We then flew to Panama City with plans to travel north through Panama and Costa Rica before Roberta flies home. We were advised to buy exit tickets (this time cheap bus tickets) in order to get onto the plane and again they were of no value.
Panama City is huge with a skyline resembling New York City. Hundreds of skyscrapers line the Pacific shore.
We paid a taxi driver $60 to drive us to the Miraflores lock on the Panama CanaL and visit the well done museum.
He waited for us and then drove us to Casco Viejo, the only place in the city that was supposedly safe to walk. It has many wonderful old colonial buildings, a cathedral (closed on Sundays at lunch – the only catholic church in the world closed then) and museums. We got caught in a torrential downpour. They have been having huge rainstorms here and the Panama Canal was closed for the first time since 1945 because of too much rain. Instead of paying $28 for a taxi, we took the local bus for $1.05 back to our hotel near the International Airport.
We were then picked up the next day by some of Roberta´s friends who have a house down here and stayed with them for 4 nights. They bought a lot and built a small house in a gated community established 25 years ago by one of Noriega’s cronies. It is on the continental divide of the country and consists of 2200 lots along the ridge. About 1000 summer homes were built then. When people’s preferences changed to being on the beach, the area was virtually abandoned and now has seen many expatriates from NA and Europe move in. At 1100 meters, it is in the cloud forest, cool and misty. There are birds, especially hummingbirds (there are over 200 species of them) everywhere. They have views 50 km down to Panama City, beautiful at night. Surprisingly none of the high rises are lit at night – apparently all the ones in the east side were built with laundered drug money and sit empty and all the ones on the west are office buildings and unlit at night. Panama seems more advanced than everywhere else with less visible poverty, tap water that is drinkable, and toilets that handle toilet paper.
We spent two days in El Valle, a town in an ancient volcanic caldera where we visited the square trees, a waterfall, some hot pools with mud baths, and walked by many huge homes owned by Panamanians. It was a lovely place to spend Xmas.
A 5 hour bus ride brought us to Boquete in the far west of Panama. Boquete was voted by Modern Maturity magazine as one of the 5 best places to retire in the world and has a large expatriate community. Most are Americans who have moved here permanently – we suppose to escape the mess of the states and to a life of very cheap retirement.
Panama has made immigration here easy and requires only a $300,000 investment – either as a bank deposit or real estate purchase. Very windy with misty rain, Boquete is the adventure capital of Panama. We booked to do the 8 km Quetzal hike but it was cancelled as the river we had to cross on the trip was too high. Another group led by a non licensed guide started the trip, but the guide drowned when he tried to cross the creek! We also booked the 28 km return trip to the top of Volcan Baru but cancelled because of all the rain and instead hiked up a steep muddy trail to a viewpoint high above town. The zip line was great fun. We have met a couple from Sacramento and have ate dinner with them every night. Most of our time seems to be spent reading, going online, eating and drinking rum and cokes. We are getting tired of the cool, wet weather and looking forward to some beach time in Costa Rica.
We flew from David and I was caught in the “return ticket scam”. I wasn’t allowed to board the plane to San Jose, Costa Rica without a return flight. The ticket agent for the airline reassured me that the ticket could be easily refunded (it was impossible). Of course, immigration in Costa Rica did not care about a flight out of the country.