he End of the Road
April 16 to August 4??, 2004
The sister of our French-friend of 30 years lives in Heredia (a suburb of San Jose) where she is the director of the Euroschool. Her husband is the owner-director of Cafe Britt, a premium coffee roaster. We were lucky enough to be their guests and to take the "Coffee Tour".
Egypt (Jan, 2002)
Through July, 2004
We cleaned up a lot of HTML and replaced lots of explicit specification of font, color, etc, with references to style sheets. This applies particularly to our Frontpages, Paris, and Israel.
Our Mexico coverage has been re-organized and expanded. We now have a page about all of the Ancient Sites that we visited.
It seems that sluggishness begets lethargy which begets sloth. Or is it the other way around? Whatever the answer, the fact is that in Costa Rica and Panama we took longer and longer to do less; less even than we had done in Honduras and Nicaragua, where our slowdown began. We ran through Guatemala in a month where there was lots to see. We spent five weeks in Honduras and Nicaragua and there wasn't lots to see. In Costa Rica and Panama we spent over three and a half months, and at the time this was written, we are still in Panama.
We found plenty to do in both countries, although there weren't (by our lights) any "must see" sites, except for the Panama Canal. But both countries were very comfortable to be in, and, well, we'd had enough of changing hotels every few nights. Our slowdown was aided and abetted by finding a series of places that were easy to stay in.
Our adventures in Panama bring to mind Isaiah Berlin's dictum that the Fox knows many things but the Hedgehog has integrated it into one big thing. In Panama we did not find three such nice places, each worthy of a week, but one big place, the Hotel Lisboa and Panama City, worthy of over a month. That enabled us to make several visits to the Panama Canal and its installations, to attend events at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute several times, and to really catch up on cable TV news and our web work.
Our designation "end of the road" is both literal and metaphysical. Upon arriving in Panama City there wasn't much farther worth going on by road. The road does go to the other side of the Isthmus, and we did do that, but it isn't farther — in fact it is closer to the USA because it is north of Panama City. And the road does go on east, toward Colombia, but it stops in the Darien jungle and we weren't interested in camping out among mosquitos and sleeping in hammocks.
The other sense of "end of the road" is for our car, our little Ford Escort. We added 27,000 miles to the 101,400 it had when we bought it. With no road through the Darien Gap and a price of $1000 to ship it to Cartagena, Columbia, (the closest place we want to go), the only practical thing to do is say goodbye to it.
April 16 - May 30, 2004: Costa Rica
Our first two nights in Costa Rica were in the small border town of La Cruz which we found very satisfactory until we discovered better. From the hotel we could see across Bahia Salinas to the Pacific; in an outing there over dirt road we discovered the empty Bahia Salinas resort and bargained our way into a week at its pool for half-price.
It took us almost another week before we found our next great deal. First we stopped two nights at Liberia, which we used as a base to make a great outing to Rincon Vieja National Park. Then it was back to the coast at Playa Coco where the beach was pleasant and we experienced an earthquake in our room. After a week of heat, heat, heat (the last part of Bahia Salinas, Liberia, and Playa Coco) we wanted cool, cool, cool, and went to the high(er)land in Tilaran. After picking a hotel we drove over to Lake Arenal, created for hydro power, loved the view, and were lucky enough to make a deal for a week starting the next day: less than half price in the Arenal Country Club's 3-bed condos. There we watched humming birds, sunsets and rain over the lake, and lots of TV.
Our highland cool continued in Santa Elena, only 18 km as the Hertzian waves flow, but a three hour drive. There we enjoyed the Hotel Sunset, its sunsets, bird watching, talking with other guests, and no TV. Afterwards we drove in a single day down to Heredia and into the bosom of the family of Steve and Anne Aronson, who indeed did take good care of us over the better part of two weeks. We had books, conversation, wine, breakfasts on the terrace, and visits to the very successful businesses they have each created, Cafe Britt and the European School.
Our sybaritic life then took a pause of a week as we ended our stay in Costa Rica. We got a taste of Cartago, the old capital, and climbed a minor part of Chirripo, the highest mountain in Costa Rica. Then, although a bit anxious to get on to Panama, we spent several days at Puerto Jimenez on the Osa Pennisula, in Costa Rica's far southwest. There we enjoyed the slow pace of life and hiked in the surrounding countryside looking for more of Costa Rica's varied wildlife. Our trip to the Panamanian border was marred by getting a flat tire on the potholed Interamericana Highway. The good news is that it was fixed quickly and cheaply. It was only our second flat tire in 26,000 miles, so we can't complain given the quality of some of the roads we have driven.
May 31 - August 4??: Panama
Just before eleven in the morning we finished our border crossing formalities and started our visit to Panama. And it was right then, mentally, that we made a mistake. It was about half an hour later when we made the actual mistake: driving past La Concepion to David rather than turning north and making a visit to Cerro Punta and the Panamanian part of Amistad International Park.
We got to David a little after noon and were soon settled in the Occidental Hotel and eating lunch at their cafeteria, getting an introduction to Panama's $2 overcooked and mildly warm specials. In the next four days we concentrated on daily chores, getting our teeth cleaned, our laundry done, and buying car insurance — once again we had driven a bit without it. We got and enjoyed our first taste of the fact that you can actually drink the tap water — no more needing to insure we had a supply of bottled water — and that towns aren't littered with speed bumps. We thought the American influence — which is what we assumed it was — was great. David itself is low key, with a nice square, but it has the disadvantage of being at sea-level and so hot all the time.
To escape the heat we went on to Boquette, another of those +/- 1000 m towns. This one was separated from Cerro Punta ("Hill Point") by Panama's highest mountain, 3475m Volcan Baru. Besides the relative cool (it was actually around 80F) and the green beauty, we enjoyed two hikes, a bit of bird sighting, drinking wine chilled by our in-room refrigerator, and making micro-wave popcorn for the first time since Lake Arenal.
Out of the cool back to the shore heat we went, this time to the beach at Las Lajas. It was a mistake, because the only accommodation was a bare concrete room with two army cots; we didn't even swim. Instead, after one night we went on to Santiago (de Panama — there are many) and stopped because we found a nice swimming pool, and a couple of interesting beasties. From there we made a day trip to Santa Fe, another great mountain area.
None of these trips was very far: border to David, about 60 km, David to Boquette, about 40 km, and, the big ones, Boquette to Las Lajas, about 130 km and Las Lajas to Santiago, about 125 km. By the time we were in Santiago — after three stops in ten days — we were still only half the way from the border to Panama City. And we still had two more stops to make, as it turned out.
We went on to Chitre, where we stayed eight days and explored the Azuero Pennisula a bit. In Chitre and nearby Los Santos (aka La Villa) we saw lots of school groups and a few adult groups doing traditional dances to celebrate Corpus Christi and the festival of John the Baptist.
Much better was La Valle (de Anton) because it was +/- 1000m, cool, and green. We enjoyed another two hikes, getting to the top of the ridge with the Old Indian rock formation. We saw the private zoo and botanical gardens and thought they were very good. We arrived the day after the Sunday market and thus did not see the indigenous people selling their own artisanal output but we think the market must be impressive based on the selection in the shop on the ground floor of our hotel. The prices for handicrafts here are lower than in Costa Rica but still quite a bit higher than in Guatemala. A reflection of the amount of tourism in each of these countries of course.
At the end of June we got to Panama City, thinking we would stay one week. Five weeks later we were still there. We discovered STRI (the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute) and went to seven events there, including three weekly seminars, two days of a symposium, and two visits to Barro Colorado Island. Because of the people we met there Gerry designed a web site for one person and a business card for a woman who runs a charity for indigenous people.
We finally got around to seeing the Panama Canal and were terrifically impressed, making separate visits to the locks at Miraflores and Pedro Miguel (both on the Pacific side) and finally Gatun (on the Caribbean). In between time we saw a few other museums, walked the ruins of Panama La Vieja (founded 1519, destroyed by Henry Morgan 1671), walked the streets of Casco Antigua (founded 1671 and until 1900 all there was of Panama City), and got to know the modern city with its shopping centers and noisy, polluting buses. We also visited the national assembly which is in extraordinary session to debate some constitutional reforms.
After the better part of two months in Panama and a month in Panama City we finally made a trip to the Caribbean. It is only fifty miles or so; the narrowness is, of course, why the Canal was built here. We made three trips and did what normal tourists on a tour bus might have done in one day. First trip was to the Gatun Locks and Fort San Lorenzo on the mouth of the Chagres River. Five days later we saw Portobelo, its ancient custom house, and two nearby forts. And two days later, Jan very apprehensive, we walked a bit of the streets of Colon, which indeed was a rundown mess. On all three visits we went to the Yacht Club in search of and negotiating about a sailboat passage to Cartagena, Colombia.
We spent lots and lots of evening hours (and some daytime hours too) working on our web, doing email, and watching our 50+ channel cable TV. We got surprised by the early handover of power to the interim Iraqi government, mourned the 40th President's death (Ronald Reagan), and cheered Lance Armstrong on to a sixth victory in the Tour de France.
As the weeks in Panama piled up we have realized it is time to move on. Initially we'd hoped to ship our car but that proved too expensive. So our problem became one of finding an outward destination and coordinating the sale of our Escort. We think we've done both: the car is sold and we've got a place on a two-masted, six-berth sail boat that will shortly be leaving for Cartagena, Colombia. Knowing that won't help you in our next posting because we are hardly likely to be there when we next update this website.