Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Bocas del Toro

Right after our week in Panama City, we made the drive (around 10 hours with an overnight stay at our house) to Bocas del Toro, a group of islands on the west end of Panama's Carribbean coast. To get there, you drive through the Ngobe Bugle Comarca, which is an area reserved for one of Panama's indigenous groups. It was interesting to see the wooden houses on stilts from the mountain areas all the way to the islands. The drive was long and the trip ended with a rough water taxi ride to the main island, Isla Colon. During the process of parking the car and catching water taxi, I felt uneasy for the first time in Panama. I never feel like anyone is trying to take advantage of us and most places have such heavy police presence that I feel completely safe. But the bustle of the port town of Almirante, along with the typical lack of signage, when we were already running late all contributed to the anxious feeling I remember having there.

After getting on the last water taxi of the day, we finally arrived at our hotel. It was wonderful, with a delicious made-to-order breakfast each morning and friendly owners. They also own the smoothie and wrap truck down the road, which served some of the best food I'd had in months.

We headed out to Playa Estrella on day one, even though the weather forecast was foreboding. It rained hard as we walked to catch the bus and again at the end of the day, but we were glad we took the chance and had a few hours of dry beach time. The bus ride there was ridiculous: A child on almost every lap (mine and E's included), the loudest reggaeton ever, and speeding through winding potholed roads. E and I both felt sick by the time we arrived. We'd read you could walk around the point to the beach, but couldn't figure it out until we asked a group of Panamanians and joined them on the hike. We walked through the woods, crossed a creek on a log, and finally made it to the beach. Many others took the boat around the bend, but we needed to be on our feet after the bus ride!

We chose a busy spot on the beach, where it seemed like we were in the middle of a big family reunion. The girls swam in the calm, clear water and played in the sand. A few kids tried to engage them, but to no avail. We saw no starfish. On return in the cold rain, the bus stop filled up, but because of the rain, no buses were bringing people, so it meant none were there to take us home either. I talked the restaurant owner into calling us a taxi, and it was a huge relief to have a comfortable ride home.

In this post, I'm including photos from our day-long journey to Bocas and our day at Playa Estrella. More to come soon.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Panama City Spanish Class and Camp

I didn't work the first week of January, and instead enrolled in a Spanish class in Panama City. We were interested in getting to know the city a little more, eating some good food, and mostly relaxing. The girls attend a nature camp at the Bio Museo, which they loved. After a night at Sortis (C's working on her on blog post about our stay there), we checked out and had a few hours before we could check-in to our regular place, so we decided to map out the route E would need to drive each day to the museum in Amador. I hadn't heard much about the area, so we were pleasantly surprised by how pretty and tourist-friendly the string of islands was. We got smoothies and rented a pedal car. C was so excited that she pedaled and steered the entire hour. We had a lot of laughs, especially since she's not the best driver yet. We were all over the sidewalk and even hit a road barrier! It was soooo hot.

Then one evening that week, we headed to Cinta Costera close to sunset so that we could enjoy the cooler air. It seemed like everyone had the same idea. I loved the family atmosphere with adults and kids getting out to run, walk, and skate together. The playgrounds at Cinta Costera are pretty cool!

The girls were excited about the camp, E got a little break each day, I thoroughly enjoyed being a language student (and I think I improved my Spanish a bit!), and we got to explore together each afternoon. We ate wings, Indian food, pizza, burgers and wraps, burritos; all the foods we'd been missing. It was such a great vacation week.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

New Years

On New Year's Eve, our landlord sent one of her workers to pick guandu from our yard and the field behind our house, so we joined him. While we were helping him fill his bucket, I was asking questions about preparing the traditional New Years bean that was being sold roadside for $10 a bag. After he left, we headed back out and picked enough for our own meal. N helped me shell them and we cooked them with rice and onions.

It was a relaxing family day, with a morning trip to a very tall waterfall in Las Palmas. Just when we had decided to give up on the current route and were looking for a place to turn around, the road dead-ended into the waterfall. We had it to ourselves until just before we left. E climbed up behind it, making me very nervous. I'm always thinking about how far we are from a hospital at any given time. Since we'd all worn our swimsuits, C and I decided we'd take a quick dip in the freezing water. I imagine it would have been more refreshing on a sunny day, but it was early and cloudy, so we couldn't handle the water for long.

We came home and the girls swam in our driveway pool, and we toasted the passing year with champagne and sparkling apple juice. Looking back on 2016, it was a year full of adventures and changes. I'm so thankful to share it all with these people.