Flying back “home”

LOCATION: Panama to. Mission, Texas

WEATHER (in Mission): Nice – 70s

We missed talking with our homeowner. He was scheduled to return at 7:30 PM last night, but his flight was delayed 4 hours. So, he arrived in the wee hours, when we were sleeping. Mac continued to sleep in our room, which gave us a good feeling.

We had to get up at 4:00 AM in order to catch an early morning flight. The airport was a zoo. As with most flights, there were good and bad things…

Good – United “upgraded” us to exit row seats on the flight to Houston. The little bit of extra leg room was nice, but certainly not worth paying for. International flights to Central America no longer provide meals, so we luckily had brought tuna sandwiches for the 4-hour trip. Also good….we were scheduled to have a 6-hour layover in Houston. We stopped by the United desk in Houston and they were able to get us on an early PM flight. It was nice to get home early.

Bad — TSA. On one of the THREE security checks, they confiscated my tweezers and non-pointy finger nail file, both of which have gone through numerous TSA checks in the past few years all of the world. Even more maddening is that they took our only souvenir from Panama, a (less than 3-oz) bottle of tasty hot sauce.

I guess if we were terrorists, we could have thrown it in the pilot’s eyes or something.

After a lunch layover in Houston, we arrived in Mission where a kind Retama Village neighbor picked us up. All good back in the house and Airstream.

Room with a View..

LOCATION: Panama City, Panama

WEATHER: Need I repeat? Hot and humid

Today is our last full day here. We did a Skype interview with an Irish couple living in Geneva and they selected us for a housesit there this spring. Yay!

We will miss this lovely view of the Pacific from our living room’s deck..

Out there in the bay are lots of ships waiting to go through the Canal. We learned that they are not waiting their turn. Rather, they are waiting for their “time”. Each ship reserves a time slot, months in advance. They have to arrive at least 24 hours before their appointment. They have to prepay….in cash!

We realized that today is a holiday, Martyrs’ Day. It is the day Panama remembers the Panamanian students who were killed when they tried to put up the Panama flag in schools in the US-controlled Canal Zone. We watched parades go by chanting and singing. It was a bit of a mob scene. Sort of scary. Not sure if it still anti-American.

The crowd rallied near our place, in front of the President’s condo, with lots of shouting.

Then, we love sitting on the deck for AM coffee and PM drinks, when the temperature is pleasant. Mac likes it, too!

A final goodbye to Panama with a lovely sunset..

Eco Trip to Rain Forest Jungle

LOCATION: Housesitting in Panama City, Panama

WEATHER: Same – hot and humid. Showers in AM

Today’s excursion was a trip to see jungle animals. We got up early and met the tour guide at 7:00 AM. Supposedly, the tours that start earlier in the day get to see more animals. The tour was nice and small again, with a Canadian and a couple from Guatemala as our tour mates.

We drove about 30 minutes from the city. I sense a little rivalry between Panama and Costa Rica, for eco-tourists. Our guide today pointed out that unlike San Jose, Costa Rica, where the rain forest is several hours away, the capital city here in Panama is right on the edge of the rain forest. It is everywhere here!

We drove along the road where there have been more bird species found than anywhere else in the world.

Then, we got on our little boat and sped away across Gatun Lake, which is part of the Panama Canal. The river feeding into the lake used to be called Crocodile River. We donned life jackets, but the guide pointed out that if we sink, we would be gobbled up by a crocodile before the life jacket ever helped us!

We dodged big ships going through the Canal, like this oil tanker being guided by a pilot boat.

Before the Hoover Dam was built, Gatun Lake was the largest man-made lake in the world. They essentially flooded part of the rain forest. Now, the tops of some of the former mountains are small islands that dot the lake. The wildlife on these islands have been partially relocated, and some still live on the islands. So, off we went to see what wildlife we could see on some of the islands.

At our first stop, several white-faced Capuchin monkeys heard the boat coming and jumped through the tree branches to greet us. Our guide pointed out that generally a firm rule in eco tours is to NOT feed wild animals. Here, though, the animals depend on this food, as there is not enough food on these islands to sustain them. So, the monkeys know that food is coming when they hear the boats.

This guy jumped right into our boat to welcome us.

They are very bold. We each had grapes to feed them.

We went to another island where another species of monkeys, the smallest in the world, live. They are shyer, as the bigger monkeys are their predators. Here we fed them some bananas, and even got to see one mother with 2 babies latched on to her.

We saw huge iguanas hanging in trees and many kinds of birds, including the beautiful toucan.

Then, back across the lake. We passed this huge container ship. It has more than 10,000 containers. It costs this size of ship about $1 million to go through the canal, but the ship companies see this as a bargain as it takes about 10 hours to go through the canal, versus 20 days going around South America.

On our way back home, we stopped to look at this sloth. Hurry, before it moves! 🙂

We took a short hike through the jungle canopy, stopping at a waterfalls. We saw some coati in the bushes, and several beautiful birds.

Eating our way around Panama

LOCATION: Housesitting in Panama City, Panama

WEATHER: Same – hot and humid

We love the Panamanian food. It has influences from the Caribbean and Latin America. We started the morning with a sandwich that is like a Cuban sandwich from this food truck…

We splurged for lunch, at a really nice European restaurant. I had “seafood nested in a hammock”. It was grilled seafood served on a little bed of fried plantain….

George had the sea bass (a specialty here) in a garlic sauce. Yum!

The atmosphere was vaguely Cuban 1940s era style. There were lots of waiters waiting around to wait on us!

Speaking of food, we came home to our little dog Mac, begging for his dinner….

A day of planning

LOCATION: Housesittng in Panama City, Panama

WEATHER: 80s and humid

We spent the entire morning planning some of our Europe/England housesitting travel arrangements. It took hours to finally find an inexpensive flight, but we did it! We will fly to Rome in early March to do a housesit. We’ll take a train from Rome to the town where we will be housesitting, about 3 hours away to the northeast. After the housesit there, we plan to take the train to England. We have a 2-week gap between the 2 assignments, so we have applied to another housesit in Geneva, which will be on our way by train. We’ll see! I have to write everything down as the arrangements and reservations get a bit complicated.

We also reserved one last tour for here, this one a boat tour in the Panama Canal. We’ll do that on Monday, Then, we leave on Wednesday. The time has gone by quickly!

After a morning’s work, we headed to the bustop to go to visit a tap room.

We’re getting to know our way around much better. The tap room is in an industrial park. It had a nice atmosphere.

This translates as Casa Bruja — witch’s house. Respeta a el lupulo = Respect the hops, their logo. George tried their stout; I had their black IPA. Very good.

Back in our neighborhood, this guy was juggling flaming torches so that the people in the intersection will give him money…quite the entrepreneur.

Like stepping into a page of the National Geographic

Embara Village Indian visit continued….

We walked around the village, up and down muddy paths. The lady escorting us was barefoot, as are all the villagers. The stones, mud and ants on the path did not bother her at all. She took us up to the highest building in the village, the school. They are very proud of this.

As we were walking around, it started raining. The little children following us covered up with one of these bright cloths, the ones that women use for skirts.

Then, the villagers performed some dances.

You can see that the women have elaborate tattoos all over their bodies. The design of the tattoos are symbols of the jungle. They use a big seed that creates a black ink for the tattoos. They last about 10 days, then paint them again. The women are bare-breasted with beautiful handmade necklaces.

The men played drums for the dancers

After the dances, they gave me this “crown” as a symbol of their hospitality.

The children are darling

The canoe’s pilot brought his daughter along for the ride.

Note the man’s intricate tattoos..

What a wonderful day!!! We feel really fortunate to have. been able to do this. I highly recommend http://www.viatortours.com for anyone visiting Panama to do this tour. Our guide was superb.. He had lived with another Indian tribe for several years, so was very empathetic. He told us a lot about their lives, customs,, gentleness, and issues when they try to live in cities.

A fabulous trip to an Indian village

LOCATION: Housesitting in Panama City, Panama

WEATHER: 80s and humid. Intermittent rain

Today was our big day. The maid comes on Fridays, so we can be away from the apartment longer. She is willing to take Mac, our dog, on his mid-day walks. With that it mind, we planned a trip to the rain forest to visit the Embara Village native Indians.

Our tour guide picked us up (we were the only ones on the tour) and we drove about 1.5 hours north into the jungle. For awhile we paralleled the Panama Canal, then over the primary lake that is part of the Canal. We stopped in a very primitive village with a few chickens running around. This is where we got into dug-out canoes to get to our location.

Two Indian boys helped us into the boats. The boys and men wear loin cloths and paint their bodies black with a jungle seed. The boat trip was about 40 minutes over a 15-foot lake that feeds the Gatun Lake which is part of the Canal. In the dry season, the lake runs dry, and people walk across the lake. After crossing the lake, we went down a jungly river with a fierce current.

We arrived at a small opening in the jungle, and heard jungle drums welcoming us…

We walked up a steep path to the main part of the village. We learned that 132 people live here. Spanish is their second language so we could communicate.

Each of the houses is a palapa-type cone-shaped building situated around a community dirt center. This house belongs to the chief.

This is another home. Each house has laundry out drying. Women wear these pieces of cloth as a skirt. They design the fabric themselves, with colors of the jungle.

The houses are built up high so that they don’t flood when the river rises. They have this type of ladder going up to the houses.

Most of the village people were there to host us. It was incredible. We were the only tourists! It did not feel touristy, even though they depend on these tourist visits for part of their livelihood. A lady spent about an hour describing their lives and showing us how they make their handicrafts. Everything is natural ,….They hike up to the mountains and cut down different barks, leaves, palm branches and dye them different colors with various leaves and nuts. Then they weave the fronds into baskets. A man showed us how they carve intricate pieces out of different wood.

The village doesn’t have any electricity. There are no outside influences – no refrigeration, no cell phones, TV, etc. They live a very simple life.

Each house has a “kitchen” like this one. A lady grilled us pieces of talapia and plaintains over this fire…

And then, she served us the food wrapped in plantain leaves…

See next post for more photos.

Recharging in Panama

LOCATION: Housesitting in Panama City, Panama

WEATHER: Not as hot — 80s

In the morning, we had a Skype interview call with a British couple living near the Adriatic Sea in Italy. They selected us for a housesit, so we have one more confirmed! Yay! It looks beautiful.

We walked to a nearby church that is quite elegant Our exchange student from Panama told us that she got married here

So, after recharging our souls, we walked to the metro station across the street, with the same name – Iglesias de Carmen – to recharge our bus/metro card— adding money to the card so we can continue traveling on the bus/metro.

Then, with souls and bus card recharged we stopped by our favorite pub for a pint. It is called Buenas Pintas — Good Pints, and it lives up to its name. For an indication of their quality, their wifi password is “Budlightsucks”.

Relating to sloths and poisonous frogs!

LOCATION: Housesitting in Panama City, Panama

WEATHER: Hot and humid again. Rain showers

We were a little “slothful” this morning, doing internet stuff and playing with Mac. After lunch, we figured out the bus again, and for $.25, made it to the main station and then transferred to another bus (free) to our destination. Today’s jaunt was to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

It is rather small, and all the guides were eager to practice their English. First we saw an exhibit on Panama’s poisonous frogs, most of which are endangered.

The most famous is the Rana Dorada, Golden Frog, which is also the name of a microbrewery here. We had previously bought a Rana Dorada beer t-shirt, so now feel like we can relate to the frog!

The Smithsonian lies right on the bay. These pilings are what is left from a building that housed a quarantine area used when the Panama Canal was being built. Many people dying of malaria were housed here.

Then, we were off to see the marine life display. These star fish live in the waters here.

This little guy started following us around, looking for a snack. It is much skinnier and smaller than US raccoons.

Trust me – we did see a mother and baby sloth way up in the trees. As they were unmoving (of course, they are sloths!), the photo just looked like a black blob, so I took this photo of the display

The word in Spanish for sloth is perezoso, which also means lazy. Similar to our word sloth and slothfulness.

From the Smithsonian, we caught a cab with a very friendly driver. We had him drop us off at Old Town. We found a roof-top bar and enjoyed the view. We invited a couple from Vienna, Austria sitting next to us to join us for a chat. We also said hello to 2 couples speaking English. One had a T-shirt on from Wimberly, Texas. We asked him where he lives and he responded “Mission, Texas” – which is where our tiny house is! What a small world!!!

Being tourists in Panama

LOCATION: Housesitting in Panama City, Panama

WEATHER: Hot with occasional rain showers

After getting Mac settled for the day, we figured out the bus route to Old Panama (not to be confused with Old Town Panama). The buses do not have any numbers. They just have a sign showing their start and stop point. So, if your stop is on the way, rather than the final stop, you have to ask. After several inquiries, we hopped on the right one. For $.25, we got a nice 30-minute ride around the city.

Old Panama is the site of the original city, built in the 1500s. Ruins like these are all that is left, after a pirate sailed in and burned down the city.

It was lunch time, and there was nothing around this area. So, we hopped on a bus going in the direction of our condo, thinking we would just get off when we saw a potential lunch area. One stop was interestingly called “Jimmy”. I looked out and saw Jimmy’s restaurant, so thought that might be a good spot.

It turns out that this is a popular restaurant for locals, and has been around for many years. Jimmy was a Greek guy so the menu was Panamanian and Greek. We had Sancocho, the most typical Panamanian food. It is a beef, or in our case chicken, soup with a chunk of yam in it. The yam is nothing like American sweet potatoes – more like a yucca.

We can check that one off our “to-eat” list. . George has a cold, so it hit the spot.

In the evening, we had reservations for a dinner and show at a typical Panama restaurant. We shared an order of empanadas, another typical food (another list check-off), and sea bass with beans and rice. George had a glass of Panama rum (for medicinal purposes for his sore throat).

The show was quite good. It was definitely touristy, but most of the tourists were Spanish-speaking.