Posted by: luisabaldwin | August 14, 2009

OH, PANAMA THE BEAUTIFUL!

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At long last and after a night of sub-human traveling experience, which we won’t bore you with, we have arrived! We were delighted at the moderate temperature of Panama City. It was cooler than Houston! But the humidity is very high and that’s what makes the difference. We holed up at a Mariott Courtyard for starters where Jim gave himself a crash course in Spanish. He’s made a lot of progress. Panama City is like any other big cosmopolitan city. The cabs are cheap but can only be described as “adventurous”. I don’t remember any city in South America as being clean, but that would be a pretty good description of Panama City and you can get anything there. It’s very expensive but there are great restaurants.

Before we left the city, we had a dinner with a delightful woman who was looking for someone to house sit for her. She has created quite beautiful mountain surroundings for herself but is traveling with some frequency. She also gave me the magic words – dogs to care for and a beautiful garden. So we’re going to give that a shot in a couple of weeks.

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Finally free to leave the big city, we took a bus across Panama to the North – we headed for Bocas del Toro, an archipelago on the Caribbean side near the border with Costa Rica. We need a good rest. As with cab rides, buses too can only be described as “audacious”! You know what I mean – driving on the wrong side of the road too fast and so on. But it was fun and I can only say that Panama is a gorgeous country! For those of you who have been to Hawaii, it looks exactly the same. Same flora and fauna, down to the ginger and ferns growing on the road side. In parts you even see the waterfalls close to the road, like the road to Hana, Maui. The only difference is the Latin vibe. Much Aloha spirit is to be found in a Panamanian sort of way. Panamanians are, simply put, happy and friendly people, even the poor.
The primary Panama Highway is well maintained but when you get on the road less traveled, well you do encounter a pothole here and there. Out of seemingly nowhere, unaccompanied young school children emerge to get on the bus and exit into seemingly nowhere; a testament to the safety of the country.

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It isn’t uncommon to observe one of 7 autonomous native tribes, a Ngove-Bugle family by the roadside, come into town to fill their water jugs and pick up a live chicken or two for dinner. Their colorful long dresses and straight-haired black braids distinguish them from the indigenous population. In the province of Veraguas, where much of the ranching is done, we observed many saddled horses tied up at the local gathering spots. I remember horses in South America. They were scrawny and malnourished. Not these! These horses were well fed and well cared for. The saddles were beautifully hand crafted. Music starts and ends each day as Panamanians love their music and some of it is downright beautiful and inspiring. On the road to Bocas the driver played a CD which suddenly transformed the riders. Smiles took hold and humming along with the song was heard. Everybody got happy and I don’t mean the tourists. Besides us on the bus, there was only one German ex-pat.

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Once we got to the coast we took a water taxi out to Isla Colon. The half-hour trip was captained by a young man who liked to go fast but thankfully knew exactly what his limits were. Let me see now, what’s a third word for “adventurous”? Daring?!! For there we were on this nine-seated little speedboat with a canopy – in the middle of the Caribbean. But, as with almost all adventures, we arrived safely. The German ex-pat, who lives on the island gave us a lift to our hotel over the water. I knew we were in trouble when she ran into another hotel to get a price for us and sure enough we were. This place was run by a big Caribbean mamma and the room gave us pause when we went in to wash our hands and the faucet was dislodged from the sink and one experienced a real fear of electrocution from the table lamp. After one night in these digs we hightailed it over to the hotel the ex-pat had recommended. The brand new Hotel Bocas Paradise sits right on the water and the room has the amenities that become important when you travel, air conditioning, a coffee pot, a mini-fridge, and a wi-fi network.

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Bocas del Toro is a slow-paced happy town where little unsupervised uniformed schoolgirls safely walk to school and play in the town square before dinner. The brightly painted wooden houses were bult by the United Fruit Company in the early 1900’s.The locals are of West Indian and Latino decent and are easy going and friendly. Perhaps that’s why the European backpackers have gravitated here. The charm and allure of the place is simply slowing down and enjoying the Caribbean life-style.

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Huge yachts lay moored in these protected waters to escape the hurricane season and add a dimension of grace and contrast to this otherwise hodge-podge of colorful old and new. The place comes alive at night with Merenge, Pachanga and Raggae music blaring out the clubs. All the locals come out with their kids to say hello to each other in the streets after dinner. It’s a fun place and we’re going to relax for a while.

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Responses

  1. Sounds like you guys are having a ball . . sounds somethiong like the Philippines where I have been an ex-pat resident for more than 30 years!

    Lotsa lick and hope everything turns out nicely for ya !

    Warmest Regards, John (aka Zedd)

  2. Thank you for the update w/ photos. You both look SO relaxed and happy. YAY! I read and re-read the entry several times to be sure I had not missed anything. Andy and I are so happy for you both. We take off on our adventure on Sept 1st gong to Thailand, Sri Lanka and then to Nepal for 1 1/2 months. We will keep in touch and I appreciate what you two are doing. LOTS of love and keep blogging.

    Love you,

    Rondi & Andy

  3. Thank you for the colorful update. I feel like I’m right there with you. BTW, I love the cottage as I knew I would. The flowers you planted are all thriving and I’ve planted more (no big surprise). I look forward to your next updae.

  4. Found it. It is 1,000 mg of tetracycyline one day and the next eat good yogurt. Good luck. Let me know if you have to resort to this. I will do the same on our travels.
    Love,
    Rondi

    • Hey Rondi,

      Muchas Gracias! I’ll add some to the medicine kit. But I will say this, Bocas aside, the rest of Panama has potable water. The infastructure of this country was built by the Americans and is surprisingly clean.
      Have a wonderful trip and keep us posted. We’re heading off to Boquete and then to do a three week house-sitting job closwer to Panama City.


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