Panama

Here are all the posts for Panama. This is part of the Central America trip. See travelogues for the other countries: Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Panama Photos

Here are some of my favorite photos from my trip to Panama. Click any photo to see the slideshow.

on arrival

We arrived in Panama City late at night and stayed at an airport hotel, El Hotel Riande Aeropuerto. In the morning, one of the teachers from the school took us to our home-stay. We are staying in a large apartment in downtown Panama City; it has three bedrooms, two baths, a living room, a dining room and two verandas. Our hostess is an 84-year-old woman from Valencia, Spain. She has lived in Argentine and Peru, as well as Panama. Her Spanish is very good. She is interesting and patient. She volunteers at the Hospital in the Canal Zone. (more…)

Panamanian attractions

The biggest attractions of Central America are climate, ability to practice Spanish, multiplicity of countries, natural wonders and interesting cultures. I hope to see a lot.

  • the Panama Canal (of course)
  • coffee plantations in Chiriqui Highlands
  • Bocas del Toro seashore and coral reef
  • birds along Pipeline Road

Smithsonian

yachtsWe went by taxi to the Punta Calebra Nature Center associated with the Smithsonian. It is located at the entrance to the Panama Canal. For many years, it was in military use and had not been developed; it is now a refuge for marine life and dry forest. We saw large iguanas, osprey and frigates. We visited the aquarium. From the point, we could see ships waiting for their turn to enter the canal.

Nearby, we saw a panoramic view of the Panama City skyline and large yachts in the harbor.

map, Panama

mapPanamaThe Pacific Ocean is to the south and the Caribbean Sea to the north.

weigh-in

My luggage weighed in at 48 pounds with 30 in my backpack and 18 in my knapsack. My knapsack is almost all photographic equipment and there is probably another 5 to 6 pounds in the backpack. So, my weight is about evenly divided between clothing and photos equipment.

I want to get photos of wildlife, specially birds in the wild. This means my 8-inch, 300mm telephoto plus a 1.7x teleconverter. This also means, I nee a tripod and ballhead. The combined magnification will be about 765mm. The ballhead features panoramic capabilities, so I can snap photos like my good friend, Larry.

tropical

To say Panama is tropical is redundant, but it is tropical. Luckily, there is a breeze from the Pacific Ocean. It is hot and humid here. But, I at the best pineapple I have ever eaten. The water is good to drink. The city is lively with about 1.5 million people, half the 3 million citizens of the country.

the Canal

canal tankerI visited the Mira Flores Locks of the Panama Canal, located about 10 kilometers outside the City. It is indeed impressive to see monster, “PanaMax” size ships entering the locks with roughly a meter of clearance on either side. There are several locks that raise the ships to canal and then lake level. Then they make their way to the Caribbean side and through another series of locks. It takes only minutes for the large basins to fill, “in less time than it takes to fill your bathtub,” and the enormous ship goes up about a meter a minute.

Panama Vieja

old treetowerPanama City has two “old towns.” The first, Panama Vieja, was ransacked by the English pirate, Sir Henry Morgan in the sixteenth century. There are some ruins that are being restored.

They also have a gallery of local crafts and a fruit stand. I ate the best pineapple of my life at the fruit stand, a smallish size fruit, skinned and sliced as I watched and placed in a plastic bag.

Pipeline Road

slothI went to Panama Rainforest at Pipeline Road, a discovery center and tower that just opened in January. The Audubon Society counted the most species of birds during a 24-hour period here. We arrived in the dark and had some difficulty finding the place and getting past the entrance fence. In the dark, various animals scurried in front of the taxi headlights while a constant din of animals and monkeys filled the air. I kept saying, “Asi es un jungle.” The taxi driver said, “No, es un Congo.” (more…)

School Days

breakfast at Angela'sI wake up to the sound of the city and morning bird cackles. Breakfast is routinely served at 8 a.m. Eggs scrambled with ham, toast, a plate of fruit and coffee. We sit on the apartment veranda overlooking the city and in between the high rises, we can see the canal towers in the distance near the mountains. We walk about ten minutes down the hill to the school, take class for two hours, take a one hour break for lunch at one of the local restaurants and return for two more hours of class. Usually the first session is difficult with lessons in grammar and verb conjugation. The afternoon drifts into conversation and learning new words. (more…)

SpanishPanama

with profesora ElviraI give Spanish Panama high marks. I learned a lot, found the teacher friendly and competent. and the environment suitable for learning. The school administration and staff were uniformly friendly, flexible and helpful. Most students take individual lessons (one-on-one) and that may be the way to go. The first day, I was in a class with other students who had little or no exposure to Spanish study. While I can use almost any review, this was not particularly challenging. The second day, we changed to smaller classes (more…)

Homestay with Paella

paellaPart of learning Spanish is interacting with people outside of school. The immersion program includes living with a family. We stayed with Angeles, an 84 year-old woman. She told us the story of her life “her destiny.” She was born in Valencia, Spain. I calculate in 1923. When she got married, she and her husband wanted to see the “Americas” and took a honeymoon in Buenos Aires. They didn´t go back. After living there for many years, they moved to Peru. After 15 year sin Peru, the political situation changed and they moved to Panama in 1986. (more…)

Casco Viejo

Also known locally as San Felipe, this is the second “old city.” After Panama Viejo was ransacked by the English, the Spanish movd their settlement here. Much of the neighborhood is still in ruins. The tourist police have set up a protected tourist area. Several restaurants, art galleries and redevlopment projects are underway. Also, the next James Bond movie is being filmed here, so a portion of the neighborhod was reconstructed (to look like Quito??). The Presidential Palance is also here with its characteristic herons.

the Bus and the economy

constructionWe took an eight-hour bus ride from Panama City to David. It was a double decker, air-conditioned and comfortable. They played movies, El Perro Bombero and some remake of Dracula Meets Frankenstein (?¡). We stopped in David for the night and took the “school” bus to Boquete. It was packed with people with luggage hanging out the back. I was disappointed there were no chickens.

Riding the bus game me time to observe:

  • Panama is about the size and population of West Virginia (more…)

Boquete

beansBoquete is a small town in a picturesque setting. Volcan Baru hovers over the town while Rio Caldera sweeps through it. The coffee tastes great. The large construction projects, gated communities and large tourism industry take away some of the charm.
After baking in the tropical sun of Panama City, Boquete was a genuine relief. Because of its altitude and frequent clouds and mist, Boquete is cool, particularly in the evening.

developmentWe toured the Cafe Ruiz coffee operations for half-a-day and became coffee snobs. (more…)

Cerro Punto

cascadesAbove Cerro Punto and Guadalupe is a charming international park. The jungle is dense, dark and exotic. Birds, including the quetzales, live in abundance. The air is cool. It’s called a cloud-forest (rather than a rain-forest).

I liked the coolness of Boquete, but not the widespread tourist development, so I headed to Guadalupe, a small settlement above Cerro Punto on the north side of Volcan Baru. I rented a cabin in the mountains at 7,000 feet in altitude, located inside Parque International La Amistad. The park spans both Panama and Costa Rica, hence its name. (more…)

Birds of Panama Photos

Here are photos of hummingbirds and other birds.

People on the Bus

localI spent a long day taking buses and water taxis to Bastimentos. On the way, I saw a family of indigenous people moving their household.

I had a long travel day from the cloud-forest cabin to the tree-house hut on the Island. I awoke early and hiked through the jungle and spotted  a pair of quetzales. I saw a total of six in several days. At 10 a.m., I put my luggage in the four-wheel drive and slowly made it down the volcano. I hiked to the bus busstop and took a three-hour bus ride to David. From there, I took another bus back over the Highlands to Almirante near Changuinola. In David, I noticed the roof of the bus was piled high with burlap bags. It turned out a family was moving. My guess is they had been picking coffee beans and were returning to their homes. They even had a dog tied to the roof. (more…)

Bastimentos

palmsI went to Bastimentos because Bocas Town has a reputation as being loud and noisy, especially at night. The Island was tropical delight, but evening music followed me.

The Island has a small town of the same name. A sidewalk runs the length of the town. There are no cars. People don’t seem to do much of anything–except party at night. Originally they were banana workers that moved from Jamaica but after the Panamanian banana blight, they were out of work. In any event, there are private parties at night with large loudspeakers broadcasting music across the Island. BastamientoUnfortunately, it’s not reggae, just bass, techno drums and yelling (regga?). I stayed at Beverly’s Hill in their “premier” accommodation–a two-story hut at the very top of a long hill. It had a hammock on the balcony with a great view. (more…)

leaving Panama, arriving Costa Rica

leavingarriving Costa RicaI took an exciting boat ride along a banana canal from Bocas to Changinola. From there, I took a micro-bus to the border and walked across the railroad trestle across the river that marks the frontier between the two countries. A couple of bus rides later, I was at the end of the road in Manzanillo, the most southeastern point in Costa Rica.

Hummingbird

A hummingbird photo from the central highlands of Panama rain forest.
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