Tuesday, December 20, 2011


We started the month of December with the second leg of our vacation - a trip to Panama! My parents had decided to extend their vacation for a couple of days and accompanied us on the 16.5 hour bus ride from San José to Panama City with the end goal of running the Panama City International Marathon. The bus ride down was uneventful (with the exception of being told that in order to enter Panama we had to have already purchased return trip tickets). We bumped into a couple of other volunteers on the way who were travelling on different bus lines, a couple of them with the same intentions of running the marathon.

We purchased return trip tickets to San José from our bus driver in the middle of the night with hopes that we weren't being scammed. Thankfully the purchase was a sound one (we had heard of others who had made this transaction without as much luck) and in the morning we turned in our 'tickets' for actual reserved seats on a return bus that would take us back to Costa Rica a couple of days later. Then we found some very helpful terminal employees that got us onto a bus that would take us near our hotel and then had a very helpful bus driver that told us when we should get off. A couple of blocks later we were at our hotel.

We rested until lunch time and then ventured out into the city. The skyline is a beautiful one and there were some amazing looking buildings. We walked through a park that took us along the Panama Bay and then stumbled into an ethnic area with some fabulous looking food. Unfortunately it was a little out of our price range, but we found a more affordable Mediterranean restaurant not too far away. There we ate our fair share of veggie pitas and talked to a random stranger who left the US for Panama some eight years ago and hasn't gone back since. With full bellies we ran across the road to the mall and wasted some time away from the afternoon heat (and consumed delicious milkshakes!). When we made it back to the hotel we were still full, so we called it an early night and skipped dinner.

Panama City skyline
The next morning we wandered through the city and eventually found our way to Casco Antiguo, an older part of town. There were some fabulous buildings and more importantly some fabulous breakfast. We refueled after our morning walk and then set out in the growing heat of the day to explore the area a little more. Not knowing much about where we were, we were delighted to stumble across some indigenous artisans selling their crafts. Mom and dad purchased a couple of things for the girls and we continued on our way only to find more artisans.  Chris and I encountered one gentleman who was more than happy to share information about his people, the Kuna. He told us about their history, their crafts and a little about their current culture. It was one of those moments that we relished the fact that we now speak Spanish. Whether it was his plan or not, we ended up walking away with a fair number of crafts in hand. What excites us is that we will be able to share the stories behind those crafts when we show them to friends and family back home.

Mom and Dad in Casco Antiguo
Us in Casco Antiguo

With money spent (including the purchase of yet another wedding band for Chris, he's currently had one for every year that we have been married) we headed in the direction of the race expo on the other side of the city. We wandered through the Panama Bay park again and got stuck in a brief downpour. Once the skies cleared we wandered some more. We weren't sure of where exactly we were going since we couldn't get internet to work in our hotel so we went back to the mall to ask some employees in the running store. They sent us in the right direction and on our way we ran into more volunteers that were in town to run. After catching up for a little bit they sent us to the hotel where we eventually found the hidden hotel room and our race packets.

Race chips and t-shirts (actually very nice adidas technical shirts) in hand we found our way to the Hard Rock Cafe for a protein packed lunch. Then we called it a day. We had been on our feet all morning and with a 42 kilometer run on the books for the following morning it was time to put our feet up. We got back together for a quick dinner and settled in for the night.

We had a super early morning as the race started at 5am and we had to go across town to get to the start line. We hailed a taxi and made the quick trip through the quiet city. The start line was dark and quiet. Nothing like any of the previous marathons we had run, but that meant that we could talk to the whole volunteer crew that had ventured down. All together we were ten, nine marathoners and one half-marathoner. For many it was their first, we were all a little excited to get the show on the road, each of us with our own goals (Chris to set a new personal record, me to finish coming off of two months of recovery from an injury). There was never the sound of a gun, so I'm not sure how people knew to start, but I started moving my feet with the crowd and we were off.

Mom and I a couple of kilometers in
Chris achieved his goal in style. Being one of the fast extranjeros (foreigners) he managed to win a little bit of money (and finish before the heat of the day!). I eventually crossed the finish line, it wasn't pretty, but I finished running. Mom and dad came in some time later (dad finishing his first marathon, mom her second). The rest of the volunteer crew rolled in with times of less than five hours, a couple of them scoring some cash as well! On top of Peace Corps Costa Rica volunteers doing well, there was a crew of Peace Corps Panama volunteers that also took home some goods - some cash and one even won a bike in a raffle! It was a good day for Peace Corps.

Henley and Chris with some cash money

We all finished!

Most of the Peace Corps Costa Rica crew

We hung out for a while and when the sky started to spit we caught a ride back to the hotel so that we could clean up and then find a place to eat lunch. Appetites satisfied we found a taxi driver that would take us out to the Panama Canal. Once we were in his car he also offered to wait for us and bring us back. We took him up on the offer and for $20 we had a round trip ride and the ease of mind to know that we would have a ride waiting for us when we finished up (he didn't want payment until he had gotten us home, so we knew he'd be waiting).

Us at the Panama Canal
The lock system is pretty incredible. The ships that move through the canal are enormous. We were fascinated. We watched two ships move through the system and then watched a short video on the history of the canal. Then we ventured into the museum before the visitor's center closed for the day. With the exception of all of the stairs that we had to walk up and down while we were there (remember, we had run 42 kilometers in the morning) I would say it was a very enjoyable experience! As we made our way down the stairs to the parking lot our driver started waving his arms to get our attention. He pulled the car up and we were on our way. We returned to our hotel, got back together for some dinner and then our muscles rejoiced in not needing to climb any more stairs for the day.

One of the big ol' ships heading through the locks
Monday morning we took it easy. We met up for a late breakfast and then walked back to Casco Antiguo where Chris and I purchased more items from our Kuna friend. We wandered through the old cathedral and into a small shop where more purchases were made (including another wedding band for Chris... the first one ended up being too big, this one is also too big now that his body has fully recovered from the marathon). We got caught in a couple of rain storms in an attempt to return to our hotel for check out and then grabbed more protein from Hard Rock Cafe (it is easiest to eat at chain restaurants when three of us are vegetarians and one cannot eat gluten).

Cathedral in Casco Antiguo
Even though we had taken our sweet time at lunch we still had time to kill before our 11pm bus back to Costa Rica. So, we headed to the terminal which just so happens to be located next to a mall with a movie theater. We found the one movie that fit into our time frame that was showing in English and settled in for a couple of hours. By luck that movie happened to be Killer Elite and was very good. We walked through the mall for a little bit after that stretching our legs and then Chris and I got some DQ Blizzards for dinner. Some more waiting and then it was time to get on the bus for the long ride home.

Before we got caught in a storm
With the exception of getting to the border crossing before it opened for the day the trip home was pretty smooth going. We were stopped a couple of times for passport checks and drug checks, but nothing out of the ordinary when going from country to country. We got back into San José around 3:30 and by the time we got our luggage Chris and I had to rush to get to our bus terminal in order to get home that day. We hailed a cab for mom and dad and told the driver where to take them. I was pretty anxious, for about 15 or 20 minutes, until they called to say they were safely in their hotel room. We got on a bus and were able to relax for the bus ride home.

1 comment:

Donna Parsley said...

Wow! You really had an awesome vacation in Panama, huh? You’ve been to a lot of places and you did a lot of wonderful activities there. You even joined in a race! It's nice because people don’t usually go with those kinds of activity when they travel to a certain place, right? That’s why I find it really cool! ;)