Sidewalks in Latin America generally fall into one of a few categories:
New or excellent condition with/without tactile cues for the visually impaired like above
Very good condition with decorative tiles/design
Very poor, uneven, drop offs, steps, obstacles, deteriorating
I don’t have pictures of the poor ones although I could get them in a heartbeat but I have seen many that had decorative designs. It is a pleasure to see that someone took the time/expense/creativity to install a decorative (usually tile or brick) sidewalk. Here are just a few examples:
In all of the countries that we have been in so far (Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia, and Ecuador), the pharmacies are similar. They are usually much smaller than a 7-11 store in the USA; often you just walk a step or two from the sidewalk to a counter. They tend to have medicines in a series of deep drawers behind the counter. The staff doesn’t wear any type of name tag or badge so I don’t know if they are “pharmacists” or not. They do tend to be pretty knowledgeable and able to recommend products for colds, coughs, bug bites, etc.
In Panama, Ecuador, and I think Costa Rica and Nicaragua as well, they are called farmacias but in Colombia they are usually called drogerias.
I know in Nicaragua, I could buy generic Xanax and Ambien with no problem, and no prescription. In fact, the generic Xanax was on the top shelf of the glass counter. No limits on how much I could buy either. And very cheap, under $0.30 each if I remember correctly.
When I talked to the doctor who came to see Dan when he was under the weather in Popayan, he said that the only things that require a prescription in Colombia are antibiotics. I am glad that they require a prescription but it is amazing that you can buy anything else any time you want.
The farmacias tend to have a small selection of supplements, dental items, personal care items, etc. It will be interesting to see the differences in the future countries.
You don’t generally see items in bulk. They are usually sold by a blister pack sheet, even something as common as acetaminophen is sold by a sheet of about 10 or 12 tablets. Selection is much smaller and options different from the US. For example, if you want a cream to stop itching from mosquito bites, you can’t get a benadryl type cream. And what you can get in one country you may not be able to get in another.
I take a large dose of Vitamin D3 every day so I like to get 5,000 unit gel caps but you are lucky if you can find 2,000 units caps and if you do, they are expensive where as in the US they are pretty cheap.
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.
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.
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.
Of course we went to the canal to watch ships go through the locks. It is a very popular tourist destination and was moderately crowded with people taking pictures and watching. There is a museum which is excellent that explains the entire process from its inception to the controversial expansion that opened in 2016 for the bigger boats.
The canal is big money from the standpoint of the income going through it each day as well as the tourism and banking associated with it. The cost of going through the canal is typically $400,000 to $600,000 or more for the newer, larger ships. The money has to have been received and cleared the bank before the vessel is allowed to get in line to go through the locks. It takes 8-10 hours for the entire not quite 50 mile long trip. You might check out this website that has information which is probably fairly accurate even today.
Fun fact, the lowest tolls to date were paid by Richard Halliburton, who swam the Panama Canal in 1928. Halliburton paid only 36 cents.
Here are three animations that Google created from our pictures:
Men working on a ship as it goes through the canal
Ships going through the canal. The cruise ship in the background is using the new larger canal. Note the vehicles on tracks that guide the ship through the canal; up to 8 vehicles are used per ship
Dan guiding a ship though the canal. The museum was well done and had this simulation
The dirt that was removed to make the canal was used to fill and expand the shoreline. There is a long, safe, paved area along the shore for walking, riding, and even sports. Of course there are restaurants as well.
Panama City iis a modern, vibrant city and is relatively safe. We had no issues while we were there. We heard mixed things about the water so we were careful not to drink tap water (we have a device to treat tapwater which we used when possible, otherwise we got bottled water).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Caldera is a very small town only about 17 miles from Vista Grande, 35 minutes by car. It is one of the towns that we passed through on the way to Bocas del Toro.
First we stopped off to see some petroglyphs on large rocks. The rocks were thrown out of Volcan Baru at some time in the past. According to this website, the carving was done about 1000 years ago. The area is a national park although there isn’t any really easy access. You have to go through the lower part of a fence (barbed wire above you so crouch carefully) and then walk about 10-15 minutes through a field to get to the park.
There are many, many relatively small boulders from one of the eruptions of Baru and some are quite large. To make the carvings easier to see, they have been painted white.
After we looked at the petroglyphs, we drove a little farther and then parked. We walked 4 kilometers each way (about 5 miles round trip) to Paraiso Escondido La Abuela Hostel where we looked but did not go into a very nice hot spring pool. The hike was fairly flat and had a mixture of full sun and nice shade along the way.
It would have been a wonderful hike if we had started earlier (we started about 9:45 by the time we arrived after the petroglyphs and Caldera may be close to Boquete but the temperatures are worlds apart. Caldera is only about 814 feet high where as Vista Grande is about 3858′. Instead of temperatures in the 70’s, they were in the mid 80’s (plus fairly humid). So the town is aptly named since “caldera” translates to “boiler”.
We had brought enough water but didn’t carry all of it with us on the hike. Big mistake. I ran through my water and then Dan’s and finally Lesia’s. Dan went down to the river 3 times to fill the water bottles with river water to pour over my head. Finally Lesia walked ahead and brought the truck back so save me some walking although by then I was within 5-10 minutes of our parking spot…I could have made it but was glad not to have to.
If we go back again, we will about 7 in the morning and take 2 containers of water for each person with us. That way we will be finished by about 10:30 and have a lovely walk. The 5 miles isn’t the hard part of the hike at all.
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!
When we were in David on Thursday, there were already t-shirts for sale on the side of the road for the event!
Most of you won’t know me but a very few of you may recognize me. My name is Sassy Hunt and Lindie’s granddaughter, Beth, gave me to her in 2016 when she visited Colorado.
I’m excited because I have been going on the travels with Dan and Lindie. For the longest time, I lived on Lindie’s rolling bag but when they were in Bocas del Toro, they finally let me go to some of the places in town with them too.
When I do something exciting, I will add a new post. In the meantime, here are my pictures of my adventures in Bocas.
Today we went with a local group of mostly expats on a nice hike to a beautiful area with gardens and a trout farm. There are a lot of hikers around here but this is the first time that we have done this much of a hike or gone with a group other than the folks at Vista Grande where we are staying.
Much of the hike was uphill however it wasn’t difficult, especially because we still had a normal amount of oxygen. I didn’t have any trouble. I realized that my problem with having to rest a lot in Colorado is due to the thinner air (oxygen), not my hiking abilities. Not altogether a surprise since all of my siblings are on oxygen at essentially sea level. When I had a stress test my oxygen levels stayed within normal so I’m not worried, just frustrated that I will probably continue to have this issue when we get back to Colorado, some day.
In any case, I did fine. Lesia, the owner of Vista Grande felt like the hike was too short but then she does 7-8 mile hikes about once a week. This was 700 meters each way so about 1.5 miles round trip. Then we walked more to get back to where the truck was so a good 2 miles or more today. Certainly not a long hike for Dan and me either. I was able to be towards the front/middle of the pack. Towards the front going uphill but a bit slower coming down since I had to be more careful not to slip going down.
The furthest that we went to was a very lovely area of lots of flowers and a small pond with lots of trout. Here are some pictures from there.