November 15, 2007

We didn’t get up very early, so when we went out the sun was already shining brightly. We ate breakfast at Don Pepé’s café. Rosemary had their version of French toast and Paul had pancakes. The French toast was really good, even better than Olga’s in Boquete, with just the right amount of cinnamon and large-crystal sugar mixed with the egg.

After breakfast we decided to confirm our reservation at La Estancia, as the printouts we had with us didn’t say clearly that we would be arriving there today. There was an Internet place at the bakery just up the road, so we went there to check the original e-mails. Sure enough, we were booked for tonight so we planned our day accordingly.

The famous El Valle market was right there, so we stopped in there. In the craft line they had everything from original paintings to plastic spiders. There was a Kuna Indian woman there with a selection of molas, which we looked at for a while. We didn’t want to buy anything just then, so we told her we would come back around noon.

We had a couple of hours before we had to check out, so we decided to take a walk in the direction of La India Dormida. Following signs and the map we had got from the hotel, we first arrived at the petroglyphs. Nobody knows who put the petroglyphs there or what they mean, but the people of the town maintain them by repainting them as necessary. Then we continued upwards along a paved trail leading to a waterfall, and beyond that an unpaved following the creek uphill. This trail was slippery in places and neither of us had worn our hiking boots, so we were trying to be careful. Periodically one of the local people would come down the trail carrying a large bundle of bamboo or some other greenery and a machete. We also met a couple of schoolboys heading to town. The standard footwear was black rubber boots. After a while we got up to a place with good views over the valley, so the walk was not wasted. But we had to check out of the hotel by noon, so we didn’t have time to follow the trail all the way to the top.

Back at the hotel, we packed up and went downstairs. We paid the bill and asked if we could leave the packs there for an hour. Then we went back to the town craft market and the little Kuna woman. She had hidden the one she had shown us earlier under the pile, and now she hauled it out. She also showed us one that had scalloped edges to the internal design, so we ended up buying both.

As it was now lunch time we went up the road to the Bruschetta restaurant. Rosemary had the native Panamanian dish of sancocho, which was chicken broth with a chicken leg and yuca (cassava) with a side order of rice, and Paul had a choripan, a sausage sandwich. During lunch the rain became torrential, so we sat and waited until it stopped. Then we went back to the hotel. We did some shopping there; one local specialty is painting on feathers, so we bought one of those. We also bought a Wounaan basket and a dress for Rosemary like the ones some of the Indian ladies wear.

Then we recovered our packs, loaded our purchases into them, and went outside to the bus stop. Before long the El Valle-Panama bus came along and picked us up. Now we were on our way to Panama City. Or so we thought; next the bus went to the bus company office to deposit cash, and then to the gas station to put air into the tires. Then instead of turning left towards Panama City, it turned right towards the other end of El Valle, where the driver stopped to read the newspaper for a while. Finally we headed down the road and then onto the Pan-American Highway. The trip took about two and a half hours, and for the whole time loud Spanish hip-hop music was blaring out of the speakers. About halfway to Panama City the rain started coming down in buckets. The roads were flooding in places but that didn’t slow our driver down. We were nearly sideswiped by another vehicle, and both of us were very glad when at about 4 pm we finally pulled into the Albrook bus terminal.

We walked through the mall and outside to the street, where taxis were picking up passengers. Fortunately our driver knew how to get to La Estancia on Cerro Ancon. He had been taking English lessons on weekends for five months, so he was happy to practice his English on us.

We had room 14 in La Estancia. This room had a good view of the Bridge of the Americas, the port of Balboa, and a roost of about 50 Black Vultures. We sat on the balcony and ate a banana and some of the cookies we had bought in El Valle, then went back to the room to plan the next three days. After a while we went down to the lounge to check e-mail. We talked to some of the other guests for quite a while. There was a veterinarian from Indiana and a retired barber from Texas and his son, who was doing something or other in Malaysia at the moment.

Before going to bed, at nearly midnight, we wrote our journals and watched the tiny lizards which lived in our room catching bugs. Very interesting.

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