Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Panama Canal and our last days in Panama City.

The Panama Canal runs Southeast to Northwest and is the shortest distance between the Pacific and the Atlantic. It saves shipping vessels 8,000 miles off of their trip around  Tierra Del Fuego. Around 27,000 workers died building the canal which opened in 1914, and is the largest and most difficult engineering project ever undertaken.  What a wonder, and I was there to see it, live and in action!!!

Note: if you are planning on visiting the Miraflores Locks aim to arrive before 11am or after 2pm as there is little to no vessel traffic during the noon hour. There is an excellent visitors center at Miraflores with a museum, a restaurant and 3 levels of observation decks.

Panama City is on the Pacific Ocean and this is where the Miraflores Locks are located. Here are ships that have gone through the Miraflores Locks and are heading through the canal to the Atlantic or Caribbean side.

The gates closing on the lock, workmen walking on them checking on closure.

The ships coming into the lock.

The ships ready and the water starting to come in to fill the lock. The higher water level is ahead of the ships.

The water in the lock is rising.

All filled up.

The ships look a lot bigger once the lock is filled as they are so much higher up. They take off for the canal lake portion of their 8 hour journey through the canal, with more locks up ahead.

My friend Steve that I had met the  night before at Hostal Amador was working on this ship. A big surprise to me to see someone I knew on a ship in the Panama Canal!

From a photograph in the museum, this shows the huge quantity of containers that go through the canal on a daily basis.

Hostal Amador, our home for the last 3 nights in Panama. I met up with Ivo and Marga from the Netherlands, and Steve was still there, also.  The second morning I opened the door and found that my friend Avichai from the Santa Clara beach had decided to come there as well. It was like old home week!!  Hostal Amador isn't in the Lonely Planet guide book, a taxi driver had taken me to it when I told him I wanted lodging near the canal. I shared this find of a place with friends I met along the way, and then I saw them again when they came to stay.

A restaurant that fancied itself a castle. Los Templarios, good food and 2 blocks from the Hostal Amador.

I went shopping near our hotel but could only take about 15 minutes of it, too much stuff and I didn't need any of it. I bought a small hand made fabric piece.

My favorite outdoor kitchen at the Hostal Amador.

I spent many hours talking, laughing telling stories with Yolanda, her daughter and Maria. That's me in the middle and this was all in spanish, a great time.  Yolanda's daughter wanted to learn how to use my camera, so I showed her how and she was a very quick learner. She took this photo, but I set it up with too high an ISO so there's lots of noise... my fault.

Yolanda, her daughter Ann Rachelle, and Maria all work at the Hostal cleaning rooms and serving breakfast. They work 10 to 12 hour days and keep a smile on their face, they were good company.
Ann Rachelle. She loved posing for the camera.

Panamanian policeman who were friends of Yolanda's coming for a visit. As we were all playing with the camera, I asked if I could take their pictures and they happily agreed.

Our last dinner in Panama at the outdoor terrace of the Balboa Yacht Club.

Thursday, March 26th we rose at 4am to take the taxi to the airport back to our respective homes: Washington DC for Ian and me, Denver for Andrew and Cleveland, Ohio for Ethan. The birders here walking to our gates at the very modern Panama City airport and a good trip was had by all.  They saw many birds over our 10 days here, and I met many, very interesting travelers.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Beautiful Playa Santa Clara in Panama

Monday, March 23rd, I spent a very pleasant day at the beach with Avichai, a 26 year old traveling man from Israel. I took a taxi to the beach from across the street of XS Memories and met Avi at lunch, we were nearly the only ones there. He has been traveling for 2 months throughout Central America on a motorcycle he bought in Costa Rica. 

Las Veraneras, a lodging and bar/restaurant fried food place is right on Playa Santa Clara and very crowded on weekends with the best beach around (as expressed to me by Americans that had just bought property nearby). I didn't see any other beaches in Panama, but it's one of the prettiest I've ever seen. Las Veraneras tries to collect money from visitors, but I said I was going to eat at the restaurant and the fee was waived. I had french fries... the only non meat thing on the menu.  Las Sirenas is located half a mile down the beach from here and is a lovely place to stay if you have your own food to prepare in the villas they rent out.

Avichai putting his motorcycle in a strategic place near the sand where we set up 'camp'.

View from the tables at Las Veraneras.

Playa Santa Clara. There were thatched cabanas on the beach to tie up hammocks that were for rent for $3 a day.

Avi has his own hammock as he sleeps on the beach many nights and insisted on setting it up for me to hang out in while he walked the beach.

Lovely beach and hardly anyone there!

I stayed here and watched our stuff while Avi went for a long walk.

The view from my hammock (that's my foot) as I read, napped and thoroughly enjoyed a beautiful day!


We exchange Facebook names.

Ian, Andrew and Ethan come to the beach after a 6 hour drive from Volcan in the west of Panama, not knowing I was there. Surprise!  Then the 4 of us drove back to Panama City together.

Andrew and Ethan.

An amazing stack of pineapples on the Interamerican Highway. They are held together by magic, no netting or other device that we could see.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Stroke of good luck on the way to Santa Clara, Panama.

Sunday was my departure day from El Valle and I had decided to head to the beach for a few days on the Pacific Coast. After looking at all the towns nearby, I decided on Playa Santa Clara, about an hour or 2 from El Valle on the Interamerican Highway. The owner of Residencial El Valle gave me directions on getting a public bus, where to get off and find the second bus, it sounded easy enough. After waiting at the bus stop for 45 minutes with my friends from the Netherlands, who were allowed to get on a bus for Panama City, I was very frustrated. There was some reason every bus could not take me where I wanted to go. I went back to my hotel, hot and bothered lugging my suitcase and backpack. Then a stroke of good fortune! 
The driver of a private bus overheard where I wanted to go and asked his group if they would take me with them, and they very kindly said yes!! The group was a wedding party finishing up their celebrations of the nuptials of Mike from Boston and Carolina, originally from Venezuela. What a great group of people, they were so friendly and took me all the way to Santa Clara in style.  I am so thankful to them for helping me out.

The wedding party bus, nice and big.  I sat next to Graciela, also from Venezuela, who spoke English well and I hope to be friends with on facebook.

They dropped me off at Las Sirenas in Santa Clara, a family on the bus was going to spend a few days there before heading back to their home in Tucson. I met the mother, black and white dress, on the beach the next day!

A lovely place to stay, great location on the ocean and beautiful villas. I wanted to stay here but there was no restaurant nearby, the family brought their own food as there are full kitchens in the villas.  The woman in the white sundress is the bride's sister who lives in Panama, and the one who invited me to join them and found me a seat with another sister, Graciela.
The bride and groom, Mike and Carolina from Brookline, MA.  Small world!

I stayed at XS Memories, right off of the Interamerican Hwy, on the non ocean side. It was the most expensive place I stayed at the entire time I was in Panama, and the worst in terms of upkeep, ambience, and attitude. $55 per night for one person, no breakfast. It's saving grace was it had a restaurant on the premises and wifi. 

The door to my room.

Low quality sheets, inexpensive beach towels for towels, plastic chairs everywhere and low budget feel. There were no bugs, some hot water and the air conditioning worked.

One of the outdoor areas where I used the wifi.

The bigger picture.

View outside my door and window.

I found it very disturbing to see the many, many large birds in small cages that received no attention while I was there. 

The sports bar area.

This is where I got the taxi the next morning to the beach. But first I bought some good oranges from this roadside vendor on the Interamerican Highway.