Road Trip

June 22nd, 2007


View of farm in the Azuero.


Church in Chitre


Rush hour in the Azuero.


The taxi to Isla Caña


The hired car watchman in Laguira, the launch town for Isla Grande


The view from Isla Grande


Portobello locals

Portobello

The fort and customs house of Portobello.

We spent the last week cruising around in a rental car with Stuart, an Australian we met in Nicaragua, Bridget, his Panamanian girlfriend and Bram an American friend of theirs who´s studying in Panama City. Stuart was traveling down from Mexico handing out flyers for the hostel he owns in Panama City when we met and discussed our plans. We decided to team up, rent a car and explore beach towns that may be in need of a good guest house. The driving was great thanks to the good roads in Panama and the beautiful scenery. We saw a good deal of the Azuero Peninsula which is known as the heartland of Panama with its frequent traditional celebrations and Spanish colonial architecture. We stopped in various towns on the western side of the peninsula often turning down side roads to check out the beaches. Aside from the occasional surfer they are pretty empty with nice views of nearby islands and long stretches of a black, brown or baige sand. We spent one night on Isla Caña searching for sea turtles who come annually to bury their eggs in the sand. Unfortunately, it´s a little early in the season and we weren´t lucky enough to see any. From an island in the Pacific we drove all the way to an island in the Caribbean. It was a long day, but the beach waiting for us on Isla Grande was well worth it. On our last day we wandered around Portobello and Nombre de Dios, two of the first settled areas in the Americas. Portobello has several pieces of an old fortress that sit right on the water and an old customs house that saw much of the gold collected in Panama before it was shipped to Spain. For now we are on to Mexico, but we are content to know that Panama has some great possibilities. Órale.

40 Years Later

June 5th, 2007

We experienced some annoying set backs over these last couple of weeks because Brendan and I both suffered bouts of illness. So we have spent way too much time laying around and not nearly enough time exploring. However, by some miracle if you ask me, Brendan´s dad tracked down a Panamanian man he met in gradschool and traveled in Europe with forty years ago! We have yet to meet the actual man, José Raul, but we have spent some serious quality time with a number of his children and grandchildren. The family we have met so far has been beyond generous to us. We first met up with Jose´s Daughter, Ana Matilda and her three sweet, highly energetic pre-teens. They hosted us in their luxurious country home in El Valle, a lovely mountain town where many successful city dwellers own houses, and nice ones at that. We were astonished at the number of beautiful homes with lush gardens, spring fed pools, and mountain views. El Valle is definitely not your typical country town in Panama. After lounging around here for a few days, we decided we rather enjoyed having a maid to clean up after us and so decided to take up their offer to stay at their home in the city.

So here we are in the bustling, metropolitan city of Panama. The day after we arrived, Ana Matilda and company actually departed for a two week cruise and left us their home. So far most of our time in the city has been spent relaxing and trying to get healthy but we did manage to take a day trip to the Caribbean coast, which was an amazingly short hour and a half drive through jungle, where we walked around an old Spanish fortress sacked by the Pirate Henry Morgan. The ruins stand on a cliff looking onto the ocean at the mouth of the Rio Chagras where boats enter the canal heading towards the Pacific. We enjoyed watching a few huge ships pass through the Gatun Locks, the first on the Caribbean side of the canal. The enormity of the canal and it´s process was entirely fascinating. We learned some financial tid-bits that surprised us. First, the largest sized cargo ship pays 280,000 dollars to pass through the canal carrying 3,000 containers, and second the Canal grosses an average of 1.5-2 million dollars in one day! Not Bad!

Our most delightful day in Panama City was spent strolling around Casco Viejo, the old colonial part of town. The colorfully painted buildings with balconies and courtyards are reminiscent of the French Quarter. This city is the oldest on the Pacific coast of the Americas first established by the Spanish and later developed by the French who came to work on the canal. Today there is a mix of cultures and a strong Afro-Caribbean vibe. Although, very run down with a long history of poverty and rent control issues, it is undergoing serious renovation and the mix of old and new has undeniable charm.

Santa Fe

May 12th, 2007

We took a bus ride over the entire width of Panama from the Pacific to the Caribbean coast in a total of four hours! The ride was up and over lush, barely touched mountains. Isla Colon, the largest of the many islitas of Bocas Del Toro overwhelmed us with the amount of Gringos, so we spent our time on Isla Bastimentos, a jungle rich island with beautiful empty beaches, no roads and a tiny town. We walked for entire days exploring beaches and the jungle interior. One day was spent kayaking to another small island where we snorkeled and relaxed in a cute little white sand cove. After a few sunny days and one tropical rainstorm, we headed back over the mountains to the Pacific coast where we spent a day in Las Lajas at perhaps the longest, widest beach either of us had seen.


The waves were huge and powerful but nobody was surfing because the place was virtually vacant, a strange phenomenon. Houses are beginning to go up however and we were told by a guard that one of the new foundations belongs to a cousin of Steven Segal! From there we took a bus to the glorious mountain town of Santa Fe. The Small village is surrounded by green mountains and a plethora of rivers and waterfalls. The number of hikes is endless. There is a refreshing swimming hole a twenty minute walk down a steep hill from our Hostel. On the walk you pass a coffee factory producing the local coffee, Tute. An incredible view is at every turn of every road and the climate is like summer time in Vermont all year round!


Yesterday we walked straight up hill for two hours to a tiny village called El Salto. The village is basically one large family, five small houses. We stopped at one of the little houses and asked about going to the waterfalls. Two cousins, Rosa and Jorge age 14 and 15, offered to take us. The hour walk was incredible. Each waterfall was more impressive than the last. After trusting our lives with these children, scaling rocks and climbing into caves, we were relieved to make it to the final and most stunning “charo” of them all. This waterfall was pouring out of a gigantic cave and when Jorge threw a rock at it hundreds of bat like birds flew out and into the valley like maniacs.


We couldn´t figure out if they were in fact bats because of the white collar around the neck but they sure sounded like them. After swimming and hanging out for a while at one of the water holes we went back and ate lunch with the family. Typical rice and beans and a fried egg. They Successfully stuffed us with ridiculously juicy oranges from their tree and sent us on our way. We are delighted with Santa Fe. It is a sweet town with friendly people and amazing surroundings. Tomorrow we are embarking on a seldom traveled journey by horseback and canoe to the Caribbean from Santa Fe.

Cerro Punta

April 30th, 2007

Waterfall

We’re very excited about the guesthouse posibilities here in Panama. From what we have seen so far the people are refreshingly freindly and open. We have talked to several expats living here and they say that they are comfortable in the community. That is something that we were never sure of in Nicaragua.

We are also excited about the nicely paved roads and the fact that you can drink the water almost everywhere. The small town we are in has grocerie and hardware stores and the internet…….and few options for lodging. The biggest attraction is the numerous lush cloud forest national parks that surround the valley, one of which includes Volcan Baru, the highest point in Panama. If you’re lucky, on a clear day you can see the Pacific and the Caribbean from the Volcano.

We only had the chance to explore Parque Amistad where we saw the beautiful waterfall and the panamanian tour group you see in the pictures. We hoped to see the Quetzal, allegedly one of the most beautiful birds in the world but our search will have to continue.

Aside from the nature the area is known for its produce, especially black berries and strawberries. Throughout the hillsides there are swiss-style houses with beautiful gardens thanks to a migration generations ago. Along with their architecture they brought great yogurt and cream. The main road is littered with stands selling the local specialty, strawberrys and cream. We could hardly believe how delicious it is. Our feeling about this place is good enough that we spent the last couple days exploring property with a real estate agent. She showed us some interesting prospects. For now, we will continue our search by hiking around the volcano to Boquete and keep Cerro Punta in mind.

Parque Corcovado

April 26th, 2007

We’re writing from Panama, where we arrived yesterday after breezing through Costa Rica with a quick stop in Parque Corcovado for some jungle trekking. In La Palma, one of the launch towns for treks in Parque Corcovado, we met Thomas and Tau, two friendly Danes. We quickly established that we were going on the same route and decided to join forces. Three days, many miles, animals and laughs later it proved to be a good match.

After getting pretty much no sleep thanks to our convenient location right next to the neighborhood earplug-defying disco we left at 5am in the back of a pick up bound for Los Patos, the first ranger station. The Danes were slightly disheartened because their attempt at making hammocks from plastic fencing and pvc piping hadn’t gone as planned. When they tested them, the plastic stretched and began to tear. They figured they might get half a night out of them before crashing to the ground.

The walk was about 10 miles through lush, noisey, very much alive jungle. We saw three different kinds of monkeys, tons of birds, countless little lizards and a few snakes. The walk was pretty flat and always shady. When we got to La Sirena we were ecstatic to find a covered camping platform and running water. The Danes lucked out and never had to put their hammocks to the test.That night we devoured a large can of Sardines and several packs of crackers while the Danes mixed a tin of tuna with some refried beans.

The next day we woke to the sound of howler monkies so loud that you can’t help but picture huge beasts fighting for their lives. After breakfast we watched a poor dragon fly land in the web of an enormous spider. The spider quickly ran over, bit and paralized the drafon fly, spun more web around it, cut it from the edge and brought it to the heart of the web.

Later we walked over to the river Sirena to try and see the Bull Sharks that swim upstream at high tide. No sharks appeared, but we did see two big crocodiles floating in shallow water.

In the afternoon we swam and hung around the station watching as various big rodents walked through the clearing. In the middle of the second night the whole camp awoke to what sounded like two Danes being attacked by a wild boar or poisonous snake. There was foot stomping and lots of yelling, something that sounded like “Uhl”. They said everything was ok, maybe just a nightmare, they weren’t even really sure. In the morning if was the talk of the camp, the guides kept asking where the Anaconda was.

Some of the truth surfaced when Tau told of a night in Rome where his girlfriend woke with a bruise on her leg after dreaming that an enormous gladiator was kicking her from the Collesium and he dreamed that there was something in his bed that he had to get uhl (sp?), out in Danish. Day three was a long, hot hike on and off the beach to La Leona, the last station. The view was mist rising from black sand, large rocks off the coast and a hillside of virgin jungle. The Danes saw a very large orange and black snake. We all saw an Ant Eater and then more rodents, monkies, birds and lizards.

We were totally wiped by the time we got to the end and then spent two bumpy hours in the back of a pick up to get back to civilization. We celebrated with a shower, hot meal and our jungle bed time, 7:30.

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