Thursday, February 11, 2010

Panama Final Chapter – Monkeys!!

Panama Final Chapter – Monkeys!!

Ben, who I'd met in Santa Catalina, and I took the 7 am bus for the long journey from there to Playa Venao. I had been told about it from a Panamanian woman in Boquete who said that there was good surfing there. I looked it up and found a place that sounded very cool called Eco Venao, and eco-lodge in the jungle.

Ben and I laughed at the multiple bus journey there. In one town called Chitré, we were welcomed in to town by a bunch of larger than life sized cartoon statues of Jesus floating between what looked like giant eggshells, an M&M, Nemo, Barney, some huge bird, and an enormous Christmas present. It was an odd cast of characters to say the least.

We finally arrived at our very cool, but basic eco lodge. After a shower under our coconut shower head and we went to see the beach. The waves looked good, as did the surfers. The thing was that this area of Panama has recently had a boom in development so everything had gone up in price. We stopped for a beer and dinner at a bar restaurant on the beach that had been open for all of three weeks. There was another new and expensive hotel that had just been open for a month. Rooms started at $90 a night. Playa Venao had suddenly gotten pretty darn swank. Thankfully Eco Venao was a more affordable option, although they too had raised their prices.

Our lodge at Eco Venao

The next morning we went to the beach to rent boards. The selection was limited and the price was higher than Santa Catalina. I ended up with the only board that was available – a 10-foot soft top. It was ridiculously huge and unmanageable for me. It was a really windy morning and I was struggling with board before I even got in the water. The waves here were more powerful than the waves at Playa Estero in Santa Catalina and on the very first wave I tweeked my back a bit, partially due to how large the board was. I tried a few waves more and decided this was ridiculous. I went back in and an 8-foot soft top had just been returned. I paddled out again with the smaller board and it was better, but I wasn’t feeling it. I caught a few waves but after about an hour and a half I was done, my back hurt and I wasn’t enjoying the surfing as much as I usually always do. I was worried that I’d hurt myself more if I stuck with it. I think it is wise to trust instincts on such matters.

After we were done we returned to our eco lodge to pack up for Pedasí. We had heard some rustling in the trees above our bamboo hut, and the unmistakable call of the howler monkey. We went outside and right above our hut were over 20 monkeys! It was incredible! There was even a Carablanca.


There were too many monkeys to get in one picture

We unsuccessfully tried to hitch a ride to Pedasí and ended up taking a cab in the end. Pedasí was a cute little town with tile roofs and charm. Apparently a lot of other folks saw its potential as well, because there is a lot of foreign development in the area. The place we ended up staying, was fantastic, but like Playa Venao the prices had gone up there as well.

Oh so cute with the baby

Monos Congos

Ben leaving Eco Venao

We were pretty tired after a day of surfing, the hot sun, and salt water and for the evening we needed to just relax and watch TV. Fortunately the Simpson’s was on. The Simpson’s plays on TV constantly in Colombia, but it’s always dubbed in Spanish. For some reason, in Pedasí, Panama it was in English. Ben and I both laughed really hard at Marge Simpson saying, “What the Hellmann’s Real Mayonnaise?” As much as I find it odd to write about TV on my blog, I think that quote is one worth noting.

The next morning we took a little stroll around Pedasí before our long journey to Panama City.

Downtown Pedasí

The tiles that everyone finds so charming


Our last bus transfer that would be the 4-hour ride to Panama City had us on the most luxurious bus I may have ever been on. At first felt like I was in Korea, not in Panama. Then they had a large screen playing music videos. At first to match with the pastoral setting it was the traditional Panamanian music, which features the accordion and sounds strikingly similar to Vallenato in Colombia. As we got closer to Panama City it became reggatón. Ben gave a very accurate run down of the formula of these music videos: a guy is wearing sunglasses, he’s upset because his woman left him, he wants to get her back because he's done her wrong, there are some other guys in sunglasses to back him up, there are scantily clad women, in the end the woman is with the man. Finito.

The bus in Korea, I mean Panama.

We passed over the Panama Canal entering the city and realized when we got to the bus station that this is a huge and somewhat dangerous city and we had no clue where we were going. I remembered something about Casco Viejo as being the historic part of the city and figured we’d get dinner there before my flight back to Colombia. Getting to Casco Viejo we rode through some pretty sketchy looking neighborhoods and I was glad to be in a cab. Casco Viejo itself seemed like a run down small version of Cartagena.

The day we were there was the 46th anniversary of the Flag Riots of 1964. Apparently the Flag Riots started with some disagreement between high school and university students arguing about flying the US and Panamanian flags. A riot broke out and 12 people were killed and millions of dollars worth of property were destroyed. There were not many people out in Casco Viejo despite being a Saturday and I don’t know if a – it’s always like that, b – people were mourning the loses, or c – that no alcohol was available for purchase in either restaurant or store. My guess is option c.

Casco Viejo

I left in my cab and headed to the airport, bidding adieu to Ben who was on his way back to Nicaragua and the Spain. I met some foreigners headed to Colombia and they were on my plane. The first stop of the plane was in Cartagena – that is where all the foreigners departed. I was with a handful of Colombians on the short plane ride back to Barranquilla.

Panama was really a relaxing vacation. I felt like I saw a lot of the country, but my regret is that I didn’t really spend time with any Panamanians, but rather a lot of tourists. I didn’t speak that much Spanish while I was there either. Heading back to Colombia would change both of those in a hurry.

Now, back to our previously scheduled “La Vida Colombiana”

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