Saturday, May 24, 2014

Some New Discoveries In Panama.......

This past week I was in the mood to get out and do some exploring, so yesterday we jumped in the car and hit the road. As usual I let my daring, adventurous husband come up with a plan as we took off to explore this beautiful country that we call home.

Clyde was on a mission to find Omar Torrijos Herrera National Park, just north of the town of El Cope, in the Province of Cocle, Panama. We stopped for lunch in the scenic little town of La Pintada at a little "fonda," or a simple, little Panamanian style restaurant. Typically at fonda's they offer one or a few menu of the day choices of typical local style food at very low prices. This one followed suit as the waitress explained what she had, "arroz con mariscos y ensalada," or "rice with seafood and salad. What arrived were two plates of yellow, flavored rice with mixed seafood and a few vegetables, alongside some homemade macaroni salad. The seafood was a combination of clams, octopus and some other things I didn't recognize but ate it anyway.  I had to chuckle as we ate because prior to moving to Panama I assuredly never ate anything that included tentacles on the plate, yet here I was eating octopus and clams.  Admittedly I'm still not a fan of octopus or "pulpo" as it's called in Spanish since it tends to be chewy and tough, but in small amounts it's tolerable. And when we eat in these tiny, hole in the wall restaurants that offer only one choice, it's like eating at a friends house.  And it's because of this that I feel a bit guilty not eating what's offered, even if it's less than delicious.  Besides, the frugal side of me knew that this meal would be cheap so we shoveled it into our mouths and paid the $3.50 for each meal before taking off.

Mariscos Arroz con ensalada maccarones
a little "chino" store across from the restaurant

Cute fountain with sombrero
La Pintada Town Square
We can see the Park, just how do we get there?

We thought she was pretty

The town of Piedras Gordas
"Fat Rocks"

Had to stop and catch this

Little girls on a bridge over a river

below the bridge, water barely flowing

In typical Panamanian fashion the park was not clearly signed and extremely difficult to find. The road into the park was unpaved with rocks, steep inclines and only assessable by 4x4 which we luckily have. Eventually we arrived at the park office operated by ANAM (Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente), paid a few bucks and listened to an explanation of the "sendero's," or trails. Since it was getting late in the day, around 3:30 we opted to do the shorter of the trails.  The first trail we hiked along was well marked out with steps that led us through deep, lush, tropical jungle that seemed to reach out and touch us. The jungle around us really was breathtaking and only could have been made better had we spotted some animals. Since the first trail was so nice we continued on to another 2k trail which turned out to be wet, slippery with leaves and not so nicely laid out.  We did an about face and headed back to the start leaving that trail for another day when we had more time and more dry weather conditions. We drove through picturesque, little mountain villages where many homes had a horse parked in the front as their means of transportation. Skinny cows dotted the landscape as school children waited for buses, or walked alongside the road carrying backpacks.

We finally made it!
Had no idea how rough the roads where past this sign!

Maybe we should have climbed on him
instead of driving the rough roads!

Yep!  We are going up there!

map of the park and it's trails

Cloud Forest

Locked up visitor Center

View from the Mirador (look out point)

Cross at the Mirador

steps into the forest

really pretty nice!

Just some plants I liked

notice the red flowers on the stem

Look closely at the end of each branch,
they seem to curl up

The way to the longer trail
next time we will get there earlier for this one!

Love how all the plants grow on the bark of the trees
A Pretty Fern

pretty flower

more views of the clouds blowing across the forest

These Yellow trees were flowering everywhere

View of the Yellow Flowered Trees

Had to drive through this to get out

On our way home we stopped in the town of Penonom√© for a pizza at Al Capone's, a rather gringoized looking pizza joint.  Staring at a large photo of Capone on the wall of this restaurant made me wonder what connection, if any, does the gangster have to Panama? Little did we know that we experienced Capone's boat while docked near the Amador Causeway on our friend's yacht last month.  There was this large houseboat type of yacht that turned out to be a late night party boat complete with strobe lights and loud music that played into the early morning hours. Turns out that's the boat that used to be owned by Al Capone and is now used to run tour groups through the Canal along with late night parties near Panama City. Formerly used as a rum-runner, he spared no expense with the 314 foot floating hotel.  It originally contained five luxury bedrooms, a mahogany living room and even a library. It was originally used to smuggle rum and whiskey from the Dominican Republic and Cuba to an inland near Key West, Florida. Eventually Capone was arrested for tax evasion and shipped off to prison.  His boat was commissioned by the US Navy before changing hands a few more times until it was brought back to Panama in the 1960's. 

We arrived home around 8ish, tired after a long day of driving, exploring and delighting in the wonders of nature.....along the gringo trail.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Up The Hill Without A Monkey......

The day before our Panama Canal adventure was to begin Clyde decided we'd head into Panama City since we were taking the early train to Colon.  Well, the early train was actually the only train that went from Panama City to Colon on a daily basis. And since it leaves the station at 7:15 in the morning and we were instructed to be there by 6:30, it would surely be an early day.  So making our way into the city the day before was a great idea and give us a chance to do a few other things too. 

For the past few years we'd heard good things about a B&B called La Estancia.  An intimate guest house that sits half way up Ancon Hill, it's nestled in the jungle and a good place for viewing wildlife.  Being the romantic that he is, Clyde booked a room with a balcony which came with two twin beds and a private bath separated by a hallway.  At the time this sounded like it wouldn't be an issue but I later discovered just how much of a bathroom hog I tend to be. With our pensionado discount we get 50% off hotel rooms during the week so our one night stay cost us just $47, and included a hot, home cooked breakfast, had we been able to stay long enough to enjoy such a thing.
I really expected to love the hotel and it's surroundings but to be truthful I didn't.  Perhaps it was the separation from the bathroom that bothered me?  Or the small room and the balcony that overlooked a bird feeder, which is about the only wildlife that we spotted from the room? Yes I suppose I expected to see monkeys hanging off the balcony and toucans pecking at the window in the morning, but I saw neither.

La Estancia B&B on Cerro Ancon
A Little Water Feature Inside The Door
 Pretty Mural Inside The Door

 Our Balcony
 Another Balcony Near Common Area

Since it was close by and we'd never been there before we drove to nearby Mi Pueblito.  This little village features life-sized replicas of rural villages found in the Azuero Peninsula, Bocas del Toro, and the Darian province.  A church, school, pharmacy, store, house and more were set up to look like they did during the 19th century.  A museum of traditional pollera dresses made us realize how much time goes into to making these hand-made, folkloric beauties. While Mi Pueblito is touristy and a bit cheesy, it only cost us $1 each to get in and since we were in the neighborhood it was certainly worth having a look at. In the mock village square there was a camera crew filming in front of a church. We watched as child actors played out a cute scene of innocent puppy love, even though we had absolutely no idea what was going on. A nearby tour guide was on hand to answer questions and we pumped her for information regarding what was being filmed, thinking it might be a local novella? But she didn't give us much information to go by so we'll just have to make up our own ending.

A Replica in Mi Pueblito
A 19th Century Kitchen in Mi Pueblito
Note:  To the Left Is A Tinajeria, a place where earthen jars are kept.  This is where they kept water before there was running water in homes, in the large bot on the bottom.  Our Old Panamanian style house actually came with one of these, just a showpiece nowadays!

Another View
Decorations made by artisians
Museum of Polleras, Local Folkloric Dresses

A Star Is Born.....The Filming of Something In The Village Square Replica
Panamanian Kids Filming

Meanwhile back at the hotel we set out to walk up Ancon Hill, the highest point in the city, wearing flip flops and shorts.  Not really out for a hike but instead we were more interested in spotting animals in the jungle, so we took our time walking and looking carefully.  As usual we noticed a few capybara, the largest rodent in the world and managed to snap a photo before it scurried off. To my surprise I noticed a toucan flying by, as it's bright yellow, rainbow colored beak gleamed in the sunshine. It didn't cooperate in landing anywhere nearby for a photo opportunity despite my efforts to find it. We passed by a local man walking his dog and said "buenas tardas," to him in passing. A few minutes later the same man walked back up the hill yelling to get our attention.  He explained in Spanish that there was a monkey nearby and asked if we wanted a picture? We followed him back down the hill listening to him talk loudly which I thought would surely scare off any animals. He stopped at one tree and pointed out something on a branch.  Even standing directly under it with someone pointing to the branch, it was virtually invisible. The man kept saying, "mono" (monkey)  but the only thing we saw was tree bark.  But lo and behold then I noticed an arm with claws sticking out and realized we were looking at a sloth.

A Sloth In The Tree....Can You See The Arm?
A Better View....Think We Woke Him Up
View Of Panama City From Atop Cerro Ancon (or Ancon Hill)
Taking A Shortcut Up Two Hundred Steps

A Capybara In The Road (worlds largest rodent)

Although we've driven up Ancon Hill several times this was the first time we walked up.  It was definitely a different world especially since it was late in the day with no other people in sight. It was a little eerie being the only humans on top of the hill overlooking a metropolitan city. On the way back down we crossed paths with some local families out for an evening walk or jog.  At the bottom we panicked for a moment when we noticed the gate had been locked shut,  but soon noticed a section of chain link was missing so we crawled on through.

After our walk we cleaned up a bit back at the hotel before heading out for something quick to eat.  Then a stop at a grocery store to pick up something for breakfast the next morning since I didn't want to arrive on our friends yacht starving.  We picked up two pre-packaged bowls filled with cereal and some small containers of ultra high frequency milk that don't require refrigeration.  The hotel had some bananas on hand that we helped ourselves to along with utensils and for little to nothing, we had some breakfast to stow away. But perhaps because of our evening outing we might have missed seeing any other animals outside the hotel.  Everyone we've talked to that stayed there said they did see monkeys feeding off the bananas hung near the balcony by the hotel.

Clyde made arrangements with the hotel to have someone drive us to the train station for $10.  We climbed into a van with another couple going to the same place.  At the train we followed orders and piled into one car along with many other tourists and found a seat at one of the tables. Although the decor was nice the tables were cramped with barely enough room for legs underneath, even for a short person like myself. Our two, large duffel bags had to be stored upfront since there was no room nearby our seats.  We sat with two older women that were visiting Panama and of course chatted the whole time. Apparently most of the tourists on board had guides waiting for them on the other end in Colon to take them on more adventures, as did these two ladies. The train went through jungle and alongside the Canal before landing us in Colon.

One Way Train Tickets To Colon

Panama Railroad Station at 6:30 AM.....Yawn.....
View Of Train

Waiting For The Train With Our Luggage

Walking To Board Train, Welcome Signs In Many Languages
Inside The Train Car

Views Along The Train Route

On The Way Off The Train Everyone Was Given A Snack Box.....It Included Pringles,
Cookies and Nuts

Once outside we found a taxi that was willing to take us to the Shelter Bay Marina where our friends were docked.  Since taxi's here are not metered the driver comes up with his own price and unfortunately those of us with white skin tend to pay higher prices. Clyde asked the driver how much and he immediately spouted off, "veinte y veinte," or "twenty and twenty," for a total of $40. "No," Clyde said, and went onto explain, "no somos turistas, somos Panamenos, vivemos in Chame." (we're not tourists, we're Panamenos and we live in Chame).  The man said ok, "quince y quince," (fifteen and fifteen) Clyde agreed since he didn't see any other taxi's nearby.  I noticed some further away but really didn't  want to walk since I was hot and sweaty, carrying a large, heavy bag and purse, so let's just take this ride and go.  The taxi was a nice van with plenty of a/c who took us on the 30-minute long ride that seemed to take forever. But he dropped us off rather close to the pier which made for an easy transition from dry land to the boat.

Shelter Bay Marina Shops And Pool
And since I did this blog after the one about our adventures on the yacht you already know the rest of the story.  How our journey took us from dry land to the railroad and eventually to the crossing from one ocean to the other ........along the gringo trail.

Life In Portugal....At A Snails Pace....

Yesterday was just another day in Portugal when my dear husband Clyde said he was going to run to the pharmacy for a few things. Time passed...