We arrived in Panama safely late on Friday evening after a short but enjoyable visit to Robin’s aunt and uncle in New Jersey. There was a short moment of anxiety when the receptionist in the Panama hotel couldn’t find our reservation but all became clear when we discovered that she was looking for Senora Elizabeth (my middle name) rather than Morrison!
On Saturday morning we set off at 6.00 am – not a problem for jet lagged Europeans – to go on a wildlife tour with a guide. This was my birthday present and was pre-booked. The guide, Ivan, was charming, knowledgeable and well equipped with a telescope on a tripod and a picnic. We drove out of the city parallel to the canal to ‘Pipeline Road’ so-called because it follows the line of the pipeline built by the Americans during World War 2 to transport oil across the isthmus if the canal were bombed. It was never used and has now been dismantled. The area, which is remarkably close to the city, has remained unspoilt and is protected.
The melodious sounds of the jungle greeted us when we got out of the car and every tree and patch of undergrowth was alive. Ivan would listen to and identify the sounds, and know where to look for the most interesting creatures. I could include a long list of the 46 different birds that we identified – and that would exclude all the small brown ones. Instead I will just mention the three types of toucan, the greedy parrot eating fruit in a tree, the various humming birds and the pygmy kingfisher above the creek at the end of our walk. In the same creek we saw a HUGE crocodile (well OK, less than 3 feet long and an adolescent) and there was a basilisk lizard sunning himself on a log. We saw families of howler monkeys and a group of capuchin monkeys but he animal that the guide got particularly excited about was the jaguarondi, a smallish member of the cat family, whom we glimpsed in the undergrowth. Altogether the experience was magical. I experimented with taking photos through the telescope as you will see. Robin took some more conventional photos as well. An exceptional birthday present.
Back at the hotel we were able to enjoy the view of the Bridge of the Americas above the entrance to the canal and to walk along the promenade next to the sea. Dinner was in a restaurant nearby where the food was fine but the karaoke singing was appalling! The Spanish was exercised with mixed success. I find that I can understand a lot of written Spanish but the spoken word needs some practice.
Today we have visited the Casco Viejo (old town) with friends. It is a mixture of restored colonial houses and ruins and is elegant and decayed in atmosphere. We toured the canal museum and then found a great place for lunch, mostly filled with local families but smart. We ordered drinks and then the food just turned up continuously for a couple of hours. It was all excellent and passed the hottest part of the day very well. The bill was moderate too.
Tomorrow we will go and fetch the cars from Manzanillo on the Caribbean side of the isthmus. Our lucky car, together with the Patchett Mercedes which is sharing its container, has been through the canal by mistake and then back again – the scenic route!