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Trip Report Eight days in Panama; City, Beach, and Jungle

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My husband and I spent 8 days in Panama in July 2010. There isn't a lot here on the forum about Panama (at least not compared to Costa Rica) so I'm hoping my trip report can help others looking for details to help them plan.

Who: We're a couple in our early 40's who tries to take at least one international trip a year, sometimes two. We usually travel to South East Asia or Europe, but we've also been to Honduras and Costa Rica in Central America.

Where: Panama City, Isla Contadora, and Soberania Park in the Canal Zone. We wanted a mix of as much as possible in the short time we had. As it was, due to bad weather, we had to cancel a day of our trip and lost our 2nd day in the jungle.

Why: We'd never been to Panama, and when I was looking for an affordable plane ticket to go anywhere this summer and found a $475 non-stop on Copa from LAX to Panama City, I thought, "why not?" I'll admit I was also hoping it would be more of a budget destination than it turned out to be. We found prices to be right in line with the US for most things.
I usually get one of two reactions when I tell people where we’re going next. The first is, “Wow, I’ve always wanted to go there!” or “I love (insert place name)!”
The second reaction is not so…enthusiastic; “You’re going where? What’s there?
Our choice of Panama received mostly reaction #2, very similar to when we told people we were going to Honduras, or Cambodia, or even Vietnam.
Funny, I never get that reaction when I tell people we’re going to Italy. ;-)

I have a blog, http://www.wired2theworld.com and I will be posting my trip report there, as well as here, along with photos, videos and other stuff. I'll put links here here as they go up.

Planning: I only had about a month to plan the trip, which was a little nerve-wracking for me as I am someone who usually plans very far in advance and gets very OCD about the details.
I've put the links to all the sites I used for my research on my blog here:
http://www.wired2theworld.com/2010/07/23/panama-resources-and-links/

And now, to get on with it...

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    July 10, 2010

    Copa flight #473 LAX to Panama City


    I should have known when the two tickets purchased at the same time were charged to our credit card individually, one month apart.
    I should have known when I got an error message trying to check in online.
    Maybe when I called the airline for help and "pressed 3 for web help" and it disconnected me I should have known to expect the unexpected from Copa. But no, I assumed that when it said, go straight to the gate if you check in online that was what we should do.

    We arrived at LAX to the usual chaos that greets any international departure and debated what to do. I said to my husband David, "the website said we could go to the gate." But, given the issues above, we were uncertain if that was the right thing to do. Plus, we couldn't find the gate listed anywhere, nor any roaming Copa agents to ask. Finally, there was a gap at the web check-in counter and there, we discovered that contrary to the web site's instructions, we did need to check in with them even if we had no luggage to check. This makes sense of course, because they have to see our passports, but what would have happened if we had not?

    One of the good things about Copa was that I was able to select our seats in advance and choose row 14, the exit row. Many airlines will not let you choose exit row seats in advance. This afforded us much more breathing room, about an extra 6" of leg room. The flight was late departing, mostly because they had to bus every passenger out to the plane, one busload at a time, to a remote part of the airport I've never even seen. It's as if they could not afford to have docking rights at the terminals.

    The flight was easy, only about 6 hours, and the food, surprisingly edible. We were given breakfast burritos with eggs and sausage and a muffin. For lunch it was "chicken or beef" but the vegetables were good and not overcooked. Drinks, including alcohol, were free. There are no personal TV's, only overhead screens which ran a movie I did not watch. I was entranced by my newest love, the Kindle e-reader, and happily read Anthony Bourdain's latest, Medium Raw, most of the way there.
    The bathrooms on the plane were another story; the toilet paper was sitting in a roll on the sink and there was no water coming out the faucets. The flight attendants "thoughtfully" left bottles of water on the sinks for the passengers to use to wash their hands. We arrived close to on time, found no one in line at immigration and sailed through customs because we did not have to wait for bags at baggage claim.

    A taxi ride to or from the international airport seems to be a set rate of about $28, no matter where you are going in Panama City. We picked up a taxi outside (I saw no official taxi stand or pre-paid taxi desk) and were at the Toscana Inn Hotel in about 30 minutes.

    Toscana Inn Hotel

    Arriving into a new city at night is always strange. It just feels different than it does in daylight. Somehow not as safe, there's always a touch of the unknown, a little menace. I always look forward to the next morning when things are clearer, cleaner.

    We checked out the room which turned out to be a decent size with a comfortable king sized bed, flat screen TV with many channels (most in Spanish of course, but a few in English-I love CNN international, it equals "travel" to me), big windows overlooking the street, and a desk and sitting area. The bathroom is quite small with a walk-in shower. Bring your own toiletries/amenities. Wifi is free with a code given by the front desk.

    We looked at a map and set out to find a grocery store near by to pick up some water, snacks, and a comb for me which I'd forgotten. On nearby Calle Espana we found a 24 hour giant El Rey supermarket which was shockingly similar to markets here at home down to the imported US products and prices.

    Dinner at El Trapiche

    After dropping our purchases back at the hotel, we sought out a Panamanian restaurant I'd read about called El Trapiche which was about 4 blocks away. We found it without difficulty and it had what appeared to be mostly locals dining inside with a few tourists on the patio.We opted to eat inside because of the AC (it was still very humid and warm out).

    I ordered the Corvina al Ajillo which would become my favorite go-to dish of the trip and David got the house specialty smoked pork chops. Everything was simply prepared but satisfying; I loved my fish, the rice was perfectly cooked and the little piece of fried plantain tasted of cinnamon. We tried two of the local beers, Atlas and Balboa (both good!) and dinner came to $25 for the food and 3 beers. (Via Argentina #10 at Avinida 2a B Norte, Tel: 269-4353). We finished our evening with ice cream from an Italian style gelateria called Antica on the corner of Via Espana and Avinida 2A Norte.

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    K, I always take pictures of the food too; my husband will say, "Can I eat this, or do we have to take pictures first?" Totally agree with you about arriving at night. Looking forward to more!

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    Volcanogirl, I always take photos of the food because it's usually my focus when I travel. I work in the restaurant industry and also have a food blog, so it's usually what I write about too. I have to say, in general, I found the food in Panama to be a disappointment, but I think this is just one of those destinations that's more about the natural beauty of the place rather than the food.

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    I'm reading and interested, too! I'm also going to steal a look at your report on Honduras on your blog, as we're headed there in March. After researching Panama, I thought it may be a destination we should visit when we have more days for travel than we'll have in March, since there are so many options. You only had 8 days; did you feel rushed, or like you missed out on anything? How did it compare to Costa Rica and Honduras?

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    I'm reading along as well, Kristina. We spent about 3 months in Panama in two trips and really enjoyed it all (the capital, Darien, Boquete, Cerro Punta, El Valle, Playa Barqueta, etc.)
    I agree with you about the food though. I feel that way about food in Central America in general. Nothing wrong with the local cuisine, just not that inspiring/interesting. (not like the food in Mexico, for example). But great countries for exploring nature, beaches, and some culture. Nice people too.

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    Hi Kristina!

    I thought I might find your trip report here...great start! I have to admit, Panama has not been on my travel "radar", in fact, this is the first time I've ever ventured onto the Mexico/Central America board! :-)

    Looking forward to the rest of the report!

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    I am so glad to see that people are beginning to explore Panama, it seems like you did a fabulous job trying to cover all that Panama has to offer, I look forward to hearing more. We've been here for about 2 years developing an eco resort on an island called Isla Palenque on Panamas Pacific side. It is always exciting to see people testing Panamas waters and falling in love with what they find, as we have.

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    I am thrilled to be reading your report this week as I leave on the 2am Copa LAX-PTY plane. Funny, I also booked us in row 14 and the plane seems to be sold out. Can't wait to hear the rest.

    I've read your blog about other trips you've taken and always enjoyed them.

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    Really happy to see an article like this, and the curious traveler made it down to Panama. When we purchased a vacation rental property in Panama a few years ago, we got a lot reaction #2 as well. But finally, people are beginning to take a look at this country. It offers a ton.

    Nice blog too, btw.

    Sherri
    http://www.bellavistaluxuryrentals.com/panama

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    It's nice to know people are interested! Thanks! Forgive me for taking so long to return. I wrote a bunch yesterday and then it disappeared. That's so irritating!

    Janenicole-There's a lot to see there, like any country and 8 days certainly isn't enough. I would have liked to see other parts for sure. How does it compare to Costa Rica and Honduras? That's tough, each place is unique and has its pros and cons. Honduras was the least expensive place, but that was 10 years ago, so I'm not sure how it is now.

    July 11, 2010

    Panama City, Panama


    We woke to cloudy skies and a desire to get out for the day, but first, breakfast.
    The Toscana Inn hotel includes breakfast with the rate in a room off the lobby and unfortunately this is probably the hotel's weakest point. It's not for lack of choice either, it's just that none of it was particularly appetizing. The hot choices included an odd re-fried bean/meat/green olive concoction, limp bacon, scary pale things which looked like fingers but were probably sausages and overcooked hard boiled eggs. There was cold cereal and milk, fruit, and toast. Coffee and tea or $3 extra for a badly made cappuccino.

    Our loose plan for the day was to check out the Miraflores Locks and then find some place to watch the World Cup Final game, possibly in a bar either near the hotel or in Casco Viejo.

    First, some notes about Panama City:
    Panama City is a huge, sprawling, modern city filled with skyscrapers and varying states of construction. I didn't realize this until I saw pictures when researching for the trip. This is no quaint, Central American small city with low slung buildings. It reminds me more of Bangkok in the spread of high rises than even Los Angeles where the tall buildings are clustered in "downtown."
    Unlike Bangkok, I didn't see any big open markets and there's no street food visible anywhere. Like Los Angeles, it seems that things are spread out all over, and there's no good public transportation system like a subway. Yes, there are buses, but as a tourist and not a local I was hard pressed to find a bus map, let along figure out where they went and how to use them. That means that cabs are the way to go, and again, being from LA, jumping in a cab to go everywhere does not come naturally.

    About taxis;None of the taxis have meters. All fares must be negotiated with the driver before setting off. Fares within Panama City should be $1-$3. Fares to Allbrook Airport (domestic) are $10-$12. Tocumen International Airport is $28. Sometimes taxis are shared and each person will pay a separate fare.

    The Miraflores Locks are the closest ones to Panama City. These are the most popular place to see the ships passing through the Panama Canal and there is also a museum. A taxi to the locks should cost $10-$15 each way, and after stopping a few cabs on the street near our hotel, we finally found one who would take us out there for $10, or $25 round trip which of course included him waiting for us. We figured the R/T option was a good one because we had no idea if it would be hard to find a cab back. I suppose there is a way to take a bus out there, as the was a bus stop on the main road, but I have no idea how you would figure it out and once you get there, you would still have to walk quite a way up the road in the heat to get to where the locks are.

    Admission to the Locks is $8 per person which includes the museum exhibits and film, or $5 for just the viewing platform. We opted for the full ticket. After we arrived (around 10am), we discovered that we'd just missed the last ship to go through the locks until 3pm that day. It was quite a disappointment not to be able to see the ships go through, and even though they offered to honor our ticket later, I knew we wouldn't want to spend another $25 just to come out at 3pm.

    The museum exhibits are nicely done and worth the time to walk though them. There are explanations of all the flora and fauna in the canal zone, how the canal was dug and how it works, and a cool simulator which one can stand in and experience what it's like to be a ship's captain going through the canal. The movie is a bit cheesy, but does explain the history of the canal and their plans for the future expansion of new canals for super ships to be able to pass though. The view from the observation deck is panoramic and from there one can see all the way to the Pacific ocean and downtown Panama City.

    We were done in about an hour and our taxi driver, Pedro, found us. Instead of taking us back to the hotel, we asked him to take us to Casco Viejo, the old part of the city.

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    I'm really excited to find this report. Thanks! My husband and I are currently planning our trip for only 5 nights - 9/29-10/4. I'm also very OCD when it comes to travel planning so I can relate to your stress on a short notice plan. I'm especially stressed over picking where to go after 2 days in Panama City - 3 nights is so short so I need to pick the perfect place to give us beach/surf/scuba and town and jungle within close proximity. Am I asking too much?? :)

    I will have a look at your blog to see what else you did there and where you stayed.

    My family went to Panama in 1907 to build the canal and I still have a cousin there so I have a little connection, but I want the traveler's perspective. (Her husband is in charge of Canal security so I think I will get a good tour there!)

    I plan to read your blog and check back to this thread soon -
    Muchas gracias!!

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    I just looked at your blog and realized I had bookmarked it earlier in the year for your expert packing tips!
    Great blog Kristina!
    We are considering Isla Contadora and Las Perlas - will you be writing aboutnit soon or can you give me a hint? Yea or nay?

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    daffy-Yes, Isla Contadora comes "tomorrow" on the trip, but first I have to finish "today."
    One thing I can tell you is that the air service there can be unpredictable. It all depends on "luck and the weather" so don't try to plan your trip back home in conjunction with a flight off the island.

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    More of day 2...

    Everything I'd read said not to walk through the neighborhood bordering this area (which is surrounded by water on 3 sides) because it is dangerous. On our way into that neighborhood, our taxi was stopped by machine gun toting Policia, who spoke to Pedro and then asked where we were from and to see our passports. This is the first time we've ever been asked for our papers while out and about in a foreign city, in more than 30 countries. I usually leave my passport in the hotel, but I'd read that in Panama foreigners are required to have them at all times, and some people have been harassed in the more rural areas, so we had ours with us. Pedro said said that yes, it was dangerous and he would not even drive through there at night. It looked poor, and there were a lot of very dilapidated and abandoned buildings, but not particularly dangerous in the light of day. I'm sure night is another story.

    Casco Viejo reminds me a little of New Orleans with its wrought iron balconies and of the pictures I've seen of Havana. In fact, one of the last James Bond films was shot here, as a stand-in for Havana. We stood in the doorway to the church (which I later figured out was Iglesia de San Jose) and listened to the service for a moment and then started to wander around, a bit aimlessly. I'd printed out a walking tour with a pretty good map of the neighborhood from the Frommer's website, but had unfortunately left it back in the hotel. We did have my notes and google map however, but we never really did figure out exactly where we were most of the time.

    The area is a mix of run down buildings, some abandoned, and some in an obvious state of rebuilding and renaissance. Some buildings are only a facade and some have clearly been restored to their former glory.

    We walk in circles (and it's hot, hot, hot out), checking out ruined churches, the main square of Plaza de la Independencia and the large Catedral Metropolitana which for some reason is shut up tight even though it's a Sunday. In the square there are a few women wearing the traditional dress of the Kuna Indians. At the ruins of the San Francisco church a guard opens the gate and lets us inside to walk around.

    At one point we found ourselves standing next to armed guards at a sentry kiosk and discovered we were next to the Presidential Palace. It's right on the water and has a stunning view of the city skyline. Someone asked us to take their picture in front of the view and they reciprocated for us. I really wanted to take a picture of the Presidential guards (all good looking in military dress uniforms) but was too embarrassed to ask (still kicking myself).

    We continue walking, randomly, wishing I had that walking tour print-out. The area seems a bit deserted and I can't figure out if it's the heat of mid-day, the fact that it's a Sunday, or that the World Cup Final is to start in about an hour that has everyone off the streets. This is an area I'd like to return to when it was more lively, maybe in the evenings. Unfortunately, we did not make it back here.

    Around lunch time, we search out Manolo Caracol, a well respected and often recommended restaurant in Casco Viejo, but it's closed for lunch. Instead we end up at the popular Casa Blanco, but the food is a disappointment. The "shrimp cocktail" is drowning in a pink mayonnaise sauce and my caprese sandwich is just mediocre. We did see some salads go by that didn't look so bad. We'd planned to stay there to watch the game, but the place was empty and we wanted to be around a crowd so we left in search of a more happening place.

    We found a bar called Cedros and got there just in time to get a table before it filled to capacity and ordered our new favorite local beer, "Panama." The World Cup Final, Spain vs. the Netherlands, was not as exciting as we'd hoped, at least not until Spain scored the one and only goal of the game in overtime. Viva Espana!

    Afterward, it started to rain, and it took a us while, and more wandering, before we found an empty cab, which took us back to our hotel for $3.

    We wanted to stay close to the hotel for dinner because it was still raining so we walked though the neighborhood, looking at restaurants and menus, none of them local Panamanian food (but we found Sushi, Peruvian, Mexican, and even a Swiss restaurant). We ended up at a place called the Wine Bar but chose not to stay because the amplified life music in the tiny space was so loud (and so bad) we could not converse. Instead, we went to their sister restaurant, Cafe Pomodoro for what could possibly be one of the worst meals I've ever had. It was so bad, I didn't even take pictures. My "Pasta Siciliana" was overcooked rigatoni, with chopped tomatoes, eggplant and mozzarella unceremoniously dumped on top. David's Bolognese was only slightly better. The $4 glasses of ice cold Chilean Cabernet did little to help the horrible food and service. Miss it.

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    July 12, 2010

    Panama City to Isla Contadora


    When researching where to go outside of Panama City, I found myself overwhelmed with choice. We knew we wanted some beach time and the Bocas del Toro islands, San Blas Islands, Pacific Coast beaches, and the Pearl Islands all looked interesting. Ultimately it came down to cost, weather, and ease of access. I'd read that Bocas was very rainy in July and the airfare there was more expensive so, out. The San BlasIslands were "rustic" but did not come with a rustic price tag so, out. The Pacific cost beaches, specifically Santa Catalina were very appealing but a six hour drive to get there was not. Out. That left the Pearl Islands in the Bay of Panama on the Pacific side of the country. If you are a fan of the TV show Survivor you might recognize the name as a few of the shows were shot here.

    Isla Contadora is a mile long and less than half as wide and is home to about 350 full time residents. There are two airlines which fly there; Aero Perlas and Air Panama. We were told by more than one person that Air Panama has a horrible reputation and is known for redirecting flights based on cargo, not passengers. Meaning, you might get on the plane, expecting to go to Panama City and end up making two other unscheduled stops on other islands before you get there. There used to be a ferry service from Panama City, but it's not currently running.

    Flights to the Perlas depart from Albrook domestic airport, next to a large mall on the same road out to Miraflores Locks. The taxi cost us 12 dollars to get there from the hotel. At the airport they weigh your bags, both checked and carry-on, before you get on the plane. I've heard they were strict about luggage weight but we seemed to be ok, even though our roll-aboards might have been a pound or two over the 25 lb limit. The boarding passes are reusable hard plastic and we're told to go through security and wait in the waiting room.
    It's raining on and off and I'm concerned we might not fly but here comes our little plane...

    The planes are tiny and ours was an 18-seater, single propeller Cessna. David and I are the first ones on the plane so we take the seats behind the pilot and co pilot. This has me flashing back to our flight to Roatan in Honduras. Keep in mind even thought I love to travel I hate to fly. The flight is fine, a bit scary only because we have to fly through clouds and then suddenly, there is the landing strip on Isla Contadora. All 12 feet of it, or so it appears from there air (wait until you see the photo), where we can see the entire length on approach including the water on the other side.

    Once we are down, we wait right there on the tarmac for the luggage to be unloaded, including a small cardboard box with a live chicken inside. Someone said, "I think it's still alive." I hope so.

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    Day 3, Continued...

    There's not much on Isla Contadora; 5 or 6 hotels/B&Bs, the same number of restaurants, 3 little "grocery" stores and a dive shop. The only hotel directly on the beach near the "town" is the Punta Galeon Resort but it got horrible reviews so I chose the Perla Real Inn. It's in the center of the island, and has no view of the water, but really is only a 10-15 min walk to town. From the photos, it looked to have the nicest decor of all the choices and appealed most to my design sense. I have an aversion to tacky bed spreads and wall murals of cherubs, I'm sorry.

    Because the island is so small, everyone knows everyone else and their business. Everyone we meet in the next few days has to mention the about the 400 million dollar yacht which was anchored off the island just yesterday. Everyone has a comment about it or a connection to it somehow. While waiting for someone from to pick us up from the Perla Real, we're approached by a neighbor (another B&B owner) who offers us a ride because he knows that Scott, the Inn's caretaker is busy with other guests. We take him up on the offer.

    Scott is back at the hotel 5 min after we get dropped off and checks us in to our room. We've opted for a suite which includes a little kitchen, living room area and bedroom (separated only by an archway, not a door). The walls are whitewashed and painted/stamped in an old Spanish/Moorish style, floors terracotta tile and the kitchen and bathroom have glazed Spanish tiles. The kitchen has a small dorm fridge, sink and propane gas stove. The bathroom is small but has a good sized walk in shower (no tub). Water pressure is minimal, but we'll live. There's an AC in the bedroom and ceiling fans. No televisions. It's lovely. We ask to be moved upstairs where the ceilings are higher and there's more light and our request is accommodated after that room (#5) is cleaned. Golf Cart rentals are available for guests at a discounted rate (I think $35 a day vs.$50) but they seem unnecessary so we never do it.

    There's a central courtyard patio area with a pretty fountain and outdoor kitchen where breakfast is served. Scott took us on a quick tour of the island in the hotel's truck, pointing out his favorite beaches, places to eat, shop, and giving us all the local gossip. In the 1970's Isla Contadora was the playground for Panama's rich and famous, and powerful politicians and drug lords. There are still multimillion dollar homes here and apparently land is very expensive. We see the abandoned Hotel Contadora, (the owner died in a plane crash when the sale of the hotel was pending) a massive place which has been completely pillaged for anything useful down to the windows, doors and plumbing. It's creepy and no way would I want to be anywhere near here at night. Too bad, because the beach is nice.

    We walk into town to have lunch and buy some drinks for our room. We have our first meal at a local place called La Fonda Clarita, across from the police station. By the time we get there, we're overheated and sweating, even though it does not feel as hot here as Panama City (yes, there were times I wished we'd had one of those golf carts). There's no menu, only what's cooked that day. Today's Plato Tipico is beef, rice, and a small salad with a bowl of lentils for $4. A bottle of Panama beer is $1. The beef might be a little tough, but it's tasty and the lentils are fabulous.

    We watch a family of orange feral kittens with their skinny orange mommy stalk around the police station while waiting for our meal. At one point the tiniest little one, so pale he's almost pink, gets himself stuck in a tree and I have to "rescue" him. He's not happy about it, but he's no longer in the tree either. After lunch we go down to "Blandy's" store to buy water, beer and a bottle of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc ($9, not too bad). David notices a basket of fresh eggs which says "Huevos de Patio" and confirms that these eggs do indeed come from the patio in front of the store where there are roaming chickens.

    We walk back to the hotel, unsure what to do next with our time. There's not that much too do except relax, go to the beach, and snorkel. We plan on doing a snorkel trip through the dive shop the next day. By the time we get back to our room, it's started to rain heavily, so we take it easy and rest and read. David is thrilled that he can get his favorite paper when we travel, the International Herald Tribune, downloaded straight to the Kindle. I'm happy the hotel has wifi (albeit slow and spotty) so I can upload some photos.

    For dinner, because it's still raining on and off, we go to the closest place to the hotel, the restaurant at the Villa Romantica Hotel. It's about a 10 minute walk from where we are and the roads are fairly well lit, though not well paved. Rumor has it that all the island's roads will be repaved soon because the President's wife visited (they have a house here, of course) and complained about the roads. See, I told you we got filled in on all the gossip.

    The restaurant at Villa Romantica is open air and under a pavilion overlooking the ocean (which we could not see because it was dark). Reviews I'd read of the hotel are mixed. If you can get past the kitschy decor, there are ocean views, but I think it's pricier than we wanted to spend on this trip. The menu is large and the food was decent; we were going to try the ceviche, but they were out so David got a shrimp cocktail instead. This one, thankfully, not drowning in mayonnaise, but rather in a tomato-citrus marinade. I ordered my new favorite; corvina al ajillo and it was quite good as was David's Pollo a la Plancha (chicken breast). Yes, "basic is best" when ordering in Panama. With 2 Atlas beers, tax and service, dinner was around $30.

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    Hi! Sorry for the delay, hope you are still with me here...

    July 13, 2010

    Isla Contadora


    Today we woke to cloudy skies and the hopes of doing a snorkel/whale watching trip with Coral Dreams, the only dive shop on the island. Breakfast was nice, down on the Inn’s patio, cooked to order by Elizabeth each morning with choice of omelettes or eggs, toast, fruit and coffee. The open air kitchen also has a refrigerator filled with water, beer and soda which are available to guests for sale on the honor system.

    After breakfast we found out there was an issue with Coral Dream’s boat and they would not be running their daily 10 am snorkel trip. We got in the truck with Scott in search of another option and ended up at Villa Romantica which owns a glass bottomed boat. There was some confusion as to whether or not the boat was available (it had been privately chartered) but the end we wound up back with Coral Dreams whose boat was not broken, just stuck on the sand until the tide came back in later in the afternoon. We were happy with this, preferring to go out with Guillermo, the owner of Coral Dreams, who is an ex-Argentinian navy diver with over 9000 dives under his belt.

    During our drives back and forth to town on the main road we passed a construction site on a driveway where there was a teeny-tiny kitten curled in a ball. We stopped to check on it and it was sleeping. We passed it a couple more times that day while walking and it was still alone, but up and awake and crying. It broke my heart and I tried to figure out how we could help it/take it, but there was no way we could do anything. I knew we could not take it home, nor could we even take it back to the hotel because I could not be sure anyone would care for it after we left and I didn’t want to abandon it. Once, we found it in the road and I moved it back onto the driveway. I hoped its mother would return if it stayed there. Later, we saw that someone had left it a bowl of milk and we had hope that someone would finally take care of it.

    For lunch we walked back into town to go to Fonda Clarita. Lunch today was not as good as yesterday, with the meal being meatballs, rice, and spaghetti, but that’s the risk you take with a place which only serves one thing.
    In the afternoon we went back to town to go on the snorkel trip ($40 each). It was only us, Scott, the boat captain Guillermo, his two assistants, and a very young couple from Greenland. Yes, Greenland. I'd never been to Greenland, nor met anyone from there, so it was pretty neat to chat with them.

    Our first stop was off shore of a verdant deserted tropical island. Yes, this is paradise (see the photo on my blog). We hopped in and there was none of that shock of “oh! the water is cold!” Not even a little bit. The water temperature was tepid, and while not good for tea, perfect for snorkeling. I wish I could list all the things we saw, but I’m not good with the names of the fish. I do know there were parrot fish chomping on coral, little angel fish and two eels fighting for territory among all the other sea creatures. Not a lot of pretty coral though.

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    Day 4 continued...

    After that stop, we went to an island which was no larger than a sandbar when the tide was low and according to Guillermo, not much bigger than a car (and sometimes fully covered) when the tide is high. David found some barnacle shells and because they have holes in the center, put them over his eyes, and had a merry time making faces for the camera. For a short video of the island, see my blog.

    Next stop was Mogo Mogo, or Survivor Island. As in the ”you’ve been voted off the island” Survivor TV show which has been filmed here in the Pearl Islands three times. Guillermo told us a story of a family who asked to be dropped here for an overnight a la Survivor, only to call in the middle of the night via cell offering $100 to have someone bring them a case of beer. Someone did (bring them beer) and the the morning, when they were picked up, the beers had all been drunk (by 1 person, the Dad!). Here, we did not snorkel, just spent some time floating in the water.

    On the way back to Isla Contadora we headed out to and area between a few islands where the whales had most recently been seen. It wasn’t long before we saw the tell-tale spouts of water and flapping flukes. This was my first experience trying to photograph whales, and it was way harder than I expected. It was so exciting to see them, I found myself torn between wanting to try and focus the lens and just wanting to watch them. Plus, focusing was hard given the movement of the boat, movement of the whales and my auto-focus lens not knowing where to focus against blue-grey sea and sky of the same hue.

    The last stop was next to Isla Bartolome where thousands of pelicans, yellow footed boobies, and other sea birds call home.

    Back on shore, we were standing in front of the Coral Dive shop making plans for the next day, when the couple from Greenland were talking to each other in Greenlandic (that’s what the language is called, and yes, I had to look it up), obviously debating something.
    Then the girl said, in all sincerity, “Do you ever eat the whales?” Guillermo blanched and sputtered “no” and I said, “No, they’re protected here. Do you eat them where you come from?” They both nodded and said they did eat whale meat in their culture, though now it was rare and expensive. We all chatted about it for a while, reiterating that whales are considered a protected species in most parts of the world and that it wasn’t part of the local culture to eat whale meat(they seemed to find this as curious as we did of their eating it). After they left, Guillermo was visibly shaken and said that the question made his skin crawl, but I think he handled it quite well.

    Dinner was at the well known Gerald’s opposite the airport runway on the far side. It has a nice open air pavilion, but service is very slow and the food was mediocre. It’s German-owned so David ordered the schnitzel and declared it “not bad.” I had a pizza and it was just ok. I just keep telling myself, “it’s not about the food, it’s about the wildlife.” Right? Right.

    Photos are posted here:
    http://www.wired2theworld.com/2010/08/04/isla-contadora-panama-day-4-survivor-snorkeling-and-the-whales/

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    I'm still enjoying your report. Great pictures. I can relate to you about feeling torn between taking photos of the the whales and just watching. I often times feel like I am "missing the moment" when I am taking pictures - that's when I hand the camera off to my husband if possible - lol!

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    I'm reading along too! Panama interests me as well, so I'm finding this a really great read! When I have some more time, I'll be sure to check out your blog and pictures!

    By the way I love my Kindle too!!!!

    Keep sharing! Thanks!

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    I'm so glad people are still following along, thanks!

    ShellD-Did you see that Amazon recently announced a new version of the Kindle? After using my Mom's, I now need my own. I broke down and orderde one. I can't wait, but they won't even ship the first ones until the end of the month and mine is listed as backordered!

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    Great stuff Christina, We're going in Jan, 3 nights in Panama City, including the canal transit, 3 days sailing in San Blas, back to Panama City for 2 nights and a day trip somewhere before flying up to Bocas for 3 nights and crossing into CR. Can't wait. Your reports are really setting us up.

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    July 14, 2010

    Isla Contadora


    After yesterday's boat adventure, David really wanted to go diving and had made plans to go out very early with Guillermo on a 2 dive trip. I had considered going along for the ride, but decided against it when when we woke to cloudy skies. Even though I'm certified to dive, I hadn't brought my card and the thought of sitting on a rocking boat for an hour or two, didn't appeal.

    Picked up at 7 and returned by 8:30, David was exhilarated by the dive. They ended up doing only 1 dive, albeit a long one of almost an hour, and David hadn't used his full tank, a point of pride for divers.

    He took a rest and then we walked into town (checking on the kitten who was still there and being fed) to rent some snorkel gear to do some snorkeling from the shore. The hotel says it has gear for guests, but the other four guests had been hogging the few good pieces available the entire time we'd been here.
    It was beastly hot because much of the cloud cover had moved away, but we were hoping the sunshine would lend itself to some good snorkeling. We picked up the gear at Coral Divers and then decided to get some lunch first. There aren't a lot of options and we checked Fonda Clarita and another local place to see what was available that day. None of it appealed to David, so somehow we ended up back at Gerald's where I had some shrimp scampi, David had sausage, and it took forever to get our food even though we were the only people there.

    From there, we walked over the the old, abandoned Hotel Contadora. This place is creepy even in daylight. There were some guys there, erecting some sort of temporary shelter next to the hotel. The hotel itself has been stripped of anything of value, down to the doors and windows and would make a great setting for a horror move. In addition to all the weirdness, pulled up on the sand is a rather large ship, also abandoned.

    We walked all the way to the opposite end of the beach, but could not shake the creepy factor, nor find a place we felt would be safe to leave our stuff (including camera) while we both went into the water. The beach and water also had a lot of trash so finally we gave up and just decided to walk to another place.

    Overheated, we settled on the beach in front of the airport and Punta Galleon Hotel. It was deserted and we left our stuff under a large shade tree and went out. The snorkeling here wasn't bad, we saw lots of fish and the water was warm.

    By the time we got out, a storm was brewing and we figured we'd better get back to the hotel before we got caught out in it.
    On the way back, we stopped at the Aero Perlas office next to the runway and asked about our chances of actually leaving on time tomorrow. We'd heard rumor that they might bump people off the flight, or that our luggage might not make it on with us, because flights today had been canceled and tomorrow's flight was already full. Apparently, tickets don't mean much.
    We were told, "with luck and good weather" we would fly tomorrow. Reassuring? Not so much.

    Dinner that night was back at Villa Romantica, where we we chatted for a long time with the eccentric owner, Charlie, a German expat. David had chicken schnitzel and vegetable soup and I got the corvina again with a portion so big I took half of it to go. We left the restaurant in the dumping rain, but instead of running back to the hotel, we walked almost all the way into town to where the kitten was to give it some of the fish. Unfortunately, it was dark and we didn't have a flashlight with us so we could not see the kitten anywhere. I left it some fish anyway and we sloshed back to the hotel.

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    Hi Kristina,
    Thanks for posting your report. You do a great job (as usual)delivering a sense of place through your photos. You also do a great job handling the hecklers!

    I did consider Panama for next year but decided on Belize. Guess I get to visit Panama vicariously instead :)

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    Hi Femi!
    We haven't been to Belize yet, but hopefully someday. I'll be interested to hear what you think. Like you, I love South East Asia, and while Central America has its charms, my heart is elsewhere. I'm going back to Cambodia in October.
    Thanks for your comment on the photos and the heckler. Honestly, it's so rare that I get a comment like that, I was shocked. I almost didn't post it, but then I figured the guy deserved my reply. ;-)

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    I've been looking to Central America to break up the time in between my 'real' vacations. Central America dosen't tug on my heart strings the way SEA or Southern Africa does, but I still enjoy it, especially as I get a chance to practise my Spanish.

    I went to Guatemala in March, and was very pleasantly surprised. I now consider it to be my favorite Latin American destination. Lake Atitlan reminded me a little of Inle lake in Burma.

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    July 15

    Isla Contadora to Panama City


    Today our plan was to leave Isla Contadora on the 9:30 plane, pick up a rental car at Albrook airport, and drive to the Canopy Tower to be there in time for lunch and the afternoon bird watching walk. Tomorrow we'd check out at 9am, drive to the Caribbean coast and check out the ruins of the Spanish forts at Portobello, and then make our way back to Sierra Llorona Lodge for another afternoon of wildlife watching. Alas, none of this was to happen as planned.

    It was dumping rain when we woke up. The fountain in the middle of the courtyard was overflowing and turning the breakfast area into a lake. By 8am we knew our plane would not be coming at 9:30. A giant storm was sitting directly over the Bay of Panama, purple on the radar map, and moving slowly toward Panama City.

    We waited to hear news. Nothing. We waited some more. Finally, around 11am, we decided to cut our losses and reconfigure as best we could.

    Fortunately, we still had intermittent internet access, going in and out with the storm. I got on the netbook and did my best at vacation damage control.

    Because the Canopy Tower was prepaid, I emailed them first, asking if we could push our arrival by a day as we were stuck. There was no point in arriving there late even if we could get off the island because we would miss our only chance for a nature walk if we did so. I heard back from them within a couple of hours and they said they had space available for the next day so we could move our reservation.

    Next I emailed Sierra Llorona and canceled our night with them. Fortunately (for us) they had not asked for a deposit. I never got a reply from them.

    The time came and went for us to pick up our rental car and I used Skype to call Thirfty who said our rental was automatically canceled when we did not show. We decided not to make another reservation because we had no idea when we'd be able to pick it up.

    The last task was to find a place to stay in Panama City for that night, assuming the plane would actually come today, before dark. I checked the spg.com site and they had a room available for the same cash plus points ($60 plus SPG 4000 points) I'd used to book our room for our last night in Panama. I contacted SPG using their online chat and asked if I could get that rate as a walk-in to the hotel. They said no, it had to be booked online or over the phone. I didn't want to commit to it, because within the 24 hour window as we were, we would forfeit the cash if we no-showed. I devised a plan with my mom via Skype that I would text her from the runway if we were actually getting on the plane. She would then go online, using my SPG account and book the room for us.

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    Around 2PM the word coming from the tiny airport office was that we “might” be flying some time around 5:30 PM. At 4:45 we went to the landing strip and checked in at the Aero Perlas office. They weighed our luggage and then asked us to step on the luggage scale with our carry-on bags and weighed us too. At 5pm we were told the plane was in the air and on its way.

    Have you ever wondered what it’s like to fly on a tiny prop plane? See my blog page for a little video of the takeoff and landing of our flight from Isla Contadora to Panama City.

    Once we got to Albrook airport, I turned on my phone and there was the reply from my mom; the plan had worked flawlessly and our room was booked. We decided to forgo the car rental, at least for now, and just take a taxi to the hotel and figure out later how we would get to the Canopy Tower the next morning.

    We arrived at the hotel, tired and cranky from a long day of uncertainty, anxiety and waiting. But it was all made better when the gentleman behind the desk apologized for not being able to give us the room upgrade my SPG Gold Status usually offered us a different type of upgrade. They we going to give us access to the club lounge which offered free wifi, so $13/day room internet access was not needed. Not only that, included with the lounge access was a nice cocktail hour with food and a breakfast buffet in the morning. We’d experienced this at the Sheraton Saigon and knew this was an appreciable bonus.

    The room was really quite nice, on the 8th floor and looking out over the neighboring high rises. It was decorated in greens and browns and had a frosted glass wall separating the bathroom from the bedroom. This wall was shared by the walk-in shower (no tub). It had the basic Sheraton amenities; Bliss bath products, coffee maker,safe, etc. The bathroom was nicely tiled in stone. My only complaint is that the shower temperature was inconsistent both mornings I used it, two different days, two different rooms. On the other hand, David showered at night and had no problems.

    At this point we had to figure out how we were going to get to the Canopy Tower lodge which, in Soberania Park, was about 30 minutes outside the city in the same direction of the Miraflores Locks. My guidebook said a taxi there would cost $10-$15 each way. The Canopy Tower had offered transfers at $50 each way. We asked at the concierge desk what it would cost for us to set up a taxi R/T (because we would now have to return to the Sheraton after leaving the tower) and we told we could just hire one of the taxis outside the hotel (they would assist with this) and it would be $35 each way. We thought we could probably book this cheaper ourselves by going outside and speaking directly to one of the taxi drivers .

    We also checked with the Budget rental car desk in the hotel and the least expensive car, a Toyota Yaris, with no extra insurance, and no GPS, would have cost us about $50, plus gas and they didn’t have a decent map. This was double the rate I had originally booked online at Thrifty.com so it’s probably best to book cars in advance from the US. We decided to wait until the morning to figure out the best thing to do, but we knew were were going to somehow go by taxi as there was no advantage to renting a car for only 1 day.

    We took the netbook and the Kindle and headed up to the club lounge which is on the 15th floor. Key card access is needed in the elevator to get the room floors and to get through the door into the lounge.
    The Lounge has two TVs, couch and table seating. We chose a table along the floor to ceiling windows and this would become “our” table for all of our subsequent visits to the lounge. There was finger food available, drinks, wine, and beer. We had a lovely glass of Chilean Cabernet, some snacks and decided that would work for us for the night. We were in no mood to go out in search of a meal. The downside to this hotel is location; it’s right across from the convention center in an otherwise mostly residential neighborhood.

    Photos and videos from Day 6 are now on my blog at http://www.wired2theworld.com/2010/08/13/panama-day-6-how-to-make-the-best-of-a-bad-situation/

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    July 16

    Panama City to Canopy Tower

    We wake to more rain and low clouds and we're really hoping the weather gives us a break later in the day. Breakfast was in the club lounge and included a large selection of items from omelettes made to order, to fruit and cereals, to french toast. There's also decent coffee served with a pitcher of steamed milk at the table (loved that!). The service here is excellent.

    We remembered we still had the phone number of Pedro, the taxi driver we'd used to go to the locks and decided to call him to see what he'd charge to take us out to the Canopy Tower. He didn't know where it was, but once David explained, we settled on $40 round trip and he agreed to take us out there at 10:30am today and pick us up tomorrow at 9am (checkout time at the Canopy Tower) and return us to the Sheraton.

    The drive out to the Canopy Tower was easy and took about 30 minutes and it finally stopped raining about half way there. When we got to the road leading up to the tower, we were a little confused because the gate was shut. Fortunately, it wasn't locked, so we opened it, drove through and shut it behind us. Note; the Tower's website says if you want to take public transportation out here, there is a bus which will drop you off on the main road leading up to the Lodge. I would not recommend this. It's a long drive uphill and I cannot imagine hiking up it carrying a backpack or dragging luggage.
    We arrived at another gate at the compound at the top of the hill. I wish I had a photo of the tower, but you can see it on their website.
    Canopy Tower is a converted Air Force tower which now has 5 double rooms with bath, 5 singles (with shared bath) and 2 suites. Prices per night are per person and include 3 meals and one guided bird walk. When I tried to book, I was told there was a 3 night minimum stay, but at almost $300 a night for the two of us (in low season nonetheless) this was out of our budget. Fortunately, they were able to accommodate us for only 1 night, and while I would have liked to have stayed longer this just wasn't possible. Extra tours range from $65-$95 per person per tour. It's possible to go out on your own and see things, but having a guide is highly recommended and beneficial as they are trained to spot wildlife and know every species out there.

    The rooms have metal walls and sound travels. The bathrooms are decent sized with a large walk in shower and a window overlooking the canopy. Our twin beds were pushed together. There were no mosquito nets visible as shown on their website. No locks on the doors from the outside, but everyone here has tons of gear and it's pretty isolated. We didn't worry about theft.

    The top level is the communal area and dining area. We had arrived shortly before lunch was to be served, buffet style, so we just decided to hang out and check out what everyone else was doing.
    There were people on the computers, updating their birdwatching "life lists" (make no mistake, most of the guests here are serious birders), people researching in books and others checking out the local wildlife in the tree tops through a digiscope and binoculars. The star of the moment was a sloth, doing what most sloths do, just "hanging around" literally.

    The other guests consisted of a family from Georgia (mom, dad, and teenage son and daughter). All were avid bird watchers, and had come specifically for a week long digiscope tour put on by Leica. I do think the son was more interested in talking to his girlfriend back home via skype than birdwatching.

    There were a few other people we never spoke to and there was a family from Colorado; two teachers Jamie and Peggy, here visiting their daughter Laurel who had been working on a sailboat going between Panama and Columbia. They were also here for just one night and we ended up sharing a table at lunch with them. We enjoyed our conversation and even got the Tower to give us a bottle of wine for the table which we later learned was not common at lunch.
    While they enjoyed birdwatching, they weren't in the "serious" group and thus, we were paired with them when it came time to go out on our included bird walk in the afternoon. The others went out either with the guy from Leica with the digiscopes or another guide who took out most of the people wearing the binoculars on a chest harness, boot gators, and carrying 3 foot long lenses.

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    Our guide, Alex, drove us down the road from the Tower to our starting point on the Old Gamboa Road. The Tower has a couple open backed trucks with bench seats facing out good for game viewing. Along the way, we stopped to check out a sad faced howler monkey alone in the trees. Our walk on Old Gamboa Road was flat and easy and lasted about 2 hours.

    We saw numerous birds including a speckled owl and her white feathered baby. At one point the large owl flew directly over us, from behind, and it was completely silent. There’s something in the way owl’s feathers and wings are created that allow them to fly silently and aid in the hunt. We also saw turtles, birds of all sorts, sizes, shapes and colors, leaf cutter ants dismantling a tree, and a giant lizard.

    On the way back we met up with the larger group of “professional” birders. They were all so silently serious and we joked amongst ourselves about rushing up, and being loud and boisterous (“Hi!! How are you? See any birds?”), just to annoy them. Don’t worry, we didn’t. Even better was Laurel telling the guy with the 3 foot lens about seeing some very rare bird at the other Canopy Tower Lodge like it was an every day occurrence. You’d think she told him she ate baby eagles for breakfast. He was just peeved because he’d missed it and then spent the next 3 days looking for it, only never to see it. It was as if she wasn’t worthy.

    When we returned to the Tower, they were setting up for an al fresco BBQ dinner out on a raised deck set off the parking area. Drinks were already out so we had some cocktails and then dinner with our new friends. The food was basic but tasty (though not particularly memorable, sorry). We stayed up late, drinking wine and talking in a familiar way that only seems to happen when meeting new people while traveling.

    Photos (lots!) are now online at http://www.wired2theworld.com/2010/08/24/panama-day-7-canopy-tower/
    There's also a video of the sloth and scenes from Old Gamboa Road.

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    July 17
    Canopy Tower to Panama City

    Mornings come early at the Canopy Tower. What’s that saying? The early bird gets the worm. Here, the early riser gets the bird.

    We rose by 6 am to have breakfast along with everyone else because those who were not leaving today would be going out on early morning walks. In addition we were told the early morning bird watching was good from the top of the tower from which there is a 360 degree view all the way to Panama City and of the canal and surrounding jungle area. Check out time here is 9am, though if you want to stay to do a morning (paid) tour, they gladly extend the check out time.

    After breakfast, we spent some time taking photos up on the roof and I spent about half an hour down by the hummingbird feeders trying to capture these wee kamikaze birdies. I have to say, they are one of my favorite birds and I took over 100 photos just to get 4 decent ones. At home we only have Rufus and Anna’s hummingbirds. Here, there are at least half a dozen different kinds including a long tailed fellow who was really hard to capture with my camera.

    Promptly at 9am, Pedro the driver showed up. Our new friend Laurel needed to get back to her boat, so we agreed to give her a ride and drop her at a market near the Albrook airport since it was literally right on our way. The drive back to the Sheraton was quick and we were there well before by about 9:30. Fortunately, they had a room ready for us, this time with a water view, and another upgrade to include the club lounge. From our room, we could not only see the water, but the convention center directly across from the entrance to the hotel.

    When we had been here on Thursday, we’d noticed huge lines of people waiting to get into the convention center. When we asked about it, we were told they were all trying to get their immigration papers to live legally in Panama. People waited in line overnight, and any time someone would exit the building, documentation in hand, a cheer would go up from the crowd. If it looked like anyone was trying to jump the line, the crowd would roar and one of the gun toting policia there to keep order would step in to see what was going on. There was a general carnival like atmosphere, and people were sitting under umbrellas on folding chairs though the scalding sun, the rain, and overnight. Today, the lines were still there.

    I noticed a couple of booths selling food so we went down to check it out. I was hoping for something good, some version of Panamanian street food, but no such luck. What we found were grilled hamburgers and chicken sandwiches for $5 each and honestly, they did not look that good at all. At this point, we weren’t sure what we wanted to do with our last day in Panama. But it was lunch time and there was one thing left I wanted to see; the central fish market.

    First, we decided to walk around the neighbood near the hotel to see if we could find someplace good to go for dinner. This was a bad idea. It was extremely hot outside, we really didn’t know where we were going, and we ending up walking in circles for about half an hour, getting overheated. Finally we decided to hail a taxi to take us to the fish market but then could not find a taxi. After more walking and more sweating, right when we were about to chuck it in and go back to the hotel, a taxi stopped, dropping someone off. For $3, the driver agreed to take us down to the market.

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    The fish market was smaller than I expected it to be. I’d seen it in photos and on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations show, but this market, built by the Japanese as a “gift” to the people of Panama, was only about 1/2 a block square. Still, the fish were beautiful and cheap. Spiny lobsters which looked to be about 3 lbs each could be had for $6. There were shrimp of every size and shape and fish and shellfish already prepped for ceviche, vendors loudly hawking their wares and very cool fish themed blue wrought iron doors.

    We did a quick walk through of the market and then went upstairs to the Restaurante Mercado de Mariscos which overlooks the floor below. They serve primarily fresh seafood of course, and we ordered a mixed ceviche and a corvina al ajillio. With a couple of beers and a tip, the total was $19.

    After watching Anthony Bourdain’s Panama episode of No Reservations, and his visit to this market, I knew we had to try the ceviche lady so on our way out, we stopped at stall #2 and got a couple of cups of the Ceviche de Pulpo for $2 each. They were excellent and a great value compared to what we’d just had in the restaurant.

    Outside the market, we grabbed a taxi which turned out to already have a customer in the front passenger seat. I’d read that taxis in Panama are often “share taxis” so off we went. We had to stop once because the window did not roll down and the driver had to get out, go around, open the door and manually push down the window. No a/c, cracked front window is de rigueur. The other guy was dropped off along the way, and we made it back to our hotel after chatting with the driver about his time in the Panamanian military in the 1970’s. He told us the airport was located where there is now a large mall among the skyscrapers.

    For dinner, we were happy to be walking some place close by. Outside the hotel, the traffic was in gridlock due to a huge wedding in the hotel and the crush of people across the street at the convention center. Someone had abandoned a car in the driveway of the hotel. The guests in their fancy clothes were getting out of their cars and walking in from blocks away.

    Our dinner at Jimmy’s, two blocks from the hotel on the other side of the convention center, was one of the best ones we had in Panama. Sancocho al Pollo ($3.50), a wonderful chicken broth based soup with a piece of chicken and chunk of yucca in it. This is the unofficial national soup of Panama and I find myself wondering I haven’t been eating this all along. David ordered the “‘Angeleo” style steak ($14.50) which was a very think cut (maybe a culotte?) stuffed with slices of garlic and served sizzling on a hot cast iron platter. It was cooked a perfect medium rare and came with a salad and fries. We even got to try yet another local beer, the Soberana, and it was fine, but reverted back to Panama beer. The wine list looked decent and had some Spanish wines on it, not just the typical Chilean and Argentinean wines one normally sees here. The restaurant is large and busy with a mural of Greece on the wall (the owner is Greek). As far as we could tell, the other patrons seemed to be mostly families of locals.

    Sunday July 18th, 2010

    Our flight the next day was around noon and we took a hotel taxi which cost $28 and included the toll road cost ($2.50 each way). A regular taxi would have cost the same as it seems the fare too and from the airport are fixed and even though the Sheraton is much closer than downtown, that did not seem to matter. The ride was only about 15 minutes with no traffic on a Sunday, but expect half an hour during the week.

    Because we had carry on only, our bags were tagged and we were told to go through security and immigration. This was quick and they didn’t even stamp our passports. We had some time before boarding so we found the free wifi area (near gate 33, the signal is too low elsewhere) and David watched a little streaming golf of the Master’s Championship.

    When it was time to board they did a secondary screening of every one’s carry-on luggage, opening every single piece. It took forever. While waiting, we discovered we had to check in again at the gate because we’d not checked in properly out front (wish they had mentioned this when they tagged our bags). The flight was easy and fast and we were home in time for dinner.

    Photos for the last day can be seen here:
    http://www.wired2theworld.com/2010/09/07/panama-day-8-more-canopy-tower-the-panama-city-fish-market/

    And that's it! If anyone has questions don't hestitate to ask.

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