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Stories from Panama

Panama City, Panama

Airplane to Panama

timFirst flight of our trip...

Sunset over Cuba. A universe of stars in the darkness below. Crescent moon hangs in deep blue sky. A bright redyellow horizon splits my vision. top

Skyline of Panama City.

Island of Taboga, Panama

On an island

michelleSince our arrival in Panama, we have been relaxing and enjoying ourselves as guests of our friends Gordon and Antonio. Their comfortable apartment in the heart of Panama City has a wonderful open feel - with walls covered in Gordon's colorful paintings.

They have been wonderful hosts, taking us on tours of Panama City in a luxurious blue Mercedes. Forget the city bus!

My impressions of Panama City - vibrant, chaotic, horns constantly beeping, wild drivers, and signs and conversations in a language that I don't understand.

Today we woke up early for a 45 minute ferry to the beautiful island of Toboga, 20 km south of Panama City. The majority of the island is a wildlife refuge. The ferry docks into a small quaint town tucked lazily into a small harbor facing the entrance to the Panama Canal.

We spent the day sitting by a pool, occasionally getting up to stroll the gardens and gaze out over the ocean. In the late afternoon, Gordon and I took a wonderful stroll through the town. We admired the small colorful houses through winding lanes. The people were simple and unassuming and with everyone we passed was a friendly 'hola!' Amidst flowers and hummingbirds, Gordon and I dreamed about buying a house here and starting our own artist commune. At every point you could look out upon the ocean and see a multitude of ships dotting the horizon waiting to enter the canal.

Unfortunately, Tim was sick most of the day. Pale and weak, he spent most of the day lying in the shade. I was thankful to get him home safe and get him to bed. He felt much better later in the day.

We leave tomorrow for a week at Gordon and Antonio's beach house 90 minutes outside Panama City to bask in the sun, read, paint, and drink lots of wine.

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Playa Blanca, Panama

The Beach House

timOff to the beach. Gordon, Antonio, Michelle, and I packed into a 4x4 with a ton of groceries and a dog. One and a half hours later, we arrive.

Through the front gates stands the house we will stay in for the next week. Two stories of white Panamanian concrete topped with a corrugated metal roof and floored with red tile. Hammocks stretch lazily between the posts of the wrap-around porch. Tropical plants grow everywhere. Mango trees in peak season drop ripe fruit across the yard. A background palm tree provides a ripe coconut for our coconut-rice dinner. Mamon fruit provides something fun to nibble on at any time of day. A live-in cook/gardener/maid named Santiago makes the leisure-class lifestyle whole.

We relax here day after day - reading books, writing, painting, talking, sleeping, eating, tanning, drinking wine, and playing cards. (You notice, cleaning and cooking are not on this list!) We've been here four days and it feels like two. We could stay here a few weeks without a problem.

 

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A closeup of a palm leaf. A closeup of a palm leaf. For the lack of a real name, I will call this plant the Pokemon fruit.

El Valle, Panama

Craft Market

bothAll good things must come to an end - so we left the beach house.

On the way back to Panama City, we had an opportunity to visit El Valle. "The Valley" is surrounded by beautiful mountains and is known for its Indian crafts. Unfortunately, the mountain view was obscured by the torrential rains we were stuck in!

Thankfully, the market was covered. The Indian crafts, tropical flowers, and vegetables made the trip worth while. top

Panama City, Panama

Cyber Cafe

bothPlanning, planning, planning - we are spending today plotting our trip through the interior of Panama to Costa Rica.

We leave tomorrow and plan to arrive in San Jose by Thursday. More later. top

Skyline of Panama City.

Boquete, Panama

Pension Marilos

michelleLeaving Panama City for Costa Rica presented a daunting 14 hour bus ride. So we decided to break the trip into two sections, stopping for a day at Boquete. Boquete is a small town sitting in a mountain valley at the base of an inactive volcano. The mountains surrounding the town rise high and the beautiful citrus and coffee plantations that cover the hills are frequently half obscured in clouds.

We woke up this morning to a beautiful sunny day! Tim and I started our day with bread and coffee at a local bakery and then headed out to explore. We visited a coffee factory called Cafe Ruiz and were given our own private tour of the facilities - all in Spanish! Needless to say, I didn't understand much of it but still enjoyed it.

We ventured farther down the road and visited "Mi Jarden es su Jardin", an amazing gardens surrounding a private estate. Flowers, running streams, and lawn ornaments were everywhere. A cross between a classic plantation and a miniature golf course, the garden was truly unique.

We then walked about 8 miles on back roads above the town among coffee plantations, school children staring at us in awe, and the sparkling Rio Caldera River. The landscape and cool climate reminded me quite a bit of the Colorado mountains. We returned to our pension in the afternoon ready for a nap!

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Guadalupe, Panama

Hotel Los Quetzales

timWe ate a leisurely breakfast here in this Panamanian mountain town called Guadalupe. The slow pace and relaxation was well deserved after yesterday's 13-hour return trip from Costa Rica by cab, bus, foot, bus, bus, and cab. Fortunately, sitting in the back of the hot bus made the return trip seem safer - even considering the silent fight I enjoyed with the woman in the next seat over control of the shared window!

After breakfast, we hiked past the small farms in town towards the Parque Internacional La Amistad to look for quetzals. On the way we met Cookie, a huge sausage-shaped slobbering rottweiler. As we walked, Cookie followed and marked his territory along the way. We soon discovered his territory covered every piece of property in town. Peeing on house after house, Cookie left behind a trail of barking dogs.

Once in the park, we walked the lush mountain trails. The cool climate here is the perfect temperature for hiking. We explored for a few hours. The dog remained as quiet as we were, but we never spotted a quetzal.

So now I sit peacefully on a wooden balcony overlooking a street in Guadalupe. It smells like rain. I'm slowly drinking a cup of coffee and watching children play soccer in the street. A light drizzle starts, but the sun still shines on the terraced mountains around me. A woman in Guayni indian dress holding a plaid umbrella walks briskly through the soccer game, and I stop writing for today. top

Flowers surround a home in the highlands of central Panama.

Bocas del Toro, Panama

Caribbean Panama

timOur friends Gordon and Antonio met up with us a couple of days ago to travel across Panama. This morning we drove from Guadalupe to the provincial capital of David, dropped off their rental car, and took a small commuter flight to the Caribbean town of Bocas del Toro.

Bocas del Toro doesn't feel like the rest of Panama. On the streets of this laid back beach town walks foreign tourists, students, hippies, expatriates, blacks from the West Indies, Latinos, and all-of-the-above hybrids. They speak every European language and the local mix of English, Spanish, Gali-Gali (Indian), and Patois.

Construction sounds ring everywhere, yet the absence of large chain hotels keeps this town relaxed. Walk down any street, you will see colorful houses on stilts, broken-down shacks, laundry hanging out to dry, street dogs sleeping in the shade, palm trees shading hibiscus, and kids playing games.

We spent the afternoon celebrating Independence Day in a restaurant full of American expatriates, students, and sailors. The only fireworks were a couple of sparklers at a nearby table, but our table sat on a dock with a beautiful ocean view.

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Turtle Watching at Playa Bluff

michelleThe hazy moon lit our way along the beach as four of us walked behind our two guides. We were in search of sea turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs in the sand. Our surroundings seemed surreal with loud crashing waves and horses running in the distance on the water's edge.

Walking for a couple hours we were losing hope of spotting a turtle. The only hints of their presence were deep trails left in the sand by turtles who had previously been there but had returned to the sea. When we almost walked the length of the beach we started heading back discouraged. But suddenly one of the guides started whispering excitedly. Down the beach there was a turtle emerging from the water! We strained our eyes trying desperately to see the dark form. We had to keep our distance and not use flashlights for fear we would scare the turtle back into the ocean. Turtles are very careful about laying their eggs. If they come ashore and feel threatened or that the beach is not safe for the eggs, they will turn around and try a different location farther down the beach. And that is exactly what this turtle did. It crawled half way up the beach and then turned around. It was now OK for us to approach it and get a better view.

The turtle was a green turtle and our guide said in six years of leading this tour he had never seen this kind of turtle on the beach. It was an exciting night for all of us. She was beautiful! We watched as our guides measured her shell (42 inches in length) and made notes. There was definitely a sense of awe in the air as she struggled to pull her large body back into the crashing waves. We stood in silence watching, thankful for the opportunity to see this grand creature. top

Snorkel Trip

timWe met a British couple named Pauline and Mike who were spending a few years biking from Canada to South America and on to Australia and Asia. Sharing costs, we collectively arranged a boat trip to Dolphin Cove to find dolphin, to Cayo Crawl to snorkel and eat lunch, and to Isla Bastimentos to hike and sit on the beach.

The weather cooperated, raining only once while we ate lunch under cover. In Dolphin Cove, we coaxed the dolphins to play around our boat. Cayo Crawl's snorkeling was mixed; the assortment of fish on the reef is limited, but the coral formations are fantastic. We ate lobster and conch fried rice in a restaurant built on the reef, then hiked across Isla Bastimentos in search of red poison arrow frogs. After relaxing on a rough Washington state-like beach, we boated back to Bocas.

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Panama City, Panama

Good-bye to Panama

bothWe left Bocas del Toro to spend our last weekend in the Republic of Panama relaxing in Gordon & Antonio's Playa Blanca beach house and admiring at the strange vegetation in their backyard.

Now we are back in Panama City, preparing for tomorrow's 18 hours of flying to Hawaii.

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Skyline of Panama City.