Friday, July 29, 2011

San Blas/Kuna Yala

For our last stint in Panama we flew and boated to Yandup in the Kuna Yala province. Here is the tiny island we stayed on, from the window of our even tinier airplane:

The Kuna Yala (also known as San Blas) includes 365 islands that are run by the Kunas.  The Kunas won their independence from Panama in 1930, and continue many of their traditional practices today.  No foreigner can own land in the region, which is amazing as I'm sure the Kuna have been offered millions for real estate in this exquisite environment.  There are no hotels or high rises; the only accomodations offered are in Kuna-owned traditional formats.  Our room (solar powered lights and fan available at night):

Every morning the Kuna men head out in dugout canoes to fish and lobster hunt.  It was so peaceful to rise from bed and sit on our porch, watching the men head to work. 

The only motor (or any loud noise) we heard during our stay was on the boat owned by our lodge, which shuttled us about to isolated islands.  Here are a few of the beaches we visited:

Our lodge (Yandup Island Lodge), also took us to visit the nearest Kuna community.  It was fascinating to see a village so removed from modern conveniences, self-sufficient and full of pride and joy.

Question:  What modern convenience would you hate to give up?  (Vitamix for me!)  

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Bocas del Toro

After our jungle lodge stay, we returned to Isla Colon for four nights.  We stayed in a cute little casita (Saigoncito 1), that was more in our price range ($45/night).

Free bikes came with our rental, so we spent many sweaty hours biking around the island, in search of beaches, seafood, and coconuts.  

The best part of our stay was our rendezvous with great travel friends, who we'd met on a previous trip to Nicaragua.

In Bocas, you can hire inexpensive water taxis to take you to other islands, beaches, and over the water restaurants.  It's low season right now, and it's not difficult to find a secluded, tranquil beach.  

Although Bocas Town is a bustling tourist location, many Ngobe-Bugle people still live in traditional homes, using dugout canoes as transportation.   

Question: What do you put on horrible insect bites to soothe the itch? (TH told me to ask this question....)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Jungle Lodge Continued

Although we left the lodge four days ago,  I wanted to share a few more pictures from the experience.

path down the hill

I didn't take pictures of the dinners we were fed, as they were cande-lit communal affairs (I didn't want to be obtrusive AND end up with dark pictures).    Most days we were on excursions and the lodge would pack us a lunch, but on our last day we ate a noontime meal together.

Quiche (eggs from the farm, which I ate) stuffed with veggies, yucca salad, beets, avocados.  Afterwards we tried something called the miracle fruit, which came off a tree in the farm.

We sucked on a lime wedge to verify it was sour, then ate the small red fruit slowly, coating our tongue and spitting out the seed.  Afterwards we ate the limes again, but this time they tasted like key lime pie, or super sweet limeaide.  It was incredible.  Everything we ate for about an hour afterwards was uber sweet.  It was so much fun!  We heard there is a man in NYC who hosts tasting parties with the miracle fruit.   That would be a blast. 

After our jungle lodge time TH said he didn't care if he ever saw a sloth again.  I guess they aren't the most titillating of wildlife to view, but I still thought they were cute.  

One afternoon, after doing lots of this:  

it started to rain really hard.  We had big curtains we could pull closed when we had sideways rain to keep our room semi dry.  I pulled a curtain, and when I did something big landed on my head.  After having a little scream and panic session I discovered a bat on the floor.  

I thought it was dead, but when I gently nudged it over the edge with our creature-sweeper broom (supplied by the lodge for times just like this) it flew away!  It had been sleeping, and didn't wake up when it fell on my head or the floor.  I decided bats are much cuter when they are not nestled in my hair.

We have been enjoying our beach time on Bocas del Toro, which I hope to blog about before long.  We leave by ferry and bus today, back down the Pacific Coast to Panama City.  We will then fly out to the San Blas Islands, which are independently owned by an indigenous group called the Kuna.  I'm excited. 

Question:  Have you ever tried the "miracle fruit"? 

Monday, July 18, 2011

La Loma Jungle Lodge

We've just returned from four nights at La Loma Jungle Lodge on Bastimentos Island in Bocas del Toro.  Our raised cabin was open on three sides, with mosquito netting around the beds.  There was no electricity, which was really nice, as we had lots of time to focus on our natural environment.

outdoor shower

The cacophony of noises which surrounded us day and night was unreal.  We listened to layers upon layers of birds, insects, and frogs.  It was almost impossible to separate a particular noise individually.  Our wildlife viewing included sloths, giant tree iguanas, hundreds of birds, bats, frogs, lizards, snakes, and crazy insects.  My favorite were these cute little red frogs, which are slightly poisonous.  

This stay was the big splurge of our trip, at $100 a night per person.  The price included all of our meals, for which most of the ingredients were grown on site.  The lodge also ran a chocolate farm, which meant that we enjoyed many fabulous cacao/coconut milk desserts.  

cacao pods

One of my favorite new fruits, the biriba:

It's very sweet and rich, like a creamy custard.  Mmmmm.  

A jungle hike:

Notice how drenched in sweat I was.  The humidity in the jungle is intense!  Excellent toxin removal.

Question:  What's the weather like in your neck of the woods?  

Monday, July 11, 2011


We've been relaxing in the "mountain" town of Boquete for the past three days.  We took a collectitvo from Las Lajas to David, and then an old school bus to this lovely coffee and citrus producing town.  My main motivations for coming here were the fresh produce and flowers that grow profusely in the volcanic ash-tinged soil.

We are eating vegetables again!

I even enjoyed a non-iceberg lettuce salad at a restaurant yesterday. 

This town is filled with expat retirees, so there are a variety of interesting restaurants (aside from typical Panamanian fare) to choose from.  We found baba ganoush and tabouli at Tammy's, so we ordered it to go.  We have a fancy kitchen in our Kent Street apartment rental ($50/night); many meals have been made with the local veggies.  The carrots and tomatoes here taste exactly like my dad's super sweet garden varieties.  

(Eckkk- horrible lighting!) 

I have been drinking my weight in fruit juices. The two below were served at breakfast the other morning.  I have no idea what fruits the juices contained, but they sure were tasty.

This morning I tried my first passionfruit, and while it was beautiful, I'm not sure if I am a fan.  It was rather tart, and the seeds were really crunchy.  I do think it would be great as a smoothie addition. 

We are off to a jungle lodge for four days, where we will be computer free (and possibly without electricity...?).  Enjoy your week and I will see you this weekend!  

Question:  What was the best thing you ate today?  

Sunday, July 10, 2011

After a night in Panama City, we embarked on a seven hour bus trip to San Felix/Las Lajas.  Buying tickets at the ultra modern PC bus station was breeze, as was the long ride.  I was completely engrossed in "A Visit From the Goon Squad", by Jennifer Egan.  I'd been saving this read for vacation, and I'm so glad I did.  Now I'm sad that I can't continue to look forward to reading it!

We stayed in an amazing hotel called Finca Buena Vista ($50) in Las Lajas.  As implied by the name, the view from our patio was stunning.  It was incredibly serene, the only noises coming from birds and the occasional cow.

 Sebastian, who runs the B & B for his parents in the off season, made us epic breakfasts, which were included in the price.  In the morning he drove to the local bakery to make sure the bread was warm when it arrived at our table.  Along with bread were cheeses, meats, eggs, fresh fruits and guacamole (from the property's trees), mango marmalade, and liverwurst.  

I have to admit that I ate bread and drank coffee, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. 

On our second day Sebastian dropped us off at Playa Las Lajas, which is the longest beach in Panama.  We walked for hours, and didn't encounter a soul (except for a local fisherman tending his nets in the surf).

crab vs. fishing rod

As we couldn't find a cab to take us home (it is the off season after all) we decided to walk.  It was at least 10 kilometers, and hot.  We tried to make the trip fun by stopping occasionally to watch the giant ants carrying epic loads, the millipedes scurrying across the road, the brightly adorned birds, and the unidentifiable giant and slightly scary bugs.  Our most interesting companions were the hundreds of cows, who would freeze and stare us down, grass hanging from their mouths, whenever our presence was noticed.  We felt like celebrities.  

Question:  Do you like hot and humid weather?