Friday, March 28, 2008

Yampa Valley Recycles "Green Bags"

Back in Steamboat Springs we found  lots of snow on the ground with piles sometimes taller than either one of us.  We have enjoyed some sunny 50 degree days and beautiful walks along the Yampa River. 

A highlight for us is to see people shopping with the Yampa Valley Recycles "Green Bags". Back in December before we left on our winter journey JoAnne created a simple design for Yampa Valley Recyckes which they decided to use on one side of the bag.  This is the first time she had ever tried her hand at creating a graphic for use on an item such as a bag or T-Shirt.  When she was director of the Avodah Dance Ensemble she edited a photo for use on a T-Shirt but never before had she simply created something from scrath.  

Yampa Valley Recycles ordered 5,000 and they have nearly sold out.  The few left can be found at the health food stores in town at $1.00.  The design was a donation.   The goal is to get as many people as possible to use fabric bags when they go shopping to help the environment.  JoAnne is delighted to be a part of this project.   

In doing this project JoAnne learned about copyrighting a design, photographing an image done in pastels for printing purposes, and letting someone else determine the final look of the product.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Panama Canal Transit

Movie of Container Vessel Moving through Miraflores Lock on the Canal

Panama City and the Canal

The old city has a New Orleans flair. Here renewed and to-be renewed, side by side

Our day in Panama City

In contrast to the rural nature of Boquete with its hills, winds and moderate temperatures, Panama City is urban, hot and humid. The city is very commercial. The largest bank is the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank (HSBC). Its mere presence beginning with the acquisition of Grupo Banistmo in 2006 signaled the coming of age of Panama and its capital. Once dirty barrios have been replaced with high-rise apartments and office buildings. Panama City has become an expensive place to live and like all urban renewal has driven many of its residents to desperate measures.

Flying into Gelabert (also known as Albrook), the local airport located on the former American base, one may be lucky to see the ships lined for transit through the Canal. The cab ride to the hotel was a short distance, but the traffic was such that Los Angeles would have envied. For the two of us the ride was $5 (the tourist center at the airport said that it should be $3.25, but considering the traffic, we did not quibble). Manuel, the driver, spoke some English, and offered to pick us up at the hotel for the trip to Tocumen Airport when we were scheduled to leave, two days later.

Our decision to stay at the Panama Marriott was the result of having a free night certificate and enough points for a second night. The hotel is all American, except for the casino located in a connected building.

The shower was especially welcomed since mid afternoon was hot and humid. We did our email and other Internet things at a nearby Internet only shop, there are several. Before returning we passed a 24-hour restaurant, CafĂ© Azul, and decided to partake in the local fare. The food was moderately good, but the price was extremely right, especially when compared to the hotel’s menu.

For our second day in Panama City, we wanted to do something we normally avoid, a City Tour. JoAnne had located a relatively new tour operation and had had email correspondence with the owner when we were in Boquete.

The owner of Panama Tourism & Travel, Marina Ehrman, met us in the lobby of the hotel at 9:30. The guide, Adolfo drove up a few moments later, and we were off. Our first stop was the Miraflores locks of the Panama Canal. The operation of the canal is handled by experts and is among the highest paid work on the Isthmus.

See Movie of ship moving through locks

Ships from the south (Pacific side) were moving into the locks where the water level in the first lock was raised 27 feet. They then moved into a second lock for another 27-foot increase. From there, they went into the Miraflores Lake on their way to the northern locks. The feat of moving a cargo vessel that has about one foot of clearance through the locks is worth seeing. The ship is under its own power, commanded by a Pilot supplied by the Canal Authority.

After witnessing the transit of one container vessel, we moved into the four-story display of the building of the Canal to a five screen view of what the pilot of a container ship sees as the vessel moves through the locks. Since movement is something like watching water boiling, it is sped up ten fold.

After the Canal we toured the residential area near the Canal and proceeded to three islands that are connected by a causeway. The last island has a shopping area, hotels and highly rated restaurants. Along the Causeway were many views of the Ciudad Panama.

Lunch was included in the tour. We journeyed back to town and were seated at a table. We were told that our lunch was limited to one of three pasta choices (the cheapest on the menu). The meal was pretty bad. At the start, I was told that if I wanted a beer, I had to pay extra. No problem. Coca Cola came with the meal. Murray ordered a beer knowing he had to pay extra. When his bill arrived, he was informed that Coca Cola Light (that JoAnne ordered), was extra. Both of us found this extra charge to be "cheap" and the lunch not to be up to the standard of the rest of the tour.

Our tour continued to the Ancient City of Panama, the archeological area that was first settled by the Spanish. It was destroyed by the pirate, Henry Morgan, who thought that Panama City was rich with gold. The only gold treasure was the altar, removed by the citizens, hidden, and then carried to the new city and placed in the San Jose Church. (picture). A museum provides both relics from the ancient city, a model of it, and various boards that detail the city’s history.

We wandered about the ruins, culminating in a climb to the top of the watch-tower that provides a panoramic view of the area out to the Pacific. The last stop was the old town, the area of the city to which the population moved when the ancient city was destroyed. This rundown area is being renewed. It has a certain charm, much of which reminds one of New Orleans.

We returned to the hotel at 6PM, a full day seeing the city and learning about much of its fabled history. Giving in to fatigue, we decided to have a small dinner in the hotel. The food and service were excellent as was our stay. The next morning Manuel met us at the appointed time and whisked us to the international airport in plenty of time to catch our return flight.


Sunday, March 2, 2008

Boquete Restaurants

JoAnne and Ricco in front of his restaurant, the best based on food, service and price

There still are abundant restaurants that can be dubbed "local" in Boquete, although their numbers are diminishing. However, we decided to dine at the restaurants frequented by ex-pats and visitors. We had agreed to have one large meal a day, so we embarked on having at least one meal at almost every "upscale" restaurant in the center of the town.

At the center is Boquete Bistro. It is owned by an ex-pat from Aspen, CO who took over a former gathering place for locals. Lauretta Bonfiglio has decorated her place with her own abstract oil paintings that are pleasing to the eye.

Since Murray is alergic to shrimp, he had to stick with meat or poultry. He concentrated on the filet mignon. The dish is served with one of several sauces. His favorite was the carmelized onions with a mushroom sauce taking second place.

While the steak is advertized as tender, it was stringy and hard to cut. It was difficult explaining to the waiter how he wanted the steak cooked - he likes it medium-rare. The waiter took this to mean 'medio' which is one step removed from 'moo.' His second go round, the steer was even in more pain and the beef was returned for more cooking. When the platter returned, it was obvious that the meat had been nuked - not a pleasant thing to do to a steak.

On the third try, a friend suggested that Murray tell the waiter 'tres quartros.' This suggestion proved correct as the meat was just a warm pink and sliced appropriately.

Service, was appropriate. Bistro does have one beer that none of the others has - Panamanian brewed "Warsteiner."

There are two restaurants offering 'Peruvian' fair. The first, Delicias del Peru, has an excellent outdoor section overlooking a hillside and a garden. The service was slow - we had to find a waiter. The food was heavily salted. Because salt affects Murray's blood pressure and poor service adds to it, we did not return.

The second, Machu Picchu is excellent. The setting is formal-cloth table cloths and linen napkins. Murray's first dish - repeated on the second trip - was a steak cordon-bleu. Joanne fell in love with the cordon-bleu. To compare with Bistro, Murray had the filet mignon with mushroom gravy. Both meat dishes were prepared just right and served elegantly.

On our first and second stop we ordered slices of lemon pie. The taste reminded both of us of excellent key lime pie. On our third outing, the pie was bland and the crust partially burned. We did not try a fourth time, but friends of ours did and offered a taste - it was again bland
with a burnt crust.

On each of our first four forays, service was excellent. On the fifth we had to ask for bread, and when it came it was well below the quality of the first four times. Service was slow or non existant on the last time. Apparently we had a trainee who was concerned with serving the single male at the table behind us who arrived after us and was served before us.

We took one meal at Roxanne's. The food was good, but we sat (our fault) at a table next to a window where the sun created an uncomfortable climate, and we could not open the window that overlooked a creek because between the window and a screen were six flies.

Across from Roxanne's is a Mexican restaurant. JoAnne was "OK" with her vegetarian buritos. Murray found his cimichanga the best he had ever had.

The best of the restaurants is new and run by an ex-pat from Key West. "Papa Ricco" has consistently excellent Italian food. His lasagna is mouth watering as was a mahi-mahi and chicken parmigana. JoAnne loved the spaghetti with meat balls and our neighbors took home a large Sicilian style pizza that the family enjoyed.

But, frankly, no one makes a breaded eggplant rolatini like Ricco. Service is excellent as is the running commentary by the owner, a refugee from Brooklyn. The only desert, ocassionally available, is caneloni- well made, but we've had better. Also Hobson's choice of Atlas Beer (probably the worst of the Panamanian beers) was finally improved upon on our last visit.

All meals were reasonable by American Standards ranging from $6 pp at Ricco's to $12.50 for the steak at Bistro.

Comparative Rating
Bistro Boquete *
Delicias del Peru *
Machu Picchu ***
Papa Ricco's ***

Preliminary Rating
Roxanne's **
Mexican ***