October - November 2018
This is going to be a short exploration trip to our first Central American country. We've heard a lot of good things about Panama and I'm going to see if my 883 consecutive days of Duolingo Spanish lessons will help me communicate with the locals.
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  • Off We Go!

    October 17, 2018 in Canada ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    Every year Brenda and I celebrate our anniversary in a new location. We've wanted to check out Central America for a few years now and, as luck would have it, in August we managed to snag flights to Panama for only $402.00 return.

    We're only going for sixteen days, really just to get a feel for the country and determine if it's somewhere we'd like to re-visit over Vancouver's dreary winter months. Although we have a few spots we'd like to visit on this trip, we're basically going to let the wind guide us. We've booked four days in Panama City and then we plan to head west to explore the Pacific Coast, the mountains, and, if we have time, the Northern islands. Other than that, we have absolutely no itinerary.

    We're taking a red eye out of Vancouver at 11:20 tonight and, after a three hour layover in Mexico City, we'll arrive in Panama City at 1:45 PM tomorrow.

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  • Panama City

    October 18, 2018 in Panama ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    Every time I write the name of this city I can't help but hear David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen in my mind: " Panama! Panama-a-a-a!" Ear worm.

    Our plane landed exactly on time at 1:45, and we retrieved our bags, got through customs and Ubered our way to our hotel by about 3:15.

    Both flights were pretty uneventful, except for a very tough three bounce landing in Mexico City. The flight to Mexico was just over five hours and the Panama leg was right around four hours. Unfortunately, these shortish flights, by the time food and drinks are served, don't allow much time for napping. As a result, Brenda and I managed only about three hours of fitful sleep between us.

    Needless to say we were both pretty much ready for bed by the time we checked in to our hotel. But brave soldiers that we are, we quickly unpacked and headed out the door to explore the neighborhood. Since our hotel has a full kitchen we went straight to a nearby supermercado, Rey, to pick up some fruit for breakfast, but in the end we decided to go to the local public market first thing tomorrow morning.

    After that you we went for a nice vegan dinner at Loving Hut restayeant and then stopped into a bakery and bought a pastry for dessert. It was called Mi Ojo (my eye) and was a local take on a mille feuille that had the sugary top layer replaced with dulce de leche. Sinful.

    So now it's just about 7:00pm and we're ready to hit the sack and turn out the lights. The public market opens at 4:00am tomorrow, so even if we wake up really early we'll just head out the door and go buy our breakfast. The early bird catches the worm free produce.

    Buenas noches amigos.
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  • The Canal

    October 21, 2018 in Panama ⋅ 🌧 28 °C

    My Garmin Sport watch buzzes and displays every email and new text message I receive on my smart phone.

    On the morning of October 20 at 2:42 I was awakened by a buzzing under my pillow. My son-in-law, Xavier, sent out a message announcing that my daughter, Vanessa, had gone into labour with her first child. Well, needless to say, that little piece of news had a serious effect on my sleep cycle.

    Other messages followed at 3:11, 4:07 and 5:12 to keep us apprised of the progress.

    Brenda and I celebrated our twelfth year together and our eight year as husband and wife yesterday and had planned to make an early morning visit to the Panama Canal to start the day. We had been told there are usually ships in the locks early in the morning and late in the afternoon and we had hoped to see one of the vessels making its way through.

    Of course, as we traveled out to the Miraflores locks, the last thing on our minds was the workings of the Panama Canal. I was constantly checking my phone for further news,but there was nothing. Finally, at 8:30, I couldn't bear suspense and texted out a request for news, but alas, no reply came.

    We arrived at the Canal's visitor center, bought our tickets and were given instructions as to how we were to proceed. We then learned there would be no ships in the locks until 3:00pm, six hours later. As we were waiting to see the short documentary film that was offered, my phone dinged and my watch buzzed with an announcement that our first grandchild, a little girl, Charlie, was born at 9:00am EST. Brenda and I were both very hard pressed to suppress tears of joy and relief at this fabulous news and we were then free to fully enjoy the rest of our day, now with an additional reason to celebrate.

    Of course, one cannot go to Panama and not visit the Canal, which truly is one of the man made wonders of the world. There are three sets of locks that allow over 13,000 ships each year to traverse the Panamanian isthmus through the 50 mile long canal, from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean. The Miraflores lock, which we visited, raises ships 54 feet to the next stage of their journey. The largest passenger cruise liners pass through the locks with only inches to spare on each side and every ship is charged between $200,000 and $500,000 in tolls, depending on their tonnage. It was an impressive sight to see, although we were a little bit sad we didn't get to see the locks in operation.

    We had taken an Uber ride out to the locks, but we decided to be adventurous and take public transit back into the city. A ride on the local bus here costs only $0.25 and the very efficient subway is just $0.35. We hopped onto the bus with the locals and rode it to the Albrook Metro station. The bus ride was a little on the bumpy side and its condition was pretty rundown (to say the least), but it had these great chrome exhaust pipes sticking up from the rear bumper. Who needs maintenance if it looks cool?

    The rest of our day was spent celebrating our anniversary, but I'll talk about that in another blog.
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  • Twelve Years

    October 21, 2018 in Panama ⋅ 🌧 25 °C

    The main reason for this trip was to celebrate our twelfth year together and our eighth year as husband and wife, which both fall on October 20.

    We started the day with an exchange of anniversary cards, a breakfast of perfectly ripe papaya and pineapple and a trip to see the Panama Canal.

    Once we got back into town, we headed into the old city, Casco Viejo, to do some exploring and have a little lunch. We stumbled across a little plaza that celebrates my birth date, January 2nd. It's not every day you see that.

    We were exceptionally lucky with the weather because we were blessed with a beautiful sunny day that allowed us to walk about town without our rain gear. We are nearing the end of the rainy season here and when it rains, it REALLY pours.

    We were both quite hungry when we arrived in Casco, so we headed straight to Dodo Bon Cafe for lunch. This lovely little French inspired bistro offers many vegan options and the food was as beautiful to look at as it was delicious. Brenda had a tofu scramble and I went for a plate of six tapas. We shared a small bottle of Prosecco to toast our anniversary and the arrival of our granddaughter.

    Sadly, after lunch and due to an unexpected equipment failure, we had to cut our Casco Viejo visit short and return to our hotel. We chilled for a couple of hours and I went out to buy some Champagne with which to properly toast our festivities later on.

    Unfortunately, although Panama City offers many options for us vegans, a large number of them don't really provide anniversary celebration quality ambiance or food. After much searching we settled upon Beirut, a Lebanese restaurant that looked pretty nice in the photos and had really good reviews.

    We ordered six mezzes; hummus, babaganoush, moussaka, falafel, veg kibbe and fried potatoes, all of which was accompanied by a huge basket of pita bread, Although it seemed like a lot of food at the time, we managed to plow through it all, save one lonely little pita bread. All the plates were delicious and in fact, as good as any I've ever tasted.

    After dinner we waddled back to our hotel, popped open the Champagne and even managed to chow down on some cakes we bought earlier in the day from a street vendor near the Cinco de Mayo Metro station. Okay, we're not complete gluttons, we saved half the cakes for tomorrow.

    All in all, this was a great anniversary and, with the addition of Charlie to the family, one we'll never forget.
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  • Santiago

    October 22, 2018 in Panama ⋅ 🌧 26 °C

    We left Panama City this morning in a rented Kia Rio en route to our next destination, David. As we got on our way, the sun was shining and it looked like we had a great driving day before us. David is about 470 kms from Panama City so we planned on stopping half way, at about the 250 km mark, and spending the night in Santiago.

    We stopped for lunch at a little Mom and Pop restaurant in Rio Hato where, despite the fact there were not even any vegetarian options on the menu, we were treated to a nice plate of vegetable fried rice, a green salad and fried plantain, all for $4.00 each.

    After lunch, to stretch our legs, we wandered through the Super 99 supermarket and bought some cookies for dessert and a bottle of Morande Pinot Noir from Chile for $5.50! That may sound ridiculously inexpensive, but you have to consider the fact that a can of local beer costs just $0.59.

    When we got back on the road toward Santiago, the skies literally opened and, in some places, the highway was flooded with water at least eight inches deep. During most of the ride, the rain was coming down so hard I had to have the windshield wipers running at their fastest speed just to see the road.

    We finally arrived at our hotel at just about 5:00 PM and, with the rain not letting up one little bit, decided it's going to be ordered in pizza and Chilean Pinot Noir for dinner tonight.

    There are worse things in life.
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  • David

    October 24, 2018 in Panama ⋅ 🌧 27 °C

    Well, the plan was to spend a day or two in David and then drive up into the mountains to spend a couple of days in Boquete. After that, Bocas del Toro was to be our beach destination for a few days before we reversed course to Panama City in time to catch our November 1 ride home with Aeromexico.

    The best laid plans.....

    Unfortunately, the long hours seated in the car were not doing Brenda's herniated disc any good at all. By the time we arrived in David, she was quite happy to be able to remain upright for a while and so, after we dropped our bags off into our room, we wandered around David and lucked into the street vendor's four o'clock fresh fruit sell off. After buying a huge pineapple for $1.50 and an equally gigantic papaya for $1.00, at just around 4:30 it seemed all the vendors were yelling out prices that were too ridiculous to ignore; four baby pineapples for $1.00. Two heads of iceberg lettuce for $1.00, bags of peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and everything else, all reduced to $1.00.

    I have a severe weakness for these tropical pineapples and could not resist buying four of the babies to complement the big one and the papaya I was already carrying. We also bought tomatoes and peppers and a wonderful fresh baguette that was actually more like a brioche loaf.

    We strolled through the streets in search of a restaurant that could accomodate our diets but found absolutely nothing. Frustrated, we went back to the hotel and ate some of our purchases. The brioche filled with perfectly ripe tomato slices and some yellow pepper were all I needed.

    With the lack of available dining choices it was then we decided there was no point in spending any more time in David and we went about looking for a plan B that didn't involve too much driving.

    We figured a week at the beach would be a good end to the vacation and we managed to find a seaside rental near Las Tablas, about a four hour drive from David. Sadly, had we known David was to be such a bust, we could have driven to Las Tablas in just ninety minutes from Santiago. On the plus side, it's much closer to Panama City than Bocas del Toro, so the ride back to catch our flight home will also only take us about three and a half hours as opposed to the nine and a half hours from Bocas.

    On the way to the shore we stopped off and picked up some groceries so we can cook for ourselves if there are no vegan options available. On top of the provisions, I stocked up on a dozen $0.58 cans of beer, six Panama lager and six Balboas. The taste test as I type this blog makes the Balboa the hands down winner.

    Here I sit in a rocking chair on our porch overlooking the Pacific Ocean,beer in hand, with the rhythmic and soothing sound of the surf breaking on the beach playing in the background. Beside me, lounging in a hammock, is my lovely wife who is sipping on a passion fruit flavored vodka cooler.

    C'mon, admit it. You want this, don't you?
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  • Playa El Uverito

    October 26, 2018 in Panama ⋅ 🌧 28 °C

    This is our third day in our seaside home at Uverito Beach. We are most definitely kicking back, relaxing and enjoying life as it is. There are several restaurants within a couple of hundred meters from our rental, but our menu choices are pretty much limited to rice, beans, salad and plantains. Fortunately, with a ten minute drive into the nearest town, Las Tablas, we can purchase beautiful fresh fruits and vegetables at a fraction of the cost in Vancouver.

    We've started our days here with long strolls along the roughly four kilometers of beach spread out in front of us. The sand is mostly hard packed enough that I was able to get in a little 4K run this morning while Brenda power walked along the shore.

    On this morning's walk we were accompanied by our new found friend that Brenda has named LaylaDog.

    As soon as we arrived here Wednesday afternoon, this mangy looking, tailless cur welcomed us with a wagging behind and unbridled excitement. She is omnipresent and always gives us the same enthusiastic greeting every time we've been away for a while.

    In the movie "A Dog's Purpose" the plotline follows the reincarnation of one dog's soul from one life to the next. ***SPOILER ALERT*** Eventually, after six lives, she is eventually reunited with a man who was, as a boy, her original owner. She is somehow able to make him understand that she is the reincarnation of his boyhood best friend and they all live happily ever after. Awwww. Sniff, sniff.

    Anyway, this mangy mutt that seems to have adopted us acts so much, and has such similar qualities to our beloved Golden Retriever, Layla, that we think, well, maybe...…

    Thus LaylaDog.

    As I jogged along the beach she stayed with me the whole time, either right at my side or two short paces behind me. We haven't fed her, given her water or anything but kind, gentle words and she has been a joy to have around. Unfortunately, she's so mangy and probably flea infested, I'm wont to so much as pet her. But, if we lived here full time, I'm pretty sure we'd adopt her and give her a better life.

    Yesterday as we strolled along the beach we were amazed by the number of crabs residing underfoot. From a distance we could see them all over the sand, but as we approached, they'd all scurry back into their burrows. I have to admit to having childishly run at an exceptionally large group of them, giggling to myself the whole time, as they frantically scattered to avoid the gigantic ogre that threatened them. Bad vegan, Roch.

    This variety of crab is known as the Sand Bubbler Crab. As they forage for microscopic food clinging to the grains of sand, they form the sand into little balls, leaving behind a trail of their efforts everywhere on the beach. Depending on how long the tide has been out, some of these works of crab art are quite impressive and beautiful. Judging by the complexity of the designs, some crabs are clearly far more artistic than others.

    We've been very lucky with the weather here at the beach. It has rained very hard late at night, but other than that, the skies have been variable without precipitation. In fact, I managed to get a bit of a sunburn during yesterday morning's walk. I put a hat onto the chrome dome this morning.

    As I type this blog I'm once again lounging on the porch with the Van Morrison station playing on Spotify and Brenda having a little snooze in the hammock next to me.

    Ah, life's little pleasures.

    I think I'll go crack open a $0.58 can of Balboa to put a cherry on the sundae.
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  • Time Flies

    October 30, 2018 in Panama ⋅ 🌧 26 °C

    Our week at the beach is coming to an end and tomorrow we drive back to Panama City in preparation for our flight home to Vancouver.

    As planned, while we were here, we literally did nothing but kick back, relax and enjoy listening to the sound of the surf. We made a couple of trips into town for food and one longer excursion to Pedasi, 42 kms from here, but other than that, the car sat untouched. We'd start our day with some meditation followed by a long walk on the beach, a breakfast of fresh fruit or a fruit smoothie and a shower. After that, it was whatever we felt like doing. Hanging in the hammock, reading a book, listening to music on my laptop, learning to play dominoes or returning emails.

    Around noon I'd start preparing something for lunch and then it was more of the same easy life as in the morning.

    Typically, the beach here was almost completely deserted. During the course of our walks we would usually pass three or four people over the 9 kms we sometimes covered. Some of the permanent residents would at times be outside working on their property and would wave and greet us, but for the most part, it was just me, Brenda and the crabs.

    We had been forewarned that the weekend would see an influx of Panamanians to the beach, but we didn't see that many folks out on our Sunday morning stroll. However, as the day wore on, they made their presence known, LOUD and clear. Each family or group had their own car sound system blasting Latino music, seemingly loud enough to drown out any competition. From our vantage point, the music was a cacophony of sound and rhythm all mashed together and entirely indistinguishable. Most of the din stopped at sundown, but some of the partyers carried on until 4:00 AM Monday morning. I hope they didn't have to be at work at 9:00.

    On Saturday we ventured into town to explore the weekly local farmer's market. It opened at 7:00 and we arrived at 8:00 to find the locals lined up to buy produce. We decided to give it a miss and went about exploring what else the town had to offer. In our wanderings we came across a little public market that had excellent fresh produce and great prices. We also found a lady selling baked goods on the street. She had a huge vat of large obviously homemade cookies, another one of doughnut shaped glazed cookies and people were buying them up like hotcakes. I bought two of each and packed them away for later enjoyment. Total cost $1.00. As it turned out, the cookie was anise flavored and the doughnutty one was similar to Italian Taralucci cookies, but less sweet and without the hint of lemon in the glaze.

    Pedasi is a little town of less than 3000 inhabitants located about 42 kms southeast of here along the coast. For some reason, a lot of foreign retirees and expats have adopted this place as home, so we felt we had to go and check it out. Unfortunately, we went on Monday when a lot of the shops were closed, including a bakery that is allegedly out of this world. We walked all around Pedasi, which truly has that small town feel about it. Everyone we passed on the street greeted us with a "Hola" or a "Buenos dia" and a warm smile. There are a couple of very well stocked independent supermarkets that clearly cater to the expat community with merchandise imported to suit their tastes. The homes are often painted in bright colors or adorned with beautiful murals on the exterior walls. The feel of the town was very reminiscent of Valparaiso, Chile, with its many artisans, friendly locals and rainbow of colors. This little burg, and Panama City are probably the only two areas in the entire country where real estate prices are on the high side.

    During our Sunday morning walk, Layla Dog abandoned us near the eastern end of the beach and we didn't see her again for the rest of the day nor all day Monday. We were a little concerned about her, but she eventually resurfaced Tuesday afternoon. Brenda had bought her a little bag of dog food the other day and we've been giving her small portions each morning, despite one of the neighbors telling us not to feed her. She is always grateful as she dives into the food with great gusto and it makes us happy to bring her a little comfort. After all, hers is a dog's life no one would envy.
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  • Back in Panama City

    November 1, 2018 in Panama ⋅ 🌧 28 °C

    We arrived at our hotel in Panama City right around 3:00 PM yesterday. The drive from Las Tablas was uneventful, although I saw at least seven radar traps on the highway, all of which I managed to pass without being pulled over. Phew!

    I dropped Brenda and our luggage at the hotel and then drive off to top up the car's gas tank and return it to the rental agency. As soon as I set foot outside the hotel door the skies opened. A ferocious torrential tropical downpour flooded the streets and reduced visibility to zero, even with the wipers running at double time.

    Traffic in Panama City is nightmarish at the best of times and the rain made things even worse. Before leaving the hotel I programmed the address of Sixt Rentals that was shown on the contract into Google maps, which was really the only way I would have found it given the lack of visibility. After twenty minutes negotiating bumper to bumper traffic, countless kamikaze lane changes and a few missed turns, I arrived at the Sixth location only to realize it was not the one from which I had picked up the car. D'oh! Why they used that address on the contract I do not know, but I went back to the drawing board and Google mapped the correct location that was only 500 meters away.

    Fortunately, by the time I got there, completed the paperwork and started back to the hotel on foot, the skies had cleared and I had only to jump over a few remaining puddles.

    For our last meal in Panama we returned to Beirut restaurant for a second helping of their scrumptious Lebanese food. Plates of hummus, babaganoush, falafel, ful and kibbe ( six of them!) filled our table and we managed to eat our way through most of it. This was probably the best Lebanese food I've had anywhere and I would recommend this place to anyone visiting Panama City.

    After dinner we went back to our hotel, did some pre-packing and watched a movie before calling it a night.

    Tomorrow we fly out of here at 3:00, but due to a six hour layover in Mexico City, we won't be back in Vancouver until 5:00 AM on Friday.
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