Panama – Part 2

Sun 9th Feb 

A bus ride to the mountains.

Ginette – A really bad nights sleep in the tent. It was really noisy and very hot.  In Santiago, we walked through the town to put some charge on Gary’s phone on route I bought some new shorts and sunglasses ($4 for both, bargain).  As in other cities and towns there were a lot of touts selling lottery tickets, it is amazing how many touts there are and how popular this is with the locals. The game is played differently to the UK, but from what I can gather licensed ticket touts purchase books of tickets and have to return unsold ones at least an hour before the draw to claim their money back. The draw is made during the afternoon, people queue so that they can purchase tickets with their favourite numbers, but this can mean having to queue several times until you find a tout with your numbers.  I can only hope their patience and perseverance is rewarded with better odds than out lottery system.

We took a bus to a small town called Santa Fe at the foot of a mountain range. We took the bus because there is only one road to Sanfa Fe and we intend to cycle back down.
The bus ride however revealed that whichever ever way we cycle we will still have some steep climbing to do but at least heading back we will eventually end up lower than we started.

We didn’t do a lot, a bit of shopping and a little stroll around Santa Fe. The walk from our hotel to the small town is all up hill, it was about 1/2 mile but it was a very steep hill climb.Our room and location is nice, we can hang out in hammocks and enjoy the mountains all around us.

Ginette – we booked the hotel on line, we chose this particular one because it had a kitchen, bar and shared lounge area. However on arrival we were informed that none of these facilities would be available after 3pm. I protested and they reluctantly provided us an electric hob to use in the room.  

It was a very chilled day, we have decided to focus our job search in the Bristol area, so I spent the day writing a job application. I have been offered several interviews across the country, which is reassuring but I have had to reject them as we really would like to return to our home.  That said as we are trying to be good landlords we may need to rent somewhere to allow our tenants to complete their house build, more on this later.

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10th Feb 2020

A windy mountain walk.

We have loads of little itchy bites and the itchy feeling is worse in the middle of the night, We think we now have a new skin as the old one has been scratched away.

We had to cook breakfast in our room using the electric double hob the hotel loaned us as the kitchen was shut.
We took a walk of about 8 mile round trip up to Cerro Tute, most of the walk was on a dirt and gravel road which was very steep in places. There were still small homes all the way up this hill, even close to the top. There was no wildlife to spot or hear but the views were great especially from the very top.

To reach the top view point we walked along a track that became ver narrow and the last stretch was a scramble to the top.

The wind was howling past and it was an exhilarating experience , we made sure we had a safe place to rest and enjoyed the views and played with the wind. We sat next to a ledge and when we threw an egg shell over the edge it flew back up and past us.
The walk down was harder as the steep track was difficult to keep a grip on and we slipped several times.
Ginette  – Gary ended up on his bottom more than once – which was funny, but as I was unable to video him you’ll have to take my word for it.

In the afternoon we walked a short way to a river to swim and cool down, the river was shallow but fast running. I could swim breast stroke and stay still due to the flow.

The evening was spent resting and Ginette managed to book our flights to Columbia.

Ginette – It took at least 20 attempts to book these flights, the cheapest provider by far had a really naff website that kept timing out, and it didn’t recognise England as a country and in addition wouldn’t allow me to book the bikes. However I can be very persistent and after exploring other options I eventually was able to get around the system. I just have to hope when we pitch up at the airport that my work arounds have worked.

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11th Feb 

Down hill up hill cycling and a bus to the city.

Ginette – Another frustrating morning, we had to find the manager to open the kitchen. As Gary was making the breakfast he spotted a large scorpion, unfortunately it had scuttled away before I could see it. Later some Canadian guests arrived and Gary told them about the scorpion. Gary moved the cooker to see if he could see it and it ran out only to be stamped on by the Canadian.  There really was no need for him to do this as the scorpion wasn’t a threat to us, we could have easily relocated to the field.  I was not a happy bunny.

Our cycle ride back to Santiago saw us leave an altitude of 1330 ft down to 175 ft but in the process we managed to cycle 2939 ft up hill. The road was like a rollercoaster of up and downs. We had some great views and enjoyed the initial 26 degrees to the final 42 degrees as we dropped and the afternoon crept in.

Ginette – the road was that bumpy that Gary lost his back pannier several times and mine jumped off once yee hah 
We stopped on route at San Francisco to visit an old church called Iglesia de San Francisco de la Montana, it’s a very old church set in some nice grounds in a tiny town. We had our packed lunch here and enjoyed the tranquility.

Ginette – on route several dogs chased Gary up the hill yapping and snarling, as they turned their attention to me, I let out an almighty roar and much to my surprise the scampered off with their tales between their legs. I guess I can be a little scary when I want to be.

Later in the day a large snake slithered in front of my bike, he was far too quick to photograph but I think it was another Fir de Lance snake – long and skinny but apparently very venomous. 

When we arrived a Santiago bus station a bus was already to go to Panama City so we had no time to do anything other than pack the bikes in the coach luggage hold, it felt a bit rushed but at least we didn’t have to wait at all.

Ginette – we have caught a couple of buses in Panama and it is interesting to note that they collect the fees on departure and we have not been charged for the bikes. The buses are also very cheap we paid $9 each for a 4 hour journey.

Arriving in Panama City we had the difficult navigation out of the huge bus station and busy city, not helped by the 6pm work traffic, not a pleasant ride and we past through some pretty shabby areas. A local man stopped to tell us we needed to cycle fast through the area we were in.

We headed for a hostel which was also down a seedy piss smelling road, the hostel had razor wire and steel fences and two sets of electric doors to pass through. They only had dorm rooms, so we used the hostel WiFi and found another cheap hotel around the corner.

Dinner was pizza in a small takeaway with only one table which we used, the Italian owner let us go to the local mini market to get beers as he didn’t serve it.

Ginette the Italian told us if we were found drinking beer on the street we would be fined, for locals this was a criminal offence. The pizza was excellent, probably one of the best we have had on this trip.

12th Feb 

Panama City.

We headed out for breakfast as there was no kitchen but all the cheap local cafes were all serving similar dishes all involving chicken or meat. Ginette opted to go to the shop and buy stuff she could eat whilst I enjoyed my meat fest.

Ginette – I will never understand how anyone can eat a greasy meat dish first thing in the morning yukkkkk – The smell alone made my tummy heave.

We walked a short distance to a grassy park area that spreads along the bay with cycle, walking and running tracks. There were lots more tourists here most on cycles forming part of large city cycling tours. One group was from a cruise ship that catered for cycling groups so they were touring the Caribbean on the ship but cycling at each embarkation. We bumped into this group throughout the rest of the day.

The views out to the pacific ocean were not great as the tide was out and left the bay looking like a muddy Weston Super Mare.

We spent our time walking around a pretty area called Casco Vieja, this is a peninsula area which was once a walled city. It has narrow streets and museums, churches, cafes and hundreds of like minded tourists all wandering the town. I think there must have been several cruise ships docked in the harbour as there were a load of human crocodile chains following a leader to each destination, the streets are narrow so it was easy to see all these groups.

Surprisingly the churches were all free to enter and all really nice inside especially with as they had sealed glass doors and cool air conditioned interior.  One church had a wooden altar that had been gold plated, we thought this was its main attraction but Ginette spotted a small tour group come out from a rear side door behind the altar. On investigation we found a huge model nativity. This had around 13 different nativity scenes all in model form, spread across a large area. It was very well made and we had the room to ourselves. As we were leaving the church one of the human crocodile lines was just entering so we timed it just right.

Ginette – we stopped in one of the plaza’s to watch a film crew filming Suicide Squad 2, a very famous actress, may have been Margot Robbie, was being filmed entering a building. We were not allowed to video the screen but tried to take some discreet photos.  

The whole area was very scenic but also expensive, the cafes were selling local beer at $3.75 compared to the $1 we usually pay. We were hungry so headed out to find a cheaper area. Within 5 minutes walking, we were in a slum area with poverty and rubbish around such a stark contrast. I had read that the whole peninsula area was a no go area and it had been restored but it looks like there are still some areas in need of some love.

Ginette – in this area we found local women dressed in a different style of national dress, mismatched colourful tops and sarong type knee length skirts with some sort of leg accessories and head covering. Unfortunately the ladies did not want their photos taken so, I’ve taken the image below from the internet – all credit to Steffi Lopez who obviously has more persuasive powers than we do. 

Kuna-woman-and-boy
We continued and found a locals shopping road, it was closed to traffic but you could tell from the shops and shoppers that it was a residential area. We managed to settle in a street cafe for dinner. Ginette had a huge plate with rice, fish, beans and salad so I opted just for a piece of chicken so we could share her plate $7 for both meals (we had seen fish and rice dishes earlier for $20 for one meal.

Ginette – across Panama the food servings have been huge, which might explain why there are so many obese people around.  The traditional dish is rice and beans however both in Costa Rica and in Panama this dish seems to be served with greasy fried chicken or meat lavished in a greasy sauce.  In addition wherever we have been in Central America fizzy drinks are consumed by the bucket load.  We have fallen victim this, it is so hot and there is nothing better than an iced cold soda to cool down. However we are on the go all the time where as the locals, especially in urban areas have a much more leisurely approach to life. 

We collected our bikes from the hotel and moved onto Hostel Casa 33, this place had a kitchen and for an additional $3 we got an OK breakfast.  The hostal was in a nicer area and close to the green area by the coast.

We chilled for the evening, I bought 6 Guinness cans for $0.85 each so was a happy bunny.

Ginette – we are slightly amused to see anti-bullying messages across the city sponsored by Durex. I was curious, it seemed like an odd thing for a condom company to sponsor especially as there were no safe sex messages on the posters.  After a little research it would appear there is a school uniform company in Panama called Durex – who would have thought… 

 

13th Feb 

Panama ship canal.

Breakfast in the hostel wasn’t a great experience, the food was OK with pancakes and fruit but the lady serving was taking her time to sort out the food for all in the hostel so a lot of patience was required. The most frustrating thing was there was no coffee on offer so everyone was trying to boil their own hot water working around the lady doing breakfast so a bit of a farce.

I cycled Ginette’s bike to the nearest cycle store so the rear hubs nut could be tightened up and to arranged for two bike boxes for our up coming flight. The Raki cycle store fixed both these for me, walking around the store I was amazed as it had some really nice bikes with prices of around $5000 (but we would have broken these light bikes with our luggage).
The area had a mall as well as sky scrapers and posh hotels with casinos, it was very affluent and probably the first big skyscraper city we have been in for a long while.
I cycled Nets repaired bike back to the hostel and Ginette and I walked back to the store to get the two cardboard boxes,. Walking back past all the posh places carrying theses cardboard boxes we look like two homeless people with our mobile homes.

In the afternoon we took the Metro train back to the main bus station then a bus to the Miraflores Panama Canal museum. Travelling on the public transport is a bit of an adventure but generally there are locals around to help out. Each country has a different system for purchasing tickets we have learnt to watch and follow. Ginette’s Spanish helps as we can read the instructions but occasionally we still need help.

Ginette – the metro and buses are super cheap, 35 cents for the metro and 25 cents for the bus. The metro is clean, the trains run regularly and are not too over crowded. What are we doing wrong in the UK??? 

The museum cost us $20 each to enter and although the lock is huge and a marvel of engineering the entrance fee was really too expensive for what was on offer. It did have a museum but it skimmed over the history giving a squeaky clean version of events.
It felt a little like a busman holiday as I have been around locks and dry docks with my work and obviously paddled threw a few when training and racing.  I think if the fee was the $5 the locals get charged I would have been a bit happier.

Ginette – we decided to pay for this experience as we are unlikely to return to Panama in the future. However I was really disappointed, I know we talk a lot about money but when we are trying to live on £30 a day it is a huge factor for us. We have turned down a number of other experiences based on cost and we’d hoped for much more from this experience. As Gary said the information provided was a very glossy take on the history of the canal.  All of the information provided could have probably been condensed to one A4 sheet of paper. Perhaps we are biased as we live so close to ‘water elevators’ there are lots of positive reviews on trip advisor and the museum clearly attracts hundreds of people daily.

14th Feb 

Valentines Day 

Ginette  – We woke early which meant we were first to breakfast and avoided the flaffing around in the kitchen.  We could only book 2 nights in our hostal as the room was booked for the weekend. The hostal had dorm beds available but we opted to move to another hostal with a double room. This may have been a mistake, the new hostal had a flight of stairs leading to the accommodation and the air conditioning, is on a timer which is only turned on at 9pm and turned off again at 6am.  

After checking in, we decided to cycle the bikes to the Amador causeway which links the mainland to a set of 4 small islands by the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal.  The ride through the city was OK but I am always on super alert in built up areas. The ride was pretty, it is only 4km long, the road is lined with palm trees and at times we had amazing views of the city.  The sun played with skyscrapers turning the buildings from brilliant white to a dull silver colour.  We stopped for a beer and chilled for a while, watching the frigget birds and pelicans resting in the shallow water, waiting for their next meal.  We could see several men in military uniforms with guns on the beach but as the sea was out and the boats were stranded we were at a loss as to what they were doing. 

On the way back to the hostal we stopped at the fish market and bought two sea breams, this should have been a simply process but the fisherman seemed to be reluctant to sell their goods. Eventually a local waiter from one of the restaurants persuaded one of the fishermen to get off his fat arse and sell us two fish, but he was clearly not happy. He charged us $1 each for the fish which was a bargain, so we forgave his rude attitude. 

We were both knackered so spent a leisurely evening in the hostal, Gary has downloaded Duolingo and he is practicing his Spanish while I spent the evening brushing up on my management skills.  Not very romantic but it was far too hot for any loving by the time the air conditioning came on we were far too sweaty and irritable for anything physical. I know too much info – lol.

Gary.
On the way back we past through the slum areas, locals shops and tourists streets. The contrast is huge, I tried to liken it to the UK going from the city centre through St Paul’s but the poor here the locals have no windows or doors and the rubbish is in the gutters along with a stream of smelly water. The contrast is a bit like the 5* hotels in India sitting right next door to the slum areas in Mumbai.

15th Feb 

A surprising Sloth spotting.

I packed the two bikes into the bike boxes this morning , padding them out a little with our pillows and sleeping back liners stuffed in bin bags to keep them clean.

We took the metro a couple of stops and walked through the city to Ancon hill.
I was made to eat my words as I had said there was no way we were going to spot any wildlife on this wooded hill right in the city. We spotted a Panamanian guinea pig (like a Capybara or a very big rat),  spiders, our closest viewing of an active Sloth for this whole trip and a thin but long stick coloured snake (Ginette must be tuned into snakes as it was really difficult to see but she had honed in on it).

The sloth climbed right over us along a vine then up and down the trees in front of us, it looked like it’s back had been shaved so maybe it has had some sort of veterinary treatment.

Ginette – I loved this encounter, other tourists stopped for a quick photo and ambled on by, while we stood transfixed. Sloths are beautiful, slow exotic creatures, I could have watched this one all day.
We took a metro into the new city amongst the sky scrapers, a stark contrast to the area we are staying in. We had researched roof top views and entered the W building taking a lift to the reception area. Here there was a pool area terrace with well dressed semi naked sunbathers in huddles around the pool and bar, oh how the other half live. We was going to buy some beers but when the bill for one can came to $5 we handed it back and quickly left.  This would of been an extravagant purchase when we can exactly the same  cans for $5 but for 6 cans in the supermarket.

Ginette – I wanted to stay and play with the jet set youngster but my principles wouldn’t allow me to part with $5 for one can of national beer.

We visited a gothic looking church, gothic from the outside but light and airy and air conditioned on the inside. I like the way the churches in Central America all seem to be much brighter than our churches back home.

3 thoughts on “Panama – Part 2

  1. David Dutson

    Hello again you two i see you are still having fun and that mountian vew if amazing and it seemed to go on for ever and i agaree there was no need to step on the scorpion ( is it the bigger thay are the less poisonous thay are ??) the contrast between the rich and poor over thare is sad to see but glad you are still having fun out there stay safe and carnt wait untill the next blog untill then …..

    Dave Dutson

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  2. Bob H

    Really interesting, thanks.

    If you need cheap accommodation for a while you could consider buying a caravan and finding a seasonal pitch.

    A mate was paying £10 per night, including water/electric, etc, in Kingston Seymor.

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