Sunday, July 16, 2017

Costa Rica

I am now officially three months behind in blogging, and we'll be home in two weeks! We were eager to explore a bit more outside Panama and planned to meet my parents for Semana Santa in Costa Rica. We found a location that would be a good half way point from Panama and San Jose, and made our plans. Meanwhile, immigration laws in Panama changed and my contact at the Embassy advised us not to travel. That caused some stress, but in the end, we decided to risk it. We didn't anticipate, however, that Panama wouldn't let us drive our car out of the country. We quickly figured out plan B: park at the fire station and catch a bus to Manuel Antonio.

It was a magical long weekend of exploring, eating, and enjoying time together. The house we stayed in was brand new and had its own pool. Mangos were raining from the trees around. We celebrated N's 6th birthday. Of course, her name was spelled 'Nahomi' on the cake, even though I ordered it by text! We visited the national park and spotted a couple of sloths. We rented a tent at the beach and sipped pipa fria. E and I got a date night, and the girls hunted eggs in the house. The weekend ended too soon.

Coming from Panama, southern Costa Rica struck me as lush and green. There was a lot less clear cutting and farmland than right across the border. It's interesting to compare the two countries that share so many natural resources yet approach them very distinctly.

For as many photos as I take, you'd think I'd be better about getting group shots!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Las Lajas

The first time we traveled to Chiriqui province, I noticed the sign at the entrance of Las Lajas and did some research. It's not a beach you hear much about in Santiago, but it's not super far and seemed to have some tourist development, so we decided to spend a weekend there.

We stayed about 15 minuted from the beach, in the hills near the town. The views were beautiful, and we fell in love with the area immediately. The town is quaint and authentically Panamanian. Colorful houses with flowers and small fields of cows. There are a few hotels and restaurants on the outskirts of town. At the beach, it feels more touristy, but all the properties are still tiny. The beach was huge and almost deserted! It's not only long, but also very deep, even at high tide. On the first day, we parked our car under the cabana and paid for the next day, too. C and E enjoyed the waves, and N and I stayed on the sand.

We rushed back to clean up for dinner in time for sunset at an Italian restaurant. While we were waiting for our food, the girls and I explored and found a maraƱon tree. It's the fruit that cashews are attached to. We picked one and took it to E, who used his teeth to crack open the nut. 3 of us ate a little of the fresh cashew. Bad idea! The shell is toxic. E's mouth was burning, so I googled it found so many stories of severe reactions, even days later. I didn't tell him the extent of what I read, but he took benedryl and went to sleep after dinner. Luckily, it just burned his lip, and it healed over the next few weeks. But now we know! And I have a new appreciation for cashews and a better understanding of their high price. It's a labor intensive production process.

After an amazing breakfast the next day, complete with homemade yogurt, we headed back to the beach. The waves were bigger, so only E swam. A lifeguard came toward us, unwrapping the rope of his float, and I asked him if he was getting ready to save my husband and he said, "Yes." Apparently, you can't go out past chest high because of the currents. E wasn't out that far, but we called the daredevil in anyway. I continued talking to the lifeguard, and it turns out I know his sister. She's the music teacher at my school. Panama is a small country! I love the connections I have from working at such a well-known place.

We planned to go back to Las Lajas because we really loved it, but it'll have to wait for next time.

ocu chitre day

I have a really tough time staying home on the weekends! E laughs at me and tries to get me to just take it easy, but I want to see it all! More is more when you have a limited time in a place. 

So this one Saturday we headed to explore some neighboring towns known for folkloric crafts and a distillery. The craft shopping and distillery tours were both a bust, but we came across a yummy fonda, like a mini cafeteria with super cheap lunch. I was surprised to find out that the small town of Ocu does not have safe drinking water, although all the surrounding towns do. And the water in the cooler, the owner assured us, was from a neighboring town. Apparently, the treatment plant has needed work for several years.  

We continued driving, taking some wrong turns which led to different dirt roads: one that eventually became impassable, and another that’s still being used as a highway! It was a good day of exploration, and we ended up buying hammocks at a roadside stand.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Food Fest

A local charity hosts a food festival each year in Santiago, and representatives of each country are invited to participate in a parade and sell food to raise money. We agreed to bring mac and cheese and after watching so many parades here, the girls finally got to be in one! We had no idea what a huge, fun event it was going to be. Hanging out with friends, eating good food, costumes, music and dancing and seeing so many people out and about made me love Santiago a little more. Our booth's net profit was something like $12, but we also bought lots of food from more profitable countries like Spain (sangria), Mexico (tacos) and Venezuela (cupcakes).