  Don’t misunderstand me the game is all right but the birds, butterflies, palm and orange trees are spectacular.  Keeping score is not an option.  Speeding around in the cart and searching for lost balls is also fun and the occasional “high five” for missing a water hazard is also gratifying.

Speaking of water hazards, many are filled with what the Panamanians lovingly call lagartos which in Spanish means lizard.  I disagree, mi amigos, these are crocodiles and are not tiny.  I was so excited when, in my golf kit, I found a water hazard ball retriever.   I can just see me having a tug of war with Mr. Largarto with yours truly surely losing.

Our first two weeks have been great.  More adventures to come.

Bon Pasco

Bon Pasco!  In Aruba, this is the Papimento greeting for Merry Christmas.   We really enjoyed ours, hope you did as well.

Our new adventures included spending Christmas in Aruba.  This would be the very first Christmas we have spent away from home.  Despite the obvious differences such as snow vs. palm trees,  family is the constant.  We truly missed ours. The Arubans, like most people everywhere, cherish traditions and family.  The island is alive with parties, decorations and gift exchanges.

Our Christmas Day was spent snorkeling and watching the sunset on the beach sharing a bottle of champagne.  Arubans celebrate big on Christmas Eve and Christmas day is for Sinterklaas to deliver presents to the kids.  Sinterklaas arrives at the marina in Orangestad and the children welcome him as he comes by boat. This is another Dutch influenced tradition.  Aruba has a mixture of influences that have melded into celebrations and daily life.  They have elaborate decorations everywhere.  At almost all of the traffic circles, there is a green area which is decorated lavishly.  One even has a miniature Aruban house completely furnished.  Another has a chorus of Angels.  One has a perfect replica of a cruise boat.  All are colorful and beautiful. We rented a car and traveled the island enjoying them.  We made some friends here and celebrated with them learning their customs and traditions.

We enjoyed the children singing songs in the supermarket.  One little girl truly had the voice of an angel and even though I understood little of what she was singing about, her sweet voice brought tears to my eyes.

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And, of course, Christmas wouldn’t be complete without silly games.  Meet my husband, the snowman.  Needless to say, we didn’t win in the toilet-paper snowman building contest.  Lots of laughs though.dscn6403

We returned to Panama on December 30th and plan on spending a week in Panama City, then up the coast to Coronado and finally a trip to the Caribbean side in Bocas del Toro.  I will be updating this blog as we go.

Here’s wishing all of my readers a very happy and healthy 2017!

Aruba With a Twist

dscn1423We are on the move again.  We spent an incredible summer working, visiting, playing and rediscovering our home base in Charlotte, NC.  There was lots of time with family, ball-games and hanging out with new and old friends.  It was everything a trip home should be and all the comfort familiarity can bring.  We enjoyed every minute of it and now are looking forward to our next adventure.

Just a recap.  My husband Sam and I sold our house and most of its contents in June of 2015 and spent last September through April adventuring and discovering Panama.  It was an amazing cultural exploration and a true journey of self-discovery. We worked on learning a new language and meeting interesting people.  Living and navigating a new and exciting country tested and delighted us.

So, this year our first stop is Aruba.  I know, I know if you have read my blogs, you know this isn’t new but now here’s the twist. We always wondered how it would be to spend an extended period of time in Aruba and just see if we can get sick of our favorite place.  So, for the next four months we plan to be beach bums.  It is very interesting how deep you can immerse yourself in local culture when you stay for a long period of time.  Even a tourist destination like Aruba can take on a new shade or two when you stay in a place making it your home.  Anyway, I can think of worse experiments if it goes wrong.  So we will be looking for the unfamiliar as well as the familiar.  We will embrace the local color as well as the tourist attractions.  Also, we have family and friends coming to visit so it will be exciting showing them our favorite places.  So, to me, the metaphor here is…. how much candy can you eat without getting a stomach ache.

The challenge here is realizing you are really not on vacation every day.  This is where we live for the time being.  So, you can’t go full-out vacation mode even though it is tempting.  First of all money is an issue, things you would normally not worry about, fancy dinners, expensive excursions will be more rare.  We need to eat right and get into an exercise routine.  It’s doable but restraint is the key here.

I am so grateful for this experience and thankful I have the kind of partner who is not only wonderful with details but is on the same crazy page I am.

Thank you to the readers of this blog.  Your comments and feedback have been so encouraging and helpful.  I love the idea of taking you all along on this journey and I appreciate you taking the time to read and follow.

I promise to be honest and truthful even if this turns out to be a beach bummer, which right now I can’t imagine but you never know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adventures closer to home.

Keeping with my practice of documenting all travels and adventures, Sam and I headed by car from Charlotte, NC to Rochester, NY to visit friends and relatives.  The weather was great and we caught up on all of our favorite radio news programs on the way.  Only two stops for emptying our tanks and filling the cars’.  We made it to Rochester in pretty good time.

Sam and I had our first lunch date years ago at the TGIF Fridays near our hotel.  First night, we had a drink there and decided it would be fun to spend the next day exploring historical landmarks of our relationship.   We went to the venue where we first met, a disco in the City.  We visited the park where we had many conversations and the German House where we had lunch dates.  We visited City Hall and the County Office Building where I used to work.  A bonus was that Rochester, which is not famous for its beautiful weather, was in fact, beautiful.

Meeting up with our family the next day, we headed to a planned a trip to Niagara Falls. Since we grew up an hour away we never really thought of going back until I realized my grandson had never been.  Added to that I found out that Sam had never been on the Maid of the Mist the old standby where a ferry filled with people in rain gear go as close to the falls as is safely possible. We  dripped and giggled as we floated perilously close to the falls.

We saw friends and relatives.  I ate my favorite foods.  Specifically, real authentic pizza, Red Fedeles, amazing calamari capri, the famous Rochester garbage plate and Abbotts frozen custard.  The food pinnacle of course was frequent visits to Wegmans, the greatest grocery store in the world.  I kid you not, look it up.  I visited it 3 times in one day.  I  very nearly get teary eyed in the fresh foods section. We watched my  nephew Jackson play ball and spent a nice evening watching my niece Natalie’s dance recital.

Sam was able to go to Spencer Speedway with his cousins and had a great time sharing memories of the many times he raced his modified there. He was even  interviewed by the announcer who remembered him and called him out of the audience to share some memories with the fans.

Then Sam drove back to Charlotte and I spent a perfect week taking care of my Grandson Aidan.  This kid is super self-sufficient.  He can amuse himself for hours without a peep.  He will be writing stories, drawing amazing pictures,  imagining movie scripts. We went to the movies, went on hikes, made cupcakes, read books,  went swimming.  I asked him once if I could stop and get him something.  He told me “no, all I need is you”.  That moment came very near grandma nirvana.DSCN0744

So now I find myself people watching at JFK in NYC.  Fun stuff.  At the next table is a  woman with an interesting quart jar container of something edible, I wonder how she got it through security?  An older (than me) gentleman trying unsuccessfully to put a cover on his cell phone.  A child pushing a rolling bag up and down, up and down countless times shrieking.  There are lots of vacationers looking dazed yet excited as they navigate their way through the airport hot and sweaty and clearly traveling for the first time.  I make up stories to go with the people.  I give fashion advice in my head, while sipping my Jamba Juice.  There are Captains of industry talking loudly on their cell phones clearly trying to impress the people around them.  Of course, everybody is on their cell phone, including me.

I find people fascinating.  This doesnt mean I want them around all the time.  It will be good to get home to my husband, my own bed and my own story.

Hasta Luego Panama

 

Our friend Alicia explained that you should never say Adios to friends you want to see again.  It’s too final.  So it’s  hasta luego (see you later) Panama.

Our six months in Panama have ended.  We are home and have begun post-processing our great adventure.  It is pretty amazing to think we actually lived in Panama for six months.  It was exciting, interesting, daunting, sometimes frustrating but memorable in every way.

There were quite a few things that didn’t make my blogs.  So here is a recap.

We spent quite a bit of time at the largest mall in South America called Albrook.  Not only could we find most comforts of home but there was some great people watching and food experiences here.

We did some biking on the Amador causeway.

Food and drink played a large part.

We played a little golf and went to an outdoor boxing match.  We were impressed by the Iron Man Competition.  The swimming part was held at the dock right outside our hotel.   There was music, parades, holidays and cultural shows.  History and gorgeous architecture everywhere.

 

We finally managed to make it to Contadora Island.  A beautiful day on the beach!

We also visited Coronado, an expat community a little over a hour from Panama.  Our friend Don showed us around and introduced us to his friends.  We looked at some beautiful and reasonable rentals for future reference.

I can’t even begin to describe the amazing flora and fauna.

Sam was always exploring and managed to log 30 miles walking a week.  He discovered the military bunkers located all over the Amador area and the Islands nearby.  Some were from the American time in the canal, some were from Noreiga’s regime,  even some from World War I.  Our local historian/hotel handyman, Jesus would fill him in on bits and pieces of the fascinating history of the canal.  It was such fun to discover the man-made and natural wonders surrounding us.

 

The best part by far were the wonderful people we met on our journey.  Friends that you cannot hope to have in a short visit but you become close over six months.  Most of the Panamanian people are kind, hard working, family-oriented  people that I will never forget.  Also, we were able to meet many fellow travelers who invited us to visit them in their own homelands of  Columbia, Chile, Romania and Canada.

Throughout this journey I have focused on the positive aspects of Panama.  As with any journey or any place on the planet, there are positives and negatives.  There was the traffic jams, language barrier, occasional bouts of homesickness.  The struggle to find a hairdresser, etc.  All in all I wouldn’t have changed a moment.  Much love and respect goes to my husband and travel partner for his knack for photographic documentation and persistence in getting all the right shots.

Thanks for joining us on this trip.  Stay tuned for more, we are just getting started!

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Monkey Love

 

We’ve moved to the rain forest, an area known as Gamboa.  Our hotel is a golf resort and we don’t really play golf but are having fun putting around.  The views are spectacular and we hear amazing animal and birds sounds at night from our balcony.

The first day we met Carlos, a very friendly hotel employee who was showing us around.  He was explaining all the animals we might see and mentioned our favorite Panamanian animal, the Capybara. Seeing our excitement,  he said meet me in the lobby at 6:00 p.m. and I will take you to where the capybaras gather.  We met him at the appointed time and took a golf cart to a very specific spot on the course near a water-filled ditch.  There they were, not the same ones we thought were capybara on Ancon Hill and turned out to be agouti, but the genuine enormous capybara who had captured our hearts through pictures and you-tube videos.  Wow!  amazing!  What a great way to start off at our new rainforest location.

 

Monkeys were our next photographic prey.   Panama is great because of the many types of animals and colorful birds that call this great country home.  So, we went on an excursion with the Disney-sounding name of Jungleland.  We met at the dock and boarded beat-up Panamanian style boats.  We traveled the Panama Canal shipping lane to a floating lodge deep in the rainforest.  Along the way we spotted many ships, tug boats, mechanical equipment, the largest (until recently) crane in the world.  We even saw the Panama Express train filled with containers running alongside the Canal.

We stopped along the way to see heron, harpy eagles, egrets, crocodiles, iguana.  Soon, Captain Carl said we were pulling into a cove where we may be boarded by pirates.  The kids squealed in excitement and, truth be told,  I squealed a bit myself.   Armed with peanuts, we waited as a group of capuchin monkeys boarded our boat by jumping on the roof.  We waited and soon we saw a little face peek out from over the roof.  I held out my treat and he grabbed it and ran.  We also saw howler monkeys, tamarands too.  We loved every minute of it.

We soon arrived at the floating lodge and were treated to a delicious Panamanian meal, rice, chicken, steak, tamale, cinamon bananas.  Yum.

Then we were asked if we wanted to go fishing.   Si, por favor!  A expert Panamanian fisherman Ruben took us out to his favorite spot.   I had never fished before and was happy to hear Ruben would bait our hooks with minnows.  No sooner had I dipped my line in, I caught my first fish.  Sam and I both caught many.  Most were throw backs, a service also provided by Ruben.  One was a keeper and I am pretty sure it was Rubens dinner.  Such a great experience.

So, back at the hotel, we tried the golfing thing had lots of fun but more practice is necessary.  I dearly love doing things I have never done before.  Panama has been an amazing experience of “firsts”.

 

 

 

 

Fashionistas

Adding to the multitude of new experiences, we were invited to a fashion show by our new friends Hector and Claudia.  Hector is a Panamanian born businessman and former Ambassador to Israel.  Claudia is a Romanian model who met Hector while modeling and studying in Israel.  They are engaged and spend part of their time in Panama and part in Romania.  Her modeling takes her to Japan, Italy, Panama, Romania and several other locations around the world.  We met because we live in the same house, i.e. the Country Inn and Suites.  They are patiently waiting for their apartment to be built in the City and in the meantime they are working on other projects.  They are lovely!  We sometimes run into each other in the coffee shop or business center and spend three hours talking together without even realizing it. We share baby pictures and family photos and stories about our respective homelands.  Claudia is starting a line of beautiful jewelry, Claudia H.  which will soon be launched and available to all.   She even shared logo choices,  and let us preview some of the merchandise. It is really nice and I think I see a potential birthday? Christmas? Valentine? gift in there somewhere for yours truly.  They are such a pleasure to be around and so entertaining.  I could listen to them talk all day.FSCN8289

So Claudia was booked for a fashion show at the Hard Rock Hotel.  We asked if we could tag along.  It is a great venue and always has a lot going on plus an epic rooftop bar with 360 views of the City.  So we could support our friend and have some dressed-up fun.

Sam, as you could probably guess, has never been to a fashion show before but is always up for anything.  The venue was in a space aptly named Bling.  Lots of shine and sparkle, perfect for the show. We positioned ourselves to strategically take advantage of photo ops.  The prestigious designer, Anna Chajin, is Panamanian and American. She put together a beautiful line of casual and elegant clothing for woman and also some menswear pieces inspired by the indigenous Guna Yala Indians.

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Guna Yala Indian

 

To begin, there were some gorgeous little dresses, followed by a young man who jumped up on stage, posing in his best skater/surfer stance.  Anyway, The young man jumped up on stage and Sam burst out laughing, thinking it was some kind of half-time entertainment clearly breeching proper fashion show etiquette . I could actually see where he could have thought this but we could soon see he was modeling some casual men’s clothes.  We recovered quickly and soon blended back into the mostly Panamanian crowd.

Claudia looked simply stunning in the two elegant gowns she modeled.  She reminded me of Princess Grace of Monaco in her younger years.  After finishing with the after-show paparazzi, she joined Hector, his beautiful sister and brother-in-law and us.  They had never been to the rooftop bar either so we went.  It was breathtaking .  We had some wine, listened to music and got to know each other a little better.

Such a great and unexpected evening.  So nice to meet such wonderful people and learn even more about Panamanian culture.

Carnivales and Canadians

 

It seems there are always parties, fiestas and special events here in the beautiful country of Panama.  So we were thinking of going to Carnivale but got mixed reviews from the locals.  Our friends, Hector (a born and bred Panamanian) and his beautiful Romanian fiancée Claudia were actually leaving the Country for a vacation because they didnt want to be here for Carnivale.  Our friend Alicia, also a Panamanian national, made a particularly bad face while relaying how they drench you with water cannons and throw eggs.  So, this kind of dampened our enthusiasm, that was until we met…………………..THE CANADIANS.

A word about the Canadians, a group of nine Alberta farmers and associates.  They came to Panama at the suggestion of their friend Alec who had a long-held wish to come back to Panama.  I must say I didn’t really catch all of the story but it was important to him to return and the others were happy to accompany him.  These people are your no nonsense, salt-of-the-earth types whose winter vacations tend to take them to warm southern destinations and sometimes unique group experiences.  We got to know them over local beers by the pool.  Sam was particularly bonded to Vince, a larger-than-life, constantly smiling guy who we instantly liked.  Sam enjoyed hearing about farming, cattle, farm machinery, lumber milling and all manner of manly undertakings.

Vince was all for going to Carnivale so while the others stayed behind we decided to venture headlog into the blaring music, samba bands, gorgeous floats, beautiful girls and dancing people from ages 1-90.

Carnivale is loud!  I mean really loud.  We dressed in our most throwawayable clothes and brought plastic bags for keeping our valuables out of the way of whatever liquids or other matter might seep into our totes.  After a few beers, we positioned ourselves along the parade route.  As it turns out the water cannons and eggs are reserved for the daytime festivities thank you very much.   There were some older men in headdresses that seemed to have some kind of historical significance, followed by lots of young and old devils, your obligatory men on stilts and lots and lots of music and groups dancing.   The night we went was the coronation of the Carnivale queen who was beautiful and very regal on her sculpted float wearing her shimmering gold costume.  The parade was set up where you could watch it twice because of its circular route.  Really fun and colorful.

Then, of course, it was time to get Carnivale food!  We had hot dogs, chicharones, meat on a stick, chicken and lots of beer.  The Panamanians love their meat so every tent had plenty.  Strangely, there were no sweets or deep fried oreos like we find at our American Carnivals.  It was great being in another country trying their version of stuffing your face with Carnival food.  Love it!  Another difference was the lack of enthusiasm for the fireworks.  In America, we stop, gather around for the main event which is always the fireworks.  In Panama people walk around and seem to hardly notice.  Of course the night was not nearly over because they party until dawn so the fireworks were merely an interlude.

Anyway, for us, it was time to return to the hotel and we met up with the other Canadians who wanted to hear about our experience at  Carnivale.  We enjoyed telling them all the highlights.  They were wide-eyed as we told them, in great detail, the story of  how Vince was chosen from the crowd and  asked to dance with the queen on her float.   Hmmmmm if only we had pictures.

Such fun!