On Wednesday, 12/18, the day after Boston got 8" of snow, we took off at noon for Atlanta. We ate at a Nathan's in the airport and listened to the pianist playing Christmas carols before changing for our flight to Panama City, where we landed a little after 9:30 at night. After collecting the checked luggage, you have to load the bags onto a scanner for one last trip through the X-ray machine--sort of a "Welcome to Panama!" gesture, we thought. This was fine, though, and we did it, putting our big checked red duffel bag, our backpack, our tote bag, and my small pocketbook on the scanner. The man kept waiting, not yet waving us around to the other side. We stood there. "All bag, all bag," he said impatiently, "Todo!" I broke out my rusty Spanish, as I would do a number of times this trip, and helpfully said "Si, todo--cuatro. Es todo." "All, all," he repeated. "Back!" He motioned to Robert's back. We had a moment of slowing dawning recognition. Robert turned around to reveal Marcus asleep on his back, not, in fact a backpack. The man got a good laugh about that, and agreed that we didn't need to X-ray el nino.
Our hotel, the Gamboa Rainforest Resort, met us with a large black SUV and a nice driver who narrated everything, with a little encouragement from us, on the half-hour drive from the airport to the hotel, passing the Trump Tower and other high-rise Panama City buildings, the locks, and the bumpiest bridge ever (one lane, one direction, and really quite bumpy) over part of Lake Gatun. We had two sleeping kids when we arrived, and we all went straight to bed.
We woke up bright and early Thursday morning the 19th to a lovely room with a balcony and a hammock on the balcony, overlooking some lawns and trees where families of capybaras like to congregate. Samantha, enchanted with the largest rodent in the world, took to saying, "I be baby capybara Halloween!" and well, we'll try to make good on that if she still remembers next year.
The breakfast buffet was included with our room, so at 8:00 we found ourselves eating our fill of little fried yuca rolls stuffed with meat, lovely fresh pineapple, "tortillas" which are actually thick deep-fried corn-based patties (more like a hash brown in some ways), two bowls of oatmeal for Marcus (he does love his oatmeal), and "smoked beef" (tasting like ham in a cowboy-seasoned tomato sauce).
At 8:45 we took the hotel truck down to the dock for the Gatun Lake Expedition Tour. Apparently the tour was formerly called the "Monkey Island" tour but the hotel didn't want to seem to promise monkey sightings, so they changed the name.
It was just us, a nice female guide, and a nice female captain on our boat, and we did indeed see monkeys--first some capuchins that our guide didn't let us get too close to, as she said they're quite nasty (and we saw one screech horribly and leap at a man on another boat who was teasing it by pulling on the branch it was sitting on), and then some tamarins, who are gentler and friendlier and who we approached a bit closer. The boat ride was an hour and a half around the man-made lake, formed when they made the canal, and it was very gentle and a good first boat ride for the trip.
We also saw iguanas, birds, butterflies, and a WWII-era crane involved in a dredging operation connected with the canal expansion work currently happening, plus two big container ships and some giant, fascinating buoys.
After the boat ride we hit the pool, and then went to lunch, where we were stymied by the pricing scheme. There was an excellent beef soup, nice fried fish with an herb sauce, and an arequipe-type dessert that I think I ate six of, but the meal wasn't worth $24 a person (though kids were free). Marcus also ate cold cuts, breadsticks, and cherry tomatoes, and Samantha ate with gusto, although she had come down with a cold the day before we left and was still drippy and snuffly and coughing. "I have a little cough," she'd say in a sad gravelly voice, before coughing up a lot of her lunch. We liked the very tart lemonade and the Hawaiian-style fruit punch (just actually made with real fruit, you know--quite surprisingly!) which were free with the meal. Marcus announced that it tasted like gummy bears.
After lunch we took a one-hour guided flora and fauna walking tour of the hotel grounds with another nice, articulate female guide. The only other people on this tour were an eccentric older couple from LA--she's a retired professor of human sexuality, and he's basically George twenty years from now (part-time daycare worker, waiter, elementary school sub, full-time wide reader and all-around interesting guy)--and we had a pleasant time looking at the baby caiman and crocodiles and turtles all of us together.
Marcus's favorite was the snake house with many venomous snakes, and he also liked taking close-up pictures of flowers in the orchid gardens and the butterfly house.
The guide showed him some "sleeping" flowers, which would close up when you gently stroked their leaves, and told us that typical Panamanian folklore says that if you put these under the pillow of a sleeping child, they'll make the kid less hyper, but that it never worked in practice on her brother, despite her mother's efforts.
Marcus was fascinated. Samantha slept even before we got to the special flowers.
We played some ping pong, admired the creche/village in the lobby, used our hammock again, and then went to the pool again before dinner, which was similar to lunch but somehow we were only charged $14 for the buffet now, oddly.
Both kids ate very well--lots of a white fish in garlic sauce and rice, and breadsticks and plantains--and we made an early night of it, heading to bed not long after 8:00.
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Created: 12/27/13. Last Modified: 12/27/13.