Middle age: when you're sitting at home on a Saturday night and the telephone rings and you hope it isn't for you. - Ogden Nash

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A Panamanian Christmas

Dec 24

- Got dropped off. Surprised at how quiet the YYC airport was for Christmas Eve. At least, the departures were quiet. Arrivals looked very busy.

- Went to the new Maple Leaf Lounge. Sat by the fireplace. Had sparkling water. Free wasabi peas and a cookie. And one luggage tag.

- Hopped on our flight and took advantage of our pods. Well sort of. Chris forgot to put his pod flat, but still managed to sleep well. Had an omelette and shredded tofu for breakfast.

- Another Maple Leaf Lounge in Toronto. More free magazines. Yogurt. Snacks. Chris slept again.

- Flight on Rouge. Nancy spilled her orange juice on the lady behind her. Same breakfast as the first flight. Chris slept again. Chris watched 6 episodes of Master Chef.

- Landed in Panama City. Took a $40 cab to the hotel. Sharmila checked us in. Walked around in the mall, trying to find the grocery store hidden within it. Went outside and found a few people carrying bags from Deli K. Asked them where they found it. Turned out the entrance was well inside the parkade. Just as we finally found it, it was closing.

- Next, we went to the Hard Rock pool. Bryan Adams. Music. Big pool. Bit of a view. Couldn't get in the hot tub.

- Took a cab to Thai Garden 2112 ($12). Nice ambiance. Pretty good Thai food. Took an Uber back to the Hard Rock. $2.60 this time. Learned our lesson about taxi's vs Uber in Panama.

- Saw a few of the Dec 24 fireworks from our balcony and then went to bed.

Dec 25

- Got up, had breakfast (empanadas) inside the Hard Rock. Took an Uber to Albrook airport to pick up our rental car. Or so we thought. It turned out our reservation meant nothing, as the office was closed for Christmas. The other rental car agencies had no cars. Fantastic.

- So we took yet another Uber to PTY-Tocument airport. Our original Thrifty reservation still meant nothing, as Thrifty had no cars. Dollar had cars, at only 4 times the rate. Sorry, they didn't have cars, they had a truck. That they were willing to rent us at the rip-off rate. Awesome.

- Managed to get ourselves out of Panama City, with only a few wrong turns. Everything was smooth up until just past Santiago. Then the highway divided into 'finished' and 'not finished'. The not-finished, 1 lane section would take us hours, especially when following behind over-cautious drivers that navigated every pothole at 2km/h.

- Bought some groceries in David. Checked into Rio Encantando. Nice place in a garden setting. Learned about the many light & fan switches. Met Zeus.

- Went for Christmas dinner at The Rock. Had fish tacos, salmon and ribs. Dessert did not have the strawberries we hoped for (cranberries instead).

Dec 26

- Went for breakfast at Sugar & Spice. Three cheese omelette, huevos rancheros, 'the ultimate chicken chiliques' - all covered in some sort of gravyish ranchero sauce.

- Checked in at Boquete Tree Trek. Waited half an hour and then boarded the bus. Drove 30 minutes up the bumpy road. Got in our zip lining harnesses and then drove another 10 minutes up another bumpy road.

- Then we whisked our way through the rain forest. Everything seemed very rushed. It was a little different than Costa Rica, because there we had applied our own brake, using our hand, but here, using our hand brake didn't seem to do anything, and we were wondering why they didn't look panicked as we came rushing into the platform at full speed. It was because they were able to brake for us.

- Nancy enjoyed it, except for the few times she spun around and had to get rescued.

- Then we sat for an hour and a half, in their restaurant, while we waited for the bus to take us back.

- Back in Boquete we tried to find Morton's bakery but could not. Instead we found La Ceiba bakery, and bought chocolate cake.

- Went back to Sugar & Spice and bought a day old muffin and quiche, that still tasted nice and fresh.

- Drove to Boquete Bees and met Emily. She took us on a tour of her farm/garden and we learned a lot about bees & honey. Tried samples of at least 12-15 types of honey at the end.

- Tried to have margaritas and dinner at Big Daddy's but realized we had no cash on us, and they were a cash-only restaurant. We canceled our order (or so we thought) and went out to find a bank machine. When we got back, our margaritas and food were waiting for us. Good fish and chicken tacos. The owner apparently heads to the coast every day for fresh fish.

- Saw a little bit of a Christmas parade on the way out. A lot of people coming into town. Not sure where they're all going to park. Children on the car roofs dressed as Santa.

- Met Frank, the property owner. Learned there might be a Fer de Lance lurking around. Decided not to go swimming at night.

Dec 27

- Ate breakfast on our porch (yogurt, fruit, quiche) and then met Julio(?) our horse guide for the morning. He paired us up with our horses. Mine was Piedro, Chris's was Pimenta, and Nancy's was Touli.

- First we walked along a flat section, through the town of Caldera. Then, back towards the ranch we started at, we proceeded up a fairly steep hill, and took in some views of the Pacific. The weather was HOT. Nancy's hat fell off a few times. Once when the horse knew it was time to run, but Nancy did not. Saw some petrified wood. Learned that pigs are dangerous.

- Went back, freshened up, and tried to eat at a place in Caldera we had read about, but it was closed. So we drove into Boquete.

- Went to Black & White for tapas. It was average. Nothing spectacular about the place or the food. We did get to see a toucan in the backyard of the place next door, although it was caged.

- Stopped by Sugar & Spice again. Bought some muffins for the next day and some salads for dinner. All were delicious.

- Went to one of the local grocery stores, but it didn't have much in the way of fruit, or vegetables, or much of anything really, so it was a good job we had bought the salads.

- Back at Rio Encantando we went for a swim and enjoyed the paradise around us. Jungle. Trees. Birds. Flowing river. Zeus the dog.

- Played a few rounds of No Thanks and drank our Panamanian rum, before eating our dinner.

- At one point Chris commented that 'We haven't seen any weird bugs in Panama.' Right on cue, a gigantic bug the size of a bird flew into our cabana. It didn't seem to be the best flyer, and smashed into our light. It landed on it's back, and couldn't right itself due to the large shell on it's back. I did try to help it, by flipping it over with a fork, but it somehow ended up on it's back again. I would find it in the morning, still there, still flailing, and helped it once more, and this time it flew away.

Dec 28

- Got up early and went for a sunrise swim. Hoping to catch a glimpse of some toucans but did not. Did see a lot of other birds however. I pointed out one bird to Chris, but she corrected me, "That's an airplane." Apparently I need more bird sighting practice.

- Had some yogurt and pineapple for breakfast, enjoying the last little bit of paradise on our patio.

- Started our long drive back, on the half-finished highway.

- Checked into Togo B&B in Farallon. Walked along the beach for quite a ways, until we found Pipa's Beach Bar. We ordered Chicken bomba, a shrimp wrap, and grilled fish. The fish was very fresh, head, tail and all. And we drank some tasty margaritas.

- Almost got locked into the beach on our way back. Gate wouldn't open.

- Played a few rounds of No Thanks on our patio. A friendly cat came by to visit.

Dec 29

- Went for an early morning dip in the ocean. It was pretty warm water. Some weird foam in the water, but other than that it was nice. Chris got bit by something really small a few times. Not sure what it was.

- Back to our B&B and had breakfast. I had an omelette. Chris had scrambled eggs. Both came with potatoes, fruit, and bread.

- Packed up our stuff and headed back towards Panama City. Picked up some delicious rum and hot sauce at a grocery store on the way.

- Drove to the Miraflores Lock visitor center. Got there just before a big cargo ship arrived. There were already a lot of people there, waiting to watch. Couldn't get the best view, but did see it go through the lock system. There was a guy giving play-by-play coverage through a terrible sounding speaker system.

- Walked through the museum and watched a 3D movie that wasn't 3D.

- Drove to our AirBNB in the old town of Panama (Casco Viejo). A pretty interesting driving experience. Narrow streets, no parking, but we managed to find a lot that charged 1 cent per minute.

- Couldn't find our AirBNB, even though we were right in front of it, but eventually a girl noticed us, and figured we must have been the guests, and came over to help us find the place.

- The place had a really nice balcony, facing the Arco Chato, with some great people watching.

- Went for dinner at Tantalo Kitchen. Modern and orange, with loud music and good food. Shared some tapas: seabass cakes, vegetable roll, eggplant, carpacchio, and chicken & cashew. Delicious!

- Walked across the street to check out a place we thought sold ice cream, but it turned out to be gourmet popsicles. Tamarind/margarita and chocolate/peanut butter were the two we chose. Mmmmmm.

Dec 30

- Woke up *really* early to try and get to the rainforest outside of Panama City. We did not anticipate it taking us over an hour to get out of the city. The GPS sent us down a one way street, chaotic levels of pedestrian and traffic everywhere, it was definitely an experience.

- After finally making it to Gamboa / Pipeline alley / Sobreania National Park - we parked the truck and began our walk into the rain forest. For a while, our prospects of seeing wildlife seemed dim, We could hear a lot of birds, but couldn't spot any. We did manage to find a hummingbird and a butterfly.

- But things turned around once we happened upon a group of howler monkeys. We watched them for quite a while, for over an hour, as they swung and leapt through the tree-tops, usually one-by-one.

- Had some lunch, and continued to watch the monkeys, as they made their way past us, heading deeper into the jungle. At this point we also started to spot quite a few birds.

- Drove back to Panama City Old Town, and parked in our 1 cent / minute parking lot again. It felt a little easier this time.

- Tried to go for lunch at Rene's Cafe but it was full. So we went for lunch at Super Gourmet, which was quite good. I had a pesto chicken sandwich, and a tropical smoothie. Chris had a veggie sandwich and an ice coffee. Nancy had a cheese and fruit plate and fresh passion fruit juice.

- Went to the Casco Viejo Interoceanic Panama Canal Museum. Used the English audio guide. It was ok. They glossed over the decade of work that the French put into starting the canal. Didn't really mention how many thousands died making it (estimated to be over 25,000).

- Came back, had a little rest, and sat on our balcony again.

- Went for dinner at Enotria, a wine bar. Very good, but pricey. We had a bottle of wine, a parmesan fondue, a cheese plate, some really good hummus, and bruschetta.

Dec 31

- Startled by some really loud voices chanting outside in the morning. It turned out to be some sort of police or military training.

- Went for breakfast at Casa Sucre, I tried a traditional Panamanian breakfast, some sort of a tamale (corn meal on a banana leaf) that was very tasty, and a delicious smoothie. Chris and Nancy had egg on a bagel.

- Checked out of our AirBNB and drove to the Amador Causeway. Drove to the end of it and checked out the views of Panama City and the entrance to the canal. Saw some yachts at the marina.

- On the way back we stopped at the colorful looking, Frank Gehry designed Bio Museum. It didn't seem to be open, so we just wandered around outside of it, taking in some more views. Some guy was flying his drone.

- Tried to stop at the Smithsonian museum but it was closed. We did see a sloth, and a baby sloth, in the tree outside of it though.

- Headed to the airport, and returned our rental car, without being ripped off.

- Flew to Houston, after going through security twice, the second time right in front of the gate, which we had never done before.

- Spent New Year's Eve at the Houston Sheraton. Celebrated at 11 PM instead (New York New Year's) - since we had to get up so early the next day.