Friday, August 6, 2010

Home...more or less

We arrived home to Dallas yesterday afternoon.  Our flight wasn't bad.  The plane was pretty empty so nobody had to sit next to anyone that they didn't want to sit next to.  They also gave us a surprisingly big breakfast.  My mom picked us up from the airport and I was a little surprised at how great it was to see her.  After a few hours of hanging out with my mom, we headed to Rob's parent's house to see his family.  It was great to see them, too.  Finally, we headed to our friend's house that we will be staying with until we get our act together.  By 5pm, I was completely exhausted.  After 7 months of travel, I'm not sure why it continues to surprise me how tiring travel days can be.  It doesn't make a lot of sense that sitting around on a bus or plane would take a lot out of me.

Thankfully, we left some fresh clothes here at our friend's house.  I am so ready to put on something different. I'm also going to make a run to Target for some new clothes today because...dammit...I deserve them!  Most of our stuff is in a storage unit, including some of my favorite summer dresses.  Hopefully, they aren't hidden too far in the back of the unit because it is hotter than hell outside and probably twice as hot in that storage unit.

Dallas is super hot!  Far hotter than anywhere we have been in Central America.  Thank God for air conditioning and cars.  We will be busy for a while catching up with everyone.  Rob is well connected and it looks like he will be back to work very quickly.  For me it will be different.  I've thought a lot about what I want to do next but have made no decisions and made no steps towards anything definite.

I laid in bed last night for a while debating whether or not I should continue the blog.  I have loved blogging the trip.  Sitting down to get my thoughts out has been really therapeutic.  I've never been one to bare my soul publically, though.  Blogging about the trip was easy because I had a topic to focus on.  I can easily continue blogging my life as a continuation of our adventure...especially as long as we are staying with friends which, so far, kind of feels like being at another hostel, although it is the nicest hostel we have stayed at and is not very well known since we are the only ones here.   My issue is more that now that we are in Dallas, I feel like my adventure is tied very closely into my career and I worry about perspective employers reading about my feelings about working.  I still need to put a lot of thought into this.  I'm sure that my posts will get a further apart but I would like to keep up the blogging at least a little as we work on getting settled again here in Dallas.  Who knows, maybe our next foreign adventure will pick up faster than anyone could expect.

Diablo Rojo

No blog about Panama City can be considered complete without a post about the Diablo Rojo (Red Devil) buses. These are the normal city buses. From my understanding, they are privately owned and decorated to lure customers onto the buses in a highly competitive industry. I love that the buses are brightly painted but these buses are also so rediculously noisy. Our hotel was on a small hill and starting from 5:30 in the morning, we could hear these buses trying to get up the hill. You can't have a conversation on the street at all. They are fun looking, though!

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Ugly American

We witnessed a really ugly American today and I can't stop thinking about it.  The ugly American is a stereotype that you hear about all the time but we have been lucky enough to run into it very little.  Most of the travelers that we have crossed paths (Americans and others) with have been exactly what you would hope that they would be...patient, nice and most of all respectful of the people whose countries we are guests in.  We understand that the cultures in these countries are different from ours and we generally act like students, learning about people and trying to have as little of an impact on their society as possible.  We know that as gringos we stand out without doing anything.  Besides our pale skin, we dress differently, we act differently and often we can barely communicate in these people's language.   It can be awkward but we have all been to places that have been ruined by tourism and the last thing that we want is for the local people to resent our presence as tourists.  We know that people assume that we are rich to be able to travel at all but we know in our hearts that we are not as rich as people think we are as we try to make our small budgets stretch as long as possible.  We spend most of our times in this precarious balance constantly being taken advantage of and on our guards to not get completely ripped off while still trying to contribute to the poor economies and to help out the people whose society we are invading.

Today on the beach, we witnessed a horrible display of ugly an ugly tourist and were horrified that this American would represent us so poorly.  On this beach, like many others that we have visited, some entrepreneurial locals support themselves by renting umbrellas and beach chairs.  A few others had built champas (temporary structures built of wood and covered in branches) to rent out to larger groups.  A solo American guy had camped out in the shade of one of these champas near us.  We soon heard an angry local woman speaking loudly to the guy in Spanish and then heard him cussing her out in English.  Our Spanish is still poor but our ability to interpret situations is strong.  We immediately knew that she was trying to tell him that he needed to give her money to sit under her champa or move to another part of the beach.  We have been in his shoes before but the interaction was always different.  When it happened to us, we offered an apology and moved away.  It was always friendly and no big deal.  This guy was irate that she would treat him like this.  It was obvious that his Spanish was as bad as ours or worse that that he didn't really understand what she wanted from him.  He was saying truly awful things that I cannot repeat on this blog.  She was calling him things like pinche americano.  The guy had a Canadian friend who I don't think was traveling with him but maybe they had crossed paths before.  He looked over at us and Rob politely explained that she just wanted money for the use of the champa because that is how she supports herself and when the ugly American walked over to him after a while, he repeated what Rob had said as an explanation.  Well that just set off the ugly American even more.  He went back over to the lady and started yelling in English that she didn't own the beach and that the beach belongs to everyone.  We were relieved when he finally moved on down the beach talking under his breath about how awful "these people" are to tourists. A few minutes later, we were listening to a group of Panamanian teenagers that were hanging out in a nearby champa.  They were talking and laughing about the whole dramatic incident and then we heard them repeating some of their newly learned English phrases..."piss off, b&*h" was their favorite.

I'm so glad that we have witnessed so few interactions like that but I recognize the huge amount of damage that this behavior causes.  Even though every other American on that beach was polite and respectful, this lady and everyone else on the beach will continue to think that all Americans are rude and think that they are entitled to special treatment thanks to this guy. Its people like that who give all of us a bad name and I honestly wish that the ugly Americans would just stay home.


I've been thinking about this post for a long time.  As the trip draws to a close, I want to do some summary posts about our trip and the most important one for me is this one about the foods from our trip.  We love to eat and there are some foods that will always remind us of this trip.

  • Spicy Onion Vinegar sauce - This will be a staple in our kitchen from now on.  We have seen variations all over Central America and we practiced it in Roatan and ended up eating tons of it over that month.  Basically, we take water, white vinegar and sugar and boil it.  Then we slice up onions and the hot pepper of our choice and pour the liquid mixture over it and let it sit for a few hours.  We will be making it by the gallon because it is great with everything.
  • Tapado - I can't wait to figure out how to make this delicious Caribbean seafood soup that we ate in Livingston, Guatemala.
  • Ceviche - This was our staple food on Roatan and was perfect because all of the ingredients were cheap and readily available and as a bonus there was no cooking required so it didn't heat up our kitchen.  Its great with some mango cut up in it.  We eat it with slices of avocado and chips or crackers.
  • Sushi - I never would have thought that sushi would have anything to do with this trip but it will forever remind me of Volcan Arenal, Costa Rica where we learned how to roll our own sushi.  I've been dreaming about sushi parties with our friends ever since and can't wait to perfect my rolling techniques.
  • Rondon - This is another Caribbean seafood soup that is thicker and creamier than the tapado.  We ate Rondon in Cahuita, Costa Rica.
  • Jen's stuffed onions - Paradise Gardens was not just about the animals.  We also shared some incredible meals with people who love food as much as we do.  We can't wait to make Jen's stuffed onions for Rob's family on Christmas.  Imagine hollowed out onions filled with a mixture of cream, chopped onion and bacon, wrapped in bacon, garnished with rosemary, topped with asiago cheese and baked until yummy and delicious.  
  • Irish Stew - This is another great Paradise Gardens recipe that was cooked for us by a real Irish girl.  The secret is red wine and guiness beer...we will have to figure out the rest.
  • Yuca - We have been eating yuca all over Panama.  The are best fried but can be used just like potato.  I think it will be delicious in winter stews or even mashed.

Isla Taboga

Today we took the last big outing of our trip. We went with our friend David to Isla Taboga to celebrate his birthday and enjoy a day of fun on our last tropical island. We were worried that the weather wouldnt work out but we lucked out with a perfectly sunny day. The island is a great getaway from Panama City. Its only about 20 km away from the city but the extremely slow ferry ride over made it seem much much further. The island is so cute and small. What you see in the first picture is the entire town on the island. We rented an umbrella for $5 for the day which was money well spent. From our spot on the beach, we could look to our left and see the sky scrapers of Panama City in the distance but in front of us was nothing but beach and ocean. We are exhausted from the sun but happy that we chose to make this day trip as our last big outing. Tomorrow we will rest and pack and try to dig up some semi-clean clothes to wear home on Thursday morning.

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Monday, August 2, 2010

Canal video

Gatun Locks

The train took us to Colon where we took a bus to the Gatun Locks. Most people go to the Miraflores locks in Panama City but since we had really wanted to do the train, it made sense for us to check out the northern locks. The lock has a great viewing area where we could watch the huge boats go through the 3 gates. We sat for a few hours and watched these gigantic boats slowly make their way through the locks and marveled at how big they are and how well the whole system works. The pictures just dont do it justice, its really one of those things that you have to see to understand.

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Panama Canal Day Train Ride

Today we checked something off of our to do list that we have both been looking forward to since starting the trip....the Panama Canal.  We have been talking for a while about splurging on the train ride that goes from Panama City on one end of the canal to Colon on the other end of the canal and I'm happy that we actually ended up doing it.  The sucky part of the train trip is that it only leaves from Panama City once a day at 7am which is really early.  One of our friends from Paradise Gardens met us near our hotel at 6am and the 3 of us caught a taxi for the train station.

The train ride was just an hour but was totally worth the cost.  We enjoyed our free coffee in the glass roofed car that was packed with tourists from all over the world.  Despite the drizzle, the views were great.  The ride went along the canal and through the jungle lining the canal.  After so many months in and around the jungle, this was absolutely the most luxurious way to see it.  About halfway through the ride, water started dripping from the glass roof right only our seats so we decided to check out an open air cabin.  I'm glad that we did because it was even more fun. The rain was clearing and we got an even better idea of what those guys who built the canal in the early 1900's accomplished.

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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Panama Causeway

Yesterday, we went to check out the causeway. Its a cool, high end area here. There are 3 small islands that have been connected to the mainland with a causeway. They have built marinas, hotels and restaurants with a great bike trail. It is so different from what we have seen in the rest of Central America and even in the rest of Panama City. This is setup for the other half. There is no poverty and everything is clean. From there you can see only the canal, the ocean and the huge skyscrapers of downtown.

After our first few days here of sun, the weather has changed to clouds and rain. We were going to see the canal today but we woke to rain and decided to hang out in bed until it stopped. Its after noon now and its still pretty crappy outside. I hope that the rest of the week is nice because we only have a few more days to see the things that we want to see. One day, we plan to take the train up the canal to Colon and then take the bus back, hitting the miraflores lockes on the way back. Then one day we want to take a boat to Isla Taboga for a day of islands and beaches. Both days will be much more fun without rain.

Our hotel is in kind of a boring area and with today being Sunday, even the few restaurants that we have discovered are closed. Oh well, we have Tv and internet to keep us busy. We also have a friend that we met at Paradise Gardens who just got to Panama City this morning so hopefully we can hang out with him a bit this week, too. Other than that we are thinking a lot about home and what life at home will bring. Its scary and exciting.

I had to take a picture of this sign. Panama has the best signs of every country. I meant to take more pictures of them. For the most part they use these great pictures with no words that we cant really tell what they are showing. I guess that this sign from the causeway is saying to beware of very muscular joggers with huge calves.

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