November 9, 2007

Our room had a ceiling fan, which kept us pleasantly cool while we slept. We woke up about 7 am, got dressed, then went down to get breakfast. Helping ourselves to cereal, juice, and yogurt we sat out on the balcony watching all the wildlife. The sloth was still in the same position as it was last night in the palm tree next to the balcony. Hanging in the trees there was a bird feeder full of seeds, being attended by a lot of little birds. Flipping through the bird book… yes, they are seedeaters. Variable Seedeaters, it said. We watched them and some of the other common town birds as we ate. Besides the birds, there was a small agouti on the ground below the balcony.

We weren’t finished travelling yet. Today we were flying to David, in the western province of Chiriquí, so we paid our bill and took the shuttle to the Albrook airport. We were flying with Aeroperlas, and they were celebrating getting recertified under the new stricter civil aeronautics regulations, and being the first airline in Panama to pass the test. So with our boarding passes we each got a scratch-and-win card. Rosemary won $10 and Paul won a t-shirt.

The plane we flew in to David was a 50-seat jet and there were no seat assignments, so we sat near the back. It took about 15 minutes before we could take off, as several small planes were coming in to land. We did see downtown Panama City and the Panama Canal as we gained height, but it was cloudy for most of the rest of the flight. About half an hour into the 50-minute flight we were served a beverage and a packaged sandwich.

Upon our arrival in David we were met by the taxi we had arranged and began our trip into the mountains towards our home for the next three nights, the Los Quetzales Lodge in Guadalupe. At first we went through David for about 10 minutes, then headed out of town. Alongside the road were various colourful plants including hibiscus, bougainvillea, and poinsettia, and the road went by dairy farms and some thoroughbred horse farms. It was definitely a good vegetable-growing area as we saw numerous trucks packed with carrots, onions, cabbages, and so on going down to David.

We had been passing through rain showers about every ten minutes as we drove, and when after about an hour we arrived in Guadalupe, the rain was coming down quite heavily. We checked in and got the keys to the dormitory rooms, which we had booked for the first night. It appeared we would have them all to ourselves. By now it was noon and we were both quite hungry. Neither of us wanted to eat the airline sandwiches, so we threw them away and went to the restaurant at the lodge. There was a large group of people already seated there, so we went down to reception to ask about it. Apparently it was some kind of a group, and the clerk suggested we walk just a little way down the hill to another restaurant. This was a little restaurant where a few of the locals were having lunch. After some language problems we ended up having soup, which contained beef and vegetables. It was extremely tasty and filling and only cost $1 for both of us.

After our lunch we continued walking down the hill for a bit, but didn’t see much of interest. By now the rain had begun again so we headed back to the lodge, stopping at the grocery store on the way to buy a packet of cookies. Back at the lodge we sat outside trying to identify the numerous hummingbirds that were coming to the many feeders. Eventually the rain let up, so around 2 pm we decided to walk up the road to Finca Dracula, which is an orchid farm.

We followed our map about 10 minutes up the hill to the gate, then we followed signs to the office. November is not the best time to be looking at orchids, but we decided to pay the $10 for the half-hour tour of the greenhouses anyway. The tour ended up being very informative despite the majority of the orchids not being in bloom. We did see several blossoms including the smallest orchid in the world. Finca Dracula grows several thousand different species of orchid and sells them all over the world. The finca is named for the genus Dracula, which are night-flowering orchids from South America which are pollinated by bats. Some of those were flowering now, with brown or colourless flowers.

As we left Finca Dracula the rain showers started to come back again, and by the time we got back to the lodge the rain was more or less continuous. We stopped off at the dormitories to pick up our journals, then headed down to the main lodge. We met the chef, who said that there was tea. It turned out to be a large pot of herbal tea; all the herbs were local including mint and lemon verbena. The tea also tasted of anise and licorice, but she did not know those English words. We drank our tea in the lounge, then dozed for a while as the rain poured down outside.

About 5:30 pm we decided we should have dinner. Nobody was in the restaurant and no lights were on, so we went down to reception to see if it would be open. It would, and about 6 pm they turned on the lights and opened the restaurant. The menu was quite extensive, but we both decided to have spaghetti with béchamel sauce and sautéed vegetables. The presentation of the meal was very nice, with a sprig of mint on top and parsley flakes around the rim of the shallow bowl. For dessert we both had the blackberry pie. Once again the presentation was very good—we opted for no ice cream, and beside the wedge of pie were three dots of strawberry sauce each with a small central dot of chocolate.

We were the only customers in the restaurant, and quite possibly the only guests in the hotel. But this was the rainy season, and probably it is busier in the dry season. The owner, Carlos Alfaro, was there and he came over to talk to us. He said the normal weather came from the south, and that usually meant a short rain shower in the afternoon. But now the weather was coming from the north, and that meant much more rain. After dinner we made a run back up to the dormitories, where we played cards for a while, wrote our journals, and then went to bed.

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