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In Panama City

scattered around the city


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The day started early as usual, Paula and I (she is a german girl met the evening before at Luna's Castle, the place that I'm staying at) had decided to venture over to Isla Taboga, an island only a hour ferry ride from the city. Unfortunatle, once gotten to the dock where the ferry leaves from, we found out that we had missed the 8.30 only dayly ferry that goes out on weekdays.
So we decided to go our own way: she went looking for a free boat ride to Colombia and I started my visit around town.

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The sun was getting strong and the heat was rising up, so I decided to follow Paula's suggestion and go over to the roof top pool at the Trump Tower in the downtown financial district.
I casually laid on a lounge chair, ordered a beer and pretended to be a guest, if they know you are not a guest you can't swimm in the pool, but you can sit at a table and have lunch.
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Trump Tower infinity pool

Taking photos around the financial district
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Abstract Panama City

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Posted by thonyc1968 07:24 Archived in Panama Comments (1)

Views of Casco Viejo


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The place I'm staying in Panama City is Luna Castle, a hostel in the neighbourhood called Casco Viejo. It's a colonial building almost on the water with a stunning view of the Panama City downtown Manhattan style skyline.

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This area is extremly safe, the presidential residency is 200 meters from here and it's full of cops and presidential guards.

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Yet Casco Viejo is surrounded by one of the most dangerous neighbourhood in Panama City: el Chorillo, just few blocks away from where I am staying. Often cabs that I've taken to go visinting places in town go through that area and I heard that sometimes , specially if they have tourists on board, they get raided by robbers. After finding that out, I made sure to ask the driver to take the longer route and avoid crossing that area.

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Posted by thonyc1968 07:50 Archived in Panama Comments (0)

ISLA TABOGA

A releif from the heat and the traffic jam of the city


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Isla Taboga, also called the flower island(not that I saw that many of them) is about a hour ferry ride from Panama City.
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I had had enough of running around this huge town in the heat and humidity, I needed a break from traffic, cars, people. After all I did not come to Panama to hang out in a city. But yet I have to stay here because I am going to San Blas on saturday the 18th, tehrefore it makes no sense to go somwhere else.
Isla Taboga, is certainly not paradise island: the beach is small, just cute, not beautiful, but it's a great place to go when in need of getting out of the city, relax, sunbathe and swim.
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I got there around 10ish, walked around the little village all the way up to the top, there is a grat view from up there.

The houses are in the most various and funcky colors.
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After the hike I finally went to the beach, got a lounge chair and an ombrella(you must get one, 'cause the sun is brutal) and laid down all day alternating, reading, swimming and observing the huge flock of birds fishing in the water. I recognized pelicans and voltures, there was another species that I could not recognize.
I spent a whole day relaxing and really enjoied my time in the quiet.
So if you are in Panama City and need to get away from the craziness and want to relax, take just a day trip, you most likely do not need longer than that, have low expectations and go to Taboga!
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Posted by thonyc1968 18:34 Comments (0)

PLAYA SANTA CLARA

What a great surprise


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After Isla Taboga I was still looking to get away from the city, and, since I could not find a tour company that already had a group that I could join set up to go to visit the Embera' Indios village, I decided to take another day trip to the beach. I found out about Santa Clara beach on internet.
It's about a hour and a half bus ride away from the city, passed the more commercial and less beautiful beach of Coronado.
When I got to the beach I was amazed by it's beauty.
It's a huge beach: maybe 100 yards deep and a mile long. The sand is sugar white, the water is turquoise blu and warm.
Some little waves, great for swimming.
I was alone with 2 couples of young panamanians boifriends and girlfriens next to my hut and a small group of 4/5 canadians. It was just great!
The beach has 2 restaurants, I went to Las Veraneras for lunch but I rented the rancho(thatched hut), 2 hammocks and 2 chairs from the establishment next to it. I don't know why, but the kid saw that I was disappointed that he did not have lunge chairs, so he decided to charge me 5 bucks instead of 10 for the rancho plus 2 hammocks and he also added 2 chairs. Not that I needed al that, but it was nice that he tried to make me happy somehow. So later I told him I'd give to him few more bucks for being so kind.
I enjoied the day in this little corner of paradise.
I don't know why, but I do not have any photos of this place. who knows what I did with them.
So you gotta trust my word: going to Santa Clara beach was a great score.

Posted by thonyc1968 18:40 Comments (0)

SAN BLAS


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Before getting to Panama I had found out on line about photoworkshops attended by travellers going to Central America and thought that it would be a good thing for me to try: do some "photo" practicing with a professional, go visit the beautiful islands of the Kuna Yala indios and do it with a group of people.
Infact I like to take pictures and have some decent amatorial gears, but yet I never get out there and take photos.

So after some research I found out about a workshop in San Blas held by Jose' Angel Murillo, and it was also the most affordable one.
At first I was a little skeptical about doing something without much information: not knowing the photographer nor the people attending.
But after all, when deciding to start this trip by myself, I had accepted to be opened minded, more outgoing and enterpreising.

I finally registered and called Murillo(the photographer) the day before leaving. He then promptly invited me to join him and his wife to visit some friend in Casco Viejo(few blocks from where I was staying) to get to know each other and breack the ice etc. After all I was a stranger to them and so were they to me and yet we were gonna spend 2 days together: taking photos, eating and sleeping together. I thought that invite was a good opportunity that I could not refuse nor I wanted to.
So friday evening he picked me up and went over to his friend's place.
They almost were all professional photographers, there were about 10 people. Also Sivia was there, an italian photographer who had moved to Panama over 30 years ago.
I had right away a great welcome, we sat and chatted in italian with Sivia, in broken spanish and in english. we drank beers and ate great bbqued meat.

Murillo had told me we would hang out there for just a couple of drinks and then head to his place to show where hi lives so that I could get there easyly the next morning at 5.00 am, the time of the departure.
Guess what?
We got his friend's at 7.30 pm and left at 1.30 am shitfaced (not me, I did have a buzz, but just that, as I don't usually dring a lot).
So Patrizia, Murillo's wife suggested that we'd pick up my luggage, bring it over to their place, sleep there and be already at the meeting point by the leaving time.

I thought the whole thing was very nice: they invited me to a party, they gave to me drinks and food, they let me sleep at their place as if I was an old friend of their's.

2 and a half hours later, the attendees of the workshop showed up and obviously we weren't ready, I guess the alarm did not go off or Murillo just forgotten to set it up.
We ended up leaving after 6.30 am, I think.

After a 2 hour ride we finally got to a lush mountainous region showing the most various and intense hues of green that lead us all the way to the boat where we embarked bound to the San Blas archipelago.

We finally got to the tiny Corbisky Island on which there is a family ran lodging facility: it's just a bungalow with 4 bedrooms and a sharing bathroom (a real one, not one of those built at the end of a wooden walkway on stilts further into the water that the indigenous use, where you sit on a toilette seat nailed to a hole through which you see the ocean, and your body wastes falls right in the ocean. Here is an example

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The shower was a barrel filled with water and a scoop to get washed and rinsed, but yet it all worked just fine. This is what it is in San Blas, maybe on some other island they have some extra luxuries, but yet not that much difference. After all in Panama City as well the sewage system drains right into the bay and there is almost nowhere hot water. Actually you only find 1 knob, the cold water one, which is not that cold anyway.

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So we got all the gear ready and went out taking photos.
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And we took photos and photos and photos and more photos going from island to island.
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I looked at the beautiful ocean and craved to dive right in, but no, we were there on a different mission: we had to take photos.
As a matter of fact, even though I had thought that I would have found some time to get away from the shooting, I found myself caught up into taking picture and actually that day never went into the water.
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Infact there was so much material to shoot.
The colorful traditional dresses of the Kuna women, the interesting face features, the kids playing, the various colors of the ocean, their primitive architectures.
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The second day, after weaking up at 4.30 to take picture at dawn, we were told that finally we'd go look for an island where we'd sattle and enjoiy the beach and the ocean for few hours before leaving.
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Posted by thonyc1968 14:24 Archived in Panama Comments (0)

PEDASI'...TO ISLA IGUANA AND PLAYA VENAO


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THE CATHEDRAL

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AVENIDA CENTRAL

Today I finally get to leave Panama City headed to the little fishing village of Pedasi' at the tip of the peninsula Azuero. To get there I had to take 4 different busses: Panama City-Santiago-Chitre'-Las Tablas-Pedasi'. I think I left the morning around 10 and got to destination around 4 pm. The bus connections were all very well coordinated, Infact I arrived to each terminal between 5 to 10 minutes before my next connection. The trip was not bad at all, it all went very smooth. I sat comforbly, some had ac some didn't, some were more crowded than others. The busses were mainly vans holding 15 and up people.
The idea of being away from big buildings, a lot of cars, tremendous heat and all the pains of a metropoly made my arrival to Pedasi' even more pleasent. This village sits a couple of Km from the ocean, it is very small and all developed around the main street (Avenida Central).

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PEDASI' COUNTRYSIDE
I had reserved a room at Hotel Dim. This place is a sweet little rustic B&B with few rooms and a beautiful garden surrounding a terracotta tiles roofed gazebo with hanging hammocks and swinging wicker chairs and tables where they served their breakfast. Every morning they set up buffet table with coffee along with bread (only white as everywhere in Panama), jams, butter, cheese (not the greatest type, I think they make it and it was quite strange), but most importantly, they put out a bowl of fresh cut up pinapple and papaya. They serve eggs the way you like them and they offer you the choice of freshly made pineapple, orange or papaya juice/puree made to order. The setting of the garden and the background lounge/jazzy panamaniam music make the whole experience very quite and enjoyable. The people working there are extremely sweet and kind.

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HOTEL DIM

ISLA IGUANA
ISLA IGUANA

ISLA IGUANA


The first morning at breakfast I chatted with Linda and Sarah and a group of young falks. Linda and I decided we'd go for the day to the beautiful Isla Iguana off the coast of Playa del Toro, which is the closest beach to the village of Pedasi'.
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Linda and I hit it off very quickly, ran around town to get sandwiches to bring over to the island that has no restaurant, we borrowed a stereophoam cooler from Erica the housekeeper, got some ice and water. I rented phins, mask and snorkel and finally started our little day journey. To get there one needs to hire a boat which costs $60, I offered 50 and he accepted. Once on the island there is a $10 entrance fee for non Panamanians. The island is very small and has only 2 beaches, the one we went to is the biggest and calmest one.
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I could not beleive my eyes when I saw the color of the sand: whiter than that one could not possibly find. The ocean was showing all the hues of blu, starting from the darkest one out at see and getting lighter while approaching the coast. From turquoise to ceruleian to aqua blu and finally crystal clear the closest we got to the shore. This place is like paradise, definitly worth while going to visit it. The snorkeling it's not amazing, there are only 3 types of fishes there and I can say I saw them all. I took a walk around the island and spotted many iguanas, small ones.
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Pedasi' it's more of a place for expats and transient traveller, infact, being the closest town to the surfer's hot spot playa Venao, backpacker and surfers stop here to buy groceries and withdraw from the ATM, as the town is not equipped with hostels and dorm rooms. It has nothing going on at night, and it was fine by me, all I needed was a decent typical panamanian restaurant, have some nice fish and go back to my room to write, edit some photos and sleep. I spent 2 nights at Dim's and loved it. I would definitly reccomand it.

PLAYA VENAO
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The 3rd I decided to get back on the road and go check out the most famous beach of the peninsula Azuero, the surfer's paradise Playa Venao. This beach is about 35/45 minutes from Pedasi. I thought I would stay at this backpackers/surfers eco-lodge. The lodge is on a big property spreaded in the hilss, almost in the middle of nowhere, no village close by walking distance, yet it is just 50 yards from the ocean reacheable just crossing the street. The dorm room was very clean and so was the bathroom.
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The trees right behind the restaurant are inhabited by a group of howler monkeys, screeming like possessed everytime I'd hang around their territory. It is very peaceful and quiet.

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I checked out the beach, I did not think it was great for what I like in a beach. Though the scenary is amazingly wild and rough, definetly for me an unusual sight to observe. Not the typical beach that I would chose to laid down on: dark sand, lots of branches and wood debris, big waves and the heat was incredible.

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I sat at a bar terrace having a couple of beers, observing surfers ant taking photos. The next morning I was ready for my next destination. Off to another surfer's paradise: Santa Catalina. Why do I keep going to these places since I'm not a surfer nor a wanna-be one? Because the idea behind this trip is to discover this land and the variety of its landscapes. The traveling itself, though with all its discomfort, is another very interesting feature of this trip: researching about the places to visit, read about them, fantasize and then finally get there untill the next destination

Posted by thonyc1968 09:51 Comments (0)

SANTA CATALINA


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SANTA CATALINA BEACH

SANTA CATALINA BEACH

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Santa Catalina is a very tiny village at the end of a long dirt road, it has a small beach right into town, but the real beach, the one where all the surfers go, is about 20 minutes walk from it. There are a few restaurants owned by northamericans and maybe some europeans and a couple of local eateries. I stayed right in town at a place named Oasis: it's a simple wooden shack, very clean and with some carachter, 2 dorm rooms on the 2nd floor, decent kitchen on the 1st and a nice porch with hamocks. 2 girls and a german guy are staying there. I arrived there on the same bus with an israeli guy traveling from South America and a girl visiting from Canada. The german guy is traveling from North America going south, whose name was something like Matheus, gave me the insights about the hostel and town, since he had already been there a night. He had actually followed the route that I was following next, so we exchanged ideas and suggestions.
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SANTA CATALINA BEACH


The 1st day I stayed in town hanging out with the Matheus and the israeli guy. We had beers on the porch and then decided to go out to a bar for a drink.
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The next day I decided to rent a byke for a half day to get to the beach. Once more a wild scenary beach: the force of nature lets you know how strong it is. Big swells hit against the cliffs at the sides of the beach turning the ocean into a salty mist that fills the the air. It's really beautiful,...to whatch! But the big waves kept me out of the water. I know it'll take me a couple of days to get confident and try the water and get to enjoy the fun side of its roughness, but not enough time: I already decided to hit the road again and go to the next destination.

Posted by thonyc1968 09:55 Archived in Panama Comments (0)

BOQUETE

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Finally some cooler air! I left the scalding Santa Catalina bound to the region of Chiriqui' and more specifically to Boquete, a little town at about 1200 metres above see level. This little town is very pretty and clean.
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It sits right in the middle of the mountains and is just amazing seeing that walking only 2 blocks in each direction from the main road you would hit the lushly green perpendiqular sides of the mountains.
The river Caldera runs through Boquete to make it even more appealing.
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The town is full of hostels and little hotels, I found a small family run hotel with only 2 rooms, I decided to have some private time even though I've been referring to the famous hostel Mamallena for tours and infos, they are very helpful. I decided to do the hot spring tour with them, it was pretty cheap, only $15. They take you out there on a van with other people, then you're gonna walk for about 10 minutes to the actual site. We first went to the river and then to the hot spring pools.03_25_12_0736_copyweb.jpg
The whole area it seemed to be on a private property owned by a Ngobe-Bougle family.
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A great carachter of this family is Cheetah, a very funny spider monkey.
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She can be very friendly and affectionate, but keep your belongings well hidden 'cause she likes to take steal everything that is left around: food, shoes, backpacks, sun glasses.
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The tour itself was fun, but what made it more enjoyable was the group of people that I was with. Guys and girls from all over and travelling around central/south America. It was fun sharing all of our experiences in places we had been, it was useful to exchange suggestions on places to visit and things to do for our next destinations.
The following day I decided to hike to the waterfalls. There are to trails that lead to waterfalls, a smaller one that takes you to one waterfall and a longer one that takes you to two waterfalls. I thought I would hike the longer trail and see 2 waterfall. Not a very good choice, at leat not for me.
So, I got on a bus to Bajo Mono and while riding I met a german guy who was gonna do the hike as well so we decided to do it together. It's always better to do it with sombody else in case something would happen. And something could happen, 'cause the hike is not that easy. the trail is pretty steep, very slippery, infact I slid few times, but fortunatly caught myself at the last second avoiding to fall. There are a lot of muddy stretches and I sank my feet a couple of times. The trail brings you right into the dense forest, so there is not much possibility to have great views of the valley or the mountains sides. Though the forest is really beautiful, after a while the landscape became to me very repeatitive. My only hope to have some variation in sight was to see some bird, but it was around 1 in the afternoon, so not much critters action at that hour. Or to finally get to the longed waterfalls.
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We hiked about 2 hours almost always along the water creek, but no signs of falls. Obviously I'm not an experienced hiker nor a fanatic lover of hiking, and even if I'm in very good shape for this type of activity, after 2 hours of the same stuff I got tired phisically and bored, and startetd to even doubt that there was a waterfall. Obviously I was wrong because unpatient, so we decided that we had seen enough and headed back without even seeing one waterfall.waterfallweb.jpg
I left Boquete after 3 days bound to Bocas del Toro on the caribbean side with the Mamallena shuttle that took me directly to Almirante. Going with their shuttle was a great idea: it only costs you twice as much as going by public transportation, but it saves you half of the time and the stress.

Posted by thonyc1968 10:09 Comments (0)

ISLA BASTIMENTOS

From the mountain to the islands of the Atlantic ocean


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The route followed by the private shuttle from Boquete gave us a very beautiful view of the interior of the Bocas del Toro region through the lush mountains inhabited by the indios Ngobe-Bugle`. There were only 6 of us on the comfortable van/bus to Almirante and that was definetly nice treat after travelling all over on public transport: a spanish couple, Rachel, a girl that I had met at the hot springs tour and Suzie and Louise, 2 french canadian women. All going to stay at Bocas Bound on isla Bastimentos, except the spanish couple.
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I had heard from a girl met in Santa Catalina that staying on Isla Colon would make going to the beach not comfortable nor cheap, having to depend on buses and boats for trasportation, since I wanted to spend most of my time at the beach, I chose to skip, at least temporary, the party scene of Bocas Town.
Bocas Bound resort has a very nice common area with games and a decent bar/restaurant, even though the unproportional prising of some items on the menu. The dorm rooms were just ok, the worst thing was the mold that kept forming even if they kept the ac on all the time.
At the resort they have a very good canopy tour that for guests is only $30 as opposed as $55 for non guest.
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Apart from that, the resort is only a 5 minutes walk through the dense forest from the beautiful Red Frog beach with its turquoise and pretty swimmable water (if you know how to deal with rip current), some good fun waves in the afternoons (at times, all day) not huge though and 2 nice bar/restaurant at opposite ends.IMG_5493WEB.jpg
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From Red Frog beach I walked over to the also beautiful playa Larga, a more deserted beach with golden/beige sand and a wild scenary.
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Posted by thonyc1968 12:37 Archived in Panama Comments (0)

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