Saturday, November 01, 2014

Last Day in Panama

I was super lazy this morning. I woke up early, before 6:00am, but then laid there and eventually feel sleep again and woke up after 9. It felt nice to sleep in like that.
I went Super Gourmet for breakfast (the breakfast place of choice every morning), then my day consisted of not very much. Among just plain wandering around, I did walk to the fish market, which was cool. It's the place to buy fresh fish and other seafood, straight off the boats.
Did a small amount of shopping, withdrew more money to make sure I had enough for the taxi ride to the airport tomorrow morning and generally didn't do to much else.
Late in the afternoon I talked to the front desk and asked how I could get to the Ancon theater. She wrote the Spanish name out on a piece of paper and said I should be able to take a taxi there. The staff at this hostel are wonderful for helping out!
I went out for supper. Around 7 I flagged down a taxi and handed him the piece of paper. He started talking in Spanish to me, but I kept hearing him day Ancon, so I just agreed with everything he said, and he seemed to know how to get pretty close.
He drove me through the seediest part of town (El Chorrillo), then a more swanky part of town (Ancon) before arriving at the theater. He didn't know specifically where it was, but he was driving slow along the street and we found it.
The theater is quite old, an older wooden building with a small veranda and bar outside. The theater guild building had a date of 1950 above one of the doors. Another older lady who came down with her son and his wife/girlfriend started taking to me, she said this is the only English theater in Panama and they've been operating for quite a long time.
They opened the doors after a while, there was quite a throng of people there, I'd say 50-60 people. The inside of the theater was darkly lit with a stage and older, but comfortable seating.
The show was called The Woman in Black. It takes place in England maybe 100 years ago. A woman who owned at large house on a remote spit of land has died. A lawyer is sent from London to collect all of the documents left in her large house. There was a movie a couple of years ago, starring the actor who played Harry Potter.
The theater group did a great job of making the audience scream. At one point, the lights turned off in the theater, and an ear screeching scream played through the sound system and a black dress was dragged over the audience, touching people as it went. People (mainly women) were screaming. The woman in black would appear at various locations in the theater, with just a hint of light on her, it was very creepy. When they turned the theater lights off, the theater was super dark, which just added to the scariness of it.
The show lasted about 2 hours, afterwards I walked to the main road, flagged down a taxi and made my way back to the hostel. Saturday night, all of the outside bars were packed with people and it made me sad that I had to leave early the next morning.
At the hostel, I asked the front desk to arrange a taxi for me to the airport for 4:30 and went to bed.
The end.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Mamoni River Rafting

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

Traveling Solo

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

Panama Old City

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.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Panama City Sightseeing

I got up a bit late this morning, after 8. We went to get breakfast (free breakfast here), but there was next to nothing to choose from. All the bread was gone, they had cereal and warm boxed milk that was just sitting in the cupboard. Pretty pa pathetic. We decided we'd just get breakfast somewhere on our way to the sightseeing bus.

We also needed to book the room for another night, but trying to find anyone that works here is a challenge. Anybody who works here just looks like another backpacker and the hostel doesn't really have a front desk, so you have no idea who to talk to.

After sitting around waiting for dad for 10 minutes, I saw a guy walking from a private area by the side of the hostel way to the back, behind the little guest house at the back of the property. He was carrying a tire tube. He looked like a backpacker, but he was going to areas where guests wouldn't normally go, so I walked over to him and asked him if he worked here. He said he did, in some strange accent. He didn't speak much English to me, but he seemed to understand everything I said to him. I told him we'd like to pay for another night, and he said OK. He then disappeared into the back with his tire tube for 5 minutes and I didn't quite know what to do. Then he finally came back out (tire tube still in hand), checked the paper notebook at the desk (no computerized booking system here!) and said something I didn't understand. But I got the impression that the room we had was booked for tonight. He then walked off to another similar room and asked them something, then came back and took me to another small 4 bed dorm room, and said we could stay there, giving me the impression that we would be the only two in that room.

We got the key, moved our bags and then walked to the mall where the bus starts and bought a day pass. Fortunately the bus was there when we arrived so didn't have to wait. We hopped on. Our plan was to get off at the canal stop, then the old city stop.

We arrived at the canal and got off, bought our ticket for the canal museum and viewing area. The museum discussing the history was quite interesting and well done. The viewing platform at the top provided great views of the canal and the ships moving through it (very slowly moving through it).

We spent about an hour there, then back down to the bus stop, perfect timing, the bus just arrived, so we got on.

The bus went to a few other places, including a high end marina on an island connected to the mainland via a causeway.

Finally we arrived at the old city. We got off, it was about 1, and I was hungry. The first thing we saw was a small brewery that brewed their own beer. We went in for lunch and a half litre of good, draught beer. I had an awesome sausage on a bun.

We discussed moving hostels, as both of us are not really happy with the place we're in. We had originally planned to do a walking tour of the old city, but the we decided to look for the Magnolia Inn, a place very highly recommended on TripAdvisor.

We found it down a very quiet street and booked it for the rest of it nights here in Panama. It's more expensive, $88/night, but it's a super nice place, in a restored colonial building.

We went back to the bus stop and waited for the bus to take us back to the mall where it started. We had planned on taking the other bus that does a different tour of the city, which the ticket is good for, so we waited for the bus, about 30 minutes and got on, only to find out that they just finished the last tour of the day for that bus. It was about 4pm now.

Back to the hostel.

We hung around the hostel for a while, then around 6:30 went to a place called Wing Zone, for chicken wings. Dad had chicken fingers, I had wings, which were quite delicious.

We went back to the hostel, I grabbed my good camera and headed back down to the waterfront to see more of it and take pictures with my good camera. And I saw something I fully didn't expect to see in Panama. One area along the waterfront has a lot of stray cats living along the waterfront wall. A head popped up behind the wall, and I saw it and thought to myself, "That didn't look like a cat. It looked like a...naw, it couldn't have been." It popped it's head up again. Sure enough, a racoon! There's a racoon living right along all of the stray cats along the waterfront.

The waterfront is really nice, extends a long way, and is sooo busy with locals jogging, working out; there were some basketball courts along there as well, busy with people playing basketball or volleyball or soccer in them.

I headed back to the hostel around 9:30, then read and to bed a bit later.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Sailing to Panama - Day 5 - Panama City

The captain told us yesterday that a fast boat would be here around 7:30am to take us to the 4x4, which will then take us to Panama City.

We all had breakfast and waited for the boat to arrive. It came shortly before 8:00am. We packed all of our stuff into the boat and then had about a 45 minute boat ride to the coast, up a river delta to a spot where a bunch of 4x4 trucks were waiting. This is the main entry/exit point for people going to/from the San Blas Islands, so there were lots of backpackers all over the place, coming and going.

The trip to Panama City cost us about $50US, that included the fast boat and the 4x4 truck.
It was about a 2 hour truck ride to Panama City. Coming into Panama City we crossed a huge tidal flat, similar to what I've seen in Nova Scotia in the past. Panama City is a very modern city, lots and lots of very tall skyscrapers dot the skyline.

I had reserved a twin room at Hostel Siriri, a large home which was formerly the embassy of Thailand here in Panama City. When we arrived, they didn't have any rooms with two beds, so dad and I get to sleep in a double bed again. Fun times.

The hostel is located walking distance to downtown and all kinds of modern amenities you'd find in any western city.

After getting settled, checking our emails and such, we headed to Hard Rock Cafe, which is near the hostel. We walked there, and it was a Hard Rock Hotel, not the restaurant (and, oddly enough, they didn't have a Hard Rock Cafe in the hotel, it´s located in another part of the city). Instead, we chose a small pub in a modern, massive mall, called Red Lion for a beer and burgers. The prices were quite reasonable, $12US for the burgers (which were very good), $3.75 for the beers.

After that, we walked through the mall and decided to get a piece of cake from a cafe in the mall. The lady working at the cafe was awesome, I would say 'Uno' and point to the carrot cake, and she would tell me the name of it in Spanish, then I'd point to the chocolate cake and she would tell me that name in Spanish as well.

Dad got all in a snit on the way to the restaurant because he was convinced that he lost his camera, because it was not where he always put it (in his pocket). In the end, he decided he remembered putting it somewhere else, which changed his mood to positive again.

We came back to the hostel and did journal stuff. We're both really tired, but it was way to early to go to bed. About 8 we went for a walk down to the waterfront, which is just a short 15 minute walk from the hostel. They have a long promenade all along the waterfront, and it was super busy with joggers and cyclists. I said to dad, apart from him, I was probably the least in-shape person on the walk way. Haha. Anyway, Panama City is very modern and you can see they have money here.

We headed back, stopped at a McDonalds on the way back so dad could get a McFlurry fix. Then back to the hostel around 10ish and to bed.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sailing to Panama - Day 4

Up about 7:30, had breakfast.

We started sailing (with engines) around 9, I think. We sailed to the immigration office, on a small, sandy island and anchored offshore, went for a swim and had lunch.

After lunch we went to immigration island and our captain went in with our passports and our fake flight itineraries showing we are all flying out in October 28. Apparently, the Panamanian rules state if you arrive via boat, you need to show a flight ticket leaving within 72 hours or you have to pay a $100 fee.

Best immigration point ever! While our captain was in doing immigration, we played beach volleyball on the beach for an hour. It took a long time for it to be completed, and we were expecting to have to go into the office ourselves so the immigration person could compare passports photos to the actual person.

At long last, our captain came out of immigration and told everybody to get into the boat, it's all done.

We got back to the boat and headed back to some islands we sailed past on the way there. Some of these islands are nothing more than a spit of sand with a handful on palm trees on them.

It was later in the day, about 5. A few of them swam to the island where there were a handful of locals, a small hut and a few backpackers staying in tents. This island was small about 75% sand and 25% grass and about a dozen palm trees.

Supper was awesome, two types of amazing chorizo and potatoes and salad. The meals have been very awesome, even if it consisted of food types that I'm not that fond of. They were of all high quality, though.

After supper, a drinking game started up, the one where you make different rules depending on what card you pull. For example, if you pull a 2 you might have to take a drink, maybe a 8 means you have do something stupid.

One of the rules was A and B, the person who drew that card gets his or her eyes covered, the next person chooses who is A and B (without saying names), then the person who's eyes are covered has to say what A and B have to do.

Stef drew that card, she got her eyes covered, the next person picked her and another guy as A and B. Stef then made the rule that A had to run around the boat naked while B took pictures. She was all excited for her awesome rule until she found out she was A and she would have to be the one to run around naked. She did do it, and a German guy was the lucky guy that got to try and take some pictures as she ran around the boat as fast as she could. It was pretty hilarious.

I went to bed late, but before everyone else (except dad), I went to bed probably 1:00am.