Las Lajas Beach Resort

¡Hola, mis amigos!  It’s been ages since I’ve blogged anything and I hope that you all haven’t given up on me. But I hit a point in my living here in Boquete where everything was just so everyday. I felt I had nothing interesting to write about. Recently my friend, Susan (who has an awesome blog about their travels here), suggested to me that the everyday stuff is what many people want to know about.

So I have been looking at my life here in Panama anew. With Susan’s encouragement and a different perspective, I have found that I really do have a lot to write about. Some of it will be everyday stuff, some will be new adventures. For this new beginning, I decided to tell you about our favorite get away.

Guy & I love living in Boquete. But when we need a break from our Mountain Tropical Paradise, we head to Las Lajas Beach Resort (LLBR), our Beach Tropical Paradise. We go as often as we can and are, in fact, leaving Thursday for a 2 night trip.

LLBR is the creation of Peter and Scott, 2 former California pizza parlor owners. They vacationed here, looked around, found some beachfront property and built the resort from scratch. It’s a 12-room resort with a pool, bar & restaurant, lawn area, covered sitting area and several palapas to sit under and gaze out over the ocean. The lawn area ends where the beach begins and depending upon the tide, the water is anywhere from at the grass to 2 hundred yards out. The hotel has perhaps 100 or so linear feet at the beach, but the beach itself goes off for miles in either direction. Often there are no other humans to be seen.

Sometimes we come with a large group of people from Boquete. Someone will send out an email saying they’ve booked dates and soon 8-10 couples are off to the beach. My friend, Robyn, has dubbed it Senior Day Camp. Sometimes, like our last trip, we are the only ones there.

Since we come often and turnover is fairly low, we have gotten to know the staff pretty well. They are a very cool group of people who take our happiness very seriously. They are friendly and hardworking. The last time we were at LLBR, Guy went out fishing with Julio, the night bartender, and had a great time. The way that Julio surf-fished was to prep the pole, walk/swim out into the surf beyond the waves, cast and then walk back to shore while letting line out. Once out on the beach he walked along keeping the line perpendicular to the coast as the bait moved with the current. It was different and fun to watch them. Unfortunately, no fish were caught, which according to the night receptionist, Jonathan, is par for the course with Julio.

The restaurant and bar are next to the pool and lawn area. The food is tasty and a good value. You don’t pay until you leave the resort, so you can leave your wallet in the room. Coffee and breakfast is available from about 7 a.m. And the bar is open until about 10:00 p.m.

Free activities include walks on the beach, reading and/or snoozing under a palapa or in a hammock, taking a dip in the pool or napping in your room.

For a small price you can rent a boogie or surf board (many people bring their own boards) or go horseback riding around the Las Lajas area with a local guide, Gama, who also works at the resort. You’ll know Gama as he’s the one in the blue LLBR t-shirt who always has a smile on his face.

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Our friends, Jane and David, riding with Gama

These 2 videos were taken in March and that day the waves were amazing. Guy and our friend, Bob, couldn’t miss a wave!

Every clear evening ends with a spectacular sunset. On the nights that there are clouds, lightning, thunder and wonderful rain are often the backdrop.

Las Lajas Beach Resort is a magical place, a must-see when you are here in Panama!

 

Bocas del Toro – Part 2 – Botanic Garden, Isla Bastimentos & Isla Colón

I am so amazed at the beauty that surrounds me in the tropics. I love the sea, the mountains, the jungle…all of it. And being on an island in the Caribbean may be the most beautiful of all. We spent time at the beach across the street from our friends’ apartment, bicycled in and around the town and explored the Botanic Garden.

BOTANIC GARDEN

Finca Los Monos is a property with a planned garden that is simply known as Botanic Gardens. The owners live on the 25 acre property and continually add to the already abundant flora on location. It was amazing to see all the different palms, flowers and trees and how beautifully it was all arranged. Guy, our friend, Alex, and I got to take a private tour of the property. It was simply amazing.

Even though this is a planned garden, much of the landscaping has the appearance of a natural jungle.

The variety of trees, flowers and other flora was incredible.

Even though it was raining when we first got there, it cleared up and we got to view some of the local wildlife.  Including, unfortunately, some rather nasty mosquitoes.

ISLA BASTIMENTOS

While in Bocas we were able to visit a couple different islands.  Isla Bastimentos is home to Red Frog Beach, a popular resort with a hotel, tent cabins, a restaurant and an amazing beach.  I wish I would’ve gotten more pics of the beach and grounds, but we didn’t stay long and were walking around & swimming a bit.  I was too chicken that I might get sand in my camera!

ISLA CARENERO

Our hotel room was directly across a channel from another island, Isla Carenero.  We grabbed a water taxi and for $1 each, we boated over to Carenero to hike around it. Walking through that part of town was interesting.  There is no pavement only a dirt path with high fences enclosing it.  Within a few minutes the town was behind us and we were walking on a path that went by a few homes and eventually past a few hostels.  Then just when we almost lost view of Isla Colón, we came upon a restaurant, Gigi’s.  Wow, what a cool place!  Food and drink was fabulous and the view was beautiful!

Our friends, Josh, Pamela and Alex left Bocas the same day as us and offered us a ride back to Boquete.  Josh has a vehicle so taking a water taxi wouldn’t work.  There is a ferry but it leaves late enough that we would have to get accommodations in Almirante, the port town on the mainland.  Accommodations in Almirante are less than desirable and the road between Almirante and Boquete is long, windy and unlit.  Not the easiest driving at night.

So Josh wrangled a deal with a local barge company.  They got us across the water in good time, at a lower rate than the ferry and in the morning.

Although Bocas del Toro is not my favorite place, I’m really glad that we went.  I saw some beautiful real estate and enjoyed the heat, humidity and sunshine.

Bocas del Toro – Part 1 – Isla Colón

by Tracy Kuyat

When Guy & I first decided to head south, we had visions of imbibing rum drinks on the beach right outside our front door.  Plans of mice and men.  We now live in a mountain town, Boquete, an hour and a half away from any beach.

Not that we’re complaining or anything.  We love the mountains as well, and it’s been perfect for adjusting to living the expat life.  Life is wonderful in Boquete.

But the draw of the ocean is always pulling at us. Although we’ve visited a couple beaches on the Pacific side of Panama, they are not our favorites. After the beautiful drama of the California coast, the flat beaches here were rather boring. And the dark, sometimes brown looking water didn’t invite like the sparkling, blue waters of the Caribbean.

Our friends, Josh and Pamela, recently moved over to Bocas del Toro. We had yet to see the Caribbean since moving to Panama, so we headed over the mountains for a little visit and an introduction to life on an island.

Bocas del Toro is an archipelago off the northeast coast of Panama in the Province of Bocas del Toro, right next to Costa Rica.  It’s a 3 hour bus ride from Boquete through some beautiful mountains.

The one way bus shuttle tickets, cost $30 per person, include the water taxi fare.  The shuttle is run by Hostel Mamallena, a local hostel near the central park here in Boquete.  Our bus is a smaller bus, holding 20 passengers or so.  It’s fairly comfortable but I was really happy for the chance to get out and stretch about halfway.  We stopped at the Enel Fortuna Visitor Center, which is near the Enel Fortuna hydro generator.  It’s my understanding that you can get a tour of the facility.  For all you hydro generator buffs, click on the link for a brief history of Enel Fortuna, which is, by the way, the second largest hydro generator in Panama.

Finally we arrived in Almirante, the mainland town where we got dropped off to catch the water taxi.  As our luggage was being offloaded, a couple little local boys began to speak with me.  I think they thought I was from China.  Asians in Panama are not unusual, but most are Chinese.  They seemed a bit surprised when I told them I was from California.  One of them asked if I needed help with my luggage.  When I said no, he sadly said, “Oh S#*t” in perfect English.  Rather humorous.

Guy wheeled our suitcase down the road a bit to the taxi building.  We waited for about 10 minutes for the boat to arrive.  We had a larger suitcase than most, but the guy loading the boat didn’t seem to know what to do with it.  He finally put it in the back where there was space for luggage.  Hmmm….

After a 20 minute ride, we arrived on Isla Colón.  We stayed at Bocas Paradise Hotel.  Our room was on the third floor, which was fine except that Guy had to lug our suitcase up the stairs…no elevators.  Initially our room was located on the side of the hotel next to the bar.  That night it seemed like the speakers were in our room.  But the management moved us to the room next door and the sound was less intrusive.  Especially as the music doesn’t quit till 4 in the morning on the weekends.  If you ever want to book a king bed room, ask for room 306 (definitely NOT 305.)

After we got settled in, our friend, Josh, had to meet some clients, so we, along with his dad, Alex, took a drive out to Playa Bluff.  It’s a long stretch of sand on the east side of the island.  The clients, Harolf and Chris, own Island Plantation Resort.  On the property is a beach bar & grill.  The BBQ plate was amazing!  And we shared several pitchers of Jungle Juice.  It was delicious and highly recommended.  After lunch, while Josh discussed business, Pamela, Guy & I walked along the beach.  It was so cool to be walking along a beautiful, deserted beach with no footprints around but ours.

Bocas Town is a small town.  There are few cars, mostly pedestrians and bicyclists.  The main drag is a small strip of street so getting around on foot is easy.  We got to try a few really good restaurants.  There’s not a ton to do at night as we don’t frequent bars, but we did get to watch the MMA fight, that is, until the electricity went out.  This is, apparently, quite a common occurance here in Bocas.

Next post…the Botanical Gardens & Isla Bastimentos!

Freedom From Debt The Easy Way

“There are but two ways of paying debt:

Increase of industry in raising income,

increase of thrift in laying out.”

-Thomas Carlyle

The American Dream…ours had really become a nightmare.  Due to poor financial decisions and choices, our debt had become unbearable.  Before retirement, we could barely keep up with every day expenses, much less anything fun.

Several years ago we purposed to get out of debt.  We found books and various resources and began to learn lessons that we badly needed to know.  But try as we might, the Debt would grow larger not smaller.  Argh!

So when we began entertaining the idea of moving out of country, our research showed that living almost anywhere outside the USA would substantially decrease our cost of living and enable us to finally to pay off our bills.  Completely.  Finally!

Needless to say, with our desire to travel, this concept got us very excited.  The burden that is Debt was so great to bear.  We keep imagining ourselves screaming, “Freedom,” much like the hero, William Wallace (at least that’s what he did in Braveheart.)  Although at times it feels like it, thankfully we are not in prison or dying horrible deaths from our tormentor.

“So, now that you’ve been in Panama for 9 months, how’s the whole getting-out-of-Debt thing working out for you?” you ask.  Very well, thank you :).  And, since you’ve asked, I thought I’d outline for you what that looks like.

One of the first things that we decided upon when we moved here was our list of financial goals.  Numero Uno on the list was to get out of Debt.  With that established we discussed our spending priorities.  Now I am good with living simply but not with cockroaches or never eating out or foregoing having any fun.  I am too old to live in a hostel with shared baths or a dark, dank apartment in a creepy neighborhood.

So our first apartment, a simple studio in a clean building, was perfect for beginning our adventure.  It included a private bath, partial kitchen, electricity, gas, trash, wifi and easy access to a washer and dryer.  All for a rent of $500.

We loved our landlords but the apartment had no balcony or outdoor common area and we were a ways from town.  We started getting a bit stir crazy as well as frustrated since we seemed to sleep at home and live in town.  So after 7 months, we decided to move to a new apartment.  Our rent increased by $350.  But we have a large balcony and we’re right in town.  We are within minutes of everything and haven’t had to grab a taxi in weeks.  Love it!

A month ago we set up a budget that we chose to track on a daily basis to see how much we could actually live on per day for 30 days.  We started with $30 per day.  Now this per diem is food (groceries and going out), fun money, fishing trips, etc., basically everything outside of our bills and rent.

Before I reveal whether or not we made our goal, I need to explain a couple of things.  We took 2 PriceMart (Panama’s answer to Costco and probably IS Costco) runs and bought things like paper towels, toilet paper and other bulk items that will cover us through most of June.  We also treated ourselves to dining out (with drinks) 9 times, the best gelato ever 3 times and cigars from the Tuesday Market.  But even with all that, we averaged $42 per day, only $12/day over our intended budget.  We were pleased and decided to up our daily to a more practical $40.

So what is our current bottom line here?  Check it out:

Rent (includes: fully furnished [all furniture, linens, dishes] with maid service, electricity, gas, water, trash, wifi, cable TV, in-apartment washer & dryer) $850.00
Food and Extras (for 30 days) $1,200.00
Medical & Other Expenses (medical insurance, doctor visits, medication and other necessary expenses) $900.00
MONTHLY TOTAL $2,950.00

Isn’t that amazing?!  Now to maybe add a little perspective I want to add the following:

  • We don’t own or buy “stuff”.  After all, we are traveling around the world with 2 suitcases each. Period.
  • Our apartment is a luxury apartment.  Many expats have told us that these apartments are some of the best in Boquete.
  • We don’t own a car.  No payment, no insurance, no fuel or maintenance.  Sweet!
  • We don’t have health club memberships.  We walk everywhere and have a simple body-weight routine that we can do at home.  And I just started a Tai Chi class (awesome idea, Toby!!!) that is a pay-what-you-feel-is-right cost.  I usually pay $5 per class.
  • We don’t have any kids with us (they can be a bit pricey, can’t they?)
  • We didn’t bring everything and originally spent maybe $300 initially to get a few items that we “couldn’t” live without…kinda the “I’m old and like my comforts” thing.  Call it “moving expenses.”  An example is that we spent about $40 to purchase an electric wok.  The 2 burner stove thing was super limiting.
  • We do pay medical insurance every month, but we don’t go to the doctor or buy meds every month.  So the $900 is for as much as we might possibly need not what we actually spend each month.
  • We live simply but extravagantly.  Eating at higher end restaurants, buying alcohol, taking fishing and weekender trips…we really don’t skimp.  Even though we give ourselves $40 a day, it’s really only a reminder and a goal.  We could cut out quite a bit and do fine on $15 daily if we were really needing to cut down.

So that’s my life right now…at least the financial part of it.  We’re comfortable & happy, having a blast and looking forward to financial freedom before the end of 2015.  And, I might add, that includes 3 trips back to the USA and a wedding!

Yay!

Where in the World are Guy & Tracy???

Hi there, everyone!  Just wanted to let you know that Guy & I are alive and well and thriving in Boquete, Panama.  A trip to the States in March (alas, never made it to CA this trip!) and dealing with a bad cold on our return has left me waaaaaaaay behind on blogging.

In an effort to catch up, I want to let you guys see a few things that we’ve visited since the beginning of the year.

Boquete has an annual event called La Feria de Las Flores y del Café (The Fair of Flowers and Coffee).  They work on getting the fairgrounds ready for several months.  My camera was off being repaired from a fall onto the sidewalk (oh yeah, not a happy moment!)  So I only got a couple pics with my cell phone.

La Feria was started in 1950 and held intermittently until the 1970s.  Following a devastating flood, it was decided to make the fair an annual event to celebrate the strength of the people during this difficult time.  Since then it has been held every year in January as a 10 day fair.

We, though, were not overly impressed with the fair.  For being a flower festival, the gardens were planted almost exclusively with marigolds.  The flowers that grow here wild as well as in gardens are so beautiful and exotic.  To have only marigolds on display was really disappointing.  There were a couple of coffee stands.  At one, Guy tried a coffee liqueur that was produced by one of the coffee fincas (farms).  Dozens of food stands were scattered throughout the fair.  But oddly enough, they all sold the exact same food.  BBQ chicken, 2 types of Panamanian chorizo grilled on sticks and fried plantains.

The biggest and most modern structures were the discoteques.  There were 2 very large ones.  Even though we lived a couple miles and up a mountain from the fairgrounds, we could hear the music like it was next door.  Till 4.  In the morning.  Every night.  Crazy.

The Boquete Jazz & Blues Festival is during February.  It is a charitable, non-profit annual event begun by the local expats to support and promote musical education in the local schools.  One of the songs was sung by a young boy who had voice lessons because of the Festival.

The venue was in Valle Escondido, a beautiful golf community in Boquete.  It was an open air facility with grass and concrete seating.  They provided small seat cushions as well.  Food and drink were available for purchase.

The Festival is a week-long event, with a parade, mini concerts throughout the town, an art exhibit and a lot more.  We were only able to attend one day.  And it did not disappoint.

We heard 4 different groups and each had a very different and unique sound.  There were 3 Panamanian groups: Sin Ensemble Jazz, Idania Dowman & The Emotions and Rigoberto Coba Big Band.  One American, Chris Thomas King, performed.

It was a beautiful day with gorgeous weather, good food and wonderful music!  If we are still here next year, we’ll definitely be going again.

We went to Coronado, Panamá, to see my friend, Maudy.  She’s a great photographer.  Check out her Facebook page.  For the trip we rented a car from Cowboy Dave again.  Coronado is about 6 hours away so we decided to make it a mini-trip.  Maudy suggested a bed and breakfast, Morgan’s Paradise.  It’s a large home that’s been converted to a B&B.  What a beautiful place!  The room was very comfortable with an ensuite bath.  There was also an air conditioner in the room, which is absolutely necessary.  Coronado is on the coast at sea level and is very hot and humid.  We were going to do some sightseeing.  But we were so tired and the backyard was such a paradise, we ended up just relaxing with our fellow B&Bers and new Canadian friends, Moe & Brenda.

In March we took a trip that was instigated by a wedding.  Our niece and brand new nephew, Alicia and Chris, got married in Las Vegas.  It was, as these things go, a mini family reunion.  And Vegas is always good times and good food :).

Since the greatest cost for us is flying back into the States, we extended the trip to include visits in 2 other states to visit more family.  After Vegas we headed to Bedford, PA, to see Grandma Lorie, Aunt Cindy & Uncle Dick, Uncle Don & Aunt Eileen and Aunt Dee.  We had a great time, even though it was still snowing and freezing.  The trees, though leafless and brown, created beautiful landscapes against the hills, homes and sky.

Bedford sits on Highway 30. Highway 30 is part of the Lincoln Highway, which is the first transcontinental highway and is in the National Register of Historic Places.  It extends from New York to San Francisco.  Interested in more info?  Check it out here.  All along the highway are various historical markers and places.  We drove along for only a few miles right around Bedford.

While in Pennsylvania we got to see the United Flight 93 Memorial.  It was sooooo cold that I basically ran around snapping photos as fast as I could before my fingers got frostbite.  Although construction isn’t finished, it was a nice though rather sobering place.  The beautiful farm countryside around it made for a very stark contrast to what happened there.

If you are ever in Pittsburgh, you’ve got to try Primanti Bros.  It’s a sports bar with awesome sandwiches.  We ate at the one near the airport, but I believe they have one downtown as well.

From PA we flew into Houston to visit our old stomping grounds in Conroe, TX.  We stayed  at our old “home” with Ray and NeeCee.  While there we visited the Prison Museum in Huntsville near The Walls Prison Facility.  The museum though not large was well laid out and had some really interesting displays.  There we met Jim Willett, former warden at The Walls unit.  Great guy who had also written a book about his 30+ years of experience within the Texas Prison department.  Ray got the book for Guy and Jim was kind enough to sign it for him.

Finally we flew back into Panama.  We stayed a few nights in the City to enjoy some rest and relaxation in the tropical warmth.  I finally thawed out after our Stateside visit.  This time we stayed at the Hotel Riu.  The Riu is a beautiful hotel with a great pool area.  The food was decent, though I think I liked the variety of the restaurants at the Hard Rock Hotel better.

When we made it home to Boquete, we both came down with a nasty cold.  My symptoms and fatigue lasted about 3 weeks.  In the middle of that we moved.  In my next post I’ll show you some pictures and describe where we live and our cost of living in our new place.

And I will try not to make it months until my next post :)!

 

Home…There and Back Again…Part 2

Panama City is a relatively new city in terms of building and construction.  There are cranes all over the city as new buildings go up.  Constant upgrading and road repair are probably a hassle for those that work and live in the city.  But it did little to diminish the overall beauty of the city for us.  The city’s growth is all very new with most of the skyscrapers built in the early 2000s.  And there are what seems to be miles of steel and glass skyscrapers, including the Trump Tower. Anyone interested in skyscraper info?  Check out this fun website.

We only took one afternoon to tour and headed out to Casco Viejo.  Casco Viejo, which I think is translated Old Town, is a 10 minute taxi ride from the Hard Rock.  On a side note, Guy likes to ask locals what they pay for taxis.  The average fare for locals is $5-$7.  Both going out and coming back the first quote was $10.  But armed with the aforementioned knowledge, we were able to keep our fares down to $7 or $8.  Not a huge big deal, but it’s a bit frustrating to get taken advantage of just because we’re not Panamanian.

In the late 1600s Panama’s capitol city, which used to be called Panama Viejo, was attacked by the pirate, Henry Morgan (you got it, the Captain himself) and destroyed.  The city was then moved to where Casco Viejo now stands.  Over time as the city grew up and out from this area, many of the more wealthier people moved away into the newer areas of the city.  Casco Viejo became very rundown and impoverished.

Then in 1997 UNESCO designated Casco Viejo as a World Heritage Site.  This meant that the UNESCO committee decided it was an important cultural and historical area (if you are interested, more info can be found here.)   Because of this, the area has gone through a ton of renovation.  There are still some areas waiting to be upgraded, but the areas that are done are quite beautifully.  In keeping with the UNESCO World Heritage Site mission, there are strict standards that builder’s must follow to preserve Historical Authencity.

We’ve read safety warnings about where to go and where to avoid in Casco Viejo, but overall, never felt unsafe.  There were a couple questionable looking blocks so we simply went another direction.  We spent about 3 hours wandering through the streets before catching a taxi back to the hotel.  As we never got hungry we didn’t eat at any restaurants in the area.  Which was a bummer as there are supposed to be several really good ones.  One, Manolo Caracol, is only open for dinner and serves an excellent 12 course meal.  Hopefully next time we’re in the city we can check this out.

Home…There and Back Again…Part 1

Buen día, mis amigos! It feels like forever since I’ve blogged. After a 3-week trip home for Christmas and then coming back to get the flu, well, we’ve been out of commission for a few weeks.

Now that I’m beginning to feel human again, I’m anxious to get blogging again.  Our 2013 ended with a bang and 2014 started on the run.  Our trip home to the States was super eventful.  And so with so much to talk about, this blog is the first of 2 or 3 parts.  This first part is our adventurous trip to Ciudad de Panamá.

Boquete to David is about 30 minutes away by car.  I think the bus takes close to an hour.  Because we had suitcases and the buses are old US school buses with no luggage compartments, we decided to take a cab into David.  Then it’s about 8 hours from David to Panamá City by bus.  We chose to take the bus, one, because a taxi would be super expensive as would renting a car or flying and, two, the experience.

Our taxi driving friend, Daniel, picked us up at 6 a.m.  He dropped us at the bus terminal in David, which is not huge but has loads of people and buses constantly coming and going.  It was a relatively easy process to get tickets, but not if you had to ask a question and didn’t know much Spanish.  At least we didn’t have any questions.  And though I wouldn’t characterize people as super friendly in general (any more than I can say the same for Americans) there seems to always be people who see that you may not get what’s going on and step in voluntarily to help.  There was a woman in the terminal waiting, as it turns out, for the same bus as we were getting.  She asked to look at our tickets and confirmed what we guessed, that we were in the right place.  It was super sweet.

The bus was a nice double decker tour bus.  The bus ride, though, was anything but nice.  It’s not like Greyhound in the USA, with definite stops.  Any time someone needed to stop, the bus would stop.  We had a few such stops.  One time a little girl needed to use the toilet and the bus toilet only allows for going Number 1.  Plus they would pick up and drop off passengers along the way at various in-the-middle-of-nowhere places.  I don’t understand the system for pick ups at all so am not quite sure how the passengers know when to be at a stop or the drivers when to stop.  A bit of a mystery.

About 3 hours into the drive, we started hearing a loud, clanking noise.  Sure enough the bus stops and the steward and the driver jump out and start looking underneath the bus near the rear tires.  Apparently there was a problem.  So we started again but limped our way going about 20 mph to the halfway stop at Santiago.  It’s normally a half hour stop.  But we were there for what seemed an eternity as they tried to repair the bus.

A couple of old rather icky buses pulled in.  Finally we guessed by watching other passengers and the little we could understand, that we were changing buses.  Retrieving our luggage was an experience we would rather never have to repeat.  Even at the station, as soon as the luggage door opened, people would crowd around, shoving their luggage at the steward.  He would tag the bag and hand the owner a receipt.  Claiming luggage was a nightmare.  People were crowded around the opening, waving their claim tag and yelling.  The steward could only pull out the bags at the front of the opening.  We stood back and waited.  When our number was called, Guy had to push his way to the front as no one moves out of the way.  It’s a good thing he is tall and has long arms.  He had to carry the suitcases over everyone.

Once we got our luggage we then took it to another bus and got on.  People were so anxious to get a seat that they pushed and shoved.  One rather old lady pushed to get by me.  I almost fell into some guy’s lap.

We couldn’t get seats together, so Guy ended up in the front and me about midway. Thank God it wasn’t the back of the bus.  It smelled really bad.  I think that the bathroom was overflowing.  Halfway through the ride the young man sitting next to me offered to trade seats with Guy.  It was very sweet and much more comfortable for Guy.

We finally arrived in Panamá City at the Albrook Bus Terminal about 5 p.m.  Our original bus had departed David at 7:40 a.m.  It was only about an hour and a half late, but it felt like FOR-EV-ER (anyone remember the movie, The Sandlot!)  It was a looooooong drive.

One of the most amazing things about our entire adventure has been how God has stepped in at the most convenient times to bring things to our attention.  These things have always worked out for our benefit.  This time, just days before we left, an email came through on News Boquete, a news letter/notification service that we receive.  It was from a missionary in David.  He wanted to let the community know that there was a pastor in Panamá City who would provide transfer service between the bus terminal, the airport or other destinations in town.  So for about the same amount of money, we had someone meeting us at the station.  We contacted him and he was willing to pick us up at the bus terminal and transport us to the hotel.

True to his word, Edwin met us at Albrook Bus terminal as our luggage was being taken off the bus.  He helped us with the luggage and took us, uneventfully, to the Hard Rock Megapolis Hotel.    What a comfort and relief it was as we’ve heard stories about some of the iffier taxi drivers in Panama City!

Here are some pics of our first real glimpse of the city of Panamá.  Edwin told us that the population of the city and metro area is 1.5 million.  On a side note, the statue is of Vasco Núñez de Balboa.  Balboa was apparently the first European to reach the Pacific Ocean by crossing the isthmus.  He also established the first permanent settlement in the Americas in Panamá.  The Panamanian dollar is called the Balboa.

We stayed 3 nights so we would have a little time to tour the city.  The Hard Rock Megapolis Hotel is decent and I would stay here again.  The room was $120 a night.  Maybe a bit high, but it included a breakfast buffet and a one time $20 credit towards food/drink.  So overall, it wasn’t too bad a price.  But having a room on the 53rd floor was definitely cool.  Guy took these photos with his iPhone.

 

The food was pretty good, especially in the Soy Restaurant.  The food wasn’t cheap but the $20 credit helped.  The breakfast buffet included lots of fruit, cold cuts, pastries and breads and a couple hot dishes which made for very nice breakfast dining.

The Hardrock is connected by a walkway to the Multicentro Mall, a 4 story shopping mall.  It was not super busy, which surprised me for Christmas weekend.  But then I found out that there is a newer mall with more brand name stores.  Apparently the newer mall, Multiplaza, is very busy leaving Multicentro less attended.

We decided to go to the movies at the Multicentro Mall one evening.  They were playing The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey.  (This was particularly funny because when we got back to the States the second installment of the series was in theaters.)  The tickets were $5 each, which is for regular adult admission not the matinee.  Another big difference between US theaters and this one was that we got to choose which seats we wanted.  Not knowing the theater we picked what we thought would be good seats.  As it turned out, there wasn’t a bad seat in the house.  The movie was in English with Spanish subtitles.  It’s kinda funny when something funny is said, we would laugh and about 5 seconds later, everyone else would laugh.  But I have to watch the movie again.  When the orcs or elves spoke in their own languages, the subtitles were in Spanish.  We’ve learned enough Spanish and could follow the movie enough to get the gist of what was said but couldn’t read most of it.  It was a funny experience!

Next time I’ll tell you about our visit to Casco Viejo, an older area in the City.

¡Ciao!