Panama Canal Transit
We go on line to obtain gate passes for plane and to schedule shuttle-pickup to airport
Rise at 05:30 PST
Board Shuttle at 07:10 PST
Reach LAX at 08:15 PST
Board Copa Plane at 10:20 PST Food tolerable, like Panama beer. Seats were spacious with plenty of room between us and the seat in front. Personal in-flight entertainment
Exit Plane at 19:50 EST. No problems with immigration but search for taxi was scary as we follow a series of strangers. Just $15 to our hotel.
Day 1 Panama City
We wake far too early, inspired by bells from nearby cathedral. The skyline is filled with highrises. Our room is gorgeous, hard to believe it's $125 less a night than the official cruse line hotel just across the street. Oh and we find Al Jazeera on the TV.
It's Mother's Day in Panama, the restaurant is crowded, taking your mom to a 3rd rate buffet brunch appears to be a local tradition along with the family photo afterward.
At 13:00 our Viator tour guide arrives and we take a van up into the mountains.
We park by the canal and hop aboard a small barge to travel to the Monkey islets. Our barge driver knows his jungle and in quick succession we see first a troupe of Howler monkeys, then our guide's girlfriend breaks a banana into pieces and scatter them on the deck luring Capuchins down from the trees long enough to grab a piece then go, and finally, a troupe of tiny Tamarins come down from the trees perch on the boat rails and we are able to hand feed them.
Day 2 Panama City to Colon
Dorothy discovers her party dress remains unhemmed; we get no help at our hotel, but across the street a clerk in the cruise-line hotel who just happens to be at the reception desk volunteers for $5 to hem the dress.
We walk to the nearby metro and take it to the end of the line and a huge shopping center.
We hang out at the mall for a half hour but return in time to catch the Windstar van to Colon where we board the ship that will be our home for the following week. Our cabin is a large room with a French balcony and a wine opener. Finding ourselves unable to turn off the frigid air conditioning, we leave the door to the balcony open whenever we're in the room.
Dinner that night exceeds our expectations. Lobster bisque, ceaser salad, lobster and filet, sorbet. Returning from dinner, Dorothy perused the schedule of the following days activities and raved about 0700 Stretching
Day 3 Canal Transit
0700: I go to the stretching class leaving Dorothy behind asleep. I am cruelly out of shape as the next half hour demonstrates. When I rise finally with the instructor's aid I spy my wife laying down a mat just in time for yoga. I pass on the latter, head outside on the Veranda for breakfast carrying orange juice and a strawberry smoothie. I ask a waitress to heat up the milk on the table and find it waiting when I return with two danish, a turkey sausage and some pan fried potatoes. The waitress pours me a cup of coffee while I add the hot milk as she pours. Yoga over, Dorothy joins me as I fetch a bowl of muselli. Dorothy of course has headed straight for the omelet station.
0900: We cast anchor and head into the canal for the transit up and over from the Caribbean to the Pacific. As we reach the first (of three) sets of locks we head for the ship's bow to watch as the ship ahead of us in line, hidden inside a lock gradually rises. Five to ten minutes later the far side of the lock opens and the ship passes through. The lock empties, none to soon, and the gate opens ahead of our vessel. We return to our room, thereafter, to watch the transit from our half balcony. Later Dorothy took off to catch the view from the rear of the ship. Lunch as always, includes a bread pudding accompanied by the sauce of the day.
Day 4 Isla Parida
Breakfast on the Veranda deck again with pineapple juice, cafe au lait, muselli, danish, lox and bagels. We take a Zodiac ashore in bathing suit and Teva sandals for a wet landing on a private beach. Rum punch or fruit juices are handed out. A line of shaded lawn chairs are already set up close to shore. (Too close: these skilled mariners are surprised by the tide and have to move the line inland toward the mangroves twice.) You can see the water is all the way under my lounge chair ha! Dorothy finds a female companion to go kayaking while I walk to the far end of the beach and don snorkeling equipment. A limited variety of small fish are to be found close by the rocky shore.
I return to find an extensive not yet demolished buffet on offer and Dorothy gorging herself . (liar liar, I couldn't find him so I enjoyed the buffet ha ha)
Day 5 Puerto Jimenez
Puerto Jimenez like most Costa Rican towns south of Manual Antonio (where the paved road ends) is supplied by boat. A Zodiac brings us ashore and we walk to the Biblioteca at the edge of town to make use of their free Wi-fi. A German girl in her early 20's presides over the library, otherwise empty till our arrival. She works for the German equivalent of our Peace Core and is spending a year there as the town librarian, a job that includes reading stories in Spanish to the local children.
The library is closing and we head into town on foot, a mistake on my part for I am soon exhausted. We reach a large market at the other end of town but when we turn back, I find I can only walk short distances at a time. Should have brought my cane, some car might have stopped for me. I sit down on a bench not far from the ship but we are soon asked to move. Why? The proprietor of a nearby cafe points to the bee hive a tree away from where we sit.
Today, the ship provides a buffet of Indian foods as a luncheon alternative.
Day 6 Bahia Drake
The small boat that was to take us to the horses bucked continuously, leaping into the air then coming down on the wave with bone jarring intensity and an audible slap. I was sure once we landed that anything my horse dished out would be mild by comparison. But first I had to get up on the horse; like an armored knight from the 13th century, it took two men to hoist me into position after I first climbed on a tree stump. Meanwhile, Dorothy an expert rider waited patiently along with the others in our group.
Fortunately, I knew enough to trust my horse focusing on just holding the reins making no attempt to steer. Shortly after we stepped out from underneath the trees onto the sand, one of the horses decided it would be fun to roll over on the sand and scratch his back. His rider, an expert merely, stepped off her horse and remounted once he was through fooling around.
My horse continued to move forward along the beach and I let her. While the result boosted my confidence in my ability to travel unescorted, our guide panicked and he dispatched his second in command to rein me in. Thereafter I was led by a rope from his horse to mine. Followed in turn by my mare's foal.
We continued on the beach for another half mile occasionally venturing into the waves when we transverse a gully. Then we headed inland and upward, turning back following a brief shower. Coconuts, spotted on the way out, were picked by our guide. Chopped with a machete we had fresh coconut water and then the chopped coconut to sample. We saw a few hawks, but only after we returned to our starting point did we see a macaw and a toucan. A very nice snack of fresh watermelon, cookies. Ice tea and water were set out while we visited with our companions. Then we were back on the bucking boat and eventually reboarding the ship.
Day 8 Bahia Herradura
A day of rest for us. Eat a leisurely breakfast, ordering ricotta-stuffed French toast off that day's breakfast menu in addition to my usual juice, smoothie, muselli, danish pastries, and cafe au lait; read books from the ship's library; watch TV. That evening we hear a fellow passenger describe his mangrove tour which included multiple species of birds as well as a small cayman. “Let's do it,” I say to Dorothy though I'd been opposed to the pricey tours the ship offers before. She goes to sign us up—we're wait listed.
Day 9 Quepos
Another leisurely breakfast outside on the Veranda. Our mangrove excursion leaves at 1pm, so we pick up sandwiches for lunch at the ship's snack bar before we take the zodiac ashore. There we encounter an unhappy couple who have booked both morning and afternoon excursions. In contrast to our own smooth sailing aboard Windstar, they were forced to forgo breakfast in order to que up at 0700 for a Zodiac even though their Zodiac didn't leave for shore till 0800, and then, at noon, were unable to return to the ship for lunch as returning crew members were given preference in boarding.
Helas, mammals and birds are less active in the heat of the afternoon so we didn't see as many kinds as we would have liked or had been described to us though we did go almost to the ocean along the waterway. The highlight was a family of young rodents that hissed at us from their shoreline retreat as well as the line of sleeping bats whose photo appears above.
Day 10 Disembark
Luggage out to the hallway the night before. We eat breakfast and then go ashore for the last time. A bus takes us across the peninsula to our hotel, a short distance from the San Jose airport. The hotel, which resembles a large hacienda was once a coffee plantation. We do a walkabout, stop off at the gym, then dine on bad pseudo-Peruvian food at one of the hotel's many restaurants.
Day 11 Copa Airlines and the flight home from hell
Passengers were advised to get to the airport two hours early. Copa employees were under no such compulsion. The result was a long, long line outside the terminal that moved with glacial slowness till it was almost time to board the plane.
Was it the pilot who elected to delay the plane's departure in order to load a few additional passengers? Or his superiors? At any rate we forfeited our place in the take-off que and out departure was delayed by almost an hour. We arrived late but our flight crew compensated by not alerting the Panama City airport with the result that no one greeted us at the gate the departing connecting flights were not held back. The stewardess on the plane ignored my request for a golf cart to take me onward, but a young male golf cart driver spotted me pressing ahead with my cane and stopped to give us a lift to the opposite end of the airport. The gate crew there seemed surprised to see us. 'You've missed your flight, you've missed your flight.” they repeated.
Our van driver took us a booth where Copa was rebookng passengers and we joined the scrum. I spotted an almost empty line and a few minutes later, Dorothy emerged with tickets for a 6pm flight plus a voucher for $10 each for lunch. (Have you ever tried to eat for $10 at an airport?)
We inspect the upstairs food court find many stalls, few chairs for dining. We return an hour or so later—we have almost eight hours to kill—and enter the “Airport Margaritaville that has chairs, tables, free wi-fi, and gourmet food. We dine pleasurably on a deboned red fish wrapped in eggplant and carrot and steamed in its own juices.
Time passes—we want to go home. A second inspection line is set up at the departure gate—it's a US bound plane, though not everything gets inspected. Finally, we are in the air, our seats in the next to last row. Copa shows the same films on both north-bound and south-bound flights. We are offered a choice of stale pasta for dinner (the fate of all in the next to last row).
Five hours and it will all be over—only it isn't. We land at a mystery terminal located at the far end of LAX. We unload go inside only to come right out again and board a double bus. Only we don't go anywhere. A second bus arrives, discharges five wheelchairs and five assistants, and leaves empty. We continue waiting and freezing in our bus. Finally, the wheelchair passengers are brought out to join us.
Another long ride brings us to the terminal, immigration and after picking up our luggage—not so easy as Copa had announced the wrong conveyor belt and no one was around to point us to the correct one—customs. We make our way outside and to the Supershuttle. What luck, a crowded beach-destination shuttle is just about to pull out. “Have you got cash?” its driver asks, “I don't have time for credit cards.”
“Yes,” I reply as I board the shuttle. Dorothy seems inclined to argue. I just want to go home. If all else fails, we'll give the driver the quarters we've accumulated at home on the counter.
Midnight, we'll change the sheets and
take showers in the morning.