Panama City: The Panama Canal

The day we arrived in Panama was actually the 100th Anniversary of the Panama Canal. A few days later we visited the Miraflores Locks of the Canal. It was so amazing to see this expansive project in use.

The Miraflores Locks

The Miraflores Locks

There’s a big expansion of the canal in the works now, so we got to hear about that, too. While we were there we saw three different enormous ships pass through.

Passing through the canal

Passing through the canal

There it goes!

There it goes!

As each ship went through the crew would all wave – it was crazy to think these people hadn’t seen another person off board in probably weeks!

Out of the canal!

Out of the canal!

Olivia loved the big ships

Olivia loved the big ships

The museum was cool, too, with model ships, trains and trucks that were used to create the canal one hundred years ago.

Cliff loved the train!

Cliff loved the train!

Model ship

Model ship

Olivia and Cliff loved the turtles and other animal exhibits.

watching the turtles

watching the turtles

It was a great ending to our time in Panama…next it was off to Nicaragua!

Frigate bird in flight

Frigate bird in flight

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Casco Viejo: beauty in crumbling walls

For part one of our family’s adventure in Panama City, click here. For part two, here.

The sun was just peaking over the tall skyscrapers as we walked along the damp streets of Casco Viejo, dodging puddles from the early morning rain.

beautiful old bell tower

beautiful old bell tower

Most the shops and buildings were still closed up, but a few showed signs of life. We made a rough circle around the town and noticed one shop was still closed, despite the posted sign listing its hours from 10-6. It was nearly 11 by then. No one seemed in a rush there, though.

Cathedral doors

Cathedral doors

That was okay for us. We were enjoying the beautiful old buildings and soaking in a bit of the culture.

peeling paint

peeling paint

Casco Viejo, means “Old Quarters” in Spanish. This part of Panama City was built in 1673, after pirates all but destroyed the original city in 1671. Many of the old crumbling buildings have been restored and now quite a few nice restaurants, artesian shops and hotels are popping up.

a blend of the new and old

a blend of the new and the old

A lot of the buildings were in the process of being restored as we walked the streets.

There’s a definite Caribbean flair to the art, clothing and demeanor here in Panama.

Flower wall mural

Flower wall mural

Especially when compared to Lima, Peru. Most people in Lima seem to wear black or dark clothing. In Panama, the colors of the clothing are as bright as the land surrounding it. The art, too, is bright and bold. The people on the streets seem generally happy, though perhaps somewhat fatigued by life.

Bright buildings

Bright buildings

In Lima, we get smiles for the kids, but if you’re out alone don’t expect one. I still smile at people on the street in Peru, and then remember how out of place that is when I receive a puzzled stare in return. Back to Panama…

We were excited to get a chance to see the historical museum and even had a guide to point out the most interesting facts of Panama’s long history (in Spanish of course – John helped translate what I couldn’t catch). It was surprising to us to note that if Panamanians don’t like a part of their history, they just leave it out. Like the dictator president they had in the 1970’s, who just doesn’t appear on the list. Or the Spanish Conquest, where the country lost much of their gold supply, which is basically overlooked completely.

We had lunch in a cute little cafe in the town center.

Lunch in Casco Viejo

Lunch in Casco Viejo

You had just one choice to make: chicken, fish or pork. The rest was a set menu. Very good I might add. The kids must have been craving veggies because Olivia nearly polished off a whole bowl of calabaza (squash) soup and Cliff ate half the green salad by himself!

There were a lot of stray cats and dogs in the area, which fascinated the kids and made me a bit nervous.

This kid loves cats and dogs!

This kid loves cats and dogs!

At one point Cliff enjoyed breaking up a group of pigeons and chasing them around. They find entertainment everywhere!

Chasing pigeons

Chasing pigeons

As we walked down one street we heard a wailing toddler. I looked up and inside what had earlier appeared to be an abandoned apartment building was actually someone’s home. On each balcony was a child, one who was clearly upset about something. It’s been sad to see the living conditions of the locals here. More so because there doesn’t seem to be much hope for improvement.

morning walk

morning walk

Even as people invest into businesses and open shops, the poor still continue in their poverty. In Casco Viejo the contrast is pretty stark. Beautifully restored pre-colonial buildings right next to people living with sheets as doors and piles of trash and rotting food in the street.

It was amazing seeing buildings that were so incredibly old. Still standing to tell a part of their history.

daddy's girl

daddy’s girl

such a happy girl

such a happy girl

We walked around the town several times trying to find an art gallery we had read about, but never could locate it. The buildings in Panama don’t have addresses, but rather just crossroads or general directions, such as, “across from the cafe and down the street from the bakery”… Makes it fairly difficult to find anything specific!

Wall mural

Wall mural

After lunch, we visited a local ice cream shop, where each flavor is made of fresh ingredients.

Happy ice cream smile

Happy ice cream smile

John had the rum and raisin, I had the fresh ginger, and Olivia of course chose “pink” or strawberry :). It was a nice end to our morning out.

family mirror shot

Family mirror shot

 

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Panama: Punta Culebra

Our second morning in Panama we grabbed a taxi and headed for The Amador Causeway, a narrow strip of land that connects Panama with four small islands. After passing our destination once, we finally arrived back at Culebra Point, to explore the Smithsonian funded Centro de Exhibiciones Marinas.

Ready for our morning adventure!

Ready for our morning adventure!

At the gate, we waited 20 minutes to enter because no one was there to take our money…interesting, no?

Cliff can have fun anywhere...

Cliff can have fun anywhere…

We made the best of it and watched the pelicans floating just off the beach.

Watching the pelicans

Watching the pelicans

pelicans

pelicans

Once we started the trail we read each of the signs explaining what to look for in this “dry rainforest”. I looked up in one tree and thought, huh, that looks like a big pile of moss. It’s not moving…must be moss…just as John read aloud the sign explaining that sloth often look like big piles of moss. We both realized at the same time what we were looking at.

A two-toed sloth

A two-toed sloth

It was awesome to see one of these two-towed sloth in person! He was taking a good nap and didn’t so much as twitch a finger (or toe). But he was still fairly photogenic :).

After the sloth excitement we went to the touch tanks where the kids enjoyed the starfish and sea cucumbers.

Cliff liked the starfish

Cliff liked the starfish

I think it was more meaningful for Olivia because she remembered the Monterey Bay Aquarium at our last home. She really enjoyed it!

Olivia's favorite were the sea cucumbers

Olivia’s favorite were the sea cucumbers

The touch tanks overlooked the beautiful blue Pacific and bright green mountainous islands.  We took the opportunity to snap a picture with our Texas A&M flag.

Whoop!

Whoop!

Gig 'Em!

Gig ‘Em!

The tip of the island had amazing views, where we saw many large ships waiting around for their turn to pass through. Storm clouds started forming while we were out and raindrops started steadily dropping, which was nice to cut the humidity.

Overlooking the Pacific

Overlooking the Pacific

Watching the ships

Watching the ships

Best friends...

Best friends…

watching the ships

watching the ships

We even caught a family picture in the mirrored windows of the small island aquarium.

Family mirror shot

Family mirror shot

On our way out we saw some sea turtles and sharks, which the kids were enamored with (probably just because they intuitively know that their mother is terrified of sharks).

sea turtle

sea turtle

While the rain came down, we ate at a small island cafe for lunch and sampled some yummy ceviche and local sausages. The kids were beat by that time, though, so it was back to the hotel for naptime. They really still need that time to reset. We knew in Nicaragua they wouldn’t get many naps, so we were getting them in while we could!

The good, bad, and the ugly…

Unlike the Clint Eastwood movie, responsibility never ends as a parent. I don’t want to give the wrong impression through these posts with photos of smiling faces and gorgeous flora and fauna – that traveling with two toddlers has been easy or breezy. Quite the contrary – traveling with two toddlers has been difficult, to say the least. They are cranky, whiny, scream at the most inopportune times, and refuse to sit still or eat their food on demand (how dare they!)

crying after a fall...

crying after a fall…

But we have managed to have good trips so far.  I say good, not great.  I’m sure they’ll be great in the future when we look back at the wonderful pictures and recall the amazing things we saw together.  We are hoping our trips with the kids will get better (at least they get older each time….?)  I’ll keep you updated 🙂

"you want me to smile?"

“you want me to smile?”

Most of the planning we did for Panama ended up being fairly useless. It’s hard to know how different things are going to be when you get to a new country. For this place there were several unforeseen obstacles and learning curves. First off, I unwittingly bought an old copy of the Lonely Planet’s Guide to Panama – so much of the info we planned our days around was outdated.  Everything was very expensive in Panama City, too. The taxis cost a fortune the first day or two, but we learned where to go for the cheaper ones after that. Meals were also pretty pricey, though usually delicious. We would try to find a specific restaurant, only to be told by our cab driver that it no longer existed (or maybe he just couldn’t find it because no one uses addresses there). One night our driver was particularly confused and just ended up dropping us at the curb of another restaurant. It turned out to be delicious Lebanese food, so it was a fine planning mishap.

Restaurants with the kids are nearly nightmarish, lately, so it didn’t matter too much what we ate anyways. Whatever it was would need to be shoveled down in 3.5 minutes flat, about the time it takes for one or both of the kids to decide they are unhappy and start throwing things. Indigestion and grumpy children would finish out the experience, as we hailed the waiter for “la cuenta!”. At ages 3 and 1 1/2 I guess it’s normal behavior, but it’s oh, so inconvenient! Especially when we don’t have many other options. Our hotel had a sink and a mini-fridge that was already crammed with junk they hoped we would consume, so there wasn’t much cooking going on.

snotty nose...

snotty nose in the restaurant…

The last few meals we did end up just ordering delivery to our hotel room. I found a website that delivered from several different places. It was a risky step to take, though, and not ideal. In fact, our first order was really ridiculous. We put in an order around 5:30pm, the restaurant called us back shortly to tell us they didn’t have any of the items we ordered and so they gave us the name of another place to order from (weird…). We looked up that place, put together another order, and after one more hour of cranky, whiny, hungry children hanging from my limbs, finally called them only to find out they’d misplaced our order and forgotten to fill it. At this point it was nearly 7:30pm, normally bedtime for our littles. They assured us they would have it there in 15 minutes, and they got close to that, but the kids were so exhausted and over-hungry that I could barely get them to eat anything.

trying to get Liv to take our picture

trying to get Liv to take our picture

There were many frustrating times like this on our Panama trip. So I have to say, between the crankiness of our kids, the challenges of this city, and the amazing things we got to see, the trip ended up balancing out to “pretty good” on the scale. But I was just holding my breath, because Nicaragua was next…

best friends...and worst enemies

best friends…and worst enemies

Panama: hiking a rainforest

Our first trip outside Lima this year was Panama. When we arrived in Panama City we were greeted by light showers and beautiful green mountains. Even from the airport we could tell this place was a lot different from Lima. Stepping outside, the warm air hit us like a thick steamy wall. We found a cab and made it all the way to our hotel near downtown Panama City.

Number one on my list was seeing the rainforest and spotting some wildlife! So on our first full day we went to Parque Centro Metropolitano, a preserved rainforest just 15 minutes from the city’s center. It was pretty empty for a Saturday morning, but then again, we were in a party city.

packing Cliff

packing Cliff

Tall mango trees stood unassumingly in the parking lot and the whole area screamed rainforest (or maybe that was the monkeys). Right away we started seeing big bright butterflies dashing from flower to flower.

butterflies, lizards and flowers

butterflies, lizards and flowers

We chose a fairly easy hike but even so, 10 minutes into our tromp on the path, we were all dripping sweat. The humidity was so high that I felt like I could almost see the air in front of me. We heard monkeys on several occasions but never got a glimpse of one. The plants were amazing, though! So much variety and so much green!

rainforest plants

rainforest plants

palms and moss

palms and moss

birds and moss

birds and moss

We passed by a large pond with tons of red slider turtles swimming about and a few good sized fish too.

our sweet girl!

our sweet girl!

checking out a hollow tree

checking out a hollow tree

The flowers were gorgeous! So bright and big. We also saw a banana or plantain tree, not sure which.

plantain or banana?

plantain or banana?

At one point I spotted a very long line of leaf-cutter ants crossing the path. It was so cool to see them up close! In fact, I got so distracted showing the ants to Olivia and taking pictures, that we didn’t see their trail moving towards our feet. We got a couple bites from these huge ants, but nothing too terrible.

leaf-cutter ants

leaf-cutter ants

As the light started shining through the rainforest, we started noticing these large spiders in enormous webs, spun just off the side of the trail. Once we saw the first one, we realized they were everywhere – a very good reason to stay on the path!

spider

spider

big scary spider

big scary spider

Poor Cliff fell asleep half way through. Bet not many people can say they slept in a rainforest!

sleeping in the rainforest

sleeping in the rainforest

Livi ran out of energy near the end of the hike, so I ended up packing her out.  We are definitely learning it’s necessary to take it slower and be flexible when traveling with two toddlers.  It’s a lot harder traveling with them at these ages than when they were infants, that’s for sure!  But we all enjoyed the hike and seeing so much of Panama’s famous wildlife!

first hike in a rainforest

first hike in a rainforest

Right before we finished the hike we saw these little mammals crossing our path… They were like a funny cross between a mouse, a deer and a rabbit. I think they were capybara, or some similar animal.

capybara

capybara

It was a fun adventure! We sure were sweaty by the end!

hot and sweaty

hot and sweaty