August 11, 2015: Quiet Day Back at the Condo

I was up before seven this morning.  Something about Spain made me not even wake up until after noon.  Something about Panama makes me wake up very early in the morning.

We have no car and nothing planned for today.  Just school for Liesl, play time for Luciana and work for me.  Nice and relaxing. I am caught up on SGL today too.  Was not too far behind but had fallen behind by a few days.  It was a busy week.  Got some writing done too.  I have been needing to do that.

There is truly nothing to report today.  It was a day of essentially nothing.  Just normal work.  We went nowhere, did not even leave the condo.  A quiet day was nice, though.

August 10, 2015: Grocery Shopping in Anton

I was up before seven this morning.  We had a bit to do and had to get out to Anton, one village west of Rio Hato, this morning on the early side.  The girls slept in so we had a hard time traveling until ten, which made for a bit of a rushed morning.

We are pretty happy to have discovered Anton yesterday as it is only about ten minutes away to the west (I could really walk there in a serious pinch) and very easy to deal with getting to and from.  We actually spent over an hour shopping but we got a lot of stuff and the prices were lower than out east in Coronado.  The selection was not nearly as good but they had what we needed – most important pullups for Ciana who ran out of her existing supply this morning!  That was right on the verge of emergency.  It is a really good thing that this happened while we had a car available to us!

We got back to the condo just in time for us to carry up all of the groceries and for me to jump onto my morning conference call.

In the middle of the afternoon I took the rental car back to National. That was nice and easy.  They know me there now by name.  It is getting easier and easier to deal with things here.  The car came to a total of $160 for three days, which includes everything even the $15 of Panapass usage in Panama City over the weekend.  That system is great.

We are now “trapped” in Playa Blanca again.  We don’t know when we will be renting another car.  Probably this weekend, but we have not figured that out yet.

This afternoon was slow and mostly relaxing.  Just working all day.  Back to a normal work schedule with nothing special going on here.

Everyone went to bed early tonight.  We were all pretty tired today.

August 9, 2015: Exploring the Azuero Peninsula

It is just the family today and our goal for the day is to take the car for a drive and explore the southern Azuero Peninsula here in Panama.  As always it took us a while to get everyone up, dressed, ready and out the door.  It was more like ten by the time that we were actually pulling out of Playa Blanca to start our drive.  It would have been a lot better if we could have gotten moving three hours earlier but not the Miller family.

Once we turned left out of the end of our “driveway” we were into unknown territory for Dominica and the girls.  They have never even see Rio Hato, which is walking distance away in that direction, let alone anything beyond it.  I have at least driven through Rio Hato to the far side and turned around to come back before so at least I know that it is there and what there is, more or less.  Dominica, apparently, had not believed me when I told her that the village was immediately on the other side of the new mall being built at the end of our road because she was pretty surprised to find that the village was right there.

From Rio Hato it is about ten minutes to Anton, a much larger town where we discovered that there is a small grocery store!  All this time we have been making trips to the big stores in Coronado half an hour away and there is a grocery store just ten minutes away!  We have no idea why we were told to drive out to Coronado, that makes no sense.

We continued on the PanAmerican Highway to Penonome which is the much larger village or small city in the region.  We got off of the highway there, fueled up the Toyota Yaris, and drove around Penonome for ten or fifteen minutes to get a little feel for the place.  It is a larger town that we have seen in this region, lots of stores and stuff.  Very busy streets.  Downtown was not attractive, though.  We had heard good things about it but this was not looking like the kind of place that we would be interested in.  We did not spend much time before we got back onto the highway.

We got to Diviso where Route 1 and Route 2 diverge and headed south on Route 2 onto the Azuero Peninsula.  Almost immediately we stumbled upon a nice looking pizza place on the west side of the highway so we pulled in.

It was a neat place that made their own cheeses, so the cheese for the pizza was really excellent.  We ordered a normal plain cheese pizza, which was even dollars, and got some light desserts to eat while we waited which included a chocolate cake for the girls and something akin to tres leche that Dominica and I shared.  And we got coffee, although Dominica spilled hers.  So we split mine.

The pizza was quite good.  The crust was exactly like my mother’s.  The cheese and sauce were really good.  We were surprised to find just a little japapeño in the cheese.  It was the right amount, just a little flavour and the girls still liked it.  We ate seven eighths of the pizza there.

When we were done eating we could see a big storm rolling in.  The sky was dark, especially down to the south over the peninsula.  We have seen so little rain here in Panama.  This will be quite a change.

We got on the road and within five minutes heading south on Route 2 the rain had started and within ten or maybe fifteen minutes later it was coming down so heavily that several cars were pulling off of the road to avoid driving in it.

It was still raining when we reached Parita.  Ever since we got west of Rio Hato we had been loving the lushes countryside.  Instead of the clearly Central American poverty and odd ramshackle houses along the highway, it had turned to gorgeous tree lined lanes and gorgeous pastureland.  Very different in a way we had not expected at all.  Coming into Parita was the first we saw of the really cute villages.  Down here on the Azuero it is very different than up along the PanAmerican like we have been seeing.  We did not have time to investigate Parita but it looked very nice.  The rain was letting up a bit as we came through.

Soon we came into Chitre, which is the main city of the peninsula.  This is a large European city with what we would think of as “normal” businesses.  A modern city with a full infrastructure.  After weeks in Panama popping into Chitre is actually a bit of a shock.  It is completely different from what we have been experiencing.

We avoided the bypass and drove through the middle of town so that we could investigate a little bit.  We did not stop but did look around a little and took some pictures of the big church in the middle of town. We did take note of a place called Frostee’s as we drove through that had an indoor playground thing for the kids that we thought we might stop and check out on our way back north.

It was a long drive south from Chitre but a very nice one.  Route 2 is a nice and easy road.  The landscape is nice and traffic is easy.  There were lots of attractive small towns to investigate along the way.  This is a really nice area.  We are liking it here a lot.

In Las Tablas we turned from heading south to heading east.  This town was really something.  We’ve clearly moved into a more affluent portion of the country.  The houses here were really nice.  Looks like a great place to live.

Going east out of Las Tablas was a police road check but they just waved us through.  We have heard a lot about these checks but we are definitely passed right along.  Our guess is that because we are so close to so much coast line that they have random stops along the roads to make sure that people are not sneaking into the country.  Panama faces immigration issues that are pretty extreme given their geography and overall global location.  The whole country is an unguarded border!

The road got much smaller after this point.  Technically much of it was still Route 2 but quickly it became a smaller and smaller road heading out to the remote corners of Panama.

Las Tablas was the last “real” settlement as we headed south east. After this everything was very tiny and just a little collection of houses and a church near the road.  Lots of nice places, but very rural.  Clearly just farm support communities.  It was still quite a long drive from this point down to Pedasi which actually is the last settlement.

Pedasi, when we finally came to it, was gorgeous.  Completely different from the Panama that we know.  This is kind of a resort town on the outskirts of the country.  Great little village full of restaurants, bakeries, tourist places, hotels and the like.  There are many beaches just minutes from Pedasi so it is a launching point to surfing destinations all over.

We continued on through town and just took the road less traveled.  We went south and finally arrived, literally at the end of the road, at Playa Destiladeros.  We drove down and suddenly the road actually ended, as if it had been washed away, right at the beach.  Cars were parked along the side and there was nowhere else to go.  You had to just pull over and leave the car, which we did.  It was pretty nice.  The people that were there were only there for another ten minutes or so.  I talked to them a little and they were super nice locals.  One of them owned a seafood restaurant in town and another owned a small hotel.

Once they left it was a desolate beach with some wild ocean.  It is clear why surfers enjoy these places here.  We spent an hour or two on the beach.  First the girls played in the water.  Then they turned to playing in the sand.  Some dogs came and played with them too.  They had a really nice time, which they needed after having been stuck in the car all day long.

It was starting to get darker so we decided that it was time to go.  The girls would happily have stayed another hour.  We drove back the same path to the north.

When we came back through Chitre we got lost for a while, both Apple and Google maps are useless around here.  It took us quite a while to find our way through town, which is sad as it is not a large town.  We found our way back to the Frostee’s and stopped for dinner and for the girls to play.

It really was a perfect stop.  They had pancakes for the girls and covina sandwiches for us which were very good.  The girls had a great time played in the rickety indoor playground stuff.  They have had nothing like a playground since we got to Panama so they were very thankful for this one.  We spent more than an hour, maybe even two hours, here.  We were pretty bored but the kids needed to play and wear themselves out.  We got our money’s worth from our dinner.

Before leaving we had a little “ice cream” but it is the watery frostee stuff that I do not enjoy.  The kids only ate a little too.

It was fully dark when we left to drive the rest of the way home.  The girls fell asleep in the car pretty quickly and the rest of the drive went quickly.  We made great time getting back.

We have a small emergency of being down to the last pull up for Luciana.  We had been planning on getting more today and now that we went through Anton we looked but the store was already closed.  Doh!  Now we are going to have to get up in the morning and go looking for some.  That’s going to eat up a lot of the morning.

It was just after ten when we got back to the condo at Playa Blanca.  About an hour to wind down and everyone was off to bed.

August 8, 2015: Exploring Colón and the Canal

We were ever so thankful this morning that we had already taken all of the time and effort to have gotten the car situation sorted out so that we did not have to do hours of extra driving this morning.  That would have been awful.  And far, far better than the original plan of having to have driven out to Playa Blanca from Panama City this morning!

Most of us were up before eight but it still took until at least nine before we had everyone into the car and on to the road heading to Panama City.  This time it was me driving everyone.  Bob riding up front and Dominica and the girls in the back.

The drive went pretty quickly this morning.  I made good time and we did not have to stop anywhere the whole way and traffic was not bad.  We took the Bridge of the Americas and the Southern Corridor, back tracking the way that we went yesterday to leave the city.

I was super impressed with myself for being able to drive the entire way from our condo in Playa Blanca, several hours to Panama City, across the city and through the neighbourhoods to get all of the way back to Bob’s family’s house in Brisas de Golf without any maps or directions!  We did run into some insane traffic near Bob’s family’s neaighbourhood and had to get off of the path and reroute a little and Bob did verify some of that with a map, but even there we knew what we were doing and got right back onto the right path.

We got to the house and Paul was waiting for us.  We had through that Maria was going to be there too but she was running behind and was far away.  After about fifteen minutes we decided to run out and meet her somewhere on the way to Colón once Bob had decided that he was not going to be going with us.

We followed the directions that we were given to meet Maria and that took us completely in the wrong direction and we had no idea where we were supposed to be.  That turned from being a simple thing into a rather big ordeal for no reason.

We took the North Corridor and finally found where we were supposed to be, met up with Maria, Paul rode with her and we convoyed up route 9 to Colón.  The original plan for today was to take the train that goes from Panama City to Colón but the train does not run on weekends (and we discovered that it is super expensive and the schedule for it is just crazy.)  So instead we are driving up.

The drive went quickly and we ended up (since Paul was directing things) going to a surprise location not in the city.  First we went to see the new canal construction where the Panama Canal is being expanded to accommodate more traffic.  We stopped and took a few pictures.  Then we drove up to the Gaton Lock and got to see some huge cargo ships going through.  That was really neat.

We actually waited for one of the ships to pass and got to drive THROUGH the lock!  There is a tiny bridge that goes along the bottom of it and we were inside where the ship had just been.  So cool.

On the other side of the lock we drove way, way out on this little country road in the middle of nowhere.  At one point Paul and Maria had a howler monkey run across the road in front of them!  We were far out in the wilderness to the west of Colón.  We ended up going through the old U.S. military base that was abandoned out there, which was pretty neat to see.  The remnant of American colonization abroad.

There was a marina there, hidden in amongst the old base, where we stopped and had a very nice late lunch.  We were right on the water amongst a lot of smaller ships.  The place was not very busy but there were one or two people there who had arrived by ship and a handful of tables that drove in like we did.

It was a nice location and we enjoyed the food.  They had calamari which made Luciana very happy.  Everyone got either fish and chips or fish tacos.

Returning from the old military base we stopped first in the base so that Paul could find a bit of Caribbean water and get his feet in it and take a picture there.  Then on the drive back in the mangroves we found a better place for him to get into the water so we took more pictures there.

When we returned to the lock we ended up in a rather long line of cars waiting to get back over.  We had to wait for one ship and we might have been so far back in the line that we got stuck and had to wait for a second.  Just before we were going to go through the lock a taxi that was about a dozen cars in front of us broke down in the middle of the locks and had to be pushed through manually!  We were pretty sure that we were going to be trapped for a while on the western side of the canal!

Once we were back through we ran through the outskirts of Colón, got gas and drove back down to Panama City.  There was a light rain on the way down, which Panama really needs right now.

We got back to where we had met Maria and we parted ways there.  We squeezed Paul back in to our car and drove him back to Bob’s in laws where they are spending the rest of the weekend.  This is the last that we will see of them until SpiceWorld in late September.

We got on the road and did the long drive back to Playa Blanca.  Actually it was not that bad of a drive at this time of night.  It was late enough and being Saturday night there was really no traffic and we made great time.  It was really dark.

Sadly after two weeks of everyone saying “it’s a miracle that no one gets hit out here with all of these people walking along and running across the highway”, we saw a guy who apparently had run across the highway to get to a bus stop and did not make it.  He was still partially in the road right in front of the bus stop but was nearly all covered by the sheet.  That made for a somber drive home.

It was very late when we pulled back into the condo.  Everyone was right off to bed.  It was a very long day.  And tomorrow we are going to be setting off to explore Panama for the first time without extra people since we have gotten here.  So it is going to be a rather busy day.  We only have a car from time to time so we have to be rather judicious with it when we have the access.

August 7, 2015: Leaving Panama City

The original plan had been to work in Panama City all day today and have a dinner thing tonight until quite late and then to head back to Playa Blanca early tomorrow morning to deal with car logistics and get Bob back out to Panama City to deal with the airport.

But first thing this morning, Paul and Bob stopped by the DoubleTree and said that we were changing plans and all of the stuff for today had been called off and that we were going to head back to deal with the cars today instead. So pretty much first thing I got all of my stuff together, got checked out of the hotel and we drove Paul back to the east, which took quite some time, to drop him off with Bob’s in laws where Paul will be spending the night.

I navigated and Bob drove from eastern Panama City out to Playa Blanca.  That actually went pretty well.  The drive out was a bit slow as we had a lot of traffic on the way.  All day Friday you have the holiday weekend traffic going on between Panama City and the beaches to the west.  It makes for a very long drive.

It was very early in the afternoon when we arrived in Playa Blanca. Dominica had not told the girls that I was coming home this afternoon.  They were pretty excited when I came through the door.

Our first order of business was getting me working and caught up.  We did that right away and then over to National Car Rental and picked up another Toyota Yaris for me so that I could drive everyone back to Panama City tomorrow morning.

No problems getting the car.  That was easy and mostly cheap this time.  Then back to the condo working until evening.

Once it was late, Bob and I drove out to El Valle and dropped off his mother in law’s car and I drove him back to Playa Blanca where he had decided to spend the night to make things easier for tomorrow.

It was pretty late when we were finally back and everyone was pretty tired.  So more or less right off to sleep for us.  The girls are both sleeping in the bed with Dominica and me in the master suite and Bob is sleeping in the girls’ room tonight.