Category Archives: Panama City

Posts that take place in Panama City

Birdwatching in Panama

We still haven’t been able to get the vaccine yet, so for my birthday we decided to go away for the weekend to the town of Gamoa and Pipeline Road for some birdwatching.

We know nothing about birdwatching

The town of Gamboa is under an hour away and near Pipeline Rd, a world famous birdwatching area. We aren’t birdwatchers, but here’s what Frommer’s said:

Even non-birders can’t help getting caught up in the action with so many colorful show birds fluttering about, such as motmots, trogons, toucans, antbirds, colorful tanagers, and flycatchers.”

Here’s what Lonley Planet says:

“Pipeline Rd is considered to be one of the world’s premier birdwatching. More than 400 different species of birds have been spotted on the trail, and it’s fairly likely you will spot everything from toucans to trogons.”

But first, birthday cake

My actual birthday was on a Thursday and was lovely. I woke up to a rainbow.

Our friends Rolf and Samuel brought me a birthday cake and lent us their binaculars.

Rolf and Samuel: we baked you this cake to share on your birdwatching Sheryl: I’m not sharing this cake. Jeff can have the grapes.

Jeff brought me flowers which were so pretty I spent an hour taking photos.

Jeff: We have dinner reservations at 8:00.
Sheryl: I only need 400 more photos.

Gamboa is close to Panama City

In the 1930’s the US moved the canal’s dredging division to Gamboa and took it over and basically built an entire town that all had the same home model. It’s small, town with all the buildings looking the same, but painted different colors.

Our Air BnB had this really interesting door and cut out windows. When I realized a lot of houses had the same door and window I forgot all about birdwatching and went straight to door watching.

I could have taken so many more pictures of identical doors but Jeff thought someone might think I was casing the neighborhood.

The next morning, we woke up early to the sounds of the rainforest and me complaining.

No Birds, but we did see a rodent

On our walk out of town we saw an agouti. (It’s that weird rodent on the right hand side of the photo below. Some people (me) think they are cute. Some people (Jeff) think they look like giant rats.

We’ve seen agoutis before. But, what really was a rare sight was the post office. This is the first one we’ve seen in Panama. It may not even actually still be open.

We didn’t see any birds but soon we were on the famous Pipeline road.

Now we will see birds.

The road was paved with gravel and the rainforest was truly beautiful.

Can’t imagine why I’m not seeing any birds with my head down.

No birds, but some cyclists and runners

Hey cycling dude, see any birds?

Still no birds, but we saw butterflies

I soon became frustrated at the lack of birds. But Jeff kept his spirits up.

Sheryl: I don’t like bird watching. Jeff: come on, its fun.

While we didn’t see birds on Pipeline Rd, there were some amazing butterflies. Jeff took this photo which he very nicely allowed me to use on the blog.

Photo by Jeff. Permission to use it by Jeff .

The excitement from the butterflies was short lived.

Sheryl: Where are the birds? Jeff: Why no birds?

Perhaps all the birds were waiting to be discovered in the Rainforest Discovery Center. https://pipelineroad.org/en/

The rainforest discovery center has trails and a viewing platform, and a list of all the birds one might see.

Excited to see at least a fraction of these birds, we climbed the stairs. From the top you could see the forest canapy, but still no birds.

Jeff: Still not seeing birds.
Sheryl: Force a smile for the blog. Pretend like you are seeing birds.

No birds, but we saw monkeys

With the help of binoculars and a really nice couple named Pascual and Juana, who were experienced birdwatchers, we saw howler monkeys.

I hope those are monkeys they sound like demons.

I took a ton of photos. Turns out monkey’s hide really well.

Seriously, there are at least 13 monkeys in these trees.

Here’ s a picture from Wikipedia of a Howler Monkey.

Photo from Wikipedia. They looked exactly like this.

Pascual and Juana also pointed out a toucan that we saw through the binoculars so if you only see one bird from the forest canopy, a toucan is a good one to see.

They also explained a lot of birdwatching is luck and patience. They had been here many times and seen birds on other occasions, just not many that day.

More monkeys

On the way back down we saw another tree full of capuchin monkeys. Again, unless they are moving they hide really well. This picture is also from Wikipedia. We could have skipped bird watching altogether and just looked at photos on Wiki.

Capuchin Costa Rica.jpg

After seeing only one bird but a lot of monkeys, we headed to another part of the Rainforest Discovery Center where you could see a lot of humming birds, have a professional guide answer questions, and sit down if bird watching makes you tired.

Carlos was super nice and really wanted to get us excited about the humming birds.
Sheryl: pretend like you’re listening.
Jeff: I’m too tired to even pretend.

As we sat and compteplated how maybe we weren’t birdwatchers, Carlos whispered. “Guys!, Guys!”

The urgency in his voice had me thinking he must have spotted a panther or poisonous snake. As I looked for means of escape, I saw Carlos setting up what looked to be a camera, but turned out to be a bird watching scope

Carlos called us over. “It’s a mot mot.” We took turns looking through the scope, and sure enough there was a bird. It was pretty, but we both realized at this moment, maybe we weren’t cut out for bird watching.

When it started to pour we thought maybe we were done birdwatching for the day. When Pascual and Juana offered us a ride back to our Air BnB , we knew for certain that were done birdwatching.

Not many birds, but we did have cocktails

That afternoon back at our Air BnB I did more bird watching, Zeunert Style from the patio.

No birds but this gin and tonic is refreshing.
No birds but this lounge chair is comfortable.
My butterfly shot didn’t come out as well since I didn’t get off the lounge chair.

The next morning Jeff had to give me a pep talk to get me in the birdwatching mood.

Jeff: Those mot mots aren’t going to watch themselves.

We headed out and saw parrots and another toucan right in town.

We walked over to the Rainforest Lodge which is a beautiful hotel we went to pre-pandemic with my parents. https://gamboareserve.com/

The hotel is closed due to covid. The only visitor is a agouti in the lobby

It was so deserted Jeff said it looked like the Shining in the tropics. Once it’s open again we are going back.

I see a bird oh never mind that’s a branch.

And then we rewarded ourselves with breakfast.

Maybe if I hold this a bird will come to me

So we didn’t see many birds, but if we had come for monkey, butterfly, door and post office watching we saw a ton.

Even though we didn’t see many birds, the rainforest is beautiful, the town of Gamboa is a great get away from the big city and we made some new friends. (Pascual and Juana.)

We will absolutely go back again, especially if we have to mail a letter.

Panama in the pandemic

It’s weird that we have spent most of our time in Panama in a pandemic. But, we’ve been extremely lucky to be safe, healthy and employed.   

The vaccine is slower to roll out here than in the U.S. but while we wait (me more impatiently then Jeff) I’m reflecting at how much different things are now vs. a year ago. 

Panama had one of the strictest quarantines in the world. The below chart (taken from a site called Our World in Data https://ourworldindata.org/) shows the level of restrictions compared to the US.

For a week there in November we were living life free and easy compared to the US.

At first it seemed like no big deal

It started out the same here as everywhere. We thought it would be over in two weeks.

Here we are learning the pool was closed (or auditioning for most overly dramatic expats ever). Imagine our faces if we had known it would be a bit longer than two weeks.

Alas, the pool has closed. We are tortured.
Not sure why I cared about the gym closing since I never used it.

When they started boarding up the stores we got a little nervous. Would there be looting? Riots? Toilet paper shortage?

There weren’t any riots, looting, or even toilet paper shortages.

And then came Women and Men days

When they divided the week up into women and men days we became concerned. When we found out you could only go out for two assigned hours on your day we freaked out.

Wait what?

Based on the last digit of my passport and being female, I had 8:30-10:30 M,W,F.  Jeff had 7:30-9:30 Tue and  Thur only. For once, being a woman came with some advantages. Men having less hours than women is probably whey they expected rioting.   

What happened if you were transgender or non binary? Sadly, you might be harassed or arrested. 

What happened if you were out at the wrong time or day? You could be fined or even arrested.

How did they know if you were out at the wrong time? There were police checking your documents to make sure it was the correct time. If you went to a grocery store at the wrong time they would not let you inside.

But if living in another country teaches you anything, it’s to be adaptable. We started having our food delivered online.

Remember when we washed all our food before it entered the house? Still never quite figured out how to wash a pineapple.

Since we were only allowed to go grocery shopping during our two hours on our day/times out I walked to the grocery store, the far away grocery store. 

We thought we’d get fit during the pandemic

In our spare time,  which was all the hours, we climbed up and down the fire escape. 

Then an email went out to the entire building saying no one was allowed out on the fire escape unless it was a declared emergency.    

No problem, we had long hallways. a parking garage and balcony .

Who wouldn’t want to workout in a parking garage in 90 degree heat? And it was only 38 times back and forth on the balcony to equal a mile.

I even bought a Door Gym. 

This worked great we used it every day and got super fit. hahahaha. Not. I tried it once, was afraid I’d break the door and poke an eye out.

We only went a little nutty

Soon we found that exercise was overrated. There is some research that shows that exercise helps to alliviate stress, but we seemed to be just fine.

What do you mean I shouldn’t turn my video on during a work zoom call?.
I did not throw this monitor at this tree, only because I didn’t have a computer monitor.
Do you think that bird on the balcony will be my friend?
This bug will be my new pet. I shall name him Clyde and cherish him forever.

Buying these highlighters were probaby the highlight of the pandemic for me (excuse the pun). I spent an entire day doing a photo shoot with them.

They’re so pretty.

Alcohol was completely banned

Worst than not beling allowed out of our apartment building? Alcohol sales were banned throughout the country.  Yes, banned!  Why? We think they wanted people to spend money on food not booze, and it would help keep people from getting drunk and breaking the quarantine laws.

Shoplifting never seemed so appealing.

After our wine and gin was depleted we had to go into stealth mode. The local mini mart still had a healthy stock of liquor.   Sure they had signs saying they couldn’t sell it. But Jeff is nice and good at Spanish. He talked them into selling us a secret bottle or two.  

In theory you were not even allowed to drink alcohol in your own home.

That was one law we had to break.

We had friends to break the alcohol law with

Lucky for us, the only friends we have in the entire country, happen to live in our building. We could hang out with them without breaking quarantine.

Rolf and Samuel were friends before the pandemic, but in the last year they have become like family.   We have spend countless evenings, holidays, and many bottles of illegally purchased alcohol together.   

Can you see all my teeth or should I smile more?
Their balcony is way windier than ours.

Not only are they great people they are fantastic cooks and hosts.

Dinner at their apartment includes champagne, beautiful table settings and professionally plated food.

Dinner at our apartment is a more informal affair.

Oh wait you need a fork? Yeah we don’t have any clean ones.

As things got better, parks opened up. I was able to walk out here on women’s day. I was also lucky that my assigned time was early in the morning before work started and before it got too hot outside.

Finally, after months of only being outside seperately, they lifted men and women days and we could venture out together.

Sheryl: Why are you standing so close to me?
Jeff: Really? Another selfie?

So yes, we came to Panama and then were in lockdown for a year. But, we’ve stayed healthy and employed, been able to Zoom with our family and friends, and have friends here.

You would think I wouldn’t complain now that the pool is open again and I can just sit here while I wait for the vaccine. But I do complain…a lot.

Restrictions have lifted but the vaccine is slow to rollout . Currently to be eligible you have to be sixty and above.

What’s next

We are venturing out slowly and safely. And to answer the question of what’s next? We really don’t know. Our #1 priority is to get vaccinated and see our families. After that we hope to return to Panama and do the trip we planned pre-pandemic. So we’ll see. In the meantime we continue to wait for the vaccine here in Panama City

Jeff: Look at this view. Enjoy it and be patient.

Sheryl: Hurry up with the damn vaccine already!!!!!!!

Mom, Dad, and the Panama Canal railroad.

It feels weird to be posting during a pandemic. But, blogging is keeping me from going crazy while stuck inside. I hope everyone is staying healthy both physically and mentally during this crazy time.

We were extremely lucky that my parents were able to visit in early March and get back home to Georgia before things got really bad. They were here from March 1 – March 7 so the things we did in this post are from a few weeks ago. It seems so long ago. Just a few weeks ago the world was a very different place.

In my last post, I talked about seeing the Panama Canal from the Pacific side.

https://soundsgoodonpaper.com/panama-canal-miraflores-locks/

After seeing the Miraflores locks we went out to happy hour and dinner. Immediately several things became abundantly clear:

  1. You can’t actually swim in Panama City’s highest pool bar. The pool is just ornamental. But the views and drink specials at Panaviera make up for it.
Shoot I was going to get really drunk then dive in. What could go wrong?

2. Two for one happy hour drink special takes the sting out of not swimming in a pool on the 66th floor.

Drinking is more fun that swimming any day.

3. Everything tastes better when your table glows green.

Do I look like a Lepracon?

4. Personal coat racks at your restaurant table are an amazing invention.

Who needs to hang up their cooling tie?

5. But most importantly, we needed more canal! The Pacific side was nice and all, but we needed to see the Caribbean side too.

We can’t rest until we see the ENTIRE canal.
map from Wikipedia

We found a guide and scheduled a tour for the following day. The only catch, we would start super early in the morning.

Dad: I can’t wait to see more canal.
Sheryl: We have to leave the hotel at 6:00 am.
Mom: Wait, what?

Getting picked up before the sun rose was difficult.

Jeff: Whose idea was this?
Mom: Don’t look at me.
Dad: Not mine
Sheryl: I had three cups of coffee! I’m going to swim the canal!

Our guide Estaban picked us up at the hotel, and drove us to the Panama Railway station. The train was built in 1855 which was even before the canal . It was first used to take people across Panama from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

Once the Americans took over building the canal they used it to move workers, equipment, and dirt across the isthmus.

Sheryl: This is the original train car.
Mom: I sure hope they updated the bathrooms since this was built in the 1800’s.
Dad: I hope they cleaned out the dirt.

At the station where we bought our tickets, I found this one bag of coffee on a lonely shelf all by itself.

I appreciate the marketing, but really? This coffee was grown 700 miles away, nowhere near the canal or the railroad.

The train only makes the trip once a day. It leaves Panama City at 7:15 am which is why we had to get there so early.

You couldn’t run this train a little later in the day?

The really cool car that was all windows was full. But the car we ended up in was still really nice and mostly empty.

We rule this train car!
Photo credit to my Tom Cutilletta (my dad)

We were still pretty tired even as the train got on its way.

If we smile Sheryl won’t notice that we’re sleeping..

The great thing about the train is that you have jungle on side , and the actual canal on the other.

This is nice and all, but it’s 7:25am I could go for some potato chips.

It was at this point in the train ride that even though I had snarfed down half a loaf of banana bread , I was hungry. Lucky for me, they passed out coffee and little snack boxes.

I knew I had a fever for the flavor of something.

Crackers, nuts,, raisins, a piece candy, and best of all Pringles! And it was all housed in a commemorative box with a really helpful map on the bottom. As soon as I saw the potato chips I knew what I had to do.

Train Attendant: I am going to pretend I don’t see that.
Mom: Oh, that was cute.
Dad: Are you sure she’s our kid?

After about an hour, the train pulled up to the station in the town of Colon.

Sheryl: There already? I didn’t even have time to take fifty selfies.
photo credit: Tom Cutilletta (my Dad)

It was a small station with many tour guides waiting to do tours. We looked through the crowd and found our guide, Estaban. While we were eating snacks on the train, he was driving to the other side of Panama to meet us at the station.

Hope you relaxed while I raced over to meet you.

From the train, Estaban drove us to the Agua Clara locks on the Atlantic side of Panama. I’ll talk about them in my next post.

Parents in Panama: The Canal Part 1

Panama Canal – Miraflores Locks

Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
Wait, THAT’S the Panama Canal? It looks like the Ballard Locks in Seattle.

My parents came to Panama City this last week for a visit. I’m pretty sure they came to see the Panama Canal, but we just happened to be here too.

Toucamen airport - Panama City
Sheryl: Don’t look, but the guy behind you is doing the YMCA dance. He’s on the letter C.

Our building has both apartments and a hotel. Since our bathroom doesn’t’ have walls, and sometimes smells weird, they stayed on the hotel side. We did have them up to our balcony for appetizers and to see the boats waiting to enter the Panama Canal.

Boats waiting to transit the Panama Canal
The Panama Canal version of the cell phone waiting lot at the airport.

Mom: If I knew about the bathroom, I wouldn’t have drunk all this water?
Dad: Maybe there is a gas station nearby.

On the first day of their visit, we went to Casco Viejo which is the old part of town with lots of doors.

Iglesia de Merdec
Mom: Why do we have to stand here?
Jeff in the background: Just ignore Sheryl, she’ll make you stand there all day to take photos.

Since I didn’t read the guidebook first, every church we went into I thought was the cathedral. This statue was particularly interesting.

Statue of St. Hedwig
From the sign in front of the statue: “St. Hedwig founded monasteries along with her husband. On his death, Hedwig became a nun and continued to serve the poor and sick. Panamanian devotees come to her to request the grace of a home; for this, they offer houses at her feet.

After walking around town, two things happened.

  1. My hair became extremely crazy.
  2. I became a cooling tie user
Maybe the tangled hair on top of my hair will distract from this jaunty little scarf I’m wearing.

The cooling tie is a product (I bought mine from REI) that you soak in cold water and wear around your neck. It stays cool for hours, and so do you. At least this is what our friend Brian and my parents have told us. I have mocked them for years for their cooling tie usage. But when it’s 101 heat index, it was time to don the cooling tie. And I have to say, it really did work. Jeff still had some dignity and refused to wear his.

It was around this time, that Jeff may have become nervous about the upcoming week.

Are they going to laugh like this for seven days straight.? Also, should I lend them a comb?

The next day we got up early and took an Uber to the Miraflores locks. This is the locks on the Pacific side of the Panama Canal.

Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
Bet those people are hot without cooling ties.

The viewing platform was crowded but we found a spot to watch a ship filled with windmill blades transit the Miraflores Lock.

Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
Here we are, ready to be amazed at the Panama Canal.

Ships take a LONG time to get through the locks.

Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
Can’t they speed this up?

Like a really long time.

Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
Don’t tell Dad, but I’m only watching this for his sake.
Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
Don’t tell my parents but we’re only watching this for their sake.
Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
Don’t tell Mom but I’m only watching this for her sake.

The boat was still in the locks when we realized we would all have heat stroke if we had to watch it go through completely. Inside the visitor center, they had a great museum that explained the history and workings of the canal.

Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
Mom: I’m about to pass out from heatstroke.
Dad: I’m so hot, I’m taking a short nap standing up.

But the best part was where we could pretend to actually drive a ship through the Panama Canal.

Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
I can’t believe how good I am at this. This is going to be my new profession.
Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
Sheryl: Go left go left! I better give him more instructions on this walkie talkie.
Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
Hello, welcome to the Panama Canal. Press one if you would like to transit.
Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
Listen, buddy, this is 2020, you answer your own damn phones.
I really like what you’ve done with your hair.

This is what this guy’s hair looked like six years ago when Jeff and I visited.

Next, we went to the IMAX theater for a really good movie about the canal that was in 3D. Morgan Freeman was the narrator. Between his soothing voice, heatstroke and comfy chairs it was hard to stay awake.

I’ll sleep through the beginning, Mom, you sleep during the middle and Dad, you sleep during the end.

And then we were all canaled out and headed back to Panama City via Uber and went out to dinner.

Let’s get up even earlier tomorrow and see the Atlantic side.

Other interesting things:

There is a really fun website that shows the boats going through the canal, and ports around the world.

https://www.marinetraffic.com/

Here’s a webcam to watch boats go through the Panama Canal in realtime.

https://multimedia.panama-canal.com/Webcams/miraflores.html

This book is excellent. My Dad and I both read it and learned a ton about the history of the canal.

The Path Between the Seas by David McCullough

If you are going to visit the locks this site has all the info you need:

I can’t believe I’m doing this, but I am recommending cooling ties. This is the one I bought and really liked.

https://www.rei.com/product/691097/kafkas-kool-tie

Limited water – Maximum freakout

Water Shortage Panama City

Carnival is a big four-day weekend/party in Panama and in a lot of Central and South America. But, in Panama, the biggest festivals occur outside the city. As the last long weekend before school starts again (it’s summer break here right now) many people take advantage of the long four day weekend and head out of town.

Oh darn, all these cars are leaving the city?

We decided to stay in town, hang out and enjoy crossing the streets without fear of getting hit.

There are no cars anywhere. I’m using this crosswalk ironically.

Saturday started off well enough. We got an email from our landlord, but it was in Spanish. Who wants to translate something that long on a Saturday?

And then I tried to wash dishes and no water came out of the faucet. It seemed like a good time to read that email.

Our first translation was that the water was being turned off during the above times. I was appalled, how could they do that? They were going to turn the water off for three, two hour periods a day? No water for 6 hours every day for three days?

And then, we put it through google translate. Turns out for three days the water would be turned off EXCEPT during the above time. Seemed like they were taking advantage of people being away from the city to fix the water system.

Obviously, there was only one thing to do….panic! And go out to lunch. The restaurant didn’t have any water either, but they did have wine and free bottled water.

Jeff: Calm down. This is fun.

How can I fit about 80 of these in my purse?

Next, we went out and bought three gallons of bottled water and a bucket. When the water went back on I filled up everything I could.

You can’t have enough random classes of water sitting around.
Jeff: You are overdoing it.
Sheryl: You will thank me when the water never goes back on, and you have to shower with the coffee pot!
In case we have to flush the toilet!

I understood in theory that this is still more water than much of the world had. In many places, there is no clean water, and/or no running water. I knew that…in theory. But it didn’t stop me from freaking out.

Sheryl: Day one of the water shortage – I’m so thirsty.
Jeff: Drink the water you put in the fridge or the bottled water.
Sheryl: No, I’m saving it.

On day 2 I started OK. There was water in the morning and some in the early afternoon, but, when it went off again, I started to freak out. Jeff knew there was only one thing to calm me down, a chance to take photos of doors.

look, pretty blue ones.

We headed out to Casco Viejo, a beautiful historic part of the city that dates back to the 1,600’s. The colonial architecture is amazing, there are cool restaurants and rooftop bars, and most importantly, lots of doors.

Let me just take thirty photos of each door.
oh look,, a purple one.
Here’s Jeff casually walking by for an Instagram photo.

We also looked around some ruins.

This was a convent in the 1600s.
Instagram version: We love historical things.
Reality: I think people have been peeing in here since the 1600s.
Just going to practice a little river dancing here.

Once the sun went down we realized we needed some water, and maybe a cocktail, so we headed over to a rooftop bar where we tried to look cool even though we were decades older than everyone else in the bar.

Look at how cool and unconcerned I am that THERE IS NO WATER IN THE ENTIRE CITY!

Then I decided to take a cool photo against this plant wall. These walls are all over Panama City. They look super cool and Instagrammable.

Turns out this one was fake plastic plants that were scratchy when you leaned against them.

When we got home the water was back on and stayed on for the rest of the week.

Ahhh, everything is back to normal. I’ve grown as a person and learned how to cope with inconveniences. I’ll never freak out again.

And then this morning we saw that the water will be shut off again at midnight and be out for possibly 48 hours.

Quick, fill up every container, go to the store, get more water, I’m going to need two buckets and a personal water tank. Start digging a well!