Greetings from Panama!
Ian and I are in Bocas del Toro, taking intensive Spanish lessons, and avoiding the tourist crowds to the best of our ability.
Here is a brief run-down of our trip since we left ATX. . .
Thursday, January 8 - Driving.
Packed up the car, ate our last Texas breakfast taco until May (when we return for Ian and Kisha´s graduations, and Ryan and Emily´s wedding. Props to you all!).
Thursday, Friday, Saturday Jan 8, 9, 10, - Driving. The picture above is pretty much what it looked like the whole way. Really. THE WHOLE WAY.
I followed Ian, as I have a congenital defect with the bone density in my right foot that makes that foot very very heavy, particularly on the highway. It isn´t fatal, but the only treatment we have found is that I follow a car driven by somebody who does not have the same irresistable urge to speed. It is like trying to stop digestion, or stop your neurons from firing - some things are not voluntary. I can´t help that open highway causes me to speed.
Three days and no speeding tickets later, we made it to Utah.
Saturday, Jan 10 - Canyons.
This is the Colorado River at Navajo Bridge at Lees Ferry. The little specs down in the river behind/below us are kayakers. For real. Lees Ferry is considered the start of the Grand Canyon. It blew Ian´s mind. We are definitely headed back here so this sweet boy from the Northeast can see some real mountains and canyons, like we have out west.
We made our way to Cedar City, where we spent a lovely evening with my dad. He made sure we left with full bellies and clean laundry - Thanks, Dad! Elaine is there now, wintering with the glitterati at the ski resort, and being waited on hand and foot by her new butler, my dad. She has a good life for a kitty.
Sunday, Jan 11 - Last of the driving. We drove to Vegas, dined with Deanna, snuck in a nap at her house, then were off to the airport for a red-eye to, of all places, Houston. From Houston, we flew to Panama City.
And here begins the Panama tale.
Monday, Jan 12 - Too old to party.
We got to Panama mid-day, got taken to the wrong hotel by a taxi that overcharged us (always happens at least once when you travel in a foreign land, so we can check that one off the list and move on), caught another cab to the hotel where we had reservations, and were stoked to arrive.
In addition to our excitement, we were so super tired from the airport all-nighter, the 3 days of driving, the 2 weeks of packing and moving from the rent house, and the 6 months of PhD`ing that we slept, and slept, and slept. We took a nap at 3 pm and didn´t get up until the next morning.
Tues Jan 13 - Awesome sights, sounds, tastes.
Ian and I caught a cab to the Parque Natural Metro, and hiked a loop there. Turns out every single office plant in the US grows wild in the nature preserve here in Panama. Check out my facebook photo album of all the plants we saw. Also, at the bottom of this post there is a leaf-cutter ant video we took at the park (if I uploaded it properly. . .the computer here is from the 80´s) .Leaf cutter ants -SO COOL.
After the great 2 hour hike through the nature preserve, we rented bikes and rode down the Amador Causeway. It is a lovely palm lined path and road from the mainland out to a few little islands. From the causeway you can see the entrance to the canal to one side, and the Panama City´s syline to the other.
The islands at the end of the causeway were a US military fort through WWI and WWII, but after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and changed the name of the game, forts without air power bacame less crucial. Now this area has a marina, and a weird mall, and a Benigan`s. US military presence used to reign supreme on these islands, now US consumer culture calls all the shots.
We had a good beverage at the marina´s dive bar, and watched the grackles. Yes, the grackles. We came all this way to still have grackles getting up in our business when we sit outside with a cocktail.
In the evening, we went to Casco Viejo, which is the historical district. I fell completely in love with it, and can´t wait to go back. The old fort at the end of the point of land is still there, and some of the storage cells used by the French for explosives and later for prisoners have been turned into a very striking, but somewhat mildew smelling, and totally overpriced restaurant. Worth seeing, not worth staying.
Down the block there is the bombed out shell of a building where Noriega used to hang out, and lots of fantastic Colonial architecture. SOme of the buildings are a mess, but some have been very nicely renovated and refurbished. Think French Quater in NOLA. We ate at Cafe Rene, which was off-the-hook amazing food. Delicious. Outstanding. Fresh. Inventive. Fantastic. Best food ever. Loved it.
Then we took a cab back and called it a day!
Weds, Jan 14 - Get up early or sleep in late.
We learned an important lesson on this day, which is that nobody serves breakfast after 9am, and nobody serves lunch before 12:30. So, get up early, or sleep in late, but don´t half-ass the start of your day.
By 9:00, we missed the ferry to a nearby island, and also missed the train across the isthmus to Colon. We missed breakfast. We missed it all.
We went back to Casco Viejo, as the guide book said there was a breakfast place there. Unfortunately, it has turned into a dance club in the time since the book was published. We were hungry until 1, when Cafe Rene opened for lunch. It was worth the wait. Rene never disappoints.
After lunch, we went to Grand Clement Ice Cream, also in Casco Viejo. It was opened a few years ago by some french folks who bought a building, fixed it up, and started making the best ice cream on God´s green earth. I didn´t know ice cream could be so good.
Checked out more of Panama City, and found the only Buddhist centre in town. It was 2 blocks from our hotel. I miss my Austin meditation posses already, so it was thrilled to go sit and chant; it made my heart sing with such bright elation. What a treat!
Thurs, Jan 15 - Got up early. Learned our lesson.
Took a 6:15 am taxi ride to the train station and waited in line to get a ticket to ride the 7:15 Panama Railway train along the canal to Colon.
The lady selling tickets said it was sold out, but that wasn´t my first rodeo. I knew that if we stuck it out, it was likely that we could get on. 5 minutes before the train was to depart, a few more seats magically openned up, and we got on.
The train ride was amazing. AMAZING!! The car itself had windows all the way up the side and a bit up onto the roof, so you could see the trees and so much more of the view. We spent most of the ride on the platform between train cars, were the sides were open. The windswept experience was much more fun tha sitting in seats.
During the building of the railroad, thousands of workers died from yellow fever and malaria. Some of the bodies were put in pickle barrels, and sold to medical schools for anatomy disection.
Thurs mid-day, Jan 15. Colon=shit hole
The train crossed the isthmus in under 2 hours, and we arrived in the super trashy town of Colon mid morning. We wanted to catch a bus there to a nearby beach town, but didn´t know where the bus stop was. We got in a cab, and he drove us about 500 yards to the bus station, and charged us $3. It was about 5x as expensive as one would think that ride should be, but it was worth every penny. If you walk around Colon, you are just asking to get mugged. It is a horrible, dangerous, smelly, ugly cesspool of a city. Don´t go there.
From Colon, we caught a Red Devil to Portobello. The Red Devils are old schoolbusses that have been painted in bright, amazing ways and act as the public transportation.
Coming up - pictures pictures pictures, Red Devil bus rides, more historic forts, lost hats, pet monkeys, best bakery in Panama, getting stuck in the interior, longest bus day of all time, Bocas, bike rides to the beach, more bike rides to the beach, caves with bats, and learning Spanish (Jueves and huevos are not the same).