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Panama - Getting there on Valentine's day

sunny 30 °C
View Panama Canal on Sue McNicholas's travel map.

Thursday, Feb 14 Valentine's day

Thursday morning, bright and early we headed out to the airport in St. John's. Having done an all-nighter, I had gotten up to date on my email and many other jobs that had been needing attention for days. I packed my suitcase carefully - hand luggage only, and had room to spare. Flight to Montreal (3 hours) and on to Washington (1 1/2 hours) were fine. Sleep hit me in the 4 hour lay over in Washington, then on board again for 6 hours to Panama City.

Big pluses with the all-nighter are the clean and organized kitchen, plants watered, carefully thought out luggage, and the ability to sleep on the planes and airports all the day of the flight. In spite of that, I forgot my camera! I took the plunge with buying an iPad in the airport, which I had been carefully considering for the last month. So,I will be trying to discover the wonders of using the iPad 32 gigs with retina display. Lets hope I can take pictures other than those of me peering into the screen.

Seems we are in "Clase Ejectiva" according to the glasses, If Con's pub served drinks like these Gin and Tonics he's be too popular or have all his patrons picked up for impaired walking after a second drink. One was enough for me. To be honest, flying sans checked luggage is pretty sweet. No wrestling with suitcases large and heavy enough to hide a body, less security lines and no panic about making a connection. I have a bet with Eldon that my luggage clocks in at less than 20 pounds. a bottle of scotch riding on this bet. I downsized from cabin luggage only for my month in Cambodia, and I am now using an even smaller 8x14x22 hand luggage only. Oh, my! such a bother to travel. No filet as promised on the menu - only jumbo prawns and asparagus! As I crack the curtain behind me, I don't think they are serving anything hot in 'steerage'. Easy to be pompous, as we are in business class on points. Next time I will be staring up from my seat in the back of the plane, like Oliver Twist, " Please, sir, may I have some more?" We arrived in Panama city at 10 p.m., and were met by Francisco, a well informed young man whose grandfather came here from Jamaica to work on the canal in 1910. He told us lots about the city, history of the canal and hot spots to see, and stopped by a local supermarket for us to stock up before delivering us to the condo on the hill. We saw that our landmark was the flag on the top of Ancon Hill. It helped us get our bearings from the city below.The Panamanian flag welcomes from the top of Ancon Hill

The Panamanian flag welcomes from the top of Ancon Hill

There is a good overview with basic facts about Panama at: http://www.travellerspoint.com/wiki_edit.cfm?title=Panama

Posted by Sue McNicholas 06:14 Archived in Panama Comments (0)

Panama - Exploring the town (Feb 15)

sunny 30 °C
View Panama Canal on Sue McNicholas's travel map.

Friday, Feb 15. Waking up in Panama

Early rise - It is easy when it is 28 degrees outside. I expected bright sun this morning, but it seems shady. It turns out that we are on the shady side of a small mountain. After breakfast, we set out up the steep path for about 2 kilometres. There were some beautiful views: The high-rise part of Panama City rising out of the ocean seen between the trees. We continued till we reached the peak. We looked out over the canal, seeing many ships lying at anchor, waiting to enter the canal. The sun was now on the crest of the hill and it was beginning to get quite warm. We enjoyed a birds-eye view then we retraced our steps down to our villa.

We took a short time for cooling off by the pool, and then we went to explore the city below. Walking down a winding road, we encountered a few dead ends. I had to remember some of my Spanish to inquire which route would take us to "el centro del ciudad". We ambled along recalling spots that we had passed as we were driven here the previous night. After a long stretch, we came across a little market that appeared to be for tourists. Eldon hoped to find a cold beer, but I was interested to see what was being offered. I found some beautiful hand sewn molas. Molas are intricate, layered, appliquéd pictures showing animals or geometric shapes or popular culture. Kuna Indian in the San Blas Archiplago off the east coast of Panama credit their ancestors with creating their women's colourful clothing including molas. In my best Spanish, I asked the price. I did not bargain, as the work is beautiful and well worth the price asked. Kitcherie allowed me to take her picture.

Kuna women, from San Blas Island, Panama, and their beautiful molas.

Kuna women, from San Blas Island, Panama, and their beautiful molas.

Molas are made by The Kuna women of Panama. The traditional dress of these women consists of a patterned skirt, red and yellow headscarf, arm and leg beads, gold  nose ring and earrings.

Molas are made by The Kuna women of Panama. The traditional dress of these women consists of a patterned skirt, red and yellow headscarf, arm and leg beads, gold nose ring and earrings.

We walked and walked, apparently through the neighbourhood of Bilboa, and La Boca (the mouth) of the canal. We found the container port, the dock and no place for a beer. Two hours of walking and we turned for home on the hill. Tomorrow we will explore some more, but we will head east and try for the old city of Panama and the canal. There is a great restaurant - not good for the food, but great to observe ships passing through the locks on the Panama Canal. I'm sure we will find those cool beer for the hot work of count ing ships going through the locks.

When we returned to our villa, we headed for the pool. Here we had a long chat with Craig from Minnesota and got tips about visiting Colon (other end of the canal) by train, going on to Porto Bella a fort from some years back. Other venues were also suggested and we will give them a try when my sisters and nephew arrive.

Posted by Sue McNicholas 02:19 Archived in Panama Comments (0)

Casco Antiguo - The old city (Feb 16)

sunny 30 °C
View Panama Canal on Sue McNicholas's travel map.

Saturday, Feb 16, Casco Antiguo

An early walk to the top of the hill. The view is spectacular. The Panamanian flag (bandera) flapped proudly overhead. It can be seen clearly from many parts of the town below. We returned for a lazy breakfast, and bumped into Carolina, who organizes matters for the condos. We made arrangements for Jude to be collected at the airport at 10:30 tonight.
Eldon at he top of Ancon Hill

Eldon at he top of Ancon Hill


A view of the city from Ancon Hill

A view of the city from Ancon Hill


Today we decided to go to Casco Antiguo. …the area being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003. The city of Panama (Casco Viejo, also 'the ruins') was founded in 1519, but its governor had it burned to the ground in 1671 before the attack and looting by the English pirate, Henry Morgan.

Construction of a new city was initiated in 1672 at a different site. This is the city, Casco Antiguo, also known as San Philipe, which was built on a peninsula completely isolated by the sea and a defensive system of walls. I think that is the last year that paint was applied to many of the buildings. However, say the guidebooks, part of the allure of strolling along Casco Viejo's cobbled streets is the dilapidated charm of the crumbling buildings, abandoned houses and boarded-up ruins. I wasn't impresssed with that, but the attempt at restoration is doing good in some of the neighbourhoods.
Metrolitan Cathedral - started in 1519, it took 108 years to build.

Metrolitan Cathedral - started in 1519, it took 108 years to build.

This building is offered as a site for a hotel with a view.     .....plenty of fresh air, too!

This building is offered as a site for a hotel with a view. .....plenty of fresh air, too!


The seaside plaza is a lovely place to stroll around.

The seaside plaza is a lovely place to stroll around.


ice cream?

ice cream?


Many little stalls lined the walkways. Fine crafts and needlework were offered.

Many little stalls lined the walkways. Fine crafts and needlework were offered.


A long day selling goods.

A long day selling goods.

We found some fine seaside walks where indigenous people were selling their goods. There were plazas with sidewalk cafes and partly restored buildings and cathedrals. We ambled around for the afternoon then found an interesting place to eat: Diablos. The atmosphere was nice, but the food was poor and overpriced. I think there is a some tourist weariness here that translates a bit into "rip 'em off - they have lots of money!'
Susan and Diablo - Dancing with the Devil

Susan and Diablo - Dancing with the Devil

On every corner you would find 'tourist police'

On every corner you would find 'tourist police'

A common site was the security personnel, who in fact are 'tourist police' there no doubt to prevent problems for the tourists, and in so doing protecting their tourism industry - a very large part of their nation's income.
We later found other fine looking restaurants in a lovely plaza, where we drank cappuccinos and relaxed in the warm evening. We walked around, and came across a few other tourists.

Iglesia San Hose

Iglesia San Hose

We came across the Iglesia San Hose, which has an interesting history. In this church is the famous Altar de Oro (Golden Altar) which was miraculously saved after the sacking of Panamá Viejo in 1671. According to local legend, when word came of pirates' impending attack, a priest attempted to disguise the altar by painting it black. Decades later when memories had faded, the paint began to fade, too, and the priceless artifact was uncovered and properly restored to its lustrous beauty. It was then moved from the burned out city and installed in the the then new city San Philipe.

We realized that the seedy neighbourhoods warranted that we get a cab home before dark. We checked the price with one cab - $15, but getting here had cost only $5, so we found another cab. The cabby didn't know the way - it is a good thing Eldon can point out the landmarks, like that flag on the top of the hill. Our place was 3 Ks away, and our cabby complained all the way like he was at the edge of a precipice. I'm missing my friendly trouble free days of last month in Cambodia. Eldon is looking at making this our winter escape from Newfoundland, and all the while I am thinking "Cambodia! Cambodia! Cambodia!"

Posted by Sue McNicholas 03:19 Archived in Panama Comments (0)

Panama - A Trip Inland (Feb 17)


View Panama Canal on Sue McNicholas's travel map.

Sunday, February 17.

Today started with a climb up Ancon Hill, 3 kilometres from our residence to the top and back. It provides a spectacular view of the Panama Canal, Miraflores Locks, Bridge of the Americas, Casca Antigua and of the skyscrapers of the modern city of Panama. As we walked to the top, we were passed several times by young men on sturdy bicycles - no doubt training for biking competitions. We noticed interesting and unusual flowers growing along the pathway, but have not yet identified them. Any names to offer, please?

it is a steep ride up by bicycle.

it is a steep ride up by bicycle.


What lives in these bushes?

What lives in these bushes?


Can you name this flower?

Can you name this flower?


Here's a better shot.

Here's a better shot.

How about this unusual one. Can you tell me the name?

How about this unusual one. Can you tell me the name?

Lush undergrowth.

Lush undergrowth.

The modern city center of Panama

The modern city center of Panama

Top: Milaflores Locks on the canal, Right: the domestic airstrip, Left: The train carriages loaded with containers. Many cargo ships unload their containers and have them transported by train to Colon on the Caribbean side, where another cargo ship will load them for transport to the U.S. or Europe.

Top: Milaflores Locks on the canal, Right: the domestic airstrip, Left: The train carriages loaded with containers. Many cargo ships unload their containers and have them transported by train to Colon on the Caribbean side, where another cargo ship will load them for transport to the U.S. or Europe.

Far left of the previous picture. Overhead cranes unload cargo ships and stack the containers here. The containers are then placed on the train for transport to Colon.

Far left of the previous picture. Overhead cranes unload cargo ships and stack the containers here. The containers are then placed on the train for transport to Colon.


Bridge of the Americas, just 'downstream' from the previous picture. This bridge is at the mouth of the Panama Canal.

Bridge of the Americas, just 'downstream' from the previous picture. This bridge is at the mouth of the Panama Canal.


The walk down the hill is a piece of cake.

The walk down the hill is a piece of cake.

Carolina, an employee at our building told us about a property that she bought in Chica - a village in a hilly area about an hour or more's drive north of Panama City. We had arranged for Augusto to pick us up at eleven for a drive into the area. The first 30 minutes, we drove on the highway. Then the land became very hilly and the roads became quite bad. We found beautiful views of the countryside, but the land was quite dry. We drove farther and farther into the countryside. At this point we were far more interested in a restaurant than in the scenery! We came to an area with a few houses and were happy to discover one thatched dwelling where a group of people were eating. It had a catchy name ..."Johnies" I believe! It sure looked good to all of us. We were welcomed in, and Augusto went to the kitchen to find out what choices we had. That was easy: Beer or lemonade, meat, yuca, salsa and salad. We relaxed in the shade and enjoyed a wonderful meal.
The countryside is vast and hilly. As the population of Panama is just 3.5 million, it is sparsely populated outside of the major cities.

The countryside is vast and hilly. As the population of Panama is just 3.5 million, it is sparsely populated outside of the major cities.

Nephew Aidan, Eldon, sister Jude and I, thrilled to have found the only restaurant within an hour's drive!

Nephew Aidan, Eldon, sister Jude and I, thrilled to have found the only restaurant within an hour's drive!

Posted by Sue McNicholas 04:19 Comments (1)

Panama - The Causeway (Feb 18)

sunny
View Panama Canal on Sue McNicholas's travel map.

Monday, February 18

Today we decided to walk to the causeway - 10 Ks. We set out down the hill and ambled along. The weather is great, and we found interesting little places along the way. We found a large former convention centre, that was entirely deserted. Many of the businesses and offices that were running successfully some years back have fallen into disuse since the U.S. presence has left Panama. The walk was long and interesting, but there is not much shade at midday, and the temperature was well up in the thirties.
no shade along these streets!

no shade along these streets!


Aidan hiked along with us, making observations of things we missed - spiders, frogs, monkeys and plenty more.

Aidan hiked along with us, making observations of things we missed - spiders, frogs, monkeys and plenty more.


Jude, Eldon and me, with the causeway stretching behind us.

Jude, Eldon and me, with the causeway stretching behind us.


We found a fine spot to sip coffee, while we looked out at the boardwalk or causeway which links up three islands, and we decided to walk out and visit them. Along the way we found a lovely restaurant, where we sat under our own palm-leaf thatched umbrella. Fresh snapper was the wonderful choice. It was so fresh, I suspect believe it may have snapped the hand of the cook as he slid it into a sizzling pan! We looked out over the view of pleasure boats with the backdrop of a modern city across the bay. We relaxed with a few cold local beer and then headed for the islands.
This is the height of the tourist season and also the last week that kids are on school holidays. In spite of that, there is a deserted feel to the boardwalk and the islands. Our stroll took on monstrous proportions as we clocked in 15 Ks.
A large cargo ship, having just come through the Milaflores Locks (Pacific side) and under the Bridge of the Americas. Many of Panamas islands can be seen here.

A large cargo ship, having just come through the Milaflores Locks (Pacific side) and under the Bridge of the Americas. Many of Panamas islands can be seen here.


We decided to try out the local bus. Soon one came and we hopped on board. 25 cents each, but a ticket was needed. A passenger reached forward and clicked her pass 4 times for us! "Muchas gracias!"
A Local bus, colourfully painted, and just 25 cents to get around town, as far as you want to go.

A Local bus, colourfully painted, and just 25 cents to get around town, as far as you want to go.


As the bus leaves us we can see our flag way up on the hill - Still a bit of a hike!

As the bus leaves us we can see our flag way up on the hill - Still a bit of a hike!


Once off the bus we hiked along backroads, and happily came across a small market stand where Kuna Indians were selling some of their beautiful crafts. We had a look. Jude bought a Panama hat, which looks good on everyone. I couldn't resist a beautiful appliquéd cloth.
In the market. It is so difficult to make a choice!

In the market. It is so difficult to make a choice!

The embroiderer a amongst us will appreciate this piece of art. I will frame it and enjoy it when I arrive back in Newfoundland

The embroiderer a amongst us will appreciate this piece of art. I will frame it and enjoy it when I arrive back in Newfoundland

We continued on up the hill. We are actually in a park - Gutan National Park, so we often see monkeys and other animals swinging in the trees.
Eldon, Jude and Aidan making their way back home.

Eldon, Jude and Aidan making their way back home.


Eventually, we arrived at our little villa, and greeted Yvonne, who had arrived to join us. Though Yvonne was raring to go (?) we had a wonderful relaxing evening. Chef Eldon prepared lovely tender filet and roasted veggies. We finished the evening with several hands of poker.

Posted by Sue McNicholas 05:23 Archived in Panama Comments (0)

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