Thursday, August 16, 2018

Out of Cyprus: last few days in Panama

It wasn't until we returned to near Panama City that we realised how good the weather had been during our break in Coronado. Perhaps that's why so many people have holiday homes in that area, and go there for weekends. When we returned the family and Tim to the Logos Hope on Sunday, we learned that it had rained, sometimes heavily, every day while we had been away.  In Coronado, we'd seen a few showers, some early mornings and evenings, but mostly it had remained fine and sunny.

We left the holiday villa around noon on Sunday 12th, and stopped for lunch at a Subway, followed by yet more ice creams at Gelarto. Esther fell asleep soon after getting back in the car, and it took us around an hour and a half to get back t the Logos Hope.
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We wanted to see as much of the family as possible in our last few days, so we went onto the ship too on Sunday afternoon. Had I realised how high the tide was (and thus how steep the gangway was) I might have decided otherwise - but the pull of spending more time with David and Esther was strong. Becky acquired red 'shore guest' passes for us. We went to the 'fun deck' for a while with the children, as they had been stuck in the car and were full of energy. David showed Tim some of the ship, and we ate dinner there.  Afterwards, Richard read to David, and was joined by Esther:


We wanted to get to our guest house before eight o'clock if possible, and it was supposedly a half-hour drive. As the cabin was a bit crowded with seven of us, Richard and I departed shortly after 7.00pm.

Unfortunately Richard's phone navigation application isn't totally up-to-date for Panama. It tried to take us the shortest route, which was fine until we reached a barrier, with no way to get through. Richard phoned the lady who owns the guest house, and she spoke in Spanish to the man on duty at the barrier, but all we gathered was that we were in the wrong place.

So we back-tracked and tried a different route.. only to come up to another barrier, with another gated community (perhaps something military).  This time the guard was more helpful; he spoke a little English, and called a man on a motorbike to direct us. The man on the motorbike phoned someone else who told us in English where to go... and eventually we were on the right route, free of barriers.

In all, it took us over an hour and a half to reach our location. We could have got back to Coronado in that time! We were met by a friendly lady with reasonable English, who made us very welcome. She also has a padlocked high gate and large dogs - this seems to be very common here in Panama. We were shattered and slept well.

I didn't take photos of the guest house until Tuesday morning, by which time we had changed to a smaller rental car:


There's a little outside area, which we had to ourselves as the other guest room isn't yet finished:


Inside, the room is spacious and comfortable. The kitchen is well-equipped, with a fridge, coffee-machine and kettle. We hadn't been shopping, and were too tired to go out on a hunt for a supermarket after we arrived Sunday night. But we had some of Daniel's ground coffee with us for the morning, and some cereal bars which I'd bought in Cyprus for our flights.

When I opened the kitchen cupboard, I found various things, probably left by previous guests, including a jar of Coffee-Mate. This posed something of a moral dilemma as this product is made by a company whose products we don't buy, due to many of its unethical policies. However, we hadn't bought it ourselves. It appeared to be free of any ingredients that would give me a migraine or block Richard's ears, so we decided to use a couple of spoonfuls in the morning.


Thus we were able to have coffee and cereal bars for breakfast on Monday morning.


Just outside our room was a row of what my subconscious memory tells me are Amaryllis plants, growing in profusion.  Maybe they're something else (and they're quite bedraggled by rain) but they must be stunning when in full bloom.


We were due at the Airport on Monday at 9.00am to return our ten-seater van and pick up, instead, a smaller car for the two of us to get about. Our hostess told us we should leave by 8.00am. She would be leaving at 6.00am, she told us, to get her two teenage daughters to school - an hour's drive away.  She told Richard later that she does about six hours of driving every day to get her girls to and from school.  This kind of thing is not uncommon in a city with far too many cars, although a kind of over-ground railway system is being built, which should revolutionise the traffic problems in a few years.

We set off shortly after 8.00, and had no problem getting over the bridge (over the Panama Canal). But once in the town, traffic was appalling.  And what a depressing city, full of huge apartment blocks... and cars.


It was well after 9.30 by the time we got to the airport, but since we'd had problems collecting the van originally, they weren't going to object.

Having returned the car, we had to wait a few minutes for our replacement to be available, so we embarked on a search around the airport, to see if we could find out anything else about Tim's missing suitcase. We asked at a helpful information desk, and were sent to the 'lost and found' office, which was filled with shelves of suitcases, smaller bags and other lost items.

We explained our problem and were told that if the case had arrived at Panama, it would not be in the publicly accessible area of the airport - this was for luggage that had come through Customs. They sent us to Customs.

We found the Customs people - going past randomly placed suitcases of all shapes and sizes, though mostly black (Tim's case is red), and were told that we had to go somewhere else. We went somewhere else, and a guy checked yet more luggage... and sent us to the American Airlines office.

We had to keep waiting outside there while various people checked up, and a helpful guy called Jason said they had all the details of the case and were still looking.  But he seemed to think we were asking about compensation, and told us the path to follow. We said yes, we knew about that - but really our son wanted the case more than the compensation.  He didn't seem to hold out much hope, though.

By the time we left the airport it was about 10.45am. The rest of the family had booked a taxi to the Albrook Mall, largest mall in the Americas, and one of the largest in the world. Monday is the ship day off, and it seemed like a good idea to get out somewhere; Tim needed to do more shopping to replace a few more things from his case, and Richard very much likes malls.  We knew it didn't open until 10.00am, but had been in touch with Tim via WhatsApp. He had managed to buy inexpensive phone chips from the UK that would give free data and roaming in most of Latin America, so we were exchanging messages around Panama at no cost.

It should have taken us about half an hour, at most, to reach the mall from the airport. It took us over an hour and a half. Traffic was abysmal. When we found the mall we couldn't find the multi-storey car park and ended up parking at a somewhat expensive outdoor car park (where the tariff was 4 cents per minute, up to a maximum of $20 for a day) but it could have taken another half hour to drive around the mall to find somewhere else. We were tired and getting hungry.

Tim had messaged that we should meet at the 'Carrusel' - the mall is mostly organised by animals, so we entered at the 'lion' area, and went past a section with huge giraffes. The 'Carrusel' turned out to be a merry-go-round (or carousel - we're not entirely sure what the difference is) with a food court - although the shops were all fast-food places, mostly American. But that wasn't a problem. The endless noise was draining - all the shops seemed to be playing music, and there were bright lights everywhere, and the carousel itself was playing music.


There are only two storeys to the mall, but it must be a kilometre or more from one end to the other, and it branches off in different directions.


Richard and I had burritos for lunch, Daniel and the children shared a pizza, and Tim and Becky both opted for a shop called 'Suvlas' which sold something strongly resembling a Cypriot gyro... called a 'yeero'.

Afterwards, we'd promised David a ride on the merry-go-round, and he wanted to sit in the teacup. So he, Esther and Becky had a ride.


However there wasn't much else for children. And while there were lots of shops, none of them really interested us. We wandered around for another hour or so, looking in a pen shop (for Tim) which was very expensive, and a cloth/material shop (for Becky) which didn't have anything appealing.

The children were getting tired, so after stopping for coffee and more ice creams, we headed to the car park, via a supermarket where we bought some almond milk and fruit juice. We don't know what the laws are here, but since it was only a short drive to the ship, we put the children on laps, and headed back.

We had dinner on the ship, and played with the children a little but they were tired so we departed about 7.30pm. Unfortunately we missed the turn-off to Veracruz (the place where we're staying) and ended up going several extra miles down the highway.  However this had the benefit of taking us to a large supermarket, so we stopped and bought a few extra things for breakfast. We would have liked some fruit, but the mangoes and papayas and other tempting looking produce were so hard that it would probably have taken a week or more to ripen them, and we were only here for three more mornings.

So we bought some bananas, and yogurts, and little bags of fruit and nuts that were on special offer, and headed back.  Excluding the time spent at the supermarket, it still took over an hour to get to our guesthouse - and once again we were very tired and slept well.

Tuesday morning dawned bright and sunny. We had said we would meet the family on the ship around 3.00pm when David finished at the ship school, and Esther would have woken for her nap, so we had the morning to ourselves. Richard chatted with our hostess, and she suggested driving along a causeway not far from the ship, which her husband had helped to build in recent years.

We were both suffering from quite bad mouth ulcers (canker sores) at this stage. Probably because of eating high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a product which is restricted and uncommon in Europe but which seems to be in just about every product here. It isn't a migraine trigger, so I had eaten breakfast cereals, ketchup and one or two other items bought here, not realising it's a common mouth ulcer trigger.  Not that there's much we could have done about it unless we had cooked everything from scratch, and that's not something I wanted to do on holiday.

I had brought a small amount of coconut oil with me, but had used it all up on my first batch of mouth ulcers; we had been unable to find any more. But research online showed that it could be found in some branches of a large supermarket called El Rey. We'd been to one in Coronado and hadn't been able to find any, so we decided to check one which looked as if it wasn't too far from the ship, albeit the other side of the bridge.

Driving over the bridge wasn't a problem, but it then took us nearly an hour driving at snail's pace through the outskirts of Panama City before we finally found the supermarket and a place to park.

Happily we were able to find some coconut oil, albeit rather expensive. But by then we were hungry and there was nowhere obvious to eat. We walked over the street to an indoor mall (much smaller than the Albrook, and not air conditioned). It had a food court, but when we went in the smell was unpleasant and none of the shops looked appealing.

So we bought pastries at a small coffee house, and they filled a gap.

We still had over an hour before we planned to go to the ship, so we set off for the causeway.  It was indeed well worth seeing - it's quite long, lined with trees, and (unusual for Panama) there are plenty of roundabouts to enable cars to return at any point. It connects three former small islands to the mainland, although there doesn't seem to be anything much on them.


There were lots of boats anchored somewhat randomly in the bay, so Richard got out and looked, though by this stage it was too hot and sunny for me to leave the car and there was no shade. Perhaps, as the trees get bigger over the next few years, there will be pleasanter places to sit.


We were intrigued by an odd-looking building with brightly-coloured roof pieces, so we parked and went inside.


It's a bio-diversity museum, with sections about animal and plant life, and one big section about the over-use of plastic.  A little ironic, then, that next-door to this is a restaurant serving drinks in plastic cups, with plastic straws....

As we came out, we were struck by the contrast between this peaceful causeway and the city just a few miles away:


We arrived at the ship in time to collect David from school; a good thing as Esther was still asleep, and woke up while we were gone. As ever, he wanted books read to him, and also asked for his playdough; so he and Esther spent some time peacefully playing with that:


After dinner, he got out his racing car tracks and Tim helped him put them together. David and Daniel were both feeling chilly, so they put on jumpers - and I was very pleased to see that the Postman Pat jumper I knitted over a year ago still fits!


By the time we left the ship it was starting to rain, and by the time we reached our guesthouse it was absolutely pouring.

Wednesday morning was our last time for visiting the ship, and Daniel had suggested we arrive in time for lunch. Since it was raining hard when we got up - so bizarre to lie in air conditioning hearing rain pouring down outside! - we had a lazy morning at the guest house, catching up on Facebook (and, in my case, starting this blog post), then got to the ship about 11.45.

After lunch, when David was back at afternoon school, and Esther was asleep, we played two more Settlers games with Becky. Then the fun-deck with Esther, while Richard read to David and played with him for a while, followed by dinner, and more stories, and then a sad goodbye.

The Logos Hope at Panama City

It's probably a year until we will see them again. It's been wonderful spending time with the family, and getting to know Esther properly; she's so different from the nine-month old baby whom we said goodbye to a year ago in Cyprus.

.. and in stop-press news, for anyone who's read this far, Tim's case has finally been found.  In Gatwick (UK). Where it has apparently been for the past ten days, despite his having collected and returned it to the airline in Tampa (USA) on Sunday. Perhaps the helpful Jason whom we spoke to at Panama Airport on Monday finally managed to get something done. 

Not so good is that BA called and woke Tim at 5.30am, not realising he was still in Panama, and then spent ten minutes trying to persuade him that he could collect his case when he returned through Gatwick on Monday.  

He argued that half the contents were presents for the family here, and eventually they agreed to send it to Panama, to arrive at the ship (hopefully) some time tomorrow.  This is good news, if it arrives in time, but Tim flies out of Panama on Sunday, and they won't deliver it if he's no longer here. He had pretty much given it up for lost and had stopped worrying about it up to this point. So whereas it's good if it arrives safely, in time, it's going to be another stressful 24 hours or more trying to keep track of it, with not much time left....

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