Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013- Ash to Royal Palm Beach
We were up before 6 and off by 6:22. The drive was pretty much uneventful- with several stops for Dick to lie down. Lunch was at a Subway. We got to Dave, Linda, and Wayne’s house just after 6:30. Linda had made corn chowder so we had a good meal. Talked and caught up on computer things and headed for bed just before 10.

Thursday, Jan. 31- Royal Palm Beach
The morning was gray and rainy and cold for around here. Dick and Dave did a bike ride and Dick got bird photos at a pond. We waited for a call to say that Wayne’s truck was repaired and Dick worked on the photos. Once they had pickd up the truck, we went off and played three games of bocce at a park. Dinner was pork roast cooked in the crockpot. For dessert we had a red velvet birthday cake in honor of Dick and Dave’s mother who would have been 100 in a few days.

Friday, Feb. 1, 2013
Up and had a leisurely morning, then headed for the Cultural Center for the luncheon and 50’s concert. We were there quite early and sat at out table eating Valentine Hershey’s Kisses until they called our table up. We had chicken or tilapia, black beans and rice, a roll and a salad with strawberry shortcake for dessert. The band was the Fabulons and they were fun. They played Sweet Caroline, songs from Grease, Goody Goody and lots of other 50’s and 60’s songs.

After the luncheon was over we tried to get Linda’s glasses repaired, but left them to be finished and drove through the Polo Grounds at Wellington. We stopped for a half hour or so to watch the match in progress, then headed for home. No sandhill cranes were in evidence, but Dick did get some good shots of the polo game. We ate lunch type food for dinner, then Linda and I played Bananagrams and ate more of the red velvet cake. I Imed with Christy and Rob and talked to Rob when he called to say Bon Voyage. Wayne came home and reported that the truck was still having problems and he couldn’t take it to work the next day. We went to bed around 10.

Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013- Royal Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale to Panama City
I got up just before 9, surprised I had slept so long. After breakfast Linda and I went off to do chores. We went to Michaels for the cake decorating supplies she needed, then picked up her glasses. After a little grocery shopping we went back home.  We napped and showered. I talked to Christy, Liam, and Gracie. Linda laid out an early dinner and we were finished and ready to leave aorund 6:30. The drive to Fort Lauderdale took about an hour and a half but we had trouble finding the parking lot we had paid to park in. From there we were quickly driven to the correct airport area. Everything at check in and security went well- except for being told that our flight was leaving at 1:30- two hours later than scheduled.

So we made oursleves at home, using the airport wi-fi and napping when we could, which was not much for either of us. The plane was further delayed until 2:15, but landed a little earlier than that and was quickly cleaned and we were off by about 2. Dick slept a bit during the three hour flight and I dozed once for a short time. We landed in Panama City around 5, got through immigration and customs with no problems, and took a taxi to the Agua Miel Hotel. It turned out to be a nice little hotel with small but clean rooms and a nice breakfast included for about $50 a night.

It was pretty noisy as we hit the bed around 6AM and got a bit of restless sleep. But we were up by 8:30 and headed for the breakfast area. There was a nice little outdoor patio area and Dick had one eye out for birds all during breakfast. We met a missionary couple from North Carolina who told us they had ridden the hop-on, hop-off doubledecker tour bus yesterday and had seen a lot.

That sounded like a good idea to us, so we got a taxi to take us to a tour bus stop and headed for the Panama Canal atop the bus. The canal area was very interesting, with huge boats going through the Miraflores Lock guided by special railroad cars and tugboats. Inside the visitors center they had a film on the history of the canal, a history museum (with butterflies and other insects, miniatures of machinery used to build the canal, and historical photos), and our favorite, an area where the film ahead of you made you feel like you were a captain steering a boat through the first lock.

As you made your way through the museum, you climbed higher and higher and had a great panoramic view of the Pacific entrance to the canal when you reached the top level. After three or so hours there, we boarded the bus again with the intent of taking it to the bus stop where we could switch to the other bus that would take us to Casco Antiguo- the old city. But traffic was so slow- maybe due to the Ironman Marathon going on today- that we would have missed the connection to the bus and had to wait about an hour for the next one.

So Dick, with my misgivings trailing after him, got off the bus with the intent of flagging down a cab to Casco Antiguo. And unfortunately he was proven right. Within two minutes we were in a cab on our way. The cab driver dropped us off at the outskirts of the Old Town and we walked down the narrow streets, past some well preserved tall houses with flowered balconies and others that were shabby and patchy. We saw a pathway down to a scruffy beach on the Pacific side of the Isthmus of Panama and were pulled down to it- me to beach scrounge and Dick to follow after birds. I was very pleased to find a lot of beach glass and a few nice shells.

Three young girls walked over and asked me my name, but when I wanted to take their photograph, they asked for a dollar. I gave them that, then one insisted that they needed three to take all three of their pictures. That I wouldn’t go along with, but they saw what I was picking up and very actively began bringing me bits of beach glass until my pant’s pocket was full and sagging. I asked their ages (which I think were 10-12) and they told me 20 and 22 in English. Though they were fun, I felt a bit like Mickey in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. I couldn’t stop them from bringing big chunks of not very wave-polished glass, so we headed back up from the beach and walked to an outdoor restaurant that we had seen on the way down.

We sat under a shady umbrella and had a delicious lunch/dinner at Casa Blanca. Dick had salmon in a wine sauce and I had a chicken breast in and apple and almond sauce with fried plantain and cornmeal cakes. Even the iced tea, with a slice of lime, was exceptionally good. We spent a leisurely time over our meal and Dick wandered off every so often to take a photo of a nearby bird. He talked cameras with a man at the next table and it was all very pleasant. We got a taxi back to the hotel, again with a driver who’d never seen the place before, and headed up to our room to catch up with bird photos and writing this journal, though I suspect as soon as the sun goes down, we will droop and head for bed! Tomorrow’s biggest adventures will, I assume, be finding the rental car agency and finding our way out of the labrynth that is Panama City and on to our next hotel and the adventures it holds for us!

Monday, Feb. 4, 2013- Panama City to La Iguana Resort near Penonome

We got up, had breakfast and I found two books in French in the hotel book exchange which made Dick very happy. We were on our way in a taxi to pick up our car from Payless Car Rentals. The cab driver knew the road and we spotted the agency soon after he turned. Insurance brought the price up quite a bit, but we were into our little silver Kia and on our way, with the route marked on the map they gave us. It was actually quite easy to get out of Panama City and over the bridge by the canal entrance.

We stopped at one beach after finding the road to the first too rutted to dare in our little car. The Corona Beach was fun with a little river we had to wade across to reach the beach. I found a lot of very vivid pink scallops and pieces of abalone that shone in the sunlight. Dick photographed birds, of course. The beach had black sand which was very hot on Dick’s bare feet, then he couldn’t find where he’d left his sneakers. But we eventually spotted them and were on our way again. I was a bit disappointed not to have found any cone-like shells, but had quite a few very nice shells anyway.

We drove through the town, then Dick spotted a large group of pelicans on the rocks off shore. I followed him down the steep path to the shore and was delighted to find lots of the cone type shells, pointy ones and ones with blunt ends as well as cowries. Once again it showed me how two beaches close together could have such different varieties of shells. I left happily with my pocket loaded with shells.

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant with an outside eating area. Dick got sea bass with ‘smashed potatoes’ and I got roast chicken with yucca fries- which seemed a lot like the potato kind. We shared our dinners and left stuffed.

Then came the toughest part of our day, finding the La Iguana Eco Lodge from Penonome- the nearest large city. The only directions we had said you should take the road to Churuquita Grande- only there was no sign to point the way. We drove through a couple of very congested town roads and tried asking police we saw- but they had no idea where we should go. Finally another set of policemen knew the road and actually drove us out to it. When we thought we were getting close, we stopped to ask a group of young boys who had no idea where it was. All still seemed hopeful until we hit a fork in the road about ten miles down. The road to the right seemed the better road, so we took it but were very unsure that we were going in the right direction. We stopped again and I pointed the name of the lodge out to a woman walking with her little boy, and she actually knew where it was and pointed to say we should turn around then take the road to the left. Finally we saw a sign and actually found the lodge!!

Then we couldn’t find anyone to register us and let us in. We wandered around and found three young men who were washing up by the outdoor shower. They told us to go to the first house which we did. We were greeted by a man about our age, then his daughter, who was the charming Jennilee who had written us this delightful ‘confirmation’- Good nights, clear that they can reserve they say to me and with taste I separate them. So you can guess that we had an interesting conversation with her and her father while her two year son, Andrew, ran around. But they were lovely friendly people and I was able to tell them I was a grandmother of a two year girl and four year old boy which pleased them.

She sent a man who was probably her brother over to ready our room, then brought us to Room 1- which had a double bed downstairs and three cots up a metal staircase. We brought in our things then took a path down to the river where we could sit on stones and wash the sand off our feet. I bought a coke at the bar in the restaurant, but we declined dinner because of our big lunch and ate pita bread and drank water from a pitcher with ice they had put by our bed. We walked around the grounds and up the drive, with Dick trying to get good photos of the many birds that flew among the trees.

Then we lay on the bed, with Dick working on birds and me playing solitaire and writing this journal. Seems like it will be another early night, with Dick looking forward to early morning birding. Tomorrow it’s on to Boquette. We found that driving on the PanAmerican Highway is relatively easy so aren’t as anxious about getting around as we were last night!

Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013- La Iguana Resort to Tinamou Cottages, Boquette
Dick was up early and out photographing birds. I got up around 8 and we met the grandfather and told him we were ready for breakfast. Jennilee came over and with the help of a phrase book we ordered cereal, tea, and fruit which we had outside at a table. Her mother went over and picked us two oranges from a tree and we had a pleasant meal. We left La Iguana around ten, drove back through Penonome and found the Pan-Am Highway again, which soon turned to two lanes and had all kinds of traffic including horseback riders along the edges.

Along the way, every time the road crossed a river we would see crowds of people with banners. In one place they were actually stopping traffic until the police came. We took one of the papers they were handing our and found that they were protesting hydroelectric projects the government wanted to construct. We saw a large iguana in a field, but the trip was otherwise uneventful. Crass Americans that we are, we had ice cream at a Mac Donalds and KFC for lunch.

We stopped at a supermarket in David to get basic supplies, then tried to find the road to Boquette which went north from there. Again we had to ask directions to find the road - signs seem a no-no around here. But a nice policeman told us to turn at the Toyota Dealership and that was a no-brainer for us. We did encounter a detour but only had to ask once to find a continuing road to get back to the major one.

When we got to Boquette, we stopped at the information center and called Hans to come and guide us in using the cell phone of a very nice woman who was looking at the lovely views of the Boquette Valley there. Hans met us in five minutes and guided us up a steep dirt road to the cottage. The car didn’t have any problems, but we may park below and walk up in the future.

The cottage is lovely with a covered porch and sitting, kitchenette and bed areas. A very colorful carving of a lizard is on the wall of our four poster bed covered with a duvet which was shipped here from Holland. The kitchenette has a sink, stove and small fridge. The sitting area has a TV with a collection of 50 DVD’s programmed into a unit and an L-shaped seating area of couches with a palm tree motif. All-in-all it’s a charming little place!

Almost immediately after unloading the car, Dick and Hans went down one trail, then I came down after Hans left, but never did catch up with Dick who stopped by a bird feeder and got some good photos of new birds. It certainly has the feel of a tropical jungle here. Hans told me they even have an armadillo living under the cottage next to us. Dick is more than ready to explore for birds and take a bird tour with Terry. Tomorrow morning early Hans and Terry will hang a basket from a hook on the porch containing fruit salad, toast, pastries and one of their regional coffee varieties. Seems like a lovely place to use as a launching area for other adventures.

Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013- Boquette
Dick was up early and had moderate success- as he did all day- but the number of new birds and good photos added up by evening. We ate the breakfast from the basket delivered to our porch- rolls, fruit salad, coffeecake and coffee- sitting on our front porch and watching the thrushes and hummingbirds coming for their breakfasts too. We found that Terry’s bird tour schedule was filled and asked them to make an appointment with the hummingbird tour people for tomorrow. We walked a different trail than I had done before. I got a foot covered with black ants from staying too long on one of their ‘highways’ but brushed them all off with no problems.

By about ten we headed out to explore Boquette- a lovely little city in a valley. We wandered main streets and backstreets looking for birds and interesting people to take photos of. I stubbed my foot on a raised part of sidewalk and got my traditional souvenir scrapes (small) on my hands and knees, but mostly my dignity was injured. I was able to mail off a postcard to Liam and Gracie and a birthday card to their mother- which made me very happy! I got some gifts in a souvenir shop. We sat in the town square for a while and watched people.

We decided to eat at Big Daddy’s Fish restaurant and an American couple suggested we go around back and eat there. Most everyone on the back deck seemed to be American except for a couple of possibly Scandanavians who sat with the young group and talked hiking, lost calves and breastfeeding- not that we were trying to listen in! Dick had two fish tacos and I had fish and chips- with plantain chips. The sign on the table said that the fish we were eating today were swimming free yesterday. We watched birds eating fruit that fell from the trees and enjoyed the lovely weather. A cat wandered from table to table getting attention and was up for grabs according to the American woman who was tending bar.

We drove around and found the garden listed in the guidebook as Mi Jardin Es Su Jardin but it had so many private property signs around that we were too inhibited to see if we were actually welcome to go under the wrought iron archway and enter the garden. Crossing the river we found a more welcoming garden that turned out to be the local flower fair setting- lots of very lovely gardens of hollyhocks, marigolds, pansies, geraniums, impatients, and zinnias- with many small booths and stores that would be open to sell food and flowers if the fair had been going on. We stopped at a fruit and vegetable stand and got six bananas for $.50.

From there we decided to go back to our cottage and easily found the roads and traversed the steep dirt road leading home. When we got there, Terry told us she had called the hummingbird lady and she was all booked up too- so we’ve struck out on all the special birding things we intended to do. Dick headed down to their back garden and I followed. He got a few more bird shots and I wandered off going down the jungle trail and then along by the two other cottages.

Having had our big meal at lunchtime, we contented ourselves with the bananas we bought, peanuts, saltines, and granola bars for ‘dinner.’ We had a nice conversation with Hans who came over to try to suggest good things to do tomorrow since our other plans had struck out. The talk ranged from our trip to Holland to American politics. He and Terry have lived here for fifteen years. Hans gave us suggestions for where to go tomorrow and explained to us why the Mi Jardin Es Su Jardin place had so many signs telling people to keep out. They had originally opened the garden when they saw how much fun their Downs Syndrome son had playing with local children. But later whole bus loads of people would come and some even picked the flowers. So they felt they had to limit visitors. We had read about it in a guidebook ourselves and were sorry we couldn’t visit.

Went to bed and read and called it a night early.

Thursday, February 7, 2013- Boquette
Dick went out birding in the gardens here, then down by the bridge near here. I showered and did a little hand laundry and hung it on the porch. When Dick got back we shared the basket of food left around 7. We packed the mesh backpack with water, bananas, bread and granola bars and set out for the day.

We drove through Boquette and up the steep hillside beyond. Our first stop was an area that had hikes to waterfalls. We paid our $5 each and began the walk. It was quite steep, both uphill and down and birds seemed scarce as we walked along. But the flowers were beautiful with many of the species we consider garden plants growing naturally there- coleus, impatients, ageretum, cala lillies and orchids. We passed fields with sheep and goats and went over suspended and somewhat rickety bridges. It took around 45 minutes to get to the first waterfall-which was beautiful. But with the scarcity of birds, we decided to forego the walk to the other two waterfalls and continue on to the Parc Nacional Volcan Baru in the caldera and on the sides of an ancient volcano.

We ate in the car before starting out. Then we hiked a portion of the (also quite steep) Sendero Los Quetzales trail for around two hours in and back. Again we saw very few birds and no other wildlife. On the way back down in Boquette, we looked for a hotel/coffee plantation we had seen on the drive up- which mentioned birdwatching on one of its signs. We stopped at Finca Lerida, gave our first names to the guard who raised the gate and drove up a lane of flowered hedges with hummingbirds zooming everywhere.

We got cokes at the café, then wandered the grounds for several hours, walking along orange flowered hedgerows buzzing with the wingbeats of hummingbirds of many varieties. They became so commonplace that we were more excited to see ordinary run-of-the-mill birds.

We parked in Boquette and walked along looking for a restaurant. Roasted chicken and steak were grilling in the window of a small restaurant with Abeula (Grandmother) in the name. It served food cafeteria style and we got chicken, plantains and mixed roasted vegetables and iced tea to drink. Dick got rice as well. The total bill for the meal for both of us was $6.50! And the food was very good with the chicken done perfectly and the plantains sweet and delicious. We drove to the town square looking for signs that they were beginning to celebrate Carnaval, but saw none, so came back to our cottage and did our nightly computer work. Dick had over 600 bird photos to sort through, so won’t get done tonight!

Friday February 8, 2013- Boquette to Pedasi, Azuero Peninsula
We were up and off at 7:20. The drive went quite well on the whole. There were no protests- just anti-hydroelectric posters at river sites. We had lunch at a MacDonald’s. When we got to Chitre it took many stops to ask directions before we found the Hong Kong Hotel. On one stop Dick had to drive the car off and by the time I found a woman who spoke good English to give us directions, I wasn’t sure I’d find him again in that congested city. But he was waiting nearby and we did yet another loop around, asking directions as we homed in on the hotel.

But when we got to the hotel, they had no record that we had ever registered, though Dick did it over the phone! So we drove further down the peninsula and began looking for a room when we got to Pedasi- knowing that with Carnaval going on- our chances weren’t that great. We stopped at a hotel where they had no rooms, but they knew of a man who was renting bedrooms and told us to go almost through the town, turn at Hotel Madelena and drive into Cliff’s Hostel and Hammock Bar and ask them for directions to the house.

We did that and Cliff’s wife offered us either a cabin for $90 a night with no bathroom- or a room with bathroom, but no hot water, for $120 a night. We opted for the room. It’s different with a queen bed and the sinks in one room, a storeroom behind that and the toilet room behind, then two bunk beds with the two spigot showers beyond that. But we felt very fortunate to not have to sleep in the car for the night, though we had been prepared to do that. It seemed like a very friendly place. Cliff is from Oregon and we met a couple of young women from Germany who were traveling around Central and South America, camping and staying in hostels. A Canadian woman named Mary Jane befriended us and we drove her down to the beach with her directing. The sea was very calm and lots of people were enjoying swimming. I hunted for seashells and found quite a lot including many cowries. Dick walked along the beach photographing birds. Mary Jane showed us a dead sea snake with nice patterning.

We drove back to our room, rested a little while, then headed out to walk to the town square where Carnaval (the Panamanian spelling of it) festivities were going on. All along the way boom boxes blasted out Latin music from houses and stores- both traditional music and rap. The square was lined with little booths selling toys (especially high capacity water guns that the kids use to douse everyone during the festival), handicrafts such as woven bracelets and embroidered items, soda and beer, and grilled beef and sausages. The stage set for the crowing of the queen was very colorful and posters for the two candidates showed lovely women. Evidently Pedasi, like Las Tablas has competing streets which support their own candidates for queen. We stopped in a little restaurant on the square and had pizza with chicken for dinner. Dick got a can of Panamanian beer for $1 and we strolled home to the hostel.

We sat outside to use our computers and I waited for the right time to call Christy and wish her Happy Birthday at exactly 9:04. Shortly afterward we headed for bed to be serenaded by very loud Latin music punctuated very frequently by the sound of firecrackers and fireworks which seemingly continued all night.. Happy Carnaval!

Saturday, February 9, 2013- Pedasi and Isla Iguana
We were up and off early to get a boat to Isla Iguana. Parking attendants told us where to put the car and an official looked at our passports and signed us as going to the island. He indicated a boat and we waded a little getting onto it. There was a good breeze and the water was much choppier than it was the day before. Our boatman was very skilled in avoiding the worst part of the waves but we flew up and thudded down with great frequency on the twenty minutes ride out to the island.

We landed on the opposite side from the best beach and our boatman indicated the trail to cross to it. We arranged to go back with him at 1. Foliage covered the path making it a tunnel. On the opposite side of the island was a lovely beach with accommodation for the many rangers there and benches and a shady pavilion for visitors. We signed in with our passport numbers and walked the beach. People who came over at the same time as us set up their tents to camp there and were joined by other campers later. I picked up shells and coral very sparingly, but some pieces were irresistible. Dick photographed the large number of frigate birds flying overhead and at least two iguanas. I posed with one for my “Rob collection” of me with somewhat scary animals but couldn’t get too close because the iguana was frightened of me.

We ate our “lunch”- Bimbo Bread and peanuts and granola bars washed down with water. I went to snorkel first and right away found that my camera wasn’t working- nuts! So I contented myself with the thought that most of the fish looked like the ones we see on Kauai when we visit Chris and Bill. The coral was somewhat usual too except for the ringed, almost bathtub like round constellations all over the bottom. When I finished Dick went in and did see one parrotfish as well as Convict Tangs and the other fish we had photographed in Kauai. Other people were snorkeling, building sandcastles, playing paddleball, and otherwise enjoying a lovely day on a lovely beach.

I walked the beach one more time and met up with our boatman, though I didn’t recognize him. It was only 12:30 and Dick wanted to explore more of the trails on the island, but we reluctantly followed him to the boat. The way back was almost as rough as the way over, with the added movement of sometimes coming down into a trough and lurching forward as the boat ‘hit’ the lower part of the oncoming wave. But the driver was very skilled and we really didn’t feel any fear either going or coming. When we got back to the Pedasi beach he scratched $80 in the sand to tell us what we owed and Dick tipped him $10 for a job well done.

We headed back to our room and napped for about an hour to make up for the noisy previous night. Then we headed out to replenish our money supply, but couldn’t get any of our cards to work. Mary Jane had told us the ATM’s sometimes ran out of money and that could have been the problem, but the terminal didn’t say that. We shopped at the town’s largest supermarket and got bananas, soda, pita bread, and trail mix. We stashed them in the room than walked down to see how Carnaval was going. There were lots people but not much seemed to be going on except for a concert behind a fence. The roads were littered with cans and food wrappers and vendors were all still there. I bought a skewer of roasted beef and we circled the square. One group of people had turquoise Pedasi Carnaval 2013 T-shirts but when I asked where I could get one, the man said they were just made for his family. I wanted to buy one for Christy who had written on Facebook-“My mother is at Carnvial in Panama and all I got for my birthday was this lousy snowstorm.”

Back at the campground/hostel we tried to use our computers but couldn’t get on line until Cliff rerigged his internet system, then all was fine. We sat outside where one of the residents was making barrette and keychains at the table while we did out internet stuff. We were surprised to see that it was only 7:30. After the night we had last night it seemed like at least 9:30. Cliff said he might go home to sleep until midnight, then get up and go down to the square to see what was going on there. Guess it may be another noisy night, but maybe all the fireworks were shot off last night.

We got organized and repacked for an early departure tomorrow, set the alarm clock for 4 and hoped for a peaceful night or at least one whose noise the air conditioner would mostly drown out!

Sunday, February 10, 2013- Pedasi to Panama City
We had the alarm set for 4 AM and were off around 4:30. Carnaval was still going on and people lined the streets- all pretty happy! We drove along the peninsula and got turned around amid all the festivities in Las Tablas and drove through the congested streets three times trying to get someone to point us to the main street to Chitre. Once we were through the town, the driving was pretty straightforward.

When we got to Panama City, it was again very confusing trying to find our hotel, the Avalon Panama. Finally a nice motorcycle policeman guided us right to the hotel’s entrance. The hotel was lovely and we had a suite with a sitting/kitchen room as well as bedroom with a balcony looking out over the city.

We rested for a while, then had the desk clerks try to explain how to get to Soberania Nacional Parque. After a few premature turns we got on the correct road and made it there. On the way we saw the signs for Summit Zoo and decided to check it out, though the guidebook was not very enthusiastic about it. And it was a very pleasant place for families to picnic and have a good time, but the animals were taking siestas and we couldn’t get in to see the Harpy Eagle that was their claim to fame.

We drove along the Panama Canal to Soberania Parque and spent a good deal of time photographing birds in an area just before the entrance to Pipeline Road. In particualr there were lots of large woodpeckers. When it grew too dark for good photos, we headed back to the hotel. There we had a good meal in the restaurant watching the lights coming on in the city. Then we basked in the luxury of a warm shower and called it an early night.

Monday, February 11, 2013- Panama City
We set the alarm for 6 and were ready for breakfast by 6:30. By a little after 7 we were off to Soberania National Parque. Dick paid our $60 admission to the canopy tower there and we walked the trail and climbed the 127 steps up to the top. At the base of the tower a very friendly coati mundi (native raccoon) greeted us and even climbed up my leg with his front paws. Several people up on top seemed to either be guiding others or frequent visitors, so they helped point things out- but many things were far in the distance- monkeys, a sloth and four toucans. But Dick did get a lot of hummingbirds at the visitors center and more birds at the top of the tower.

When we got down there was a trail down to the canal so we walked it and looked for birds and other wildlife but didn’t see much. On the way a young man had uncovered a small frog and a toad and we got photos of them.

When we came back we walked a short way down the Pipeline Road and Dick got some more photos, but felt it was too dark due to clouds and overhanging trees to get good shots. Jungle sounds- including the raucous calls of Howler Monkeys- surrounded us. When we walked back, we stopped where several people- including college students who were interning- were watching a variety of Antbirds who follow the ant colonies and eat the small insects and reptiles that the ants stir up. Dick got several other birds there that he really liked such as a Cinnamon Woodpecker and Great Ani. On our drive out, I spotted a family of three coati mundis on a log and we stopped to photograph them.

When we were first in Panama City we couldn’t go on the Amador Causeway because of the Iron Man Marathon, so we drove there to see it and have lunch. Dick also spotted new birds there, both in the water and in bushes. We ate at an open-air restaurant- good fish with heads still connected. After stopping by the sea to take a few more bird photos we drove on and had a frustrating hour or so trying to get to the Parque Nationale inside Panama City’s limits. When we found it, it was growing dark, so we hiked around a little then set out to find the Tocumen Airport.

After going the wrong way down a street due to rerouting for Carnaval and getting turned around a good few times, we made it to the airport. Dick gassed up the car and we did all our reorganizing of suitcases at the gas station. Turning in the car was a little confusing due to the lack of signs once again, but once found it was easily accomplished and we settled in for a long wait. The Spirit Airlines people weren’t at their desks yet, so we sat downstairs at the car return area and Dick worked on his new bird shots while I wrote this! Panama has been fun but after two early mornings, we were ready to relax and maybe even sleep before our 3:10 AM flight.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013- Panama City to Ash North Carolina
Our flight was only a few minutes delayed and completely uneventful. The light in the plane were turned down right after take-off and the only jobs the attendants did was passing out customs forms and collecting trash as the flight ended.  We got through Customs easily and called for the parking people to pick us up. They came quite quickly and we got our car and began the long drive back to Ash around 7:30 AM. We listened to quite a few CD’s from our 13 CD book that we had started on the way down. I have to admit to dozing off quite a lot on the drive, but Dick managed with just a few short naps and other frequent stops for food and gas.

We arrived back in Ash around 9- pleased on the whole with the time the trip took. The water pump started right up and we unloaded most of the luggage etc. from the car. Dick got the woodstove going and I turned on the electric blanket. We got in our cozy bed around 10, ready to sleep after 35 hours of being on the go. It was very nice to be back home!

Impressions of Panama
We really enjoyed Panama. The people were very friendly- often saying Buenas and smiling when we passed. They were handsome too- with many different racial and ethnic backgrounds in evidence in facial features. In some places the women wore colorful ornate dresses, but lots of English language T-shirts were in sight too. And the people, especially the police who were everywhere, were very helpful- giving directions to lost tourists and commiserating over the lack of directional signs.

Temperatures were very pleasant for the most part- only hot and muggy in tropical rainforests. We didn’t see a drop of rain during our whole trip.

Music was mostly Latin- both traditional rhythms and rap style music- and could be heard everywhere. But it wasn’t unusual to hear Madonna or Katy Perry played on the loudspeaker at a restaurant.

Taxi drivers were very knowledgeable and rides were inexpensive. Panama uses US dollars for the most part, but does have Balboa coins that circulate as well. That may be among the reasons that it has a large expatriate population and we often ran into westerners. But the ordinary Panamanian had little knowledge of English which required my dredging up high school Spanish and lots of hand signals. I usually remembered the Spanish phrase I wanted after the situation was resolved. Prices were reasonable and we were never in a situation where bargaining was expected. All-in-all, despite being bereft of road signs, Panama was an easy, pleasant country to travel in and we thoroughly enjoyed our trip there!