Monday, January 1, 2024

Panama - November 2023 - My 84th Country / Territory on my quest to visit them all.

All Pictures are at the bottom of this post!

A big thank you to all of you who have helped with our efforts to collect items for our upcoming school visit. 

A reminder: when we ask for your donations, we are looking for things that you, your family, or friends already have but are not using, and which might be collecting dust. Please, please do not go out and buy items for us to take. There are plenty of local charities in your area, no matter where you live, that could use those dollars.

For this trip, I believe the school will be very pleased with the donations we are bringing. Here is what we are taking with us.

Suitcase #1
86 note books
8 soccer balls
1 soccer ball pump
2 boxes of 144 lead pencils
Suitcase #2
4 boxes of colored construction paper
6 boxes of 60 pens
20 boxes of 24 color pencils
1 box of 144 lead pencils
10 large bottles of glue
40 small bottles of glue
5 boxes of 12 glue sticks.
Misc soccer socks, shorts, shirts, pants

Suitcase #3
30 sets of washable paints with brush
5 sets of acrylic paints
1 set of basic acrylic paints
1 set of 12 artist brushes
7 Spanish English Dictionaries
12 solar lights
8 soccer balls
31 soccer jerseys
1 Soccer Ball pump
Suitcase #4
23 pair of soccer cleats
11 pair of shin guards
1 pair of goalie gloves
27 soccer jerseys
2 pair of shorts
8 practice soccer jerseys
2 MacBooks
1 iPad
Joining us on the trip is Double A, or 'DA' for short, pronounced as 'Dah.' 'Why is DA joining us?' she asked. 'We always like folks to join us; we only have a few rules:

You have to do what we want.
You cannot complain, no matter what.
You cannot get hurt or die on our watch.'
As you can see from these pictures of DA, she is always up for an adventure.
Now, a quick disclaimer on why this trip might get cut short. Yes, we have a Plan B if things escalate.

Whenever I travel to a foreign country, I sign up for STEP. STEP is a service that the U.S. State Department offers to travelers. Once you sign up, the State Department will email you if there are safety issues in the country you are going to and where in that country the issues are.

It is not unusual to receive these emails when traveling, as most countries have some issues within their boundaries.

To put this in perspective, if you signed up for this service in the U.S., you would receive an email almost daily about a mass shooting. This does not mean you will be involved in a mass shooting. The purpose of this service is to keep you informed of issues as you travel.

Now, with this background on STEP, I received the following email about Panama from the U.S. Embassy in Panama.
Demonstration Alert (November 1 Update) U.S. Embassy Panama City, Panama Event(s):

Heading into the long holiday weekend, protest organizers maintain their call for demonstrations and roadblocks. This includes locations popular with U.S. citizens on tourism or living in Panama.

Due to unforeseen disruptions, the prevalence of unauthorized “tolls” on intercity roadways, and reports of food and fuel shortages in some provinces of Panama, U.S. Embassy personnel have been advised to reconsider intercity travel.

U.S. Embassy employees living in affected areas of Panama City have been advised to avoid demonstrations, limit movements, and stay indoors as conditions warrant. The U.S. Embassy continues to restrict mission personnel from traveling to Colón due to protest activity. Previous travel restrictions to parts of the Darien and Mosquito Gulf still apply.

The U.S. Embassy continues to receive reports of vandalism, looting, demands for “tolls” at roadblocks, as well as some criminal elements infiltrating peaceful protests to commit robberies. This includes accounts where individuals were taken from their cars and assaulted when unable to pay such “tolls”.

U.S. citizens are reminded that Panamanian National Police have used tear gas and other riot control measures to disperse demonstrations, including when demonstrators have blocked roadways or clashed with the police.

The U.S. Embassy will send out further updates when there is a change to the current situation.

Actions to Take:
Avoid demonstrations.
Exercise caution when traveling.
Monitor local media for updates.
Exercise caution if unexpectedly in the vicinity of large gatherings or protests.
Contact local authorities (dial 911) for any immediate health or safety concerns.
Register for STEP (link below) and refer to our website for the latest alerts and messages for U.S. citizens.

U.S. Embassy Panama City, Panama

Demonstrators protest against the government contract with Canadian mining company First Quantum -and its subsidiary Minera Panama- in Panama City, Panama on October 26, 2023.

It is not unusual to have protests like this in Central and South American countries. We have witnessed these many times. Ninety-nine percent of the time, they are peaceful and simply cause traffic jams and affect commerce. The best strategy for visitors is to simply avoid the areas of the demonstrations.
The reason for these demonstrations in Panama is that the government recently signed a long-term contract with a Canadian mining company to operate a copper mine in Panama. The citizens of Panama are not happy with this contract, mostly due to environmental issues.

Because Panama has a single highway running the length of the country, it is fairly easy for protestors to shut down the entire country.

We have a few things going for us. When we arrive, the protests will have been going on for two weeks. Most protests fizzle out at about two weeks. The government has agreed to reconsider the contract with the mining company. Our plans are flexible, and we have hired a guide who is retired from the Kampfschwimmer.

We are in good hands.

More to come once we are on the ground.

We made it to Panama without issue until we reached customs. After our experience in Tanzania, where we had to bribe the customs agent to get our donations in, I contacted Panama's customs prior to departing. They assured me that as long as we kept our donations under $500 per person, or $1,500 in total, we would be fine.

They forgot to mention the requirement for a letter from the school requesting the donations. While I searched for the non-existent letter, Margarite wrote one.

After about 30 minutes of back-and-forth, we were finally on our way. Peter, our guide and bodyguard, was waiting and drove us to our hotel. We will be staying at the Central Hotel Panama for the next two nights.
We have nothing planned for this afternoon, or at least that's what I thought.

Little did I know... DA tiene un novio aquí. Su nombre es Jonathon.

DA and Jonathon arranged for us to cycle around Casco Viejo (Old Town). It was perfect; we visited many of the sights and learned a bit about the history of Panama, along with some fun facts like:
Panama is the wealthiest country in Central America.

The tallest building in Central America was managed by the Trump Organization; it is now a Marriott property.
The Panama Canal normally generates $12,000,000 a day in revenue. Due to drought and reduced boat traffic, that number has decreased somewhat.

Originally, the canal was proposed to be built through Nicaragua. That idea was scrapped for obvious reasons. Just say it, 'Nicaragua Canal' or 'Panama Canal.' The answer is easy: Panama is in, Nicaragua is out.

Panama has the only Coca-Cola Cafe in the world. It was opened when the Americans were building the Panama Canal, and it still operates today.
While our bike tour focused mostly on Casco Viejo, the skyscrapers were always in the background. This is the newer area of Panama, known as the Miami or Dubai of Central America. Many of the properties are owned by overseas investors (criminals), often with ill-gotten gains they're trying to hide.
Jonathan even took us to a protest. It was more like a carnival than a protest, complete with street food vendors. DA and I shared a hotdog (perro caliente).
Today is Flag Day in Panama. Most people had flags displayed on their cars or were walking around with flags. It's clear that the people of Panama have a lot of pride in their country.
Panama has two Independence Days. One when they gained independence from Spain, which is when they became part of Colombia. Later, they gained independence from Colombia and became an independent country.
We got back to the hotel around six o’clock. We met up with Peter and walked to La Fisheria Seafood for an awesome fish dinner.
Tomorrow, we explore the Panama Canal. It just sounds right. Nicaragua Canal, no way.
We boarded our boat at 9:30 AM, and our mission today is to experience the Panama Canal. We're actually starting in the middle of the canal, which is a lake. This lake was created by damming a river that used to flow from the mountains to the Atlantic Ocean.
However, there was still an issue connecting the Pacific Ocean to this lake, as the lake sits at a much higher elevation than the Pacific Ocean.
The original plan was to dredge a canal from the Pacific to the lake, but this distance was too far.
Instead, they built a lock system that would raise or lower the ship, depending on the direction of travel. In our case, we were going from the middle of the canal to the Pacific Ocean, so we needed to descend from the lake's height to sea level.
This would be accomplished by going through a series of three locks.
Two observations:
1) The Canal was much smaller than I expected.
2) When you think about how long ago the Canal was built, it's amazing it was done at all.
As we traveled through the locks, we had to keep waiting for our partnership. To save water, they require the lock to be as full as possible with ships before they will lower the water so you can move on to the next lock.
For a complete crossing of the Canal, you can expect to spend 24 hours. In our case, the trip took about 7 hours.

What a great experience! We learned a lot, but rather than typing it all here, if you're curious, simply ask Google. Here is a short video of what we saw.

Panama Canal Video: 

Tomorrow, we leave at 5:30 AM for the San Blas Islands. We're leaving early because Peter is unsure if protests will be happening, and the roads and bridges might be blocked.

The goal is to wake up before the protestors. Please don't worry; we are perfectly safe. In fact, there have been some benefits. Like the boat today, it normally carries 300 people, but because of concerns about the protests, only 70 showed up.

We woke at 5:00 AM and hit the road at 5:30 AM. Plan A was to make the drive to the pier and catch the boat to one of the islands in the San Blas chain of 300-plus islands.
Plan A.1: If the bridge was blocked by the protesters, one of Peter’s associates would meet us on the far side of the bridge. Peter would walk us across the bridge, and his associate would get us to the pier on time. By leaving early, we got to the bridge before the protesters, and Plan A worked fine.
The drive took about two and a half hours before we reached the land of the indigenous people. It was a little disconcerting that their flag had a swastika on it. Peter assured us that this flag had been around far before Hitler showed up.
To get to the San Blas Islands, you need to cross the mountain range, enjoying beautiful views of the sea. We boarded our boat, dropped the donations off at the community that will be receiving them. Today is a national holiday, so schools are closed. Tomorrow, we will go back and distribute the donations.
These islands are barely above sea level. As you can see, the houses and buildings are constructed right up to the water's edge.
We arrived at the island where we will be spending the night.
This link will show you on the map where we stayed. Cabanas Niadub
After a delicious seafood lunch, we took a boat out to a sandbar and then to another island for snorkeling before heading back to our island.
We also captured a video of the snorkeling.
We are now relaxing as we enjoy the view of the water, and shortly, we should witness a beautiful sunset.
After a nice breakfast, we were picked up by Mel Denise and her family. Mel Denise is the community leader who oversees the soccer organization on the Island of Carti Tupile. We took their family boat back to their home, where we had left the donations.
Our first stop was to retrieve the suitcases full of donations. We divided the donations between the school and the soccer program.
We then took the boat to the school, which is on a small island across from Mel Denise's island. These communities are remarkable, complete settlements built on these tiny sand atolls, some of which are less than a foot above sea level.
We stopped at the school, visited some of the classrooms, and distributed the donations. The dance club welcomed us with a dance performance, and we got to participate, albeit not very well, I must add.
Dance video:
If you click on this link, you will see exactly where the school is located. Carti Tupile School.
After visiting the school, we walked over to the soccer field. With land being so precious, the field is only about one-tenth the size of a regulation field. This puts these children at a disadvantage since they usually compete on a regulation-sized field.
Our gifts couldn't have been more appreciated. Mel Denise had tears of joy when she saw what we brought. This team could never afford this equipment in a million years. The team expressed their gratitude, promising to win their next game just for us.
We quickly headed back to the mainland. Peter received word that the road back to Panama City would be blocked by protesters soon.
We hopped on the boat, and we were back ashore in no time.

We made it back to Panama City without any incidents, hopefully, our luck continues.

We had lunch at Gaucho’s Steak house ( a mainstay in Panama City that has been around as long as anybody can remember. After lunch, Peter dropped us back at the Central Panama Hotel.
Tomorrow, we are meeting Jonathon, el novio de DA. We're not sure what it's for, but Jonathon and DA mentioned they have a surprise for us.

Before hitting the hay, we ventured out for ice cream and chocolate. I have to tell you, I was not impressed with the first ice cream shop, so we tried a second.
The chocolate, on the other hand, was art.
This morning, Jonathon and DA were giddy about what they had in store for us.
There are seven Catholic Churches in Casco Viejo, but only five are currently open.
After touring each one, we arrived at the last, San Francisco.
DA and Jonathon let us know this is where they planned to marry. No date has been set yet.
After the church tour, Peter picked us up and took us to the original Panama. I hadn't known that Panama City was originally built about ten kilometers east of the current location. Back before we were all born, Captain Morgan, the pirate, heard that the churches in Panama City had lots of gold.
One evening, Captain Morgan and his Motley Crew attacked Panama City to steal the gold, only to find out it was all painted gold. Captain Morgan, upset, decided to burn the city to the ground as revenge. The only remaining structure is one of the Church Towers.
After the tour of the ruins, we said goodbye to Jonathon and headed west to Valle de Antón, an area within a volcano. More on that later. Our two-and-a-half-hour drive took seven and a half hours, plus an associate of Peter’s.
We encountered the first protest about 45 minutes into our travels, sitting for 20-30 minutes before moving again. After a half-mile, we stopped for another 30 minutes, realizing it was a protest. We reached a blockade, drove through, and 30 minutes later hit another blockade, sitting for an hour.
We drive a bit more before being stopped again. After two hours at five o’clock, they opened the road back up. We traveled about 40 minutes, and the traffic stopped again. I walked a quarter mile and saw two massive dump trucks blocking the road.
I asked, “¿El camino está abierto esta noche?” The answer “Por la mañana” This was an issue; while sleeping in the van was okay, it was not optimal. Peter had a plan—he had an associate on the other side of the blockade. We walked around the dumpsters and met up with Eduardo. We're pretty sure Eduardo is ex-military.
The hour drive to our lodge was uneventful compared to the first part. We did feel bad leaving Peter, but he insisted that we leave. We are staying at Los Mandarinos Boutique Hotel & Spa.
A little aside while the protesters besides closing the roads are very nice people four have been killed. Two were run over by a frustrated driver and two shot to death by another frustrated driver. Of course, the guy with the gun was a U.S. citizen. Read about by clicking here. I think there would be more protesters shot by frustrated drivers, but it is very hard to possess a gun in Panama.

We hadn't heard from Peter, but the front desk informed us that he had arranged for Carlos to join our day.
Despite not knowing who Carlos was, he introduced himself after breakfast, displaying clear ex-military traits—perhaps remnants from the U.S. military era controlling the Panama Canal.
Carlos announced a zip-lining adventure in El Valle, a town nestled in a volcano-formed valley. We hiked to the rim, experiencing four zip lines to return to the starting point.
Zip Line Video:
Later, we visited a butterfly sanctuary, witnessing Panama's native butterflies.
Next on Carlos's agenda was the Golden Frog sanctuary, dedicated to rehabilitating the nearly extinct Golden Frog and other endangered species. Despite challenges in photographing them due to glass glare, the experience was insightful.
We finally found Peter after lunch, as the protesters had opened the road around 2 AM.
A casual ice cream break followed, not particularly noteworthy, but here I am writing about it.

Now, a bit of rest and relaxation precedes our evening activity.

During lunch, we devised Plans A, B, C, and D, contingent on the protesters' decisions.

Carlos picked us up at eight o'clock, and we headed into the forest. We saw a lot of night creatures.
That's it for now. Tomorrow, Friday is a bonus day in El Valle. P.S. On the hike, we learned that Carlos is a retired Navy SEAL.
Today, Friday, is a bonus day in El Valle. Plan A was to leave for Santa Catalina today, but we decided to hold off a day because we heard that protesters plan to take Saturday off.

Normally, the drive from El Valle to Santa Catalina is five hours. However, with the protests, there are rumors that the drive could take as long as eighteen hours.
Our first stop on the bonus day was the rim of the volcano. From this vantage point, we could see the entire inside of the crater.
Next was a hike to the Hidden Waterfall, a place so concealed that even Peter has never found it on previous trips. We hiked and hiked until disaster struck—DA's hiking boots fell apart.
Luckily, a bush transport truck passed by, and we hitched a ride. It was fortunate that DA didn't have to walk barefoot, and the driver knew the way to the Hidden Waterfall. The adventure was well worth it, as we spent several hours swimming and jumping from the top of the falls.
Waterfall video -
The bush transport driver returned to pick us up and take us back to the van. Our next stop was the Sepentario, a rescue for snakes and reptiles.
Although it was only late afternoon, we decided to call it a day. Peter is picking us up at four o'clock in the morning. Why so early? Just in case the protesters decide to work on Saturday, we hope they sleep in a bit.

Hopefully, tomorrow we will be in Santa Catalina.

Four o'clock arrived quickly, and we set off in the darkness with Peter expertly navigating the winding downhill road. After an hour, we reached the Pan American Highway, turning right towards Santiago, our goal to get there before 7 AM due to anticipated protests blocking the roads.

At 6:50, we reached Santiago, narrowly avoiding barricades that went up behind us just moments later. Just when we thought we were clear, BOOM a barricade went up blocking our left turn south to Santa Catalina. Despite the inconvenience, the protesters were surprisingly friendly when we spoke with them. They explained the road closure was until noon. They provided us with a back way for us to bypass the barricades, cautioning us about our Hyundai minivan's suitability for the muddy trails.
They offered two options. Option 1, a bit longer, but less muddy. Option 2, a bit shorter, but not as certain we would make it.
Undeterred, Peter took on the challenge of option 2, encountering mud up to the axels initially but managing to break free after some effort.
As we approached a river crossing, a local on horseback warned us about the tougher section ahead. Opting for the longer but less challenging route (option 1), we reversed course. We faced some setbacks, including losing the rear bumper for the second time.
With resourcefulness and a stop at a hardware store for duct tape, we secured the bumper and reached Santa Catalina at eleven o'clock, an hour and a half later than our original goal.

Blame Margarite and DA for the lack of pictures; while Peter and I navigated the challenges, they enjoyed snacks in the van. The only pictures are these of the after party. The day ended with relaxation at the Villa Coco pool, Villa Coco is the lodge we are staying at. Tomorrow promises more adventure, but no protests.

Click here for our current location.

After a fantastic seafood dinner at our lodge, we hit the sack, gearing up for a big day ahead.
Following a hearty breakfast, Peter led us down to the water.
There, we met Antonio, our guide for the day.
Embarking on an hour-long boat ride into the Pacific Ocean, we finally reached Coiba Island, the proud home of Coiba National Park. Its Special Marine Protection Zone earned the prestigious title of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005. Coiba National Park earned its UNESCO World Heritage Site status thanks to its rich biodiversity and crucial role in the tropical ecosystem of the Eastern Pacific. The Coiba Archipelago is a key player in a vast marine corridor, connecting Malpelo Island, Gorgona Island, Cocos Island, and the Galapagos Archipelago. Essential for the survival of pelagic animals like leatherback turtles, whale sharks, manta rays, dolphins, marlin, sailfish, and tuna, islands such as Coiba play a vital role in their ecosystems.
The true treasure of Coiba lies in its marine biodiversity, boasting 69 fish species, 13 crustacean species (crabs and lobsters), 45 snail species, and 12 echinoderm species (sea urchins and sea cucumbers). Snorkeling offers a fantastic peek into the incredible richness of Coiba's waters. The reef surrounding the little gem, Granito de Oro, is easily reachable and hosts a diverse range of species, including turtles and small (totally harmless!) whitetip sharks.
Coiba's seas are the stomping grounds for humpback whales, killer whales, pan-tropical dolphins, and porpoises. In fact, there are records of 19 other whale species occasionally dropping by the waters of Coiba.
If you fancy witnessing our adventure, check out this three-minute video!

Snorkeling video:
Another awesome dinner – that lobster you spotted in the video? Well, that ended up being my dinner tonight.
Plan A was a bust – heading west to Boquete is a no-go. The Pan American Highway is like a fortress with 24/7 blockades west of Santiago, complete with massive cement barriers.

So, now we're rocking Plan E – forget Boquete. We're flipping the script, turning back to Panama City, and catching a flight to Bocas del Toro. Flexibility is the name of the game! Word on the street is the protesters heading toward Panama City are getting a bit bored, and the blockades are becoming less frequent. Despite knowing that, we're sticking to our game plan and hitting the road at four AM.
Our six-hour drive to Panama City? Well, it turned into a cool five and a half hours – our 4 AM departure strategy paid off. Ran into a protest, but Peter's off-road wizardry got us through. The car got a new paint job, but hey, we didn't get stuck, and the bumper stayed put.

Got to Panama City early and snagged the 10 AM flight instead of waiting around until 1 PM. Crushing it! We've hit DA's last stop before heading home – the next five nights are all about soaking up the vibes at Eclypse del Mar on Isla Bastimento, Bocas del Toro.
Get ready for some seriously cool adventures – stay tuned!

Click here for our current location.

Once we landed, we enjoyed some live music while waiting for our bags. Then, we hopped into a taxi and sailed to our lodge by boat. After settling in at the Eclypse del Mar, we savored a delightful lunch at the hotel restaurant.

With the afternoon ahead, we seized a kayak and paddled over to the "town" of Bastimento – though calling it a town might be a stretch; it's more like a sidewalk flanked by some interesting buildings, or what some might call shacks.
Despite its simplicity, Bastimento bustled with life – residents relishing the warm, humid weather, kids engrossed in stickball, soccer, and basketball.
As the sun began its descent, we paddled back to the Eclypse del Mar.
Dinner was another culinary delight; I'm pretty sure you can't find seafood fresher than this. While Panama wasn't our primary destination for food, if you're a foodie, it's a paradise.
To cap off the day, I indulged in a dessert masterpiece – a chocolate-covered cookie paired with creamy ice cream.
Video - Tour of Bastimentos:

Today, we scored an all-day snorkeling adventure with the legendary Alejandro.
Fun fact: he's not just a tour guide; he's also got a Madonna connection! Yep, they were once an item, and she even sang about their romance. Talk about a claim to fame!
Exploring the Bocas del Toro area, known for its fantastic snorkeling and scuba diving, we encountered breathtaking coral and a vibrant array of sea life.
The day was a marathon, but it left us with that satisfying, post-adventure glow.
Post-snorkeling, Alejandro led us to a local beach for a short hike and some refreshing cocktails.
Curious to see the highlights? Check out a quick video snippet capturing the essence of our day.
Video - Day 1 Snorkeling in Bastimentos:
The primary reason DA pushed for this trip is to indulge in some scuba diving, and scuba dive, we definitely shall.
I got my diving certification back in 1990; fingers crossed that diving is indeed like riding a bike.
We enlisted the expertise of a dynamic duo: our private dive master, Manuel, and his sister, Lanny. Manuel is practically a local legend; there are dive sites around here named after him!
We embarked on two dives, both featuring captivating wrecks and a plethora of underwater sea life.

If you've got seven minutes to spare, check out this video – I guarantee you'll find it enjoyable.
Scuba video:

This evening, we received an alert from the United States Department of State.

In a nutshell: Panamanian protesters are gearing up to bring the entire country to a halt for 24 hours, starting at 7:00 AM on November 16th and wrapping up at 7:00 AM on November 17th, with a second event planned for November 20th. Fortunately, we don't have any travel plans on those days.

Tonight, Nikola is leading us on a night hike.
The hike turned out to be a success – we encountered a variety of critters, insects, flowers, and even spotted a couple of sloths, both two-toed and three-toed.
Unfortunately, they were too high in the trees for any decent photos.
Today, our plan is to explore the town of Bocas. Later in the evening, DA has a two-tank night dive. Though DA kindly invited me, I declined. I thoroughly enjoyed our dive yesterday, but I'm not quite ready for diving in the dark. With Manuel and Lanny in charge, I'm confident DA is in great hands. That's the update for now.
We took a boat to Bocas, the main island in the area.
What luck – the first place we found was an ice cream shop. It was ten o'clock, a prime time for ice cream, as we all know. Our luck continued when we discovered it was Bocas Day.
Although we never figured out what Bocas Day is, we did get to enjoy the Bocas Day Parade.
Video Bocas Day Parade:
We were told if it wasn’t for the protests the parade would have gone from ten AM until one AM, but with the protests most school’s marching bands could not make it.
After the parade, we rented bikes and rode along the beach to Skully's, a hostel, bar, and restaurant. The bike ride built up DA’s appetite; when she ordered giant chili dogs, I thought they would be shared.
Before the food arrived, the ladies took a dip in the ocean to cool off – just another hot, humid day in Panama.
I was shocked when DA devoured the two giant chili dogs; I'm not sure if she ate them or inhaled them. I had the Gringo burger, and Margarite had the sausages – all the food was excellent.
The sky got a bit grey, and we could hear thunder in the distance. We decided to ride back to town and grab a boat to Bastimento.
We wanted to visit Wizard Beach on the far side or seaside of the island. The water was too rough to land a boat there, but the hike to Wizard Beach was only one kilometer at this point on the island.
As we reached the beach, the sky started spitting on us. Nothing deterred DA from taking a dip. The lightning was off in the distance, far enough that DA wasn't concerned, but close enough that Margarite was. I had no opinion.
Margarite won out, and we took the trail back to Mami’s, a well-known local restaurant. I had an excellent fish dinner, Margarite had delicious ceviche, and DA wasn't hungry.

As we were about to depart, the skies opened up, and the rains came down. Mami was very happy; she told us the island was in a drought and really needed the rain. We texted Manuel about the night dive in this weather. His response, “We can dive in the rain as we get wet anyway, but not in the lightning.” It was five o'clock, and we decided to check back at six.

Video - Night dive NO!:

The rain let up, so we headed to the boat dock – a big mistake. The skies quickly opened back up, and the rain fell even harder. We were quickly soaked through to our skivvies. After about 50 minutes of waiting, a boat finally showed up. The rain never let up, and the lightning and thunder were directly overhead.

DA’s statement of the day, “I am not sure being in a boat in a lightning storm is smart or safe.” We arrived back at the lodge in one piece, and the boat captain got a rather large tip. Once dry, we reminisced about our fun-filled, very wet day over a well-deserved glass of wine.
We woke up to find the neighbors' boat had sunk in last night's storm. It was interesting watching them raise the ship.
Video - After the Storm:

P.S. We did have to cancel the night dive.

Today is our last full day in Bocas del Toro.
To make up for missing last night’s dive, Manuel and Lanny picked us up at nine o’clock. We did two dives. Both a bit deeper than Wednesday’s dives.
Video - Dive 3 & 4 Bocas:

If you're ever in Bocas and plan to dive, here is the person to contact.
Another great meal. I think I have had more lobster this trip than in my entire life.
Today, we fly back to Panama City.

Stay tuned.

Before I dive into the recent happenings, here is a travel tidbit:

1) Hopefully, these updates reveal that as long as you're as flexible as a yoga instructor with your travel plans and have the right support crew, you can always turn lemons into lemonade.

Easy trip back to Panama City: Peter met us at the airport, and we're staying at the Central Hotel Panama Casco Viejo for the third time. The drive from the city airport to the hotel was longer due to new protests, but Peter navigated it well.

Welcomed at the hotel like family, even the bellman knew us by name.

For lunch, Peter recommended Nacion Sushi, where the rolls were larger than at home, and we managed to devour our order.
We visited the Canal Museum, but it was more of a Panama History Museum than Canal-focused, a bit disjointed and hard to follow.

Today marks DA’s last day in Panama, a bittersweet moment.

Before dropping DA at the airport, Peter took us to Cerro Ancon for a breathtaking view of Panama City, with skyscrapers in one direction and the Pacific Ocean and Panama Canal in the other. The hike up and down the mountain totaled three miles.
After bidding farewell to DA, Peter drove us east of the airport towards the cloud forest. We're staying at La Semilla Eco Lodge for the next three nights.

Check our current location by clicking here.

After saying our goodbyes to Peter, we relaxed in the peaceful setting of the Eco-Lodge.

Today is dedicated to birding; Nando and his son Ismail picked us up at 7 AM.
We drove 30 minutes to a national forest, spending hours spotting both native and migratory birds.
Lunch was enjoyed by a beautiful waterfall, followed by a scenic river hike and more birding.
The rest of the day is for rest and relaxation.
Today, after breakfast, we set out from the lodge for a two-mile hike to Hacia Rio. The adventure kicked off with a steep downhill, progressively getting steeper. The ground, still slick from yesterday's rain, turned the hike into an unintentional dance routine.
Navigating a small creek crossing, Margarite showcased her ninja-like skills.
Upon reaching the river, we basked in the view for a quick minute before facing the daunting task of ascending the same steep hill we just conquered.
Going up proved harder but less nerve-wracking.

Ascending, you can lean into the hillside, maintaining balance and avoiding slips. Descending, each step becomes a calculated move, ensuring your footing is as solid as your determination. The hike, a mix of enjoyment and exertion, took its toll.

Since it's our last day in Panama and the rain decided to make a grand comeback, we opted to relish the mountain air, watching birds put on a rain-soaked dance performance. Nature's finale for our Panama adventure!

As you peruse these words, we're soaring high from Panama – bidding adieu to our last international caper of 2023. Buckle up; 2024 is revving its engines for a whirlwind of globetrotting escapades. Stay tuned!


All Photos from Panama:

No comments: