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Panama

Holiday Hullabaloo: Chapter 6

The End

sunny 28 °C

The last few days of the family vacation was wonderful. We spent the days wandering around the one main street and a couple of smaller streets that make up Bocas del Toro. The boys hadn't quite had their fill of diving so we scoped out a dive shop for them to get a couple last dives in before heading back to the chilly waters of NorCal or the non-existent ones of Bogota. I went along for the ride and before I knew it I was suited up, in the water and taking home my books and video to study for my scuba certification course. Sucker.

I went back bright and early the next day, before anyone was up to finish up the first part of the course and get another dive in (I'll complete the rest of my course anywhere and anytime I want). It was a pretty lazy couple of days (I'm not complaining, don't worry) and by the time we were all up and around day 2 we had time to make a quick trip to Red Frog beach.

Just a boat ride away from the main drag in Bocas, Red Frog beach is on the non-sheltered side of one of the other islands in the Bocas archipelago. Not being protected by other islands or small bays, the damage from the hurricane season that had hit Panama pretty good this year was evident. Uprooted trees lined the beaches, signs were half buried in the sand and the red frogs had pretty much vacated the area. Fortunately, the hike out to the beach from the dock on the opposite side of the island was gorgeous. You walk past magenta wild ginger, mangrove trees and our second sloth of the vacation (first was in Cartagena...check out the pick on Shutterfly! I named him/her Francis).

We enjoyed dinner over the water and made our way back to the hotel for our last night in Panama. Bright and early the next morning we woke to a gorgeous sunrise and hopped the puddle-jumper back to Panama City. The fam was heading back up to CA and Marty and I were going to be making our way down to Colombia's coffee region before heading home to Bogota.

It was a great trip, seeing family, new places and getting out of the city were top on my list of things to do for the holidays. While the Caribbean part of our vacation was over we weren't quite done exploring.

For all the pics from the "Holiday Hullabaloo" part of the trip check out the 'Christmas Trip' album at http://beyondbogota.shutterfly.com

Posted by tuffchix 14:22 Archived in Panama Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Holiday Hullabaloo: Chapter 5

Beautiful Bonaire, sea day, the Panama Canal and then some...

sunny 27 °C

The last port was Kralendijk, Bonaire and it could get any prettier, it did. Bonaire is famous for its scuba diving and windsurfing. They are also home to a protected mangrove forest and plenty of its own history. While dad took in the latter, the boys hopped a boat to dive in the national marine reserve and mom and I kayaked our way through the mangrove forest.

The island was beautiful, whether you were on land, on the water or under the water. Unfortunately, we had the shortest time in Bonaire and after our activites and checking off quite a but of avian and marine life (jellyfish, baby barracudas, brightly colored parrot fish, tarpin, pufferfish, corals, crabs, and more) we boarded the ship for the last time.

The day ended unfortunately when Marty caught the Dutch Antillean version of Montezuma's Revenge. Luckily our next and last day was at sea so he didn't miss much other than the Royal Caribbean Belly-Flop contest and the Miss Royal Caribbean pageant which I'm sure was a real disappointment for him.

Dec. 28th we were back in Colon, Panama where we had left from and were making our way later that day to Bocas del Toro, a sleepy little backpackers paradise on the northern Caribbean side of Panama. On the trip back we stopped at the Panama Canal's Gatun Locks (1 of the canals 3 locks) and saw a huge cargo ship making its way from the Caribbean side to the Pacific (in the mornings ships pass from Caribbean to Pacific and in the afternoon the locks work in the opposite direction). Its pretty amazing to see these huge ships pass through the canal, being pulled through and raised up with the narrowest of margins on either side. There may be as little as a foot between the ship and the walls of the canal. The photos will show a little better how the whole system works, but its pretty fascinating to watch and I don't have a drop of engineering blood in body. That's saying something.

After the Gatun Locks we caught our flight up to Bocas del Toro although upon arrival we were a few bags lighter than when we started. Apparently if your bags are too heavy, they just don't put them on the plane until they feel like it so 3 of our 5 checked bags didn't make it until the next morning.

We checked into our hotel in Bocas del Toro called Playa Tortuga and settled down to relax for the next couple of days.

Posted by tuffchix 13:58 Archived in Panama Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Holiday Hullabaloo: Chapter 1

They won't let us leave!

sunny 27 °C

Its been 3 weeks since we took off from Bogota to embark on a wonderful and much needed holiday break from The Bog. However, leaving Colombia is no easy task. It all started on Friday Dec. 19th- our last day in Bogota. We went to work, did very little other than eat loads of homemade Christmas cookies and fudge and attempted to cash our stipend checks- also not something that was in the cards for us. By the time we got out of the office all we wanted to do was to catch the last of the big city holiday cheer. Getting out and about not such a problem, getting home; a nightmare. No taxis, no buses, no Transmilenio in sight and miles (literally) of traffic. It was not the best way to finish up our 3 month run in Bogota but at least it would be a quick trip to Panama the following day, right? Wrong. At least we were able to salvage what was left of the evening with our 'apartment Christmas' including wine and The Christmas Story. I mean, how can the night not end well with visions of sugarplums and sounds of "You'll shoot your eye out" ringing in your head?

The call actually came on Friday to tell us that the flight we had carefully selected for the following afternoon to Panama had been canceled leaving us with no other option than to leave at 6am with layovers in Medellin and Pereira before even heading to Panama- WHAT??!!? By 4 am we were in the cab to the airport only to arrive at check in before 4:30 to be told that this particular airline doesn't open until 5am. During the holidays. For international flights. When all other airlines in the airport are open and processing their passengers for much later flights than 6am. By the time they opened a fairly large line had formed of anxious travelers. We checked our bags, had luggage claim tickets (which they do check here as you leave the airport), and boarding passes in hand when they remembered to ask if we had our vaccination records with us, as they are required for entry to Panama from Colombia. Shit. There was no mention in any confirmation email, website, or really anywhere in the process of buying these tickets that suggested we would need it for this trip. Shit. I had apparently shoved mine in with my passport and whatever other important documents we were carrying with us but Marty had left his at the apartment. The airlines proceeded to make some calls to customs in Pereira (the last city in Colombia we would be stopping at before leaving the country) to see just how necessary those vaccination records were. While a very nice employee was assuring us they were not all that important and we would still be able to travel, the airline agent was confirming that there was absolutely no way to get into Panama through Colombian customs without them. Shit. So to make a long and incredibly nerve-racking story a bit shorter in the 15 minutes before our flight was supposed to leave, Marty managed to beg the one open store in the airport to let us use their photocopier and with my vaccination records in hand, copied them, changed the names, dates, etc,. told the airline we had gotten someone to fax us Marty's real records (why they believed that makes no sense, exactly where would we be receiving faxes at this point?), and had a security guard escort us to the head of the lengthy security line for a flight we were told was ready to leave. Our flight was delayed for an hour.

It was the crazies run around at 5am we had ever participated in, not to mention the thoughts of 'we are not going to make our flight and there isn't another one today' and 'we are never going to make it to Panama or the cruise, or see my family' running through our head. Now we just had to hope anyone who checked the records didn't look to closely (or spill water on them washing away our 'corrections').

Three hours, and 2 flights later we arrived at customs, completely unpacked, unwrapped, described, explained and listed every single item we were traveling with, had our passports stamped, signed our name on the dotted line and boarded the last leg to Panama City. We arrived in Panama City, claimed our luggage, got the final stamp in the passport and were out getting a cab. WITHOUT EVER HAVING OUR VACCINATION RECORDS ASKED FOR, LET ALONE LOOKED AT!

Despite all their efforts to not let us leave, we managed to escape from Colombia. We made it safely to our hotel in Panama City where we went through a little 'reverse culture shock' at seeing such tall glittering ceilings, large comfortable couches, cable television, fitted sheets and other modern luxurious amenities the Marriott can provide. We kicked off the shoes and sat poolside in the glorious tropical weather sipping orange/lime water waiting for my family to arrive. It was officially vacation.

Posted by tuffchix 06:48 Archived in Panama Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

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