A Travellerspoint blog

September 2010

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)

Voyage to the Isthmus of Panama Day 6

My mother said there would be cannibals

semi-overcast 22 °C

Day 6 began much like any other day on the Scottish Moors........waking, rubbing sleep out of one's eyes, peering out the castle ramparts at the omni-present mist and listening for the Hound, hoping that he was well sated from a night of gorging on hapless expatriots. Best put on some undies Dear if you're going to stand in front of the open window. Again, this wily woman of mine was correct. Donning a pair of shorts, I left my wily woman to the comfort of her luxurious comforters and stepped out onto the terrace.

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Hang on a second....this isn't the Scottish Moors........sure, the mist was here, but there was no drone of the bagpiper sonorously piping to wake the dead, nor was there a howl of the beast. Is that a blender? Perhaps, though it was difficult to make out across the lavishly manicured gardens of the Hotel Panamonte. A waft of delicately fragranced flower was borne of the light breeze, awakening my senses. Damn these are nice gardens.

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Oh Dear, may I interest you in a coffee and perhaps some cooked meat products? But of course, and after said coffee, adventure awaits us.

A splash of water on the face, a quick dressing, and we were off to the restaurant. The Hotel Panamonte serves a delightful breakfast of pretty much whatever you could possibly want, though we did have to dress accordingly. This was not an undies only place......one should certainly wear at least a collared shirt and shorts. The waitstaff was as professional as we had ever seen, well manicured and eager to please. We could have stayed here all day, especially since there were few other guests making use of the facilities. It was heavenly, the coffee was perfect, the eggs were outstanding, and the cooked meat products were simply magnificent. Once again, Panamanian cooking had served us well.

Stumbling our way back to our suite, heavily laden with breakfast but stimulated by excessive amounts of caffeine, we briefly mapped out a plan for the days' adventures. Oh look, there's the greenhouse for the property.

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A visit to one or two of the expat gated communities, a bit of lunch, more visiting, then perhaps a drive deeper into the mountains. Sounds like an adventure indeed. And so we set off to find Valle Escondido, the Hidden Valley, of gated American and British expatriots. It wasn't particularly difficult to find as there were signs everywhere. Mostly for purchasing real estate, which could well have been an option for us. Little did we know of the snowball of sales pitches we were about to endure. We wandered into the sales office and inquired a bit of the area. A Chinese, Florida-based banshee descended on us, hungrily greeting us as if we had marinated ourselves in bacon grease and hung signs on our necks proclaiming "fresh meat here". It took this she-devil no time at all to whip out maps and plots and price guides about the real estate that was to be had for only the most discriminating buyers. Did we look like discriminating buyers? Perhaps, though I have always found that the "most discriminating buyers" rarely wear flip-flops. But oh look, Sean Connery just bought a parcel in the upper valley. So we could be neighbors to James Bond himself? Well, no, he is going to build a large wall around his property. Really, we're just curious as to what you have here. No, we're not going to sign a contract just yet, nor do we want to see every plot of land that's available. Excuse me, would you please stop gnawing on my arm. Yes, you. Thank you. Oh, you have a gift shop, how lovely. How much was that 2 hectares of lot, and how little can we pay the Panamanian slave contractor to build our very own Taj Mahal? Really, only $300,000. Such a steal. So we only have to set up two offshore bank accounts (to protect us, of course), make payments directly to your company, and keep our gringo mouths shut? Well, that's an impressive sales pitch.....can we just look around a little? It took three .45 caliber shots to the forehead to escape the she-witch, and as she stumbled backwards over the cheaply built diorama of the development, we made our hasty departure. Still, this was a somewhat attractive prison for expats......one would hardly ever have to mingle with the local populace, save having to actually "shop" for food (or even hiring a young woman to do this for you), or perhaps deign to have one of them mow one's lawn. The insanity of the whole arrangement sank in as we toured the grounds. The entire "facility" was designed to keep expats "safe" from what was apparently rampant crime in the Land of the Cannibals. Who knew? There was not only a cheesy gate, lacking an actual guard, but a real clubhouse at the golf course, which no doubt was well armed with the latest in CIA technology, including, but not limited to, anti-personnel mines in the rough, surface-to-air missiles should a wayward condor approach and try to devour your visiting grandchildren, and satellite views of the town, able to watch for sundry domestics not washing one's clothes properly.

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It was time to leave this haven-nee-prison, and so we waved at the virtual guard at the gate and departed for town, but not before purchasing a very nice agate windchime and some tapestry thingies at the gift shop. Shouldn't be a total loss after all.

Winding our way back towards town, the wily one opened her guide book and noticed that there was yet another gated community we had planned to visit. It's just up the road a few miles, then a right. Uh, ok. And so we drove on, searching for the community that could one day be ours. And we drove. And drove. Jesus woman, where is this place? The guide book says it's not far. Soon come. You know what that means, right? Yeah, come soon, got it. We drove onward, passing several times the same bends in the road, growing increasingly convinced we would never find this new haven. There were signs for this place, yet no "place". The gravel roads were becoming as familiar as our own gravel road, and as we approached one particular paved road, the Wily One proclaimed "it's paved, we can go there". This would become a mantra of the Voyage......it's paved, we can go there. Still, an hours' worth of searching brought nothing but signs. No encampment. Oh well, maybe they have "plans" to build something. We were undetered, and so vowed to drive back into town for fresh supplies, as the seco and cheesy poofs were in diminishing quantities. Though we had driven for hours through the "suburbs" of Boquete, it took only a few minutes to find ourselves back in the thick of things. Oh look, there's the internet cafe, we should email the family to let them know that the only cannibals so far have been the she-devil saleswoman. OK, this was a plan. We parked and made our way up the dingy staircase, finding a sole, rather hapless computer geek sitting behind a makeshift desk. Cuanto para el internet, I expertly asked the gentleman. It'll be USD $0.25 for the first half hour, he replied. Hmmm, well versed this one was. And who could beat a quarter for half an hours' worth of internet? We settled in behind an antiquated PC and emailed home. Look Ma, still have both hands. The cannibals haven't taken much of a bite yet, save for the sales-witch. Had we been more modern adventurers, we would have sent along pictures as proof that we were indeed still whole. Alas, modern technology was not our trade. Satisfied that we had made our loved ones back home feel more secure, we strode adventurously to the store to resupply. Along the way, having dodged several hundred of the local dogs (why are there so many dogs?), we ran into an unexpected friendly face. Doctor Gary, wow, we didn't think you would be here so quickly. Turns out, Doctor G had an adventure of his own, having booked passage on a bus from Santa Fe. That must have been exciting, we inquired. No, not really, just like any other bus ride, except with more chickens. We chatted as we shopped, then decided that a nice repast was in order. This looks like a nice place. A lonely looking restaurant nigh beckoned for us to enter. We sat a a "window" seat (they were all window seats), and ordered several beers and some cheeseburgers. Many hours of conversation and laughter passed before we left. We drove Doctor G to his abode, which was a family hosting him for several weeks in exchange for knowledge and a few dollars.

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The day was still young, so we drove to the highlands, rich with coffee plantations. The road was steep, but the Nissan was well up to the challenge. The road quickly narrowed, so much so that the large numbers of workers that were headed home, and several very large trucks laden with the days' bounty, soon occupied most of the road. We pressed on in search of further adventure. Most of the workers were well laden with packs, as they had to walk many miles to get to work and back, and required sustenance along the way. They peered curiously at the two gringos slowly passing them on the road. We smiled, waved, and turned around. There was only so much one could really get out of miles of coffee plantations. Still, simply breathtaking scenery.

Half an hour later, we were back in town and headed for the hotel. We made for our suite, stopping at length to smell the flowers. And there were a lot of flowers, so the length was extensive. Back in the suite, we unloaded our supplies and settled in for the evening. Oh look Dear. I think The A-Team is on. Ha, we don't need no stinkin' A-Team, we need some adult beverages on the patio. And so we sat, gazing out over the rapidly darkening gardens, consuming our cocktails, and reveling in the day. Damn, it really is pretty here. Too bad the expats don't have this view. Or maybe they do, less the pesky locals asking for their days' pay.

And so came to a close Day 6 of our adventures. Stay tuned, once again, as Day 7 approaches and we again have breakfast with exquisite coffee and cooked meat products, and plan for the drive ahead. But first, let's have another cocktail. Seco and milk is really pretty good.

Posted by beerman 11:38 Archived in Panama Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

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