We're on our way home from Panama, as I tap this out. We're flying over white puffy clouds, without a care in the world.
We had our usual fabulous breakfast, which consisted of multiple trips to the buffet. Shira enjoyed all the fruit she could eat, and our little one was in heaven with the unlimited supply of lox and croissants.
Here are a few miscellaneous observations I made over the last week. Maybe they'll be helpful if you travel to Panama?
- Bring a Spanish phrasebook. They use American currency, and the US had a presence here for the last 100 years. But that's all pretty much irrelevant, we found that almost nobody spoke English, and the majority of the menus and signs are in Spanish only. Sure, it was fun trying to figure things out, and the language barrier made for some good stories, but it would also have been fun to try out more Spanish.
- Frommer's continues to be my guidebook of choice and an essential travel item. I was surprised that we weren't able to use any of the restaurant recommendations. Though I think that has more to do with the street layout and general business turn over of Panama, than the book itself.
- The Radisson Decapolis really delivered as a family friendly hotel. The suite contained two large rooms, which meant that our little one could go to sleep and we could stay up without disturbing him. Breakfast, as I mentioned above, was also outstanding, with a large buffet, and waffles, pancakes and such included. The location was ideal, and being next to a Kosher Supermarket was a bonus I didn't even know I could ask for. The only part of the hotel that left me wanting was the concierge. A good concierge can steer you to just the right restaurant, or attraction. At the Decapolis, they were glad to run Google Map searches and print the results, but didn't really deliver any more specific information. Heck, at one point they routed us to the middle of the city to visit the marine museum instead of to an island at the Amador Causeway.
- Bring the umbrella, leave the windbreaker at home. It down poured every day, and an umbrella would have been handy to deal with this. It would also have been handy to deal with the scorching sun at times. It was way too hot to even think about putting a rain jacket on. With all that said, there's usually shade or cover from the rain to be found. And folks are so used to the rain that nobody panics when it arrives during the day. You stand around for a few minutes and wait for it to pass, and enjoy the cooler weather that it brings.
- While the weather was hot and humid (evidence by the sheen of sweat I have in every photo), neither the sun nor the bugs were a problem. Every day we covered ourselves in suntan lotion and bug spray, and in return we got neither sunburn or any bug bites. This was quite a pleasant surprise, as we expected the worst.
- I used a Tide Travel pack to wash an extremely sweaty (and smelly!) dry-fit shirt and a pair of REI travel pants in the sink, and to my amazement they came out smelling great. They took the night to dry, but were ready to wear the next day.
- I kept my phone in Airplane mode throughout the day with the screen turned all the way down, and it retained most of its charge. I found it handy for taking sound recordings in the jungle, for snapping panoramic photos on top of Ancon hill and for listening to an Overdrive audio book during the flight.
Overall, Panama was a most excellent travel destination. There was plenty to do in Panama City for the week, and had just the right mix of history, nature and activities that I was hoping for. With the language barrier, it definitely didn't feel overly familiar. And the whole Kosher scene was just more than I could have asked for.
Go visit, you'll be glad you did.
Update: After this post was written, and all electronics were turned off, we started our descent. As we approached Dulles, the plane was getting pushed around by the wind. I held my armrest and tried to look as calm and casual as possible for our 8 year old, and Shira just focused on not getting air sick. As we were just about to touch down, the plane was still getting pushed around pretty wildly, and at the last second, the pilot pulled up. As we circled around to try again, there was almost near silence in the cabin. While I was fighting back all sorts of fears, and Shira was trying to keep her stomach contents in place, our 8 year old was happily chattering away, without a care in the world. A few agonizing minutes later, the pilot got on the speaker and informed us that he had aborted the landing because of the wind. He lined up for another approach, and even though the wind was pushing us to and fro, he made the landing. After we came to a complete stop, the cabin erupted in applause. Again, our 8 year old look at us with curiosity - what was going on and did people always clap after every landing? Seriously, this boy should be an astronaut with his total lack of concern for gravity. It was a memorable ending to a memorable trip.
A few last photos from the day: