More Postcards

Cool Runnings?? The PANAMA BOBSLED TEAM!

Yes, Virginia, there really is a Panama Bobsled Team! It’s called THE SPIRIT OF PANAMA!

This works best if you let it download and then watch the whole video.

Those scratchy bug bites . . .

OK, we do have bugs in Panama.  Lots and lots of bugs.  But in Boquete VERY few mosquitoes!  Rarely do I see, hear or get bitten by mosquitoes.  But I lived in Wisconsin where during the summer you were attacked by hordes of mosquitoes.  Maybe my blood has developed some immunity, who knows.  But occasionally you do get bitten.  A local expat Gringo produces and markets something called Gruber’s Jungle Oil which a lot of folks, including my wife, swear by for stopping the itch from insect bites.

Recently a friend told me about another sure-fire cure for insect bite itching.  The product that is good for everything under the sun . . . WD 40!  Who knew?

A lot of folks who’ve never been to Panama worry about insect bites when they are on Panama Canal Cruises and wonder how much DEET they need to bring.  Or they visit tropical medicine specialists who load them up with expensive anti-malaria pills.  If you are transiting the Canal you’re unlikely to see an insect let alone get bitten.  The Canal channel is far from shore and frequently, especially at this time of year the wind is blowing so no bugs.  If you are going deep into the jungle, maybe on a trip in a little boat around Gatun Lake, a rainforest hike, or visiting the Embera deep in the Chagres National Park you may want to take along some bug repellant to use sparingly, and only if needed.

Speaking of bugs . . .

Unknown Insect aYes, there are loads of insects in Panama and one of the wonders of Panama is that almost every week we discover an insect that we’ve never seen before.  Last night I saw this fellow sitting on the arm of the couch.  At first I thought it was just a big piece of lint, or had a bird wandered into the living room and pooped on the couch?  Then I noticed it had four (four!) legs sticking out in front and was shaped something like a tiny, furry delivery truck.

Unknown InsectSo we grabbed our cameras and were shooting it from various angles.  Finally I decided to poke it and see what happened.  Amazingly, like a little boy’s transformer toy, it sprouted wings and flew!  If anyone knows any thing about our strange bug I’d like to know.

After 8 years in Panama we are still discovering new roads, new bugs, and new experiences some of which are delightfully decadent!

Speaking of delightfully decadent . . .

Boquete is known for its wonderful strawberries.  Having lived in Ventura County for twenty years, I’m well acquainted with strawberries.  Strawberries are a major crop in Oxnard which every year had a huge Strawberry Festival.  During the season we’d buy huge flats of strawberries and make OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAshortcake and fresh strawberry daiquirís.  But over the years we lived in Ventura something happened.  The very flavorful strawberry varieties were replaced by berries that looked better and most importantly were easier to ship and lasted longer.  They looked fantastic but the flavor wasn’t nearly as good.

Boquete strawberries are smaller, less perfect, but have amazing flavor and you can get them almost year-round.  So there are several roadside places that sell strawberries and amazing strawberry concoctions.


Since our daughter Rebecca OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAis visiting, Nikki and Rebecca were off exploring and driving some of the roads around Boquete.  The nice thing about Boquete is that you can take off on almost any road and eventually they all lead back to Bajo Boquete, our little town nestled in the mountains.  Bec and Nikki stopped at on one of the little strawberry cafes in Las Naranjas and had fresh strawberry ice cream and strawberries in real almond cream.

Joining the world . . . the Panama Canal

Work on the expansion of the Panama Canal continues day and night while US ports scramble to catch up so that when the super carriers are transiting the Canal they will have the facilities to accommodate the giant ships carrying up to 15,000 containers vs. the 7,000 container ships that can now fit through the existing Canal.  It is now a given that the Canal expansion will not be completed on schedule but will probably take another year to complete making the opening date in 2015 instead of 2014, the 100th Anniversary of the Canal.  This video by the ACP gives you a good idea of the enormity of the project . . .

If you are even thinking about a Canal Cruise, are going soon, or have cruised the Canal in the past you will want to get a copy of my book CRUISING THE PANAMA CANAL – CENTENNIAL EDITION.

I’m happy that I read Cruising the Panama Canal before our trip. I especially enjoyed having information about the Canal from south to north since we started our cruise in California and ended in Florida. I kept it with me the entire day during our journey through this awesome area. Nancy Robbins

Eco Tourism in Panama

In the past when people talked Eco Tourism in Central America they generally thought of Costa Rica, but Panama is quickly becoming the destination of choice for eco tourists.  From USA TODAY . . .

Panama is made up of a bridge of land that unites North and South America, together with numerous islands. Tourism is relatively new to Panama, which is currently viewed as an “off-the-beaten-track” type of destination, popular with backpackers. The country is so ecologically diverse, with rain forests, mountains, cloud forests and beautiful coastlines, that it has a great deal of potential for eco-tourism.

The government of Panama foresees that tourism will become a major contributor to the country’s economy in the future, as well as a sustainable source of employment for indigenous rural communities. It is therefore keen to develop a tourism infrastructure, which at present barely exists, and is determined to do so in a responsible manner that will conserve native flora and fauna and preserve the national culture. There is currently no national master plan for tourism, but Costa Rica’s model for nature-friendly tourism is being followed in some regions. There are also plans for creating eco-resorts within the Panama Canal Watershed.

Some rural communities are already involved in small-scale eco-tourism ventures, but research carried out within the Panama Canal Watershed suggests that both Latino and indigenous communities would be interested in working within the eco-tourism sector. Men would consider becoming guides for nature or adventure tourism, while women were most interested in craft making, educational activities, such as sharing their knowledge of medicinal plants, and providing food and accommodation.

With over 10,000 species of native plants, 1,500 types of trees, more than a thousand species of birds and miles of vulnerable coral reef habitats, wildlife conservation is taken extremely seriously in Panama. Almost 29 percent of the country is occupied by national parks, wildlife refuges and forest reserves, which are managed by the Government Agency for the Protection of Natural Resources. Darien National Park, one of Panama’s largest, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Some of these protected areas, such as the Bastimentos Island National Marine Park, are already important tourist attractions, offering nature trekking, bird watching and water sports.

Eco-adventure activities available in Panama include swimming, rock climbing, kayaking, whitewater rafting and snorkeling, as well as guided hikes into the forests and mountains with the opportunity to take an aerial ride through the forest canopy on a zip line. Jungle boat rides at Gatun Lake are a good way of seeing monkeys, sloths and iguanas, while a visit to an indigenous tribal settlement provides a cultural learning experience. The Emberas, along the upper reaches of the Chagres River, are particularly welcoming and happy to share their culture with visitors.

Recently at a pre Super Bowl party I was chatting with Lyn Mckee who has followed this blog for years. Her and her husband Eric run a small eco lodge overlooking the Caribbean called Rambala Jungle Lodge.

No “green washing” here (using an eco theme because it sells, rather than actually being eco-friendly), Lyn and Eric have created a small lodge with a maximum of 10 guests with a minimal footprint and where all of the construction has been using dead fall wood from trees blown over by the winds. It’s simple accommodation, great meals cooked by Lyn, with amazing opportunities to explore.

While life at Rambala is basic and relatively inexpensive, on the other side of the Isthmus is the newly opened Isla Palenque Resort located on an island just off Boca Chica.  The resort is totally nestled within the island.  We cruised by a few weeks ago and from the water you could barely  see the corner of one building.

Isla Palenque is a resort/development that eventually will 220 homes and 80 hotel rooms with a sustainable development approach designed to preserve the island. The development footprint is projected to take up only 5% of the island.  At the resort the tented suite shown at the left goes for an all-inclusive rate from $299 to $569 a night while the more traditional “estate rooms” run from $299 to $799 a night.  Interestingly no matter how much you pay for your home site here, guest or resident, it costs $20 each way to take the 30-40 minute launch ride from Boca Chica to the island unless you have your own helicopter and I see no mention of a proposed helipad despite the pricey real estate.  There’s a great article about Isla Palenque in OCEAN HOME.