Thursday, 16 March 2017

Panama, Canada, Cabana, Banana part 1



Panama. What a great place to end our adventures in Central America. I write this after having been here for almost two weeks and have loved pretty much every day. And whilst we are now looking forward to going home I do wish we could have spent more time here getting to know the country and people better. Who knows if we will ever get back but given an opportunity we would both jump at the chance. So before I finish I guess I better start huh?

Most people, after coming through Costa Rica to Panama, head to Bocas for more beautiful beaches. But, having beached our butts off over the last few months and come to realize its “prawns” we decided to head into the Western Highlands and the town of Boquete.

“Prawns” - A phrase we have coined for when the idea of something is better than the reality due to extenuating circumstances – for example: Prawns are tasty and succulent. But, to eat a prawn you have to get messy. You have to push your fingernails into their underside, crack their shell in two and rip it off their body. You probably have to extricate some eggs or legs and certainly scrape away something that looks like a line of shit. You then eat it in 2 seconds and are left with stinky fingers that need to be intensively washed to rid yourself of the smell. That’s Prawns!

So Boquete is in the Western Highlands and sits at 1200m. It is without doubt the windiest place we have ever been. It rattles across the area at a fair lick. Bending trees, scattering dust and shaking doors 24 hours a day. Our AirB&B host uses a volleyball net as a washing line so that the clothes are supported against the mesh rather than flapping on totally inadequate pegs. Point of fact It takes less than 20 minutes for clothes to dry from a washing machine in these conditions. Our host is Carlos and worth a mention because he is a 10 year old boy in a mans body. He is Tigger from Winnie the Poo. He acts and speaks like a cartoon character on Speed. But, for all that he is generous, considerate and lovely. Upon entering the house he says “Put your bags here, quick, now, I show you, rooms, house, stuff is boom, bang bing bang!” Or something like that. 

In-lounge climbing wall
The underside of the stairs to our room is studded with climbing grips. Our room is large and airy but we skip through that as we are led through a small window out onto a windswept roof area with a hammock acting like a windsock in the gale. There is also a horizontal spiders web arrangement made of elastic rope to recline on (uncomfortably) over a 20ft drop to the rockery below. We exit the roof space by a fireman’s pole and find a tightrope slung between trees, a Wendy house (but he has no children) and an incredible dog house he bought cheaply (but he has never had a dog). The house and garden is a sort of assault course with and various other balancing objects and weights scattered about and all a bit surreal.

We are 4km outside of the town of Boquete on a quiet side road off a dual carriageway. There is a bus stop at the end of the road and here you can wave down buses, shared taxi’s (you never know who else they will pick up) or collectivo’s and get dropped in the centre for 60 cents.

It turns out that although Panama has its own currency – The Balboa. They do not print their own money. It is linked to the dollar and all paper money is in US dollars with the Balboa only used in coin form.

Chris by a "Lost Waterfall"
Anyway, the town is pleasant with a nice square but little to make you go wow apart from a swift flowing river that tumbles over rocks beside a decorative garden. We are here to walk and there are plenty of trails to follow either along dusty roads, little used tarmac roads or into the hills along trails. There is not much different to report from other walks accept we did one called “The Lost Waterfalls” which follows a river and presents you with ever bigger and more impressive waterfalls and all the ensuing spray to soak you to the skin. Very nice.

On another day we happen upon a basaltic rock face where it is possible to do climbing but we were sadly let down by the climbing company who were supposed to get back to us and never did. Oh well, my big toe is still not recovered from the break and my nail is about to fall off anyway so climbing shoes could have been a problem. Everywhere we go there are flowering shrubs hanging down and birds singing. We stay in Boquete for several days but eventually the wind changes and like Mary Poppins we get blown down to the Capital. The mighty Panama City.

Women of Panama we salute you. You are bottoms and busts and bootilicious. It is difficult to walk down a street without having your eyes drawn to a cleavage or expansive lycra covered ass jiggling its way through the city. So Rachel tells me! Plainly there are all different shapes of women but I think we will both remember Panama as a place where women celebrate their femininity in all its glorious sizes and contours. Magnificent!

The favorite pastime of motorists here, apart from picking their noses, is beeping their horns in traffic jams. Beeping them at even the smallest infraction or slow down on the roads. This is bizarre since the city is congested nearly all of the day and consequently they achieve no more than possibly repetitive hooter hand.

Panama City
Panama city is without doubt an amazing, world class city with everything to entertain, beguile and surprise the traveller. Enormous shopping complexes, towering edifices of sculptured concrete and glass , slums, incredible engineering feats, parks, nature trails and much more. So. Where to begin….

To use the public transport system you need a Rapi pass card. Pretty much everything costs 25 cents whether you take an air conditioned bus or ride on the one route only, but quite lovely, subway (other lines to follow shortly). The only down side of traveling on this is the manic last-man-standing attitude to getting on. Irrespective of people coming off of the train-  those with places still to go are clawing at the doors almost before they have opened. Something probably due to the fact that there is a remarkably short time between stopping and starting .again

Anyway we are staying in a nice AirB&B in an apartment block with a pool so can start each morning or finish and afternoon with a swim.

The F&F building
We spent our first day following the “Impressive buildings” route about the city which involved lots of walking and lots of looking up. Trump Tower, the spiral F&F building, Mystic Towers and Towerbank to name just a few of these imposing monoliths. We of course stopped for food – A delicious Kebab and nosed about the plentiful shops. One place being the Soho Mall which was 4 floors of marbled, air conditioned, refined, expensive and empty shops – Guchi, Guess and God knows what other high class brands all with idle staff guarding the undisturbed displays. Quite extraordinary.

Day two was another architectural feast but this time into the past –Casco Viejo is the old part of the city that is being systematically gentrifyied. Shoddy facades are being filled, gutted buildings being restored, rusted ironwork being treated and roads being brick blocked and beautified. The result is fantastic. It has that New Orleans feel but without the blues and Jazz. Instead latino music wafts from the shuttered windows and open doorways allowing one to glimpse at the high ceilinged and wooden floored rooms in these delightful buildings.

Casco Viejo
Enjoyed our first Raspado today – a cup of shaved ice grated off a large square lump which is drizzled with strawberry sauce and condensed milk.. Yum yum and very refreshing.

Sunday is the get fit day in Panama City. Until midday certain streets are closed to traffic and bike rental stalls and drinks stalls are set up so you can rent very good bikes for $4.00 an hour. Kitted with helmet and a banana for refreshment you can then bike through some of the city or along the pacific promenade and the Amador pathway to a collection of small islands joined by bridges just off the coast. Unfortunately we got up a little late to get all the way out to the islands and left that for another day. We did however cover some 20 or kilometres along the front with the sun shining on us and gentle breeze cooling us as we went. A great way to pass a few hours and very novel being able to utilize all three lanes of these major roads with no care for traffic.

Fat bottomed girl you make my rockin' world go round
As if that wasn’t enough exercise we dropped off the bikes and then walked 4 kilometres back to the Fish Market where there are lots of food stalls selling fresh fish and in particular Ceviche. Raw fish, lobster, Prawns etc served in cups with chopped onion and lots of lemon juice. Apparently the lemon juice breaks down the proteins in the meat and gives it that cooked texture. We opted for one prawn and octopus mix, one lobster dish and one raw fish. Absolutely delicious.. Even though the sky looked threatening and it had rained during our lunch we started walking home – another planned 6kms – but a torrential downpour stopped us and we sheltered in a bus stop until a bus going completely the wrong direction with no stops passed, stopped, collected our soggy selves up and dropped us off 10km from where we had started. Just what we needed since our phone (and therefore maps) had run out of power. Ho Hum – all in a day’s travelling.

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