October 22, 2014 Update - I knew I had been neglectful of posting but was talking to a friend in Harlingen today and he asked if we were still Panama, because that's where the blog was still sitting. Oops!
March 1 – Saturday – Las Lajas, Panama to Playa Las Lajas, Panama
We had a relaxing breakfast on the deck of the owner’s house at the Hospedaje La Pepita de Maronon and then relaxed in our cabin, reading, surfing and packing for the thirteen kilometer move to the bed and breakfast near the beach. By noon we were standing by the side of the highway waiting for the cab we had arranged for to show up. At 12:05 we started hailing down cabs until we found one willing to take us to the beach, stopping in town for a bottle of water and a couple of bananas.
We had phoned ahead and arranged to either check in early or to store our bags at the Journey Bed and Breakfast. The room was ready so we put our stuff in it and sat and visited with the owners and ate watermelon together before we walked across the road and onto the beach for a bit of a walk and an iced coffee at yesterday’s resort. If you show up and just eat or drink there is no day pass needed. When we came back we relaxed in the room until around five when we went for an hour long walk on the beach. The beach is a lot cooler late in the afternoon than it is at midday.
We had arranged to have supper with our hosts at seven so when we got back to the room we showered and changed and washed out some clothes that needed it after wearing them in hot humid conditions. They should dry out overnight in our air conditioned room. It seems wimpy to be whiny about being a bit sweaty at mid +30’s when it is mid -30’s back home, but it is nice to be in the Goldilocks’s zone of just right.
The supper was family style with just ourselves and the owners. The food was delicious and the fellowship was better. Before we knew it it was bedtime for us old folks. Our plan for tomorrow is to ride the owners to the highway and get a ride on a bus to Santiago and then a bus from there to Santa Fe. It is Carnival weekend. There could be lots of traffic and more than one police check stop. Apparently they check passports for the right stamps. Today the cabbie just blasted through a police road block and he wave and they waved. I have a feeling the buses won’t get to do that on the Inter-American highway.
March 2 – Sunday – Playa Las Lajas to Sante Fe
I had turned on the alarm on my iPod set at 6:20. Normally I awake at half past four or five and just lay in bed and read trying not to wake Juanita until the alarm happens. I guess I was more tired than usual. I slept until 6:10 when a plate falling in the kitchen down the hall work both of us. When the alarm occurred we got mobile and started packing and dressing to be ready for the 7 a.m. breakfast we had arranged for so we could get away by 8. The breakfast was sumptuous and the visit afterward was so engaging that we got away a couple of minutes after eight. Carmen of Lee and Carmen who own the Journey Bed and Breakfast drove us the fifteen or so kilometers to the Inter-American highway.
The bus for Santiago was pulling away from the parking lot at the highway junction as we arrived. It looked almost empty. Some rapid fire Spanish from Carmen to the ticket agent, a cell phone call to the bus driver, the quick purchase of a couple of bus tickets and we raced off in Carmen’s car to catch up with the bus parked by the highway already a surprising distance from the point we last saw it. The driver and the conductor were standing behind the bus. We gave the driver the tickets. Carmen gave him the envelope with the money from the ticket agent and we gave our bags to the conductor. He put them in the freight bay and gave us two luggage tags as we squeezed between him and the ditch the bus was parked tight against. There were only two other passengers on the bus: a girl with a shoebox with air holes cut in it on her lap; and a teenage boy. We got in the right front seat because it has the most leg and knee room of any seat on the bus. There is no seat in front of you to be reclined into your bubble. We were across the aisle from the girl with the shoe box. Being a snoop I kept an eye out and was rewarded with a glimpse of a parakeet.
This bus was a bus to Panama City with the first bathroom we have seen in bus this trip. It came in handy. It was the first breakfast that came with a room that included a second cup of coffee. Usually you get one plate of food and one cup of coffee. Today’s breakfast was served on platters and serving dishes and we filled our plates. Even with seconds of a couple of items there was more if we had wanted more. Then the owners sat down and we visited. Nice change. So having more coffee than usual and being on the road earlier the bus bathroom came in handy.
The highway cuts across a number of big and small valleys. We were treated to many spectacular views although we did tend to spoil the experience a bit by trying to get out the cameras and take pictures usually unsuccessfully. Particularly at the start of today’s trip there were signs of them cutting down trees and excavating to widen the highway to four lanes. In places where the present highway runs along the top of a ridge it would be interesting to see how they accomplish that.
As we proceeded the bus stopped and picked up more passengers and was fairly full by the time we entered the outskirts of Santiago. When the bus pulled into a terminal /cafeteria /gas station and the driver announced a ten minute stop I asked him about Santa Fe. He said to get a cab to the other bus terminal and take a bus from there. We are running low on twenties and there are not always bank machines in small towns so one errand in Santiago was to grab about two hundred dollars in twenties so we don’t get stuck somewhere with nothing smaller than a fifty. We spied a bank machine so right after the bathrooms that is where I headed, but it was a machine that sells cards to top-up your cell phone.
We walked over to the side of the road and hailed a cab and established a price to go to the other terminal. When I said we also wanted an ATM (“Cajero Automatico”) the cabbie said there was one in the bus terminal. Nope. But there was one across the street and Juanita stood with her back against the wall guarding the bags while I went there and back. Then we went around back of the bus terminal where the buses load and found the microbus to Santa Fe. There was one sitting there, but he had room for only one passenger and we were two. I turned and asked some young women if they were the end of the line (fila) for the next bus. They just looked amused and said there was no line. Okay. I know that drill. Elbows time. The full bus leaves. The empty bus pulls in and everybody waiting swarms it. We are not pushy enough togged on early but we got seats partly with the help of the conductor who also grabbed bags to tie to the roof. Then the aisles filled and we left. I ended up on Juanita’s deaf side, but to change would give me the wheel well and I wouldn’t fit so we only communicated occasionally. The school kid in the aisle next to me and I seemed to successfully work out some form of coexistence despite his legs on mine and his swaying back pack. There are a couple of towns between Santiago and Santa Fe and more people got off at each than got on so by the third leg of the trip everybody was sitting. As the bus climbed the long hill on the highway into Santa Fe Juanita spotted our hotel for the next two nights. I yelled “Abajo Aqui!” The bus stopped and we got off and the conductor climbed on the roof and got our bags and we paid him and walked back down the hill a little way to check in. Okay room. Clean. Fan. No air conditioning needed in the mountains. No T.V. but a great view. All for thirty –five dollars a night. We later met a couple from Calgary who slept last night on a box spring on the floor of somebody’s garden shed, because there were no hotel rooms in town with Carnival.
We had lunch on the verandah outside the hotel restaurant. Lunch was tasty and reasonably priced for Panama. After lunch we took the map the hotel provided and walked uphill into town and checked out the town. I stopped and talked to a bus driver at the terminal in town and found out bus times for Tuesday morning and that they seldom ran full and they would stop and pick us up in front of the hotel. They we walked to the orchid house mentioned on line and in some guide books and had a nice little tour with the lady for a buck each. It is not overpriced. We completed our loop through town and met back at the hill we had climbed from the hotel. We had passed The Blue Iguana restaurant on the way up the hill and planned to check it out for smoothies on the way home. It is no longer a restaurant. The ladies there were selling exotic bedding plants and shrubs. I suggested they could make batidos out of plants for us, but they said “Not today.”
Back at the hotel we visited some more with the couple from Calgary. They told us about El Valle and Porto Bello and we told them about Las Lajas.
We went to the restaurant deck planning to have some limonada and catch up on e-mail and blogging, but the bugs started attacking and we paid our bill and retreated to the room. Wi-Fi doesn’t work well from our room so I will post this tomorrow in the daylight while the bugs are sleeping.
March 3 – Monday - Santa Fe
We got to sleep a little earlier last night so woke up at 4:15 and read in bed until Juanita woke some time later. The fan blowing on us was a bit chilly so I turned it down but not off, there were a couple of insects who managed to outsmart the window screens, and the artificial wind keeps them away from the bed and us.
After breakfast we hooked up with another couple, Hans and Angela from Calgary, to go to tubing. The hotel owner called a cab (friend with a truck) and took us to the drop-off for tubing. A couple of German girls rode in the back with plans to hike to a waterfall. The driver misunderstood our plan and was headed to where the river crosses the highway, and drove by the Mountain Coffee Hotel where we were going to rent tubes, but he turned around and dropped us off there. The German girls got out of the back and into the back seat of the pick-up and carried off to their trail head. We went over our options with the tube people and then waited under the rancho until the tubes were inflated and loaded on the SUV roof. Juanita and Angela started their walk back to our hotel. Hans and I rode in the SUV to a drop-off point and got in our tubes and floated away. The plan was to pass under the first pedestrian bridge in about twenty minutes and to get out of the river at the second pedestrian bridge and meet up with the SUV there around the one hour mark. We could have paid more and carried on another hour more to a highway bridge, but I figured that was enough sun for me for a day and Hans seemed okay with that.
For the first few feet I was thinking that it was pretty good and that Juanita would really like this and maybe we would go a second time with her and me. Then we went through some rapids and I was very uncertain how to deal with the situations that came up and a few things were scary and I thought that maybe Juanita would probably not like this very much. Meanwhile Juanita was walking and talking and enjoying the fruit and orchids growing along the side of the road. The tubing seemed to be over pretty quickly and when the second pedestrian bridge appeared we paddled to the side and carried our tubes up the slope and met with the SUV. We handed off the tubes to the Panamanian family that had rented them for their two kids to float down the next section of the river. It is about the same distance but twice the time since there are no rapids.
The SUV took us up hill to our hotel where Juanita and Angela were just arriving from their walks. We shared stories and stood there talking in the sun until it seemed right to wander off to our rooms. Juanita and I went out to the deck area for a juice and to catch up on e-mail. Hans and Angel got busy moving from one room to the other. I guess somebody specifically reserved the room they were in last night. I got caught up on e-mail and paying for yesterday’s cash withdrawal and then the Wi-Fi signal died. Nobody has come for our juice order so perhaps it is time for lunch so I will get up and walk over and ask for a lunch menu and cut and paste this to the blog later.
Around four Juanita and I walked from the hotel down the hill on the highway and then down a gravel road to the pedestrian suspension Hans and I had tubed to. From there to the hotel had been a five minute drive by SUV. It seemed a lot shorter distance riding in the SUV than it did walking down hill. And it seemed really far when we walked back up past the hill to the supermarket on the edge of town. There is a reason all the vehicles climb that highway in low gear.
Tonight we didn’t make the mistake of sitting outside near dusk. Even so, Juanita counted fifty insect bite marks on one leg and then stopped counting. The itching kept her awake most of the night despite liberal applications of anti-itch cream. The fiesta music all night probably didn’t help, but I managed to sleep through that mostly and usually she is more impervious to noise than I am.
March 4 – Tuesday – Santa Fe to El Valle
Here’s a collection of somewhat related facts. The menu at our present hotel says that the restaurant is closed on Tuesdays. Today is Tuesday a.k.a. Mardis Gras (Fat Tuesday) a.k.a. last day of Carnival a.k.a. Fiesta a.k.a. the last day of a super long weekend with expected traffic jams everywhere. Check-in time at the next hotel is not until 3 p.m. Buses run every twenty minutes starting at 4:40 a.m.
Here’s an attempt in planning an intelligent response to the tension between these facts. We don’t want to get up super early and end up waiting around in El Valle with our bags until time to go to the hotel to check-in. We don’t want to leave so late that we spend the time sardined in a bus in grid lock. So we will leave earlyish and kill some time in the Santiago bus depot eating breakfast. With that Santiago pause in our travel, leaving a little after seven should get us there to El Valle around one then we can eat lunch and buy groceries before getting a cab or calling the hotel for a ride.
We get up. Juanita dresses and starts packing while I have a shower. She finishes packing as I get dressed except for flip flops instead of shoes. I pack a bit and then grab the laptop and head up to the restaurant deck and the Wi-Fi signal to check e-mail. When I grow up I’m going to have Wi-Fi in my room so I can blog when the bugs are out. I mention to Juanita that if the restaurant is open we might as well eat breakfast. The waitress is laying out table cloths. I ask if the restaurant is open this morning and it wouldn’t normally be but it is Fiesta. I know the menu well enough to order without waiting for the menu so Juanita checks her e-mail while waiting for the food and I go back to the room and finish packing except for the toothbrush and then come back and check my e-mail.
Last night I ordered a Kindle Ed McBain mystery and read it cover to cover before resuming an Ambrose history of Lewis and Clark. We may not have Wi-Fi but my Kindle has free 3G anywhere. J
One of this morning’s e-mails was from Amazon saying yeah [PA1]we sent you the book but your credit card bounced and we will lock you out of your other books unless you pay some other way. I went on line and updated the expiry date of another credit card listed on my account and got an e-mail thanking for my payment. I guess that the credit card company got freaked out by a cash advance attempt in Panama.
Hans and Angela, the Calgary couple are all packed and finished breakfast, and go out to the highway and wait for a bus. We finish our second cup of coffee and pay the bill and go finish packing and were a bit surprised to see them still there when we came out so we joined them. The bus stopped a couple of minutes later. The conductor is a young woman who does not look especially athletic. That and the bus is pretty empty so rather than climbing the ladder and putting the bags on the roof she just throws all four bags in a front seat and we get in the back row of the bus to visit on our trip down from the mountains. About two thirds of the way to Santiago there is a “prang, clank” noise as we approach an intersection.
The bus stops and the driver and conductor walk around looking things over and pick up a piece of leaf spring. He drives slower the rest of the way and we pick up no more passengers between there and the terminal in Santiago. So we say our goodbyes for the third time (last night, after breakfast and now) and Hans and Angela go off to look for a rental car to go to Chitre and beyond and we go off to look for a washroom and then a bus to El Valle. We ask about a bus to El Valle and we are pointed toward a Santiago to Panama highway bus that is loading. We do the washroom break first, but as we finish and head toward the bus it backs out of the slot. Oops. I wonder when the next one leaves. Before we get to the end of a long line for that bus the line is moving and the new bus is loading. Half the line got on the bus and the other half evaporated in front of us as those people formed a line for a bus in the next slot. The conductor stowed our bags and we got on and got a seat with a view. We were in the front of the bus and could get a view of the crowded four lane highway and watch the driver juggle making change, operating the DVD controller, shifting gears, talking on his cell phone and swerving around slow cars into the fast lane and back into the slow lane. The bus must have pretty good power steering since he seemed to be able to maneuver with just the bottom of one wrist on the steering wheel.
Traffic was busy and getting busier as we got closer to Panama City. We stopped at a terminal for a ten minute bano break and the bus had a hard time getting across the two west bound lanes and back into the east bound lanes we had been travelling in prior to stopping. When we got to Las Uvas the bus stopped and I paid the driver while the conductor and Juanita retrieved our bags from the hold. We walked up the stairs and across the pedestrian bridge and down the stairs and into a minivan that pulled up while we were crossing the bridge. We waited for one more person getting off a bigger bus to join us and the van took off up the two lane secondary highway. I don’t want to wear out the Sechelt Peninsula analogy, but it was like that a bit, but it was also like the old highway we drove through the Ozarks in Arkansas in the 1980’s. The van kept picking people up as we went higher. There are seats for 15. The most we had was 20 and then a few people got off before El Valle.
We got off the bus and walked across the street to a restaurant and had a medium priced lunch and took our time. Then we walked back across the street to the supermarket and I sat outside with our bags while Juanita bought groceries and then I tried unsuccessfully for a cab so I phoned the hotel for a ride on the pay phone. Flashback time. Ten Cents for a phone call. That’s about right. The hotel owner got tied up after we talked so close to an hour later he arrived and took us to a beautiful little cottage in paradise at Cabanas Potosi. We booked it months ago, but Hans and Angela had happened on it by chance last week and spoke highly of their time here.
“It’s not a bug. It’s a feature” department. The Wi-Fi doesn’t work in the cabins. It only works outside on the tables close to the main building. The wife half of the owners explained to me that is so people get out of their cabins and don’t become hermits. I told her I came from a long line of hermits and left it at that. It is frustrating, though, to my petty little routine since I like to do a lot of my on-line reading early in the morning while Juanita is still sleeping. I’ll survive. At least we have water and it is warm without being too hot.
Right where the minivan dropped us off there is a microbus stop which the end and start of the line for the El Valle to Panama City bus. I saw one waiting when our lunch was being prepared and came over and talked to the conductor about Thursday morning. He told me one leaves every twenty minutes. At that time the bus was leaving only partway full. Later, while we were waiting for our ride after lunch there was a long line that completely filled the buses with people left for the next buses. At our cabanas the hostess said that the normal time to get to Panama City is an hour and twenty minutes and by late afternoon the TV was saying it was taking eight hours.
After settling in a bit we found a table with enough shade to see the laptop screen and caught up on e-mail. I tried Facetime and Skype, but couldn’t raise our daughter Debbie so I sent her an e-mail to check on the credit card stuff and then she Face timed me while she was on the phone with the credit card people and apparently it was not a use in Panama that caused the problem. Somebody tried to buy gas with my card in Ontario in February and they put the card on hold. When we have a land line or when we get back to Canada I will arrange for a new card. After the credit card part of the call was over we heard her tale of woe about the water being shut off in Meadow Lake for an unknown duration perhaps up to forty-eight hours. That would put a crimp in activities, wouldn’t it?
As I said. At least we are warm and not too hot and we have water. I am so inspired I think I will have a nice warm shower and curl up with a Stephen E. Ambrose book about Lewis and Clark. They are finally past their first winter upstream and across from St. Louis and are about to head up the Missouri River into the unknown.
March 5 – Wednesday – El Valle
Happy Ash Wednesday.
Last night sitting around the patio out front of the main building the deafening music stopped at five, an hour earlier one prediction and seven hours earlier than another. Everybody on the patio cheered.
It was premature. Sometime during the night the music resumed and when I woke I could hear and almost feel it. It didn’t feel like before midnight and when I checked it wasn’t. It was 3:45. Back to Lewis and Clark. By the time I tried to sleep again they were settling down for the next winter with the Madan tribe in South Dakota. A while later I woke up and heard people talking. Juanita woke up and checked the clock and it was 7:10. Rush around and throw some clothes on. The bird feeding is at 7:15! We get out there and there is no activity yet so we go in the kitchen and pour our free coffees (subsequent cups 50 cents) and sit down outside and the husband half of the owners puts cut up pieces of banana on the platforms and the birds show up. Colourful and numerous. Not being a birder I rely on other’s to identify the birds: scarlet breasted tanagers, blue tanagers and a squirrel and others in addition to the owners’ parrots. We visited with a couple of other couples and watched the birds and ate breakfast and drank coffee.
We moved from behind the main house to the front patio and planned our day over one more cup of coffee. Let’s see. Mud baths? Square trees? Zoo? Waterfalls? Hammock?
We got a ride to the zoo and walked around admiring birds and animals for several hours. There were lots of parrots, several varieties of toucans and rheas, ostriches and emus. Not a lot of large mammals but several varieties of monkey, a couple of jaguars and many other odds and sods including lots of different kinds of chickens. The claim to fame is the amphibian house. They have twelve types of frogs and toads and have managed to successfully breed nine of them. The centrepiece of their program is the golden frog an endangered species from Panama which they have bred. The program is paid for by the Houston Zoo. We met the program director who is an employee of the Smithsonian. She was walking along a path carrying supplies and I asked for directions in broken Spanish and then we got talking in English. On our way into the zoo we each bought a small paper sack of corn which we fed to the birds and pigs. When we got back near the entrance we back tracked a bit to unload the leftovers. The fancy pigeons were happy.
The walk back to town was fairly comfortable with enough shade to keep things pleasant. We passed a few mansions tucked away off the road. This area has been a place for country houses for rich Panama City residents for a long time. We saw one taxi headed toward the zoo, but it had not returned by the time we could see the highway. Shortly past the intersection with the highway was one of the restaurants on the map the Cabanas Potosi provided to us. We went in and checked the menu and asked some people what they were eating and sat down and ordered and ate. After lunch we were walking toward the market and a cab came by we flagged him down and negotiated a ride to the square trees. It was an open ended fee since we wanted him to wait for us while we walked to the trees, but no more than fifteen dollars. He dropped off his other passenger and took us up to the attraction’s entrance. We got out and he parked in the shade of a tree. The ticket booth was closed and locked and there was a locked gate keeping us from the bridge and the path to the trees. The sign said it was 800 meters to the trees with the square trunks. We went back to the cab and he started driving back to town and offered to take us through town and up high to a look out to take pictures of the bowl that the town sits in (supposedly an ancient volcano) and back to the market all for ten bucks. It was something we both wanted to do so we agreed.
The near vertical road was like some hill country driveways I have been up except it went for quite a distance. At the top we pulled off to a scenic loop, stopped, took pictures and headed back down. We drove past our digs and back into to town and got dropped at the market where we shopped for souvenirs before picking up some ingredients for tomorrow’s breakfast and stopping for a couple of smoothies at an ice cream parlor. We watched for a cab, but none drove that were empty by so we started walking. One pulled up with some people who got out. It turns out it was a Panama City cab. The cabbie took us home for a Panama City type charge while his wife or sister went shopping. I didn’t ask him which she was but the cabbie and his front seat passenger were both young and she ordered him around like a sister or wife might.
It was almost six so we puttered a bit and then it was supper time. While I was on the patio the owner lady came by and mentioned a lump on a tree out front. We went out to see if it was a sloth or a bee’s nest or a termite nest. It was not a sloth and too tall to see what kind of nest it was. While we looking we noticed a cardboard box with an abandoned kitten in it. This will structure her evening trying to find a home for it.
Tomorrow we plan to head for Panama City for our last six days of warmth before flying back to Edmonton and starting our scramble to get the trailer to Regina and do all the paperwork needed to work our normal spring shutdown.
March 6 – Thursday – El Valle to Panama City
At seven we discussed our departure with the owner while we were getting coffee in the kitchen. I said no later than eleven and then with one thing and another such as the owner headed to Penonome at nine and the trip to Panama City being 2 hours not an hour and a half as I thought we agreed that after breakfast we would pack and he would give us a ride to town for the bus. We did and he did and the bus left town about nine fifteen and dropped us at the bus terminal in the Alwood Mall.
Our plan was to get a cab, but I saw all these people lined up to buy 3 in 1 passes for the metro and two types of buses so we bought a pass and blundered our way to within a block of our hotel and had lunch at a Pio Pio chicken restaurant. Then we got a cab. The driver had a Brazilian tee shirt on and I think maybe he just arrived from there. He quoted three bucks and then I made sure that was for both of us and he quoted five bucks so we started walking away and he dropped it to three bucks. He drove out onto the main drag and turned into the abyss of confusingly numbered streets. He consulted our map and the address of the hotel repeatedly. After about half an hour of driving around he asked for directions and drove back to the main drag and crossed back over. The hotel is on the street parallel to the main drag the bus dropped us on. I think you could hit the back of the Pio Pio with a rock from the sidewalk in front of the hotel. With lack of cross streets and all it is a bit more indirect to get to the front of the Pio Pio but still is less than a five minute walk.
We dropped our stuff at the hotel. They ordered us a cab who took us to the Miraflores locks on the Panama Canal. We watched huge ships enter the locks and be lowered in two stages to the height of the Pacific Ocean and then sail out of the locks. There was a museum with displays on the construction, operation and expansion of the canal. We watched a 3D movie about the canal and wandered through the gift shop. We even bought a couple of dishes of fruit and sat in the bleacher seats eating our fruit salad and watching the ships. Then they kicked everybody out at five and we went out and met our cab at the appointed time. That’s 1 for 4 of cabs showing up as agreed upon on this trip. Maybe it was because we didn’t pay him anything until he brought us home.
Back at the hotel we officially checked in and then went for a walk to supper. The quickest way to the main street is through the parking lot of a Chinese restaurant. We checked their menu and then went to a Quiznos for a smaller and cheaper dinner. Walking back to the hotel we bought some batteries before coming home for the evening. There was a barber shop we passed but I asked one of the barbers what a haircut and beard trim would cost and she quoted fifteen dollars which with the exchange rate is more than in Canada. In a week we will be home and I can cut my own hair and beard for nothing. Besides, in the last week of March I have to be clean shaven for a respirator fit test and training course.
Tomorrow we plan to get up early and take a train across the continent then take a bus to an old Spanish fort and then another bus home. Across a continent and back in a day. Must be in Panama. We have requested a cab for six fifteen. The train leaves the station at seven fifteen.
March 7 – Friday – Panama City to Colon to Panama City to Portobelo to Panama City
We talked to the hotel manager yesterday about ordering a cab for six this morning. He tried to talk me into six-thirty and we compromised at six fifteen and then confirmed it with the night clerk later. When we went out to the front desk at six-fifteen this morning and rang the bell the night clerk stuck his head out of the kitchen door and said he would be there in a minute. He came out a minute later and called for a cab. He had not pre-ordered it - “they are just five minutes away at the mall”. We left at six-thirty and got to the train station in time to buy a ticket for the dome car. There were a few people headed for the washrooms but there were no line-up for buying tickets. That’s because they were already in the dome car. There were no window seats left. I felt a bit of disappointment. There was booth style seating with granite table tops between two person bench seats. We joined an Italian couple who occupied the window side of the bench seats and we sat on the aisle end of the two bench seats. It actually worked better for us. There had been no need for disappointment. The people on the window sides are kind of trapped and have no mobility and have a hard time seeing or taking pictures out of the far side of the train.
The canal runs more or less north and south. The train tracks cut across the continent from the Pacific side to the Caribbean side of the country along the east side of the canal. They follow the canal at places and cut inland in other places so you have a varied view of canal activities and are in the midst of jungle in other places. Jungle views without bugs. At the Pacific end of the Canal were a couple of cruise ships. A guide book says that they tend to go through the locks between 9 and 11. Some of the people on the train were off cruise ships doing their day trips. I was eavesdropping so couldn’t ask for clarification, but am guessing that they were from ships that would be tied up on the Pacific side for the day and that would go through the canal tomorrow.
In addition to the ships and canal structures we saw numerous colourful trees and birds. Our best sightings of birds were a parrot and a toucan. After spending a couple of hours at the Miraflores locks yesterday we had debated about spending the $25 each to ride the train one way, but it was certainly worth it. It gave a more varied view of the canal and who doesn’t like a train ride?
Colon is the name for Columbus in Spanish. The town at the end of the canal/train on the Caribbean shore is named Colon. If you think of the meaning in English it is appropriately named. It peaked in the 1800’s when the quickest way across North America was to sail to Colon and take the train to Panama City and sail back up the west coast. Once the transcontinental railway was completed across the States Colon started going downhill with only a bit of interruption in its slide during canal construction. Despite efforts to revive the place nothing has worked so far. Kind of like Haiti.
At the train station there were lots of tour touts and taxi drivers. One cabbie tried to sell us a ride to Portobelo and back for sixty dollars and then warned us it was not safe to walk to the bus station and that the buses only leave only every two hours and take two hours to get there and he could take us there in an hour and drive us back to the train by 5:30. I told him we were taking the bus back to Panama City and that we were retired and time didn’t matter and walked out the gate and asked the guard how to get to the bus station. He said five blocks that way in Spanish and we walked out to the corner. Just before we got to the street I saw a bus to Sabranita go by. Missed that one. Then got in dither mode about direction and next steps and were admonished by a couple of cabbies that it is not safe to walk the streets of Colon. Eventually the sixty dollar cabbie and I settled on three bucks to the bus depot and we drove through what could be a film set for a movie scene in Beirut. Or Havana. Except for the air conditioner units in the paint-peeling, mold-covered, tumbledown apartment buildings.
We got out of the cab at the terminal and asked a bystander about a bus to Portobelo and were pointed to a highway bus loading. I asked the bus company person about Portobelo and he directed me to the same bus and we got on board and confirmed with the driver about going to Portobelo. The bus was getting full so we went almost to the back before we found two seats together and then went a bit further back to get a window that was clear enough to take pictures through. Plot spoiler alert. If you want to get to Portobelo from Colon take a Red Devil bus (colourfully painted ex-school buses) from Colon to Portobelo. They leave from the terminal every half hour. If you take the highway bus to Panama City you have to get off in Sabranita and walk across a pedestrian bridge over the highway and wait in front of the El Rey super market for the Red Devil bus that just came from the same terminal that you did. You gain maybe half an hour of air conditioned comfort and lose half an hour of terror and peril riding at top speeds but you also don’t hear your wife say, “I think we are going to Panama City” when everyone forgets about you wanting to transfer at Sabranita and you don’t know enough to get off on your own and then the bus pulls onto the expressway and you might as well relax and enjoy reading about the adventures of Lewis and Clark for the next two hours. The driver slapped his head as we got off and paid and I said I thought you said you were going to Portobelo.
With our plans for the next few days we could have tried for Portobelo another day, but when we got to the Albrook Mall terminal we used the washrooms, topped up our Rapid Pass card and got on a bus to Colon and made sure the driver, both conductors and the missionary knew we wanted to get off in Sabranita and take a bus from there to Portobelo. Back to Lewis and Clark. The bus from Colon to Panama City goes off the expressway and winds around Panama City on the old highway for quite a while. Going the other way the bus gets right down to business and gets straight onto the expressway right after leaving the terminal so our trip back was quicker. The missionary preached a bit and gave a bit of an altar call and then sold stickers promoting a drug free Panama for a dollar each. I gave him a buck but didn’t take a sticker. He took a curved illusion tract and seemed to like the optical illusion part but not get too excited about the message on the back so I don’t know if he had evangelical zeal or had memorized a sermon and found he could make a living selling stickers promoting his claimed work with street kids in Colon.
We got to Sabranita and got off the bus and went toward the wrong bus and the conductors and missionary yelled at us to go around the corner and wait there and made sure we did before they got back on their bus and rolled. Several buses came and went on both sides of the street. A Portobelo/Colon bus came by from Portobelo and then our bus came from Colon. The conductor got off. We waited until the disembarking passengers got off and paid him then we loaded with the other waiting passengers and sat down and hung on. I didn’t know that a school bus could go that fast or lean that far over on the corners without tipping. I think that the police car that stopped the bus driver and took his driver’s license was impressed too. It didn’t seem to slow the driver down any afterwards. When he got to the police station he parked for a bit and went across the street to it and then came back saying he would have to stop by there on his way back to Colon.
Portobelo was called Beautiful Port by Columbus in 1500 and change. It once had three forts there and was the terminus of the cross isthmus road that the Spanish used to transport goods and silver and gold until it was raided and mostly destroyed by the British. Apparently it never recovered fully from that. The stones from one fort were used in the construction of a dam as part of building the Panama Canal. You can see partial ruins on the shore when coming into town and there are more extensive ruins in town. The ruins of the third fort are a boat ride away across the harbor. We arrived at two p.m. The bus conductor said the last bus leaving town was at two-thirty. I think he lied or I misunderstood him and there was at least one more, but half an hour was more than enough for us to explore Porobelo. We looked at the fort ruins and did a walk through. We glimpsed into the restored customs house and gave it a pass. It looked like a lot of other buildings we have seen elsewhere with similar artifacts to what we have seen. If you are beach people you could make a nice day trip of Portobelo hiring a cab for sixty dollars for the day. He would take you from the train to Portobelo. You could check out the ruins, check out one of the lovely beaches and visit a restaurant and get back to the train or a Panama City bus. Even in hindsight I would have been choked to spend sixty bucks on a cab. We both had an interesting day and have had beaches on this trip and might see a bit more before we leave and had as much time as we wanted to in the ruins and ended up waiting for the bus and then walking to where it was parked and got on early.
This driver was older and was slow through town so I had high hopes of a calmer ride, but once out of town he morphed into Pirelli Jones and we flew along. He was going so fast that when there were passengers waiting at the side of the road he overshot them considerably before coming to a stop. The passing the car and the stopping bus ahead of it rather than ram the car into the bus was particularly spectacular. We survived and got to Sabranita and crossed the bridge and waited and then a full bus arrived for Panama City and we climbed to the second deck and stood until we got to the outskirts and enough people got off. Looking at the map later I figured out there were maybe two better places to get off. Where we got off was confusing but worked once we crossed to the other side of that highway and hired a cab for five bucks and he dropped us off at the Chinese restaurant and we ate and cut through their parking lot to our hotel and were home about thirteen hours after we left it. Not every day that you cross the continent four times.
We move to a different hotel tomorrow. On our rides down the old highway we saw a spiral building that will not be too far from our next hotel if I can figure out which bus to take. Maybe we will get a better picture that does not have power lines between us and it.
March 8 – Saturday – Panama City
Breakfast was in the outdoor, covered dining area outside our room window. You went out in the hallway and outside and around the building. Not quite like being served breakfast on your personal deck, but it worked. There was a Canadian who had accompanied a friend to Panama and was going back to Costa Rica. Forgive me. I have sinned. I gave her my Costa Rican cell phone. The only digital cell phone that I have owned where the battery is maybe good for as much as a little over a whole day.
I wonder if she had any trouble going back into Costa Rica. When checking ticket windows at the bus station the window for buses to Costa Rican listed requirements to get into Costa Rica, including a yellow fever vaccination certificate. Panama may be an exception and the requirement may be if you have been to other countries. If not that would be a nasty little bureaucratic check valve to be trapped by. I guess if Costa Rica didn’t let you back in one could go home from Panama. Changing tickets could be a hassle. I didn’t think about it at the time and thus didn’t say anything of the possibility to her. Even if I had thought of it there is no sense adding objects to other people’s anxiety closets.
After breakfast I worked on an account of yesterday’s adventures until it was getting too warm to work outside. It was posted when back in the air conditioned room. While it was posting I finished packing and we went out to the lobby to call for a cab. During the wait I fixed the typos for yesterday and will post them when today’s stuff gets posted. After the experience with the cab the other day I had the route and detailed Google map directions with me. When we were driving along the cabbie confirmed the name of the hotel. I agreed and started to explain where it was but he stopped me. He had it on Google maps on his Galaxy smart phone and drove us right to the front door following Google maps. I wonder if cell phones cause brain damage. Not in the sense of radiation, but in the sense of reducing the connections the brain develops by building special models of our surroundings. Like the SOWER I asked about where a project was and how he was going to travel there. He said he had no idea. He just punched addresses into the GPS and followed directions.
The hotel wasn’t that bad. It was clean. There is Wi-Fi in the room. We got two towels and a small bar of soap. That’s okay for thirty bucks a night. It’s in a different part of the city so we are closer to some attractions. After checking in and starting the air conditioner we left for adventures. We walked a block and a half downhill to Balboa Avenue, the street running along the water.
We crossed most of the way over a pedestrian bridge to get some pictures of downtown across the marina in the bay. On our way back we stopped to take a picture of a couple with their camera. He was a just retired geological engineer from Trinidad-Tobago. Most of that country’s oil is heavy oil so he was very familiar with the Canadian oil patch and had been to Albion Sands where I worked a few years ago. They were headed to the sea wall walk to go to the old city. We were headed there but we were going to take a bus so we parted ways.
There was a proper bus stop with people standing in it so we joined them. None of the buses were going where we wanted to go, and the cabs either couldn’t figure out where I wanted to go or wanted way too much money to get there. I had picked a cathedral named on a map. Later I realized most other maps called it something else. A red devil bus stopped and the conductor yelled “Cinco de Mayo” and we got onto the full bus and hung on to the pipes attached to the ceiling. In a few blocks a couple of people got off and we sat down for the next few blocks and then we paid and got off around the corner from the Cinco de Mayo Metro Bus terminal.
We stopped at a sidewalk food stand and ordered chicken and what we thought were deep fried pieces of pork and a couple of Fresca knockoffs. The women said that it was not cerdo (pork), but a kind of pollo (chicken). The pork she pointed to looked nasty – large deep fried chunks with skin and all. The chicken turned out to be chicken livers. Juanita ate most of them and I ate a few and she got a few bites of my fried chicken. A dark skinned local seemed amused at us sitting there eating and took a picture with his cell phone. We headed down the street and across an intersection. There was an artisans’ market there and Juanita checked it out a bit while I waited for some smoothies to be made.
Juanita came back and we drank the smoothies before doing some more serious shopping in the market. I think I have used up my carb allowance for the whole year in the first two and a bit months. We looked at some buses lined up and decided we were close enough to walk to the old town. The central avenue has been closed to traffic and is a vibrant shopping area for the locals. Lots of people. Lots of low priced stores. Old, unrestored buildings. Juanita commented that the guidebooks say the cruise ship passengers are brought here and the prices are about double anywhere else. This does not compute. What’s wrong with this picture? In a few blocks I stopped in a square and had a shoe shine. I thought I knew which square we were in on the map. Nope. Out by about three blocks. Asked for directions. Person didn’t know, but a bystander did and walked us to the next corner and got us pointed in the right way.
Suddenly we were in the high rent district. Most buildings are wonderfully restored. The streets are paved with new bricks. The prices on the menus at the restaurant entrances are astronomical. Yes. This is cruise ship passenger territory. We took some pictures of the right square and spent a couple of hours in the canal museum. It was all in Spanish, but we bluffed our way through. Lots of pictures. I had started to translate word by word the first narrative, but about three quarters of the way through Juanita admitted she didn’t care that much and since I didn’t either we picked up speed. She looked at the exhibits and I read a few of the captions according to how interesting I found it. We have been in museums explaining the Spanish conquest of the New World in seven countries over the years. There is a bit of repetition. Some of the canal stuff was a repetition of past museums and reading, as well, but overall we had an excellent time wandering through gawking. In the lobby on the way out we stopped and watched a video that showed the construction and design of the third lane of locks that are being built. It gave a bit more details than the Miraflores locks displays we checked out the other day. Some of it may have been repetition, but I needed it, plus it showed a lot more of the construction activities and lock gate operation.
We continued walking through the Old, restored part of the city out to the end of the peninsula and to the Plaza of France. I guess it is a sign of something that somebody casts a bronze bust of you and puts it on a pedestal, but when the guano runs down your forehead and shoulders I am not sure it is really a sign of R-S-P-E-C-T as Obama would say.
We had reached the far end of our explorations and headed back in a loop that connected back in the unrestored old town and ate some chicken at a Pio Pio fast food chicken restaurant. We hurried a bit to get back to the smoothie stand with only a short delay while I went up into a four story department building to buy a luggage tag. My tag from five years ago from a WOTC trip to Nicaragua finally bit the dust. I had looked at the lines in the store on our way to the restored section and balked. Getting close to evening it was not so busy or time consuming to make a simple purchase.
The smoothie stand was closed, but one a few steps down the street was open. It was bit higher priced but still fair at $1.25 versus $1.00 each. After finishing the smoothies we walked to the far side of Balboa and decided it was close enough to home that we could walk the rest of the way along the promenade with its throngs of well-dressed people out for a stroll or more casually dressed cyclists and in-line skaters. When we got close to our hotel there were people busy parking cars on boulevards for a fee. We had seen some circus style tents. Maybe the circus is in town. Not on our bucket list for today.
We retired to the room, picking up the laptop bag from the desk on the way. The blurb at check-in claims 75 cable channels. We count about half that. There is no menu or guide so the only way to find out what is on is to go a channel and then the next channel and so on. We started at channel two and worked up. There appear to be two porno channels. That is based on hitting the up button as soon as the channel appeared and then getting another porno channel and pushing the up button again takes one back to channel two, the beginning. I guess I should not pronounce the contents of a channel on so brief a glimpse, but sometimes you have to make a judgement call without doing any more research and that’s the category we have assigned them to.
In addition to the normal internet surfing and channel surfing and the normal wash some clothes and ourselves there was a check by both of us on the location of the next hotel. Six days. Three hotels. One city. It is what it is. Nevertheless we do check out the location and both of us come up with it being in the next block. We may get around to checking this out tomorrow, a day before the next move.
March 9 – Sunday – Panama City
Today we want to go to Isla Taboga, the Island of Flowers. According to multiple web sites the first ferry leaves at 8:30. I wake up early according to my iPod, about an hour earlier than normal, so I read a bit and then and then dozed a bit and then woke up to my iPod announcing it was seven a.m. It does that. I have it announcing every hour between seven a.m. and nine p.m. It is a reminder that maybe I should check on whether I am using my time wisely. Or maybe not. Often I can’t hear it although it seems much louder in church. Maybe after I am dead and buried, hopefully in that order, Juanita will take a hammer to my iPod.
We quickly figured out that the iPod had adjusted itself for the changeover to Daylight Saving Time. Not a Panamanian practice this year. We had time to get ready to leave for the ferry and we didn’t slow down and make ourselves late like having a head start will sometimes do. I had planned on checking out a restaurant around the corner and then maybe getting a cab to the causeway and then the ferry to the island, but I asked the desk clerks about a good place to eat. They recommended a hotel up the street. I gave them our laptop bag and the key so the room could be tidied. They offered to clean it. I said to just empty the bathroom trash can and some clean towels would be great.
We walked up the street and discovered tomorrow’s hotel. There was a young European woman outside with a cigarette and a coffee. We knew they served a breakfast of sorts with the room so we asked her if they had a café that served meals. She didn’t know but that the hotel across the street had a good café. She wanted to stay there but it was full so she was in the one we were headed to. She said, “It’s a bit rough, but it’s okay.” I wonder if they could base an ad campaign on that slogan. The café she recommended was the same as the one recommended by the desk clerks. On the way in we checked out what was served to others and we sat down and reviewed the menu and got up and left. Not what we were looking for.
A passing cab stopped and we arranged for a trip to the ferry dock for seven bucks with a stop at McDonalds on the way. Better food than We saw in the cafe and better pricing. I kept the drinks in the tray and the food in the bag until the dock. There was a long line waiting for the ferry so Juanita got in it and I went to the ticket window. The first ferry was at 8 not 8:30 and it was sold out so I bought tickets for 10:30 to the island and chose the 3:00 p.m. return over the 5:00 p.m. return. We found a table with an umbrella and sat and ate. The line started moving. The 8:00 o’clock people got on and the ferry people started filling spaces created by no-shows. They would count the people on board and then allow a few on who had 10:30 tickets. We got back in line. A few stragglers with real 8:00 o’clock tickets showed up and got on board. Then the ferry was full and they declared it so and everybody dispersed, and then the crew realized that they had a bit more room and we got in a new line right near the front, but a shore person from the ferry company said that was enough so the boat cast off lines and left with all the passengers wearing their life vests.
The causeway was built as a breakwater for the Panama Canal using stone from the “cuts” made to create the cross country canal. It connects three islands to the mainland and to each other. The ferry dock and a Smithsonian nature area are on the first island. We walked to the second and third islands and back. There is a metro bus that runs out to the end and back, but the only one that passed showed up while we were checking out a marina and hotel on the other side of a parking lot. We saw him and yelled and he turned his head and then decided he better not stop it might be passengers so drove off. We walked back to the ferry dock and sat in the shade and read until somebody decided they could reserve a spot in line with their cooler and it started a line rush and we joined it and then sat on our staked claim until the sun started to seem hot and then just Juanita stood there and then just our backpack.
The ferry showed up and loaded quickly and we left with no counting or anybody wearing life vests. Another ferry docked and took any surplus passengers that the one we were on had left behind. The ride was pleasant, winding through the anchored ships waiting to go through the canal. There were a large number of Panamanian registered tankers in the area. Some were high in the water and some were low in the water. It would be nice to have somebody to ask what the deal was. Are they there as a service to ships waiting their turn. Are they themselves waiting their turns to go through? Do they have anything to do with a tank farm on another island near Isla Taboga? Inquiring minds …
The ferry docks and we wait until it is mostly unloaded. It only takes minutes. There is no need to push and shove to be off first. We walk the length of the covered dock stopping to admire the schools of small fish in the water and the two puffer fish scooting around the surface.
A person hands us a couple of coupons for restaurants. The Calaloo Beach Fishbar and Grill offers a tourist special. Show your passport and get a free, cold, Balboa beer. As we walk down the street to the beach we receive another coupon for another restaurant. We pass by a whiteboard listing menu items for the Mirador. I am particularly taken by the Chicken soup for $2.50. With rice for $3. The street side of the restaurant has a convenience store type counter offering cold drinks and other corner store type foods. The counter people appear to be Asian. Panama City has a large China Town and is said to have good Dim Sum. In many ways the city seems more like Vancouver than any Central American city we have visited.
Some entrepreneur has set up a stall with a toilet, two stalls for changing and two shower stalls. It is fifty cents to use the bathroom, and a buck to use the shower or the change stalls. I wait for about ten minutes for the bathroom. All this time there is one person in the stall and one person ahead of me waiting. I wander away and we walk the rest of the way for the beach to the right of the dock.
At the entrance to the beach we are accosted by the umbrella person. An umbrella is a five dollar rental, a lounge chair a five dollar rental and a plastic chair is three dollars per “day”. Nope.
The beach is actually two beaches on either side of a sandy isthmus connecting a small island to the main island. The main swimming area is the bay on the town side. Many power boats and a few sailboats are anchored in the bay on the canal side. Some swimming occurs there, but most of the kids play in the roped off swimming area toward the town. We walk to the edge of the small island and sit on medium sized rock cubes from a tumbledown sea wall and relax and read in the shade of the trees on the little island. Priceless. Or should that be costless?
Eventually the clock tells us it is lunchtime and we embark in search of sustenance. It is a mission to Abilene. The bano is now available so we stop there. Afterward I ask about a hand basin and the attendant directs me to a pipe coming out of the wall. He turns on a valve inside and water comes out and falls on the rocks below. I rinse my hands. He shuts the valve.
We end up eating some excellent fish and chips at the Caloloo for only nine dollars. We dine at the counter looking out from the second floor restaurant onto the street below and the bay beyond. Only fly in the ointment is the stereo speaker on the counter next to us. Mount the thing so it is high if you feel the need for constant noise.
I didn’t try for my free beer but the owner drops the price of the smoothies from seven dollars to six when I go to pay. Actually it was easier to give me five dollars change than four dollars change for my twenty.
After finishing eating we walked through town, which is more like a historical fishing village with winding streets, alleys, stairs and paths. Paul Gaugin loved it here. He went and worked for a while on the construction of the Panama Canal when it was French. He was earning money to buy property on Isla Taboga. He came back with the money and prices had doubled so he went to Tahiti. The rest is history.
We went and stood in line for the ferry. It loaded and left half an hour early and a second ferry pulled into the slip to load passengers as we left. On the hour long boat ride back we saw more and different ships at anchor waiting their turn to go through the canal. One remembered from this morning had moved much closer to canal entrance. Is this what they do? Move and re-anchor?
Saw many pelicans today. There is a nesting ground somewhere on the island. Interested parties can get a permit to go to it.
At one point in our travels the ferry stopped and waited for a container ship to pass in front of us. It looked like it would have made sense to deviate course and go around back of the ship, but no sooner had the ship passed going one way, than another container ship came along going the other way. We would have been in its path. After it passed the ferry proceeded. Those ships don’t like they are moving very fast because they are so big, but they really move along quickly.
We got off the ferry, came up the ramp and beat away the taxi drivers at the top and walked out to the bus stop and waited. When we arrived at the bus stop there was just one couple there and they left since we had invaded their snuggling spot, but we were soon joined by a number of other people who were there for the bus. While waiting there a number of rental bikes passed in front of us going along the sidewalk. The rental bikes were side by side bikes with two pedal pushers and a covered roof or bigger models with two pedalers and a seat in front for the kids or quadcycles with two tandem bikes side by side under a roof.
The bus came and took us out to the end of the line and then turned around and waited at the stop that this morning’s driver just eased up on the throttle for. We took the bus all the way to Albrook mall and went into the mall food court for a sumptuous repast at Wendy’s. Came back out and got a bus to Cinco de Mayo and transferred there to a bus that went past the end of our street. Got much help from bus drivers and bystanders to do this. I had left the iPod in the room charging. It was still there. Yeah! So was bathroom garbage and yesterday’s damp towels. Boo.
March 10 - Monday – Panama City
A lazy morning. Juanita bravely ventured a few blocks to the McDonalds for some ninety-nine cent Egg McMuffins we washed down with the free coffee from the lobby of our hotel. After a couple of hours of keyboarding we plan to move half a block to another hotel and then maybe venture out to see the spiral building closer up. We will attempt this by metro bus so our mileage may vary.
Around noon we walked down the stairs and checked out and up the hill the hill and checked in. I went upstairs and checked the room. It was a bit grim, but doable even without windows. The credit card machine was off-line. They said to pay tomorrow. We did the other paper work and took our stuff to the room. The room only had a double bed, our reservation was for a king bed or two doubles. Back down stairs. The clerk had gone for lunch. After a while I translated the sheet for the backstop clerk and she gave us a key for another room. It was better. It had a bigger bed. And another one. And windows.
We walked to the bus stop and grabbed a likely looking bus and got off when we could see the spiral building. We maneuvered a bit and got a couple of better pictures than others we took and started to walk toward it.
The other day I bought some batteries for Juanita’s camera. The convenience store had no alkaline batteries, only carbon cells which I bought. We installed the first pair this morning while uploading pictures to the laptop. They died while taking the first couple of pictures of the spiral building and the other pair wouldn’t quite operate the camera. Walking around we passed a battery store and went in. It was a full blown industrial and commercial source of all sorts and sizes of batteries. They, however, had no AA alkaline batteries so we bought Lithium AA batteries and programmed the camera for them. There were no choices for carbon batteries on the menu. Maybe that is why they didn’t work very well.
We spent a fair bit of time talking to the battery salesman about other things and ended up asking him about a location of a Scotiabank nearby and he gave directions. Before walking toward the bank we went looking for lunch and chose a Burger King and brought their advertised special. We followed the salesman’s directions and figured we were close, but had seen no sign of a Scotiabank so made the fatal error of asking for directions. There was a guy in shirt and tie coming out of a fast-food place and I asked if there was a Scotiabank near there. He said there wasn’t but to take a cab to the Pacific something or other. I heard and understood it at the time but have forgotten the precise term and it is easy to write ‘something or other’ and explain why than to look at a map. Our business at Scotiabank can wait until Canada. It’s not worth a cab fare.
The street we were on was one way so we headed uphill towards the street with the buses that would take us back were we came from. There was a likely looking street but there seemed to be no bus stops and a doorman at the hotel on the corner asked what we were looking for and sent us a couple of blocks further. When we got there the intersection was blocked with temporary fencing for construction of one of the stations on the new subway which the literature says opens a week ago, but looks to be a month or two away. We are told that nothing in Panama happens on schedule. After following the labyrinth of fencing and sneaking through a parking lot and around a building and climbing a smallish retaining wall we got to a bus stop. According to Google maps we were about a hundred feet from the Scotiabank at one point on our exploration. It was a block and a half beyond where we got advice that there wasn’t one. Oh well.
We got on a standing room only bus that got kind of close to the Cinco de Mayo bus terminal. By the time we figured that out the bus was rolling again and we rode it to Albrook mall and got off and got on another bus and took it to Cinco de Mayo plaza and then we walked downstairs and up stairs and across the street to the market and bought a $1 smoothie each and walked across the street and down the stairs and up the stairs and into the terminal and caught a bus that took us past our hotel a block to the next stop and we bought some snacks at a corner store and we walked back to the hotel. The buses are air conditioned. One could ride them all day.
March 11 – Tuesday – Panama City
It’s our last day in the country. We are supposed to fly back to Canada tomorrow. What to do? What to do? Looked at going to the big park on the edge of the city. It is basically an undeveloped dry tropical forest. All I can think of is bugs. Let’s check out Panama Viejo. It is the ruins of the original city. After it was raided by Henry Morgan and burned by him or the Spanish governor it was rebuild in the area we explored on Saturday.
After a continental breakfast (four slices of white bread each, toasted if you want to wait in line for the two working out of four slice toaster, strong coffee and sugary orange juice substitute) I head upstairs to dump everything out of my bags and repack for the 4 a.m. tomorrow airport shuttle. Then Juanita showed up with the laptop and I wrote up the rest of yesterday and this far of today and will post it. Then we plan to go up the street to the park on the corner and along the next street to the MacDonald’s and then walk down to the seawall to catch a bus that goes past Panama Viejo, the ruins of the original city. Hopefully we get off at the right stop.
We did get off at the right stop which was around the corner from the edge of the ruins. We walked toward Panama Viejo and some workers pointed to a hole in the fence so we snuck in that way. They said it was much faster and it was, but perhaps it also shaved a bit off the admission price. I didn’t notice any ticket booths on our way out through the gate so probably it was just quicker. Captain Morgan attacked after there was some sort of treaty between Spain and England so he was arrested and returned to England and tried for his crimes, but he convinced them he didn’t know about the treaty and got knighted instead of punished. Juanita thinks there was probably some gold to share too, that helped the acquittal, but you’ll have to research that yourself.
We climbed the tower of the cathedral ruins. It is the most emblematic of the ruins, with its image having appeared on Panamanian stamps and currency. In 2001 they began a restoration of the tower and now you can climb up stairs on the inside and look out from different floor levels through the stabilized masonry windows and arches. The roof line had to not show from outside so it drains into the pipes that are part of the structural support of the stairs. There were some displays of the history of the cathedral which was a wood and straw hut originally. It stayed pretty modest for almost a century. A friar went to Spain and raised money for construction and brought back a lot of stuff for construction and for use in the church, but the ship sank on the east coast of Panama. The tower served both as a belfry and a lookout tower. There were illustrations of what it had looked like in each of the four directions before the settlement was destroyed. Of particular interest to me was the view out to the islands where the treasure ships tied up – the same three islands connected by the causeway that were mentioned in Sunday’s blog posting.
Coming out of the grounds I hailed a cab and asked him about taking us to Fung Lung restaurant. Once I opened the door I started to have doubts. There were two bottles of beer in the cup holders. One was open and the level was down about a third. He described were it was and that jibed with my understanding and I was wondering how to deal with this and he begged off pointing at the beer and saying he was almost at his home. He left and parked in a driveway about a hundred feet away. We flagged down another cab as he was dropping somebody off, but he grumbled something and drove off. So we walked to the street to cross it and wait at a bus station and flag a cab pointed in the right direction. While waiting for the light to change a cab beeped at us and I nodded and he pulled over and waited until we came across on the pedestrian cross walk. He drove us there for five bucks.
We got there about 11:30 and they only serve dim sum until noon, but that was long enough for us to load our table and fill our faces. I asked about desserts and they brought a cart with lots of choices but they had no sesame balls so we decided to eat something sweet elsewhere. When the girl totalled our bill she had us sign the back so we could receive our senior discount. We walked to a bus station and decided that we would take our chances and ended up on one that went to the Albrook Mall terminal where we had a sundae and then went to the Super 99 supermarket and bought snacks and chewing gum for tomorrow’s travels. Then we went to Cinco de Mayo terminal by bus and walked to the market for a smoothie and then walked down through the rough area to check something at a department store and then for a shoe shine and then we walked to the sea wall and walked home to our hotel.
Back at the hotel the power to the room had been turned off so it was like a sauna. I went to the front desk and asked them to turn on the power. They have a bank of switches behind the desk and can turn off the power so they don’t have to depend on the guests to shut off the A/C when leaving for the day. Back in the room and waiting for the temperature to drop below sweating level before having a shower I stripped off in anticipation. Then opened my e-mail and checked in for tomorrow’s flights and then realized I should print them and put back on my sweat damp clothes and went next door to the Internet café and printed out the boarding passes and came back upstairs.
While I was downstairs Juanita received an e-mail about some changes due to the missing Malaysian plane. We are supposed to check in three hours ahead of flight time, not ninety minutes. That won’t change things for us. Our flight is scheduled to leave at 9:55. The seven o’clock shuttle wasn’t going to get us there reliably so we had already booked the four a.m. shuttle. We should be there by five a.m. and the United web site says their counter doesn’t open until seven. Hopefully we have a better day than the one we had coming back from Canada after Christmas a few years ago where we spent a day in the Calgary airport due to the confusion over procedural changes in reaction to the guy with a bomb in his underwear.
I’ll let you know sometime.
Probably going to be busy for a few days when we get back what with arranging for a drug test and travelling to it and getting a police check form and sorting out a credit card issue and clearing out the snow around the fifth wheel and pulling the fifth wheel trailer to Regina and so on. Looks like we won’t have to spend any time on the truck recall repairs. Our daughter, Debbie, took it in and they looked at the front end and put it on the list. It is number fifty-one on the list and they are getting one part a week in.
My mental arithmetic puts that at around next February. I expect that we and the truck will be in Texas along about then. No worry. It apparently is usually only a problem when making tight turns at low speed. I guess that would be things like maneuvering your fifth wheel to get it in and out of parking spots. Shouldn’t be doing that for a couple of days. Should be fine.