January 27, 2016

Michel's mom came through her operation well, but is in for a long recovery.  In the mean time his Dad has to adjust to the loss of his driver's license.  We made the decision today to go home where our help is needed. We will fly to Quito tomorrow morning then re-arrange the rest of our flight from there. Rich and Tina have also decided to go home. Not sure if we'll arrive in Vegas the same day, as their arrangements are made already. 

But, we got to visit with our friends Larry and Dona, who moved here to Cuenca from Grand Forks last October.  They love it here. We had a nice visit, and who knows, maybe we'll meet up with them next year!

January 25, 2016

This morning we received some bad news. Michel's mom, who is 88 years old, fell yesterday and broke her hip. Surgery is planned for today or tomorrow. His father, who is also 88, is unable to stay on his own. We are not sure yet how this will affect our plans, but we decided that we were going to shoot on down to Cuenca today in the event that we must go home early. 

Quito has so much to see and do, and we barely tapped the tip of it. But Rich and Tina have chosen to stay on in Quito and continue with their site seeing plans. We may meet up later. 

So Michel and I caught the Trole bus just a couple of blocks from where were were staying. It was so crowded! Like sardines in a can...There are seats for 36 people and standing room for 124 - but I swear at one point there were more than 124.

And we were two of the sardines standing - with luggage no less. But this is not uncommon.  There were many standing (and a few sitting) with luggage. 

Anyway we made our way to the South Terminal to catch our bus for Riobamba, which will be our stop over for the night..  3.5 hours on a bus is long enough for one day.  Tomorrow we will bus the rest of the way 289 km.

The highways are nicely paved and not busy at all.

We had a very relaxing ride, arriving around 3:30 pm.

January 24, 2016

The Basilica del Voto Nacional (seen in the background) is a large neo-Gothic building

Today we spent the morning and early afternoon walking around and visiting a little in the Old Historic Quito.  We did the same on Saturday night.   A person could do this every day for a week and still not see all there is to see. 

Quito's Old Town extends over 790 acres and is the largest historic center in the Americas.

La Iglasia de la Compania de Jesus Church

Quito's Old Town was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978, and they have taken great pride in restoring the colonial buildings and sprucing up the public spaces.

The streets and plazas constantly buzz with colorful locals and vendors selling everything from roasted peanuts to giant roasted pigs. 

Tourists drink it all in as they shuffle between the overwhelming number of restored churches and chapels, convents and monasteries, mansions and museums.  There are over 40 churches, and 16 convents and monasteries in old town alone. And of course there are plenty of bars and restaurants. 

Plaza Grande  (Plaza de la Independencia)

January 22, 2016

As it turned out our hotel was located way out in el Quinche, which is about 25 miles (45 minute drive) or so northeast of the the city of Quito. Who knew?? 

This morning we decided to check out the tiny town. There were vendors everywhere.  Every kind of shop you can imagine. And amid all this hustle and bustle sits the parish of The Quinche. It is famous for the Marian Pilgrimage. The second week of November more than 800,000 believers make the pilgrimage to the shrine of the Virgin of El Quinche from the village of Calderon. The walk is done over night and they arrive at dawn the next day to the church of El Quinche.  On November 21st the mass party ends with a procession through the streets of Quinche. 

On July 8, 2015, during his Apostolic Journey to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, Pope Francis went to this National Marian shrine of El Quinche, and met with clergy, men and women, and seminarians.

It is a very big, beautiful and ornate church. Gold filigree and carved wooden statues, huge stained glass windows.  

Pictures just don't do it justice. 

Anyway, after our visit to the church we decided to check out of the hotel and get somewhere closer to Quito.  We loaded our suitcases onto the bus bound for Quito and enjoyed the ride. It took about an hour and a half, and cost $1 each - but we were in Quito. We hailed a cab ($4) to get us the rest of the way to Plaza Fochs, which is a hub of activity, with restaurants, bars, hotels, hostels. We will stay in this area for a few days while we do some more "touristy" things.   

January 21, 2016

Leaving Panama........

So far all our blog posts look like fun and games! But I have to be honest, it has had it's challenges at times. Not with the company, that goes without saying that we love Rich and Tina to pieces. The biggest challenge has been travelling all this time without pre-made plans.  Anyone who knows Michel and myself knows that this is kinda how we do it... have to say this has probably been the biggest challenge for Rich and Tina, not knowing what comes next.....

Yesterday and today were two of those challenging days. They ran into one long day ..... Michel and I booked a flight to Quito, Ecuador for this morning. When Rich and Tina went to book the same flight there was some sort of technical problem and we weren't able to do it. So we all checked out of our hotel in downtown Panama and headed with our luggage to the airport to get this done. It's impossible to make a long story short, but in the end they ended up with the same flight we had, but for double the money. This should have been a good thing, BUT ... when we got to our rooms and checked our email we discovered that the reservation we had made required a confirmation, which didn't get done in a timely manner so our booking was cancelled. And we couldn't re-book because there was less than 10 hours to flight time. So now we had no flight!

We were all back at the airport at 3:30 am, so Rich and Tina could catch their 5:10 flight which went from Panama City to Bogota, Columbia (4 hour lay over) then on to Quito, Ecuador. In the mean time we tried to book a flight, but we couldn't get a flight at any time for anything near the same price.  In the end we booked a direct flight with a different company for quite a bit more money, leaving at 11 am and getting in around 2:00 

That's not the end of it.... Rich and Tina's had to change planes in Bogota to end their journey. In the mean time they sent us an email letting us know that they had booked a room and would meet us, because they had no idea when we would be arriving.  As it turned out, they arrived at the hotel about an hour before we did.........our angels always watch over us. 

January 18, 2016

So we had to leave Bambu Guest House, but while Michel was down at the Marina looking at boats he met Arielle the owner of "One World"

One World is a 64' Brigantine Schooner built in 1984. Two young sisters from Colorado bought her with intentions of sailing the world. 

Website if you want more information is:  www.sailingoneworld.com

Michel wrangled us one night on this boat "just for the fun of it".

Right now Ariel is sailing the boat and running their tour business, as her sister is back in Colorado.

But we enjoyed the sea breezes for the day and Michel and Dave (Ariel's friend) had a bath in the ocean.

Travelled to and from the boat by dinghy.

Our cabin ...............

Off to Panama City tomorrow - going to be flying to Quito, Ecuador in a couple of days. Check back soon!

January 17, 2016

Our last port of call on this Panamanian 'journey' was Portobelo (like the mushroom). 

This Caribbean fishing village is so laid-back it is incredible to imagine that it was once the greatest Spanish port in Central America. 

Today, Portobelo’s residents scratch out a living fishing, tending crops or raising livestock. Although Portobelo is economically depressed, it is experiencing something of a cultural revival, with interest surging in Congo art and dancing. The town bursts to life every October 21 for the Festival de Cristo Negro (Black Christ Festival), one of the country’s most vibrant and spiritual celebrations.
But we didn't stay in Portobelo...... it was CRAZY busy. We thought that being Sunday the party-ers would have gone home by 1:00 in the afternoon.....WRONG!!! We could barely drive the car down the road for buses, taxis and cars. It was the same going through next little town of Puerto Lindo. 
We followed the road to the very end in search of "Turtle Cay Resort" - thinking we may stay there for the night. There was advertising all the way to the end, but the Resort basically does not exist. So when we got to the end of road in Miramar we turned around.
Coming back to Puerto Lindo, it was still crazy busy so we pulled off the road to get away from the traffic, into this quaint little B & B - Bambu Guest House. Blessed again - they had one room available (a double and two twins) This was the view from their balcony.

There are three rooms and a full bar. 

We did drive back to Portobelo for dinner, but only after 6:00 when the busses and taxis and other traffic had slowed down. 

We enjoyed this little respite, but they could only put us up for one night so we have to move along tomorrow. 

A young couple from Germany own this place.  They are so hospitable. 

pictured here are Bert and Sandra Werner and her daughter Ava.


January 16, 2016

Continuing on the Pacific side of Panama, we are now heading back toward Panama City.

Another beach - Santa Clara - is definitely NOT a resort. It is one of the small 'beach communities' that the Panamanians frequent. 

Arriving on a Saturday, we were in the midst of the partying. So to say the least there was little sleeping going on!

We had a few beers on the beach, and dinner and we even managed a night swim. The beach was beautiful and the water refreshing. 

January 15, 2016

This morning we left Bocas Del Toro, on the Atlantic side of Panama. The last water taxi ride took us back to the mainland at Almarante, where we had left our rental car, then back down the twisty, turny narrow road to David. South of David on the Pacific side, where many ex-pats live, we found this beautiful resort - Los Olas, located right on the ocean.

This resort has everything. With pools, restaurant, work out room, and the ocean just steps away, it is not surprising that many come to relax here.  

We enjoyed the sunset at the beach.

And Tina talked to the local parrot.

Everybody here has a parrot or two!!

January 14, 2016

Yesterday we left Boquete. The long road up to Bocas Del Toro was windy and narrow, and filled with pot holes. After four or so hours we made a right turn instead of left and arrived at Chirique Grande. A quick drive through and turn around we were back on track an heading to Almarante - then a half hour boat ride to the island of Bocas Del Toro. 

In our travels we've never made reservations at the hotels. And yet, we've never had trouble finding rooms. This is the view from our room in Bocas.

And this is our hotel..... our room is the one on the right at the end of the balcony.

Bocas Del Toro means 'Mouth of the Bull" and is comprised of the Mainland and nine main islands off the Caribbean coast of Panama.

Bocas Town is a hub for dining, shopping and nightlife, with reggae music emanating from open air bars. 

We visited the different islands today with Don Camilo, the tour guide from one of the local tour companies. We spent the better part of the day on the water.......   Star Fish Island was the first of the islands. 

Along the way we came across this wonderful little set up- A Canadian from Montreal bought this island and until he builds his dream house on it this is how he and his girlfriend spend their days. Not too shabby!!!

We did some snorkelling..... and when I say we I really mean it.  My first time and if you know me this is quite a feat. But here I am ready to go.. and just in case you still don't believe I did this - the next picture shows both myself and Michel. 

It was great. I never thought I would be able to do it, but now I can scratch that off my bucket list.  (It wasn't even on my bucket list)

This here is a sloth - they live on this island that is now called "Sloth Island" - go figure!!

Last event for this day was a visit to Red Frog Beach on Red Frong Island. Don't know why it's called that as we didn't see any red frogs. 

The beach was beautiful and the surf was awesome. Refreshing and warm, nice big waves crashing the shores.  We enjoyed playing in the surf, then relaxing on the beach under a nice palm tree.

That took care of our day. Lots of fresh air and sunshine.
dinner later at Bocas Bamboo for the best burgers on the island.

January 12, 2016

We arrived in Boquete yesterday afternoon, after a very long drive from Pedasi.  All was great until we got to Santiago, then road construction happened..... We were in road construction for 189 km (that's almost 120 miles) going back and forth from one side of the highway to the other as they dug and scraped and paved.... took us at least three times longer than we had anticipated, but we enjoyed Boquete.

Boquete is a small town located in the western-most Province of Chirique, about 60 kilometres (37 mi) from the border with Costa Rica. Because of its elevation, some 1,200 metres (3,900 ft) above sea level, its climate is cooler than that of the lowlands. Its scenic location, temperature, and natural environment make it popular with Panamanians and attracts tourists from all over the world. 

We are staying in a hostel right on the river. This is the scenic view we have from the yard. Not too hard to take eh???

Tuesday mornings there is a "Gringo Market" (so it is called) just on the other side of the bridge (top picture).

We toured the Cafe Ruiz coffee plantation this afternoon, for over three hours! Boquete, Panama is known for growing some of the best coffees in the world. 

Our tour guide was Carlos, and an excellent teacher he was. He has been with Ruiz Coffee company since he was ten years old and a tour guide since 1997. He was interesting and funny. I never thought that there was even this much to know about coffee and the way it is grown and produced. Firstly, coffee beans are fruits, and are hand picked when they are red and ripe one and a time, twisted so as not to break the stem. 

There are also many different varieties and qualities of beans, and different ways to process each variety. 

And nothing is wasted - the skins are composted, and the beans that don't make the grade are still roasted and ground and sold as instant coffee (who knew??) 

The coffee beans pictured on the right their "Geisha" brand -are naturally dried, organic, making them the most expensive. They get $3,000 a bag for these babies (about 50 pound bag). 

So coffee beans are picked, rinsed, fermented, dried, sorted, aged and roasted. 

When the tour was over we all went back to their Coffee Shop to sample three of the coffees. We were all given a nice 'parting' gift of coffee beans. 

It was a very informative day - a good day!!

We enjoyed our happy hour at Mikes Global Grill afterwards.  Here, on Tuesdays they have 2 for 1 drinks from 2 until 6.  We got there around 5 then wandered up the street for a fish dinner...... 

January 10, 2016

Friday (8th) we left El Valle and headed down the highway to our next adventure. We stopped at Penonome for a quick breakfast (McDonalds) then onwards and downwards we went.  I've added a map of Panama so you can track our journey. 

I was surprised to see these windmills along way.

We got into Pedasi in the early afternoon and found a room quite quickly in a nice hostel (Dona Maria).   Pedasi, also known as the "Tuna coast" is a tiny fishing village about 4.5 hours from Panama City and is home to a handful of shops, cafes, small grocery stores and hotels. The first night we hunted down an Italian Restaurant. Last night we ate at "Smiley's" a typically American restaurant. In fact, it is the 'stomping ground' of the ex-pats in this area. On Tuesday and Friday nights there is a local band, comprised of ex-pats. 

We did the typical touristy things, visiting the beaches. The first was Playa Vanao, up the road about 45 minutes. The weather here was hot and very humid, so we looked for a shady spot and settled in for a while. The beach was quite rocky and we didn't swim in the water.  BUT ..... 

Today we we took a boat to Isla Iguana. This is 'the' attraction here in Pedasi. Here our captan and his helpers are rolling the boat out to the ocean. The ride out to the island was quite choppy as we were fighting the waves all the way.

20 minutes or so later we were on the shores of this beautiful island.  

Isla Iguana - an island jewel - is surrounded by 20 hectares of spectacular coral reef and holds 11 species of corals developed over many centuries. The surrounding waters host 542 species of fish making snorkelling awesome. 

The island is also the home to more than 2,000 types of birds. Isla Iguana was declared a National Park in 1980. There are a few trails that all lead to the ocean.....

We thoroughly enjoyed the waters. We floated around for hours..... It's amazing how easy it is to 'float' in ocean waters. 

Soon enough we had to go back. The ride back was much better than the ride there - it was like riding one big wave all the way - and only took half the time. Our plan is to leave tomorrow for other areas.