A Travellerspoint blog

Voyage to the Isthmus of Panama, Day Zehn

My mother said there would be cannibals

sunny 28 °C

Day Zehn, or ten to those of you using the English parlance, began with a howl and a bang. No, my inner werewolf was not stirred by having consumed massive quantities of cooked German-style meat products the night before, nor was it stirred by the absolute overconsumption of Warsteiner beer. No, the howling belonged to the "light breeze" that enveloped El Valle every ten minutes, much like a wet blanket thrown over someone who is barely treading water, and rattled the windows of our delightful second-story suite. The bang was also caused by the wind. The metal-framed patio furniture on our sizable balcony was being whipped against the glass door with some considerable force. We had taken great pains the night before to secure said furniture in a neat little pile at the corner of the balcony, hoping that by stacking it neatly all together, the force of the light breeze would be negated. Silly us, foolish mammals. The winds blew with such ferocity that they bounced the hapless furniture all about, and especially so against the glass door. Few things can wake me faster than what sounded like a large gorilla slamming a Nissan against glass. Taking care of my modesty by putting on a pair of shorts, I gathered up my senses (which I had effortlessly placed into 14 empty bottles of beer the night before) and slowly crept toward the glass door. SLAM, came another gust of wind. SLAM, went my brain into the back of my skull. Oh, this was going to be fun. I donned the mountaineering gear, placed in the closet by hotel management for just such occasions, and bravely, dare I say adventurously, slid open the door. A light gust of breeze threw me back into the room, through the back wall, and into the bathroom. Brushing bits of broken tile work off my face, I steeled myself for another attempt. The wind had died down to nothing, so I took the chance and clamored onto the balcony, crawling over the twisted steel and plastic puzzle that was our furniture. There was extra rope included with the mountaineering gear, so I used that and a few well placed pitons driven into the deck to lash down the lounges. Visions of the famous last scene of "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea" (the one with Kirk Douglas) flashed through my slightly fuzzy subconscious. The giant squid was about to sink the Nautilus, it's tentacles grasping at and clutching any poor soul unlucky enough to not be wearing mountaineering gear. The wind breathed back to life, and it's tentacles grabbed at me as I swung the last hammer strike of a piton into the cement decking. My only salvation was to crab-walk back into the suite, staying low to avoid being lifted by the squid and hurled into oblivion. I gently slid the door shut, and all was again quiet, save for the sound of a splash of seco being poured into two glasses. My Love, you simply read my mind......a cocktail would be lovely to start the day. My Dearest was ravishing in her pink shorts, her hair gently tossed about by a night of slumber. Do be so kind as to remove the mountaineering gear my Sweet, then we can make plans for the day. At your command my Love. And notice how the banging has ceased. Yes Dearest, wonderful job on lashing the furniture, perhaps you can trek to the kitchen next and get us some coffee. Sarcasm oozed from every pore on her body. Say my little Pumpkin, there's a loft over the bedroom....

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Several hours later, and having removed my mountaineering gear, we sat at the small coffee table in the room and began poring over piles of maps and guide books. What sort of misadventure can we get into today? Hmmm, this looks interesting....a Farmers Market. Oooh look, ziplining too. That would be fun, as long as it only zips 10 feet off the ground. Something tells me though that "Forest Canopy Zipline Tours" runs a bit higher than 10 feet. Forest canopies tend to be high up, that's just their nature. Haha....nature joke. Well, we're going to need fortification for this adventure. So off to the restaurant we ambled, eager for a new day. The light breeze had kicked up again, knocking us against the banister of the stairs. Nearly horizontal to the ground, we gripped along much as one would a rope thrown to a drowning person. The wind died down just as we reached the bottom of the stairs, so as a precaution, we crab-walked into the restaurant. The waitress saw us and reached out and grabbed us with one of her tentacles, placing us surprisingly upright at the nearest table while simultaneously placing two cups of coffee in front of us with the other tentacle. We could tell she was a local, someone who had grown up with and learned the ways of howling winds. Quisieran desayuno, she asked politely, whisking away a few stray bits of seaweed with her cavernous beak? Si gracias, breakfast would be good, what is on the menu today? Well, today we have a lovely whole cow, basted with delicate German sauces, a 300 kg whale steak basted with delicate German sauces, on the diet menu we have a small 75 kg campesino basted with delicate German sauces, and eggs, delicately basted with sausage and bacon, served German style. And beer. I had always dreamed of visiting Munich, if for nothing else than the exquisite cuisine of cooked meat products and beer. And I had to go no further than Panama to achieve my dream. I think we'll stick to the eggs and beer.....two please.

Fourteen hours later, having once again gorged ourselves, we made for the trusty Nissan. I pulled away the protective shrubbery and in we climbed, heading for parts unknown, in only the most adventurous of moods. Four blocks later, we parked near the famous Farmers Market, or Farmers Mercado as it was known locally. The Market occupied a full square block, and was teeming with people from the town and suburbs, or "countryside", in the local dialect.

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Folks were milling around shopping, bartering, arguing, and generally having a swell time. This place had everything, quite astonishing for a town of 137 people. There were stalls filled to the brim with vegetables, meats (cooked and otherwise), baskets, handicrafts, fruits, and the odd prostitute. Kidding, they were not prostitutes, but there were a lot of chickens, something which aroused my keen sense of travel deficit disorder. It took many hours of walking shoulder to shoulder with the other patrons, but we finally found the one item, that singular piece of souvenir that we had searched for: a straw wind chime, decorated with colored feathers to simulate actual bird life. Now you may ask yourself, what good is a straw wind chime? Its finest quality lay not in the magnificently woven pattern, but in irony. A wind chime that made no noise, this was for us. We also found a very nice set of gourd marakas, filled with dried bits of whale meat from the restaurant, that made a wonderful rattling noise. It took the vendor several hours to pry one of the marakas from my right hand so that I could reach into my pocket for some change. I was in the midst of a classic Led Zeppelin riff when he succeeded. OK, I'll take these, I told the man. Paying the slightly disgruntled gourd-maker/musician-inspirer, we made for the Nissan.

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Now that we have scored our booty, what say we really up this adventure game to another level my Darling? Sure, as long as the road is paved, we can go there, she coyly replied. Fresh from the encounter with chickens, and the Led Zeppelin solo, my navigational senses were humming. That way, we'll go that way. Um, Dearest, that's a dead end. Yes, of course, I knew that. I was looking beyond the dead end, past time and space altogether, to a point just 2 km past the dead end. Ah, yes, of course. And on we drove, past time, to the left of space, and around the bend from reality. Oh look, there's the sign for the Forest Canopy Zipline Tours. 3 km ahead. Which would have been fine, except that the 3 km was a hike through the jungle - there was no road, just a narrow path, and it was not paved. Therefore, we could not go there. Rats, I so wanted to imagine flying along on a string between two trees 300 feet above the forest floor. This would have to be put on the back burner of dreams and hallucinations. As well, true adventure does not include walking 3 km through dense jungle in flip-flops. And so on we drove, our dreams on hold, sightseeing through the suburbs of El Valle. Oh look, another chicken.....

Several hours later, we were back at Los Capitanos. Parking at the edge of the property, we carefully covered the Nissan again with shrubbery so as to disguise the "parking incident" from the day before. A soft cooing sound filled the air - the winds had just died down. "Cocktails.......cocktails........" sighed the air. Making our way to the bar, we stopped briefly in the lobby to observe the contingent of Spanish and Portuguese tourists that were wholly engrossed in a soccer match on the TV. Highly entertaining these soccer fans were, as will be seen in a future episode of this blog (back in Panama City). It only took a few drinks for us to steel ourselves into ordering the whole cow and 300 kg whale steak, basted delicately in German style sauces. The restaurant itself was a marvel in human interaction, as people would move from table to table discussing whatever came to their minds with the people around them. When in Rome, as the saying goes, so we also moved around to a few different tables and mingled with the visiting folk, nibbling a bit at their whale steaks and quaffing some of their beers. This was absolutely entertaining, and we met some wonderful people from various parts of the world. And they all seemed to speak German. Curious. Hours later, our stomachs again bulging at the seams and our faces sore from laughter and conversation, we made our way back to the suite, bringing a couple Warsteiners back with us just for good measure. Sleep came quickly, which was fortunate as the giant squid was again making an appearance at our balcony door. Two highly accurate harpoon throws and the squid vanished. We drifted off to sleep, dreaming of wienerschnitzel and Old Europe.

Stay tuned for the next installment (that would be Day 11), wherein we travel along the Panama Canal, through the dense jungle along the highway, and find ourselves amidst what was quite possibly the scariest moment of our 14 day adventure, complete with buzzards on garbage piles, children extorting money from drivers along "their road", and a well-armed wayward Police Commandante speaking far too quickly.

Posted by beerman 10:58 Archived in Panama Comments (0)

Arlo Guthrie Comes To Monroe

Wisconsin 1968 - Plus 42 Years

10 °C

Last week, I was going about the business of my job, arranging the brewing schedule, ordering ingredients, analyzing (well, tasting really - it's a job) the beer that was to be packaged that day. One of my brew house mechanics came to my office and told me that Arlo Guthrie was scheduled to play in Monroe (a charmingly rural locale of 10,843 people and 300,000,004 cows) the following week. My interest was peaked, as my Love and I had seen Arlo perform in Madison WI about ten years ago. Great show, so why not see him again? How many chances would we have to see a performer, so close to home, who very nearly defined a generation so many years ago? One, apparently. I quickly checked out the local paper online and found that the Monroe Arts Center was sponsoring the show in just ten days, and it was to be held at, of all places, the local high school auditorium. What? Arlo, the marijuana smoking, anti-insanity of government scion of the sixties, playing a concert at a high school? Hmmm, how times have changed. I found that the ticket prices were reasonable ($20-$75 a seat), so I immediately emailed my Love with this exciting news. We have to go, she replied within 12 seconds. I agree, would you order the tickets my Dear? Absolutely. We opted for the $25 seats, just in case the $20 seats were behind a pole or lighting set-up. And besides, how big can a high school auditorium be?

Two days later, the tickets arrived in the mail. Our excitement grew with each passing day. We hadn't been to a concert in years, and this promised to be a classic. I even went so far as to email Arlo on his website asking if it would be acceptable to bring a few cases of beer to the show for the group. I had visions that Arlo would answer me personally, inviting us backstage, or at least onto the tour bus to share a beer and talk about days gone by. He didn't. The day of the show crept slowly closer, and still no answer. Not deterred, I called the Monroe Arts Center to see if they could help out in realizing my vision. The lady I spoke with was very personable, and though we couldn't have beer backstage (it was a school after all), we might be able to give them my beer directly after the show. She thought it was a very nice gesture that we would consider thanking Arlo with a hometown product. Hey, I have 200,000 cases of beer in my warehouse, so it wasn't really a stretch to bring a couple of cases.

The day of the show finally arrived, with still no word from Arlo himself. Rats. Hope springs eternal, and the day at work passed quickly. I drove home, singing out loud lyrics from "Alice's Restaurant, Comin' Into Los Angeles, and City Of New Orleans". I caught the attention of a few dairy cows grazing peacefully in their pasture, but they were mostly unimpressed. I'd have to work on my singing technique. My Love had dinner almost waiting for me as I returned, knowing, uncannily knowing as she is, that we would be up way past our bedtime by the end of the show and would be in no mood to dine. Cocktails yes, but dine no.

As we drove into Monroe, a town I know quite well, we turned toward the high school. It seems that I don't know the town as well as I think, because though I know where the high school is, more or less, I don't know where the auditorium is. Couldn't be too hard to find, could it? Just look for the tour buses in the parking lot. And there they were, diesel engines quietly humming away keeping the batteries charged. One never knows about tour buses, what kind of energy they consume.......perhaps the batteries were needed to power amplifiers or cigarette lighters or some such, but the engines are only ever allowed to rest at night, after the show is done and the occupants are fast asleep.

Doors opened at 6:45pm, and we were 10 minutes late for that. The show was to start at 7:30pm, so we had plenty of time. Not to worry Dear. There were already a dozen or so people milling around the lobby, exchanging greetings as rural folk are apt to do. I would guess the median age was about 58. We asked at the ticket counter (really, a small table manned by two nice ladies from the Arts Center) as to the whereabouts of the lady to whom I spoke about bringing beer. She was pointed out to us, and we strolled over to her and engaged her in conversation. She suggested we speak to the people manning another table, Arlo people, who were occupied arranging and selling sundry concert-type merchandise (CD's, T-shirts, bumper stickers) on another small table. Perhaps we could bring the beer to the buses at intermission, or even after the show. She told us that Arlo would be leaving immediately after the show.....this dashed our hopes for autographs and chat. We were hoping for autographs.....my Love even brought along two very old vinyl albums in hopes of securing said autographs, as well as a letter from our best friend in Florida who just missed the chance to see Arlo in Chicago in 1963....both were underage, and our friend was not allowed into the club Arlo was playing (funny, since our friend is 2.5 months older than Arlo). We chatted with Arlo's people, who were very friendly, and because we believe in the cause, we bought the latest CD and another bumper sticker. They arranged for one of the bus drivers to escort us to offload the beer onto Arlo's bus. Sweet. Still time for the show and maybe an introduction. We led the nice young man, Ashely, to our car, parked conveniently next to the buses, and brought the beer to the main bus. Say, nice bus you guys have here. Oh yeah, it's kind of home away from home....see, there are 12 bunks, a back room for playing music, a bathroom. Say, any chance your boss will come out and have a beer? No, not really, he's prepping for the show. Oh well, no harm in asking. Thank you Ashely, for the brief look at the daily life of a traveling band.

Back in the auditorium, we found our seats. We couldn't have been more than fifty feet away from the stage. Not bad for $25. I couldn't see paying another $50 each just to sit right up front...we could see everything from back here. Showtime approached, and the audience was filing in. My God, there can't be more than three people here under the age of 50, including me!!! I hadn't seen this much gray hair since our last visit to Florida. I started feeling downright young by comparison.

The lights went down, and out came Arlo, his son Abe, the Burns Sisters (backup singers), and the bassist, guitarist, and drummer. Thunderous cheers from the mostly geriatric crowd rang in my ears. Geez, these people still have some motivation in them (or so I thought). Arlo started at the piano, ran through several songs, then came up front to sit at a stool and regale the audience with his famous tales. Classic song after classic song came from the man, sprinkled with some pretty amusing stories, including a rather lengthy parable of the Biblical Joseph and his trials. Do you wonder what one person can do to change the world, Arlo pronounced? Well, the guy who pointed out to Joseph's brothers where Joseph had gone after fleeing his family....that unnamed individual who quite possibly changed the course of history, that's who. "He went that way". The audience was downright gleeful, fascinating for a bunch of old folk from the Middle of Nowhere. Oddly, as Arlo sang songs that had been part of everybody's life for nearly 45 years, the audience hardly moved, save for applauding at the end of each song. Gleeful, but unmoving. Such is the way of rural life. My Love and I were tapping our toes and nodding our heads with each passing refrain.

Intermission came....fifteen minutes for the band to pee and have a drink. And the audience.....again, geriatric, so a good pee was in order for most of them. We simply stood, moved out of the way for folks heading to the bathroom, and stretched. A couple of ladies seated next to us got up, then voiced that they needed to remember where they were sitting. I told them "just look for my shirt (a red Hawaiian number). Oh, yes, we will see that when we get back. A few minutes later, they returned and sat down. We chatted a bit, about Monroe, Unions (oh, I think the brewery has the last Union in town), and, as older folks are apt to do, their health. Seems one of the ladies had had a stroke at work, so she now cherished every day (fitting, for this concert). And, as she proclaimed with all earnestness, if she ever got "the" cancer, she would "take marijuana", because that chemo and those cancer drugs just don't work. I think I might have wet myself laughing, because this woman is possibly the last person anyone would ever imagine "taking marijuana". I couldn't believe my ears. My Love almost fell over. This one single profound statement made the entire night. This woman was someone's grandmother, and yet, even in today's climate of zero tolerance for anything "out of the norm", she was willing to "take marijuana", even though it could land her in jail. And she knew where to get some too, just in case. Jim Morrison was right....people are strange, when you're a stranger.....and this woman didn't know me from Adam. I was in awe of her. You go girl. Live long, and be happy.

Arlo played for another hour, switching between six-string guitars, twelve-string guitars, and the piano. Each band member had their moment to shine, and all did with gusto and skill. The lights went up, and the show was over. We bid farewell to the two ladies next to us. Once in the lobby, we made sure to pick up the album, with autograph (sorry, Arlo will only sign one item per person), and headed home. I can't really blame Arlo for not sticking around and chatting - this is his job, and I don't like to hang around after my job and chat when I'd much rather just go home. Sometimes you have to talk to your fans, and I'm sure he does, just as I do when visitors to my brewery want to ask me every question they can about brewing. It goes with the territory.

What a show, that's all I can say. Thank you Monroe Arts Center. Thank you Arlo. Next time, I'll plan a little further ahead. Three cases, that'll do the trick. Yeah.....

Posted by beerman 11:00 Archived in USA Tagged art Comments (4)

Voyage to the Isthmus of Panama, Day Nein

My mother said there would be cannibals

sunny 30 °C

Day 9 began thankfully absent the cacophony of angry pelicans bent on supremacy in a game of dominoes. Better still, my Love was posed serenely next to me, hands folded delicately across her chest, bosoms heaving seductively with each passing breath. I could stay here....this is good. A light breeze tugged at the curtains, and the salt smell of the sea hung in the air and teased the nose. A thought hung in my fore brain.....that of John Cleese, as the sex education teacher in "The Meaning of Life", where he is going to explain intercourse to his students and as his wife lays down on the bed, he says "you don't mind if we dispense with the foreplay this go round, do you Dear?" Coffee, yes, that would do the trick, and perhaps a cold shower....bracing and uplifting for the spirit.

A gentle nudge to my Beloved (look Ma, no hands!!) and she began to rouse out of her slumber. Come my Dear, adventure awaits, I exclaimed, and we must be off!! Yes Dear, everyone says that about us....what say we grab some breakfast first. Splendid suggestion my Sweet, dine we shall. In the restaurant, we were again set upon by the three children from the previous day. Fine, well mannered ones these were. We chatted at length about their futures, and soon, their parents arrived. The kids were so excited to introduce us that it was nigh difficult to get in a word to the slightly befuddled parents. We learned that they had a few more days of holiday, then were headed back to Costa Rica to resume their missionary work building local infrastructure and teaching English and the word of their God to anyone interested. Nice folks, simple, unassuming, and not terribly pushy about their religion. They just wanted to help where they could.

Yet another magnificent meal of cooked meat products and coffee brought us to our adventurous senses. Time for a quick dip in the ocean Dear? No, we must be off. Yes Dear, everyone says......Ha ha, yes, got it the first time. And so we packed our two metric tons of possessions into our Tardis-like luggage and crammed it all in the trusty Nissan, being extra careful to not crush the bounty of dominoes and day-old fish.

Whisking out the parking lot, with windows wide open to best take advantage of the wind, we set off for parts unknown. I suppose we should have actually checked out of the hotel, but hey, this was adventure. We waved goodbye to the sea, looking back one last time.

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Remarkably, we stayed on a paved road this time and found, to our utter amazement, that the main highway was only about 20 minutes along. It took us hours to get here, and just a few minutes to make it out. And there were road signs, correct ones this time. We were back in David in no time and I was careful to not point out any furniture stores. CA1 was right where it was supposed to be, so we faced east and drove on, the soundtrack for Desperado blazing away through the speakers. A hundred or so kilometers ahead, past dozens of towns that all were teeming with life, including an inordinate number of cows, we found ourselves in Santiago. It's about lunchtime my Dear, feeling peckish at all? Why yes, we should stop for a bite. And around the next turn, sitting there at the side of the road like the colossus that it was, it's golden arches gleaming in the midday sun, was a McDonald's. Normally we would avoid this sort of commercial sensation at all costs, but as we were at a stoplight, we looked at each other with the same thought in mind: I wonder if it tastes the same as back home? OK, true adventure is not simply a search for something unknown. We had to see. Was it the same? OK, but just this once. Walking in the front door, we were greeted with exactly the same decor as every other McDonald's in the world, save for the language difference. Si, gracias, dos MacGrandes, dos papas fritas, y dos Coca-Colas. I'd be lying if I said it was any different than at any other McDonald's in the world (at which I've eaten, anyway). We could easily have been in a Latin Chicago neighborhood - the counter staff wore the same uniforms, had the same smiles on their faces, and were quick and efficient. And the food was exactly the same, though the Coke was a little better - I think they had used sugar rather than corn syrup. Emotionally satisfied that we had eaten true McDonald's, we set off again, though as we left the parking lot, we spied the restaurant we should have gone to in the first place: McPato's, a strikingly similarly-themed establishment that apparently served duck burgers. It was really rather tempting to get a couple to go, but we steeled ourselves in our resolve that we had consumed sufficient fast food already. Still, a McPato burger.....

Another hour passed, as well as another CD, until we hit Penonome, where we stayed the first night out. Slightly weepy nostalgia crept over us at the thought of Panamanian Chinese food and Steven Seagal movies. But no, it was not yet time to dine, so on we pressed, past an amazing number of furniture stores and meat markets. I bit my tongue. Another half a CD later, we passed Rio Hato, an abandoned Panamanian military base where American paratroopers landed prior to assaulting Panama City to weed out Manuel Noriega and get back all the money George Bush Sr. gave him. Seems the paratroopers were ill-informed as to their altitude when they jumped out of the transport plane, and several broke their legs when their parachutes opened only a few meters above the ground. Oops. Being very highly trained soldiers, they quickly captured or killed the few remaining Panamanian militia (the ones who hadn't fled the night before) and declared victory. Noriega was a tad more difficult to capture, as he had barricaded himself inside the Vatican Compound in Panama City. A little heavy metal music got him out some weeks later. Marveling in this bit of recent history, we found the road to El Valle. There was a sign, so it wasn't really that difficult. Up the mountain we drove, as El Valle is situated at 1000 meters along the Cordillera Central, the mountainous spine of Panama. The air grew cooler as we drove, and refreshed us further. Oh look, there's the Sleeping Indian Princess the guide book describes, just to the left of center. There.

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Really? Where? Over there, see how that ridge has the profile of a human body? Oh, yes, of course, the Sleeping Indian Princess, silly me. It looked like a ridge with some bumps in it. But still, given enough seco and several sleepless nights, I can see how it could be perceived. El Valle is essentially a volcanic crater roughly 5 km across. A massive eruption created the hole, which quickly filled with rainwater to form a huge lake. At some point, the lake leaked. A lot. The rich bottom land was settled and farmed for centuries. Farming continues today, and fortunately for the residents, no further volcanic eruptions have occurred. Driving on, we first tried a hotel suggested by the guide book, but they were full up. We rounded a corner some blocks away and found Hotel Y Restaurante Los Capitanes. Very pretty. This was it.

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Bougainvillia was well in bloom everywhere you looked. We pulled into the lobby, then gingerly backed out as I had parked on the main desk. Hiding the trusty Nissan behind some large bushes, we strolled back to the lobby, whistling as we walked. Nothing wrong here, nothing to see. Outside the lobby sat the owner, a former German Merchant Marine Captain who was chatting it up at a table with several Police officials. Not about us, we hoped. Parking on reception desks is strictly forbidden in Panama, and the fines were stiff. The lovely young woman at the desk told us that we had several options for rooms. Nice, I like options. We could have a cabana room with no electricity and half a bath, the upstairs suite with TV, bath, terrace, and sitting area, or a paper bag with a blanket in the yard by the stream. Hmmm, choices. How much for the bag? Kidding, we'll take the suite. $70? Perfect. I knew at once I should have mastered those classes in levitation at school, because it would have made muling our two metric tons of luggage up those stairs so much easier. Soon after feeding and dry-combing the mules, we settled into our suite. Say, this is nice. There's even a little loft above the bedroom if you want to get kinky later Dear. Yeah, that'll be happening. So we decided it was time for that eternal afternoon repast, a cocktail. We ordered several from the bar and sat outside on the veranda, not far from the owner and the two Police officials. Drinking is always a festive occasion, and this was even more so as the flowers laid their scents all around us. The wind was most curious. It would be dead calm for 10 minutes, then the wind would begin to absolutely howl around us, then die down for another 10 minutes. Soon the owner bid farewell to his two visitors, who eyeballed the "Reception Desk" sign stuck in the Nissan's grill as they left. He came over and welcomed us to his hotel, taking great pains to be as courteous as possible. We thanked him, and I was almost tempted to apologize for driving into his lobby, but I figured that would give us away and he'd make us sleep in the bag tonight.

Dinner that night was a real treat. The fare was almost entirely German in origin. We ordered several fine German beers to accompany the meal, which consisted of really very large piles of cooked meat products made in the finest of German traditions. The Captain (owner), we learned over a lengthy conversation as he sat at our table, had come to Panama 15 or so years earlier when his ship was to pick up a load of sugar bound for Germany. There was some confusion as to when the load would be delivered, as the ship's Purser had absconded with the money necessary to pay for the load. So the Captain was stuck for some weeks. He took in the sights (and some of the women) of the country, and upon his return to Panama after finally delivering the aforementioned sugar, he gave up his Captaincy and settled in El Valle, purchasing this hotel soon thereafter. The meal was enough to satisfy a small army, and we went back to the room holding our bellies.

As we drifted off to sleep, I imagined what it would be like to simply change one's life and relocate to another country. That, and something about 3000 tons of sugar. Curious. And so endeth Day Nein (German joke - it's really Day 9).

Stay tuned for Day 10, where we venture forth to take in the amazing sights and sounds of the Farmers Market and consume mass quantities of German biere.

Posted by beerman 12:16 Archived in Panama Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Voyage to the Isthmus of Panama Day 8, more or less

My mother said there would be cannibals

sunny 30 °C

Day 8 began with the sound of the ocean breeze gently blowing at the steel curtains of our room. I was awakened by the raucous chatter of several pelicans deeply engaged in a game of dominoes on our terrace. They sat in a circle elegantly pushing seashells shaped like dominoes onto the table and taking terns (bird joke) berating each others' playing skills. Small wads of fish were piled in front of each bird, apparently being used as currency. A bottle of seco sat on one edge of the green and blue colored tile table, and with each winning hand, the pelicanos would quaff the rum and slam the glasses back down on the table. One particularly grizzled veteran of the game had a small filter-less cigarette dangling out of the corner of his sizable beak. And I could understand every word of Spanish they spoke. I politely asked if I could sit in for one hand, but apparently I spoke a dialect of Spanish they couldn't understand. They looked at me quizzically, and in unison, almost as if in song, told me to wake up and get my ass down to breakfast. Ah breakfast, and coffee.....

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Day 8 began with the sound of the ocean breeze gently blowing against the steel curtain of my subconscious. I snapped awake, barely avoiding a beak poke from the grizzled veteran pelican. I threw a fish to him, and rolled over to wake my Beloved. I must have been dreaming, or perhaps still was, because I found the Wily Woman not in bed but sitting at the table on the terrace, a huge pile of all the pelicans' fish sitting in front of her. The birds were not at all pleased, and with one last slam of a seashell on the table from my Beloved, they flew off in a huff, having been soundly thrashed by my cackling Love. Look Dear, we have dinner for tonight, she happily pronounced. Now I knew that I was still dreaming, because my Love dislikes seafood. Still, she played a mean game of dominoes, and I couldn't dismiss that. We gathered ourselves once again for a repast that promised to be a soul-satisfying treat.

As we made our way along the ridiculously hot sidewalk along the beach toward the restaurant, we noticed that several hundred dolphins had gathered just offshore to partake in what looked remarkably like a Riverdance session. The largest of them was leading the dance, dressed in his finest green Riverdance fins. We found the restaurant several days later, right where we had left it the night before. Miguel greeted us with a broad smile.......Buenos Dias Senores, como estan esta manana? Fine Miguel, fine, and you? Wonderful senores, would you like to sit for breakfast? Yes. please, and be so kind as to bring many large coffees, as I may still be dreaming. We sat at a lovely table, clothed in a very bright white tablecloth. Jugo de naranja, yes, orange juice would be splendid, thank you. My Beloved, did I drink a bit last night? Yes Dear, you outdid yourself. Hmmmm, thought so.....perhaps I should ease up a bit on the rum. Not a bad idea Dear, even though it is quite inexpensive. So what would you like to do today, my Companion in Adventure? Well my Sweet, it would seem that the ocean has called my name today, and a cooling dip would be in order. But first, the cooked meat products and exquisite coffee await.

We rolled ourselves back toward our room over the really very hot sidewalk along the beach. There were masses of pelicans swirling overhead, cackling something about getting even at the next game. Very curious these Panamanian birds.

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Donning our swim apparel, we again made for the beach. The sand was a gorgeous shade of gray-black, brought down from the mountains by centuries of rains and the occasional volcanic eruption. The few seashells that were strewn about would have made great prizes for our collection, but alas, the sand temperature was just slightly over 185C, so stopping to pick them up was not an option. We traversed the 100 meters to the water in just over World Record time, leaving our melted flip flops about halfway there. Our towels erupted in flames as we dropped them on the sand just shy of the water. That's OK, because we were used to third degree burns on the soles of our feet, we could just rub some dirt on them and we'd be right as rain. The primordial soup that is the ocean once again breathed life into our adventurous souls. Say, the current is a bit strong today, Dear. Yes, but the breakers call, I must heed. Remember to swim across the rip current that will take you out Honey Bunch. I knew that. Really. But the waves were breaking 50 meters offshore, and were no less than spectacular. We swam and giggled, pausing only to splash water on each other. We body-surfed until we were exhausted, but knowing that the run back would again cause third degree burns on the souls of our feet, we lingered for hours in the cooling waters. There were several small children (aren't they all small Dear?) and some over-sized adults rollicking in the shallower parts. They played with nearly the same abandon as we. Wrinkled to the point of needing re-hydration, we pursed our lips and made the mad dash for the bar. Gently patting out the flames on our legs, we submersed ourselves in the poolside shower and washed bits of ocean life from our tired bodies. It was nearly noon, certainly time for a cocktail, possibly a bit to eat. We eagerly quaffed a few vodka tonics while gingerly picking some small octopi and starfish from our bathing suits. While tossing aside one particularly aggressive sea urchin, we were suddenly face to face with three of the small children who had joined us in the water. They sat down at our table and began conversing as if we were old friends. Um, hi. Who are you? The kids, aged 3, 8, and 11, told us with all earnestness that they were from Oregon and their parents were missionaries living and working in Costa Rica which by the way was just over there and they were here on a holiday that they haven't had in a long time and wasn't this place great and have you been in the pool yet cause the pool is great and a lot of fun and oh they have two pools which one do you want to go in first? Children are so eager. We talked to the kids at length over a nice lunch of fish and/or chicken, with extra cocktails, then decided that it was indeed time to explore one of the pools. We had become like the teachers these children had never had, educating them on numerous subjects ranging from geography to the political influence of religion in society. Being adventurers, we knew we didn't need to wait an hour before swimming as our mothers had insisted. The oldest child, an adorable girl of 11, took great delight at me lifting her up and heaving her across the water. For me, it was akin to midget tossing that one might find in a Chicago bar. This went on for many hours, and the kids could not stop giggling and chatting away. And we found ourselves giggling as well, because it does tend to be an infectious behavior. Like sneezing, but without the watery eyes. We bid the children a fond farewell, and quaffing one last cocktail, we made for our luxury suite.

A full day of adventurous exercise certainly builds ones appetite. A quick shower, a bit of local news on the television, and we were again off to the restaurant for an evening meal. The dolphins had long stopped Riverdancing, but as the sidewalk had cooled considerably, we stopped to marvel at a magnificent sunset.

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This is what life is all about, stopping to smell the roses or take in a glorious setting sun. OK, that, and a meal that rivaled them all. Miguel again greeted us with a curious yet inviting smile, noticing politely that we had burned ourselves silly in the sweltering Panamanian sun. Miguel, tonight it is Chef's choice, please bring us whatever is suggested, meat for my Lovely and fish for me, with a dollop of soothing skin balm. Oh, si Senor, I shall bring you the finest meals in the house. And he did. We sat comfortably at the linen-clothed table, devouring the rare beefsteak and tuna surprise (chef's choice) until we could dine no more. Coffee and brandy finished the meal, and we were the happiest campers on the planet. Miguel regaled us with tales of his driving journeys over the mountains, through dense fog, to get to Bocas Del Toro. Senor, you do not want to drive through fog in the mountains, it is very dangerous, and the trucks are all over the road. I suspected that he was trying to keep us here for another month, but his stories were engaging enough that we could have stayed, if for nothing else than more stories.

We bid adieu to our gracious waiter and made for the suite. Fortunately, the pelicans had been asleep for hours, but they had left behind many shells. We picked up a few for the collection, just because we could, and settled in for the evening. Sleep came quickly, and we dreamed of the sea.

And so endeth Day 8 of our adventures. Stay tuned for more adventure, as we drive nearly the breadth of Panama and find ourselves in a volcanic hole among the company of a German merchant marine Captain and heaping mounds of sauerbraten.

Posted by beerman 10:42 Archived in Panama Comments (1)

Voyage to the Isthmus of Panama Day 7

My mother said there would be cannibals

sunny 22 °C

Day 7 began not unlike any other day in the highlands of Panama. A thick fog had enshrouded the room, giving the appearance of a Scottish moor during hunting season. Several pheasant were suddenly startled by the dogs and sprang forth from the shrubbery in the far corner of our room. Not wanting to blow holes in the walls, we opted against using the shotguns. The pheasants slowly settled back into the bush as the dogs lost interest and found new quarry: us. WOOF BARK WOOF, wake up you silly humans, as they bounded upon the bed, it's time for walkies. Walkies? Unless you mangy hounds have some coffee or at the very least a flagon of rum tied around your necks, I strongly suggest you go wake the cook. And so they did, because in the time it took us to shake sleep from our souls, brush our teeth, dress, and walk to the restaurant, the smiling waitress was there to greet us. Curiously, there wasn't a dog in sight. These dreams of mine were becoming increasingly unusual, though I did see a few dog hairs on the floor on the way to our table. Reality, or insanity? One will never know, especially when distracted by the heavenly smells coming from the kitchen. Mmmmm, cooked Panamanian meat products. These people had meat down to a science. Bon Matin mademoiselle, comment ca va? Damn, wrong language, wrong country. The faux French wallpaper and tapestries hanging at the windows had fooled me into thinking I had stepped into Provence. But the waitress guided us to a nice table in the center of the restaurant and brought me back to my senses with a lovely "cafe senores?" Si, gracias, dos cafes. The images of hunting dogs still hung in my subconscious when the waitress returned with two exquisitely prepared cups and a carafe of fresh cream. Nectar of the Gods, restore my soul. Say Dear, is it necessary to claw at the table, asked my Wily Woman. What? Yes, I'm awake. I was just thinking about the Moors. That's fine Dear, but please try not to drool so much, you're moistening the tablecloth, she posed. Can't help it Woman, I am in need of sustenance. The coffee is good, but I need more. And in the blink of an eye, the kindly waitress returned with what can only be described as a mind-readingly accurate portion of my needs: two eggs over easy, Panamanian breadstuffs, and sausages cooked with the loving care that only a chef with the uncanny capacity of a magician could procure. Life is good, especially after a breakfast such as this.

We strolled back to our room, taking a bit of time to scout the gardens and look for the hounds.

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My God, these are beautiful gardens. Cactus, orchids, bougainvilia, succulents galore. Our minds were swimming in sights and smells not available back home. We stopped for a few moments to chat with one of the groundskeepers, complimenting him on the wonderful gardens. He was unabashed in his gratitude, so much so that he pointed out where the hounds were bedded in the evenings and showing us his prized shovel. This was a dedicated man, more so that his English was slightly better than my Spanish. It's entirely possible I may have called him a "master gardener", but I'm guessing that I called him a "masterbater"...still not sure, my Spanish needs some improvement. Still, he smiled as he toddled back to his daily chores.

Back in the room, we managed to re-pack our two metric tons of articles back into two metric ton suitcases and made for the front desk. Stopping on the way, of course, for photographic evidence that we were where we were.

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The clerk was positively gushing, and we had no choice but to gush back. Si, Senor, esto es lo mejor hotel en Panama, y los Dios se huelen a ti......I think I said God smells at him, but no matter, he was amused. Packing the Nissan, we were off with only a vague notion, once again, of our eventual destination, though we knew for certain that it was just up the road.

A few months later, give or take, we found ourselves back in David, the bustling center of commerce of Chiriqui province. Oh look Dear, a furniture......NO, enough of the translations, we have adventure before us, exclaimed my Woman. So right you are my Divinity, so right you are. And where is it that adventure proposes we go? Don't you remember, we saw on the news last night that the roads to Bocas Del Toro were washed out by the monsoon type rains? There are no roads, so we can't go there. Is that what that was? Say Dear, your Spanish is most improved, I could have sworn that was the A-Team we were watching. That newscaster looked remarkably like George Peppard. No Dear, it wasn't, so let's head to Playa Barquete....it's just up the road, she said in a somewhat snarky tone. Right, Playa Barquete it is, and look, it's only about an inch and a half on the map!!

The map lied. It was at least two inches, and it failed to include the minor detail that not all the roads were paved. We might possibly have strayed off the map, as we quickly found ourselves driving down what can only be described as a farm road, which means not only that it wasn't paved, but it was occupied with farm workers taking their lunch break after a mornings' worth of hacking down sugar cane. As our windows were open, the better to take in the sounds and smells of our surroundings, we were greeted with wolf whistles and hoots from said farmers. Ay, Rubia, como esta? I could only surmise from these hardworking men that they weren't whistling at me, as not only am I not blonde, I am not a woman. My Divine Inspiration could only blush and wave, contented in the fact that there were men besides her beloved that found her attractive. Deftly steering the Nissan over several of the men, I headed further down the road searching wantonly for a sign from above, or even a road sign. And suddenly, appearing as if from nowhere, there it was: the sign directing us to Las Olas Resort. Three kilometers ahead. The sign lied. Three kilometers ahead was another sign saying ten kilometers further on. That sign too lied. The next sign said four kilometers ahead lay Las Olas. Oh look dear, it's paved, we can go there, proclaimed my Delight. Fifteen signs later, each proclaiming that Las Olas was just ahead, we finally found what we had searched for: the resort. It seems we had taken a shortcut through the suburbs, similar to Albert Schweitzer cutting his way through the Congo. Though this particular section of suburbs distinctly lacked cannibals and pygmies, we were nonetheless through it and bravely made our way to the parking lot.

The staff was waiting for us.......well, perhaps not us per se, but someone. The resort was nigh deserted, save for the staff and a few lost souls like us. Si Senor, tenemos cuartos.....para cuantas noches? Dos noches por favor. Two nights should suffice. The regular room rates had been suspended in favor of actually having guests, so rather than the usual rate of $130/night, we managed to procure a rate of $60/night. Not too damn bad, if I do say so myself. And all the rooms face the ocean......what more could one ask? Sixteen bearers artfully moved our luggage to the room, and we settled in for the grand view from the second floor.

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Wow, I think that's Costa Rica over there. Sure enough, it was. The view was indeed spectacular, and the ocean inviting. Donning our swimming apparel, we made for the beach. Holy Crap, black sand beach......hot, hot, HOT, HOT.....run for it my Love, the water will be cooler. Ah, soothing water....life is again good. The ocean has a peculiar way of restoring balance to ones' life. Several hours later, we fled back to the room over the burning sands, ready for a repast. A quick shower to remove the days' grime and we made for the restaurant, stopping only briefly at the bar for several cocktails. Seated at a window table, we were greeted with the utmost in professional service. Food Senor, and lots of it por favor. The food was exquisite, and as there were only two other occupied tables, we conversed with Miguel, our waiter. So Miguel, can we make it to Bocas? Hahaha, Senor is most funny, there is no way anyone can make it to Bocas this week. Haven't you seen on the news (my Muse poking me gently in the ribs here) that the torrential rains, which by the way are unusual for this time of year, have washed out the roads making them impassable to all traffic? Si, I have seen (more rib poking), but what do you think are the prospects for road repairs in the next few days? Well Senor, it will be possible to make the drive, but the road goes over the mountains, and I have made that drive many times, so if you are not used to mountain driving, you will find it very difficult, very difficult indeed .....you are better off to stay here instead. I had the sneaking suspicion that Miguel was trying to keep customers here at the hotel. We were at the mercy of the weather and the Panamanian road crews responsible for fixing the passage. So we dined with abandon, as true adventurers must do when faced with such adversity.

Several hours later, back in our luxurious room (which reminded us of a 1950s Miami Beach luxury motel) , we pondered the fates. Well, not so much pondered as tried to figure out what we should do next. We decided a few days here would be better than facing near-certain death at the hands of Panamanian truckers. And so we drifted off to sleep, curious as to what lay ahead.

And so endeth Day 7 of the adventure, swaddled in the comforting sheets of a lovely resort. Stay tuned for the riveting trials ahead, which include copious amounts of pool-side cocktails and body surfing in the rip tides of despair. Not to mention the fascination of three small children whose missionary parents were taking a holiday in Panama. The kids were simply entranced by us, though for no known reason.

Posted by beerman 11:21 Archived in Panama Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

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