South America, Here We Come

Main entrance to Old Town Cartagena at night.

First stop, Cartagena Colombia!

We can’t tell you much about Cartagena because it was so hot/humid we didn’t spend much time outside. We arrived on the first day of a 4 day holiday commemorating the independence of Cartagena from Spain.

Dan and Lindie out on the street during festivities.

This is a big, no make that a huge, deal in this town. Partying in the streets, and you wouldn’t believe all of the firecrackers that people threw. It didn’t seem safe because they were thrown around people and under cars but I didn’t hear/see any actual problems. We spent a short time when we met up with our former shipmates the first evening around the crowds but spent the rest of the time either in our air conditioned room or away from the crowds.

Cartagena is a good sized city of around one million people. It boasts an historic old town. We didn’t see much of it although it would have been nice to if the heat/humidity hadn’t made us hermits.  We felt safe where we were (except for the firecrackers) but I wouldn’t advise you to use the street money changers, Dan had one pull a slight of hand on him which cost us about a hundred dollars.

Dan, Lindie, and the Capitan.

Nearby is Santa Marta, also on the ocean, which is supposed to be a destination place that we missed as well. Doubt we will get back this way again but if we do, we will see both the old town and |Santa Marta.

We had originally planned to go by bus to Bogota but it was going to be so long that we flew. It was a little under $100 per person, including checking two bags and taking the rest onto the plane. The plane was a jet and very comfortable; it was a short ride of about 90 minutes. We ran into some of our shipmates at the airport but that is the last we have seen any of them.

Selfie on the airplane

Traveling From Panama to Colombia Via Sailboat

A panga boat like this one took us from land out to our sailboat.

There is no road between Panama and Colombia, only thick jungle and unsavory characters (so I’m told). So the options are to go by boat or plane between the countries. Plane is faster and cheaper but we decided to splurge and take a catamaran (type of sailboat) and enjoy a few of the over 300 San Blas Islands.

The trip to the sailboat started early, we were picked up by the shuttle close to 5 A.M. After a number of stops, we drove through jungle area and finally reached an area where we paid a small tax to the indigenous people to be taken by panga (small covered boat with outboard motor) to the catamaran.

Locals use various boats to transport people and goods in this area.

That trip was about 40 minutes  or so to reach the sailboat which was anchored near one of the over 300 islands in the area called “San Blas”. The islands range in size from something you can walk around the outer perimeter in 5 minutes to something large enough for a number of houses. The ones we went to were all either uninhabited or inhabited by the Kuna natives.

The water around the islands is beautiful and some had nice fish that were visible when snorkeling. Unfortunately there was no water treatment so the coral in the area had been damaged a fair amount from waste and anchors.

On the inhabited islands, the locals sold beer and sodas and some crafts. We bought a beautiful mola for $20 from the woman who made it. It took her about 2 weeks of working off and on to cut out and sew the design on by hand. We paid $20 for ours and will frame it when we eventually return to Durango. They sell for much more in the stores.

Some islands had a lot of coconut trees, others didn’t. I was walking between two trees one afternoon and a coconut fell about 3 feet from me as I passed. Whew, that was too close for comfort!

There were 13 passengers and 3 crew on the boat. The oldest person other than us…including the captain, was 31. While we didn’t care for the smoking that several of them did, everyone was extremely nice and there were no problems between any of the passengers. The people were from England, Scotland, Australia, and Germany. We were the only Americans on the ship. There was one crew member with good English but Dan and I had an hour long conversation with the captain, entirely in Spanish, one night. While we didn’t understand 100% of it, we did get much of it…about Colombian life, drugs, safety, etc. Our Spanish improves every day.

Life on the boat was wake up, eat breakfast, swim or take the dingy to the island where you could snorkel, walk around, or just relax. Lunch was served about 1 or so while we went to the next island. The food was delicious, plentiful, and they did an amazing job of working with various allergies or food limitations among the passengers. We had delicious lfresh lobster one night. We had octopus another night (my least favorite meal) and the other meals were more basic. One passenger couldn’t eat shellfish so he got a nice steak that night! All this from a tiny, tiny, tiny galley.

Some islands were very close, others far apart. Notice how low to the water this one in the foreground is. This was common and these will quickly disappear as the ocean rises due to climate change.

I had been concerned about feeling claustrophobic on the boat but our room was fine and they were able to provide power for my CPAP at night. We each brought a backpack with clothes, etc. (everything else was stowed for the trip) but we didn’t really change clothes since we were in bathing suites the entire time.

We arrived in Cartagena Columbia after 3 days of island hopping and then 36 hours of open seas. I was worried about the open seas but the weather was good so it wasn’t choppy and a little Dramamine worked great.

Our sailboat in the port of Cartagena.

Here are a few other pictures from the trip.

View of boats from island

Guided Tour of Panama City

People getting ready for a parade in downtown Panama City. Band members and men in costumes. Guide, Luis, in the foreground.

On the second we went on a guided tour with Luis. It was the first of (at least) 4 days of celebration of separation from Colombia in 1903. (The canal construction was restarted shortly after the separation.) There were lots of festivities and closures of businesses and tourist places as a result.

We didn’t actually go to any of the parades however we walked around the area where many participants were getting ready to march. There were lots of students in their school uniforms, marching bands in their uniforms and women dressed up in beautiful costumes. Men had much more simple traditional outfits with the shirts outside their pants.

View of the city, Pacific Ocean and the Bridge of the Americas

On the tour we went to the highest point in the city, Ancon Hill (named after the first ship to go through the Panama Canal when it opened in 1914). We parked and walked uphill in the heat and humidity but fortunately there was a lot of shade on the way.

Bahá’í temple is built with 9 points and the star in the foreground has 9 points.

We went to a Bahá’í temple high on another hill. It was a simple but inspiring design and felt very serene there. It is one of only a small handful of temples. It was very serene and sacred feeling.

Various images from Panama City.

Parade participants

Panama City

Dan and Lindie in front of the Panama City sign.

We apologize for not posting for over a month. Between leaving Boquete, no internet on the sailboat, being exhausted, computer issues, poor internet, and procrastinating, we have be neglectful. I like posting thoughts and things we have done/seen and it ways heavily on me when I have lots of posts I want to do but don’t for whatever reason.

After a very relaxing, enjoyable stay for several months in Boquete we had to move on, if for no other reason than our apartment was rented. We had been there about 3 1/2 months and made a number of really good friends, mostly expats, so it was hard to leave.

Bus from Boquete to David had curtains with valances…pretty fancy even for a nice bus.

We caught the bus to David (remember? accent on the second syllable). It was a modern bus but for some reason had valances on the windows.

From David to Panama City was a long ride, finally arriving at our hotel after about 9 or 10 hours.

The bus was a modern bus like you would see in the USA. There was someone akin to a train conductor on the bus who took our tickets and made a number of announcements, all in Spanish…very fast Spanish so I didn’t catch most of it. There was one stop which was great because even though the bus had a restroom we were told by that conductor type person to only urinate in it. Don’t know what happened if you really needed to take a poop; I had heard that the restroom wasn’t something I would want to use anyway so fortunately we didn’t need to.

Aerial view of Biomuseo, image from http://www.biomuseopanama.org/en

The next morning, we went on our own to the Bio Museum which was extremely well done. Each person receives a playback machine to listen to descriptions of displays in your language of choice as you go though the exhibits. As you would expect, the emphasis was on the environment and changes to it over the eons. In one exhibit, they had pictures of a number of people…doesn’t this person look like Dan? It isn’t but he is similar looking!

 

 

Panama and Soccer

Panama beats Costa Rica to go to the World Cup in Russia

The evening of October 10th we could hear lots and lots and LOTS of cars honking down in town. It was a weekday evening so it was odd. I sent a What’sApp message to Lesia, owner of the Vista Grande apartments and she didn’t know what was going on either.

The next day we found out that Panama had qualified to go to the 2018 World Cup Soccer for the first time. Now the celebrating made sense.

At midnight that night, President of Panama Juan Carlos Varela tweeted that all public and private businesses and schools would be closed the following day for a National Holiday. The people getting the holiday loved it if they knew about it. Unfortunately the announcement was very late and many people didn’t get the word. I heard tales of children showing up at school only to find out it was closed.

I’m told that workers who did work were paid 2 1/2 times the normal rate because it was a national holiday. Folks take their soccer seriously here!

 

Wh

Panama is one of 32 teams going to the 2018 World Cup in Russia

When we were in David on Thursday, there were already t-shirts for sale on the side of the road for the event!

Bocas del Toro

View from dock across the street from our hotels. Peaceful and serene.

Bocas del Toro is an archipelago (group of islands) at the northeastern part of Panama, very close to the Costa Rican border. This is an extremely popular tourist destination even though you are seriously warned not to drink the water (which also means not to eat anything that is washed such as raw vegetables and to avoid ice). Unlike other tourist areas like Granada Nicaragua where the nicer restaurants or ones that cater to tourists which use filtered water for drinking and ice, we didn’t see/hear of any in Bocas that did that.

Archipelago of Bocas del Toro

We were extremely careful not to drink unfiltered water and not to use ice or eat raw veggies. I would have thought I got the amoeba infection there anyway except that the incubation period is much longer. (I did try literally a single drop of homemade hot sauce in a restaurant a few hours before I got sick but that wasn’t the cause if it truly was an amoeba infection).

While I didn’t get to enjoy anything other than walking around, Dan went on an all day catamaran ride where he snorkeled and saw starfish (and got sunburned). We had planned to go on a bio-luminescence tour one night but couldn’t because of the diarrhea. By the time I was well enough to consider being on a boat without a restroom for 2 hours, the moon was out again so you wouldn’t be able to see the glow.

Other common activities in the area are bicycling (we did do that-me once and Dan several times), fishing, shopping the locally made tourist items, and the like.

Biking was easy on this part of the island which is fairly flat.
Water taxi

To get to Bocas, you go to Almirante, a small town on the mainland. As you arrive into town, there is often a person on a bike who offers to show you where to park and get the taxi (for whatever you tip the person). You park your car in a gated lot for $3 per day (not 24 hours so if you arrive on Monday and leave on Wednesday, you pay $9). From there it is a short walk to the water taxi that takes you to the island for $7 per trip per person or $10 round trip (if you do a better job of keeping up with your receipt than we did, LOL). That ride is about 30 minutes and the water taxis run every 30 minutes from 6 AM to 6 PM. The ride was fairly calm both ways since you are in a bay area.

Food is pretty good and not outrageously expensive. We had excellent seafood, usually Corvina which is a very mild sea bass.

The weather was mild with afternoon rains most days.

The drive to Almirante was verdant with rural, poor, windy, hilly roads, and was very pleasant. There are places where the road slumps several inches with no warnings. A lovely drive but quite long given the distance is only 180 KM (111 miles). It is supposed to take just over 3 hours but was really closer to 5, including a 30 minute stop for a bite to eat. Not sure why but many of the indigenous Guaymi peoples’ houses in this area are on stilts, in the mountainous area of the drive. (We did see clothes drying under some of the houses but don’t know if that is the reason for the stilts.)

House on stilts on road to Bocas

Volcan Panama

Horse farm outside of Volcan

Volcan is a lovely area about an hour and a half from Boquete. It is known as the Little Switzerland of Panama. It is a little higher altitude than Boquete and about 1/3 fewer people. It is more agriculture related and cheaper to live. The temperatures are similar to Boquete, 60-75 degrees Fahrenheit. We went there on September 15th which is the first day of their fall festival. We didn’t want to be in the crowds of people that would be there the next day for the parade however we did see quite a few float type decorations at various places along the road.

We couldn’t see the top of Volcan Baru, the highest point in Panama (11,401 feet) because as usual it was overcast. Baru is close to Volcan.

Volcan Baru, 11,401 feet, highest point in Panama (photo from TripAdvisor)

Portugal Circus in Boquete

The big top set up in David. It was the same in Boquete except the space was smaller.

When we arrived in David on 7/4 we had passed by the Portugal Circus. I had a mild interest in attending but not compelling enough at the time, especially with Dan having allergy issues.

Well the circus came to Boquete this week. It is a small affair, one ring only. People only, which was fine with me; I hate to see animals caged up.

I won’t say it was exciting but it was a pleasant 2 hours.

The single trapeze artist did everything while he swung with his head cradled in a little Stnd, upside down. No daring flying through the air but he did juggle rings on both legs and both wrists at the same time while he was upside down. He also juggled 3 balls very briefly while upside down as well.

The performer walked within the large turning device for a few minutes and then walked on the outside of it as it turned.

I had as much fun talking to 4 new to the area expats as circus. They were two couples, one formerly from Florida, the other from Georgia. Expats make up about 10% of the population so you run into them quite a bit.

But back to the circus, it also had clowns (not in white face paint), 3 motorcycles racing around the inside of a ball at the same time (probably the only slightly tense moment), and other various acts.

At one point they had any young children who wanted to come up to the “Frozen” movie characters and get a hug. Lots of kiddos did this and seemed to really enjoy that. “Frozen” was the theme of most of the music. All of the music was prerecorded…of course in Spanish. (Did you ever consider that your/child’s/grandchild’s favorite Disney movie was in other languages? We hadn’t!)

Oh, and of course it was ALL in Spanish! The announcer had a wonderful deep voice but I could only catch a few words here and there since he spoke very rapidly. But you didn’t need to understand any Spanish to figure out what was happening.

Pura Vida and Driving in Costa Rica

I learned to drive in New Jersey and thought I knew what aggressive driving was. No way!

We rented cars twice and within an hour of driving, I knew that Costa Ricans forget about their national saying “Pura Vida” when they get in their cars. “Pura Vida” refers to the relaxed, easy going lifestyle here.

Many don’t believe in the posted speeds

Once in their cars, many are in a hurry: speeding, tailgating and passing, AND the passing is done on curves, no-pass zones, in the fog…anywhere they think there is enough room to get by. The only plus is that often the vehicle being passed is going v…e…r…y slow.

Narrow Bridge
One Way Ahead

Oh, and many roads are narrow, with steep gutters, sharp curves, and lots of one lane bridges on country roads.

This one has been here for many decades
Depending on where you are, roads can be rough

Leave lots of time to get to your destination and let your travel days be very flexible days.

Nicaraguan Art-Humor?

During one of our outings while we were in Nicaragua we went to a nice market in Catarina which is near Granada. The place was clean, neat, and not crowded while we were there. You could purchase all kinds of things there, including art work. I got a kick out of the ones below. These folks know how to multi-task!

Other artwork we saw in a restaurant at Charco Verde Reserve and other places can be seen here. You can see that the style is somewhat similar. A few of the images are just to show you who the artist is.