Friday, February 29, 2008

Paradise Gardens

Baby Howler Monkey climbs on Murray's back

Paradise Gardens is the third and newest Boquete garden that we have visited. Not really a garden, it is a wild animal rescue and rehabilation center. Started just two years ago by a retired couple from England, their intent was to house their rare bird collection but it quickly grew as a place where locals brought hurt or abandoned animals.

Murray and I were met at the entrance by a volunteer guide who leisurely walked us around giving the history of the garden and introducing us to the various animals and birds. A butterfly house, beautifully landscaped is a bit short on butterflies right now as mice seem to be eating them.

Our guide shared that there is always something new that she discovers when she comes. Maybe it is a newly arrived animal or the absence of one that has been released back into the forest.

The highlight were two young monkeys that delighted visitors with playful interactions.

Following our tour we spent some time chatting with the owner, Jeannie. A ten month old howler monkey, named Macy, was nestled under her T - shirt with just her head showing. Shortly after Murray sat down, Macy decided to go over to him and explore his camera and his watch. Feeling right at home the young monkey nestled into Murray's lap resting her head on Murray's arm and gently playing with his watch. I took pictures which we will post later of the relaxed pair.

The garden is so new that it isn't mentioned yet in guide books. We highly recommend it. The suggested donation is $5 but it is voluntary and there is no pressure to contribute.

Paradise Gardens is a short drive south from the center of town, turning right onto the road to Volcanito. A taxi ride is 75 cents per person and we had no problem hailing a taxi after our visit to return to town. In typical Panamian style, we shared the taxi with locals.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Finding a Jewel

Our Canadian friends, Connie and Chris, had to return their rental car by noon on Monday. Chris had seen something on a by road uphill from where we stay... Exploradora ... or something like that. Chris couldn´t remember the exact name. Connie found a short note in her travel book about it, and since it was on our (admittedly long) way to town we agreed that it might be worth a stop.

No matter which way you come from, the road is bumpy and care must be exercised not to hit rocks when driving a sedan. This passage - a shortcut through Jaramillo Central that avoids going the full circuit through Jaramillo Alto on a paved road that can take 30 minutes. It is winding with each lane only ten feet wide and no room for error.

We came to a refreshment stand in what might be termed the middle of nowhere. The sign read ¨Exploradora.¨ The stand was closed and we thought the park might also be closed. Connie spotted a unique switch, a picture with an electric light switch as its nose. She switched it on. There was no announce box, but when she did it a second time one could hear in the distance a faint buzzer.

A woman walkng the road smiled and said the owner would open it at ten. A few minutes later promptly at ten an elderly woman came dow the steep driveway and invited us to begin what turned out to be a fascnating trek through her 5-acre garden, highlighted by recylced everything.

What a jewel. The owner, a 75 year old native of Panama, spoke only Spanish. Since she spoke the idiom slowly, we could understand or get the sense of what she was saying. In addition to the tour, we were receiving a practicum in Spanish and an introduction to her philosophy of life.

Native plants of all kinds stretch aong the ¨Ruta.¨ The full tour took two hours - up and down, over a walking bridge and ultimately a bonsai garden. A discarded computer, its screen removed is labeled ¨computadora vitual.¨ Later we come across a similarly recyled television set that is set up against some plants. We label it ¨real reality TV.

Her family´s used shoes and boots and purses form pots for plants. Stones have painted faces. But more important are the sign posts - all in Spanish -- most easy to understand, a few that she explains, a couple that are not comprehended.

During the entire circuit we are transfixed by the nuances and talking almost entirely in Spanish. Each of us hugs our hostess for showing us a delightful adventure.

Cost is $2 per person.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Finding the Quetzal

There are two quetzals in the picture. Can you find them? (Hint at end)

Quetzal is the currency of Guatemala, it is the favorite pursuit of birders in Costa Rica´s Monteverde Bosque and scavenger adventure in adjacent Panama´s Chiriqui Province.

Outside of the town of Boquete where we are staying for a month we heard rumors that the famed amazingly colored bird had begun its seasonal nesting. From our experience in the Monteverde Rain Forest we knew that the guides knew where to look, and that we didn´t have a glue.

By some fortune, we encountered an English speaking guide escorting two ladies through the well manicured and excellent ´eye candy´available at the standout attraction ¨Mi jardin es su jardin¨that lies just outside the center of Boquete on the road to Bajo Mono and Alto Quiel.

Eduardo Serrano Quiel (phone 507-6601-6479) speaks acceptable (not perfect) English and has a wealth of knowledge of the Boquete vicinity. After a short discussion in which he suggested a hike - one of a package he offers - we decided to hire him.

On Thursday we met Eduardo at a local spot at 9 bringing along our neighbors, Chris and Connie Smith, a Canadian couple from near Toronto. After explaining what we would do for the next three to four hours, we bought water and climbed into the Smith´s rented car, heading for the start of the trail.

The trail begins on a jeep road at a fork where a sign indicates park land. We had to cross private property owned by Eduardo´s uncle, but which anyone can traverse.

The area starts off relatively open. After about 15 minutes on the road the vegetation produces more and more of a canopy. Pipes conveying high mountain water to Boquete run along the roadway.

We cross three bridges over what is now fairly easily forded streams. Eduardo explains that streams become rivers for a large part of the year as rain is a constant feature for 9 - 10 months of the year.

The road ends at a path that leads to the farm of Mario - an elderly gentleman, quite fit, whom we met carrying a machete.

Aside from the birds that we more hear than see, there is an abundance of flora. Eduardo explains that many of the plants are used medicinally. There are many varieties of bromeliades hanging on branches and tree trunks - some of them flowering. One or two orchids appear on the same branches with spray of flowers.

We walk. We keep asking ¨Where are the Quetzals?¨

Eduardo responds, ¨Sometimes we see them, sometimes we don´t.¨ We get the idea, they´re here, but they are elusive.

About two hours into the hike, Eduardo motions for us to stop and be quiet. He´s spotted a tall dead tree with no branches and plenty of holes. ¨That´s where a quetzal nested last year.¨ Then he puts his finger to his mouth again looks up and advises us to do the same.

First two, then three, then four of the birds are seen darting among the tops of the trees - their long tails a sure sign of their species, the loud almost laughing sound they make a distinctive indicator that we have been successful. But most important is to see this magnificant bird sitting astride a branch and getting a photo. Eduardo took our camera and swiftly obtained photos that will be posted here at a later date. The most valuable one shows a male at one part of the tree and a female at another.

While our mission was accomplished, we continued to hike until all of us felt we had enough. We reached a small waterfall and were able to sit for a few moments and enjoy the site.

Eduardo had an additional mission. A friend of his knowing where he was going asked him to pick a bag full of watercress. For ten minutes Eduardo set about on his mission. Chris and Connie continued exploration and JoAnne and Murray decided that sitting was the preferred mode of the hour.

Returning to the city we stopped for a brief moment to witness the town´s claim to a petroglyph. There were indications of ancient drawings, but the entire stone was covered with moss and lichens. In town we bid adieu to Eduardo and headed for a grand meal at one of two restaurants offering Peruvian cooking.

Hint: One is at top left and the other is at bottom, right

Monday, February 11, 2008

Boquete touring

Taking local buses is both an inexpensive and interesting way to explore the environs. There are three buses that make circuits from town and return. The round trip for each is $2. You can leave the bus at any point and, knowing its schedule, can get back on. Each segment is $1.

On Friday we took the Alto Quitel or Mono bus. The leg room is not conducive for a big man and the bus, while not packed,was full. We did not get off but made the complete circuit. Passing waterfalls and trails we climbed to the heights overlooking Boquete from the west. We passed the Quetzal trail entrance and the entrance to a coffee plantation.

The locals load up their intown purchases and those picked up on the way load in their things like produce, etc.

On Sunday we road the bus to Jaramillo Alto. This bus was jammed when we got on and the driver made two children give us their seat by the door. The driver then made a circuit around the town center and picked up MORE people. By the time we started up the hill, we were loaded with familes, their purchases including a propane tank.

Going up the hill, we added still more, a trio of hikers. Sardines have more space.

As the bus continued its loop, it began to empty and space for knees became available. As Murray was in the front seat and had to get up for all who wanted to exit, he became the unofficial conductor, opening the door and collecting the fare. What fun!!??

Alto Jaramillo is VERY high and we felt as if we were climbing into the clouds. Our stop was near the end of the loop, so we called for the stop and the driver stopped right before our driveway.

We highly recommend that if you are in Boquete to take these rural circuit buses. It gives one the opportunity to see the very beautiful countryside and to experience how the people live at a very inexpensive cost.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Boquete Panama Crime

Thieves are having a field day in Boquete Panama. Anyone traveling to Panama should be very careful and probably avoid the country until authorities get serious about enforcement.

After a delightful and peaceful week here we were robbed of our laptop computers while we were sleeping. A bit creepy to have been broken into at 2 AM through a narrow bathroom window and then had our two laptops and some money from our wallets taken. We immediately notified the owner of our house who lives on the property who called the police. The police did respond quickly to take a report but the word around is that it will amount to nothing.

So we are reading more and determined not to let this stop us from enjoying the rest of our time here. We do want to caution other tourists that this has become a major problem since Christman and that one needs to be extra careful.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Retirement Travel-Panama

In order to catch our flight to Panama leaving at 6am, we had to get up at 2:45am. We had scouted out a parking lot that was 24 hours and had a monthly rate. For an international flight, the airlines said we had to be at the airport 2 hours in advance. We arrived just before 4, checked in without incident and moved through security. It’s almost worthwhile to take such an early flight- no crowds and the planes leave on time. Announcements for the plane were only in Spanish- no English- quite surprising.

Landing on time three hours later we had to wait almost an hour for our luggage. Of the crowded plane, only two other couples and a single woman were waiting for luggage- the rest, presumably, was “in transit.” Panama is a hub, particularly for Cuban-Americans traveling to Cuba. Points in South America were additional destinations.

After retrieving our bags, we sought a taxi to transport us to the other side of Panama City to the Allbrook Bus Station. The information desk told us the fare would be $30. Having heard that the City was a ‘hole,’ we were pleasantly surprised by the building. Skyscrapers are replacing the barrios, so long neglected. Half of the trip was over a newly constructed toll road that cuts off at least 30 minutes. The renewal reminded us of Singapore and how that hole turned into vital economy.

The bus station is somewhat confusing. We wanted to find the next bus to the second largest city, David. We found a young woman in a line marked “David.” She said that the next bus from this operator was at 3PM. It was now only 11am. In another line, the bus was an express that ran at night.

The third line was long, two or even three busloads. The next bus at 11:30 was closed. The bus after that was scheduled for 12:30, but if we were at the end of this line, we would not have been able to take a bus until 3:30. Seven plus hours would have put us in David after ten with another hour to get to Bocquette and find our house.

A woman in line who spoke English spotted our concern and offered to buy tickets for us. No one behind objected to us cutting in line even though it meant that someone immediately behind us would be forced to take a later bus. We agree that Panamanians are both helpful and used to waiting.

Well, the 11:30 bus did not leave until noon and we figured our bus (that had not arrived and would not until 12:30) would also be delayed. Turned out that we got underway at one o’clock. The first part of the bus trip was the most interesting. We crossed a bridge over the Canal and saw the ships in the wide expanse that makes Panama City a port. The road parallels the Canal for a short distance, and at one spot we were adjacent to one of the many locks. The bus ride is long and, while comfortable, we decided that our return to the City would be with an airline that takes only one hour.

The woman who had helped us in Panama City, led us to the bus to Bocquette. It was just pulling out, but stopped to allow us to board. It was the last one for the night and was supposed to leave at 9, but was pulling out at 8:45. As we moved the sky seemed to open-up and millions of stars were visible in clear, crisp night sky, undiminished by urban light.

We arrived in Bocquette at 9:30. There was no phone at the station, so Murray ventured to the terminal office; “?Donde esta un telefon?”

“Huh?” replied the woman at the desk.


“”Afuera en medio de las puertas”

“Gracias,” I responded, noting that my Spanish needed some work.

We called the residence of our hosts, and Sunshine, who speaks acceptable English, said that Jerry, her husband would pick us up in front of the major Supermarket. Having fifteen minutes before he would arrive, we bought several items we felt essential for the next day.

Jerry found us in the market. While we were both exhausted having traveled for 18 hours, we were delighted with Jerry’s attitude. He spoke English with a Dutch accent, and, while not perfect, was completely understandable. In his Pontiac, we drove up a steep hill to an electronic gate. passing through the gate, we were inside a yet to be discovered treasure of foliage and fauna. Inside the house we rented, we were introduced to the workings of various appliances. The house has three bedrooms, although we only needed one. There is a large living room and an eat-in kitchen. Upstairs, awaits another bedroom. The stairs are more like a ladder. We decided that we would keep that room off-limits.

The most important feature of the evening- wi-fi silently beckoned. Having addressed our emails, we looked forward to a long nights rest.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Morse Museum and Visit to Orlando

In order to fly nonstop from Florida to Panama we had to go to Orlando. Everyone knows that this city as the home of Disney World and many other family attractions. On arriving, we spent two hours wandering the City Walk of Universal Studios. We both had visited the Western counterpart in LA several years ago, so had no desire to partake the amusements (a day would have cost us $150). The stroll around the lake, suggested by our son-in-law, David, was pleasant, and we decided to use a deli take-out in the park that we could later have for supper.

The next day we took a short trip to Winter Park. The approach to this town leaves something to be desired. The railroad runs through the center and some of the trains are quite large. There are no underpasses or overpasses.

Dead-ending into Rollins College is a strip that is perhaps a half-mile of shops, restaurants and galleries. We had lunch at a restaurant that just missed in taste appeal.

The owner of the very first gallery we entered suggested that we visit the Morse Museum that is at the very end of the strip. His sincerity was sufficient for us to ‘give it a go.’

The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum houses the most extensive collection of the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany, famed designer of Tiffany Glass, and son of the founder of the famed Jewelry store.

What a treat! L.C. was an artist first and a manufacturer of stained glass, second. Every piece had his indelible stamp, even those put together by craftsmen in his New York plant.

His most famous construct was a chapel of stained glass that he created for the Columbia Exposition in Chicago (the so-called ‘White City” because it was the first example of a city of Edison’s lights). The Morse Museum painstakingly recreated the chapel under the tutelage of Hugh F. McKean who, with his wife, Jeanette, were the driving force in the preservation of Tiffany’s work.

If you are in the Orlando area, be sure to visit this gem. The cost of admission is only $3.

The next day we prepared for Murray's book signing of Screamer: The Forgotten Voice of the Pittsburgh Steelers at Barnes and Noble. It was fun talking to people as they entered the store and, most importantly, selling books.