Friday, June 17, 2011


I should have realized this was not going to be a good vacation when my flip-flop broke on me as I was headed into the airport.  As it turned out, this was just one of the many things to go wrong on this vacation.  The vacation did have some highlights - I got to see two movies and won $90 in two casino visits, for example - but overall the trip was a bust.

There isn't much to see or do in Panama City.  The canal is obviously the big attraction.  I have to admit it was pretty awesome, but we were there at a time when only a few small boats were going through the locks.  There was also a cool museum on the Canal (not the one at the Canal but in the old town).  Other than the Canal, there was Casca Viejo, which was the old Spanish part of town, where we got roped into a tour by an old Panamanian.  Everything else was just sky scrapers, malls and roads.  No beaches, no real walkable shopping areas (besides the malls).  We spent 2 1/2 days in Panama City and could have seen everything in 1.  Personally, I enjoyed seeing civilization again after the last few months in Belize, but I know my sister was not enjoying it as much as me.

On Sunday afternoon, we headed to Bocas del Toro.  I had been told by one friend that Bocas was "Belize in Panama."  My little sister absolutely loved the place when she visited during her semester abroad in Costa Rica.  I have to admit, under other circumstances, this could have been an enjoyable trip.  Bocas is a cute little town on the edge of an island.  Many of the restaurants, shops and hotels are literally built over the water (they are clearly not worried about hurricanes there).  Unfortunately, there is no beach anywhere in town.  You either have to take a bus, a taxi, or a water taxi to get to the beach.

A few highlights (and many lowlights) of the trip:

  • It rained every day - literally every day.
  • SCUBA diving was pretty awesome, even though visibility was pretty low.  I spotted a shark 8 feet from me like only two minutes after we went down.  The diving wasn't as good as Belize, but it was still nice to be under water again.  I did get a blister on my big toe from the fins.
  • Our second full day, we planned to take one of the snorkel beach trips.  There were enough guests to split us into two boats and we got the shitty boat.  The other boat was full of people our age, including these three cute British girls.  Our boat was full of old people who were no fun.  They had a guide who managed to coax the dolphins to jump out of the water; our guide let us bake in the hot sun while waiting for us to point out the fins to him.
  • When we got to the first snorkel spot, our guide said we could just jump right in - it was deep enough.  I was hot (from waiting for the dolphins) so I jumped right in, pulling my legs up in case it wasn't as deep as he said.  I immediately landed on some coral on the back of my knee.  It hurt like hell, but I figured it was just a scratch, so I snorkeled around for a while.  When I got out, I was bleeding on the back of my knee and the stinging pain had not gone away.  According to one of the girls on the boat who has dived a lot, she said it looked like "fire coral."  (According to wikipedia, fire coral looks just like coral, but is related to jelly fish, hence the massive pain).  And the boat guide did not have a first aid kit or anything.
  • By the time we made it to the beach (after 4 1/2 days in Panama), it started to rain.  We still went into the water where large waves were crashing in the rain.  It had been so long since I've been anywhere near real waves.  Belize has almost no waves due to the barrier reef.  So, I had to go out and play in the surf despite the rain and the pain in my leg.  Right was I was about to get out, I got caught by a large wave, flipped about in the water and slammed my left shoulder into the ground.  I thought for a moment, I might have dislocated my shoulder or broken my arm, but I think I just bruised it badly.
  • That night I became feverish and my body was sore all over.  I was shivering and then clammy.  I don't think I slept more than 4 hours.  I spent almost the whole day in the hotel room, feeling miserable.  My sister headed to starfish beach, where she had a beautiful day at the beach with no rain.  
  • That night, after a huge storm, I managed to make it out to dinner with my sister and some American girl she had met that day at the beach.  I went home after dinner and they went out.  After falling asleep at 1030, I woke up around 2 and she wasn't home.  I was surprised but not worried and went back to sleep.  At 530, I woke up again and she still wasn't there.  I began to worry, but didn't think there was anything I could do then.  By 730, I was really worried.  At 830, I asked the front desk clerk to call the hospital and police to make sure she wasn't injured or arrested.  She misunderstood me and called the police to report a missing person.  The arrived quickly and I explained the situation and showed them a photo, etc.  About 30 minutes after they left, she came back to the hotel.  When she arrived at the hotel during the night, the door was locked and she couldn't get in, so she crashed at the hostel of the friend.
  • Thursday we returned to Panama City (and I got to see X-Men: First Class).  We got up at 430 this morning for our early flight and the trip was mercifully over.  (It was raining in Panama this morning)
  • The blister on my toe got infected, probably from all the dirt and sand.  I am now taking anti-biotics for the infection.  The fire coral sting has never really stopped hurting, but has been worse today than before.  As it is on the back of the knee, it hurts whenever I extend or flex the knee.  So, on the bright side, it only hurts if I stand, sit, or walk.
The one really good thing about the trip is that my bid list, which I got just before leaving, is amazing.  I don't want to spoil the bid list post with the horrible vacation, so I will blog about that later.  Let's just say that the list is so awesome that Paris doesn't even make the top 10!


  1. Sorry you had such a draining vacation. I got to Panama City back in 1990 just a month or so after Noriega. Besides his bombed out block, I remember walking along the Colon Bolivar, feeling great breezes. Your summary of the city seems spot on. And as far as the canal - amazing!- but I had always dreamed of having lunch at a canal cafe, watching the giant ships go through. And as you found out timing is everything! To top it off, there wasn't even a place to sit down, let alone dine and bask.

    Hoping your injuries heal quickly and completely. Not exactly the adventure any of us aim for, but it will make a great story down the line!

  2. I thought you might get a kick out of this, You Can Call Me Al,