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DansDeals Forum => Trip Reports => Topic started by: saw50st8 on July 18, 2017, 08:56:09 PM

Title: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
Post by: saw50st8 on July 18, 2017, 08:56:09 PM
When I turned 34, my mother asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I told her that in 1 year, I wanted her to watch my 4 kids while I went on vacation with my husband. We hadn't gone away alone together since we went to Japan back in 2007. We were long overdue for a solo trip! She agreed. We figured at that point, our youngest would be just about 4 years old and really ready for both of his parents to be gone for an extended period of time. We had to work out schedules for both our jobs, my mother's travel schedule and my sister's availability to help my mother and we landed on going in May.

We considered many different places but wanted the following criteria:

1) Bucket list item
2) Easy to travel to (language, currency, access)
3) Lots of activities and things to see
4) Kosher food (We don't normally mind the tuna packets, but wanted to with a nicer vacation this time)
5) Good for a week of travel, including travel time

Panama hit all the items on the list. I have always been fascinated by the canal, how well designed and built it was, how simple gravity helps ships navigate through the mountain ranges in Panama. Panama also has no visa requirements for US citizens and uses the US dollar as currency, so no changing money. They officially have their own currency, the Balboa, but no one uses it.

Since our schedule was flexible, we were able to book United Saver award tickets EWR-MIA-PTY for 35,000 United points each.

The Panama Marriott was also on point savers, so we book 5 nights for 40,000 points. Our original plan was to fly in PTY, spend 5 days exploring the area and then fly up to David to see the coffee plantations and do some amazing rafting and hiking, but by the time we tried to book those flights, they were very expensive. We decided that instead of doing a day trip to San Blas, we would rather stay overnight in San Blas.
Google (http://www.google.com)
We wanted to plan a relatively active trip, but didn't really feel like renting a car so we decided to book day tours. We looked into a lot of different tour companies and finally settled on Almeza Tours (http://www.myfriendmario.com/) (also known as My Friend Mario). Our friends had recently come back and used them and been very happy. They were also willing to negotiate on price and provide us transportation to and from the airport. This checked off our easy to travel requirement!

With our plans in pace and childcare settled, we were ready to go!

For those of you who are interested in this sort of thing, our pictures were taken on a Samsung Galaxy S5, an iPhone 5s or an Olympus TG-5. 

Leaving from Newark

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Our first view of Panama City

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When we got to Panama City, we were greeted by Mario, who would be our tour guide for a few day trips. His car had many license plates stacked up on top of each other but we never asked him why. Sometimes, you just don't want to know the answer.

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4319/35955638585_db462be125_b.jpg)

He dropped us off at the Marriott and we checked. We chose the Marriott because we had enough points and was on point savers discount. The hotel itself is beautiful. It has that old world colonial charm. We got a standard room which was quite spacious and had a mini fridge. The bathroom was perfectly nice and clean, the beds were comfortable and everything was as you expect from a full service Marriott. The hotel had a really nice pool area with a pool, hot tub, hammocks and lounge chairs. It's fully enclosed and you can enter through the gym. We requested a low floor and were put on the third, right next to an accessible staircase. It worked out very well for shabbos.  However, if I were going back, it would not be my first choice of hotels to stay at. The Hotel is sort of in the middle of nowhere. The kosher restaurants are a 20 minute walk, the shul was a 30 minute walk and wans't in the eruv. We knew all that before going, but I didn't realize just how humid Panama was.

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After settling in, we walk to Jeffrey's Bakery, where we picked up empanadas for breakfast and lunch for the next day. Then we went to Aroma Cafe for dinner. Aroma is a beautiful restaurant and very white. We walked in during early dinner hours so the restaurant was empty. The staff didn't speak a word of English (and we speak enough Spanish to ask for cerveza fria), but they had an English menu. Fish is amazingly cheap there, so a large portion of sea bass was around $16. They served delicious bread to start and we ordered focaccia, sea bass, fried mushrooms and a margarita. Everything was delicious - it was one of our favorite restaurants.

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Title: Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
Post by: TimT on July 18, 2017, 09:00:35 PM
Nice start. Thanks for taking the time.
Title: Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
Post by: JACKBLUE on July 18, 2017, 09:08:06 PM
Wow 2007 till 2017! That's a long time for a DDF'ER!
Title: Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
Post by: saw50st8 on July 18, 2017, 09:12:22 PM
Wow 2007 till 2017! That's a long time for a DDF'ER!

We've traveled to other places, but not just me and my husband! Since that trip, I went to Israel, Iceland, Mexico, Arizona, Tennessee, California twice, Florida twice, Oklahoma, Niagara Falls, Vermont, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Vancouver, Nevada, Texas, Louisiana and probably some other places I'm forgetting at the moment.
Title: Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
Post by: JACKBLUE on July 18, 2017, 09:13:38 PM
We've traveled to other places, but not just me and my husband! Since that trip, I went to Israel, Iceland, Mexico, Arizona, Tennessee, California twice, Florida twice, Oklahoma, Niagara Falls, Vermont, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Vancouver, Nevada, Texas, Louisiana and probably some other places I'm forgetting at the moment.
LOL!!
A real DDF'ER then!!!
Title: Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
Post by: TimT on July 18, 2017, 09:26:58 PM
We've traveled to other places, but not just me and my husband! Since that trip, I went to Israel, Iceland, Mexico, Arizona, Tennessee, California twice, Florida twice, Oklahoma, Niagara Falls, Vermont, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Vancouver, Nevada, Texas, Louisiana and probably some other places I'm forgetting at the moment.
Now that's more like it. :)
Title: Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
Post by: saw50st8 on July 18, 2017, 09:33:09 PM
Day 2:

Mario picked us up at our hotel at 7 am and we drove out to the boat dock on the Chagres River. The scenery is amazing. The blues and greens are so vivid everywhere!

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We boarded the boat, which took off in the direction of Lake Gatun and Monkey Island. On the way, we passed large cargo containers traversing the river and you can see many barges and cranes for boats to load/unload their cargo. Once we made it out to the Monkey Islands area, we drove around to a few different island to see the monkey. The monkeys come right on the boat to eat peanuts and fruit and will snatch it directly from you. One monkey defecated on the boat. They are direct and a little aggressive but not harmful and it's a lot of fun to feed them. Make sure to go early in the morning to make sure the monkeys are still hungry! We also saw iguanas, turtles, birds and alligators.

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Next, we drove to San Felipe/Casco Viejo. Parking is really hard to find in San Felipe. The streets are really narrow and there just aren't many spots. Finally, we parked in a lot and found a car that basically used saran wrap to keep the back half on.

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4317/35955637375_b1e2a70932_b.jpg)

Honestly, I found it to be one of the least interesting parts of our trip. It's the old part of Panama and has a nice, colorful history, but it wasn't amazing. We liked looking at the juxtaposition between the old, dilapidated buildings that weren't updated and the newly fixed up in old world style buildings. It has a lot of cafes and bars and apparently the nightlife is fun, but we never made it back for the night. The views of Panama City are beautiful and there's a small market near the water. We enjoyed our time there but I don't think it's a must see (ducking the rotten tomatoes).

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After San Felipe, we decided to have a rare early afternoon. We were originally going to go to Amador Causeway but decided that since we were going on Sunday when we went for a canal boat ride, we would rather relax at the pool. After a refreshing dip in the pool, we went to Metsuyan for dinner. I don't remember what anything we ate was called, but everything was delicious. We ate early again and the entire restaurant was empty. We stopped at Jeffrey's to get more (amazing!) empanadas.

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Title: Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
Post by: saw50st8 on July 18, 2017, 10:05:30 PM
Day 3:

Mario picked us up at 7 am for the drive to El Valle de Anton. It's about a 2 hour trip outside of Panama City. The initial roads are fine, but once you get up near El Valle, the roads are windy, curving and climbing. There aren't too many guardrails either. We didn't do the driving ourselves but the roads were good. El Valle is a town that was built inside a Volcano crater. Our first stop was the zoo. Inside the zoo, there are lots of animals that are indigenous to the area and some that aren't. We saw toucans, macaws, emus, monkeys, frogs, jaguar, and lots and lots of chickens for some reason. I even saw one of those crazy stick bugs in the wild! I find it really creepy that the bug looks exactly like a stick but it moves. The views from the zoo was amazing and we enjoyed our stroll through. We were there for roughly 1-1.5 hours.

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4296/35955630065_08e3da1b1f_b.jpg)

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Next, we went on a hike up to the Sleeping Indian. It was billed as a moderate hike, but boy was it rough. The incline is 45 degrees on wet, slippery leaves and you hike through the rain forest. It's really slippery and the air is humid. Once we got above the trees, the views were breathtaking. It feels like you can see the entire world from up there. We decided to eat lunch near the top and then work our way back down, my husband jokingly cursing me the whole way for having him dragged him up such a crazy hike.

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We stopped at the town market (eh, we bought a pineapple, the rest of the stuff was chinese junk). Then we went to the thermal pool. We put on mud masks and soaked in the warm pools. They weren't very warm though, much more like tepid. There were a whole bunch of other tourists there when we came. It was enjoyable. The place had changing rooms, bathrooms and some facilities for kids.

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4308/36015802475_45357bfbb5_b.jpg)

Unfortunately, we didn't have time to see the square trees. We drove back to Panama City and went straight to Hilel Sports Bar and Grill. The food there was fantastic. We had tacos, fajitas and some sausage dish. The staff was very attentive and kept refilling my agua caliente.

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Title: Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
Post by: Denverite on July 18, 2017, 10:11:36 PM
This is all amazing and thank your for writing it up and the awesome pictures! You are making me nostalgic and wanna go back ASAP (and this time go to El Valle)! We also loved Aroma Cafe although didn't get any drinks so that Margarita is on the list for next time too!  :P

Looking forward to the rest and all your info on San Blas.  Also, all I have to say is ROFL laughing about the multiple license plates and good call not asking any questions!!  ;D
Title: Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
Post by: Something Fishy on July 18, 2017, 10:55:38 PM
Great report, looking forward to the rest.

This and @Denverite's TR just reinforces the idea that after two (extremely) short trips it's time to explore the country properly. Wonderful nature, activities, adventures, close by, great kosher food... what's there not to love?
Title: Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
Post by: saw50st8 on July 19, 2017, 07:26:21 AM
Great report, looking forward to the rest.

This and @Denverite's TR just reinforces the idea that after two (extremely) short trips it's time to explore the country properly. Wonderful nature, activities, adventures, close by, great kosher food... what's there not to love?

It really lives up to the hype. It's a small country but I could have easily spent 2 weeks there, more if I would have gone down to Darien Provence.
Title: Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
Post by: rileywiles23 on July 19, 2017, 01:19:59 PM
Great report, looking forward to the rest.

This and @Denverite's TR just reinforces the idea that after two (extremely) short trips it's time to explore the country properly. Wonderful nature, activities, adventures, close by, great kosher food... what's there not to love?
I hate zika
Title: Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
Post by: Denverite on July 19, 2017, 02:10:03 PM
I hate zika

Okaaay, but the cases there have been in the far jungles with indigenous tribes.  Would people not go to Orlando because there were a few cases in a neighborhood north of Miami?  People also forget that a good percentage of cases are from people who essentially contract it as an STD, not from mosquitoes . A lot of the Zika hysteria on here is way overblown...
Title: Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
Post by: yuneeq on July 19, 2017, 05:45:53 PM
Great report so far! Following.
Title: Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
Post by: saw50st8 on July 23, 2017, 07:51:05 AM
Day 4:

Our original plan was to go to Lake Bayano and go in the caves, but after the strenuous hike the day before, my husband asked if we could redo the plans for something easier.  We decided to go to Colon instead.  Mario picked us up, we picked up two of the most annoying women I've ever met, and then we drove out to Colon. Colon itself is just a regular city but we got the narrative about the businesses in the area. Apparently, Jews own most of the businesses, followed by a lot of middle easterners. There is a staunch juxtaposition between the wealthy and the poor. 

Then we took a vehicle ferry to drive to Soberenia National Park, a rainforest on the Caribbean side of Panama. There's a paved road throughout and we tried to find animals as we drove. We say many - toucans, monkeys, butterflies, sloths, lots and lots of insects. After driving on the road for a while, we all go out and took a hike through the rainforest. The rainforest is very noisy - the monkeys are shouting, wild pigs are snorting, every insect is humming and the birds are chirping. It's really serene and enjoyable to just stand and listen to the sounds of nature. One of the most amazing things we saw was a huge line of ants marching through the rainforest, each holding a sizable piece of leaf. Every day, the ants replace the lining inside their anthill with fresh leaves. It was incredible to watch the synchronization and order of these tiny ants that each know their part. Here's a video that shows a tiny portion of the ants running:  https://1drv.ms/v/s!At4HWeqiFYNvh6NsRHro0_IwdUIbUw

On the Ferry:
(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4318/35146212933_a00ed1faef_b.jpg)

Sloth in a tree:
(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4327/35955649095_8d73dcbdeb_b.jpg)


Monkeys in the wild:

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4292/35955648825_17790a95a8_b.jpg)

Termites!:
(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4326/35146212383_9c0e88deaf_b.jpg)

We even found a monkey skull!

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4298/35914569296_18448a4246_b.jpg)

Rainforest:
(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4319/35566953770_95a5a5bd98_b.jpg)

After we finished our hike, we went back to the car. We started driving and our guide stopped and pulled over. He starting feeling his neck and pulled off a tick! He was the only one in the group who didn't douse themselves with bug spray. We had all used the super strong, deet filled off and were glad we did. No one else in the group got a tick and the guide used our bug spray after that.

Next up was Fort San Lorenzo. The fort had been the main protection to Panama City way back when because it guards the Chagres River, which was the easiest route to attack Panama City. There's a long history of pirate attacks and failures, until the pirates banded together and decimated Fort San Lorenzo. One soldier escaped and warned the people in Panama City, who escaped to South America. The pirates didn't have much to loot when they finally got to Panama City. The views from the fort are incredible - you can see the Chagres River and the Caribbean and the view goes on for miles.

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We found bats!
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After a tour of the fort, we drove to the new Agua Clara locks. The new highway isn't built yet, so there is a road that drives right over the lock during times that the boats aren't moving. We drove across and got to the see the locks up close and personal. The road is not always open so check on the times, but it's worth a trip across the road. When you get to the other side, you can turn around and go back.

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We drove back to Panama City and then got ready for Shabbat. A few days before, we had stopped at the shul for them to photocopy our passports. Since we weren't staying in the eruv, we couldn't carry them to shul and you need your passport to get in. When we were there, we met Rabbi Laino and his wife and they invited us for dinner friday night. We went to shul friday night (services were long!) and then went to the rabbi's house. The rabbi also had another couple who was traveling from NY, a woman who was traveling on business and a local family, who were immigrants from Canada. When we mentioned that we were going to San Blas, they told us their long horror story about going to San Blas, including having to bribe their driver on the way out. We were kind of concerned about our upcoming trip, but they gave us some advice that turned out to be helpful, like bring your own towels. We also had an opportunity to talk to them about life and Jewish life in Panama, which was really interesting to hear about. Yeshiva tuition is a fortune there too!
Title: Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
Post by: saw50st8 on July 23, 2017, 07:59:56 AM
Day 5:

For Shabbat, we went back to shul. The shul itself is amazing. There's a large courtyard in the building, a small sanctuary, a large sanctuary and lots of rooms. Everything is clean and beautiful. The main sanctuary is stunning. The women's balcony overlooks the men's section below, and you can see the Torah reading. Services were very interesting - after every aliyah, someone else got up to give small dvar torah (in spanish, so I have no idea what they said). The sanctuary is enormous but only a fraction is filled.

After shul was over, everyone went downstairs for kiddush. When I say kiddush, I mean a full, sit down lunch called a kiddush. The food was great and people were so friendly! A nice family invited us to sit down with them. Turned out we had friends in common (hey, Jewish geography!) and one of them was originally from NY. They expanded on life in Panama and we had a really nice time. I highly recommend going to shul if you are there.

Saturday night, we went out to Kava. The restaurant is located on the ground floor of the Sortis and is a very funky restaurant, with nice decor. You can sit inside or outside, but we opted for inside with air condition. We aren't panamanian and are definitely not used to the crazy humidity!!  It's a definite scene on saturday night. The food was incredible!  We had sushi pizza (an absolute must!), fish nachos (delicious, but once was enough) and a sea bass dish with mashed potatoes (also delicious, but a small portion).

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Title: Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
Post by: Denverite on July 24, 2017, 01:56:23 AM
Wow...I also loved Kava...I can't wait to go back and use a Marriott cert to stay at Sortis and eat there...lol...what is the "base" of the sushi pizza?
Title: Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
Post by: saw50st8 on July 24, 2017, 07:38:58 AM
Wow...I also loved Kava...I can't wait to go back and use a Marriott cert to stay at Sortis and eat there...lol...what is the "base" of the sushi pizza?

I don't remember, but it was crunchy and delicious. My husband and I shared it and I really didn't want him to have any :-) It was the single greatest thing I ate on the trip.
Title: Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
Post by: saw50st8 on July 30, 2017, 08:47:57 AM
Day 6:

This was the day I had been most looking forward to. We were going to take a boat ride on the canal, pretty much the reason we came to Panama. We started our morning with an early climb to Ancon Hill. The path is paved so you can't really call it a hike, but it is fairly steep up. It had rained a few hours before but had stopped and the animals were out in droves. We say poisonous frogs, toucans, sloths, vultures, this weird rabbit like animal who's name I can't remember, salamanders, and lots and lots of birds. Apparently, seeing the poisonous frogs is pretty rare so we were lucky. The views at the top of Ancon Hill were amazing - you can see for miles and see beautiful skyline views of Panama City. At the top is also the location that Panamanians fought to put their flag, where it now stands proudly. We loved going there and would highly recommend the walk. It's paved so you can bike or push a stroller (though that might be really hard with the incline!). We did pass a lot of local bikers and runners. After Ancon Hill, we drove passed a monument to those who tried to raise the Panamanian flag and some graffitti art dedicated to those who were involved.

Here's a poisonous frog:
(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4312/35566952610_9490a22c4d_b.jpg)

Views from the top:
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(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4321/35146210263_dffd204395_b.jpg)

Flag atop Ancon Hill:
(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4299/35566951300_6b7e2b5b51_b.jpg)

Graffiti Art:
(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4298/35955576655_87fab0673e_b.jpg)

Next, there was some time before we had to get to Amador Causeway for our boat ride, so we stopped at a local fruit and vegetable market. It's the kind that restaurants and hotels go to get their food. We stopped at a stall and got fresh pineapple cut for us. It was delicious and sweet.

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4301/35146175773_4ff821f3dd_b.jpg)

Next stop Amador Causeway: Amador Causeway is really nice if you are local and looking for a place to bike a walk. It's nothing special IMO if you are a visitor and definitely not a must see. There's a new museum there and it's where the canal boat ride group met, but otherwise wasn't a must see even though everyone seems to talk about it like it is. It has really pretty views of Panama City and a very nice playground. We stopped to take pictures at the Panama sign (like every other tourist) before boarding a bus to the boat launch.

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4297/35457909533_920131f6d6_b.jpg)

I can't even begin to describe what an incredible experience going through the canal is. No trip report can do it justice. We opted for a half day trip, which was a good amount of time. Since it was off season, the boat was pretty empty. We got the front seats on top deck and had a great view the entire time.

The first notable thing we passed was a crane called "Herman the German". It used to be used by the Nazis and is now used for Canal maintenance. It's a pretty interesting piece of machinery.

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4319/35566950410_c2d6484e49_b.jpg)

We also passed by this welcome sign:

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4320/35566950130_e3d87ef01f_b.jpg)[/url]

The boat ride is narrated with just enough information that makes you feel like you learned about the canal, but not so much that you can't have a nice conversation floating down the river.

Going through the locks is very expensive, and wastes a lot of fresh water, so usually multiple ships go through at the same time. Our little ship went through with a sailboat and a cargo ship. The route we took has two sets of locks - the first is a single lock called Pedro Miguel and the second is the double locks at Miraflores.

Approaching the Pedro Miguel locks:

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4310/35914564846_e8dc3532f0_b.jpg)

Our lock mates:

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4313/35955576505_e9f739ef09_b.jpg)

Opening the gates for the ship:
(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4313/35955634395_22a1130c38_b.jpg)

The way the canal works is very simple. The boat moves into the first lock. They open a set of valves between the lock and the next chamber (or body of water) and let the water level equalize. Then the gates open and the ship(s) move through.


People in the Miraflores visitors center watching the ships go through:

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4294/35914603596_23f316049f_b.jpg)

The gates:

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4304/35914603776_4f4f56ae00_b.jpg)

Exiting the Miraflores lock:
(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4325/35955634125_469272dcec_b.jpg)

I can't stress enough that the experience in really incredible. It's a real feat of engineering, especially considering how long the french tried and failed to make a canal system in Panama. It's very old, well designed and even though no one really knew a lot about concrete back then, the walls are holding up well. It is well worth the pricey cost of the boat ride (about $150/pp).

That night we opted for Pita Plus for dinner. The food is simple and incredible. Their yuca fries are delicious, as was everything we tried (we didn't try their burgers though!). We also picked up some food for San Blas the next day.

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4320/35785256582_b7af347f9d_b.jpg)

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4314/35146174743_1a92230184_b.jpg)

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4324/35914602886_86d7593a71_b.jpg)



Title: Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
Post by: Yaalili on July 30, 2017, 08:52:20 AM
Great installment.
Title: Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
Post by: Denverite on July 30, 2017, 10:32:32 PM
Great installment.

+1!

I didn't realize you could ride through the locks on only a half day trip, very cool!
Title: Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
Post by: saw50st8 on July 31, 2017, 07:43:08 AM
+1!

I didn't realize you could ride through the locks on only a half day trip, very cool!

They call it 1/2 day but I would call it more like 2/3 really. We got to the bus at 11 am and we got off the boat at 5:30.
Title: Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
Post by: davidmal on July 31, 2017, 03:09:01 PM
What a TR

I think food outside of the USA is Plated much sharper and cooler than USA.
Title: Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
Post by: saw50st8 on August 02, 2017, 09:15:33 PM
Day 7:

After eating out on Day 6, we stopped by the smaller kosher supermarket and picked up supplies for San Blas. Then we went back to the hotel and packed up. We left most of our things at the Marriott while we went away. We were a little nervous about going to San Blas because of the couple we had met on shabbat. They had a terrible experience and described a really hellish experience. We weren't sure what to expect, but we did borrow some towels, soap and shampoo for the road. Which turned out to be a very good thing!

Our driver came bright and early to pick us up, around 5:30 am. We climbed into a beautiful, spacious SUV for the drive out to the boat launch. The first half of the trip was great - the drive was smooth, the view was beautiful...until we got to the Guna Yala territory. We paid the $20 fee per person at the guard station and then kept driving. The roads changed - there were potholes everywhere, the inclines were ridiculous steep and the road curved all over the place. I get bad motion sickness and I thought I was going to die. Really, the ride is pretty terrible (my husband was fine). When we got to the boat launch, I almost turned right back with the driver.  Instead, we doused ourselves with bug spray and waited for the boat to arrive.

Boat Launch:
(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4302/35914602466_c4d23b6f53_b.jpg)

Boat to the islands:
(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4295/35955633655_6b770ec65a_b.jpg)

The boat left and went out to the Caribbean Sea. It stopped at what they called a pueblo, which was one of the saddest things I've ever seen. It was basically a small island with houses built out of trash. Literally. Shacks were erected with random pieces of wood or metal and used tarps and cardboard and random things to put a roof up (I didn't get a good picture of it). The boat got gas, which basically meant they poured gas from large containers (no standard - there were all sorts of plastic containers they used and definitely ones that were not made to store gas!) into gas cans on the boat.

Pueblo:

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4308/35914601766_460d21d544_b.jpg)

We rode out to our final destination - a tiny island that you can traverse in ten minutes if you walk slowly. The ride out was beautiful. The water is a beautiful shade of blue and besides for the occasional piece of trash, all you see are tiny islands. The islands really look they were out of a movie - they are tiny, have some palm trees, white sand, and absolutely nothing else.

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4319/35115655874_3c42789918_b.jpg)

When we booked, we used a tour company that a friend of mine had used on a previous trip, Guna Yala Explorer  (https://www.gunayalaexplorer.com/isla-narasgandub-bipi-sanbla). It was horrifically expensive ($225/night per person) and more than I've ever spent on a hotel room (and no points redemption options!) but we wanted someplace we felt we could trust. It included round trip from/to Panama City, a tour of the islands and food. We booked an overwater bungalow because we figure we may never get to Maldives or the South Pacific, so we should grab the experience while we still can.

They call the bungalows rustic and they are. It's a fancy place because they have a light bulb available all night long so you can see on your way to the bathroom, and the bathroom is fully functional, but that's about as fancy as it gets. There were two bedrooms (you get the entire bungalow, but can fit 4 people if you want), each room with a double bed. There's a small bathroom with limited water pressure in the shower (and bring your own soap for washing your hands!). There's a covered deck for dining and a hammock and you are literally in paradise. Off the end of the deck was a gate to a ladder, where you can go snorkeling and swimming right off of. It was pricey but well worth it.

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4329/35146177123_fee212f238_b.jpg)

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4291/35115651584_fd287fa433_b.jpg)

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4299/35914601286_a2d552c6d8_b.jpg)

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4304/35955580485_19f8368335_b.jpg)

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4323/35914600746_7f29eca312_b.jpg)

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4315/35955640835_0024bb2608_b.jpg)

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4316/35914557376_b141806802_b.jpg)[/url]

We sat down and ate the last of our real food from Pita Plus for lunch.

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4328/35955639425_07b0af0821_b.jpg)

We took a walk around the island. The entire island takes about ten minutes to get around if you stroll. We saw a lot of interesting things on our way.

Solar power:
(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4312/35955640445_f13e6682f9_b.jpg)

The plumbing system:
(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4323/35955574025_5b7f5e27d1_b.jpg)

A noose:
(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4315/35914563756_71c010e9d4_b.jpg)

Canoe:
(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4322/35566948770_09bbef7615_b.jpg)

We also bumped into a native who decided he was going to teach us spanish. Si senor! Then we went snorkeling. I didn't realize that we need to bring our own snorkel gear, but they lent us a set to use. I'm not sure if there is normally a charge, but after they tried to tell us something a few times and I didn't understand, they just said "Gratis!"

The snorkeling is beautiful (it doesn't compare to the great barrier reef or anything, but it was great). There's a ton of coral and fish right around the island.

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4309/35115666274_4fa80025c6_b.jpg)

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4300/35914559896_866607011a_b.jpg)

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4304/35115666984_a9c2ab83e5_b.jpg)

For dinner, we asked them for whole fruit (thank you google translate!) and they gave us some delicious bananas, pineapple and oranges. We also had some bread with us. It was a stormy night, so we sat on the deck watching the sunset, then showered in the really limited water pressure showers and went to bed early. You can hear the water gently lapping against the shore all night long and it was really relaxing.

Title: Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
Post by: Denverite on August 02, 2017, 10:13:54 PM
great pictures and report.  If I'm not up for the rustic accommodations, do you think a day trip would be enough time to enjoy?
Title: Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
Post by: saw50st8 on August 03, 2017, 07:21:45 AM
great pictures and report.  If I'm not up for the rustic accommodations, do you think a day trip would be enough time to enjoy?

You can but it's a long day. It's like 3 hours in each direction plus a boat ride to islands (maybe an hour depending on where they take you) plus time on the islands. Can your kids handle a 12-14 hour day?

The rooms were clean. The bathroom worked, although the water pressure in the shower was not what you would normally find. The toilet flushed regularly. The beds were perfectly comfortable. It's really the lack of regular electricity and wifi that makes it rustic.

So yes, doable, but a totally different experience.
Title: Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
Post by: saw50st8 on August 03, 2017, 07:23:09 AM
Great installment.

Thanks!

What a TR

I think food outside of the USA is Plated much sharper and cooler than USA.

In general, we found the food choices in the restaurants very intriguing, especially in the dairy restaurants. The meat restaurants were much more standard meal choices.
Title: Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
Post by: Moshe123 on August 03, 2017, 08:16:35 AM
Very nice!
Title: Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
Post by: saw50st8 on August 03, 2017, 06:42:08 PM
We woke up with sun (so late for my normal schedule!) and enjoyed looking at the view. The clear, turquoise water spreads out for miles with nothing to block the view but small, deserted islands. At one point, the island kids took their boat out to go to school (there are like 10 kids on the island, so they congregate at a larger island for school). We saw a crab climbing around on the rocks beneath our bungalow and listened to the quiet noises of paradise.

For breakfast, they brought us more whole fruit. Then we packed up, took another stroll around the island and then went out for a tour. Our first stop was deserted island #1. I'm sure it had a real name too. There is a small hut in the center of the island so someone must have tried to live or stay there at some point, but it was uninhabited now.  It's really interesting to be on an island that's totally deserted.

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4295/35566939210_1818c4b19f_b.jpg)

We found a crab (and some beautiful shells).
(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4312/35146186843_09e3c2dfe6_b.jpg)

Next, we went another deserted island. That island had an incredibly shallow depth of water all around it. You could walk out hundreds of feet and the water was only up to your knees.

This picture was taken with me standing in the water, not on a boat:

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4317/35955593575_f4a3bb17d5_b.jpg)

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4396/35961202190_427e432f84_b.jpg)

We could have kept going out much farther. It was weird to feel like you are walking in the middle of the sea.

Here's my husband out in the middle of nowhere.
(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4323/35955593175_e460ba887b_b.jpg)

While we were exploring that island, our tour guide left to catch fish for lunch. Here's what he caught, I wasn't sorry not to eat the fish with all the teeth!:

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4311/35955589685_3b2d314c53_b.jpg)

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4323/35955590185_589e811a66_b.jpg)



Our last island stop was at Starfish Island. The water surrounding the island is littered with starfish. The water is deep and clear and awesome to swim in.

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4314/35955589125_3244278775_b.jpg)

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4321/35955588405_21ce8a2879_b.jpg)

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4291/35955585345_35631d2a0f_b.jpg)

The natives themselves though have houses built of basically trash, which made our accommodations feel like we were in a 5 star hotel in comparison:

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4311/35146173923_13af627529_b.jpg)

Everyone else ate the fish for lunch and then we were off for our final stop - I don't remember its name but it was this flat sandy area under the water in the middle of the sea. It was kind of like an underwater island that you could stand up on. We were exhausted at that point, so we didn't get out, but a bunch of the people we toured with did. Then we went back to our island to pack up for the trip back to Panama City.

The way back wasn't as bad as the way there. I don't know if it was because I knew exactly what to be prepared for or because the twists and turns were at the beginning of the ride, but we arrived back in Panama City in one piece. We checked back into the Marriott and then headed out for dinner. We stopped by Jeffrey's to pick up some food for the way home and some empanadas for my mother. I wanted to give her a nice gift for watching my kids, and she hates stuff, but knew she would love empanadas. Spoiler alert - she did! Our plan had been to go to Darna Dairy for dinner, but we got there at 8 pm so they were closed. Instead we went to Prime Grill.

Meat empanadas were delicious:

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4314/35955638925_c3de33b090_b.jpg)

Soup was fantastic:

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4316/35955639035_14e7963a71_b.jpg)

The main dishes were awful. Although we ordered two different dishes, it was basically impossible to distinguish one from the other. Both of them tasted like someone dropped an entire bottle of soy sauce on it. We aren't picky eaters, but it was really gross - one was "meat special" and the other was "rice and meat dish" (paraphrasing because I don't remember the full spanish names). It was a disappointing way to end the trip.

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4292/35955638845_2d4e3c1637_b.jpg)

(https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4291/35955638725_e444e9c44b_b.jpg)

After dinner, we walked back to the Marriott for our last night in Panama. We woke up in the morning and flew back home. We immensely enjoyed Panama and I would go back there in a heartbeat. The country is beautiful and it has some of everything - mountains, beaches, rainforest, culture. The only drawback is the humidity :-)

[It feel good to actually finish this TR!]
Title: Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
Post by: davidmal on August 03, 2017, 07:22:04 PM
Wow this is fantastic!!  What photos!

Ps. Sides are always better than mains
Title: Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
Post by: whYME on August 03, 2017, 07:29:28 PM
wow!

I definitely need to go back to PTY some time...
Title: Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
Post by: Denverite on August 04, 2017, 12:18:16 PM
wow!

I definitely need to go back to PTY some time...

+1 these San Blas pics look amazing and seems worth it to stay overnight...
Title: Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
Post by: saw50st8 on August 04, 2017, 12:35:43 PM
Wow this is fantastic!!  What photos!

Ps. Sides are always better than mains

I agree that sides are better than main dishes, but these main dishes were terrible. Basically inedible.

wow!

I definitely need to go back to PTY some time...

Thanks! It is amazing.

+1 these San Blas pics look amazing and seems worth it to stay overnight...

It definitely is! Make sure to go with a reputable place because we spoke to someone who paid like $40/night and they had to sleep on the floor with no sheets. But San Blas is literally paradise!
Title: Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
Post by: fradl on October 17, 2018, 07:26:28 PM
I was wondering what the name of the shul that has the kiddush is? I am referring to your trip report from Panama.  Also, you mentioned that you ate at Rabbi Laine's house on Friday night . Do you have contact info for him? My last question is do you know if the hilton or the waldorf astoria is within the eruv? My husband and I are planning a trip for this coming February. TIA
Title: Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
Post by: saw50st8 on January 07, 2019, 07:12:12 AM
I sent you a PM with the information.