Saturday, November 01, 2014
Friday, October 31, 2014
Up at 6, went upstairs to the kitchen and made myself some breakfast, then headed to the front door to wait for my pickup. They came around 7 and I hopped into the back of the truck.
I was the first one they picked up, they have to pick up four more, so off we went to another part of town. They were waiting in front of a supermarket, they hopped into the truck as well. They were all from Canada as well. Two guys, two girls, they were all traveling together, 3 nurses and a doctor. We have 3 guides, one of them speaks English.
We left town for the 1.5-2 hour drive to the put in point on the river. Part of the drive was on a very bumpy dirt track. After arriving, we got all the equipment out of the truck and got our safety gear on, life vest and helmet. We also got some safety instructions and instructions on the rafting language, the commands they use. We have two small rafts and an inflatable kayak.
The river consists of three sections. The first section is smaller rapids and falls, which will take maybe 2 hours. The second section is the awesome one. Consisting of class III-IV rapids and some big falls. There will also be some rapids we cannot do, where we'll have to get out and portage the boats over them. The last section is a relatively flat part to the takeout point. We'll have lunch along the river, before the second section starts.
I opted to go for the kayak to start out with, which was quite a bit of fun. The rapids were pretty good, but I did tip over my kayak during one longer, pretty crazy section, with lots of rocks and fast flowing rapids. I hit a rock sideways and lost my balance and before I knew it, I was out. I followed the safety instructions as best I could, lay on your back, point your feet downriver, hold them up so you can use them to push yourself off of any rocks and hold on to the straps of your life vest. I was trying to hold my feet up, but they kept hitting rocks, causing them to go under the water temporarily before you could get them back up. I floated down the rapids, the kayak paddle in hand, my shins constantly hitting rocks. When I finally arrived at the bottom of the rapids, one of the bigger rafts was there to grab a hold of me and get the kayak as it floated down behind me. My shins took the brunt of it, but only one very small cut.
I decided after that to switch to the bigger raft. Haha.
The first section was a lot of fun, and we pulled to the side of the river for lunch, lots and lots of sandwiches, fruit, cookies, etc. There was also a big rock here we could jump off of.
After eating, Edgar, our main guide explained the next section and some of the stuff we'll be seeing, including dropoffs, a small canyon and lots of big water.
Well, it was pretty adrenaline inducing! In my raft, I had one of the Canadian guys, who was pretty top heavy, muscles. We were both sitting in the front of the raft, the guide at the back. The Canadian guy was pretty wobbly, he'd bounce all over the boat, and he head butted me on more than one occasion. Good thing we had helmets.
One of the first big ones was a huge drop of probably 8 feet, the water funneling through two big rocks. We went through this thing, at the bottom, the front of the raft went under the water and both me and the other guy were in the water. I tried to surface, and when I did, I was underneath the boat, I couldn't get to the surface. Just for a fraction of a second, I wanted to freak out, but then kept my cool, told myself I still had air in my lungs, I can hold it a bit longer, just stay calm. Stay calm I did, and managed to get out from under the raft and popped my head out of the water. The raft was within reach of me, so I grabbed the rope and felt that one of my Crocs was no longer on my foot. I threw my paddle into the raft (I never let go of it for some reason), then I looked around for my Croc and saw it swirling in an eddy at the waterfall, so swam over (with rope in hand, pulling the raft with me) and grabbed my Croc and tossed it into the raft. I let the guide take the raft away from the waterfall to more placid waters, then he hauled me back into the raft. That was a rush! I've been rafting numerous times, but have never been thrown from the raft before.
The next section was not raftable, we had to come ashore and portage the boats. I can see why we didn't do it, insane!
Before we got back into our raft, we asked the guide about moving big nurse dude to the middle of the boat. The reason we went over the first time was the front of the boat was to heavy, we figured. We did this, and it worked much better after that. We didn't have anymore spills from our boat after that.
The other raft had the other guy and the two girls. One of the girls had never rafted before, and after portaging one of the falls, she looked ahead at what was coming up and refused to get back into the raft right there. So the other guy and girl ran those rapids, while scaredycat girl walked to the next flat section, where she got back into the boat.
Another of the rapids was another huge drop. You have to come at the drop at just the right angle (i.e. straight!), then when the guide yells "DOWN", you need to fall into the bottom of the boat, as there's a tight wall you really don't want any part of your body to be smashing into. That one was a blast as well.
The girls in the other raft went for swims numerous times during the second section. I don't think the girl who had ever rafted before was to thrilled.
Anyway, the last section was relatively boring compared to the other two sections. We got to the takeout point and loaded all the gear up and headed back to town. Got back to my hostel about 3:45.
I had reserved two tickets to a show at a theater for dad and myself for tomorrow evening, but with dad not here anymore, I had a free ticket. I left a note on the poster in the hostel indicating I had a free ticket and to email me if anyone is interested.
I relaxed for a while, then went out for supper and walked around to see if anything was happening for Halloween. It was still early, so went back to the hostel for a while. Around 9 I headed back out and walked around to see what I could see. There were some people dressed up out partying. I stopped at a small bar that had a band inside playing rock music and had a couple of beers and sat outside and watched the people coming and going and the costumes going around.
Headed back around 11 and to bed.
Thursday, October 30, 2014
Dad and I were up about 4am, as dad has to get to the airport for his 8am flight.
I saw him off, then went back to bed and slept until after 8 sometime.
I still had only $8 in my pocket. I had planned on living off of dad for a bit before getting more money, but he's gone now. So, first priority this morning was to get money. The map the hostel dude gave me showed two ATMs, so I walked to one of them and it failed with my card as well. They all keep telling me that the service is not activated for my card when I try to withdrawal and to contact my bank.
So, I started walking to the other end of the old city. As I got closer, the buildings turned from lovely restored colonial to run down, dilapidated, local shops, and homeless people and cripples living on the streets and normal citizens going about their daily lives. Shops selling everything locals need. A police officer stopped me and asked if I spoke Spanish, I said no, English. He switched to English and asked me where I was from and what I was looking for. I told him Canada and I was looking for a bank machine. He told me that this area is not a tourist area, the people here are different and to be careful. I had my camera with me, he told me to keep a hand on my camera as I walked through the area, then let me on my way. I thanked him and continued on.
I felt relatively safe. This time of day, it was full of local (poorer) Panamanian residents walking about, going to work, shopping, etc. There were department stores, meat sellers, clothes stores, an appliance store, convenience stores all over the place. It's definitely not a place I'd go in the evening, though.
I ran into Conrad, the tour/beggar guy from yesterday and he asked me what I was doing in these parts. I told him I was just looking, and he said to just be careful with my camera. I should be fine, but keep it in front of me just in case. I thanked him and continued walking, then I heard him yelling at me. He came trotting over and asked if I had any change for a coffee. I told him I didn't have any change and he left me alone.
After a couple of blocks, I found another bank machine and it failed with my bank card as well. I brought my MasterCard this time, and tried it and successfully withdrew $200 on it. Weird that my bank card will not work.
I walked back to the tourist area and went back to Super Gourmet for breakfast and had bacon and eggs. It wasn't as awesome as I was expecting.
There are a group of people in the central square that look like they're protesting something. They are occupying part of the square and they have red and black flags and big signs. Today after breakfast, they had a bullhorn and there was lots of commotion in the square, loud talk and chanting and they were burning something. Just the type of situation the travel books and governments advise travelers to steer clear of. So I went in to take more pictures.
I believe it's a rally in support on indigenous land rights. The sign I took a picture of translates to "lands belong to the people".
I walked to the ocean front outer edge of the old city where they had a promenade along the sea wall with all kinds of sellers selling local handicrafts and such. Panama Hats ( http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panama_hat) are a huge thing here, although, despite the name, they are an Ecuadorian hat. Along the promenade a graduating class were there getting they group pictures taken as well.
Also in this area is the cultural center, hotels, restaurants, cafes, etc.
There are small parks and squares all over the old city and they are all Wi-Fi enabled. Cool.
I walked back to the hostel and relaxed. Met a guy from Vancouver Island who got dengue fever in Nicaragua. He was also telling me about the North Coast Trail on Vancouver Island, much better than the West Coast Trail, and not nearly as busy.
I was quite tired because of the lack of sleep from last night, so laid down for a bit in my room. I then asked the hotel guy for the nearest supermarket, as I need to buy some breakfast stuff for tomorrow morning. The white water rafting company is picking me up at 7, so I need to eat some breakfast before that. He directed me to a large department store a number of blocks away. About this time there was a huge clap of thunder and the heavens opened up. I waited out most of the rain before walking to the supermarket. As I was walking, I came across a supermarket he didn't mention, so ducked in there and got myself some milk, cereal, bread and margarine. That should do for tomorrow morning.
Back to the hostel to drop off my groceries, then laid down a bit more.
A bit later in the afternoon, I walked around some more shops, browsing the goods for sale. I walked into this one artesenal market and the ladies working all the little shops swarmed me, all of them trying to get me into their shop. If I walk in to browse, they start offering me everything under the sun to purchase, things I have no interest in. I just wanted to get out, I hate that. Let me look in peace, if I want something, I'll ask. Needless to say, I won't be going back there.
I decided to head to La Rana Dorada, the brewery, for a pint of there quite delicious blanche beer. I sat outside under the huge umbrellas with my beer, and it started pouring again. I guess I'll have to stay here for another beer until the rain stops.
After it subsided, I headed back to the hostel and relaxed some more before going out to supper.
Found a place with a bunch of outdoor tables and it was very busy, so sat myself down and had a super delicious chicken carbonara.
I headed back to the hostel and chatted with Tracy for a bit, read and then to need around 10:00.
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Dad had the air conditioning on all night last night, full blast. I was so cold. Didn't sleep all that well because of it. I even got up and raised the temperature. But it had no effect.
We tried to have breakfast, but it was a bit of a disaster. The kitchen was so small and there's 12+ people all trying to get stuff, they only have a few coffee mugs, one toaster, not enough food for everyone. Disaster. I did manage to get some unbuttered toast and a banana and cereal with room temperature milk.
Around 10am, we checked out and got a taxi to Magnolia Inn, in the old city. It's a very pleasant hostel and hotel and super nice. All the rest of the San Blas boat backpackers were staying here. We ran into 3 of them when we got here, they were all just checking out, moving on to other destinations.
Our room wasn't ready yet, so the hotel guy (a foreigner) gave us a map of the old city and pointed out the best breakfast place around, so we headed there and had a yogurt and granola parfait. The restaurant is also owned by foreigners, and they have a western menu. Tomorrow is bacon and eggs, methinks!
While we were having breakfast, a local tour guide, Conrad, started chatting us up. He says he's 78 years old and was obviously trolling trying to get a paid tour out of us. I simply got his phone number, then we left, and he followed us, once we got outside, he started asking if we had any change to spare. He was a beggar. It was very weird.
We went back to the hostel and the guy that was vacating the room we were supposed to get still hasn't moved his stuff, so the owner put us in a different room.
We used the internet and dad had a nap, then we started walking around to see the sights. I booked dad and I to go to the theater on Saturday night for a play called "The Woman in Black". The hostel owner said he saw it just last weekend and it was amazing. It's the only theater group in Panama that does English plays.
I also booked a white water rafting trip for myself on Friday, class III and IV rapids! Should be awesome! Dad is not going, I think dad has reached his limits on this trip.
The old city is very nice. I think I like it better that Cartagena. It's quite a bit smaller, and they are doing a lot of restoration work. It's not nearly as busy either, with either locals or tourists. Any tourists you see are backpackers, and there's no hawkers trying to sell you stuff. Very pleasant. Lots of classy little cafes, restaurants, bars and hostels and hotels, and lots of old, dilapidated building to, that are being worked on restoring.
We had a light lunch at the same restaurant we had breakfast. Dad had tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich and I had a clubhouse.
After lunch, I tried a couple of bank machines, but both failed on my card. I have about $8 left in my pocket!
Back to the hostel and relaxed.
Me and dad went for supper to an Italian place, then back to the hostel.
Without going into to many personal details, today we got an important email about a family issue back in Canada and he felt he needed to get back home ASAP. He tried to find some contact info on the Delta website (he booked through Delta) so he could change his flight, but was getting nowhere. He decided he was just going to go to the airport first thing in the morning and try to get on the Delta airlines flight. I found the local Delta airlines phone number for Panama City and convinced dad to talk to the staff at the hostel to use their phone for the call.
Long story short, they were able to get dad on the flights he needs tomorrow, so he leaves at 8am tomorrow morning. It did cost him over $600 to change his flight, though!
We didn't get to bed until after midnight.