About a year ago, my sister called from Chicago with a great plan: “Next year you are turning 30, let’s celebrate in a big way. Let’s take a big vacation.”
So the idea was born. We haggled on dates with my parents, settling on the first week of July to s-t-r-e-t-c-h those few and far between vacation days. My parents decided they couldn’t come, so it would just be my sister, brother-in-law, and the two of us.
We wanted to stay somewhere in the same hemisphere, and preferable the same time zone to save on travel fatigue. We thought about Belize. I’ve always wanted to go there. But soon we discovered our time frame would coincide with hurricane season, and also that Belize is one of the more expensive Central American countries to visit.
In the end, we settled on Panama. It fit the bill: close, lots of outdoor-type activities to do, beach and relatively inexpensive. I’m calling it the “poor man’s Costa Rica” because it has a lot in common with that more well-know tourist spot.
Both of us couples arrived on a Friday evening. We arranged with our hotel ahead of time to pick us up with the airport, which saved us a lot of hassle. A friendly chauffeur picked us up from baggage claim, and took us on the 45 minute drive to our hotel in the Canal Zone.
La Estancia was perfect. As soon as we arrived we were enveloped with a sense of peace. I can’t say enough how this felt like a jungle sanctuary in the middle of a huge city.
The building seems to be a reconverted apartment building that is set up on the hill in the midst of the jungle vegetation. Here is our room (after I sloppily made the bed for the photo.) We had tree views from both our room and the common balcony opposite our room. Each of the floors have 2 common sitting areas, one with a computer with internet access. Everything felt homey and peaceful.
Every day the La Estancia staff hung fruit from the trees to attract the birds and monkeys. We spent a much time as we could out of the balconies, watching the birds and other wildlife in the trees and on the ground below. The breeze was perfect.
We could also see the famous “Puente de Las Americas” bridge off to our left. The bridge connects North and South America across the opening of the Panama canal. Five years ago, I first noticed my husband’s servant-hearted character when I assigned him to stand in the hot sun for a few hours. We were both crew members on a ship that was docked just north of that bridge.
I loved the jungle-plantation style homes of the Canal Zone. I can just imagine the poor, American ex-pats living in grand style in their “hardship” post. Did you know John McCain was born in this area when his father held a military post here many, many, many years ago? (That was a not so slick knock on how old he is.) This land used to belong to America, but reverted back to Panamanian ownership when the Canal reverted back to Panama on Dec. 31, 1999. I’m not sure reverted is the right word, but you get the idea.
The morning after we arrived, we had a few hours before our flight left for the interior of the country. We called a cab to take us to the well-known Miraflores locks, where we happened to catch a container ship moving through.
We didn’t feel like paying to get in to the museum though, so we headed downtown. (View of the skyline from the front of the Presidential Palace.)
This is called something like “lover’s lane.” It’s a vine-covered walkway along the ocean on the edge of the historic part of downtown. It’s near the fort that defended the city, as well as a monument to Panama as a former French colony. I guess France controlled the land before Spain did. Artisans have tables set up all along the way with tourist handicrafts like jewelry and fabrics.
And here’s where I get mad at WordPress (or else myself). My brother-in-law, Nate, got a lot of great shots of architectural details. But I can’t get them to rotate. They are rotated in iPhoto, but I’m uploading them straight from wherever they are saved on the hard drive. They appear to be rotated correctly there, so I don’t know what the deal is. I don’t have any photo editing software on my computer, so that might be the problem. But, GAH! That’s why I have a Mac, to make it easy.
Ok, end rant. See my cool photos (courtesy of Nate); sorry for the crick you are going to get in your neck.
The tower of this church is embedded with hundreds of pieces of abalone, better known as mother-of-pearl. It’s amazing how shiny it makes it. I’ve seen a lot of Spanish colonial-era churches, but none with a tower like that.
And this is the photo that makes me the most mad about the rotation issue: Panama City street scene. Old and modern collide.
At 4 p.m., we headed back to La Estancia for our bags, before taking the 6 minute ride to Albrook, the domestic airport. We checked in, and they gave us plastic, reusable boarding passes. This struck us as hilarious, for some reason, but looking back on it, it’s a lot more environmentally responsible than our disposable, tree-killing boarding passes.
I guess the funny part was that mine was so faded you couldn’t even read it anymore. And it’s not like it guarantees you a certain seat on the plane; no, you just walk on and sit wherever you like.
So we were off to the next part of our adventure! Of course my sister and I sat on either side of the aisle and chatted for the whole flight, catching up on each others’ lives.
About 50 minutes later, we arrived in…