Missy & Jim - travel log

Costa del Este
Panama City, Panama 

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Missy & Jim Ė Chicago

Do you remember....

When times were slower....
When people didnít have a car and walked more? Or rode their bikes ?
When you actually talked to your neighbors?
When you said good morning or good afternoon as you passed people on the street?
When you went into a local restaurant and the owner came out and sat and chatted with you ?

My husband and I just got home from such a place. It is El Valle in Panama. This turned out to be one of the best vacations we have ever experienced. Not because of the things we did but because of the people we met.
Our trek started in Panama city. We had the fortune to have met Tom and Donna through their web site. Two of the most likeable people you would ever want to meet.
Tom and Donna volunteered to meet us at the air port and take us to our hotel. Without them I am sure our trip out of the airport to the hotel would have been very harrowing. If you donít know it the traffic in Panama city is horrendous. Tom and Donna made it easy for us.

I am not sure they knew what they were in for. Our plane landed on time. That was the good news... the bad news was that our gate had another plane at it and we had to go to a holding area. The Captain said it should be 20 min. Well 20 min turned into 2 hours. The engines were turned off and it got pretty warm on the plane. Well we never expected Tom and Donna to stay that long. I figured that we would get a cab... but no as we came out of customs there was TOM ... what a relief. Once we walked outside there was Donna and Cricket (their dog). We loaded up the bags in Toms car and off we went to the hotel. After the full day of travel we were tired and we went to bed.

The next morning we were up early. We went to the restaurant in our hotel and ordered coffee. Well this was our first experience with caffe con leche. The coffee in Panama is very strong and we learned real fast (from Tom and Donna) to add leche. Once we did that we were happy campers.

Tom and Donna once again met us at the hotel and helped us get out rental car. Once that was all done off to Gamboa Rain Forrest along the Panama Canal. We followed Tom and Donna to Gamboa. What a treat! Tom and Donna had the foresight to share their walkie talkies and it was like we had our own private tour guide as we drove along the canal to Gamboa.

Along the canal we saw several ships loaded with hundreds of containers. What a treat.

Gamboa was a delight. We started with a very nice breakfast buffet. Then off to the Tram tour of the rainforest... the views were breathtaking. Once you get to one end of the tram ride you get off and hike up to the tower where you can see the canal and the country side .... it was breathtaking. Then the hike back to the tram and again back in the canopy of the rainforest ... we saw a howler monkey.... and a couple of sloths. Not to mention all the pretty greenery, flowers and birds. What a treat!

Once we had done all that we were on way to El Valle.

We parted ways with Tom and Donna and we were on our own. Tom got us on the Panamerican Highway. Off we went.

The country side was beautiful. As you came into towns you do see the poverty. There is a bit of culture shock as you drive. Well I should say there was for me. There are tiny little homes scattered all over the country. The stores are just square building with some kind of advertisements painted on them and in front the locals all hang out there.

Panamanians are crazy drivers. Something we didnít know before we came. We were told but we didnít believe it till we saw it. They are crazy drivers. It is ok you just have to be a bit more careful and expect that there are some crazy drivers out there.

After maybe 90 minutes to 2 hours (not sure here was too busy looking around) we arrived at the turn for El Valle. Up the mountain we went.

At the 11km mile marker we stopped at Mary and Matts home. A beautiful home perched on top of a mountain with a fantastic view of the mountains and you can see all the way to the pacific ocean. We sat and visited with them for awhile.

We met Mary on her website about Panama. They also were very helpful and instrumental in helping us get our trip put together. Like I said it was not the things we did it was the people we met.

Then off to El Valle. As you come around the mountain you come into this quaint little town. Streets lined with Little/big homes... Little street side restaurants...and the local grocery stores. El Valle is where a lot of Panamanians come on the week ends for pleasure. We definitely found out why they enjoy it so much.
At the far end of town we came to our destination. Anton Valley Hotel. A very pretty hotel in town. Gardens all around. A lovely patio in front to sit and visit or to sit and have breakfast. We had breakfast on the patio each morning we were there and it was an wonderful experience. In the mornings you would see all the locals head in one direction either on foot...on bikes ... in buses...and a few in cars headed for their jobs. In the evening you would see them headed in the opposite direction after their day at work headed back home after a day at work.

From the hotel is a lovely view of La India Dormida (the sleeping Indian). There are mountains all around and fantastic views. El Valle is in a crater of a inactive volcano so there are mountains all around it.

El Valle is one of the most charming towns we have ever been in.

Walking into the hotel we were greeted by Les and Earl. We fell in love with these two and their staff. You cannot understand why until you experience it. First class treatment all the way is all we can say. You have to experience it to understand.

I am not going to go into day by day but try to sum up the experience.

We sat on the patio each day and had breakfast. A lovely breakfast... You could have an American breakfast of ham and eggs and hash browns or a Waffle or a Panamanian breakfast and at the end the bill for 2 was approximately $6.00 depending on what you had. That is not $6.00 each that is the entire bill. We tried each thing on the menu and loved them all.

It was either the first or second day we were there. One side of the hotel was in sun and on the other side you could see it raining. All of a sudden I realized there should be a rainbow and sure enough Rudolfo (one of the Panamanians that work there) pointed it out to us. That was the one and only rainbow we saw the whole trip. It was BEAUTIFUL and such a treat.

In the evenings we would walk into town and have dinner at one of the little roadside restaurants. They donít look like much at first glance but once you go in and sit down and have a meal you understand. It doesn't have to be fancy or beautiful to be good. The food was delicious. The service was phenomena. The people were the friendliest you will ever meet.

I am not a fish person but the fish here was REALLY REALLY GOOD. The first night we had Corvina (a Sea Bass) YUMMMMMMMM. Through the week we had several fish dinners and they were all delicious. We tried several different restaurants and all were good we were not disappointed.

In the evenings after dinner we would sit on the porch and chit chat with whoever came out. Sometimes it was Les or Earl and sometimes it was other guests. It was delightful.

During the day we wanted to see some of the properties in the area that were for sale. We hooked up with Rachael and Giovanni who own El Valle Real Estate. Well I don't know where to start. They are one of the nicest couples you would ever want to meet. They took us out in their 4 wheel drive and showed us El Valle like not many ever get to see. We went places you could not imagine.

One stop was Las Nubes which means The Clouds. Yes the mountain road goes into the clouds. It is a beautiful area. We stopped at one lot that over looks El Valle and I got out to take a picture and when I reached the edge of the property I felt like I was in heaven. It was beautiful.

We spent a couple of days going around El Valley with Rachael and Giovanni looking at different properties all over El Valle it was extraordinary. If you are in the area and want to look at property we highly recommend El Valle Real Estate.

We also visited El Macho waterfalls. WOWOWOWOW beautiful. Well worth the $3.50 they charge for the guided tour. There is some hiking here. There is a hanging bridge you have to go across and there is a small river you have to cross (on rocks) to get to the other side.

One day we took the 20 minute ride to the beach and we ended up in Santa Clara. We parked the car and walked the beach. On the beach there was this line of people pulling on a cord. There were some people camping on the beach and we asked what was going on and they explained that they were fishermen and that they had put the net out the night before and now they were pulling it out to see what they had caught. There had to be over a dozen people pulling on this rope... we didnít stay long enough to see what was the catch but it must have been a lot for all the pulling they were doing.

The beach had lovely bohios you could sit under if you wanted to.

We met many Americans that were either building their retirement homes here or had all ready built and were living here. Everyone was so very nice..... as we said before it wasnít the things we did (that did help) but it was the people met they made the trip!

Well this pretty much explains our first experience of Panama. Our trip back was uneventful.
This was one vacation that we were not anxious to come home. Usually after 10 days away we cannot wait to get home ....this time we had mixed emotions. We wanted to get home to see our dogs but we were not anxious to leave Panama.

Panama to us is a great and friendly country and we will be back to investigate more.

Missy & Jim

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