Author Topic: zow’s Panama TR 2019 [emoji1194]  (Read 6185 times)

Offline zow

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zow’s Panama TR 2019 [emoji1194]
« on: March 03, 2019, 12:11:17 PM »
Part 1: Introduction
HaShem has blessed us to be able to travel to so many beautiful places. We spent the last week in Panama City, and I want to summarize here our activities and culinary adventures.  I will try not to repeat all that others have written, but it is difficult, as @denverite, @saw50st8, and others have done such a great job with their TRs.  Special thanks to @denverite, who provided specific information and has paved the way for all of us to enjoy some of the best that Panama City has to offer.

Offline zow

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Re: zow’s Panama TR 2019 [emoji1194]
« Reply #1 on: March 03, 2019, 12:18:31 PM »

Part 2: Flight, Hotel, and Ground Travel Details

Copa Airlines, BOS-PTY and PTY-BOS.

I think it was 17,500 UA in Y (our two girls flew Y BOS-PTY) and 30,000 UA in J (DW and I few J both ways, and the girls joined us in J on the return leg).

We had two rooms at the Sortis. Booked each with Marriott Cat 1-5 (now Cat 1-4) certificates.

Requested upgrade at check in and was told that I’m only Gold Elite, so no free upgrade to suite.

We did get one room complimentary upgraded to a 1BR suite for Shabbat and MS, which made for nice seudah shlishit together.

As far as getting around, we did Uber exclusively (except for the non-licensed “taxi” we took at Amador Causeway to get back from the ferry, as no Ubers were locking on.).

We had difficulty hailing an Uber from Casco Viejo.  Granted we were trying to depart at busy times (Wednesday 5:30pm and motsei Shabbat 10:30pm), but had trouble getting cars to confirm, and a few times had them cancel without explanation.  Probably next time we would walk out of the congested area and see if that improves things.



Offline zow

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Re: zow’s Panama TR 2019 [emoji1194]
« Reply #2 on: March 03, 2019, 12:26:17 PM »
Part 3: Day 1, Sunday

Lounge at BOS was The Club in Terminal E.  They had some kosher cereal (little Kellogg boxes) ad fruit.

Flight to PTY was uneventful. I didn’t even think to look for the video monitor in the arm rest.  I spent a few hours reviewing Neuroanatomy, because I have forgotten so much of what I learned 30 years ago! KSMLs were Borenstein, ‘nuff said.



Arrival in PTY was smooth. Took almost no time to get through Immigration and Customs. Uber picked us up -- no designated meeting spot, but most seem to meet in the parking lot.
We had probably our most interesting Uber ride ever on the way from PTY to Sortis.
First, we all squeezed into Abdul John’s Hyundai Accent.  It was a tight squeeze with four of us and our five bags, plus backpacks, but that was okay.  It was only the driver’s third day of driving Uber, and he only had a few dozen rides before us...I’m not sure he’ll make it to 100.

First, as we were approching the PanaPass (EZPass) toll gate, he sped up and tried to tailgate behind the car in front of us so he wouldn’t need to pay the toll.  As we were going through the gate, the cross bar came down and hit the roof/windshield.  I don’t think it cracked or dented, but it was loud! We were all kind of shocked by this behavior.  But at this point, what do we do -- tell him to stop and let us out in the middle of the freeway?  So we continued toward the downtown area, and as we are approaching our hotel, I noticed the landmark F&F Tower Building (looks like a giant blue glass Jenga tower), and I take a picture of it.  The driver slows down and almost stops -- on the freeway! -- so I can take a picture (see attached!), and cars are coming up behind us, screeching their brakes and honking at us.  Thanks but no thanks.  He also offered to provide us with an additional tour of the region.  I seriously considered it, because I knew we would have so many more stories to tell, but DW would not allow.



After we got to the Sortis, DW and I went to the gym to work out, and the girls went to the pool There was a loud and very non-tznius pool party, but I just told the girls to avert their eyes. :) After workout and pool, we went to dinner at Aria.  It was excellent, but hard to know how excellent, as we were very hungry!


Offline zow

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Re: zow’s Panama TR 2019 [emoji1194]
« Reply #3 on: March 03, 2019, 12:35:39 PM »
A few more Aria photos.

Offline zow

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zow’s Panama TR 2019 🇵🇦
« Reply #4 on: March 05, 2019, 10:04:37 PM »
Part 4: Day 2, Monday

We had booked a Las Perlas tour with Ilene (thanks, @Denverite, for the shidduch). It was a very fun day, but tiring.  We had to be up and out of the hotel by 6:15 to make it to the Amador Causeway Ferry location by 6:40, as we were instructed.  We got there a few minutes late, but didn’t matter, as we actually could have gotten there around 7:15 and still made the ferry. In the process of getting our bags out of the trunk of our tiny Uber (Suzuki Celerio), the deck lid came down and conked me in the noggin.  Turns out, the deck lid didn’t have any springs or struts … oops.  Made for some nice drama and a good picture.

The ferry ride to and from Contadora Island takes almost two hours each way.  It’s a lot of shlepping for a day trip. We did see dolphins on our trip to the Island.  We did much of the same things that @Denverite reported, so I won’t repeat.  You can see the fish I caught in a separate post (Destination Guide Panama). We enjoyed the snorkeling, cruising around the island with thousands of frigate birds (and other birds), and eating our self-packed lunch on a deserted beach (where they apparently had filmed some of the earlier Survivor shows).  Best part of the trip was sitting at the bar/cafe of Mar y Oro, the only operating hotel on the Island, and having a drink, looking out over the water.  Peaceful and beautiful.  Reminded me a little of similar locales on Isla Mujeres.  I chatted up the manager of the hotel about possibly coming back to stay in the future and asked if they would heat up DW meals. He knew immediately about kashrut, said that much the Hebreo community comes to stay there, sounds like even for chagim, and I got the sense that they bring a sefer and have davening and bring catering.   Looking forward to coming back and spending a few nights here some time in the future!

After returning from our trip, we showered and went out to La Spezia, which was very good.  Everything is very cheesy there.

« Last Edit: March 05, 2019, 10:35:22 PM by zow »

Offline zow

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zow’s Panama TR 2019 🇵🇦
« Reply #5 on: March 05, 2019, 10:16:14 PM »
Part 5, Day 3, Tuesday

Up early again. 8:00 departure with Sorhay to Anton Valley.  As @Denverite and others have reported, Sorhay is terrific. She loves to talk and ask questions. We stopped on the way out at Quesos Chela, which is a cheese and empanada store along the highway at which many people seem to stop.  They have a collection of kosher certified cheeses and yogurts/smoothies. Pretty incredible to find this stuff at a place like this.


We stopped at the National Park, took some pictures, and then went on to ziplining.  This was my DW’s and my first time ziplining. It was a lot of fun. To me it’s kind a lot of money to drop ($65) for what amount to maybe 5 minutes of thrill ride. But I’m glad we did it, and would do it again in a different location...Maui, I’m looking at you!

After ziplining, we went horseback riding.  This was probably my least favorite thing of the day.  I suppose if you love animals and/or love horseback riding, this would be great. For me, it was boring, and frustrating not being able to get the horse to go where I wanted and do what I wanted.

Following horseback riding, we headed to a local restaurant for kosher lunch. I realize this arrangement may not satisfy everyone, but it worked for us.  Sorhay has worked with Fernando, the proprietor of a local restaurant (and by local restaurant, I really mean an authentic, Panamanian hole in the wall. The restaurant is not kosher. However, Sorhay brings a brand new frying pan and a brand new knife, along with kosher cooking oil. The chef and his assistant make sure they are not cooking for others while they are preparing food for their kosher diners.  They carefully clean and then line with foil all the working surfaces. They had me light the gas flame. They showed me the fresh fish (sea bass, definitely with fins and scales), and then they make a beautiful meal of fried sea bass and fried plantains. They also serve some super fresh cut vegetables (crudites) that the girls picked up down the street at the vegetable/fruit market.  Everything served on and with disposable serving ware.  Seasoned with salt and pepper, and fresh-cut garlic.  Was among the most delicious meals we had, and such a treat to be able to experience authentic local cuisine. 

We were stuffed, but we still went to a waterfall via a hayride type truck along a bumpy rouad to the foot of a hiking trail to a waterfall., We then had fun frolicking in the water in front of the falls, and jumping off some of the surrounding rocks.

We concluded our day with a short hike up to a lookout point at sunset, before which I was able to daven mincha at a picturesque spot overlooking the caldera that is the Anton Valley. 

Sorhay returned us to our hotel around 9:30pm. We were too tired to go out to dinner, but most of us lapped up leftovers from La Spezia.

« Last Edit: March 05, 2019, 10:30:37 PM by zow »

Offline myi

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Re: zow’s Panama TR 2019 [emoji1194]
« Reply #6 on: March 05, 2019, 10:19:01 PM »
Beautiful, except for that pic of your head. Not needed. But feel your pain.
Don't try to be someone else , be who you are because everyone else is taken.

Offline zow

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Re: zow’s Panama TR 2019 [emoji1194]
« Reply #7 on: March 05, 2019, 10:37:05 PM »
Beautiful, except for that pic of your head. Not needed. But feel your pain.

Thanks for the feedback.
My wife and daughter both told me not to include the pic. I have removed it.  :)

Offline zow

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zow’s Panama TR 2019 🇵🇦
« Reply #8 on: March 05, 2019, 10:44:35 PM »
Part 6, Day 4, Wednesday

Another 8:00 start time.  Today and Thursday, our guide was Sorhay’s colleague Susy.  Sorhay herself was booked up with other private tours, but we were just as happy with Susy. Today’s itinerary was a stop at Jeffrey’s to pick up some empanadas, followed by a visit to Miraflores Locks to see ships moving through the canal. We also walked through the museum and watched a short film they have.  I loved seeing the locks and learning more about the canal. We spent maybe 90 minutes there -- probably plenty long for most people, but I could have spent another hour in the museum and watching ships move through.

We then drove to Gamboa, where we would take a boat to Monkey Island.  I should point out that there is no single Monkey Island, but a bunch of Islands that were not actually “islands” in the typical sense of volcanic islands forming. Rather, these islands were the high points of mountaintops that remained above water level when the water filled the Canal.  We saw some monkeys. Some of them came onto our boat to eat pieces of banana and popcorn that our boat driver threw them.  We also saw an iguana that had climbed to the tippy top of a tall tree. I had only seen iguanas crawling on land before -- never knew they were such climbers. And, as we would find out on the next day’s tour, they are also pretty good swimmers.

We were happy to get back to Panama City by mid afternoon. Susy dropped me and DW off at Casco Viejo, where we walked around a bit, spent over two hours at the Panama Canal Museum (pretty well done, a little chronologically confused, and a bit pricey at $17 pp, though that included audio, which was valuable), and then enjoyed yogurt from Forever Yogurt while overlooking the panoramic skyline.  Meanwhile, Susy dropped our girls at the MultiPlaza, where they found a kosher KKD and then went back to enjoy the pool at the hotel for a bit.  After 6pm, we all regrouped and headed to Kava for what was probably our best meal. The sushi there is really top notch (though I haven’t yet had Shallots to compare).

« Last Edit: March 05, 2019, 10:49:47 PM by zow »

Offline saw50st8

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Re: zow’s Panama TR 2019 [emoji1194]
« Reply #9 on: March 06, 2019, 07:31:19 AM »
Looks like you had a great time!

Offline Denverite

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Re: zow’s Panama TR 2019 [emoji1194]
« Reply #10 on: March 06, 2019, 01:25:37 PM »
Looks like you had a great time!

+1! So many cool adventures...I really need to get back to Panama and explore Anton Valley soon.  Your description of the horseback riding cracked me up!  I have also forced myself to do it because it made my kids so happy.   :)

Offline zow

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Re: zow’s Panama TR 2019 [emoji1194]
« Reply #11 on: March 07, 2019, 01:43:43 PM »
Looks like you had a great time!
+1! So many cool adventures...I really need to get back to Panama and explore Anton Valley soon.  Your description of the horseback riding cracked me up!  I have also forced myself to do it because it made my kids so happy.   :)
Thanks for the TR and pictures.
Thank you all for the feedback, inspiration, and specific information in advance of this trip. I'll try to finish up the TR in the next few days.


Offline Denverite

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Re: zow’s Panama TR 2019 [emoji1194]
« Reply #12 on: March 07, 2019, 03:12:39 PM »
Thank you all for the feedback, inspiration, and specific information in advance of this trip. I'll try to finish up the TR in the next few days.

Looking forward!  I also loved that Sorhay has really upped her game and added that dairy place to the Anton Valley trip and had such a cool lunch planned for you.  How did you daughters rate the trip in comparison to others you've done (and I know you've taken them cool places)?

Part of Panama's appeal to me is that is something for everyone in my family to love.  Thanks again for writing and posting all this!

Offline bostonguy

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Re: zow’s Panama TR 2019 [emoji1194]
« Reply #13 on: March 07, 2019, 06:56:23 PM »
Hello ZOW from another Bostonian,

Sounds exactly like our family trip...taken in December.  Sorhay is the best....we recommended her to other friends (also Boston based) who booked her for three days last week....and they also stayed at the Sortis - could that have been the private tours on the days when she wasn't available for you?

Great TR.  Fun revisiting "our" trip.


Offline zow

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Re: zow’s Panama TR 2019 [emoji1194]
« Reply #14 on: March 07, 2019, 10:10:00 PM »
Hello ZOW from another Bostonian,

Sounds exactly like our family trip...taken in December.  Sorhay is the best....we recommended her to other friends (also Boston based) who booked her for three days last week....and they also stayed at the Sortis - could that have been the private tours on the days when she wasn't available for you?

Great TR.  Fun revisiting "our" trip.
Thanks, @bostonguy .  That's very funny,  "Last week" was actually week before last, so maybe yes, maybe no. Either way, such a great trip. Easy flying BOS-PTY.  I'll add some more report segments and photos soon.

Offline zow

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zow’s Panama TR 2019 🇵🇦
« Reply #15 on: March 07, 2019, 10:13:43 PM »
Part 7: Day 5, Thursday

We again had an 8:00 am pick up with Susy. Our itinerary today was to visit the Embera village, where Sorhay would be meeting us, as she was driving out with another family. It was another pretty long day.  Susy drove us to a boat launch on the Chagras River in the National Forest, from whence we canoed to the Village. We all enjoyed learning how this indigenous culture lives their daily lives, how they interact with the government of Panama and with tourists, how they educate their children, how they pair up but don’t actually get married, and lots more. One fun moment: after the men and women of the tribe put on a song and dance performance, they wanted all of us to dance with them. Several of the women asked me to dance with them, and I politely declined.  I reminded Sorhay that I couldn’t dance with the women, but I could dance with the men. Ironically, she told me in no uncertain terms that same-sex dancing was strictly prohibited. :o

We bought a few hand-sewn baskets that should make nice baskets for serving cut challah on our Shabbos table.  Non-kosher guests were treated to a meal of fried Tilapia and plantains in a big leaf.  For the kosher folks, we had cut fruit and vegetables. The cut fruit is so fresh and delicious, from pineapple and watermelon, to guava, passion fruit, and papaya.

We then took the canoe further down the Chagras, to a point from which we would hike to another waterfall.  It was a pretty tough hike over rocks and through the streams, and once we got to the falls, we found several dozen other tourists who had come to relax and cool off.   Susy told us that the previous day they had discovered that they could climb up some rocks to a point higher on the falls, and we would likely have a private swimming spot to ourselves. The climbing was pretty tough for us, but we made it, with the help of Susy and two of the Embera Village teens who had come along to help us.  It was really fun being at the top of the falls, so much so that we could look down at everyone else enjoying the lower pool. Every time someone took a picture of the falls, they inevitably got us in their photo!

We headed back up the river in the canoe. Before we got back to the dock where we had begun our day’s journey, the two Embera teens who were our boat captain and first mate, hollered something to each other about seeing an iguana.   Within seconds, one of them jumps off the canoe and into the Chagras (which is known to have crocodiles…) and within a few seconds, he is back on the boat holding a live and kicking iguana.  As mentioned above, I’m not a huge animal fan, and it was my good fortune to be sitting closest to the guy who brought the animal onto the boat.  He asked me if I wanted to  and after the 90-minute drive, got back to our hotel around 6pm and made haste for Lulu by Darna, which was also excellent.
« Last Edit: March 07, 2019, 10:30:10 PM by zow »

Offline zow

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zow’s Panama TR 2019 🇵🇦
« Reply #16 on: March 07, 2019, 10:33:39 PM »
Part 8: Day 6, Friday

Today was our only unprogrammed non-Shabbos day. I got up and walked to shul, so we would know how to get there and back without a map or directions on Shabbat. It took About 25 minutes brisk walk, probably 30-35 strolling.
Came upon a fellow Yid walking the opposite direction, a few blocks from the shul — he was carrying Tallis and clearly heading to daven. He saw me looking for the shul, came across the street to greet me, offer direction to Beth El (he was going to Shevet Achim, the Sephardic shul). He pointed me in the right direction. I said Shabbat Shalom. He said Good Shabbos and asked if I had a place to eat (for Shabbat meals). Wow.

I then walked another five minutes, found the shul, endured the security inquiry — was useful I had my passport. 
Entered the shul, found the beautiful beit Knesset, and 7:10 davening began about 7:15. They begin with mizmor shir.
Davening was sweet.  They incorporate a little bit of singing in both psukei and Ahava Raba. They say ashamnu before tachanun. They sing Al Tira after alenu.

After davening , they have breakfast every morning — eggs , empanadas, juice, coffee.  Today was a special enhanced breakfast because it was sponsored by a family in honor of the first yahrtzeit of a man who had been president of the shul.  They had lox, shakshuka, more varieties of pastry.  I spoke with the avel, Adam, guy in early 30s who had studied at MIT and did research at MGH. 


After davening and breakfast, I went to get a bottle of wine from Deli K market, which is a little difficult to find, at least as a pedestrian.  It’s located underground, below the MultiPlex (not to be confused with the Multi-Plaza, where the girls found KKD and which is a high-end mall with Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, etc.).  The MultiPlex seems to be below the Hard Rock Hotel/Casino. In any case, I went to get wine so that I could bring it back to the shul and give to Rabino Laine, who was hosting us for dinner that night.  I had suspected that he might not use an eruv so wanted to get him the wine before Shabbat, rather than bring it to shul.  The Deli K is a great market.  Not as well stocked and not nearly as much prepared food as a place like Pomegranate in Brooklyn, but same idea.  Their wine selection was very extensive.

After dropping off the wine to Beth El, I stopped by Shevet Achim to take some pictures of their shul. It was beautiful -- my pictures don’t do it justice.  I then walked to Darna Bakery, where I met my family for breakfast (well, my second breakfast). This is a really lovely setting for dining. After breakfast, our girls took an Uber back to the hotel, where they spent the rest of the day until Shabbos by the pool.  DW and I walked back, stopping again at Deli K to pick up a few more provisions, and making sure we could retrace our steps so as not to get lost on Shabbat.
« Last Edit: March 07, 2019, 10:51:32 PM by zow »

Offline zow

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zow’s Panama TR 2019 🇵🇦
« Reply #17 on: March 08, 2019, 12:35:36 PM »
Looking forward!  I also loved that Sorhay has really upped her game and added that dairy place to the Anton Valley trip and had such a cool lunch planned for you.  How did you daughters rate the trip in comparison to others you've done (and I know you've taken them cool places)?

Sorhay is fun and very savvy.   

This was our youngest and her BFF. First time we have ever done that — it generally worked well.   BFF’s mother told us that her daughter continues to rave about the amazing trip. DD said that CUN has been her favorite place but this trip — with all the activities and kosher dining — was best ever.

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zow’s Panama TR 2019 🇵🇦
« Reply #18 on: March 09, 2019, 10:24:34 PM »
Part 9: Day 7, Shabbat

We initially had two rooms at the Sortis -- one on 5 and one on 18. The higher floors are so-called “Elite,” I guess because they provide better views.  We had wanted to be on the same floor as our girls to facilitate Shabbat logistics, but we were told at check -n that nothing would be available until Friday. (Some big convention all week at the hotel.) When Friday afternoon came around, we actually leveraged a complaint from two days prior (our girls had been told they couldn’t use the pool late one afternoon due to a private function...there had been no such posting or notice about it) to get ourselves moved to a suite.  Unfortunately the suite wasn’t available on same floor, but we decided it would be fine being separated. 

The stairways have motion-sensitive lights and an alarmed door on the lobby level. The staff said they could turn the alarm off for a period of time if they knew when I was going to be coming down on Saturday morning, but they couldn’t put lights on all the time -- had to remain motion-sensitive, so we didn’t use.  I told front desk staff that we would not be able to carry key or ID on Shabbat and would need someone to accompany us in elevator to return to our room on Friday night and Saturday afternoon.  That worked out fine.  On Saturday morning, we just waited by the elevator for other guests to come and use it to go down to the lobby and tagged along with them.   The entrance to the hotel has electric doors but also has adjacent manual doors that worked fine.

We davened at Beth El (Ashkenazi) both Friday night and Saturday morning. Friday night was nice, had a little dancing after Lecha Dodi, brief dvar Torah from Rabino Laine (in Spanish, of course… I didn’t follow most of it), and then a beautiful dinner at the home of Rabino and  Rebbetzin Laine, along with two other (local) families.

Saturday morning, the davening was a little slow and long for my taste. Most of the sluggishness was during the Torah service, lots of hugging and downtime between aliyot, and Rabino (or, once, one of the other rabbis in the community) spoke for 5-8 minutes between each aliyah, rather than having a full-length dvar torah.   Seemed to me to drag a bit.  I also found that there was quite a bit of talking among the kahal during much of the service, especially after Aleinu.

We had lunch at the shul. Apparently they have lunch there every Shabbat, and our experience was typical. They ask for a donation (in advance, obviously) of $20-25 pp. The meal was excellent. Salads, chicken, brisket, cholent, dessert.  There wasn’t much alcohol -- pretty limited to the Rabino’s table -- but that was fine.

We walked back to the Sortis, and after getting out of our sweaty Shabbos clothes, we hung out by the pool for about three hours. We then returned to the room, had a little Seudah Shlishit, davened maariv, made havdalah, and then went to Kava.  After dinner, we Ubered to Casco Viejo, had yogurt again at Forever (because the more proximally located yogurt places were already closed for the evening), and walked around for a bit.  Took a while to get an Uber back to the hotel from there -- kind of congested with traffic, which must be an Uber disincentive -- but eventually got back fine.  Three of the four of us seem to have gotten some minor food poisoning from Kava, possibly from a side of spicy mayo, though not certain -- thankfully nothing serious.

Offline zow

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Re: zow’s Panama TR 2019 [emoji1194]
« Reply #19 on: March 09, 2019, 10:28:16 PM »
Part 10: Day 8, Sunday

Sunday morning, we worked out and headed to PTY around 9am for our 12:30 flight. We breezed through immigration and security, found the relatively new Lounge, and hung out there until our flight.  See my separate posting about it in the Destinations thread.

The flight was smooth and short. I posted separately the KSML, which was Paelle de Carne y Pollo. The main was pretty tasty, as long as you like olives, which I do (DW does not).  The roll was pretty dry. There was a kind of sad looking brownie that I didn’t eat.  As others have said, flying Copa in J is like flying domestic first -- nice leg room, small cabin (4 rows of 2x2). But there were no individual IFE on the 737-800s we had for both legs of our trip. And no power outlets.  It seems that most of the 737-800 do have those amenities.  Even better will be the 737-Max (aka 900), of which Copa has taken delivery of one plane so far. I understand that eventually all their routes will be served by the max, which will be great, because the J seats are lie-flat (which is of course not essential for a 5-6-hour daytime flight, but would have been nice).