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!

 

 

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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.

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”.