Thursday, February 10, 2011

Panama City: In Pictures!

 Casco Viejo

 Some how it seems more poetic in a different language, no?
 The Panamanian White House. The pres lives on the top floor. Look how close they let me get!

 Following the arrows to the Miraflores Locks on the Panama Canal!

Ruins from the ancient Spanish colonial city of Panama

 Best snowcone ever and the Panama skyline

 Plaza de Francia
Opera house

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Panama City!

I've been on the road for 3 weeks today! I've been in Panama for a little over a week. Overall it's been beautiful. Costa Rica was amazing, but I have been enjoying the variety of Panama. I started in Panama City and was there for four days. Just walking around and soaking up Casco Viejo--the old part of the city--was one of my favorite things. It is such a mixture down there. When the city expanded the rich moved out and it became basically a slum. Now though, some of it is being restored, some of it remains beautifully delapidated and some buildings have remained just as brilliant as they were a hundred years ago. I love the fact that you can find a colonial church, Havana-esque crumbling buildings, boutique restaurants and even the Panamanian White House within the same block.

One night I also took in their National Theatre and went to an opera. The orchestra was great, the surroundings were fabulous, but the singing and especially the acting were right out of a high school production. And there was some kind of mental dissonance hearing Mozart in Panama City--it felt like I should be listening to some salsa instead. For 10 bucks though, it was a great experience!

In the city I also went to the old ruins of the Spanish city from way back in the 1500s. It wasn't Rome, but it was interesting enough. Probably the most interesting part though was my taxi driver who agreed to take me there, wait for me to see the ruins and then take me back. He offered half the price of another taxi, so I said OK. When we got there I double checked to make sure that he was going to wait for me, when he said no--he was going with me, as my guide. OK, whatever.

When we got inside he told me that even though he was from PC he had never ever been to the ruins. (As you can see, he was a great guide.) Anyway, I think I taught him more than he taught me, but it was entertaining nonetheless.

The canal, conquoring the Red Devils, and spending one of the mornings walking Ave. Central/Espana rounded out a nice stay in the capital.


**This is a blog from back in Monteverde, Costa Rica. Since I am just now putting it up I'll leave it on top so you see it! And one day, you can see the pictures from it!**

First of all Monteverde is difficult to get to. This was intentional--in order to keep the place from becoming too heavily trafficked and to preserve the cloud forest they left the roads to Monteverde unpaved. I think you can ride a horse from La Fortuna to Monteverde faster than you can drive. I opted for the quickest way to get between the two, which is to drive to the lake, cross the lake in a boat and then take a second boat from there. Even still, it's about 3 hours of rough, but incredibly scenic traveling.

An interesting fact about Monteverde is that it was started by American Quakers. When they refused to be drafted in the Korean War (Quakers are pacifists) they decided to resettle elsewhere. Apparently Canada was too cold and it was difficult for foreigners to buy property in Mexico at the time, so they settled in Costa Rica (who by that time had already dissolved their military--so it was a good fit).

They started a dairy farm and cheese factory to sustain themselves, which still provides the area with fresh milk, cheese and, my favorite, homemade ice cream (I tried the condensed milk with figs and it was RICH). They also set aside quite a bit of the land as a reserve. This protected area has now become the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. I could tell you a bunch of facts about the reserve, but you probably don't care.

It is beautiful, I will tell you that. And full of animals! In my time here I have seen a sloth, a monkey, teensy frogs, a tarantula, dozens of hummingbirds, sleeping birds on my night tour (so cute!), all kinds of bizarre insects, and maybe my favorite--a couple handfuls of Coati.

While here I also participated in a Monteverde must--a canopy tour, otherwise known as zip lines of death. To start it off I did a hanging (swinging...) bridge tour that was beautiful (even if it was raining) and actually a lot of fun. The English group was huge so the Spanish guide talked me into (not being lazy and) going with the 4 of them instead. It was a good choice. We ended the tour by him making me (tricking me?) into climbing up THE INSIDE of a ficus tree (probably about 100 feet up, with no security devices). It started to get narrow at the top, but I knew there was no way I could safely climb back down, so up I went until I could climb back onto one of the hanging bridges. Still shaking I had no idea what I was up for as I went to the zip lines.

Most of the zip lines were slightly panic inducing (you braked at the end by squeezing your gloved hand on the cable) but not too bad. They moved you along so fast you didn't have time to get scared. Towards the end they hooked you up the "Superman" cable. Through a huge valley you fly Superman style through the air, spotting your tiny shadow on the ground below. It was frightening, but also a lot of fun. 

They wrapped things up with a Tarzan swing. Nobody exactly knew what that meant, which turned out to be a good thing. You had to go one by one onto a suspended bridge (which was a lot like walking the plank). While you waited you just saw people disappear and scream. We kept asking the guys in charge what all the thing involved and the only real answer we got was--you jump and you scream. OK.

I was probably the third to go and by the time you walk all the way out on the plank 260 feet up you start to wonder what exactly it is that you are doing. They double checked my harness, opened a little gate and then told me to jump. Um, OK. I was still trying to figure out what was going on when they told me to bend my knees and pushed me off.

Just thinking about it makes my throat start to close up. SCARIEST TING I HAVE EVER DONE.

You free fall until the cable catches you and then you swing out 100 feet. Ideally that is the end of it, but they missed my break so I was lucky enough to swing back and forth a couple times.When I was finally lowered to the ground he told me, "You can stand up now." To which I responded, "I don't think I can."

Ah. I can't properly describe how incredibly terrifying the thing was because I have been actively trying to repress the memory.

The End.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Week in Review Sabbatical Style: Week 3!

So yes, the computer has now offically become a large paperweight I am hauling all over Central America. Boo. But I am at a public library in El Valle, Panama and have a few minutes left on my hourś worth of internet. It´ll be closed tomorrow so I figured Id send out a quick week in review, especially since I havent blogged many of the places I have been recently. Ahem, here we go:
  • Foreign keyboards are difficult. It takes me forever to remember how to get the @ sign. Half the time I have to go into my email cut and paste one.
  • Also, excuse all the spelling errors, no spell check or time!
  • Panama City is fantastic! It is a little intense and a little bit seedy, but fantastic all the same. The old town is a perfect mix of decaying buildings, colonial churches, restored art galleries and the presidentś house. 
  • An old man started chatting with me when I was walking around the old quarter and tipped me off that if I went up to the guard and asked nicely he would let me into the street in front of the White House to let me take a picture. He was right! I walked right up front to take a picture. Definitely more access in PC than in DC!
  • I had the best snowcone ever. The man shaved the ice off of an actual block with an old school hand scraper. Then he covered it in fresh pinapple juice and topped it with condensed milk. Perfect. 
  • I also ended up buying snow cones for two little kids who talked me into it. Eh, it was a buck 50 for the 3 of us. 
  • El Valle, where I am at the moment is very close to paradise. Itś in a beautiful valley and the weather is maybe 15 degrees cooler than in PC, which is great because 100 degrees in the Panamanian sun is really hot!
  • I went to the Canal! I watched the ships go through the locks and it was fascinating to see it all in person. 
  • I also felt accomplished by getting all the way to the locks by public bus. 
  • Where do US school buses go when they die? If they were good, to Panama. Either that or Pimp My Yellow School Bus has come through the country. They call them Diablos Rojos, or Red Devils, and they are super tricked out. A lot of them also have some form of religious writing on them, which all things considered was reassuring.
  • Costa Ricans all seem to say con gusto rather than the normal de nada for your welcome. It translates basically to it´s my pleasure, and reminds me of Chikfila. It kind of creeped me out. 
  • As great as it was, I am definitely putting Panama ahead of Costa Rica on the awesome scale. Just so you know. 
  • Delicious food here is so cheap. I paid 3.75 for a 2 course home cooked dinner last night. Maybe the best meal of the trip too.
OK, I am right at my time limit on the computer! Have a great week! Pictures to come...some day. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

First Casualty of the Trip

Well, I think I might have had the first true casualty of my trip. And it's not a good one. Apparently that 20 plus hour bus ride did not do my laptop well as it has not been working since I got to Panama. So, while I have a couple blogs written on there, I've only had a few minutes here and there on the shared hostel computer. Blogging is probably going to be hit or miss for a while.

The good news though is that Panama is fantastic. I've been in the City and today I'm headed to El Valle to hopefully avoid a little of the heat, take in some thermal springs, and look at teensy frogs! More to come later! (Hopefully!)