Panama City and El Valle de Anton

Trip blog Central America

March 14/15. I helped a Canadian women get an onward ticket so that she could fly to Costa Rica. Her name was Heidi. In Houston on layover I talked to her some more and she told me that osteoporosis and I gave her Richard‘s number. When I arrived in Panama City, I was boiling in the 90 degree heat and thought I had lost Elefante. I went to the wrong terminal and only found out when I was going through customs. I was afraid my pack would be gone when I made it to luggage as I was very late. Thank the gods it was there. I could feel all 36 pounds of it as i swung it over my shoulders. I held my breath as I went through customs. I had dreaded the moment because I was afraid I’d be stopped for my supplements. After some hesitation I found the metro. It turns out it was the first day of the opening of the metro line to the airport. There were press there and they interviewed me about how it compares to other metros in terms of ease of use etc. I recommended a more clear sign for the kiosk that sells the Rapi pass. They asked me for my name and took photos of me with my thumbs up on the metro. I told him it was excellent better than most, and they were happy. Then I met a man from San Miguelito Tamir with his girlfriend and kids and who was really helpful and told me he could help drive me around. I felt like I needed a friend so it was good timing. It was a long trip, but I finally made it to metro stop Santa Ana and then a taxi driver charged me five USD when I was told it would only be two to get to the Casco Viejo. I found hostel Magnolia Inn and checked in and at 5pm and then I started walking around. I made friends with Eduardo and Simon at the hostel. They were very friendly and helpful and gave me a lot of good information. I went to La bendicion for ceviche and had a Maracuja drink and it was really nice. I walked into Santa Anna and felt a little scared because it was sketchy. I walked along the Cinta Costera till the pickle ball fours. Came back and had the top bunk and didn’t sleep well because my bunk mate kept coughing during the night and slamming the door on the way out.

March 16. I went to El Rey and bought groceries and water and then had granola and bought milk and made friends with the help and then went to the Palacio municipal and checked out the exhibit using Google translate and then went to the canal museum and stayed until 530. that was a great exhibit and I learned a lot. Especially about racism and the canal and differences in income in treatment. Late at night I met Jesus outside the fancy hotel, and he said to meet him the next day at nine for a tour.

March 16 continued: I went to meet Jesus at 9 AM but it turned out to be someone else. I asked I said I thought it was a free tour and he said no it’s 55. I told him I didn’t have the money so I decided to go to Unido cafe and had a nice latte there for about the same price as home. From there I headed to the Mola museum and spent an hour there and learned a lot joined a tour and was fascinated by the information it was very cultural and very interesting. I did a walking tour with a map that Joseph gave me. Every day I saw more things. Headed to Santa Anna because I wanted to check out the area. I liked the bustle and went into the church at Plaza Santa Anna.

March 17. I decided to go to Miraflores locks. It was a long trip. I walked to Cinco de Mayo and then took the Metro to Alwood mall and walked around everywhere looking and asking for the bus and then got in the wrong queue. I gave up some calls in driver, and felt guilty about canceling the trip so I kept it even though I had to pay more than the bus. I was on the bus when I decided to take the ride. He told me a bit about the way and when I got to the locks I found out it was $18 to see the IMAX film And the museum was closed till 2025. I really wanted to see the interactive museum and decided that the other was not worth the money. Then I walked around the area where the fenced in jungle was and walked to the highway and then started walking back when I met Emilio who was driving Uber gave me a ride back to locks and we talked and he gave me his number and said come for food later. I headed back to the mall and then took the metro to Santa Thomas and walked on Cinta costera out to a section called San Francisco to the union bar on the point. I walked there because I met a nice family. She was Panamanian he was from New York and he runs triathlons and we talked the whole way and then they laughed and said they were going to wedding the next day in Casco Viejo at church Merced and I walked around a bit and then I returned and met Emilio for dinner and talked to him all evening until I was exhausted and asked for a ride at 11 and got scared because he’s been drinking and arrived back to the hostel where I spent the night and got a little bit of sleep.

March 18. Today was my day to leave Magnolia Inn which has grown on me. It’s a lovely building and other than sharing a room. It was great. I organized my things and put stored my backpack in the storage and meant to go to my hotel at two, but I got caught up in exploring Santa Ana and looking for an ATM and went to the museum of Afro Antilles and met a woman and helped me get a T-shirt and an umbrella at then I made my way to ceviche and watched some of karate kid, and then walked through the indigenous market called S… and then back to Casco Viejo where I walked around for a few hours waiting for Tamir who wad coming with his girlfriend. I went to the coffee and chocolate museum which was I’ve been waiting to go to all week and it turned out they are just opening and they haven’t actually started the museum yet. They are selling Panamanian chocolate. We had a about the biodiversity of panama and how it has been protected and how the people don’t realize what they have here. We talked about a man who has been talking with locals about not killing but protecting Jaguars. The man who started I love chocolate Panama said he got inspired to do this via following biologist as a photographer. It rained hard while I was inside as it did when it while I was in the canal museum. It was amazing how hard it rained. I watched a wedding celebration in the fancy hotel, and had fun watching them goofing around and dancing and getting drunk I wanted to give him $20 and we hung out for a couple of hours and saw a folkloric group that was dressed in a costume of all of the parts of Panama. I gave him 80 total for his investment in a taxi cab purchase. We planned that he will give me a ride next Sat and Sunday to Colon then Portobelo if I can stay with Emilio that long.

March 19. I woke at 11 to an alarm. The bed was hard, but it was a really nice place. Nevertheless it had been quite loud the night before, as it was a Saturday night in Casco Viejo. It was my one chance to sleep in a nice room. Joseph at the hostel had organized it for me. there’s a lot of work being done on the street about a foot away from the bed. There is a nice courtyard filled with plants, but it’s taken up by a very chlorinated pool in the center, which is so full of chemicals that I couldn’t stand the smell. I packed my things and attempted to lock the door, but was unable to get back in because I had locked the wrong lock. I told the staff and they said they would work on it and then I should return in about 20 minutes.

I headed to the I love Panama chocolate place around the corner. I had spent a few hours the night before talking with the owner about Sustainability in Panama. Unfortunately, they were busy and the Guayaba chocolate I had asked about hadn’t arrived yet. They told me to come back in a few hours. I didn’t think I’d still be here, but said I would. From there I headed to the churches of Neri, Saint Francis Assisi, and Plaza Bolivar. Both churches featured extensive crèche dioramas. The dioramas came from the gardens of wealthy Panamanians, who would have them set up at Christmas time. Many were donated to churches for permanent exhibit. At Neri, I spoke with a very kind nun in civilian clothing. She reminded me of Elza Hinostroza, my Peruvian friend who owns big basin café in Saratoga. I really appreciated her telling me about the renovations that had gone on there.

Naciminentos are also called Belen here, which means Bethlehem. Assisi had a big Christmas diorama display inspired by a visit to Minnesota in December. It was a surprise and fun to see all of the figurines and houses. I also enjoyed the art exhibit on the second floor of the church, as well as the lovely blue stained glass

windows. I wanted to head to the Bio museum in Amador but wasn’t sure I’d have enough time to get there walking as it was a few miles through dangerous part of town. I used the inDrive application to call a driver and ended up waiting an hour while three agreed and then cancelled. I found out that Amador is very crowded on Sunday afternoons, and the drivers were probably worried about getting stuck in traffic.

I started walking to the museum on the Cinta Costera 3 and finally had to driver accept my request. He was nice and told me which parts of town or dangerous to walk in, including the one I was about to enter. I made it to the museum by 3 PM which gave me enough time to see most of the exhibit, although they closed the museum early at 440 to prepare for an event.

They had an audio guide, but I didn’t feel I had time to listen. There was a lot of information about the movement of fauna between North and South America, and the geologic process that created Panama. I enjoyed the outdoor section, which explained the history of human habitation in the area to the present day. Because of their closing early for the event, I wasn’t able to see some of the more interesting exhibits on the natural history of various species. I did learn about some of the more important cultural events in Panama. I walked down the canal and took some photos of the sunset, then headed out towards Isla Flamenco.

Unfortunately, during the walk, I lost my neck scarf which contains polymer clay that kept me relatively cool by staying wet even while very hot outside. I really enjoyed the gardens planted by the museum. They’ve done good work there. On the way to Isla Flamenco I got very hungry, and bought street food, chicken, grilled over kerosene, from a couple with a small cart. I broke down and bought expensive ice cream for the Ron, which may have been the source of the runs later. I had told Emilio I would meet him at the hostel where I had stayed in Casco viejo, but couldn’t find a bus to get back there, so I called and asked if he could pick me up where I was. He was angry about my request, and I felt very uncomfortable in response to his shaming behavior.

I picked up my backpack and said goodbye to Eduardo and Ximon. While there, I overheard a biology student from Oregon university talking about working with sea turtles. We went back to Emilio‘s and I had a lumpy sleep on the couch. I left the doors open to get air, but it was so loud from the main road between and construction of the hospital that I finally closed them. I had a very troubled sleep.

March 20 I woke and joined Emilio for breakfast. I had my granola and he had fried sopapillas which I did not want. People eat a lot of fried food here and I don’t like it. We had a nice chat and about 1130 I decided to head out to park a Metropolitano. I bought an empanada and walked there. It seemed a little dicey in some areas where there were auto mechanics and recycling shops, add metal, recycling, and garbage. But I made it paid. My fee convince them that I was a Panamanian or that I lived here for a year and then sit out on the trail. I met some Germans who showed me a sloth in a tree. And then I continued walking up the hill on the trails and meandered around. I asked the Ranger about another sloth that was in the tree with his baby, but I could barely see it. I climbed to the top with a German college student who just started an exchange program. She hopes to do some extracurricular activities.

On the way down, I spotted a toucan and saw a sloth hanging from a vine. It hung there for over 10 minutes and didn’t seem to move. I wondered how it could be so strong. Finally, I walked out of the park and went to the mammal trail. About 530 I decided to catch a bus to the Vis Argentina neighborhood and caught a bus to the University of Panamá. I walk to campus to the neighborhood, which has a strip of trees in the center and a park and few cool places to i decided not to buy food there because it was pretty expensive, but read reviews for the best Gelateria in Central America and had to go. It was very expensive and the server gave me a big scoop of chocolate and two tiny scoops of the other flavors. It wasn’t worth it. I tried to walk back to Emilio’s house via the Cinta Coasterra, but couldn’t find my way to the shore and ended up on the freeway. I walked next to a person who was sleeping on the bridge. A guy at a hotel told me to turn around.

On the way back I saw two women street artists juggling and clowning at a stoplight. It was the first time I saw something like that here. I walked through the downtown back to the coast. The downtown is not pedestrian friendly, as it is very built up, but I was able to find my way down to the coast. It was strange walking there after being in the much more Panamanian part of town, Panama viejo. I arrived back at the apartment and had a nice dinner with Emilio and set up a bed in his office. Unfortunately something didn’t agree with my stomach, probably the tap water, and I had diarrhea all night. I didn’t get to sleep till 3. Needless to say, I am very sleep deprived after being in the hostel for four nights. I’m still uneasy about giving Tamir $80 to help him buy a taxi and probably won’t get rides as promised. I hope he was honest with me. I had decided to give him 20 but he talked me into giving him more.

March 21. Happy spring! I’ve lost track of everything from St. Patrick’s Day to the first day of spring. The temperature is always 90 here, and about 95% humidity. I’m sweating so much that I don’t pee even though I’m drinking water all day long. I’m not big on the tropics for that reason. I like variability in weather, not the same thing every day.

I woke up late not having slept well. Emilio was gone. I was extremely worried that I was locked in because he locks his gate and door and I can’t get out without a key. I thought that he had left for the day. I called in a panic. He finally answered and said he was coming back. I washed the dirty sheets and put my things away and had granola. Around 1130 he offered me a ride to Ancón hill as he was headed to his bank in nearby in Albrook. He dropped me off on the freeway, and I proceeded to run across 2 four-lane highways. Panamanian don’t stop for pedestrians. I headed toward the hill walking through a neighborhood where many Americans lived during our control of the canal. It’s a really pretty area. The colonial style houses have big Gardens with grass that’s cut short as a golf course. I started walking up what looked like a trail but it was full of palm fronds and other debris, and I could barely get 10 feet, so I decided to turn back and headed further along until I came to canal zone buildings. From there I’m headed up to the guard house for Quarry heights. Walking in there felt like going into another world.

There was a guy selling palettas. The houses were white with intricate wooden carving, more beautiful than any. I’d seen thus far. They were beautiful gardens and spacious promenades. Well, I didn’t know was that I wasn’t allowed to walk in that area. High security apparently. looked incredibly beautiful. The guards yelled at me and started coming towards me. I didn’t wanna take any chances, so I headed back. I told them I was uncertain of how to get to the hill. Which was true. They directed me to the left. I enjoyed the walk and made it to the top without seeing any animals as I had hoped. I wasn’t that impressed by the view. I had seen much better view at the park Metropolitano. I ran into 2 tourists heading down the hill Mark and Julius. They has a rental car, and were heading to Amador. I asked if I could come with them as I had lost my cooling scarf there the day before and hoped to find it. I knew it would be a needle in the haystack. I said I would walk down with them, but they said don’t miss the climb to the top, as they weren’t sure where the car was, and thought it would take them a while.

There was one house that had a particularly beautiful garden, and all the birds in the area seemed to be hanging out in a large tree next to it. I was glad to see that at least one person in Panama cares about conservation. I met Mark and Julius at the gate to quarry heights and we drove to Amador. I showed them a cheap place to eat called Mi Ranchito that Id seen the night before. We all had hoped to go to park Culebra, but it was closed. While they ate, they told me a bit about their journey as crew for boats. They were crew on a boat from Guatemala on the Caribbean side, and stopped in the Bay Islands off Honduras. They suggested I make a profile and try to crew. It sounds glamorous but being a sailor isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. They offered to take me with them to Santa Catalina island and Bocas del Toro. I was very tempted, but I told him I didn’t have my backpack and they replied who needs things. The main reason was I wanted to let Emilio know. I wished them a good day and walked to Isla Flamenco looking for my cooking scarf. After 45 minutes I gave up and asked if I could get a ride back.

They dropped me off near the overpass to Casco Viejo and I walked back and then walked around the old town for a number of hours went into some churches, saw some colonial church art, which was nice, didn’t make it into la Merced, which has a museum, but ran into the very sweet woman who works at Neri church again, and met a nice French woman from Brittany with whom I spoke. I met her when I was speaking with a guy who is working for his friend who just open lot Divina Comida en bolivar Square. He is an is Muslim from Columbia in the coffee growing region. It was interesting talking with him. He said he teaches English most of the time. I went back and said hello to Ximon at the hostel. He is from Venezuela and was telling me about having his tools robbed three different times. I asked him whether he came here to avoid the violence there. He said that like he was better. And Eduardo also worked there and was telling me about living in the canal zone and having to give up his house and about the student protest in 1968. Ximon is a very hard worker and was very busy so I didn’t talk long.

I got some Chinese dumplings and then walked back to Emilio‘s via the Cinta Coastera. it was a nice evening but I sweated a lot today. The trade winds from the north east blow up until April. So the nights get a little bit cooler. Thank God. I guess in the rainy season that’s not the case. I got back and wrote my blog and talked with Emilio a little bit. He told me about his cats owner, who he thinks is a prostitute. We talked about prostitution for a while. He doesn’t think that it’s a problem for the women who work. He says it’s easy to spread your legs and in the casino he frequents they get paid $200 per act. I disagreed and said that many women don’t have a choice and are limited in what jobs they have the opportunity to do. I was exhausted and finally went to sleep about 1130.

March 22. I slept in until 10 or so. It was the first deep sleep I think I’ve had this whole trip. I had a dream about Hala and Shawn being in bed together and I got jealous. I woke up and spoke with the indigenous man who helps Emilio. He’s from Chiriqui. We ended up talking about his grandfather who owned a farm and had cows horses, pigs, chickens, roosters, doves, as well as many fruit trees, and a big vegetable garden. I asked him to help me find my mouthguard and he did. It was a miracle. It was under the couch where I had my things in the corner in a very dusty corner. Shockingly he was able to see it. I gave him a hug and asked him if it was OK. Then we had a nice conversation in Spanish about life here.

He said he’s going back for Semana Santa to his town. We talked about where he’s from and the beautiful places there. I wasn’t clear about where he would recommend going, but it was really nice to talk with him. I ended up adding to the soup that Emilio had made cutting up a bunch of my potatoes, onions, garlic having some stuff. It felt good to cook some thing. Finally around 130. I headed up to the bus stop on 45th St. and waited for an inordinate time. I was talking with a Colombian girl who moved from Cali with her mom. She was nice and we talked for a while about life here and how she has more opportunities than she did there. It took an hour to get to Panama Viejo with the bus. From there, I paid for the $10 for his fee to look at the ruins and entered the site and began looking at things. It was really interesting. I wanted to make sure I had time to see the museum so when I got to the area, I went in and read as quickly as possible. It talked about The history of the formation of the city the cast system how people were organized the reason that the pirates were able to invade how the city was laid out the role of religion, the role of slaves and Friedmanand creole’s – quite a mix. Creoles and Spanish made up 10% of the population and the rest were slaves.

There was also a an exhibit about Jews who converted to Christianity in order to survive, but it was closed. There was some really interesting information about burials in both jars and laid out. There was one woman in particular, who was very important and was buried on top of tens skulls more than 700 years old and might have been ancestors. she was also buried with many riches and a jar on her head intended for her. Indigenous people opened her tomb hundreds of years later, and added some items and refreshed the grave. They also showed how a wealthy person would have lived at that time with the private quarters on the second floor, including a platform where women only were allowed, mostly doing sewing and embroidery. Men had to be invited in order to get on the platform.

On the first floor was the merchandise and sales and in the back was the office where they would show a very wealthy patrons expensive wares. The list of items that were available was pretty extensive including a lot of spices. When the pirates looted Panama City in 1671 the Spanish thought they wanted to populate the city, so they burned it. The king of Spain said there must not have been much goods wealth lost here because very little of it was registered, meaning that the majority had not actually paid the tax that the Spanish government charged for items shipped. At the end I walked around the ruins until about 6 o’clock and had a good time reading the signs and walking through the stones. It’s a beautiful site and I was impressed that it was in as good condition as it is.

There’s a lot of garbage on the edge of the estuary. It’s shocking how much garbage there is. Lots of sea birds were in the mud flats and they’re trying to reestablish the mangroves on the edge and plant certain trees in the center that that are similar to those that were found at that time. However, most of them have died, and I don’t much effort made in the establishing them. It’s been 20 years and nobody’s even tried to plant new ones. They were also supposed to plant mangroves, but they didn’t and in fact, some of the mangroves affirmed, perhaps, by the people who live in very poor neighboring barrio, who lives mostly in hammocks and shacks. live in shacks and hammocks. I took my time walking through the ruins and enjoyed watching the sun tipping lower in the sky. I took a bus to the downtown and walked from there to San Francisco, which is a nice part of town. I walked around a bit thought about getting gelato, but decided not to, and headed back slowly to Emilio‘s, enjoying the breeze on the coast.

March 23. The best laid plans of mice and men. I’m experiencing what it’s like to be a Panamanian. I just missed the bus today to Gamboa and the next one doesn’t come for four hours so I won’t make it back in time. I decided to explore the residential areas of aqua and Clayton instead. Two days ago, I lost my neck scarf filled with special polymer that stayed wet and cool in the heat. And last night I lost my night guard for my teeth. To top it off, I’m sleeping about 100 feet from a construction project for a hospital that’s literally going all day and night. There are 3 huge cranes and cement mixer trucks and nonstop use of jackhammers and honking incredibly loud truck horns all night long. And I have to wear earplugs during the day because taxis honk every 30 seconds on more to get your attention as do other drivers.

I’m sensorily overwhelmed. The best laid plans of mice and men: It’s ironic that the train that I was hoping to take is no longer running to Colon because it’s out of service. The museum I hoped to see in the Miraflores Locks canal is closed for the next three years, which I found out after taking a bus for an hour to get there. They charge $18 just to see the boats in the lock and watch an IMAX movie. I decided not to on principle.

Needless to say, I had a nice walk and enjoyed seeing some animals in gardens of houses near the jungle. It was nice to finally see some residential areas that had trees. Mostly what I’ve seen in town is not attractive at all. Before I left for the residential areas, I was in the mall trying to find a neck scarf which I finally did. I spoke with attending Manian girl and a Australian guy who recommended Sunglass Islands to me. We’ll see whether I end up going. It sounds like it’s complicated and expensive to get there.

March 24. Now I know why I’ve been going crazy at night. It turns out they work double time at night and drive these cement trucks like they drive all the trucks here 0 to 60 in two seconds and then brake on a dime. There’s a wall right outside the room where I’m sleeping which has no window. The wall amplifies the sound from the construction 100 feet away. I have nothing between me and the open air. I feel like I’m being tortured. The sound is much worse at night and in the day. They can’t get away with it during the day. I decided to call this chapter the dining table of Pinochet. Emilio told me that the dining table he has was one used by Pinochet. Given his love of Trump I’m sure he is proud of this fact. The chairs are certainly plush.

He went to the US when Allende was elected because he didn’t want to live with a communist government. Ironic because I consider myself a socialist, if not a communist. He told me over the course of the four days that I spent with him about his life. His wife Irena died some years ago but as far as the state of the flat, it seems like yesterday. He first went to the US when he was 28 and spent a year there as a printer in New York City. He’s a big patriot of American hegemony and loves Trump.

He showed me a Halloween costume he made of Trump, complete with a suit and cap with his iconic strawberry blond combover. After being in America for a year, he returned to Chile and from there went to Panama where he met his wife Irena, of Dutch descent. He has a very cute cat named Miño who was rescued as a kitten from a garbage can. She is very skittish and didn’t seem to trust me despite my efforts. Emilio watches television for hours every day at a volume of 70. He has two 55 inch sets, one in his bedroom and one in his office. He was shocked that I hadn’t seen any American films. My daily routine was to talk with him for a half an hour or so in the mid morning, then leave for the day and return around 830 or 9 PM. It was in a fairly central location near El Congrejo and the Santo Tomas metro station.

I roused myself at 830 after not sleeping a wink and left for the Albrook Terminal, and then headed to Colon on a bus. I was lucky to catch one within 10 minutes. A helpful passenger told me she would help me find the bus stop in Sabanitas to Portobelo. Luckily, I quickly caught one of the crazily-painted Rastafarian buses with a bizarre horn blasting Punta, a kind of Caribbean music from this region. It’s always interesting to ride local buses. It was mid morning and the bus was filled with young students wearing crisp uniforms. It was fascinating to watch them acknowledge one another and the rapidity with which they jump on and off the bus. I noticed that locals, no matter how old or disabled, often end up standing on the bus, and jump on and off very quickly. In some cases, the bus only shows down. Americans would’ve taken 20 times longer. It’s a privilege to be slow and make everyone wait.

After a bumpy three hour ride, I finally arrived in Portobelo. It’s a beautiful historic port town on the Caribbean facing Isla grande, which is a 15 minute boat ride offshore. I disembarked from the converted school bus and walked up a road away to a hostel to ask about accommodations. I wasn’t planning to stay the night, but wanted to inquire for future reference. The woman said it was $10 a night for a dormitory of 8 and 170 per day to go to the San Blas islands. I’m surprised that it’s so expensive.

On the way back I saw a young girl probably five with a big smile and long braids dancing back-and-forth like she was doing the salsa. I saw a sign for soup and such and asked about it. It was way more expensive than I had paid in Panama City and I decided against it. In principle, I don’t like paying gringo prices. From there I headed to the church and took some photos. There is a tour of Taurus there. From there I walked to the fort and took some photos. A nice woman offered to take my photo and then asked to take a photo with me. I was honored. Then I walked along the street toward the other fort.

On the way, I saw a colorfully painted mural outside an art gallery. Ana Gonzalez, a Venezuelan woman, was very kind, and in Spanish told me about the Casa de La cultura Congo, a project of Fundacion Bahia de Portobelo. From the profits they offer free art and music classes to the children in the community. The gallery is full of self taught local artists and showcases the interesting mix of cultures of the people of that area, including the large number of descendants of former African slaves. It is a mix between the indigenous people, the Spanish, and the African slaves. The resulting mythology is reflective and includes supernatural beings, nature spirits, and oreishas or gods. I was tempted to try to stay at her hotel, as well as to eat at her lovely restaurant that fronted the sea. However, I didn’t know how much time I had before I had to catch the bus back, as I didn’t want to get stuck in Sabanitas just outside Colon without a ride back. I had been warned that people from that area didn’t like Americans. Not that I blame them.

From there, I headed to the other fort and walked through to the other side of the road but there is a monument and hid under a banana tree is rain came down. And I caught the street back and went to the bay and sat next to a bunch of coral that had washed up. I selected a piece and let the ocean love me. Since I had arrive 20 minutes ago, I felt like a big magnet was sucking my energy down into the Earth and I found myself unable to move quickly. My movements became very slow, and as I was sitting in that spot, I felt that I couldn’t get up. But fear of getting stuck propelled me, as well as my curiosity about a conservation program for children which Ana had told me about in the main plaza. I made my way there just as the clock struck 2pm.

There I met Jonathan Zelcer, owner a tour company called Truly Panamá. He said that during the pandemic, he reevaluated and decided he wanted to give back to the community and not just choreograph experiences for tourists visiting Panamá. Apparently has some very wealthy clients from all over the world and always asks whether they want to give back to the community or just having a relaxing vacation. He said that many of his clients already have their own philanthropic organizations that are very active. He offered me a ride back in a comfortable van to the city. We had a great conversation on the way back. We even talked about the holocaust because he’s of Jewish descent and I spoke about my relatives who were in various camps. We talked about the importance of history and remembering. In Portibelo he was working with Reef to Reef who are planting coral near Portobelo. Together they were offering a program for kids on conservation including an art project. He told me about Jason an American who lives in the mountains and is an expert on the local trails and flora and fauna. While on the bus I also spoke with a Costa Rican man who is his operations manager as well as a woman artist and his tourism photographer.

The conversation with Jonathan was a highlight for me. In the course of talking about what Panamá could benefit from I mentioned Santa Clara County‘s renewable energy program and told him I would put him in touch with Tara Martin-Milius. He had said he would drop me off in Casco viejo though I said it wasn’t necessary. As it turned out, his driver fairly checked me out near the parque Metropolitano and I walked there hoping I could get in before it closed. I got a ride with the national police there, and they made me talk to the security officer who said I wasn’t allowed in the park. And then the police asked me where I was going and I said to the bus stop which I did. I didn’t want to risk getting arrested for being in the park after hours.

So I walked to the bus stop and headed to Vía Argentina where I had explored the day before. I walk through the university of Panamá which has some very interesting sculptures and memorial plaques. From there I headed to the Argentina, and ended up walking all around El Congressional. I found a really nice coffee place OK beautiful window and for you. It turns out the woman was trained at the culinary Academy, and I took a picture of her diploma. It was one of the few places that reminded me of quaint cafes in California. After walking for about 45 minutes to an hour I reached out to Erynn. It turned out she was staying in the neighborhood across from the park and we met there and had dinner at an expensive local Panamanian place that I had seen when I was there last. I ended up spending $18 on dinner which is a lot for me but it was nice to catch up with her.

She told me about her decision to move to Panama made in the last week after her visit with Loren and checking out the neighborhood where she was staying. She got a very nice Airbnb for $46 a night and I was envious. She had reached out to a gay couple as well, who lived in the area and were ex-pats. The neighborhood she was staying in, is very popular with American ex-pats. It’s probably one of the most liberal parts of Panama City. After our visit, I headed back to Emilio‘s and did my usual writing of my blog, taking a shower, and waiting until he turned off the television to talk for a bit. I was lulled by a false sense of tranquility as there was a break in the construction, but was rudely awakened at four in the morning. I moved my bed across the flat to a quieter location so I could sleep for a few hours.

I woke suddenly around 9:30 AM and took a shower did some writing and prepared to leave. I packed my things and had a nice chat with Emilio, who told me that life in Panama was like America in terms of how distant people are from each other as compared to Chile where families spend every weekend together. I told him that Polish immigrants to America are very similar. Because he is retired he gets to use the club Union for free. It is the most exclusive club in town, and offers a pool and gym, as well as game rooms and food drinks, and all kinds of other amenities. His flat which is quite large and car are paid for. He won’t go back to Chile because he could never afford a place in Santiago like the one he has. He told me to send a loaded, blond American between 40 and 50. I roll my eyes thinking about it. He’s about 75, can’t walk very well, and is very sexist. He’s also a very kind person which is what enabled me to stay with him despite his comments and shaming. I didn’t like his attitude at times.

He offered to give me a ride to a Albrook Terminal and I took it. We hugged each other, and I thanked him for his kindness. He recommended that I look for friend, Albertina Arias de Tejeira, canopy lodge, who lives in El Valle and suggested that I tell her I’m a friend of his, and see if she would let me put my tent on her land. I made my way to the bus terminal and bought a ticket and then stood in line and waited with some Canadian women. They had just arrived from the airport. I also spoke with a woman from El Valle de Anton. She asked where I was staying, and I said I didn’t know. She said she would call her brother and see he might rent out his house to me. I imagined that it would be fairly expensive, but waited to hear. Because the bus was so crowded and we didn’t stop or get out, I never found out whether she reached him. Unfortunately. The route along the Panamá highway was very ugly. It took us 3 1/2 hours to reach our destination, and on the way stopped in many squalid looking places. The bus was packed with people standing, and as usual we were practically on top of one another. The driver drove as fast as he could and I wondered whether we would make it in one piece, particularly when we headed into the mountains. I had no idea where to get off, but decided to get off at the center. When I arrived, the guy helped me with my backpack and I walked around asking people where I might be able to stay.

A lot of places charge $15-$20 just to put your own tent up. I decided to park my stuff at an Internet café and from there walked around and ask where I might be able to camp. Emilio had given me the name of his friend Albertina, but I had no idea where she lived. He said I might be able to put my tent in her patio area. I wish I had an address for her. One local told me to check with the police. The police said no but told me to pay to put my tent in a hotel garden. One guy suggested that I ask at the fire station. I walked on the road and found a man in the fire station. I explained my situation and told him I could pay. He said yes. I was shocked as so many people had told me no. I figured I’d be sleeping under a bridge somewhere. I was grateful and put up my tent.

From there I took a nice walk around town and down the road past a barbecue cook off in front of the community center and information museum to a tranquil boutique hotel called Caracoral. I wondered how much they charge and asked. 150 a night for a simple room to 250 for a larger one. Yikes. They showed me the. garden and thermal pool. It was a nice spot but not nice enough to justify that price. I continued to the butterfly garden which was closed. $7 a pop! On the way back to the main street, I tried to do an end run to avoid three drunk guys who started heckling me. I quickened my pace and made my way back to the cook off, where they were playing music at about 150 dB.

There was a small market just pass the barbecue and I decided to enter to see if they had any chocolate. Unfortunately, they didn’t. I was told that most markets in Panama are owned by Chinese immigrants. It seems that it’s a niche that they are permitted to occupy, similar to dry cleaners and restaurants in the US. On the way back to my tent I saw a fruit tree laden. which I’d seen on my way, and was tempted to try the fruit, but saw two men sitting on the front patio and was afraid they would yell at me. Instead, one of them said go ahead. We exchanged a few pleasantries in Spanish, and I could tell from their accents that that they were probably Americans. I asked them as much and they said yes. We resume speaking in English, and after about five minutes of me yelling from the fence, I asked if it was possible for me to get closer as it was difficult to hear. We ended up talking for three or more hours. I listened to Alan and Mark as they both told me about their life here. Alan, he was very gracious, and offered me some cookies as he said was customary here, has lived in Panamamia for 48 years and was a Major in the US Army in the Canal Zone.

He told me about how beautiful it was back in the day. He agreed about the lack of urban planning and how it’s a mess there in terms of infrastructure and sewage, and such. He recommended some places to visit including valley of the kings of Chocle where Americans are doing an excavation, and the river of gold. He also recommended Los Cangilones de Gualaca, a park en route to Boquete, and Mark mentioned the Nomadic movement YouTube group in Boquete who are trying to create some kind of commune there. Alan recommended the Don Pepe Estate Coffee tour and showed me his favorite coffee beans. He also mentioned a river of limestone on the way to Bocas del Toro.

Mark said that Americans archaeologists are taking the gold artifacts from the valley of the kings and river of gold back to America, and that he would like to open a museum in town to exhibit the artifacts. He feels they are being misappropriated. He arrived 16 years ago and opened the Windmill hostel with his Colombian wife. She was a dealer at a casino in Cali where he was player blackjack and was winning big. He said he was one of only two hostels at the time, and there was very little competition for the first three years. He told me about his project to build strong concrete blocks and how he was shut down and ended up building a hostel instead. He has a Koi pond and is very eccentric. He is still angry about a bike path project that resulted in the cutting down of his 85 years old bushes that were 20 feet high. In anger and I assume a desire for privacy he built a huge brick wall and said that they sent 20 police to arrest him as a result.

He is from Memphis Tennessee with a thick drawl and very stereotypically an ugly American. Drinking and smoking and putting down the locals. Though he would give you the shirt off his back. They raved about Trujillo, a recent Panamanian president who reminded them of Trump for “getting things done for the people”. I Inwardly rolled my eyes. I told Alan of my background in biology and interest in the local flora and fauna and he recommended that I visit Hotel Campestre where Eduardo and Heidi are leading a project to breed the golden frog in captivity, a poison dart frog in the area, due to fungus that is wiping out all the frogs here. Alan recommended a limestone river in Gualaca to visit. Their organization is EVACC. Alan and Mark told me about many things in Panama. The broken educational system. The way that males in this country are pampered by their mothers and are very lazy. The way that people from other countries, like Chinese, end up bringing kin as kinds of indentured servants to use tbeir labor for 10 to 15 years in return for passage and citizenship. It reminded me of the Irish who had to pay for their Atlantic passage in a similar way. Some things never change.

They also mentioned the broken water system in Panama City and how there is so much corruption that one doesn’t know whether the water is safe to drink. And how the water here started tasting like pool chemicals in the last year because the person in charge of water sanitation is also in charge of pool chemical sales. They told me about the sewer pipe in Panama City which dumps near Isla Perico, and how fish and other seafood in the area are contaminated as a result. I enjoyed talking with them. Then Mark abruptly asked me why I wanted his number. I had hoped to connect with them the next day and didn’t know how to do so without some kind of contact information. I felt like I had somehow imposed or done something wrong and felt ashamed. He had been drinking all night and so was quite belligerent in how he asked me. I felt rather sheepish and said I was simply trying to connect. I wondered whether in living in a tourist town there is a desire not to make friends with people because he knows they will leave.

It was very windy that evening and when I got back that night it had blown over, and only my backpack was keeping it from blowing away. Both tent stakes had been pulled up, and I had to find them in the dark. I had a rough night because it was the first time I slept on my sleeping pad and was trying to use the silk sheets but it’s torn and made me uncomfortable. Finally in the morning I got to sleep, but the sun woke me up early.

March 26. I rolled out of bed onto an ants nest and got eaten immediately. They were fire ants, and they stung me harder than I’ve ever been stung. I was boiling because the tent fly keeps me very warm, and once the sun hits it, I have to leave the tent. I move the tent again at night, hoping to get off the ants nest. From there I planned on going to the museum, but wanted to get something to eat. Doña Nella had been recommended to me but I wasn’t hungry enough yet to eat a full meal. I was told that most of the eating establishments here are owned by Chinese people which is strange. I really wanted coffee and decided to go to Unidos which I had had in Casco Viejo.

On the way I passed Allan‘s house and thanked his wife for allowing me to sit with her husband and Mark the night before. I ended up spending two hours, writing my blog in the air-conditioned café, and bought some good at El Rey which unlike the other supermarkets actually had a lot of items that I see in the US. It’s very surprising to see that it’s such a remote location. I also watched young people practicing dancing, and spoke briefly to Carlos and his wife who have an ecological farm about an hour outside of town where they grow their own food. Finally I headed to museum Victorian. I was thinking I would go to Doña Nella, but I decided to try eating at the museum. I had pollo guisada, a local dish cooked with veggies which was very good, but only two bites of chicken. It left me quite hungry and I ended up filling up on rice and potatoes, which I don’t like doing.

Three skeletal dogs were begging at my feet, and I had to avert my eyes out of guilt. I wondered if this was it what is like to eat in countries like India where people are begging for food. I looked for a way to enter the museum and couldn’t find one and finally found a woman and asked if I could enter, and she directed me to a young man watering the lawn. He asked me to wait and proceeded to give me a tour of the five room museum. The first room centered on the geology of the area as well as competing explanations of how we got here, one of creationism and faith, the other of evolution. I was intrigued that he mentioned Darwin when explaining the mural showing monkeys becoming men. There were huge trunks of petrified wood which came from the same tree. The second room featured the religions of the different villages in the valley. Each region was dedicated to particular saint. From what I could tell, A Sicilian priest in the 1930s evangelized the area. I say that because the entire tour was in Spanish and it lasted about half an hour. I was surprised at how good my Spanish is, at least comprehension-wise. The people here are very devout Catholics. Earlier this morning I stood in the back of the church around 10:15 AM at the end of mass and marveled at the quantity of people. There were probably 500.

The third room consisted of information I was most interested in, that of local life and cultural traditions. There was a wealth of information about a particular indigenous man, Victoriano??who fought in guerilla warfare in the struggle against Columbia for independence. He ended up being shot in front of a firing squad. He was from the area, and apparently is not well known in the rest of Panama. I was intrigued by the musical instruments and water jugs made out of gourds. The next room featured pre-Columbian pots, and replicas of some of the gold artifacts raided from local cacique tombs. Outside the museum was wooden machinery for processing sugarcane and rice, as well as a model of a house which they referred to as casa de Quincha. One of the displays featured a huge huge wooden bowl with three giant beaches used by women to pulverize rice. Apparently three women would do so in rhythm.

I enjoyed the tour and thanked the young man for answering my questions. I asked him which trails he suggests, and he gave me his recommendations. I rushed to the information center where I learned more about the biodiversity of the area and watched a short film. From there I headed back to my tent before walking toward the Piedra Pintada, which is apparently covered in petroglyphs. On the way, I met a lovely older gentleman who told me he was 72 who explained some of the history of the area. He told me that most of the endemic frogs have been wiped out due to climate change and told me about the captive breeding program here and in Gamboa for the golden dart frog.

I told him I was surprised that the human history of the area only dated to the mid-1800. He said that the previous inhabitants simply died off but I’m not certain that there wasn’t some cause. He told me that one gentleman, Don Tomas Arias, arrived in the mid-1800s and claimed all of the land from the main road towards the mountains. He had a large ranch and many famous people, including John Wayne, came to visit. All the land on the other side of the road was owned by Noriega‘s father. Before his death, Noriega divided the land into plots and sold them, whereas Arias gave plots to his workers and made a huge reserve to protect the jungle, including Chorro macho. Apparently Noriega‘s father was responsible for having a road built up to El Valle in the 1930s. The distinguished gentleman also told me that his god father owned the land where we were standing, were there had once been a beautiful garden and animals, a library, and a main house. There is only a very small garden left. He said it was a real shame because it had been a beautiful spot.

I was moved by his beatific smile and perfect posture. He was a man of grace and kindness, and I was glad that I had met him. I told him it was an honor to meet him. Those are the kinds of experiences that I remember for a lifetime. From there I headed towards Piedra Pintada petroglyphs. I figured I wouldn’t get there before dark but wanted to walk as far as I could. On the way I stopped at the hostal casa de Juan, and asked about a shuttle to Boquete. It might be worth the $60 to cut three hours off the trip, which I was told would be at least eight hours in the terrifyingly speedy mini buses ubiquitous here. You may wonder why they take three hours longer if they are so fast. The drivers constantly stop to let people off and on, then race to make up time. They make money for every person they pick up. As a result, they are often so full that people are standing in the isles and even leaning over people on the seats. I’ve even seen people request to deposit their bags with those seated.

The hostel said that their van was broken and that they are repairing it. Seems like everything here is in repair. I walked as quickly as possible to the entrance of the Piedras, as it was getting dark and seemed like I was entering a dicey area. In response to a few cat calls, I walked as quickly as possible. One guy was so drunk he fell over and almost hit his head on a rock. I wasn’t sure whether he was disabled or drunk until I heard him speak. I finally made it to the entrance a nice man explained that it was closed and to return in the morning. I rushed back down the hill

And felt safe when I hit the main road. Many people were out on their bicycles with their kids as it was a Sunday night. It seems that locals primarily socialize on Sundays. I was inspired to try Raspado, which is a candy made from sugarcane that taste like crystallized molasses. I headed to the main market and bought a huge bag of them as well as guayaba paste chews, then made it back to my tent. I was really tired. I

Barbara Castro was very much on my mind that night. I lay awake thinking about the ink paintings she had made me years ago. One was a picture of lightning and said “through the chaos and intensity of the lightning come stability and inner peace”. The other was a picture of a willow tree and indicated that the tree that learns to bend will survive the storm. I reflected on how Barb’s values conformed so closely to mine, and how she was such a powerful mentor to me when I was a young teenager. Her love of plants and the natural world as well as her activism to protect the environment, bring peace to the world, and social justice to those who had none, made a huge impression on me growing up. I may have unconsciously modeled myself after her.

I finally fell asleep around three or four in the morning, only to be awoken at 7AM by hammering on a roof 10 feet from my tent. I kept hoping it was temporary, but gave up trying to sleep after 30 minutes of persistent hammering. I moved my tent yet again under a nearby mango tree, hoping it would provide some shade in the early morning.

March 27. Like in many rural areas, dogs bark all night long. I was walking along a path the day before when I was almost bitten by a dog. He lunged at my leg, but I moved back in time. I should carry some sort of stick to protect myself. I sat in a nice jungly café, while I charge my phone, and wrote my blog. I had a latte and a waffle, which was a treat. It took me by half an hour to make my latte and get a waffle going. After a couple of hours I made my way up the to EVACC, the captive breeding project for golden frogs. I hitched a ride with a truck halfway up as it was a hot walk. There I hope to meet Edgardo, the biologist who arrived to the valley in 2005 and began collecting golden frogs. I lucked out. He driving away in his truck, when I stopped him and told him I was looking for Edgardo. He said that’s me and I asked if I could have five minutes of his time and he left the truck running and jumped out. We had a short conversation and then I asked whether he would mind if I accompanied him downtown since I knew he was busy. He agreed, and we headed to Dona Nella to pick up lunch. I caught him on a day when hehas students from the School for international training, a US based program which sends students abroad for 3 months. He is teaching a 3 day intensive on frogs of the area complete with lectures and field work.

And this is what he told me during that 15 minute conversation. During his studies in Panama City in parasitology, he did a lot of reading about the state of frogs in Panamá. He realized that the golden frog endemic to El Valle was endangered due to a waterborne fungus. He changed his major to zoology and began collecting golden frogs and 6 other species in 2005 in the wild. In 2010 he began a captive breeding at the local zoo in El Valle. In 2019, due to the pandemic, they moved to a small building behind Hotel Campestre where they made terrariums in shipping containers that re-created the natural habitat of the frogs. He met his partner and wife Heidi, in 2007 while working in Hornitos NP. She was a biologist and peace corps volunteer in a remote village nearby. They shared the same values in protecting the local flora and fauna, and came together to work on saving the frog.

He has worked with several organizations in collaboration, since the Panamanian government is very unwilling to support conservation projects. His work with the Smithsonian Institute was difficult due to their imperialist views towards researchers in developing countries. There is a kind of paternalism and bureaucratic motivation that makes working with some agencies very difficult for him. The Golden frog is the most endangered because of its natural history and reproductive behavior of laying their eggs in the water in one place. Since the fungus is water borne, it has been wiping out the population. While I was at the center, the assistant showed me frogs that were hiding in their tanks. I then took a short walk through the forest of square trees and spoke with a nice German couple from near Stuttgart who have been in Panama for five weeks. We compared notes and they said don’t bother with Bocas del Toro. Part of the reason was a huge downpour that continued for a week. They couldn’t really go anywhere.

After visiting the center, I walked back to town, at least a mile, admiring the beautiful gardens and houses on the way. Many of the fanciest homes are owned by wealthy outsiders, mostly Panamanians, who come here rarely. The occupation rate is very low as a result. I wanted to see Chorro Macho, a waterfall in the jungle across from Cerro Gaitál. It’s a particularly beautiful area, and there are more birds than in other parts of the valley. An American owns the waterfall and runs a company called Canopy Tours, which offers very expensive. Zip line tours through the Kanopy and guided tours through the jungle out of Chorro Macho. He also owns an ecolodge. I met a local who works for him. They charge five dollars to walk 600 feet and see the waterfall. I didn’t think it would be worth it and thought I might be able to see the waterfall from the road. Unfortunately, the jungle is too dense and they have security cameras, so I wasn’t willing to risk jumping the fence. I could just see myself in jail because I wanted to see a waterfall.

On the way back, I followed a mother and child on a dirt road into the part of town known as Santa Cruz. It feels a little bit rough around the edges in this neighborhood, and many people stare at me as I walk. I say hello to passerbys, hoping to feel less out of place. On the right side of the road there is a large finca that appears to be a remnant of days gone by. There are some very large trees including one that has recently fallen. It looks like it might’ve been 80 feet tall. I had a hankering for ice cream and went to the only ice cream spot in town. Unfortunately, it was 350 a scoop, and I decided against it on principle. I headed back to my tent. When I hit the fire station, I met Julian, one of the firemen, who was very kind and told me to ask if I needed anything. He said he was free the next day, and could walk around with me. We exchanged a few words, and I was excited to have a companion to walk with me, who knew more of the local flora and fauna, and was interested in nature.

March 28. I work pretty early. Guys had already started hammering the next-door neighbors, roof at 8 AM, and gardeners were doing work in the yard with loud machines, cutting the grass and edging it. It was impossible to sleep with all the ruckus. I looked for Julian in the fire station. They said he was out buying food and then I should wait. I walk to the hospital and use the bathroom. I felt awkward using the facilities since I was not staying there. I asked if I could use the facilities and the Australian running the place said I should pay two dollars a day. I thought that was really steep given that they charge $10 a day for someone to camp there and use all their facilities including refrigeration and cooking, shower, water, internet, and bathrooms, as well as hang out in the backyard as long as they want. I decided I would pay two dollars for the entire five days. All I was doing was peeing twice a day and filling my bottles with tapwater.

I walked back and found Julian. He now seemed hesitant to walk with me which I didn’t understand. It seemed he was afraid that his boss would think poorly of him. We headed to a little used trail up the back side of Cerro Gaital. It was a long walk to the base of the mountain, and while walking there he told me about his life growing up near the beach. He hated the heat and prefers the cooler weather here at 2000 feet above sea level. He’s been a runner for many years and loves physical fitness. He has five brothers and sisters and grew up extremely poor. I think it gave him great empathy for the impoverished, and in 2010 he created a foundation to bring food medicine and other essentials to poor Panamanians living in isolation far from civilization. He sought help from several companies, and brings 10 or so four-wheel-drive trucks full of supplies to such places every month.

As an 18-year-old with no money, he headed to Panama City to try seek training as a fireman. He completed a grueling 4 month training near the Chagres River, where he ate nothing and was only given water to drink. They would sleep for a few hours, then be woken up with a dunk in the cold river. No joke.

One response to “Panama City and El Valle de Anton

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