I am very excited to announce this is my 100th blog post! This month also marks the third anniversary of this blog, which I started in December, 2016.
When I started out, my goal was simple: to publish at least one blog per week for one year. Once I achieved that, I gave myself permission to blog when the mood struck, but I’ve continued to post fairly frequently over the last two years. Part of my reason for blogging was to get myself writing regularly and sharing more of my work with the world. I really enjoy choosing topics and writing about them, although sometimes time is short and I don’t get to blog as much as I want to.
Travel blogging is a way for me to remember and record my thoughts and adventures. I must admit, I do go back and reread my old blogs to relive those memories.
I want to thank all of you for reading this blog. You’ve travelled with me to Nova Scotia, Thailand, Cambodia, California, Hawaii, Arizona, Louisiana, New York, Washington State, England, Wales, Ecuador, Yemen, Costa Rica, Australia, South Africa, Namibia, Germany, the Yucatan, Panama, and cruising the Caribbean. You’ve met members of my family and suffered through my opinions on a variety of topics. You’ve seen more photos of birds than you probably ever wanted to see.
I hope you’ve been intrigued, had a laugh, learned something, or mulled over an idea you hadn’t previously considered, and I sincerely hope you’ll continue to read along as I indulge my wanderlust.
This is really a bit of a shaggy dog story but perfectly
illustrates the challenges of navigating the confusing rules and contradictory
information that often surrounds tourist sites, especially when one doesn’t
speak the local language.
We figured we couldn’t visit Panama without seeing its most
famous site, the canal, so I researched the options. Although the official
websites are not very useful, offering only the most basic info, I found online
reviews that provided better. The Miraflores
Locks Visitors’ Center seemed like a good choice: it was reported that you
could go in and eat in their restaurant overlooking the locks. With luck, a
ship would come through the locks while you were there. One review mentioned
that the visitor center posts the times that ships will pass through each day,
so you can plan accordingly. Great.
We plan to visit the center on a Sunday and drop by in the
late morning to find out when ships will be coming through. The center is
large, modern, and seemingly well-organized. Air conditioning, escalators,
lovely clean restrooms (always on the hunt for those when I’m travelling!) and
lots of info about pricing for the exhibits and the giant Imax theatre.
There’s a pleasant young man fronting the entrance and I ask
him about the restaurant: Do we need a reservation? Can we go inside to make
the reservation in person for later today? (I’m cowardly about trying to
communicate on the telephone in Spanish, so I figure a face-to-face with the
restaurant maitre’d is a safer bet.)
Yes, we need a reservation. No, we can’t go in to make the
Next, we check the “ships transiting” board. It hasn’t been
updated for two days (a concern) and it indicates that there will be no ships
going through between 9 am and 4 pm. Is that info accurate for today? We have
no way of knowing.
Mark, the practical one in this duo, suggests we forget
making a reservation and we simply return around 4 pm to dine. It’s unlikely to
be full. We’ll have to take our chances on seeing a ship transit the locks.
Skip ahead a few hours and we return just after 4 pm. Mark
approaches the ticket booth and asks if we need to pay the admission fee if we
just want to go to the restaurant. She says no, just go upstairs to the fourth
We start making our way up various stairways and ramps until
we’re stopped by a couple of uniformed security guys who want to see our
tickets. We don’t have any, we explain, we’re just going to the restaurant. No,
apparently we do need tickets, and
the guards send us to a kiosk. But as we’re walking away, one of them says,
ticket is free. Sure enough, when we explain once again that we only want to go
to the restaurant, the kiosk lady gives us free admission.
Now sporting our neon green wristbands, we are finally legit
and we smugly ride the elevator to the fourth floor.
By this time, it’s 4:20. We enter the restaurant, a nice
one, not a cafeteria or snack bar, but a sit-down place with linen tablecloths
and actual servers. We tell the server who approaches us that we’d like dinner.
So sorry, restaurant is closing in 10 minutes.
What?! How can a restaurant that serves dinner close at
4:30? Besides, I remember some online reviews mentioning that they ate dinner
at sunset while viewing the locks. Sunset in Panama is always around 6 pm (it
doesn’t change much, unlike in our temperate zone).
It’s a mystery.
We’re very disappointed and the server can tell. He kindly
suggests we could have a cold drink (always a welcome idea in the tropics) on
the balcony. I jump on this, as it will at least give us a chance to see the
locks, even though there is no ship at the moment.
He seats us on a small side balcony with a narrow view. Oh
well, better than nothing. We linger over our drinks as long as possible, but
eventually, we pay and start to leave. Then I see that there’s a much larger
balcony that actually overlooks the locks. Ah, that’s where we really wanted to be. There are people wandering
around out there.
Oh, I say to the maitre’d wistfully, could we possibly just
pop out to the balcony for a moment?
“Of course,” she beams.
Out on the balcony, as we gaze at our much-expanded view up
and down the canal, we can now spot a tanker just coming into the locks. That
settles it: we’re out there for the long haul now.
Over the next hour, we get front-row views of the entire process as the locks fill/empty and the ship is towed through. The sun sets gloriously in the background. I keep throwing furtive glances at the restaurant inside as they shut it down, thinking any moment they will come and tell us to leave. But they don’t. There are lots of other people on the balcony and they obviously have no intention of leaving until the ship is through, so I guess the staff just don’t bother trying to clear the place.
And that’s how we got a perfect view of a ship transiting the locks without paying the admission fee or buying dinner. We had just the right combination of foreign cluelessness and naïve brashness. Sometimes—if you’re lucky—that works.
With our recent three-week trip to Panama still fresh on my mind, I am sorting through some 1,500 photos. The best part about travel photos is that they remind you of moments from your trip that you might otherwise forget, and so I’m recalling the day-by-day highlights (and a few lowlights).
Howler monkeys waking us at dawn with their whoops and roars.
Plunging into the gorgeous pool at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort after a long, sweaty hike.
Watching a stately tall ship sailing up the canal.
Awe-inspiring tropical rainstorms that pound the roof and create torrents on the streets.
Feeling the whoosh of a hummingbird’s wings as it flies by your ear.
Bobbing in the warm waves off your own deserted beach at Playa Blanca.
A long, slender, brilliantly green snake visiting us on our hotel balcony at Morillo Beach.
Cheering for tiny baby turtles as they struggle across the sand to reach the sea.
Ripe papayas, bananas, pineapple, and passionfruit for breakfast.
Hiking jungle trails at dawn when everything is still dark and silent and the bugs haven’t yet arrived.
Nutella cheesecake and glorious local Kotowa chocolates in Boquete.
Seeing the flashes and rumbles of distant thunderstorms in the surrounding hills as you lounge in the mountainside pool at La Brisa del Diablo.
Superb dinners at La Brisa prepared by Olga.
Stripping down to your underwear to swim in an emerald crystal river because you didn’t bring a swimsuit and it’s so incredibly hot and you can’t resist and there’s no one else there anyway, so why not?
Witnessing the life-and-death battle of a hawk and black snake played out just a few feet from the road.
Tiny frog on the path, smaller than my pinkie fingernail, and giant cane toads bigger than grapefruits sharing our pool at The Golden Frog Inn.
The excited nightwatchman at our inn calling us over to show us a sloth climbing (very slowly) along the power lines.
French pastries at the St Honore bakery near Gamboa.
Flocks of gregarious and noisy parrots and parakeets congregating at their night roosts each evening.
Enjoying the technological majesty of the Panama Canal locks at close quarters.
Not stepping on a miniscule snake along the trail, a snake that I first thought was a big worm until it slithered away rapidly in typically snake style.
Mosquito bites on top of “chagira” bites on top of other bites. I don’t know what those chagiras are, but despite their size (a pinprick), they bite like horseflies and leave blood, swelling, and maddening itchiness behind. Oh, and did I mention the ticks? Yes, it’s a jungle out there.
Traffic around Panama City. Unbelievable. Multiple lines of cars, buses, taxis, trucks, and motorcycles fighting to move forward a few feet. The only guidelines seem to be: try not to hit anything or anyone. Beyond that, anything goes.
Potholes. The main roads are mostly good, with just the occasional pit to keep you on your toes, but some of the side roads are more holes than flat surfaces.
Losing my monopod. Sigh. In the excitement of trying to photograph a mixed flock of birds, I must have dropped my monopod and forgot to pick it up. It’s probably still lying in the grass at the road side.
Mexico City airport security confiscating the tiny Allen wrench from my photography kit. This was a piece of metal about two inches long and half as thick as a pencil. It has passed through many previous security scans without comment. “No pasa,” the guard said sternly. Mark commented later that they were clearly afraid I was going to attempt to disassemble the plane.