A Travellerspoint blog

Mexico City & Taxco

Week 2

sunny 27 °C

I´ve been lazy with my blog & left it a week and a half now... so be warned for a long update:

Being sensible last week paid off.
My throat felt much better on Tuesday, so after a taco + tomato omlette breakfast, Nick and I decided to meet up. Elisa´s sister Milena and cousin Cecilia came with me to show me how the metrobuses work & where his hostel was and we arrived there around 2pm. Nick and I then set off for Chapultepec park where we walked around lots... and ate even more! 3 ice-creams (greeeedy!), cheesy tacos, fruit salad -with cactus fruit :-) ...pffff, hard work! hehe... Then around 6pm, we had some hot chocolate whilst waiting for Elisa and Arthur in Park Mexico (as it was raining). We then went to play some pool at Bar Malafama and got home around midnight.

The next day, Nick and I decided to check out the Frida Kahlo museum & we arranged to meet at 11:30. Elisa´s mum offered to drop me off in town earlier (as she was heading that way anyway), so I went to the ´Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil´ (a nice little modern art museum) whilst I was waiting.
I then headed to the meterobus stop and waited for Nick for 45 minutes and, after texting & trying to call him with no reply, I decided to go to the ´Museo Estudio Diego Rivera´ without him. I didn´t find it great- basically, it was just his studio and some odd bits of art- and Frida´s section was closed to the public (!), but once I had seen it, I finally received a text from Nick (he had arrived late & his phone was having problems) so we met up outside the studio & set off to find ´Plaza San Jacinto´- supposedly a fairly easy-to-find park/square nearby. It took us about 1.5 hours to find it!
At the plaza, we had some lunch. I had a ´gringa´ tortilla- with taco ´al pastor´ (spit-grilled meat- a bit like Shawarma/döner), cheese (Mexicans love their cheese!) and salsa. Yummmyyy! And for dessert, we had ´Pie Helado´ (= ice-cream pie!).
On our way to Frida Kahlo´s museum, we walked passed an ice-cream place where they dip different flavoured ice-cream popsickles in chocolate sauce with any additional coatings. Nick and I couldn´t resist the temptation (the Pie Helado was forgotten) and we both had a raisin-flavoured one, coated in chocolate sauce and nuts. It was...sweet. So sweet in fact, it made me feel a little ill! :-( No more ice-cream for me (*uhum* that day... )
From there, we got a taxi to the Frida Kahlo museum (this was where she also used to live) & I really liked it- the outside is painted completely blue with orange around the window frames- very pretty :-) And there were lots of paintings by her & Diego inside, along with a little gift shop and a garden. We then walked to the Trotsky house, but arrived just as it closed, so we headed back to the meterobus- walking through ´Viveros de Coyoacan´ park on the way, which was really nice & has lots of squirrels (this got Nick excited).
I then got the bus to Elisa´s house & when she got back from work, we watched ´Happy Feet´. Yay!

The next day, Cecilia offered to show me around Zócalo- the historic centre of México City. Elisa´s mum dropped us off at one of the metro stations (Viveros) and we continued on to Bellas Artes*

  • Metro´s are pretty funky here- at every stop, someone comes in, loudly promoting something random s/he is selling -and I mean RANDOM- from CD´s to flowers, batteries, light bulbs and even origami paper!!!. Then, at the next stop, they get into the next carriage and do the same there.

Once we arrived at Bellas Artes, we went straight to the ´Museo Franz Mayer´, which was apparently displaying a World Press Photo 2009 exhibition. Once we got in, we were told that the exhibition wouldn´t be ready to be viewed till 8pm (!), so we had a look at the other stuff instead. There was a really interesting exhibition made by blind artists for sighted people, to show how they perceive the world (Becky- I thought of you here...). It was in a dark room and, after sterilizing our hands, we had to feel each piece of art. -Interesting & difficult to do- really makes you realise how heavily we (sighted people) rely on being able to see. After the museum, we checked out a Church (Santa Veracruz) which is visibly sinking.

  • Nerdy note: México City is sinking by about 10cm per year due to the depletion of the water level below the city.

We then carried on to Alameda Central, where we had a quick peek at the ´Palacio de Bellas Artes´ (classical opera house/concert hall) and the 44-storey ´Torre Latinoamericana´- the highest building in México City at the time it was built. We then headed to ´Casa de los Azulejos´ (House of Tiles), which was really beautiful- both inside & out. From there, we walked to the ´Museo Nacional de Arte´, where Cece´s friend joined us, but the museum didn´t seem to have anything interesting on display, so we moved on to plaza de la Constitución (a.k.a. Zócalo).
Unfortunately, the square itself was taken up by a huge tent, displaying some sort of exhibition, so we didn´t get to see the square in its ´usual´ state (i.e. good views of the buildings from all directions) but nevertheless, the building´s (especially the Catedral Metropolitana) were very impressive. We took a 30-minute guided tour to the roof of the Cathedral (where I re-discovered my fear of heights!) and got a great view of Zócalo. The guide explained how they´re trying to save & monitor the building from sinking further (the Cathedral is apparently the largest & oldest in Latin America...it looked heavy to me :-) and it surprised me how obvious it was that the building is indeed sinking- its all lopsided! Was hard to keep balance walking around it...

We then had a quick look at Templo Mayor & went into the Palacio Nacional to check out Diego Riviera´s murals and garden. By the time we were done, it was almost 5pm, so we headed back to ´Casa de los Azulejos´ for dinner. I had ´Caldo Tlalpeño´- my new favourite Mexican dish -a chicken broth made with avocado, rice, garbanzo beans, cheese-blocks (once again, obviously...), rice and chipotle chili (which I would have eaten whole -ignorant me- if Cece hadn´t stopped me!) ...And, as if that didn´t contain enough carbs, I had bread and dorito´s with it...deeeeelcious! I really recommend it :-) We then walked to an amazing little ice-cream parlour, had some yummy ice-cream & made our way home: bellies satisfied :-)

The next day (Friday), Nick and I had another little ´cultural day´ in Park Chapultepec.
When I arrived, he´d bought me a huge flourescent pink candy floss and strawberry drink, so, being full of sugar, we walked up the hill to check out the Historical museum in the Castle. Half way up the hill, thinking it was the historical museum, we checked out the INAH museum- a snail-shaped building explaining the history of Mexico in statues (in Spanish)... my Spanish is definitely not that advanced yet, so basically, I didn´t learn very much. But the statues were interesting....and the building had a nice ceiling, hehe...
We then carried on to the Castle and got some good views of Mexico City. The Castle itself was also impressive, full of paintings, old furniture and archaelogical artifacts. From there, we walked to the other side of the park to get to ´Museo Nacional de Antropologia´. We got there at 4:45 and the museum would close at 6pm, so we whizzed through it & managed to at least see all the rooms. It is HUGE and incredibly impressive. Soooo much to see! My guide book says you should take out 2 days to view the whole collection (!) and we did it 1 and a half hours...so we really didn´t do it justice. Next time, I will reserve at least a day for it :-)
After that, we got a taxi to the Arena Mexico area, had some dinner at a taco stand (nopales, cheese, beans etc)...yummy! And some coffee at a nearby restaurant, and we then headed to the Arena to go see the Lucha Libre wrestling! It was WICKED!!!! :-) Absolutely loved it- the crowd goes crazy and its all pretty fake and dramatic, but really fun. Elisa and Arthur joined us there later and I bought myself a ´Mystico´ headband to support the wrestling hero (though he actually lost that night, hehe..). We then drove to a bar which does different flavoured ´Mezcal´ (= similar to Tequila) shots and I had a caramel-flavoured one. Yummy... just like Baileys actually.

Early the next day, Elisa, Gina (a friend who was on Elisa´s marketing course), Milena, Cece and I headed off to Taxco. We stopped at ´Tres Marias´ for breakfast and arrived in Taxco around 12:30. Elisa managed to park the car (with great difficulty as the streets are incredibly narrow & busy) and we walked around the main square to see the ´Santa Prisca´ Church. We then had lunch on a rooftop terrace overlooking the Church and we then started an epic shopping session, as Taxco is famous for its silver. The jewellery there was gorgeous- so much choice! And the town is really beautiful, with steep cobbled streets and lots of colourful buildings. Around 7pm, we had dinner at another restaurant overlooking the Church and then headed to Elisa´s aunt´s house- about 1.5 hours away. Once we got there, I was shattered! Too much shopping (hard day) so headed to bed early.
The next day was spent lazing about Elisa´s aunt´s house: drinking beer, eating, swimming in their pool and sunbathing. The weather was amazing and by the end of the day, we all had lovely, bright red skin... *ouch* -may be we took the sunbathing a bit too seriously! We got back to Mexico City around 9pm.

Then, on Monday (i know, i know...this blog is getting too long), I met up with Nick again and we spent the day walking around the Plaza de la Revolution area- rather aimlessly & just enjoying the weather, checking out lots of market stalls (I bought 2 more pairs of earrings...as if I didn´t have enough!) and eating lots of yummy goodness. This made me decide that I am now getting rather plump & that going to the gym might do me some good, so the next day, I got up early and used the gym in Elisa´s house. I then headed into town to meet Elisa as she was going to view the apartment her parents have just bought (Elisa will be moving there once the contract is signed)- and the apartment is gorgeous! Was all envious and am secretly hoping she´ll get the keys before I leave Mexico so that I don´t miss the housewarming party :-)
After the viewing, I made my way to Bellas Artes as I wanted to check out the World Press Photo exhibition (attempt numero dos)... but getting there, I annoyingly found it closed. Arrgghhhhhhhh!!!!! :-( So, instead, I wondered around the area for a bit and arranged to meet Elisa and Arthur at 7pm at the main University stop. I texted Nick & we both met up at the station at 7pm, where Elisa came to pick us up and took us to a gorgeous little plaza in a town that´s been swallowed by the city, i.e. its now part of Mexico City. There we had dinner whilst listening to some live-love songs (gorgeous singer, hehe...) and then had some profiteroles at the Italian nearby (I know, not very Mexican... but they were goooood!).

Then, today, I spent the morning doing my laundry (as Elisa and I are leaving for Merida (Southern Mexico) tomorrow). I then met up with Nick and we went to the Museo de Leon Trotsky again, which was really worth going to (last time we tried, the museum was closed). Feeling lucky, we then decided to give the World Press Photo 2009 exhibition one more try and this time, it was open!!!! Yay! Finally got to see the exhibition, and it really was worth it. Glad we went :-) We then had some lunch at Casa de los Azulejos, where Elisa called me to come home as Mexico was playing America (football) and she was worried something would happen to us. Apparently Mexicans can get quite rowdy, so, once again being sensible, I decided it would be best not to take it too lightly and listen to Elisa and head back early. So now, I´m back at Elisa´s place, typing this blog whilst I really should be looking up hostels for tomorrow.

Our flight leaves at 7am, so I think we have to wake up around 3am...early early... but I am really looking foreword to it :-)
We shall be seeing flamingoes, caves, pyramids and sinkholes (hopefully)... can´t wait!

So that´s the update.
Mexico has really been fun so far, though it seems that here- like in Cuba and Panama- the time just flies by...3 more weeks and I´ll be back in Holland! I can´t quite grasp it... so I´m choosing not to think about it & just enjoy my time here whilst its all still happening instead :-)

Ok... must go pack now...
Hope you are all having a good week (so far) and that you have an even better weekend!
¡Hasta Luego!
-x-

Posted by -inge- 12.08.2009 20:44 Archived in Mexico Tagged food Comments (1)

A quick hello from México City!

México, D.F.

overcast 25 °C
View Panama, Mex City & Central America on -inge-'s travel map.

Okay. So I knew Mexico City is big: really big... reaaallllly reeeeaaallllyy big... but even so, its sheer size blew me away when flying over it. It...is...MASSIVE!!!
Other than seeing a volcano (with a clearly visible crater), all I could see for about half an hour (it took a bit long to land), were millions & millions of buildings everywhere, disappearing over the horizon. Craziness!

So, yes- I have arrived in Mexico City safe & sound.
After a long day of queuing, wondering if I would actually get on the flight (I was put on a stand-by list of 'randomly selected passengers' in Tocumen Airport as the flight was overbooked) and getting my bag searched, I landed in Mexico City one hour late.
Elisa, her sister & cousin came to pick me up from the airport (luxury!) and we drove straight to a taco place :-)
I had some 'Michelada' (beer with salted rim) and my first real Mexican taco- with chicken & 'nopales' (cactus leaf), which has a similar taste and texture to okra (yummy!).
We then drove to Elisa's place, met her family (they're incredibly friendly & gave me flowers to welcome me!) and we all had a little discussion on Cuba/Mexico and the sites I wanted to see. (I am now no longer in denial about my true Spanish level. I suck.) We then went out to a square in town with loads of little jewellery, clothes and food-stalls. We sat at a quesadilla stand and I had one with cheese & 'huitlacoche' (a.k.a. Mexican corn truffle- made from the fungus on corn). Sounds gross, tastes great! ..oh, and a 'Boing' mango juice. Loved the name :-) hehe...
We then walked around a bit more, had a beer at one of the Cafe's on the square (nice & lively) and drove back home.

Today I woke up with swollen tonsils and my cough is back. Great. Luckily my plan for today was just to be online/read up on Mexico & start planning my time here, so at least its not stopping me from doing anything yet. And I'm being spoilt rotten (I keep getting new cups of tea, honey and lemon and Elisa's mother is really looking after me) so I am sure I'll be better soon.

Nick (a guy I met on my course in Cuba) is flying in today & we'll probably meet up tomorrow so we can start planning what we want to do (as he'll be accompanying me during the weeks when Elisa has to work). The 2 main ideas right now are doing the 7-day Copper Canyon train journey (a.k.a. Barranca del Cobre) or heading to the south/southeast to Chiapas, Tabasco and Tepoztlan. I am leaning towards the latter option as the former involves going to some towns in the north which don't have the best safety record, though the trip really does sound amazing (its similar to the Grand Canyon apparently).
Before doing these trips however, we´ll be doing loads of exploring around Mexico City (my list of ´must-see´places is getting rather long...).

I can't wait to start exploring...tomorrow.

Posted by -inge- 03.08.2009 13:41 Archived in Mexico Tagged seniors Comments (1)

Costa Rica, Bocas del Toro & Boquete

Week 3/4

rain -28 °C
View CR, Bocas & Boquete on -inge-'s travel map.

My blog stories seem to be getting longer and longer, so I´ve decided to make this a fairly short one (purely to save you time... not because I´m being too lazy or anything...)

So, I´m back in Pedasi now and will be leaving for Panama City tomorrow.
Time is just flying by far too quickly & I can´t quite comprehend that I´ll be back in Holland in about a month... *gulp* ...and the fact that the last 1.5 week has been amazing doesn´t make the thought of leaving any easier.

When we left for Costa Rica, Maudy and I were extremely lucky as all the buses seemed to be leaving the moment we arrived. Julio dropped us off in Santiago at 8am and whilst waiting for the bus to David (waiting time: 3 hours), a man who was driving to David anyway, offered 4 people a ride in his car. Along with 2 other women, we decided to go for it (despite his dodgy `my little black girls` number-plate) and we arrived in David 2 hours later, well before the bus would have even left Santiago. From there, we got onto the Changuinola bus (which left straight away) and 4 hours later, we arrived in Almirante, where we got a different bus to the Panama - Costa Rica border. To cross the border, you literally just walk from one side of a bridge to the other, get your stamps and its done. Simple, but it got me very excited (especially as I now have an extra stamp in my passport, yay!)

In Costa Rica, we had to wait 1.5 hours for the bus to Puerto Viejo and when we arrived, it was dark. Rocking J´s (the campsite where we stayed) was easy to find as one of the guys on the bus was a night-watchman there, so he lead the way. The campsite was really cool- mosaic, graffiti & art everywhere, a choice of staying in a hammock/tent or in private rooms and the beach was literally at the other end of the garden. Very hippyish. We opted to stay in a tent and luckily all the tents were set up under a roof, as it rained the whole time while we were there!

We spent the next day walking around, window shopping and checking out all the little jewellery & gift stalls in Puerto Viejo. We were both surprised with how expensive and touristic it all was- no locals to be found, which was a shame. I imagine that in 10 - 20 years time, Pedasi will become like this (though I hope not...). After some reading and an attempted swim (a failed attempt, as the waves were wild & really high and the sea bed was made of rocks), we had some beers, dinner and once again, an early night as we decided to head back to Panama the next day.

That night, it stormed & rained...a lot!
We thought we´d have to stay an extra night, but around 8:30, there was a dry patch and we quickly set off for the bus back to the border. Once again, we were in luck and the bus left straight away. We crossed the border at 10am and on the Panamanian side, Maudy managed to make a deal with a shuttle-driver to have us dropped off at the Bocas water-taxi for $5.50 (by bus, it would have been at least $15 and about 2 hours longer!). 1 hour later, we arrived at the water-taxi stop (not the best first impression as the water was brown, full of sewage and polluted...nice) but, arriving on Bocas island 20 minutes later, it was a whole different story: gorgeous, clear blue water and fish everywhere. We found a hostel pretty much straight away (with TV, fan and private bathroom :-) and spent the evening in, as Maudy had a migraine.

The next day, we did some exploring (EXPEDITION FOOD).
First stop- the Surf Smoothie bar.
Next stop, American-style pancakes.
We then had a little food break, checked out a wicked little jewellery stop, and then resumed our food quest at Lili´s Cafe on the sea-front. Being a Sunday, it closed at 1pm, so we went to the next sea-front resaturant and had lunch (BLT and a melon milkshake... life really is so hard sometimes!). After a little TV and shower break in the hostel, we set back out again and had a Margarita at one of the restaurants, where we met a really funny guitar player who played us loads of Bob Marley songs and some random, made-up song about his love for bananas. We then had one more cocktail and called it a night.

The next day, we went on a boat excursion which left at 10am. First stop, Dolphin Bay.
Its the first time I´ve ever seen dolphins and they were really amazing! There were loads of other boats around though, and they worked together to chase the dolphins in one direction, so the tranquility of it all was a bit spoilt and I actually don´t think it is that dolphin-friendly after all, so it made me feel a bit guilty (also the fact that our boat reeked of gasoline!).
The next stop was Coral Cay, where we snorkeled (super clear water, lots of fish and coral)...then it started to rain...hard! I guess that´s what you get for going to a rain forest area during the rainy season!
We all got back in the boat and the next island was Bastimentos, a.k.a. Red Frog Beach, a conservation island for a rare tiny red + black dotted frog. We actually only saw two frogs (and a huge, sand-coloured scary spider) and spent the rest of the hour trying to shelter from the wind and rain with two (rather drunk) Spanish guys. Everyone in the boat then opted to skip the last island and head straight back to Bocas Island (it was far too cold) and on the way back, I saw my first ever sloth!!! This made my day :-)

After indulging in another pancake-eating session, Maudy and I decided to check out Playa del Drago the next day, which is on the other side of Bocas island. We got a collectivo van there and it was beau-ti-fullll! Gorgeous, clear, azul-blue Caribbean sea, white sandy beach... truly amazing. We met some nice Israeli guys there and, importantly, Pancho- a 5-week year old orphan Spider monkey. He was soooo cute and playful! Maudy and I starting devising evil plans to kidnap him and take him to Pedasi with us, hehe... We then decided to check out Playa Estrella (a.k.a. starfish bay), which was about 10 minutes away along the beach. Loads of starish everywhere, pretty funky :-) The Israeli guys joined us there and, instead of getting the collectivo back, we managed to convince a boat driver (is that what they´re called?) to take us back to Bocas by motor boat. Fun fun...
That evening, Maudy and I had an amazing meal on the sea-front... with Margaritas of course... and accompanied by the Bob Marley/Banana-song man playing in the background. Then we went to a bar where it was ladies night (i.e. free drinks for all women...best invention ever!) where we met 2 of the Israeli guys.

The next morning, Maudy decided she wanted to get her lip pierced (!). We found a surf shop that also did tattoos & piercings and made an appointment for 3pm. In the meantime, lots of time to get nervous and excited. We got to the shop at 3pm (en punto!) and Maudy got pierced. It looked wicked! :-) To celebrate, we went back to the bar we´d been in the night before but unfortunately, it was empty. We found out later that the nightlife in Bocas works in rounds- i.e. every night a different bar does happy hour/free drinks for women, so people only concentrate in those bars... we´d been in the wrong bar, on the wrong night. ¡Mierda!

We decided to leave the next morning and, whilst munching on yet another round of American-style pancakes, we bumped into one of the Israeli guys (in my opinion, ´un hombre muy guapo`, hehe...) who managed to convince us to stay one more day and join them on a boat trip to Cayo Zapatilla, a conservation island. We went there with a Dutch couple and some more friends of the Israeli guys and it was, till now, probably the most beautiful beach yet (google it!). We spent the whole day there, roasting in the sun and once back on Bocas, we all went out for a meal together, played pool and had some drinks in another busy bar- this time, the right bar on the right night.

At 08:30 the next day, we left the island (just in time to miss the massive rainstorm in Bocas) and headed to David via Almirante. Once again, we were ridiculously lucky and our bus seemed to be waiting for us before it left. I slept most of the way there and we got to David around 2pm. From there, I headed to Volcan (1 hour away) as I wanted to climb Volcano Baru, whilst Maudy headed back to Pedasi. Once I´d arrived in Volcan, I realised that I was a little less prepared than I had thought as Volcano Baru is apparently much better to climb from the Boquete-side of the mountain, not Volcan. So, I headed back to David and from there, I took another bus to Boquete- a lively little town in the mountains. Also, cold! I arrived there around 7pm, found a hostel pretty much straight away and went to sleep as I was feeling ill.

I spent the whole night coughing and still felt ill the next day, so I decided to take it easy and spent the next day watching tv (good old Bridget Jones), e-mailing people and sipping tea & honey. I still felt ill the next day, but wanted to make the most of my time in Boquete, so I walked around the town and tried to sign up to do the zip-line tree trek adventure in the mountains, but unfortunately the office was closed as it was a Sunday. I guess after all the luck I´ve had on the trip so far, it had to change at some point. So, once again, an early night for me.

The next day, I STILL felt ill, but decided to just do the tree-trek anyway. It was raining so much in the morning that the 8am trip was cancelled, but luckily the weather had cleared up enough for the 10am one to go through. We all got into a van and headed to Palo Alto, where we got into our gear and were taught what to do. Then, we were taken to the top of the mountain (in the same van) and we arrived at platform 1. This was when I started to think that may be this was slightly too adventurous for me... but there was no turning back, so I went for it and absolutely LOVED it! I didn´t expect to like it that much and was so glad that the height (30-60m above ground) didn´t bother me. Most of the cables were suspended over the waterfall below and it was incredibly beautiful there.
When we reached Palo Alto again (after 13 platforms), we all had lunch and headed back to Boquete town, where i checked my mail and continued my tea-drinking session as I was still coughing loads. I then decided to not do the Volcano Baru hike (gutted) as I just wasn´t feeling well enough, and the hike would have been an all-night hike in the rain (starting at 23:00 in order to reach the top before it gets too cloudy to see the two oceans). I guess it also gave me an excuse to come back to Panama someday :-)

I left Boquete at 8am the next day and headed to Pedasi. After 4 bus rides (Boquete - Santiago, Santiago - Chitre, Chitre - Las Tablas and Las Tablas - Pedasi), I arrived there around 5pm and, getting ready to take a shower, I found a scorpion on my bag! Being the chicken that I am, I freaked out and Maudy had to get rid of it for me. I was all jumpy and itchy for the rest of the evening. Andreas, the sushi guy, cooked for us that night though and it was A.-MA-ZING!!! Fried oysters...steamed lobster... then Grilled lobster (all caught in Pedasi an hour or two before)...then ice-cream. Sooooo good!

The next day (yesterday), we decided to be lazy and I spent the day doing my laundry and having a film-watching marathon (´Zoolander´, ´Love Actually´ and ´Into the Wild´). In the evening, Andreas came round & offered to cook again... obviously we didn´t object and yes, it was, once again, incredible. Octopus risotto. And for dessert, we got take-out mango ice-cream & chocolate cake from the Italian restaurant. I love life. So much.

Today, I´m finally feeling a bit better! I made some milkshakes in the morning (fun fun) and the kids of a friend of Julio´s came round, so I spent the afternoon making necklaces, rings and bracelets with them. For my ¨last supper¨ in Pedasi, Andreas, Julio, Maudy and I went to the Italian restaurant and had linguini carbonara. Yummy! I managed to restrain myself, but the other three had TWO meals... seriously, its a good restaurant!

So...that´s the update once again. Tomorrow morning we´re going back to Panama City as my flight to Mexico is on Sunday, so my time here is slowly coming to an end (nooooo!). I´m actually feeling quite sad about it all, but at least I know I´ll be back someday as I really do want to climb Volcano Baru! And, Maudy´s been trying to convince me to stay & start a smoothie/cake shop with her...so who knows, may be I´ll end up living here! haha...

Oh, I now realise that I seem to have written far too much again (I guess I like details) so I´m sorry if you had to read all of this... the next one, will be a short one (or at least I´ll try).
Till then, night night, have a good weekend & ciao from Panama! x

Posted by -inge- 31.07.2009 06:45 Archived in Panama Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

The Panama Canal & Pedasi

Week 2

sunny 28 °C
View Panama City - Pedasi on -inge-'s travel map.

Wow, I can´t believe yet another week has passed! Time seems to move quicker here... or I guess its just a sign that I´m enjoying myself, right? :-)

Okay, so here´s for the update since last week....

The Panamá Canal was really impressive! I didn´t think I´d enjoy it as much as I did. It is just incredible that people created it (it took over 30 years to complete) and its HUGE -as are the ships that pass through it. The canal is basically a ship passage way connecting the Caribbean sea and the Pacific Ocean and loads (+/- 27,500 people) died making it- mainly from yellow fever and malaria. It now takes about 8 hours for a ship to pass through the canal and they are currently building a 2nd and 3rd lock in order to let wider ships pass through it (currently, the width is 28,5m and they want to make it 36m). When the ships pass through the canal (we were viewing from the ´Miraflores lock´ on the Pacific side), ´mullas´ (little train-like carts) assist it along the canal, making sure the vessels never collide with the sides of the canal (they are so precise, the distance can be as little as 3mm)...just very impressive...

....Okay, I will stop being geeky now, I just found it very impressive :-) ....

After the canal, museum and film-showing, we went to the Gamboa rainforest about 15 minutes from the Miraflores Locks. It was beautiful there- we saw loads of different types of birds (geeky note: Panamá has one of the largest varieties (+560 species) of birds in the world- Panamá even translates as ¨country of the abundant fish and butterflies¨), a turtle and 2 crocodiles! Was really nice and we had a quick look around the Gamboa Hotel as well, wow! Schnazzy! I just liked the fact they offered monkey-watching tours :-) Next time, next time...

The next day, Maudy and I spent the day in the mall. As you do in Panamá City...
I bought some nice clothes and we spent the rest of the time eating a ridiculous amount of sushi with ´Ice Age 3´ McFlurry as desert :-) Then, Julio picked us up (he´d been at the airport all morning, waiting for his cousin to arrive from America) and we drove to his aunt´s house, only to be given a second lunch: lasagne. FACT: Panamá will make me obese. I mean, it would be rude not to eat it...right? ;-)
In the evening, we went out for drinks with his cousin and wife. The first stop was in Casco Viejo (Old town Panama), at a Cuban bar. Ahhh, the memories! Buena Vista Social Club in the background, photos of the Malecon... it actually really made me miss Cuba. The next bar was ´Casablanca´ on the main square, and we then drove to the Causeway and bought a bucket of iced Balboa beer... we ended up getting home at 2am.

The next day, we drove to Pedasi- the town where Maudy and Julio live. The trip took about 4 hours and the dogs were happy to see them again (= understatement). Maudy showed me around Pedasi in her golf cart (my new favourite form of transportation) and we had dinner at ´Pasta e Vino´, an amazing Italian restaurant by the town square (owned by 2 good friends of Maudy´s). Great food, all home-made- even the ice-cream :-)
The day after, Maudy and I took the dogs to ´Playa el Toro´ (in golf cart terms, about a 15 minute drive away). We spent an hour or two there, then made our way back, eating some flan and ´chicheme´ (a corn-based drink, with sugar and milk) on the way :-) Maudy then had to go round to a friends place (who owns a hotel which does Friday-night sushi every week) to take photos of a yellow-finned tuna he had to prepare for dinner. The tuna was massive and after he´d prepared it for the meal, he made us some amaaaaazing sashimi and ´poke´ (a Hawaiian recipe). I...want...Maudy´s... neighbours!!!

We made our way to Playa Venao early the next morning, but by the time we arrived (having been delayed by the car not starting & having to jump start it), it was raining A LOT. After waiting half an hour, we decided to go back and I walked around Pedasi for a bit, taking photos. In the afternoon, we drove to Julio´s plot of land, saw their horses and walked on the beach for a while, collecting drift wood and shells (Maudy makes gorgeous mobiles with them). In the evening, we went back to the Italian for yet another amazing meal- pesto & green bean linguine and tiramisu.... ahhh, my blog seems to only be about food, hehe...

After a failed attempt the previous day, we spent the whole of the next day at Playa Venao with perfect weather- sunbathing, reading and surfing (if 10 minutes counts).

I finally got to see ´Don´t mess with the Zohan´ the next day (loved it!) and Maudy and I then cycled to Playa el Toro. On the way back, we joined the Italian couple at the Pedasi surf & juice bar and they invited us round for a private dinner in the evening (private because they´re usually closed on Monday´s). oh. my. god. The food...was delicious! They´d just bought a huge mahi-mahi (dolphin fish) so we had fish soup as a starter, then sashimi with pesto and an avocado + lemon dip, fried potatoes & fish as main course and fish ice-cream... nah, not really- chocolate ice-cream for dessert. It was heaven...

After the last few days of eating as though I was training for a marathon, I decided to be good and go for a jog the next day (yesterday). Pedasi´s actually a really nice little town to jog around and it was nice to do some exercise for a change. After a shower and breakfast, we then made our way to Las Tablas as Julio had to go to the bank there and we had a supermarket-stop. We then drove to Chitré and by 4pm we were back in Pedasi.
Maudy and I decided to collect all the ripe mangoes (her garden´s full of them) and cut them up & freeze them to make smoothies :-) Later some friends of theirs came round and we made Smoothie cocktails con ron :-) Maudy then got called by the guy that owns the sushi-hotel place, saying he had loads of sashimi left over if we wanted it... needless to say, the answer was yes... So we had sashimi for dinner, with fried potatoes and an Israeli cabbage & sesame-seed salad... deeeeeeeelicious! :-)

Today, Maudy and I went over to some plots of land (by the sea) that she had to take photos of. Once we got home, the contractor called her to come back quickly as there were orcas and humpback whales in the sea! We raced back, but unfortunately they were really far out, so we only saw the water squirts from their blow holes in the far distance. Apparently whale season has only just started though (it lasts till October) so hopefully there will be more opportunities to see the whales later *fingers crossed* We spent the rest of the day with some friends of Maudy (she´s going to start tutoring their daughter next month) and tonight (as I like to talk about food) we´re having grilled red snapper!!! I love living by the sea! hehe... Life is good.

Tomorrow, Julio´s driving back to Panamá City (to spend more time with his cousin) and he´ll drop Maudy and I off in Santiago, where we´ll get on the coach to Costa Rica. The plan is to spend 3 days (2 nights) there and then work our way back to Pedasi via Bocas del Toro. In Costa Rica, we´ll be staying in Puerto Viejo- at some crazy hippyish campsite/hostel (google: ´Rockin J´s´) where you can rent hammocks/tents/rooms for the night. It looks great and is apparently backpacker-central, so hopefully we´ll get to meet some interesting people too :-)

I can´t wait!!!

Hope you all have a great weekend and update me on what´s going on with you!!! I now have Internet access again, so I promise to reply... :-)

¡Buen fin de semana!

Posted by -inge- 16.07.2009 02:32 Archived in Panama Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

¡Hola desde Panamá!

Week 1: Panamá City

sunny 28 °C
View Panama City and el Palmar & Central America on -inge-'s travel map.

Wow... Panamá City is... different!!!

The trip from Havana (and Cuba in general) to Panamá City has really been a trip from one extreme to another.
I spent my first 2 days quite stunned by it all and experiencing culture-shock: the malls (designer clothes, commercials, billboards), millions of fast-food chains (with drive-through´s), high-rise buildings (and yes, I mean HIGH), massive, flashy new cars... it really is the opposite of what I got used to in Cuba. Panamá City is so much more commercial/Americanized than I thought- it really was a surprise for me.

I arrived here fine. My Copa Airlines flight from Havana to Panamá City was virtually turbulance-free (phew!) and arrived in Panamá City on time (apparently quite unusual for any flights leaving Cuba). I got through customs without any problems and when I arrived, Maudy and Julio weren´t at the airport yet. After waiting about 1.5 hours though, I thought that possibly there was some mis-communication. I had written her the day earlier, saying I´d arrive in Panamá at 10:40, but had a little inkling that I forgot to specify whether that was during the day or in the evening. So, after attempting to get out money and failing (the cash machine was out of cash), I managed to find a friendly man who gave me 25c to make a phone call. I called Maudy and my suspicions were confirmed... but luckily Julio and her had decided to come to Panamá City one day earlier than originally planned, so they came to pick me up from the airport within half an hour.

The first thing we did was go to McDonalds. Culture-shock set in. Wow... quick service and so much choice!
We then spent a couple of hours at the hospital (nothing serious- just routine appointments they´d made before knowing I´d be there with them during the day) and then went to a supermarket... a massive, colourful, busy supermarket, with shelves stocked up, full of products and choices and brands... once again, culture shock. I didn´t think that I would get so used to Cuban life in just 2 months!
That evening, we went to a nice little restaurant on the other side of the Panamá Canal to have dinner- deep fried chicken and curly fries, whilst listening to a live jazz band in the background. Oh, and I also got to try my first Panamaian beer (´Balboa´, apparently the strongest Panamaian beer at 3.8%) and ´patacones´(fried plantains).

The next day, I finally managed to get some money out and, taking advantage of being in the massive mall, bought myself a new pair of flip-flops (I had to leave both my other pairs in Cuba after walking them to shreds). We then went to Julio´s sister´s apartment (on the 18th floor with a 360 degree view- amazing!) and picked up her excitable, gay circus dog ´Jimmy´. We then drove to the Causeway, got a ´raspado´ (shaven ice with blueberry syrup flavouring + condensed milk) and hired a 3-person tandem and started cycling to the first island. After about 15 minutes, we decided to cycle back as a huge storm was approaching (something to avoid when stuck in a metal bike!). We just made it back in time to avoid getting hit by lightning and soaked by the rain and hail.
The storm lasted a while, so in the meantime, we drove to Blockbuster, got out some films, and spent the rest of the afternoon eating popcorn and watching 2 films. In the evening, we met up with some of Julio´s family/friends and had dinner at a restaurant near the Canal. We got back around 1ish and when I was brushing my teeth, the building started to sway and shake and it took me a few seconds to realise it was an earthquake!!!

Julio lives on the 4th floor, so you could really feel the building swaying and the floor literally seemed to be moving in a wave. I was so tempted to hide under the table, and probably would have if I hadn´t bumped into Julio on the way to the living room (embarrasment stopped me). The earthquake probably only lasted about 15-20 sesonds and then next day we found out it measured 6.3 on the Richter scale! Though the epicentre was in Colon (on the other side on the Canal), it was still pretty exciting.

After a quick visit to Julio´s grandaughter the next day, we drove (on the inter-American highway) to Playa El Palmar, a popular surf spot. The trip took about 1.5/2 hours and we arrived there around 2pm. We sorted out our accommodation (a small 2-person bedroom with extra bed) and went to the beach, lazing about in hammocks and reading/sleeping till about 4pm, when the waves were starting to pick up...surf time! Julio, himself a good surfer, taught me how to do it (whilst giving me a helpng push before the wave hit) and I was surprised that I was actually able to surf (after 4 attempts, I managed to stand up on the board without falling off, yay!)... I really enjoyed it! Its hard work for the upper arms, and I think the (arm) paddling bit before the wave hits is the main difficulty in surfing, but its so much fun! Didn´t expect to like it that much.
Once the sun started to set, we showered and made our way to the ´Bayview Hotel´ restaurant. We sat outside, on the seafront, drank a massive fuit-based milkshake and ate mussels, prawn/shrimp stir-fry, yucca (cassava) and a red-snapper + tomato and jalapeño sauce main meal... I was so full after that, was happy to go straight to bed once we got home.

The next day, we woke up around 8:30 and made our way to the beach. I surfed for about half an hour, then got hit on my upper leg by the fin of the surfboard. OUCH! Right on the muscle! So I decided to stop (the waves were getting too high anyway) and sunbathe for a bit instead. I then fell sleep in the hammock (life is good) and woke up to Jimmy´s loud barking/crying, as another tourists´dog (a HUGE great Dane) had literally picked him up in his mouth and was biting him. When the dogs were finally separated, Jimmy was limping and in shock, so we decided to leave the beach early (to get him to the vet). Just before leaving, we bumped into a friend of Julio´s and ended up joining them for drinks and dinner (and Margaritas!) at an amazing Mexican restaurant on the way back to Panamá City. We got back to the flat around 9pm and just before going to bed, we felt another earthquake (this time, around 5.2 on the richter scale!). Not good... apparently they hardly ever have tremors in Panamá... why does this have to happen when I´m here?! lol

This morning, we brought Jimmy to the vet (he was fine), then dropped him back at Julio´s sister´s place. We then went to the mall, did some window shopping and had an amaaaazing sushi-lunch with a friend of Maudy´s. We then drove to ´Casco Viejo´(the old quarter) in Panamá Vieja. Some parts really reminded me of Havana, as the buildings are crumbly and in the old colonial style, but the area is being redeveloped to renew the buildings (all in the same, original colonial style) and you can see its a real tourist area. It was nice and interesting though, especially as you could see all the skyscrapers and modern buildings in the background on the ocean front. We also had the best French (!) ice-cream there... this made the whole trip completely worth it! :-) We then got home around 5pm, watched ´Burn after Reading´and ate pizza... my trip here seems to revolve around food (I am not complaining at all!)

Tomorrow we´re planning to spend the day checking out the famous Panamá Canal, and either Wednesday evening or Thursday morning we´re driving to Pedasi, the seaside village where Maudy and Julio live. I can´t wait to see it and actually be out of the city here. Panamá City has been a bit of a let-down to be honest, as I thought it would be less commercial/Americanized and have a bit more character than I think it actually has. Its just a shame that its such a restricting city as you can´t go anywhere without taking the car (its too dangerous to walk to many places- due to traffic and the risk of getting kidnapped/killed...yes, quite a change to Cuba!!!) But Maudy and Julio have both been great hosts, making me feel so welcome and showing me around everywhere. I´ve been very lucky and am so glad they´re here to show me around.

Oh- also: exciting news.... I´m going to Costa Rica next week!!!!!!!
Maudy needs to leave Panamá for at least 24 hours in order to extend her visa, so we´re going on a little road-trip (yipppeeeee!!!). On the way back, we´re planning to drive through Bocas del Toro and I´ll finally get to see/climb Volcan Baru (whooo-hoooo!). Also, we might go do the tree-track in Boquete!!!! Though, just thinking about this already makes me nervous... its probably not the best thing to do when you´re afraid of heights, but I´m going to try anyway... :-)

So, that´s the news for now... hope you´ve all had a great weekend & keep in touch (I have more Internet access now, so will actually reply your mails!) xx

Posted by -inge- 07.07.2009 01:44 Archived in Panama Tagged travelling_with_pets Comments (0)

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