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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.

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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 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)

Voyage to the Isthmus of Panama Day 5

My mother said there would be cannibals

semi-overcast 23 °C

Day 5. Dawn broke several hours before we managed to crack open our eyes, and there still seemed to be remnants of the previous nights' music humming in our ears. No wait, that's a cricket. Still, sounded the same. Bleary eyed, we looked at each other and knew instantly what we must do: Sex. No, make that coffee. The walls were far too thin for sex, but just right for coffee. Our extraordinarily charming $13/night room nigh spoke to us...."get your asses up gringos and smell the cooked meat products". This sounded odd, coming from four reasonably barren walls, but we heeded the advice as sound. Clean the teeth, splash refreshingly cold water on the faces, and put on clothing. This was again the stuff of true adventure. Mostly because brushing one's teeth in water slightly above freezing is an adventure unto itself. But the cold water did the trick, and we were soon seated in the restaurant ready for some of the finest coffee in the world. The waitress recognized us immediately as the Alcoholic Butchers of the Language, and was kind enough to simply set two cups in front of us, filled with life-giving nectar, and smile. "Mas jueves y jabon?", she slyly chided. Funny girl. It seems everyone is a comedian. "Si Senorita, y dobles", I felt compelled to reply. While she giggled her way back to the kitchen, we sipped the dark brew and gazed upon the gardens, keenly sensing that the mental fog would soon lift. The gardens were again stunning, and the bougainvillia heavily scented the air, clearing our minds. Or maybe it was the caffeine. Nonetheless, we had purpose anew. Food....damn this was good soap. And the Thursdays were prepared perfectly over easy.

What seemed like several days passed before we made it back to the room. The botanists were on the terrace sorting and bagging their most recent booty. "Nice orchids, I'd bet they would go good in an umbrella drink." The boys were unimpressed with our humor, but did go on to explain that these particular orchids were quite rare and required the utmost care to make it back to Florida alive for propagation and survival. Orchids were suffering in the tropics due to climate change, and they must be preserved. Fair enough, but still, those boat drinks....

The boys regaled us with a story of their attempted climb up Death Hill in their SUV, which coincidentally, matched ours but in color. We couldn't help but notice the excessive amount of red clay that had attached itself to every surface of the car. "Couldn't make it up the hill, eh?" No, they couldn't, and save for the assistance of a kind local in a very strong 4-wheel drive truck, their lives had been spared an ignominious death. This bode well, as it's always handy to have a local nearby in possession of a very strong 4-wheel drive when negotiating Death Hill. Where the hell was he yesterday at the great River Muluba Challenge? Ha, we didn't need him for that as we are true adventurers.

We bid the boys farewell and checked out of the hotel. Doctor Gary came out to chat, inquire as to our next destination, and say goodbye. We told him we were headed to Boquete, which brought a smile to his face as he was also soon to be there, but not today. Perhaps we would see each other again.

We artfully packed our 2 metric tons of baggage back into the Nissan and headed down the road. Oh look Dear, the vacas have come to see us off and protect us from the precipitous drop-off!! Funny boy.....hey, you have to make fun, if not of yourselves, something else.

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Santiago was a quick drive, mostly for the 60-degree angle of the road down the mountain. Ah, to have the fresh air again blowing through our hair. Even more refreshing in Santiago itself, where the heat and humidity had returned with a vengeance. Oh, look, another muebleria. Y una carniceria. Not to be deterred from our task, we stopped at the next petrol station for a full tank, such that we could make it to out next destination without needing the blessings of a delightful woman and her 300 children. Tank filled to the brim, we sped out onto the CA1 in search of David. The town, not a person. We whisked through one small town after another, breathing in the scenery, which was not difficult to do as the air was thick with moisture. Several hours of scenery breathing later, we arrived in David, a bustling city of 125,000 or so. Oh look Dear, another muebleria. Enough with the store jargon, please. But Dear, it's an educational experience....fine then, we'll move onto animals. No, look for signs. From above? No, for Boquete, that road has to be around here somewhere. And so it was, we found the road with considerably less difficulty than trying to get out of Panama City. We again climbed high into the mountains, passing such sights as the Volcan Baru, a thankfully extinct volcano. Nothing can ruin a good adventure like rivers of molten lava burying one's hotel. Puts one quite off an afternoon martini. And shortly, Boquete was in sight. Boquete is a quiet little town of 20,000 or so that has been beset by expatriates from the North, most of whom have barricaded themselves in gated communities at the edge of town. So much for soaking in the richness of the country. Granted, Panama is not exactly rich, which is why these expats now call it home.....it's cheap by American standards. But there is more to the country than economic riches.

Driving through town, we spotted the internet cafe, several potentially good restaurants, and the grocery store, perfect for stocking up on seco and cheesy poofs. The streets were quite crowded with both locals and new locals going about the day. And dogs. There were lots of dogs. Seemingly too many for a town of this size, but they too were simply going about their days' business. Oh look Dear, the LP guide says the Hotel Panamonte is quite nice. And $65/night....not too bad. We parked in the lot and bravely sauntered into the lobby. Si Senor, tenemos cuartos. Dos noches? Oh Senor, we only have cabana suites left, but they are very nice. Only $75/night. Sold. The bearers effortlessly unloaded our baggage and brought it to our new abode. Wow, you're not kidding....this is a great room. And a little seating area outside.

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Oh look Dear, the TV Guide says Steve Irwin is on at 9. No, we have to explore, be adventurous. OK, no TV, so where do we go? Where else but to the river? Made sense, this woman of mine was both wily and correct. So off we charged to the Rio Caldera. Say Dear, you do know that a caldera is the leftovers of a volcanic eruption? Yes, of course I do, but do you smell sulfur and see lava flowing in the streets? No, true enough, no lava and no sulfur. A short hike over the garbage and through the ruts and we were there.

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At 3200 feet, we were nigh gasping for oxygen, the air thick with an omnipresent mist. During a smoke break, we spotted the lifeless bodies of 2 rafting guides and five tourists. Damn, nothing in their pockets. Oh well, no harm in trying. For the ID's of course. Beautiful river, even with the masses of detritus borne by the currents to the shores. Funny thing about Panama, as with many Central American countries, garbage is ever-present. It would be a fine place for an enterprising garbage collector.

A short hike back into town found us at the Supermecado Ruiz, the grocery store we had spied from the road. Time to stock up on supplies, as adventurers are apt to do given the opportunity. Seco, some limes, a tin of peanuts, and cheesy poofs, this would tide us over. Securing our repast, we made for the hotel. It was now that we must record our adventures to date.

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Few things in life are more satisfying than booze and cheesy poofs. And Panamanian limes are most curious. They look like regular limes on the outside, but on the inside they have bright orange flesh and are obscenely sweet. Perfect for logging the past few days in the land of cannibals. Many hours passed until it was time for a proper dinner. The hotel restaurant was ready for us. Ah, fresh fish. Not us, it was on the menu. My sweet devoured a piquant chicken with vegetables whilst I opted for seafood. See food, eat food, I always say. We could bear no more by cocktail time, so a few adult beverages by the stone fireplace and it was time to retire. Oh look Dear, Steve Irwin is still on....must be a marathon. With the cool mist blowing seductively through the open windows and casting a light fog throughout the room, we bundled up and drifted off to a most pleasant sleep, no longer gasping for oxygen. And so endeth Day 5 of our adventures.

Stay tuned for a second riveting day in the highlands, wherein we again meet Doctor Gary and find that the hills are indeed alive with the smell of coffee plantations.

Posted by beerman 07:40 Archived in Panama Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Voyage to the Isthmus of Panama Day 4

My mother said there would be cannibals

sunny 30 °C

Day 4. We awoke to the soft strains of a Del Castillo song humming into ours ears......... Bajo del rio, estas llamando...... The music was in our heads, as we were fondly remembering our day at the Rio Muluba. There are few things in life more satisfying than waking to gentle music in your ears. Unless you count a brimming cup of freshly made Panamanian coffee....that's pretty good too. Alas, we had no room service, certainly not for $13 a night, but we woke with smiles on our faces nonetheless. We had braved the river of doom and were saved by the countless blessings of the gasoline woman and her 300 children. Life was good. Breakfast, my dear? Certainly, but first we must dress. Damned civilization, insisting on people being dressed for breakfast. Splashing a very waking bit of cold water on the face, and a bit of teeth brushing, we made our way to the restaurant, ready for another day. We sat at our usual table, which was quite simple as we were the only people in the place. But it felt like our usual table, we had grown fond of that table in the few short hours we had been here. Cafe, si gracias, y tambien jueves y jabon. There comes a time in one's life where one simply must butcher the local language enough to ask for Thursdays and soap. The waitress was considerably amused, but understood that we wanted eggs and ham. It's an icebreaker, this butchering of language. She was so amused that we got double helpings of eggs and ham. Sure, we paid for it, but it was the thought that counted. And the coffee was superb, with a dash of whole fresh milk to top it off. Senores, hoy es La Feria. Verdad? Si, La Feria. Sweet, there was a fair in town, and this we must see. Well bloated from a sumptuous breakfast (soap can do that to you), we ambled back toward our room, but were intercepted by the New York woman. "We're going horse-back riding today", she said with a sort of glee usually reserved for cheerleaders ready for Homecoming. How nice for you. "That's nice, let us know later how that turns out". We tried to contain our sarcasm and smiled, giving her the thumbs up sign. Her boyfriend seemed less enthused, his expression mutely saying "kill me now". We waved as they left, their guide having finally arrived to take them on their tour, quietly muttering "have fun storming the castle". These were not true adventurers these children, more apparent when we saw the poor nags the guide brought with him. These horses had expressions that could easily be read, much like the boyfriend......."kill me now, make glue out of me, I have no will to live". We thought about those poor horses as we strolled back to the room to prepare to visit the fair. "Maybe the one will trip and knock New York over a steep precipice".

And so it was back down the road toward town.
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Oh look dear, the vacas are guarding the steep precipice. Little amused, Gretchen pointed out the path ahead.....up there, and to the right (of course - it's always to the right). 18 seconds later, we were again driving through the suburbs of Santa Fe, guided by the music wafting from the fairgrounds and the vaguely familiar smell of domestic animal droppings. We found a nifty parking space alongside other fair-goers and proceeded to make our way to the center of activity. Wow, now that's a view.
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Along either side of the main avenue were multiple stalls of vendors proffering everything from handmade jewelry to beer and sodas to information on the latest techniques in modern Panamanian agronomy. This was a county fair after all. We visited with some of the folks, each eager in a sense to ask where we were from. The locals were not wearing shorts, Hawaiian shirts, and flip-flops, so we kind of stuck out from the crowd. A couple of beers, and some concerted efforts at explaining that we were from Illinois and we soon blended in.......not. Still, the locals were extraordinarily friendly, not at all the cannibals we were warned of. Several young boys quickly noticed that there were fresh fish in the sea, and clamored over Gretchen showing her their bracelets and sundry jewelry. Si, joven, es bueno, uno por favor......no, solamente uno, gracias. The boys were thrilled to have made a sale of a very nice handwoven bracelet. Further ahead, we found the sugar cane hawkers......using an old hand cranked cane press to make juice for sale. This looks promising. The grizzled old veterans of the cane juice trade immediately took to Gretchen. Ah rubia, quiere jugo? Que es esto?, she replied in her finest Spanish. The men were beside themselves trying to be the one who taught the blond gringa about old fashioned sugar cane pressing. Senora, mira aqui....como esta.....they were insisting that she turn the crank of the press as had their ancestors, though their ancestors likely never wore orange Hawaiian style dresses. The men were smitten, while Gretchen smiled and did her best to understand what they said. What little I could gather, not too many Americans were at the fair, and they were happy to show some of their lives to a willing participant. Plus, it seems the men found her considerably more attractive than anyone else at the fair.
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$0.25 for fresh pressed cane mixed with orange juice. Not bad, so we had two each. We pressed on, though the men were sad to see us leave. Well, maybe not "us" leave.

Up ahead was a novel setting of agricultural marvel. One doesn't ordinarily think of other countries and what they do to grow food, so this was quite interesting. There were a number of different displays ranging from basic vegetable crops to aquaculture. Corn, beans, cabbages, and fish. Fish? Yes, the Extension Agents were working on bringing aquaculture to Panama. We chatted with several of them on the latest techniques in aquaculture, as best we could in present-tense Spanish. They were quite enthused that we had heard of their ideas, and we exchanged some information that could be useful to them. Using agricultural waste to feed the fish could provide a dual cropping system to the people and provide several times the food as a traditional system. This was refreshing to see, as we both have a fair knowledge of the benefits of multi-use agriculture. Still, I liked the cabbage display, even though it seemed that the beetles had already wreaked some havoc on the poor crucifers.
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We continued to stroll along, stopping only occasionally for another beer and to chat with a horse or two, even a few goats. The fair was easily the rival of any to be had in the States, albeit somewhat smaller in scale.

Hours passed, and when we had seen it all. It was time to return to the hotel. We took our time returning, savoring the sights and sounds and smells around us. 38 seconds later, we pulled into at the hotel. It seemed to be cocktail hour, so we splashed a bit more cold water on our faces and made once again for the restaurant. We considered dressing for the occasion, much as William Powell and Myrna Loy would in the Thin Man movies, but decided against it as we had left our tuxedos and floor-length gowns back in Illinois. Another cold beer, plus a heaping helping of chicken with something (that Panamanian specialty), and we were set for the evening. All we had to do was wait for the floor show, and it appeared before we ever expected. First to arrive was Doctor Gary, who we regaled with our tales of the fair. Gary was quite fascinated with our adventure - oooh, fresh fish my dear. We told him of the fair, and he in turn told us of his adventures wandering the countryside. Several beers later, the New Yorkers returned, walking somewhat gingerly. They (she) told us of their horseback riding tour. We tried to listen interestedly, to no avail, until the woman told us that the surrounding hills were so steep that she felt sorry for her horse and dismounted so as to walk the horse and not be a burden. We could only imagine this horse laughing itself silly that it got to walk, unburdened for a change, while being led by someone who quite possibly would have been devoured by tigers in another time. Perhaps the mall would have been more of a challenge, though to be fair, she was here after all, well out of her normal climate. Her boyfriend downright devoured several beers in a row, perhaps grateful that tomorrow would bring something different. Next in the show were the two botanists, fresh from an adventure afield. They proudly told of the various orchids they had captured, and noticing that we had the same make of vehicle as they, asked if we had tried to drive up the treacherous mountain they tried. No, but it looks like you picked up some mud along the way. They had tried to negotiate a particularly steep hill and were unsuccessful. To their good fortune, several locals in a robust pickup truck rescued them and towed them back down the hill. Leaving their SUV behind, they went with the locals back up the big hill and found more specimens than they had seen previously. The walk back down the hill was truly an adventure unto its own for them, but they had their bounty.

Once again, hotel management was quite pleased with the consumptive abilities of their guests, and late into the evening, we stumbled back to our room. Sleep would have been a fine option, but alas, it was only that, an option. The fair was rolling into a high timbre, and the music levels had grown increasingly loud. There had to be 5 different bands striving for supremacy in the "can we be louder than you?" category. Granted, the music was nice, but it soon took on the urgency and decibel level of twenty million cicadas hell bent on mating. Still, sleep eventually came as the music died down to a low rumble, somewhere around 4am. And so endeth Day 4 of our adventures.

Stay tuned for the riveting forthcomings as we try to decide whether to head for Bocas Del Toro or Boquete....really, it's riveting. Really riveting. Honest. Would I kid you about a thing like this? No, not much. Maybe a little.

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

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