Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Journey to Panama III - Land Travel

March 23

Arriving into Panama City was an assault on the eyes, ears, and nose!  It is a vibrant, energetic and colorful city - clean, dirty, modern, old, safe and scary.  Thanks to a great tip from a fellow cruiser we stayed at Hotel Casa Miller, run by a crazy Greek (his words which became ours) who had more stories and anecdotes to tell than time allowed.  The hotel was in an older section of town which we totally enjoyed.  We were within walking distance of the famous Fish Market, and Casco Antiguo, an area undergoing significant renovation.

Fish Market
Fish Market

Traffic jam in Casco Antiguo
Jim and I spent one day at the MiraFlores locks watching the boats come through and enjoying the four story museum set up to explain the history of the canal.  We saw a cruise ship, two tankers, and two sets of rafted sailboats come through as well as a Panamax "monster" boat come through the new larger lock.  That made up for the fact that it was not going to work out for us to be line handlers for Seth.
Mira Flores Locks

Rafted sailboats going through the lock

More rafted sailboats going through locks
Again, thanks to a cruiser we got a tip on a tour company that operated trips to the San Blas Islands and Chak and we booked one as soon as possible.  A two hour car ride to the coast (infamous for its pot holes and sharp turns), a 45 minute ride on a small boat and we arrived at Niadub, also known as El Diablo.  
Launch for boats heading out to the San Blas Islands

Canal leading out to the San Blas Islands

I think if you were to conjure up an island paradise, this would have been it.  Clean white sand beaches, thatched roof bamboo cabins, clear blue waters, lovely Guna Yala family to make sure you were comfortable, and two small "stores" where women were hand stitching molas and had a few displayed for sale.  We had nothing but time: to swim, read, relax, and visit with the other visitors who were primarily from France, Germany and Canada.  Jim and I were the only Americans.  
Our hut

The view from the back of the hut
The lounge and dining area

Chak checking out the baby turtle

Rooster mola

Fish mola

Trying a "coco loco" a dreadful combination
of coconut water and rum

It was quite primitive, the bathrooms were in an outdoor building and although they had flush toilets, they only flushed when the large tanks on top of the shower building next door had been filled.  When the tanks ran empty, the toilets didn't flush.  Showers were cold.  

Meals were sufficient and primarily fish and rice with an occasional choice of chicken. We got pretty good at getting the bones out of the fish.

Our typical lunch and dinner
There were daily optional trips away from the island: to the swiming pool which was a shallow area inbetween two islands, an uninhabited island and yet another island with a divable shipwreck at its shores.  

Famlies take turns running Niadub and income is shared among them.  School aged children go away to another island to attend school.  It is where their families live when not dealing with the tourists at Niadub.  Altho I had always known them as the Kuna Indians, their preferred name is Guna Yala.  
You cannot beat the sunsets
 After three nights we headed back to Panama, again to Hotel Casa Miller.  The three of us spent one afternoon shopping and then it was time to head out.  
Farewell pose of the three enthusiastic travelers
Jim and I took a 9 hour bus ride to Boquete in the highlands of Panama.  (Chak hiked in a local wildlife area looking for what he now believes is a "mythical" toucan! )  Boquete was a small mountain town that I had read about years ago and at one point thought it might be a good place to retire to.  (It would be)  
View of Boquete from our balcony

One part of the steep path to town

We were not disappointed.  Our hotel was up in the hills which while beautiful was too far to walk to town (except for a treacherous steep path which we tried once).  

We booked a private coffee plantation tour to La Finca Milagrosa (the Miracle Farm).  It is a small almost organic farm (5 hectares) and has won many awards world wide for its coffee quality. Keep your eyes open for their brand "Cafe Royal".

La Finca Milagrosa sign

A coffee tree with just a few red beans left on it

Beans drying naturally outside, but under cover

Three level of roasts from the homemade roaster

We learned about coffee growing, picking, processing, roasting and ultimately tasting!  And we learned about Geisha coffee, the third most expensive coffee in the world.  Of course we had to buy a pound...and figured that at $25 it was a deal! 

Waiting for the bus office to open in David
From Boquete we took a taxi to David, where we caught the  bus for another 9 hour trip to San Jose, Costa Rica where we caught a flight back to Florida the next morning.

We are now trying to get the boat ready for the summer hiatus and mentally processing all of the varied experiences and adventures we had this winter season!  

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