Glover’s 2 months in Panama

Jan 12th, 2018, 10:44 AM
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Glover’s 2 months in Panama

Have no idea how this will format. Looks like there will be huge gaps between paragraphs, but here goes.Mr Glover and I have begun our annual two month getaway from cold DC.

Initially we had been thinking of a return to Ecuador, but then decided that Cuenca, where we had planned to stay for one of the months, seemed not to be quite as warm now as we had imagined. Having spent buckets of $$$ in Oz and NZ last year, we decided to stick closer by and revisit Panama. Hiking and looking at birds seemed a nice antidote for the current political clime. We’ll revisit some favorite spots and try some new ones.

Our itin is

1 night Panama City

4 nights Gamboa

9 nights Panama City

Fly PC to David

4 nights Mt Totumas Cloudforest Resort

2 nights Boca Chica

4 nights Cerro Punta/Volcan

1 month in Boquete

2-3nights Bocas del Toro (Bastimentos)

Fly David to PC

Night in PC and fly back to DC

So, on with the report. Will try to do it in real time, as this is a very relaxed itin.

We were off to a good start with a quite civilized flight. Left at 3 pm - 5 hours nonstop to PC - thanks Copa. All for a mere $500 round trip. We were delighted to encounter famed fodors poster MarnieDC and her husband on our flight. They were of course on their way to Argentina. Sorry not to have had a chance to chat.....maybe back in DC.

Immigration lines upon arrival were longest we’d experienced (admittedly we’ve been lucky with these). Probably took us 40 mins or so. Apparently airport is in process of adding more space - they are promising a better experience in future. Took an authorized taxi into town $25 to our hotel in downtown El Cangrejo area. We’re staying at Best Western Plus Zen Panama, which seems like quite a deal for the money. Very new and sparkly 14 floors with cool rooftop pool and bar. Thinking that

Good price may be due to fact that the neighborhood is quite ripped up at the moment due to subway expansion? The city has changed quite a bit since we were here 9 years ago! A new Metro with about a dozen stops so far, and many, many amazing skyscrapers.

We spent a rather leisurely a.m. in the city prior to being driven the 30 mins or so out to Gamboa. Walked over to the Claro store to get Panama sym card for phone. That was accomplished in minutes. Then explored El Rey supermarket nearby and picked up some snacks and wine to carry to Gamboa. Had a ho hum lunch at Hotel. Tried to connect to Uber with new sym number. A no go so far. A common problem apparently. Sym doesn’t receive Uber verification text. Sigh. Oh well, have hotel get us taxi to Gamboa.

We’re driven by lovely guy with sad story. He ‘s originally a Colombian who had been raising his family in Venezuela until things became too hard there. Since his mother is Panamanian she convinced him to come here where he has papers etc.

He is working and sending money home. Family can’t leave/sell home in Venezuela so they remain there. Apparently lots of Venezuelans are coming to Panama.

A delightful guy. We have great conversation about Bogota in a mix of Spanish and English.

Driver delivers us to our lodging for 4 nights in Gamboa - Ivans Bed And Breakfast.

Gamboa is a town of only about 500 people. It has one food truck like tienda and one questionable looking restaurant. There are only 2 games in town for lodging:

The Gamboa Rainforest Resort and Ivan´s place. Having done the resort some 10 or so years ago, did not need to repeat. Beautiful siting and not a terrible place, but not that great either...

Ivan owns one of the largish Canal style houses built back in the 30s. He and his family live in one half and he rents out space in the other. 4 or 5 rooms or so.

We have a huge high ceilinged room with 6 big windows. We enjoy sleeping every night with well screened open windows and a ceiling fan. Don’t even use the provided ac. Nights are amazingly quiet. We go to bed early and wake up early to bird sounds. We had arranged earlier to have all our breakfasts (included) and dinners (extra) at Ivan´s. His wife Gladys is the cook.

Ivan hooked us up with a guide to go birdwatching on the rather famous”Pipeline Road” very nearby. Gonzalo picks us up at 6. We spend about 6 hours or so with him on that road and a few other nearby sites. It’s a fairly quiet am bird wise, but Gonzalo does manage to find us some birds of the “ant” category - antwrens, antbirds, antpitas etc etc. also a trogon and a few others. weather is somewhat cloudy, hot and humid. Back at Ivan´s we collapse under the fan until about 4 or so when we walk over to the Resort property to check out birds on their grounds. Fun to see the place again and reminisce about our experience there years ago. Enjoy walking around, looking at birds, chatting with some others there.

We are only guests at dinner. Ivan has only one other guest at moment and he is elsewhere. Ivan is a character with wide ranging interests and knowledge and collections of old things. He speaks Fluent English, so we never get around to practicing our Spanish with him. We have many conversations during our stay.

We go back to Pipeline on our own next day. Takes about half an hour to walk to entrance and then another half hour to get to newish “Rainforest Discovery Center”

Where there is, among other things, a 40 meter high observation tower looking out over the forest canopy. We climb it twice on our walk. See some beautiful tanagers and a capuchin monkey. Along way spot more capuchins, toucans and a pair of aracaris. Hot and sweaty..... but all beautiful.

Enjoy seeing huge ships passing through Lake Gatun as we walk back and forth from lodging to birding sites. Walked about 5 miles one day and 8 another. Created caloric deficit to eat delicious steak, potatoes and broccoli at final meal- followed by great homemade cheesecake. Chatted with single other guest at dinner one eve, a solo traveler and birder from Montreal.

Then it was back to the city!
glover is offline  
Jan 13th, 2018, 05:33 AM
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Nice start, glover! Can't believe you ran into MarnieWDC & her husband...small world! I look forward to following along with you.
After the lovely balmy weather for a couple days here, it's back to frigid DC.
yestravel is offline  
Jan 13th, 2018, 07:19 AM
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I will be following along.
mlgb is offline  
Jan 13th, 2018, 02:32 PM
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Sounds like a start to a lovely trip.
SusanInToronto is offline  
Jan 13th, 2018, 04:25 PM
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Hi Susan. Are you traveling this Winter? Have you retired?
glover is offline  
Jan 14th, 2018, 07:50 AM
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Thanks for asking. Yes, I retired at the end of the year! It hasn't quite hit home yet, as I was hit with a bad cold just before NYE, and I've only been able to get out and about the last few days. I'm going to Calgary on Tuesday for a few days to visit my sister (who also just retired), and then John and I are going to Merida in Mexico for 3 weeks in February. I had started to plan something a little more 'adventurous', but wanted to see how I adjust to living on our savings, as opposed to a regular pay cheque. I think we'll be more inclined to do a couple of shorter trips in the winter than one long trip. We have 2 cats, and even with a friend staying at our house, we don't like to leave them for 2 or 3 months. OTOH, a couple of 2 or 3 week trips might be more doable. Lots to consider and I'm excited!
SusanInToronto is offline  
Jan 19th, 2018, 04:12 PM
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Well, this is fun to find, Glover! I'll be with you in spirit.

Susan, love the life of the jubilada. Welcome!
cmcfong is offline  
Jan 20th, 2018, 07:46 AM
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Will be following along with great interest Glover. We are looking at a few months in Central America and or Mexico late this year.
crellston is offline  
Jan 21st, 2018, 02:54 PM
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Panama City

We factored in 9 nights for Panama City, not because we really wanted to stay there that long, but because we hoped a few others would sign on to a trip we wanted to do from the city to the wild Darién part of Panama (trip required 4 or more for it to be a go). We also wanted to hang on in the city long enough to do some of its big annual Jazzfest. Alas, no one else ever signed on for our Darién adventure. But we managed to enjoy our long stretch in the city, despite both of us being down and out for a couple days with horrible colds.

Stayed the whole time at Best Western Zen Plus Panama Hotel in “bohemian” ha ha El Cangrejo neighborhood. Don’t know about that Bohemian description, but it’s a busy downtown neighborhood between a couple Metro stops with lots of hotels, small restaurants, and small businesses, a couple new condo buildings. Thought torn up streets were due to Metro construction, but read that mayor is beautifying the nabe to make it more pedestrian friendly, hence sidewalk widening, undergrounding of utility lines etc.

Our current room on 11 of 14 floors has a couple huge floor to ceiling windows with great views over the modern city. Squint and you’re in Manhattan. Had a drink one night in outdoor rooftop bar - more fantastic view of city at night from there.

Took a long walk one day from hotel to the city’s Cinta Costera, a beautiful well done long bike and walking path along the city’s coastline. Nice landscaping, benches, play equipment etc along the way. Also, as that was a Sunday, the big boulevard Balboa was closed from 6am to noon for cyclovia- bikes only. Wonderful!

Though it was hot and sunny, we managed to make it all the way from one end of the path to the rapidly restoring old part of the city - Casco Viejo. Though lately we’re seeing it called “Casco Antiguo”. - perhaps trendier sounding? The lovely restored (read gentrifying) area has probably doubled at least in size since we visited 10 years or so ago. Because the skies had turned suddenly black, we ducked in to La Neta Taqueria and had some delicious cold beers and tacos after our long hot walk. Then successfully Ubered (yay) back to our hotel.

Another day we conquered the city’s subway and bus system to get to the Visitors Center at Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal. The city’s newish Metro opened in 2014. Just one line so far with a dozen stops. To ride you buy a $2 farecard and then add money. Our nice hotel gave us a farecard. Only one is needed for family/group - it gets passed back and forth at turnstiles. We wondered if this was the original plan or if that system evolved and wasn’t worth trying to control. One trip any where on the line is an amazing 35 cents! Trains are busy, clean, and not at all sketchy. We rode to end of line at Allbrook where there is major bus station and big shopping mall. Fairly quickly found the nice new bus going directly to Miraflores. Enjoyed hanging out at the Visitors Center for several hours- watched a few huge ships come through the nearby “old”locks. Could see another much larger ship going through new expanded locks beyond us. All very interesting- even though we’d seen it before, and done a partial transit of the canal years ago. Watched the museum movie and roamed through all the exhibits. Nicely done... lots of great info on building and operation of the canal. Always worth doing on any trip to Panama in our view.

Another day we took a taxi to the newish Biodiversity Museum. We had been checking on the progress, or lack thereof, of this museum since our last visit 9 years ago. It was a loonnngggg time coming. One of its main claims to fame is its Frank Gehry designed building. Colorful and modern. We weren’t wowed by the exhibits inside. Think it is still a work in progress. The information and displays provided are pretty basic, but “biodiversity” is not such an easy concept to “show” we thought. There were lots of English fluent eager staffers ready to explain and hand held audio info was also available. Our expectations hadn’t been high anyway. Nice that it’s there though, even if only as a reminder of Panama’s biodiversity (1500 species of butterflies! more than 900 of birds!) and importance of biodiversity world wide.

Also the museum adds an interesting building along Panama’s pretty “Amador Causeway.” The causeway links the city to 4 small islands located near the Pacific entrance to the Canal. A few miles of nice biking/walking paths here too with great water views and views of city skyline. More development here too since our last visit, but still a wonderful walk or bike ride - or even drive. We fell into step with an interesting guy from Tennessee and chatted with him along our walk. He was in Panama as part of a 7 person crew on a ship on its way to the Galapagos. He’s mostly retired now, but, as a licensed captain, spent a career on ships, mostly private. An amiable interesting guy. Eventually we parted ways and the two of us found again Alberto’s Ital restaurant, where we ate pizza and were possibly eaten alive by bugs .... though we didn’t know it at the time.....

Another “city” highlight... we were picked up at 5:45am one day by one of the best, if not best, bird guides we have ever had - Justo Camargo (highly recommended). A delightful, superenergetic, and careful guide, he took us to the city’s Metropolitan Park and found us 53 species of birds (the park has 267). A few were new for us,

But all were great to see. Also saw a sloth and a “baby” snake that was possibly a coral snake. It’s a nice park with nice easy trails. Hot and humid - goes without saying.....but a great day.

Food: After one breakfast at our hotel, we never ate there again. Not its strong point. Some neighborhood places we liked: Mentiritas Blancas for gourmet coffee and pastry, El Caribe for duh Caribbean food, Beirut for good Lebanese, and La Vespa for Italian. At El Caribe we enjoyed talking to Maritza Ellis, Chef/owner. Originally from Panama “of Jamaican heritage” she got degrees from both University of Maryland (my alma mater) and Howard in DC. She spent a number of years in DC

buying and flipping houses. Next she wants to move to Barcelona and open a restaurant there. Her adult children are studying/living in China.

We wrapped up our city time with the big free finale outdoor concert of the week long Panama Jazz Fest. We had stumbled into the Jazzfest when we visited the city years ago when it was held in the plaza of Casco Viejo. We sat down then with the intention of staying to hear just a little music and ended up staying for hours. As the fest became enormously more popular, it was moved to its new location at the City of Knowledge campus at far edge of city. This year we Ubered out and back without too much trouble. Stayed to hear 3 or 4 groups, last being local Jazz pianist Danilo Perez, who has a jazz club in the city, teaches, performs, and is a driving force behind the festival. Once the sun went down behind the stage, the weather was clear and pretty comfortable. (Panama is experiencing a lot of tropical rains recently in what normally is the beginning of its dry season.). Music was wonderful - though a downside of outdoor free concerts is that many people don’t really come to listen to the music. Not that it was a wild crowd, just a lot of talking...

Next am we checked out of city and were driven to the domestic airport (Allbrook) by our now friend - a hotel driver- from Venezuela/Colombia. Flew Panama City to David (35 min) on Air Panama. We were met in David by our driver Martin in his big 4 wheel drive truck for the drive to next location Mt Totumas Lodge, highway until beyond the town of Vulcan and then an hour and 1/4 on rocky road!! to this wonderful Lodge - the highest ecolodge in Panama at 6300 feet, not far from border with Costa Rica. So, next up 4 nights at Mt Totumas...
glover is offline  
Jan 22nd, 2018, 08:13 AM
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On to the bird reports! How do you find your bird guides, glover?
mlgb is offline  
Jan 25th, 2018, 12:12 PM
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4 nights at Mt. Totumas Lodge (between town of Volcan and Costa Rican border)

We were met by a driver at David Airport and driven the relatively easy distance and road to the town of Volcan in Chiriquí state and a bit beyond (maybe an hour). Then we turned off the highway and onto a rocky dirt road, and I do mean rocky. It’s somewhat possible that we have been on worse roads in our travels, but this was certainly the longest really challenging road. About 7 miles going up took us an hour and 15 minutes of rocking and rolling to arrive at our destination.

This lodge was one of the nicest and most interesting places we have ever stayed, and that’s saying something. Not “luxurious” but well done and thought out in every way. We splashed out and reserved the large Mamacillo room on second floor of the two story lodge. It’s a big room with a great balcony king size bed and nice bath with strong shower, plenty of hot water, and even a jacuzzi tub. The lodge itself has 5 rooms. There is also a nice cabin that would sleep two couples and a tree house that would sleep two, or two adults and a child.

What we saw. A gorgeous rainbow latish every afternoon from our balcony over the tree canopy and against the mountains (due to interesting extended rainy season weather conditions, mountains, Panama’s blowing mist called “Bahareque.” ). A hummingbird nest with a single egg. An amazing flowering micro orchid. Howler and spider monkeys. Lots and lots of beautiful hummingbirds. ( 9-12 species are seen here.). Feeders are all around the big windows on 3 sides of lodge. Lounge and dining area has vaulted ceiling, so there are wonderful mountain and tree views from all sides and the big deck off lounge. Owner has also constructed a beautiful viney, flowered, wall on the deck of another building that holds more feeders and shows off the hummers’ colors when late afternoon sun is behind. Other birds:

The rear end of a female quetzal. Heard a bellbird quite close but never saw it. Owner Geoffrey said it’s still a little early for quetzales and bellbirds to be very vocal, mating etc. We never kept a list, but we also saw a black faced solitaire (frequent),

Silver throated tanager, flame tanager, white winged tanager, lots of migrating warblers of many kinds, a Baltimore oriole (I swear I never saw this bird growing up in

Maryland, where it’s the state bird) . Yellow faced grassquit, acorn woodpecker, collared trogon, long tailed silky flycatcher (beautiful bird), sulphur winged parakeets, swallows, and more. A group of Canadians, not serious birders, believe they saw the elusive and special jay (silver throated jay) on one of the lodge’s trails. This bird is endemic to the area and usually only seen at top of Mt Totumas (even our ace and young Panama City guide thought this a brutal uphill hike of 3 hours - for a bird.). Owner Geoffrey thought lower siting by Canadians was possible. We also viewed videos from trail cameras that showed us what walks the trails that we hadn’t seen- 4 kinds of cats, including a jaguar a few years ago, tapirs, peccaries, deer, pacas, coyotes.

What we ate: The best food yet in Panama, yet in the most remote location.

Why? Inventive simple menu with freshest ingredients prepared by co-owner Alma, Geoffrey’s wife (obviously a very accomplished cook) and their daughter Karin, a recent grad of NY culinary school, who has worked in NY restaurants. Quesadillas and orzo soup, pho, Fish tacos, dumplings, lo mein, Thai chicken curry, spinach quiche, spinach lasagna, amazing homemade ice cream, caramel flan, apple strudel, beef ribs, pepper steak, great salads, great bread, French press coffee grown on site, and -on our final night - a superb chocolate passion fruit cake that really was to die for. Wonderful fresh pineapple and papaya for breakfast every day. We asked if they would adopt us, but they didn’t seem to take us seriously.

What we learned/discovered: Geoffrey and Alma have created such a wonderful

Property here. 175 hectares of reserve. The property had good forest, but also pasture land, most of which they are converting to forest. They have lots of researchers coming to study/photo frogs/insects etc. Geoffrey has deep background in ecology, lots of energy. They have started a coffee business. They are working on another building. Geoffrey was a great guide for birds, plants, and general ecology. His young employee Rinaldo was also a good bird guide. We learned a little about raising cows, coffee, building with local woods, and on and on. If we retain half of what we learned from him over 4 days we’ll have come away with a lot.

The winds really really howled at night up there (not unusual for this time of year in Panama.). But it made that big cozy bed all the more comfortable for sleeping till the howler monkeys woke us at dawn. The bahareque mistblew in the afternoon, and it rained as well. But we had two sunny ams and one whole sunny day for hiking beautiful trails. We hated to leave, but we’re ready for some heat, which we DEFINITELY have now here at Pacific Bay Resort in Chiriquí Bay (Pacific side), reached by lovely boat ride. To be continued......
glover is offline  
Jan 26th, 2018, 07:39 AM
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Sounds wonderful!
volcanogirl is offline  
Jan 28th, 2018, 11:50 AM
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2 (not enough) nights at the beach - Pacific Bay Resort near Boca Chica in Chiriquí state in Panama.

After a final delicious breakfast at Mt Totumas, we got a ride down to Volcan with owners Geoffrey and Alma, who were running some errands. Trip DOWN the rocky road with lots of interesting conversation/commentary on the way was faster than way up. At town of Volcan we connected with another driver who took us to the tiny bayside town of Boca Chica. We zoomed (a very fast driver) down to a new to us piece of Pan American Highway. 4 lanes divided, very nice.

At Boca CHica, we got in a small lancha for a 20 min or so beautiful boat ride across bay to the lovely Pacific Bay Resort. Here, owner Frank, a contemporary, Half Panamanian but with background in bars/restaurants in NY and Boston, a character, a good host, and full of stories, has 150 acres up a hill of forested bayside land with maybe 10 rooms in brightly colored well spaced concrete cabins. Comfortable, but basic. Good bath and shower. Some of the cabins, including ours, have nice bay views. Landscaping on the property is beautiful, small stone roads connect cabins, common areas, and trails down to beach, all lined with croton hedges, rainforest beyond. Magnificent view of bay and other islands from small outside dining area. Frank and staff drive around roads in golf carts. Rides available on request. But, despite some fairly steep short hills, we almost always walk.

Along with a trio of contemporaries from Toronto, we’re the only guests at the moment. Not a lot to actually “do” here - go to nice beach, take out a kayak, search for monkeys/birds, swing in hammocks and read, get Frank to arrange fishing trips . In early am I get a great view from our porch of 2 dozen frigate birds soaring in sky over water, also two pelicans. And later a black hawk in a tree in our yard. Then we luxuriate over nice breakfast overlooking water, chatting with other guests and Frank and then walk down lovely path to Frank’s south beach. We have it to ourselves. The water is just cool enough and calm, and the bottom is smooth, waist to shoulder deep for some distance so we spend quite a while in water. Many many hermit crabs of all sizes scurrying along the beach. Beautiful day, sunny and hot.

Later we have great quinoa salad for lunch back at the dining area looking out at water. Again spend long time talking to Frank and other guests over lunch. Later walk back down to beach with intention of another swim, but end up just swinging in hammocks and reading instead. Walk along beach and pick up some interesting shells. Do some internet back at dining area and then have good fish dinner with lime mousse for dessert. Food at every meal is plentiful and very good, though just a notch below Mt Totumbas. At night a great breeze comes in from the bay, making sleeping with screened open windows more than comfortable.

Next am we see some howler monkeys in trees near dining area on our way to breakfast. Settle our pretty reasonable bill and hop on lancha for slightly rougher short boat ride back to Boca Chica. At Boca Chica we’re met by another driver, an English fluent woman named Toby. She tells us her life story as she drives us from Boca Chica to David. Her mother is Panamanian and her DaD was U S military, now retired. She learned Spanish in Germany and then grew up mostly in Texas and Ohio. Now she’s back in Panama with her teenaged daughters working in Transport/tourist biz.

At David airport we rent a small car for next couple weeks of trip. Had worried that rental company might insist we get very expensive collision damage etc insurance as well as required liability. Had heard stories... so came armed with proof that we’re covered by credit card already. But this particular agent didn’t question. All went smoothly and we drove off to Cerro Punta - back into even mistier cloudforest. Beautiful agricultural area on surrounding hills, lettuce, celery, onions, potatoes. Busy Saturday market going on as we drive through center of “town” and on to our next 2 night lodging at Los Quetzales Ecolodge. We are back for our third visit here- after 10 years..... to be continued.
glover is offline  
Feb 3rd, 2018, 06:48 AM
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Back to the cloud forest for 5 more nights

Somewhere in the burbs of David we stop at a largish supermarket. Mr G, the food shopper of our family, goes in to buy some breakfast items, minor dinner items, and snacks. I miss the experience since we feel compelled to leave one person in car to guard exposed luggage in rental hatchback. (Lesson learned way back when we had ALL of our luggage stolen from our locked baby suv a decade or so ago from a parking lot midday on a busy street in Cartago, Costa Rica.).

After that we continue up the road to Cerro Punta/Guadelupe on good 2 lane country road. As it’s a weekend there is a market going on in town center streets. Local people selling their produce, coffee, and some handicrafts. Looks to be some expats too selling more yuppie market things ( some oils, soaps, etc). At check-in, we ask for a bird guide for one of the lodge trails following a.m. We are thrilled when receptionist calls and confirms Abel- our favorite guide at this place more than 10 years ago.

We climb in big truck for the ride to our cabin in the forest. The lodge itself, in “town,” has a restaurant, big comfortable lounge area, a building of hotel like rooms, a building of bunkhouse hostel rooms, and a spa building. They also have a half dozen or so cabanas dispersed among deep forest way up a very rocky road. We have chosen cabana 2, which we think is same one we stayed in years ago. That turns out not to be the case, as they have renumbered them since. No problema as this one is newer and closest along rocky road, with easy access. (Our experience years ago was wild - we ran along behind Abel in dark with flashlights across a couple little foot bridges and wet dirt trail to even more remote cabin. ). Inside all wood cabin nestled in beautiful forest, it is of course freezing. we get the briefest of orientation from our driver and then we are on our own save for two way radio. We discover much to our surprise that the only staircase between first floor and loft sleeping area above is outside! Odd. Downstairs has full kitchen, living area and both a full and half bath. Upstairs has two bedrooms and another bath. Narrow deck areas around cabin outside.

Mr G attempts fire in wood stove without much success. Soon a lodge employee arrives bearing more wood. Speaking in rapid fire Spanish, he gets fire started. After he leaves, it immediately goes out. Mr G then works hard and finally gets a really good one going - the secret is in the teepee construction of fire he decides.

We make a dinner of pasta with jarred sauce. Crawl into warm bed early with lots of covers. Sleep well.

Next am Abel arrives at our cabin precisely at 7. He has been guiding in the area for 18 years, most all as an employee of the lodge, but in the last few years as an independent guide. I love him because I can understand nearly all his Spanish. (And, as he says, he speaks “only bird guide English”). He’s Colombian. Once someone else told me “Colombians speak the best Spanish.” Whatever that might mean. I then labored under false hope that I’d understand all the Spanish once we got to Colombia. Hah! Most spoke just as fast as anywhere else. I realized that I understand Abel because he speaks loudly, clearly, and slowly. He’s very emotive, maintains eye contact, and is, after all, a guide by profession. A good lesson to pass on to my English students. A lot more than just correct grammar goes into making yourself understood. We hike the easiest (!??!) trail on the lodge property.

(Lots of big ups and downs, rocks ,mossy damp ness, one stream crossing, etc) for about 4 hours with Abel, looking for birds. Almost immediately we hear and then briefly see the magnificent quetzal bird - both male and female. The forest is relatively quiet but we do see some other species as well. Abel joins us for coffee at the cabin later and we have a wind ranging conversation in Spanish, quite a lot about agriculture in the surrounding area. Our thighs/quads feel that walk for the next couple days. We congratulate ourselves for remaining vertical for hike duration, well nearly - Mr G had one very minor slip. Thank god for our “bastons” (walking sticks)

After a late hardy breakfast we kick back and chill awhile. Later in afternoon we walk the half hour or so back down the rocky road to the lodge. Walk around grounds a bit looking at birds and action in town. Sun and “bahareque” (the area’s blowing mist) combine to create yet another beautiful rainbow over town. It’s Sunday so a lot of local families are walking up and down the road. This is a very indigenous area, primarily Ngabe and Guaymi people. Women still wear traditional dress (long colorful dresses with a little horizontal embroidery), but men have transitioned to modern dress. Eventually we go to the lodge restaurant for dinner, where we are nearly alone except for one small local family. It’s a warm cozy place and we sit next to wood stove. I have a great quinoa and veggie salad, Mr. G had a nice chicken with mushroom dish. After dinner we are driven by lodge driver back up the rocky road to our cabin. Next am after breakfast and short walk around cabin area, we are driven back down to lodge for check out. With time to kill before check in at next lodging just a few miles away, we hang out in comfortable lounge area checking in on world. Lodge owner Carlos Alfaro comes in and we have nice chat with him. He insists on serving us something, so we have some delicious coffee and hot chocolate. We had met Carlos on our first visit here, so it was nice to see him again. Will continue in second post, as a Fodors tells me I ‘m too long winded for one.
glover is offline  
Feb 3rd, 2018, 06:50 AM
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Drive down main road some 8 kilometers to our next lodging Cielito Sur B and B. Here two very bilingual Panamanians have a beautiful home on several acres that includes 4 very nice large rooms, as well as a separate little guest house. The grounds are gorgeous. Full of tropical plantings, a small stream, some coffee, a veggie garden, and a small piece of forest. Owners Glenn and Janet retired from military/government early and took over the property held since the 50s by Janet’s parents. We stayed 3 nights and felt we were in lap of luxury. Extremely comfortable king bed, nice bath, fridge, microwave. Had laundry done. Ate wonderful breakfasts in dining room ( fresh fruit, eggs, banana pancakes, blueberry waffles, eggs Benedict Panamanian style, and on). We enjoyed conversation in am with Glenn and 4 other guests, one couple from Germany and another from Maryland (practically our neighbors at home). Hung out on patio and watched many many hummingbirds at feeders as well as other birds at feeder laden with fruit.

For first time on trip we saw the red headed barbet (female - though a very beautiful bird in her own right).

One day we drove back toward Los Quetzales and visited Finca Dracula, which is a farm/botanical gardens that specializes in orchids. Beautiful property. Owner’s son Andres gave us a tour around (admission is $10). He’s extremely knowledgeable about orchid growth and varieties. Very interesting. Gorgeous orchids large and micro. We learned a lot. Probably about 40,000 species of orchids worldwide. Panama has about 2000 of them. Many other interesting tropical plants as well.

Weather changes from just bahareque to rain while we’re walking around.

Another day we drove over to the seldom used Volcán air strip and found the road to the Volcan lakes. These are small alpine lakes created by the local volcano, Volcan Baru. We enjoyed the sunny dry day and path. (This area has an amazing number of micro climates!). Road goes through open farm land and then some forest. We saw two beautiful golden hooded tanagers along the road and just a few water birds at the lakes. Mostly we had the path completely to ourselves. Back by the lake there was a single beautiful big lake house. According to our host Glenn, it’s available on air bnb. Good place to write your novel. Long way to civilization.

Had 3 delicious dinners near Volcan! Two were at Fannie’s. Panamanian Fanny and her Colombian husband Luis have a small casual space that might seat 30 or so. They have years of experience in Panama City restaurants. Great food here, mostly local. They were slammed one night and practically empty the next. We ate delicious Greek salads, chicken curry, parillada ( grilled meat combo) pasta with chicken, and the best small roasted potatoes. Craft beer on draft from Boquete (nearby) brewery. The other great dinner was at “The Wandering Sloth.” Here a couple from Boston/PA have created a cozy feeling casual spot also with great food.

As again (early) practically only guests, we chatted for quite a while with them. They had worked and run restaurants in US for 30 years and decided to relocate. Sloth had only opened in December. Everything was wonderful here. I had salad, super tender filet from local Red Angus cooked perfectly. Mr G had great pulled (local) pork sandwich, and we shared the best ever French fries - hand cut from the local potatoes. 2 beers, 2 glasses of wine. Total bill $37!! Amazing value. Fanny’s was almost as cheap.

Checked out of our nice B and B reluctantly, We really like this area. Interesting country feel. Nice hiking possibilities, good birds, interesting culture, beautiful crops growing on hills. Decent roads. Crazy micro climates. Great rainbows.

Stopped at one of many produce vendors on way out of town. Bought potatoes, lettuce, tomatoes, beets, cucumbers, onions, and peppers - all for $2. Chatted in Spanish with vendor, a contemporary and recent widow. These vendors sell big transparent bags of a variety of their produce for $6. Community is full of people toting these home. Would feed a family for a week I’d think. Unfortunately way more than we could use fast enough.

Next up - on to Boquete for all of February...
glover is offline  
Feb 3rd, 2018, 01:29 PM
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Sounds like a great trip. I'm enjoying your posts.
SusanInToronto is offline  
Feb 26th, 2018, 10:42 AM
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A month in Boquete

A month in Boquete

Depending on where we head on our two month winter sojourns, we often like to settle down in one locale for an extended part of the trip. Having been to Panama a couple times in past, we knew that Boquete would lend itself to an extended stay (lots of available lodging, restaurants, good hiking/birding around, decent weather).

Including its surrounding areas, believe the Boquete population to be about 25,000, including about 2500 expats. It is primarily the year round spring weather, beautiful mountains, and lower cost of living attracting expats. It’s not that the town center is particularly attractive, charming, or historic. In fact in this dry season, it’s often dusty, hard to walk in (broken or missing sidewalks), and currently has a fair amount of street and sewer repair projects in process. Although there are some residences near the central main commercial drag, most people live outside the actual town center, in mountains or gated communities. The main drag is a commercial strip of small businesses: several grocery stores, restaurants, small hotels and bnbs, tourist agencies, and artesan shops. Since we had stayed on the outskirts of town before, we looked a lot for somewhere “in town.” Found a nice brand new 1 bdr apt on Airbnb just up a short hill from dead center of town. Super convenient and great exercise coming back up that hill. Two US expats have a house and a two story two apt adjoining bldg here. We rented the downstairs apt and were quite happy with it. (Well, there were those 6 scorpions we found inside the apt, but they were small and we saw and addressed them before they saw us.). Easily walkable to all services, yet up high enough to afford some nice views and near daily rainbows over town. Had a nice little porch, bbq, and yard with fruit trees. Great and helpful landlords. They used to own a popular restaurant in town. Our only issue with the apt was difficulty getting toy KIA rental car with low clearance up short steep gravel hill. Not good. Eventually we began just parking it at bottom of hill.

We fell into an easy relaxed routine here. Got up just after 7 when the sun came up over the facing mountain. Ate fresh papaya, pineapple, and banana, and put the rinds outside to attract birds (blue gray tanagers, saltators, clay colored robins, and nightingale thrushes came). I found a good Zumba class to take several ams a week. $5 a class. Nice mix of locals and gringas of all ages. In a small concrete “gym” that is basically two rooms and doesn’t even seem to have a name.

Enjoyed bbqing on our patio, something we can’t do easily at our urban digs at home. Also Tried many good small restaurants in town: Colibri (owned by an Italian/Colombian couple). Nice peaceful atmosphere, very good food. The Fish House - great fresh fish, small simple place, very reasonable prices. Boquete Brewing Company - great beer, raucous young crowd, marginal food. The Butcher House, cozy atmosphere, great beef, good service too. By same owner - Retrogusto- great pizza, wonderful service (these people were hustling!) Italian owned. Will go back before we leave and try delicious looking entrees. Milano - cafe casual style place , also Italian owned with good pizza. Big Daddy’s - North American owned, serving up decent plain food. Not much interesting local cuisine IMHO - similar to most Central American countries - rice and beans, patacones (plantains), some fish, tougher cuts of meat. Blandish.

We did a fair amount of hiking /birding from here. There are several good and well known beautiful forest trails, and we did many of them. Though we’re possibly not up to doing the length of the well known Quetzales Trail that goes from this town to town of Cerro Punta (8 miles with some water to cross), we did maybe 3 miles one way and retraced our steps. We were fortunate enough to spot 2 quetzal birds - both male and female- on way back. Had a really good view of them both sitting in same place for some time. Had the fun of alerting other hikers to them as they passed. Lots of chats with resident ex pats, other tourists and locals this visit. The hiking trails are all reached via beautiful winding mountain roads with views of coffee plantations, forest, and rushing streams. Indigenous folks (Ngäbe-Buglé), women still in tradional dress, walking along roads. Another popular trail runs alongside a water pipeline into secondary (some primary?) forest. Other days we simply continued up the gravel road in front of our apt up, up, and up, going as far one day as a huge and beautiful coffee plantation. On this road we passed many local indigenous families who live in the area and often walk the distance back and forth to town.

One am we arranged ourselves a tour at the fanciest nearby coffee plantation Finca Lerida. It’s a beautifully landscaped property with coffee, forest, good restaurant and lodging. We stayed there years ago, but the place has doubled in cost since then. Though we arranged a birding Tour, we really got a coffee Tour too, as our guide Cesar is very knowledgeable about both. The weather was off and on cool, misty, sunny, but Cesar found us bellbirds, quetzals, and many others. We met him 11 years ago on our first trip to Panama when we hired his Dad, the best quetzal finder in the area. Cesar, who was probably 12 at that time, came along. Dad is now retired, and Cesar is employed as guide for Finca Lerida. So it was really fun for us to see him again.

As in many such towns, expats here have formed all manner of interest groups and started lots of new endeavors. There are groups for golfers, walkers, birders, quilters and on. Every Sunday one such group sponsors a movie at a small theater. We went one Sunday afternoon and saw Amargosa, an interesting documentary about Dancer Marta Beckett, who restored an opera house in Death Valley primarily as a stage for her own art.

There is also a market in town every Tuesday am. Expats and locals sell vegetables, meat, fish, bread , pastry, artesania. Always fun to cruise these and talk to vendors.

Bought tickets for one day of the weekend long Boquete Music and Art Festival,

Held this year for first time at the town’s fairgrounds, where they also hold a popular flower festival early in year. Pretty expensive tickets for covered seating for an afternoon of music. Venue was great though, as was the music. Enjoyed seeing DC’s own Nighthawks blues etc band, and discovering some new (to us) performers

(Otis Taylor, Deanna Bogart, Anne Harris).

Closed up our apt for a couple nights and set off for nearest Pacific beach- only little more than an hour away. Beyond Panama’s second largest city David, through a labyrinth of country roads, is Playa Barqueta and a family owned resort called Las Olas. We had stayed there years ago and wanted to return. This is a beautiful long wide clean and very hot pretty deserted beach. The resort has clean basic rooms, all oceanfront, amazingly inexpensive. Has a restaurant with good food and varying service. Excruciatingly slow one eve, fine the next . We met one of co-owners (a gringa married to one of the family member owners - they also have a large cattle farm next door). Now that she and her husband are back from the States and involved in managing Resort , they are trying to hire more staff, improve training, do more promotion etc. We had a lovely time laying by nice pool in shade during the blistering hot afternoon, walking miles on the beautiful emptyish beach in very early eve - wave after wave of Pelicans crossing above us - And walking along cowpath and stream in am looking at birds (more than a dozen species).

Will leave here in just a few days and take van/bus -supposedly lovely 4 hour drive-

To Bocas del Toro - our first visit there.
glover is offline  
Feb 26th, 2018, 10:51 AM
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Glover, sounds idyllic.
yestravel is offline  
Feb 27th, 2018, 03:34 AM
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Hi Yestravel! Looking forward to that Spain report!
glover is offline  
Feb 27th, 2018, 10:02 AM
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Spain was great! Had wonderful weather which I was a little concerned about. Alas, no TR, but happy to share any details that might interest you.
yestravel is offline  

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