Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Day 21: Panama Viejo and Casco Viejo

So I awoke in my teeny dorm room with no windows where I was squished in with five guys all around 6 foot tall in the bowels of Luna's Castle and decided I should try to switch rooms. Seriously I think they put me up in the bunker. Not that I usually mind 6 foot tall guys but this was a bit much. The room they put me in was unbelievably better. Check out my view!

I went and had my daily visit with my doctor, picked up a new Apple charger for my iphone at a fancy mall that could have been in any major US city, they even had Cinnabon. I found a diablo rojo headed to Panama Viejo which isn't in the nicest part of Panama City but it was fine. I do get a lot more attention here than in Costa Rica. There are a lot more fair skinned people in CR than Panama.
Panama Viejo is the first of several Panama City's that have been built over the last 500 years. This first one was ransacked by the Pirate Henry Morgan in 1671 and the ruins still stand over several acres of land. It's really impressive.

I climbed this tower for some great views. It's the remains of an old Cathedral.

I found a little squirrel, here they come in different colors; red, brown and even white.

I stopped for lunch at a kind of bodega, I'm not sure if that's what they call it here but it's basically a plate-lunch place. For 2.50 I got ropa viejo which was awesome for something that translates to "old clothes" in English! It was pulled pork cooked with vegetables and of course it came with rice and also some lentils, a nice break from the black beans. I think the lentils are more of a Caribbean thing. I made my way back across the city in another Red Diablo, this one so crowded that I could hardly breathe. Everyone was hot, sweaty and grumpy. Once I got closer to the center of the city I hopped off and took a cab the rest of the way to Casco Viejo where my hostel is.

I decided I still had time to explore Casco Viejo before sun down so I took a walk around the neighborhood. Casco Viejo is a historic district in the middle of renovations, it also to once was the center of the city and the president actually still lives there. There are ruins next to beautifully restored buildings next to slum buildings. There are also plazas with open air restaurants and lots of cathedrals. It's all very charming.

This is the supposed ruins of a favorite hangout and gentleman's club of former dictator, Noriega. It's on it's way to being renovated as well but it's a controversial project.

I walked around the point where there is a kind of boardwalk at the the location of the old fortress where the city used to be defended from. The views are pretty spectacular and there lots of Kuna Yala people, native from the San Blas islands north of Panama on the Caribbean side, peddling their wares. One of the favorite things I have seen today was a Kuna Yala woman in full regale pull a cell phone out of her top and proceed to have a yelling match with someone on the other side of the line.


There's also quite a bit of interesting graffiti art in Panama City. These guys are brave to do this so close to the president's mansion, or perhaps that's the point.

I also went to see the famous arc that stood for over 400 years before suddenly collapsing in 2002 for no apparent reason. It's presence supposedly convinced the Americans that there were few earthquakes in Panama and that it was a good place to build the Canal. It's been rebuilt since collapsing but for some reason they let you stand under it, which makes me a bit nervous.

I wandered my way to the ruins of the old fortress and beyond this into what they call the "Red Zone." It was definitely far different than the city blocks I had left behind and after only a few blocks I decided to turn around. There's a reason they tell tourists to stay out of that neighborhood, it's definitely as the police  officer told me "caliente."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Day 21: Bus to Panama City

Panama is a very small country but it's very long. So, to get from David to Panama takes 8 hours by bus. I'm trying to get on a morning bus because I don't want to get into Panama City after dark. As a girl alone, I definitely try to avoid traveling at night. So, it's off to the hospital again early to get another shot in my butt. Fun.

Then I ended up at the mess of a bus station once again and on the long bus ride to Panama City. Once we started getting close I started getting excited. There are real freeways and big bridges. It's beautiful here! And there are these local buses, called diablos rojos that are the cutest things ever, brightly painted different designs and sometimes covered in lights. They cost 25 cents and are usually packed full with people and blaring latin music. It's like a club on wheels.

The bus station is huge and modern and also packed full of people. A far cry from any bus station I have yet to experience in Central America.

I checked into my hostel, Luna's Castle, in Casco Viejo, paid the cab driver $2 (I love Panama!) without a fuss and ran into a friend that had stayed in my hostel in Boquete. We went out to dinner with some others from the hospital, it was delicious.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Day 20: Not feeling so hot...

I was headed back to David this morning thinking I would catch the bus to Panama City and see a doctor there because the medication has failed to cure me, the back of my throat is not looking so good, this strep is not going away. I was feeling ok this morning, see?

On the way to David, we got smashed into a passing mini bus like a bunch of sardines. I was literally almost hanging out the door which was open and the bus was going 60 mph and when they finally closed the door by squeezing everyone in there was no air conditioning and I didn't eat breakfast that morning. When my friend got off at the turnoff to Boca del Toro so did I. I've never been so close to passing out in my life, except the time I got my nose pierced. Anywho, a Snickers, some water and a soda later, I'm feeling a little better but I'm not going to Panama City today. I went straight to David to see the doctor and to sleep, sleep, sleep. The same doctor who's probably only a few years older than me, gave me another prescription, this time for injections! I asked her if I had to go to the hospital every day or if I could give them myself. I explained that I worked at a veterinary clinic. She asked me if I was a nurse and when I said "for dogs" she just laughed at me. I think she just likes prescribing injections to me I swear! Last time it was steroids for my allergic reaction, this time it's five days of antibiotic injections. Ouch.

I'm sure I'll be better tomorrow.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Day 19: La Isla Boca Brava

Man, I am not feeling so hot today. After a lot of sleep last night I'm still down, my throat hurts so bad I can hardly eat or drink. I don't think the antibiotics are working. On the plus side, I'm probably getting skinnier. Eh? I woke up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and had to avoid a bat flying around my room, which wasn't a surprise because the dorms are basically open to the outside because there aren't really any mosquitos here. I know that they are very unlikely to hit me due to their great echolocation but I still can't help freaking out and ducking every time one gets near me. On the way back into my room of course my entryway was being guarded by a group GIANT praying mantis and some freaky HUGE catydids. They were flying back and forth in front of the door and I stood there in trepidation before making a run for it. Luckily none of them landed in my hair but I still had a momentary freak out. Here's a picture of one staring at me... I had to take one as evidence.

I got up early, about 7 am, and decided to go for a walk to check out the wildlife, I heard a lot of howler monkeys making a lot of ruckus last night around dusk and I knew they were also active at dawn. This place is so beautiful, I watched the sun come up and some birds fishing out over the water as well. It wasn't long before I happened along a couple of them eating berries and throwing the seeds down at me. Cheeky buggers.

I had a lazy morning, it's easy to be lazy around here when you've got these kind of views.

Later on I discovered I still had another little roommate. She's not so scary during the day.

After my rest, I was introduced to a newcomer to the island that I would be bunking with and we decided to go for a hike around the island. We happened upon more monkeys, some isolated beaches and made our way to another part of the island.

We almost got lost and the rancher we ran into was about as helpful as this cow.

Thanks to my handy iphone which even works in the boonies of Panama and has a gps, mapping feature and a compass, we were able to find our way back easily in time to catch a lovely sunset.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Day 18: Eenie, Meenie, Miney... Golfo de Chiquiri

I was headed out of Boquete and my friend, Leon, is headed up the mountain to see if he can make it to the tallest point in Panama. I wasn't really sure where I was gonna go, there's a few places in Panama I'm interested in going so I headed to the bus terminal in David to see what buses were headed out. I happened first upon the Horncitos mini bus and ended up sitting next to a crate full of baby chickens. My first real chicken-bus experience! It was cute because they were babies, I'm sure if they had been full-sized stinky chickens I would have not been so entertained. Local buses in Central America are called chicken-buses because, occasionally, your seat partner may be a chicken.
The Horncitos mini-bus takes you part of the way to the Golfo de Chiriqui, a rickety collectivo taxi takes you the rest of the way. I arrived on the boat dock and this giant Panamanian man comes up and offers to take me to Isla Boca Brava where the hotel is, for free with his family. I was a little trepidatious after Costa Rica at offers of help, but the taxi guy seemed to be ok with it so I went.

The guy, Alex, and his wife are a young couple who were enjoying the weekend on the boat with their even younger cousins. They were so sweet, he instantly plopped a mango in one of my hands and a beer in the other. The Golfo de Chiriqui is absolutely stunning and mostly uninhabited, really a paradise.

Once they  took me to the hotel, where his wife works, Alex offered to take me fishing and island hopping for the afternoon. The proprietor of the hotel, a woman from San Diego, said they were great people so I happily agreed to go with them. They bought some plates of food while I changed and checked into my room and insisted upon feeding me lunch. We headed down to the boat dock and Alec turned to me and said "Tu eres el capitan." (You are the captain!) So, I drove us away from the boat dock and around the island, much to the entertainment of all of the Panamanians at this gringa driving the fishing boat.

We did some fishing, some swimming at a completely deserted beach and drank quite a few beers. They even wanted to take me back to their place for dinner but I was still sick and not up to more fiestas.

I love Panama!