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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.


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.


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.


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

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