Monday, July 02, 2018

Update #7 - Taste of Panama

June 30, 2018

hi there folks....trying to get out one more update about my year before my big european summer vacation trip....i decided i needed to get out the last few months of panama, as i traveled a bit with friends visiting and just on weekend trips to fun beaches, the mountains and the canal.....so below you will see some of the adventures i had on my weekends from the past few months....hope you enjoy them.....on with the show....



the first beach stop we hit these past few months was chame....this is located on a point, out in the pacific ocean and is about 90 minutes southwest of panama city.....the day we went was beautiful, and the beach was deserted......as was the water....which was a bit suspicious.....but then we got closer.....


the beach was covered by three types of stinging jellyfish....the biggest ones were the type above (i actually have no idea what they are called)....but they were massive blobs that were about the size of a dinner plate or bigger....these did not have tentacles....so we were not 100% sure if they stung....


the second type looked like man-o-war jellies....and had very long tentacles.....and these definitely stung....they actually left stingers all over the beach and as you walked through the water you could feel them...but again...i am not really sure what they are called....


the last type we encountered were these blue ones....i think these are a type of perseus jelly....not sure if these stung as well....and there were not as many of these types....these were about the size of person's forearm....and very pretty....also quite weird.....i was very sad we did not get to be in the water, but it was a lovely day to walk around and check out the jellyfish....


as i said before, we were in chame....which is a beach location on the pacific side of panama (which is south of the city by the way)....these cool signs have been put up every where in panama...and i am trying to get as many of them as i can....you'll see another one later in the update.....


one of the other locations in panama i visited a few times before the end of the year was el valle....i was there with friends that visited and on two get-away weekends....their market is one of the fun places we always stop....you can find fruits, veggies (like the peppers above), plants and work created by artisans.....and across the street is a bakery with some of the best coconut macaroons i have ever had....i love the colors of the market...


these are some of the crafts and trinkets you can find in the market....always license plates....why??? well, you have have to buy a new one every year....not just the registration sticker....the whole plate, because each year, as you can see is a different color....talk about a way to make money....


one of the malls i go to for the movies had a cool art installation for the start of the rainy season....there had to be around 200 umbrellas in the space....loved all the colors...but the rainy season is a bit crazy in my opinion....lasts for 9 months...and really, it rains...with lightning and thunder, almost every day....i have never seen lightning storms like i have seen in panama....hopefully i will catch some strikes in photos in the coming year...its a goal....


this is the oldest catholic church in the city - located in casco viejo - the oldest section of the city that was built in old european city style....this part of the city was destroyed and then rebuilt after 1671, when it was attacked by pirates....i have not seen the spires of this church (to the left and right of the center building), without construction materials around them....however, i love the central part and newly added artwork/graffiti on the front....the name of this catholic church is iglesia felipe neri and can be found in one of the main squares in casco viejo....a tourist stop for sure....


the bus you see above is a diabolo....it is a converted bus from the time when the US Navy was in panama....these used to be the mode of public transport here....but as you can see from the large tail pipe, huge polluters....they are now not supposed to be used in the city, unless they have been converted...and now in the city they are used as party buses....they are all painted by the owners as well....loud and crazy is a way to describe them....i have not been on one....yet....


panama city is a port city and has quite a large amount of fishermen....this is the giant country flag flying down in the fishermen's port...also where the fish market is and where you can find the freshest ceviche....as you can see, the sun is shining, but the clouds are coming....when this picture was taken it was soooooooo humid.....we were hoping the storm was coming soon....


i love many of the signs in panama....many times it looks like the person crossing is getting ready to salsa....and some of them have bigger butts poking out, like they are already dancing....this one's butt is not poking out....but it is getting ready to dance....


panama had two really big things happen last year and the countdown was on for these two happenings.....the first, is that the pope is coming to panama in january 2019.....the clock you see above is the countdown clock to his visit....261 days with 18 hours, 6 minutes and 23 seconds....they are very excited for this visit and expect approximately 3 million people to come to panama....there are only 4 million people in the country....so this is a HUGE thing....i am really hoping not to be in panama for this visit....as i think it will be way too crowded for me....


the second big happening was that panama qualified for the world cup last september/october....we even had a national holiday because this happened....if you have been following world cup, you know that they did not progress from the group stage, but that they scored their first ever world cup goal...a huge deal for a country that has never qualified before this year....when this picture was taken, there were forty days to go until the start of the world cup....at this point i am cheering for croatia and belgium, as panama is now out!!!!


another beach we made it to recently was playa blanca....we did an all-inclusive adventure....it was a crazy experience and one i do not really need to have again....but they really did take care of their beach front....


they also had an aviary on the grounds and it was cool to see toucans up close and personal....i have seen them in the rain forest, but never this close.....


this is carla and i at one of those signs....for the all inclusive place we stayed at on playa blanca....i do love the colors and that they had a start fish on their placard... 


and the third beach i made it to this spring was farallon....i stayed at a friend's villa at the same resort manuel noreiga used to go to....the resort is a bit tired, but the villas are quite nice and you get access to the beach and pool and beach club, so this is the view at the beach....a beauty of a day :)


i also stopped at a beach place on the way out for lunch.....they had this great artwork of jellies....maybe i should have asked them what the jellies on chame were....maybe next time.....


there was one more quick weekend trip to el valle in the mountains and the place we stayed had an artist from austin living there....she has a dog, which you can see above, that has the same colored hair as her owner.....wild folks in wild places....this pup reminded me a lot of dogs in china.....


one of the things you can do while staying in el valle is hike up the sleeping maiden....can you see her??? she is lying down in this shot....the peak all the way to the right is the tip of her nose...then moving left you can see her lip...and then her chin....now can you see her?????


the end of the school year of course was very busy...as it is for all school teachers....but we also took the time to celebrate and say goodbye to colleagues who are moving away and retiring...in this picture you can see some of my middle school colleagues....



well....so i realized i do not have a good picture of me having a beer...and wish i had one with this particular beer can....so you will have to enjoy the beer by itself and me by myself....as you can see this is a national beer brand in panama...balboa...and it is a world cup can.....the celebration for panama making it to its very first world cup....so exciting.....


this last shot is of me with some wings created at our school during arts fest....at this moment in time i was drowning in work and tying to get everything done....but as all teachers do, i survived and got it done....and am soooooooo happy to be on vacation.....

i hope everyone enjoyed this glimpse into my every day world and panamanian world....it is a lovely place to visit...the beaches, the rain forest, the canal, the mountains....so think about coming on down and let me know your thoughts....i hope every one has a lovely summer/winter, depending on your hemisphere....i am off to europe for a bit and then will be back in panama...if you have any questions, feel free to send them my way...although i may take some time in returning an answer.....

have a fab day :)
dani

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Panama Update #6 - Colombia and finishing year 1 in Panama

June 15-18, 2018 (plus maybe a day or two more....depends on when this gets finished and sent)

well.....my first year in panama, teaching at ISP, is coming to a close....TODAY!!!! it has been a long and crazy year and the past two months have been super overwhelming....from a death of a colleague to a school board gone crazy....not the easiest place to finish.....i am coming back for at least one more year and if i can possibly make it work, two more years.....but that is no guarantee, as really, the past two months have been filled with a lot of chaos.....however, my time here in panama has been positive and i have seen some amazing parts of this country and countries in central and south america....i have met cool folks along the way, had fun adventures and experiences and look forward to some time away this summer.....i will be in both the states and europe during this vacation and i look forward to time away to clear my head and get ready for next year....but i still have not shared with all of you the adventures i had in colombia at the end of march and the fun things i have been up to in panama......so let's move backward a bit and on with the story......sorry it has taken so long to get this update out....

sorry this never made it out at the end of last week, but it was the last day and then i was on a plane to the states....and now i am hanging at my parents place until june 30th....so now, let's hope i get this out in the next day or so.....on to colombia....i visited bogota, medellin and guatape (a cute little town outside of medellin)....and yes, medellin is where pablo escobar is from and what the series Narcos is based on...but when you mention his name (and really you shouldn't), there are many that are really not happy that this particular series is making it in the states....so if you go to medellin, realize that if you support tours for Narcos, the wrong people are benefiting from this.....and for those of you nervous to go to this country...don't be...it was safe and secure and i had a blast...i am hoping to make it to cartagena sometime next school year, as i loved colombia that much and really want to see that city....anyway...here are some shots for you to see why i loved my time there....



one of the first thing i noticed about my time in bogota, was that it was raining quite a bit, and that there were tons of green spaces throughout this huge city....one of the cool things i found in the park was this little library...it was not open, but during weekdays and weekend days it would be open and kids could come and take out books....love it!!!


bogota is one of the most amazing cities for graffiti....it has become the place where artists from all over the world go and it is one of the ways colombia has dealt with slums...they have been beautified by local artists....one of the most famous locations for graffiti is medellin...however, i was not able to make it to the area with all of the graffiti there...but i did make it to a graffiti tour in bogota...and it was incredible..... 


all of these pictures were taken in the la candelaria area of the city....where graffiti is literally on every street....it is a way artists have documented colombia's past and present....the piece you see above was designed by famous graffiti artist Rodez... his work always contains multiple eyes and bold colors....he painted a ton of murals around one park...and his children, who are also graffiti artists help him with the art he creates.....the park they did was important because it was where a young graffiti artist had been shot in the back by a police officer, as he ran away when we was caught doing graffiti....this began a horrible time period between the police and the artists....now graffiti is not legal, but it is not illegal in places of bogota.....confusing, but at least no one gets killed over graffiti these days...however, there is a ton of construction happening in the la candelaria section of town...and as the city tears down the buildings the art is being lost....as they refurbish and renovate, artists come back and paint again...but no one who is sure who will win...the city or the artists.....the works of art may be lost over the next 5-10 years we were told on our tour.....



This one above was my favorite....there is one street artist who does murals of the indigenous folks from colombia...and he has taken the name gauche....which is a slang term for indigenous that is not very nice....his work is stunning....i have to be honest though, i am not sure this one was done by him, but it has much of his style.....so if i am crediting him for something he did not do, i apologize to the artist who did this piece that i love.....


in this picture above, this piece was commissioned by the owners of the restaurant it is painted on....this is the way that some of the art gets to stay, as long as the restaurant or owner of the building is still around, the art stays.....this piece was all cartoon cats....but the black cat in the middle is special...can you see the lamp post running down the cat's face near the right ear???? it was painted to be in the perfect position, but you have to be at the perfect angle (like this picture almost is) to get it to look like the post is part of the original painting.....still can't see it???? find the light grey post above the cat's head to the right of the nose, and follow it down....can you see how the right eye of the cat is just a little off???? love this play on your perspective.....


colombia is also home to botero...an artist who is still alive....his home town is medellin, so there is more of his work there, but we went to the botero museum for the day....as you can see, i am hanging with some friends...the schnack family...from panama who were also in bogota.....it is a common place for folks from panama to go to, as it is relatively close by and cheaper than panama.....botero is still alive and more of his work is below....i just like that we all fit into the hand....


medellin is a town that has been through many changes.....back in the 90's it was considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world...and now it is a place tourists flock to because the city has been "cleaned" up....does it still have problems, of course....but the people and government of medellin have worked hard to make it the city what it is today....in the middle of town there is a sculpture that is based on dante's inferno....pretty scary up close....but it is to remind the city what it has been through and how it has fared through all of its history.....


medellin is also the home town of botero....this is in his plaza, where there are 23 sculptures done by him....this is caballo (horse) and i....love the work....


one of my main reasons for going to colombia was to see my friend and previous colleague genevieve....we travelled from bogota to medellin, where we had a blast exploring the city and gautape, a small town about 2 hours outside of medellin.....the building behind us is rather bizarre...it is called the rafael uribe uribe palace of culture...i really liked this side of it, but the opposite side was built very differently because they ran out of money before they finished the building.....


in 1995 there was a bomb that went off in a place where more than 1000 people had gathered for a concert....the bomb was placed in the botero sculpture called the dove, on the left...it killed 30 people and injured 200 people.....it was never really determined which group did this, but it happened just after pablo escobar's righthand man had been arrested.....when the city discussed the taking down of botero's sculpture with the artist, he requested they not remove it...and he built a replica of the dove, which he placed next to the original, to show that the spirit of medellin could not be stopped....


outside of medellin by about two hours, there is a cute town called guatape....it is considered the most colorful town in colombia.....the artwork you see on the steps are called zocalos....and they are on most people's houses and commercial buildings....they represent the things that are important to the owners of the houses and buildings....no one really knows why the zocalos were started...but i did hear something about chickens.....still don't understand the connection though....


even the municipal building is decorated by zocalos....they are the cubes along the bottom of the building...very colorful if i do say so myself....


as we were wandering through the town we came across this old dump truck....the front of it was super colorful, just like the town it was parked in....in guatape they also had tuk-tuks....hadn't seen them many places outside of asia, so that was cool.....


we also came across an old ferris wheel for kids....it was abandoned, and falling apart...but cool looking....


this was the view from our airbnb in medellin....i really had no idea how big this town was or how tall the mountains were that surrounded it....i would go back....especially to do the graffiti tour in medellin...as it is one way they helped clean up this city from being one of the most dangerous places to be, to being a tourist destination.....so glad i got to be a tourist there....


and of course i couldn't forget a toast to you all with a colombian beer, club colombia.....the place i am in was amazing!!!! a true working person's bar....with a live band and as you can see behind me, dancing of all of the local folks....my friend genevieve and i loved this place.....it was called salon malaga and really had a colombian feel to it....

as you can see my time in colombia was awesome....and i didn't even post all of the coffee i drank, hills i walked (its a very hilly place), and tasty colombian food i had while there...you will just have to go check it out yourself.....and of course, there were some fun things i did in panama over the past few months....so i figured i would end with a few shots from there.....


back to panama we go....one of the funniest things about panama is how they put up cardboard/metal cut-outs of police holding a radar gun to cause people to slow down along the sides of the highways....you can see one of them above....


this is it from the back....hahahahahahaha....it is always the same woman and she is rather short...but every time i see one of these i laugh out loud....slow down panama drivers.....


another visitor this past year was my friend julia who i met while working in china....she and her beau came through for a week or so and we took a trip down the coast on the pacific side....on the way to the beach we were heading to we stopped and looked at the chinese gate that is just over the bridge of americas....we got to connect with a chinese lion and each other on this trip and had a blast.....


we also stopped in el valle....a town built in the caldera of an extinct volcano...in a previous post i wrote about el valle...this was very quick visit, but we got to spend the afternoon down in that valley...and it was great!!!


and on the way back to the city we got to experience one of the craziest things that happens when there is traffic on the highway that leads down the pacific coast to and from panama city...when the police change the direction of one or two of the lanes on the opposite side of the median...as you can see we are in the lane closest to the median going forward...yet just on the other side of the median you can see the brake lights of the gray car going in the same direction, but the taxi coming the other way is not going in the same direction....every time i experience this, i get freaked out....i have not driven on the other side, and i am not sure i will,,,,crazy panamanian driving.....


the last shot is my excitement at finding a japanese place in panama city that serves asahi beer and takoyaki....yummy!!! i am also going to europe this summer and will be connecting with the folks that introduced me to this amazing meal...and i am very excited to reconnect with them....woot!!!

so there you have it...my spring break trip to colombia and a small bit of panama at the end...more to come on panama before the end of the summer i hope....as i would love to have something else written about my time from april - mid-june...as i had quite a few adventures....so fingers crossed it happens....hope all of you have a great start to summer/winter (based on where you live)...if you have any questions, feel free to send them my way...and here's to the next installment coming a bit sooner....
hope all is well & have a fab day :)
dani

Monday, April 09, 2018

Panama Update #5 - Roatan, Honduras

April 8, 2018

hey there folks....time for another update....from some place else in Central America....although I have to say, this time it did not feel like central america.....i went for a week to roatan, honduras, to re-certify my scuba diving....what a lovely place to visit....plus, we spent an afternoon in el salvador waiting for a flight (we did get out of the airport and visit parts of the city and a volcano....so i think that counts for a country visit)..however, before that, in january, my wonderful friend david ing came by to say hi and visit panama....he was my second guest...and right after coming back my amazing friends katy and owen came for five days....and then two weeks after that, my lovely friends julia and jamal came by and then i went to bogota and medellin, colombia with my terrific genevieve.....so it has been a  bit of a busy two months since i last checked in.....and....

THE PHILADELPHIA EAGLES WON THE SUPER BOWL!!!!!! YAHOOOOOOO....followed by the villanova wildcats winning the NCAA championship in basketball....and now the flyers and sixers seem to both be doing well too....i seriously think this is a sign from philadelphia teams telling me they will win championships, but only if i am not living there ;) so i am taking this as an omen to not live there again for a good long while....i am sure the sports fans of my friends and family are happy i am making this choice......go philly sports teams.....

anyway....below are some pictures from some people's visits and from my trip to roatan, honduras and a quick stop in el salvador....what a lovely island roatan is....but it was a bit strange....my friend carla and i traveled together and our friend tracy was there to dive as well....plus, another colleague was there with her family....so there were quite a few of us on the flight together.......it is a haven for retirees in honduras....and i learned why....it is a lot warmer than canada and the states, the diving is rather cheap, as is the accommodation and there are direct flights....at one point we were at a bar, and we were the only folks without grey or white hair and EVERYONE was speaking english....it was wild.....it was quite surprising was that everyone spoke english....even though spanish is the language of honduras....just not in roatan....however, spanish seems to be making a comeback....but it was weird to land at the airport, speak english with everyone and pay for things with dollars.....just wild....so the first few pictures are of here in panama with david....and then roatan, honduras, followed by a few of el salvador and a few shots of katy and owen and i....



while david was here, we of course needed to go see the canal....and i finally got the chance to go to the new locks, and not the old ones....the ones for the super tankers....plus, we took a ferry across lake gatun first...you can see one of the super tankers, literally right in front of the ferry....of course, when david and a i hear the word ferry, we always think of the seattle ferries....this is not comparable, but it was cool to be on there with a diabolo - the bus you see to the right in the picture....but literally, the super tanker in front of us....it felt like you could reach out and touch it....crazy....



this is a view from the viewing tower and museum for the new locks....we literally made it for the last 30 minutes the museum was open....but we saw a super tanker going through and saw a sloth in a tree in the parking lot....so all around it was a complete score!!!! as you can see above, these locks are very different from the old ones that i posted in one of my first posts....these locks are enormous and the ships that go through them are enormous....and remember, when you go through the locks, you pay by weight....this ship was huge and must have had a pretty big bill....each of the blocks on the deck of the ship is a millvan....so now you can see just how huge it truly is....amazing engineering....



yes....this is david and i here in panama city....we realized it had been about 5 years since we had seen each other....and how cool is it that he came to visit me here....we spent some time visiting the canal (a few different ways), he went to bocas del toro for the week....and we had some amazing dinners out...this was from our night out in casco veijo...it is always awesome to catch up with friends who i do not see often, yet pick right back up where we left off.....so glad he made it to panama.....



after david's visit, i headed to roatan, honduras with my friend carla....we were mainly going there to re-certify scuba, so i do not have a ton of pictures....i will tell you that the diving was excellent and it was a wonderful place to dive....roatan has an incredible 80 dive sites around the island...and i saw some amazing things...from nurse sharks, to lamprey eels, to two types of turtles, to my favorite, eagle rays....it was an incredible adventure...and i even got to do a dive in a place called the spooky channel...simply awesome....i do not have an underwater camera, so no pictures from the dives, but they were spectacular and filled with life and living, healthy coral.....it was awesome....

we also stayed in a pretty sweet place....the shot above is the view we woke up to every morning....no beach, as those are lava rocks and would rip your feet to shreds....but the place next door let you snorkel right from their deck....it was incredible....and really, how can you go wrong staying in a place called cocolobo.....


of course we had amazing views of the sunsets during happy hours at a different bar each night...this was the view from our first night,,,,the boat you see in the picture is actually the dive shop's boat i dove with....sun divers....it was terrific and i was sooooo happy to be underwater again.....not going to let a lot of time pass before my next dive trip.....let's see where i go :)



we did not dive on our first full day on the island and instead went for a walk to the beach next to ours....on the way we passed this sign...seemed appropriate for the moment.....



stopped and had lunch from the upper deck of a place on the water and took this shot of west end "town", where we were staying....although we were not in the center of town....which was perfect



on the walk over to west bay, we had to cross over this pedestrian bridge.....it was wild, as there was a little half canal it crossed over, but you could not walk on the grounds to get around the canal, as it was a resort....so they built this bridge for people to be able to cross the canal....wild....



 after a long day of hanging at the beach and swimming, we came home to our place on the water and watched a beauty of a sunset....it was the perfect ending to the day....



while we were in roatan, it rained every day....so one morning, as it was raining and then clearing up, i was privy to a rainbow from our deck....good sign for the diving filled day ahead.....


and after the day of diving we came back for another amazing sunset while sitting by the pool of the hotel....lovely shot....



on the last of our nights in town, carla, tracy and i went to the favorite restaurant of the locals....and it was amazing....they even had a mule in a copper cup....perfect end to a perfect stay in roatan....



roatan was pretty cool in that it had quite a few recycled art shops and one of them specialized in metal works...the place we stayed even had one of their signs....thanks for a great stay cocolobo....



on the way back to panama, we had a lay over of seven hours in el salvador....so we contacted a tour company and asked if it would be possible to leave the airport and do a quick trip around san salvador, the capital of el salvador....as we were in the center of town, at the national palace in the historical center, this bus pulled up...and what they were doing was registering people to vote for the 2018 elections....lots of people lined up when they opened their main doors....it was cool to watch....



this is a shot of the main historical square and the main cathedral of san salvador....the inside was lovely and a huge part of it was dedicated to a priest that had been killed - oscar romero.....he was made a saint by pope john paul the second...as he was a voice for those who had no voice and had been killed by a bullet shot through his heart when he was saying mass on the altar...pretty gruesome, but fitting that the church holds memorial to him....it was also a murder that happened while the USA was involved in war in el salvador....supposedly the US was going to find his killer, but in the end they never did (and it has been said it was because they financed the killer)....interesting story....



from the center of town we headed out to the san salvador extinct volcano...on our way up the volcano we past quite a few trucks carrying this many people...it was insane and very steep....and if you look closely you will see in the middle of the back, holding on is a little kid coming up....he is to the right of the guy wearing shorts....talk about holding on for dear life....amazing....but it was a really steep climb, so any way you can get to the top, you will make work....



this is carla, tracy and i with our guide at what is left of the summit of the volcano....we were actually almost 2000m/6500ft (approximately) above sea level....you could see all the way down to the caldera, but it was not smoking...as this volcano is extinct....for the moment....



on our way out there was a very nice museum, where they let you try on clothes and hats of the local folks....i think this is the first time i have worn a skirt since my brother's wedding....so that is saying something :) i love that my antarctic tye-dye t-shirt matched my skirt :) well planned i say.....



this was a view of the city from the volcano....as you can see...more mountains in the background....san salvador seemed to be surrounded by them....a quick trip to a cool city steeped in culture....


then katy and owen came to visit once i was back in panama and we took a trip to the beautiful area of el valle...it is a town that is in the center of an extinct volcano....see a trend :)  el valle is known for hiking and being cooler in temperature than in panama city, plus it is home to some tasty pizza, rum, macaroons and cool people....here katy and i have gone for a walk to find the square trees...using our hands we are showing you one of them...there were only two....so the walk was great, but the trees were underwhelming....


one of the cool folks we met in el valle was daniel....he is an italian living in el valle....owns a restaurant....it was hilarious watching katy, owen (who is fluent in spanish) and i try and figure out daniel's spanish with his extremely heavy italian accent....but man, the pizza was incredible....



el valle is also home to a butterfly haven...it is actually run by a guy from pittsburgh...i was actually quite impressed with the huge variety of butterflies and how much information the butterfly garden taught people....it was incredible....and of course we spotted the amazingly beautiful blue morph....they had quite a few....including the large one above ;)


the last night katy and owen were in town, we headed into casco veijo for some dinner and rooftop drinks....i love the art at this rooftop bar called tantalo....it was wonderful to have them come by and visit me here....we have now met up on three different continents....only four more to go :)


and of course there had to be one last shot from roatan....specifically from the bar everyone knows...sundowners....this was a tasty coconut, lime and rum drink....it was as big as my head....and the woman who served it to me was from canada....roatan was just a crazy island, with amazing diving and sunsets....so glad i made it there.....

so there you have it....my update through february....it has been a fun couple of months and in my next update i will include some other trips i have taken here in panama....another set of friends who came to visit and possibly pictures from my trip to bogota and medellin, colombia....what cool places they were....i hope you enjoyed the pictures and as always, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me....hope those of you in the northern hemisphere have a great start to spring and those of you in the southern hemisphere have a great start to fall.....happy april!!!!

have a fab day :)
dani