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Starting Another Adventure

Warmer climes and ocean views

semi-overcast 83 °F

Off to Panama for a warm winter. Left the cold temps of Colorado for the humid climate of Central America. We left Denver at 8am on the 29 of December, 10 degrees F at the airport. Thankfully, Kryss's sister, Kate, took us to the airport. We threw our winter coats into the back seat, grabbed our luggage and ran into the terminal. United had upgraded us, so Bloody Mary's and breakfast kept us occupied and happy.

The flight to Panama City, Panama was uneventful. The Bloody Mary's caused perfect sleeping conditions. At arrival we were the first people off the plane and made it through Panamanian immigration and customs without any issues. Our friend, Karlos, picked us up and took us to our favorite boutique hotel in Panama, the Magnolia Inn. The first floor of this hotel is a youth hostel and the next two floors are well appointed hotel rooms. Needless to say, this makes for an interesting mix of travelers. After a couple of relaxing adult beverages we called it a night.

We spent the 30th enjoying sights and sounds of Casco Viejo, the old city. Lots of construction since our last visit. Lunch with Colorado friends who are living in Panama City. After lunch we wandered for a bit, found a few new businesses in the area and a new pub overlooking Panama Bay. Tried it out, very nice place, but we can't remember the name. However, we can find it again. The decision for dinner was easy, we were going to Café Purdue, the best pizza and salads in Casco Viejo. We walked there and it was closed for vacation, re-opening on Jan 17th. Damn! Where to next, we walked to a place we been by many times but never tried, Finca del Mar. It was a comfortable place overlooking the Panama Bay. Cocktails and dinner. I had octopus, see picture, not quite what I expected...I'm thinking calamari. Couldn't finish it.
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Headed to Playa Coronado at 10am on the 31st, prepping for New Year's Eve. More on that later.

Posted by rhislop 15:06 Archived in Panama Tagged panama panama_city viejo casco Comments (0)

The Final Push

Doing all we can in the last two weeks

semi-overcast 85 °F

Our time in Panama is getting near the end. There is still so much to see, do, enjoy, learn, but shortly we'll be heading back home.

We took off for the jungle/rain forest for a three days/two night stay. What an experience! We arrived at the Cabanas Burbayar just before lunch on the 11th of August. The cabanas can handle 17 guests at a time, as we arrived six guest were leaving and we were going to be the only guests. Our guide, Justo, a Panama University grad with a degree in biology was chomping at the bit to get us into the jungle. After a typical lunch, rice, meat, fruit, juice, and water we headed out. Justo said the trip would only be 2.5 kilometers, he didn't mention six elevation changes in the humid, wet jungle. Four and half hours later we returned, soaked through from sweat, totaly exhausted. A very interesting hike, lots of birds, creepy crawlers, variety of plants and flowers. Lots of photographs.
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We collapsed into bed, after a cold water shower and an excellent meal. The dinner was served on a private observation platform that overlooked the rainforest. A very beautiful setting. No one had ever asked to eat on the platform before and the staff was very excited to do something new and different.

The next day we hung around the lodge and the near jungle areas. No more hikes. Lots of hummingbirds near the lodge, along with toucans, squirrel cuckoos, parrots and other jungle birds. This area is suppose to be a "birders" heaven. Two of the women that work at Burbayar made Kryss a custom mola with her business logo. A very unique item.
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We had another dinner on the platform overlooking the jungle and headed to our cabana to pack for our departure the next day. During the night it started raining, and then the thunder and the lightning started. The noise and light awakened us at about 1:30am. We sat on our porch, under the cover of the cabana roof and watched the show. Using a lightning timing device we photographed about a dozen great strikes, all off in the distance, lighting up the sky and the jungle. Then it happened...we saw a string of dots light up the sky, then they connected and just about knocked us off our chairs. The hair on my arms and back of the neck stood up, Kryss felt the hair on her neck move, and we both received some kind of temporary blindness in our eyes, the width of the lightning bolt. The strike was less than half a mile away, the attached picture is nothing like any other lightning strike we'd ever seen or photographed. It took about an hour before our eyes were seeing normally again. A totally new experience!
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We got back to Panama City, put our feet up for thirty minutes and then prepared for the arrival of my brother John and SIL Jean. We toured them around Panama City; visiting Casco Viejo, the fish market, the canal and other highlights of the area. To see both the Pacific side and the Caribbean side of Panama we went whale watching again in the Pearl Islands and visited Portobello and the San Blas Islands on the Carribbean side. They were able to witness the "diablo rojos", the red devil buses that move people all over Panama. And of course, shopping for Molas, the iconic symbol of the Kuna Indians and Panama.

The trip to the San Blas Islands was a "blast". The Kuna Yala Province has complete autonomy from the government of Panama. The Kuna's run their archipelago themselves. There are no fast food restaurants, no hotel chains, and not many tourists. Additionally, this is considered one of the last pristine island areas of the world. You can either fly in from Panama City or drive from Panama City. Each way has it's own plus and minuses. We drove because all the flights were booked. We stayed at Cabanas Kaunidup, a thirty minute boat ride from Canti town in the Kuna Yala. One of the travel books stated that these cabanas had a five star view with rustic accommodations. They weren't exaggerating. The views were like a postcard or a magazine cover, our cabana had dirt floors, sand every where, shared but private showers and banos. Three meals a day, lunch and dinner always included fresh fish, lobster, or shrimp. Snorkeling was great, lots of conch shells, sand dollars, fish, and cyrstal clear water. Setting aside the Boy Scout camp sleeping arrangements, the views, the food, the tours, and the new friends we met were all good. We'll return to the area, just not quite so "rustic".
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Tomorrow we head back to CONUS. Not totally ready, but it is time to go...
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Posted by rhislop 14:07 Archived in Panama Tagged islands sunsets caribbean panama pacific whale watching viejo pearl diablo san_blas cabañas casco burbayar rojos kaunidup Comments (0)

Panama City

The Walk...

semi-overcast 85 °F

Colorful yellow flowers

Colorful yellow flowers


Balboa

Balboa


Bright and early we hit the streets. Walking through our neighborhood, then to a major shopping complex and finally the walk along the bay. The bay walk was great, walking from the San Francisco area of Panama City to the Casco Viejo area. We are guessing it was about three miles, stopping along the way to take pictures, visit the fish market, and having lunch in Casco Viejo.

The Panama City fish market is a very colorful place. Fishermen bringing in the freshly caught fish, dock hands carrying, pushing, and pulling the ice and fish ladden containers to the various stalls. Skilled hands gut, chop, filet, and trim the daily catch. Restaurantures buying the catch for their evening menu, while individuals peer through the selections for take-home delights.
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Lobsters, shrimp, tuna, red snapper; you name it, it was there. We'll be back to the fish market to pick up some dinner items when we are prepared to carry them back to our place. We'll need a container with ice, just like beer, you've got to keep them cold. Selling fresh ceviche was as common as Dairy Queens in Texas.
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Lunch was at one of our favorite spots in Casco Viejo, the Budget Gourmet. The place was packed.We met three young NY college girls and imparted our local knowlegde to them. We walked over to the Magnolia Inn, our original home away from home in Panama City. The owners, Reggie and Cherie Flagg were away, but our favorite driver Karloz was there. I was ready for a ride back to our residence and Karloz answered the call.

The afternoon rains came, the sky blackened, the bay started churning, lightning flashed about and an hour later it was blue skies. Tried for some lightning shots but nothing exciting happened.

Last night we walked to a small and quaint French Bistro. A Latin guitar player entertained and the food was great. After dinner a cab ride home and a new game...Boggle. Who knows it?

Posted by rhislop 12:58 Archived in Panama Tagged rain panama bay panama_canal viejo casco Comments (0)

What was the best?

Rating our hotels and overnight stays

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Since we have been home, many friends have asked us what was your favorite place, the best place you stayed, had the most fun or where would you stay again. Considering the fact that we had a phenomenal time, met some incredible people and made many new friends this question has been difficult to answer in a short statement. So, we created a rating system, using the educational grading systems (A-F) with a 4.0 scale. The criterion we used included price, quality, food (if available, not all places had their own restaurant), the staff, the management (this includes owners if they were involved with the day to day operations) and other (amenities in room, giftshop, nearby attactions, etc). We stayed at nine different hotels or rental properties, each of their positives and negitives were all taken in consideration for our grading system. So here goes...

MI_grunge_1_copy.jpgabstract_p..dited-1.jpgMagnolia Inn, Panama City Panama This was our number one place to stay. It is a brand new hotel and youth hostel in the Casco Viejo district of Panama City. Only a friend's recommendation brought us to this hotel, otherwise we would have been staying in a chain hotel in downtown Panama City. The MI received all A's and A pluses in our evalution, even though they don't have a restaurant but they have a kitchen that guests can use to prepare their own meals. The New Orleans French Quarter like environment, the absolute graciousness of the staff and owners, and the excellent quality of their beds placed this Inn at the top of our list. In the short time they have been open they are already the number two place to stay in PTY according trip advisor. We can recommend the Magnolia Inn quite highly. Be advised if you need the sterile atmosphere of a chain hotel this Inn isn't going to appeal to you. Final Grade A (4.12).

Drake_Bay_view_4.jpgToucan_b.jpgDrake Bay Wilderness Resort, Drake Bay, Costa Rica A very close second. Another place that was also a recommendation by a friend brought us to this resort. An hour boat ride down the Sierpe river, across Drake Bay bouncing over ocean waves, and into a small cove will bring you to this family run resort. You can also fly in and and out from San Jose to the Drake Bay airport and then a four wheel drive transport to the beach, a boat ride across the bay and into the cove and to the resort. We came here with my brother and sister-in-law after spending a week in Quepos, Costa Rica. This resort is a family run affair with many of employees and staff related to the owner. They are very hands on and go out of their way to make sure all your needs are met. The rooms are airconditioned and have hot water showers. Most places in the Osa peninsula don't offer either of these features that many of us take for granted. This is an all-inclusive resort with all the meals served family style in a very relaxed dining area. Eventually, you will meet all the other guests whether you want to or not. Included in the price of the resort besides your room and meals are a number of tours. We ended up going on six different ones. Our personal favorite was the mangrove boat tour, which was featured in an earlier blog. If you visit the Drake Bay Wilderness Resort, the best guide for the tours is Tico. Try to make all his tours. You don't need to over pack for this resort, shorts and t-shirts are the only fashion statement you need to make. Final Grade A (4.0)

Sunrise_ne..uma__CR.jpgYY_beach_view_2.jpgYlang Ylang Resort and Spa, Montezuma, Costa Rica We had a long discussion about this rating, and I changed my mind after Kryss made a very strong statement about our stay at YY. We were here for six nights and especially for Kryss this was her favorite. The resort focuses on healthy foods, yoga, and the tranquility of the area.I consider this resort a semi-all-inclusive spot. Breakfast and dinner were included in the price, but no lunch. Also, some foods on the menu were extra. If you are a carnivour this isn't your resort, no cheeseburger in paradise here. Plenty of fish, chicken, salads, sushi, and interesting fresh fruit drinks. Additionally, they do have a fully stocked bar that you can make as unhealthy as you want. The rooms are very comfortable, have very cool outdoor and semi outdoor showers. The wildlife in the area, monkeys, birds, spiders, and coaties(cat like animals with long noses) are plentiful. Tiny little ants are also in abundance. The staff is very friendly and helpful. YY has a nice beach, lots of area for hiking and exploring the coastline. The nearby town of Montezuma has a reputation of being very ganja friendly, it's true. Final Grade B (3.3).

day_view.jpgnight_view.jpgThe Peace Lodge, Poasito, Costa Rica This was our first stop on our great adventure through Costa Rica and Panama. It was also the most expensive. This is a beautiful resort with it's own nature park and wildlife refuge. If you only have a short time in Costa Rica this would be a resort to consider. The rooms are exquisite. King size beds with canopy mosquito netting, gas fireplace, waterfall bath showers, patio hottubs with a waterfall and beautiful views of the rain forest. The wildlife park and refuge is outstanding. You can see many of Costa Rica's native wildlife at this park. The biggest downside to the Peace Lodge is their restaurant. This is a "got ya" place. There is no where else to go. A menu that starts at $20 bucks for pasta and goes up, with a very poor selection. We only ate their twice. A member of the hotel staff took us into Poasita and we bought a few groceries to make our own dinner. Additionally, the buffet lunch at the wildlife park is very good for 12 bucks. Lunch became our main meal while we where at the Peace Lodge. The staff at the lodge and the wildlife park were very good, knowledgeable about their product, spoke English and would help you with your Spanish. Final Grade B (3.2).

Pedasito_Hotel.jpgPedasito_bedroom.jpgPedasito Boutique Hotel & Spa, Pedasi, Panama This is a quaint little hotel and bed & breakfast in a coastal area of Panama. There are seven hotel rooms that are functionally appointed, clean, and have a non-commercial quality. The rooms facing their courtyard are the ones to request if you ever stay there. They have a small patio for relaxation and enjoying their pool. Breakfast is included the price of the room and we considered it very good. On Friday nights they set up a sushi bar in the courtyard and make great sushi that is fresh and tasty. The manager of the hotel was always there, we wondered if she ever slept. She was hard working, customer oriented, and always open for suggestions and comments. The service in restaurant was always good. We practiced our Spanish with them and they practiced their English with us. Final Grade B- (2.6).

Arenal.jpgArenal_from_airplane.jpgLos Lagos Hotel, Spa & Resort, La Fortuna, Costa Rica When we decided to extend our trip to Panama, we needed a few extra days in Costa Rica to make all our flights work. This was our first stop on the extention. La Fortuna is the home of the Arenal Volcano which attracts tourists from all over the world. We used the Costa Rican tourist board to make our reservations at Los Lagos since making last minute reservations was very difficult. We only had three choices and this was the best of the lot. Los Lagos caters to large groups and bus tours. Everything at the resort is average, food, staff, rooms, etc. Only their view of Arenal was better than average. Walking out the patio door of our hotel room was the volcano. However, there are probably other hotels in the area that have a similar view and provide a better than average hotel service. Final Grade C+ (2.5)

Playa_Blan..t_night.jpgPlaya_Blanca_beach.jpgPlaya Blanca Resort, Playa Blanca, Panama A true all-inclusive beach front resort. If you only have one week to vacation at the beach this is a place to consider. The front desk staff were so arrogant and condescending that I was ready to leave right after we checked in. However, we need somewhere to stay for the next three nights and we were miles from anyplace else, so we stayed. As it turned out, we enjoyed our time here. The beach was great, lots of chaise lounge chairs, palm trees for shade, two great pools, three places for meals, plus a sushi bar and the bartenders know that a heavy hand got better tips. The front desk staff should take lessons from the bartenders on customer relations. The place was filled with Canadians and Panamanians. Over all an average resort. The cost per night was similar to Ylang Ylang, but no where the same value. It probably would have gotten a better rating from me if the front desk staff didn't have such an attitude. Final Grade C (2.3)

Las_Olas_beach_4.jpgLa_Barqueta_sunset.jpgLas Olas Resort, La Barqueta, PanamaThis resort has the most unused, beautiful beach we saw on the whole trip. We spent ten days here and their beach was one of the best. Sunsets were colorful and every night we took time to watch it. This resort is 30 kilometers west of David, Panama. It opened in October of 2001, as an all-inclusive resort, but two years later it stopped being an all-inclusive. The resort is owned by a local family, who are also building condos, single family homes and a golf course in the area. All of this sounds great at first blush, but when you stay someplace for ten days the cosmetics start to come off. The resort is badly in need of a facelift. The potholes in the drive into the resort and at the entrance will snap your neck and damage your car. The grounds are poorly cared for, the beach and pool chairs are probably the same ones since the resort opened. The towels in the bathroom and for beach use are frayed and thin. The facade was clean, but a close look and there was a lot swept under the rug. The staff was hit and miss, some seemed helpful and caring, while others were sleep walking through their day. To me, the biggest disappointment were the owners. They live at the resort, can see the poor conditions of the driveway, the worn out furniture, the ragged towels and they don't do anything about. The resort is the flagship of their development and it doesn't say much for their future plans. Final Grade C (1.9).

Sal_s_sail..dited-1.jpg13_of_14.jpgEscape Villas MA-37, Quepos, Costa Rica When you look at this place on the internet it looks fantastic. A seven bedroom house, with a pool, a whirlpool on the top floor, parking, etc. Fourteen of us stayed here for a week, there was no trauma drama, everyone had fun fishing, eating, drinking, and chil-axing. However, for the price of the house, the neighborhood it was in, and the lack of care by the management; next time we're in Quepos, we're staying somewhere else. The internet worked once and a while, only on certain floors, the laundry room was disgustingly dirty, our kitchen was marginally clean and I never saw the 24/7 security. Truly a case of renter beware of what you get on the internet. Our trip coordinator has no dog in this hunt, it is all escapevillas.com, what they promise and what they deliver are definitely two different animals. Final Grade C- (l.5)

The best two places we stayed during the trip can't be measured. The JanKB's house and MLT's house before we left Denver and when we returned. Without these wonderful accommodations our trip wouldn't have started and ended on such a positive feeling. Thank you both!

Posted by rhislop 15:49 Archived in Panama Tagged beaches birds sunset volcano las la costa rica panama hostel costa_rica playa fortuna montezuma david inn drake arenal blanca magnolia playa_blanca drake_bay sierpe ylang casco barqueta olas pedasi escape_villas Comments (0)

Raise the FLAGG!!!!

Colorado scores again

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We arrived in Panama City on Feb 7th about 5pm. By 6pm we were in our hotel room at the Magnolia Inn. The owners of the MI are former Coloradoans, who lived about a mile away from us when we lived in Arvada. Didn´t know them at that time. The recommendation from other Coloradoans brought us to this new hotel. Reggie & Cherie Flagg, opened the MI, forty days ago. The first floor is set up as a youth hostel and the second and third floors have hotel rooms. The bed in our room is the best bed we´ve slept on since this trip started. The building was built circa 1900-10 in a section of Panama City known as Casco Viejo. This is like being in the New Orleans French Quarter, but much narrower streets. Reggie and Cherie have been working on this project for over 18 months, this labor of love has turned into a great boutique hotel and hostel. It is about three blocks from the Panama President´s office, lots of security types in the neighbor, so it is safe to walk about at night. The whole area is going through an urban renewal project, as they would say in San Francisco it is a gentrifying nieghborhood. Many of the buildings have already been completely gutted and only the walls with windows frames are standing. The exteriors will stay the same, but inside deluxe apartment, condos, offices are being built.

Last night we had dinner with two other couples from Grand Junction, CO. This morning we met another couple, staying at the MI, from Littleton, CO. It is incredible that we travelled all the way to Panama and Costa Rica to run into Coloradoans.

Yesterday we rode the Panama City tourist bus, Hop on Hop off, around the city. It took us to all the major landmarks and the canal zone. These are English style double decker buses that permit the rider to get on and off at each site, get back on the next bus and go to the next stop. Without getting on and off the trip is about 2.5 hours, however, we were gone about 5.5 hours. Great way to see the city.

We´re working on our schedule for the next twenty days. Probably heading to the Pacific coast and north toward Costa Rica for the first leg. Then work our way back to Panama City and up to the Caribbean coastal area. However, that could change like the weather, if something else interests us.

The attached photos are from the Casco Viejo area, some finished buildings, the Magnolia Inn and a moon/church view from the MI balcony

Posted by rhislop 11:18 Archived in Panama Tagged churches buildings panama hostel youth inn magnolia casco viego Comments (0)

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