Author Topic: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR  (Read 5342 times)

Offline saw50st8

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Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
« Reply #15 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).





Offline Denverite

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Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
« Reply #16 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?

Offline saw50st8

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Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
« Reply #17 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.

Offline saw50st8

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Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
« Reply #18 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:


Views from the top:




Flag atop Ancon Hill:


Graffiti Art:


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.



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.



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.



We also passed by this welcome sign:

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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:



Our lock mates:



Opening the gates for the ship:


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:



The gates:



Exiting the Miraflores lock:


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.










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Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
« Reply #19 on: July 30, 2017, 08:52:20 AM »
Great installment.

Offline Denverite

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Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
« Reply #20 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!

Offline saw50st8

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Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
« Reply #21 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.

Offline davidmal

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Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
« Reply #22 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.
-DMC
"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it ~Ferris Bueller"

Offline saw50st8

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Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
« Reply #23 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:


Boat to the islands:


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:



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.



When we booked, we used a tour company that a friend of mine had used on a previous trip, Guna Yala Explorer . 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.













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



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:


The plumbing system:


A noose:


Canoe:


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.







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.


Offline Denverite

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Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
« Reply #24 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?

Offline saw50st8

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Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
« Reply #25 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.

Offline saw50st8

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Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
« Reply #26 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.

Online Moshe123

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Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
« Reply #27 on: August 03, 2017, 08:16:35 AM »
Very nice!

Offline saw50st8

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Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
« Reply #28 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.



We found a crab (and some beautiful shells).


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:





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.


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!:







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.







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:



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:



Soup was fantastic:



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.





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!]

Offline davidmal

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Re: A Man, A Plan, A Canal: Panama - saw50st8 TR
« Reply #29 on: August 03, 2017, 07:22:04 PM »
Wow this is fantastic!!  What photos!

Ps. Sides are always better than mains
-DMC
"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it ~Ferris Bueller"