Cyprus to Panama
Anita’s Diary No. 6
Introduction by Margaret Sheard….
It has been a while since we have had an update from Anita Green about the adventures of Mal and herself, but I have been aware that they have been experiencing a lot of disappointment with the localities in Panama where they intended to have a new life. However, they have still been travelling and Anita has sent her diary of Panama City and a short visit to Colombia which makes very interesting reading.
I am sure Anita and Mal will eventually find their quiet haven and be able to settle down to enjoy their new life, wherever it may be, and in the meantime we look forward to receiving more news of countries and cities visited in the future.
Panama City revisited and new
travels to Colombia
By Anita Green….
I have been somewhat delayed in writing this, due to relocation, yet again, and a host of problems therein. However, one of the said problems (no TV) has finally given me the time and impetus to sit down and write.
Firstly, our stay in Panama City. We took ourselves off to an hotel on the Amador Causeway for Easter week. The main reason being that every weekend and holiday, the Panamanians from Panama City flood out to the beach and mountain areas to party. Whole weekends of partying 24\7 is hard to put up with when it’s every weekend and a whole week for Easter was more than we could deal with so, with this in mind, our logic was that if they were all coming to where we live, we would go to the City because it would be quiet, and it was.
We took the bus to Panama City which cost about $3 dollars each. Most Gringos don’t use the public transport, buses or Metro, but I think they are great, albeit there are some real maniac drivers. It’s an experience, it’s cheap, it’s all locals and the buses are air conditioned and play music for the entire journey. Depending on the drivers as to what sort, but I prefer the salsa and local music, rather than the younger drivers who play chart and house music. The bus ends up at Albrook Mall, a huge shopping centre, and has the bus station and Metro attached to it. From the bus station you can get buses to anywhere in the country and even to Costa Rica. It is large, noisy, and takes a bit of savvy to negotiate, if you don’t know the system, or the language.
We have not spent any real time in Panama City for about 3 years. Last time we went Casco Viejo was a huge building site, you couldn’t walk anywhere with ease due to roads and pavings being dug up and scaffolding on buildings being renovated. However, we were very impressed by what was going on and at the time hoped we would see the finished article. So we returned to Casco Viejo to see how things have progressed. We were delighted by what has been a beautiful transformation. The architecture is wonderful and it is now a pleasure to stroll along the streets. There is still renovation work being done but it’s more low key now that the streets have been done.
The hotel we stayed at is right at the start of the Amadour Causeway which juts into the sea. It is a very pleasant but rather long walk to get to the end. En-route, you pass the Biodiversity Museum. This is a new museum and is not quite finished, but a really interesting place. At the end of the Causeway is the Smithsonian Institute. It is a small park with sloths in the trees, marine life, and a room and talk dedicated solely to toads and frogs and how they are endangered. The golden frog is very special to Panama but is now extinct. Another wonderful thing is the sight of the boats entering and leaving the Panama Canal under the Bridge of the Americas. We were very lucky with our hotel room as it had a perfect view of the bridge from our window.
During that week, we also attended an Internations get-together. I have been a member of Internations for a few years and have often wondered what these get-togethers are like. They happen all over the world. This one was held in a new Tapas restaurant and bar in Panama City. Whilst I was impressed by the restaurant (the tapas were terrific), I’m not sure I would attend another of these events, as it very much seemed to be more about expats who already knew each other getting together. We did have one gentleman who spent quite a while chatting with us, but other than that the only people who talked to us were those interested in selling us real estate and they left quickly once they realised we were not in the market to buy at the moment.
Once back from our Panama trip, we changed our living accommodation twice in short succession. We eventually ended up in El Espino (where we are now). It is on the way up an extinct volcano. Inside the volcano is the town of El Valle d’Anton. I have talked about this previously, when we took our friends from Canada there.
In my Nicaragua article I’m sure I mentioned the necessity for us to leave the country every 3 months to renew our tourist visa to be able to continue driving. In May we needed to leave again and picked Cartagena in Colombia as our destination. Cartagena is only about an hour’s plane trip from Panama and so we took a long weekend break there (need to leave Panama for 72 hours).
On arrival at Cartagena airport, which is very small and in the middle of town, we queued to get our entry visa and passport control. Two interesting things about this queue were:
1) Canadians had to go to a separate window and pay to enter, the only people who do. This is apparently because of the rules recently brought in by Canada for Colombians and is a reciprocal measure. Canadians weren’t happy though.
2) There was a whole wedding party on our plane and in the queue, complete with bride and groom, all fully kitted out. It was really strange to see in an airport immigration line.
From the airport we grabbed a cab and went to our hotel. It was a lovely hotel. A small, all-inclusive, with 2 pools. Our room was in fact more like an apartment with living room and kitchenette. It was also a corner unit with floor to ceiling glass on 2 sides and views that were beautiful. We didn’t have much time on this trip so on our first day we took the free shuttle from the hotel into Cartagena walled city. This place is lovely. Amazing architecture, and very much like Casco Viejo but bigger. However, it is totally spoilt by the touts trying to sell you things. Most tourist places have them, just think Istanbul, but here they are constant. You cannot stop to look at the buildings or the statues and artwork in the streets and plazas without being accosted by one after the other, until you move away. On the move, you also have them constantly trying to get you to buy. So a lovely place but no-one can enjoy it. Have to say the architecture etc is very similar to Casco Viejo in Panama, however Panama wins, as there are no touts. There are stalls where you can buy things but no one follows you around and hassles you.
Back at the hotel, they had a gala night. It was beautifully laid out by the main pool. It was buffet style and the food was really good. There was a duo playing and singing for us and it was nice that they did local music and dance.
We had time for one other trip whilst there and opted for a boat trip to the Islands. We were picked up at the hotel and after picking up at other hotels we arrived at the port.
We climbed aboard a 45 person speed boat with canopy and in a short time we were speeding along. It was quite difficult to see the scenery due to the wind at that speed but nevertheless pleasant. After about 15 minutes the boat suddenly stopped. We all wondered if we were there, but had a feeling we weren’t. Then the crew got out a tool box and we realised the engine wasn’t working. They played with it for a while and decided it wouldn’t work, so we would have to return and get another boat. Slowly, we returned the way we had come but before we arrived back the other boat came to meet us. We were then transferred from one boat to the other in the middle of the sea – not easy. Once everyone had made it across the boat sped off back towards the islands at even greater speed. We finally arrived at our destination, which was a small hotel complex on one of the islands. We were off loaded and told there were 3 things we could do (extra cost of course). Snorkelling, scuba diving or a trip to the oceanarium.
We opted for the oceanarium, so back into another boat and we bounced over to an island about 15 minutes away. The oceanarium was quite small, but rather nice as all the fish are actually in the sea but fenced off. We were able to get close enough to touch one of the dolphins and they put on a show. All too soon we were back in the boat and back to the island hotel for a rather nice buffet lunch, which was included, and some R and R before the trip back to the mainland.
On the trip back we went at an alarming speed, made much, much worse by the huge waves we were now encountering. The boat literally jumped out of the water over them and thumped back down. Think how it would feel to be tossed up in the air in a bath tub and then dropped back down to earth, that’s what it felt like. It looked like it was going to rain and the race was on. This boat only had a canopy over half the boat, so half of us would be soaked if it rained. I don’t think I have been quite so scared of a boat journey before. Trying to hold on and having my back jarred and knees and elbows banging the side of the boat and seats in front was not all pleasant. Finally, after about 45 minutes we were back and able to get off. This time we had a driver from the hotel just to pick us up. So as the sun set over Cartagena we drove through the town and got to see it getting ready for the night time transformation.
All too soon our short trip was over. We headed back to the airport. Chaos ensued at check in. We had checked in online, but on getting to the desk, after checking all our paperwork, we were told we had to go to the tax office at the end of the airport to get an exit visa. We wouldn’t have to pay anything because we are British, but we did need to get the exit slip to take back to check in. A long queue was at the tax office and not many people seemed to know really what we were supposed to be doing. I got chatting to a couple of guys behind me, one of whom was from Nicaragua but lives in the States. He was interested to hear about what I thought about his home country, so we passed a pleasant time waiting our turn. Once through to the gate the airport is tiny and not much there (think Ercan before the transformation).
We sat waiting for the flight to board and were interested by the fact that they started calling out names of people on our flight that had to go to the other side of the room and be questioned. The first to go, was a French Canadian that we had been on the boat tour with. French Canadians insist they are French and we heard him labour that point all day. He went through the screened off area and some time passed and then suddenly I looked around in time to see him being escorted by 2 policemen in handcuffs. No idea why, but he wasn’t on the flight. All the other people who got called up were Canadian as well, but they all returned to resume their journey. The Nicaraguan and his friend that we had chatted to were sat behind us on the plane and we enjoyed our trip back to Panama. At Toucamen we said farewell to our new friends as they were in transit to the USA and we took the shuttle to the airport hotel, where we stayed for a night.
The following morning we went to find the bus back to Albrook Mall to get the bus home. We eventually found the right stop and boarded. About 10 minutes into the journey, our bus collided with a car. Luckily no one was hurt and we all had to get off and wait for another bus.
All in all our Colombia trip was very short. However, it was extremely eventful. It will be a long time before I get on a boat again. We had boat failure, transfer at sea, dangerous sea swell at speed, people being arrested, and bus crash and we were only gone for 3 days!!
I don’t think we will return to Colombia, but I’m glad we’ve seen it, although only a very small part. In order to get back into Panama you need to have a ticket out again before you are allowed in on a tourist visa. This time our ticket out is for July and we are going to Amsterdam, Brussels and London. Not quite so exotic or exciting but my mum has been very ill lately and I feel I must go back and see her and although I have transited through Amsterdam several times in the last few years, I have never been out of the airport. This time we are staying a few days and then taking the train to Brussels, followed by Eurostar to London. It will make a change from flying into Heathrow. I have never been on Eurostar and taking trains all the way from Amsterdam and back and stopping over in Amsterdam and Brussels will make my trip back to the UK more bearable. In the meantime, we need to decide where to go in November, as of course, we need a ticket out again before we leave. At the moment we are thinking Belize but who knows……………………
Wherever your next adventure takes you Anita, I am sure our readers will be keen to catch up with what your impressions are, together with the lovely photographs you send, so we will wait and see where you finally decide to visit next.