Mikkel wanted to attend a VA meeting at the Sheridan Hotel near the Altapa Convention Center in Panama City on Sept. 18th. He also was interested in a tourist trade show at Altapa on Sept. 20th-21st. I really don’t like driving in the city, the crazy driving scares me, much like the traffic in New York City. But I am probably just not used to it and don’t know the city very much. Knowing this, Mikkel discovered a new hotel had just opened up, the Tryp (Wyndom) Hotel, at the Albrook Mall, which is located at the edge of the city. They were offering a really good deal since they had recently opened, so I agreed to go. He also had found a deal on Oferta Simple, something like Groupon, for staying at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort, 30 miles outside of Panama’, near the canal along the Chagres River. So off we went on a 5-night adventure. If it weren’t for these deals and the fact we haven’t moved into our house yet, we definitely would not be able to do this. Mikkel would probably catch a ride with his friend Lee and stay one night.
On Tuesday when we got to Panama’ (for those reading this from outside the country, the “City” is dropped when talking about Panama City in the country), Mikkel became one of those crazy drivers. He drove into a left turn only lane at an intersection unintentionally, then drove through a red light driving straight instead of turning. Horns honking, but we got safely through, and that’s nothing compared to some of the driving I have seen here. Next when we got to the hotel at the mall, he missed the entrance driveway. So he backed up on the one-way street into the exit-only driveway. Later we observed others doing the same, or at least turning left into the exit. The Tryp Hotel is very modern and opens up to the Albrook Mall, which as I mentioned before, has over 300 stores, at least 3 food courts, movie theaters, bowling alley, hardware stores, grocery store, etc. The main bus terminal for all of Panama is also there with it’s own stores and food court as well. I got a lot of exercise walking this mall the couple of days we were there.
So on Wednesday, Mikkel took a taxi to the VA meeting, leaving me behind to do a few errands. I needed to buy some minutes for my cell phone and see why Mikkel’s cell phone didn’t work, and the mall would be the place to do this. Come to find out apparently when we first got the SIM cards & minutes for our phones, the two cards bought for prepaid minutes were both activated on my phone only. No wonder his phone didn’t work. Fixed! Next I needed to pay next month’s bill for our hotspot internet service, but when I got to the Claro store, I was told I could not pay until Sept. 19th or after when it could be reactivated. The 19th was the next day, but you can’t pay ahead. I guess I’ll pay it later.That’s Panama! Anyway afterwards, I took a taxi to the Sheraton to join Mikkel for lunch after his meeting. Although this was the first time without Mikkel, I think I am getting used to taking taxis in the city. Had no problem using my limited Spanish. Mikkel noticed on our way back in the taxi to our hotel how at ease I was compared to our first time in Panama’.
The next day we drove up along the Panama Canal to Gamboa. We stopped on the way at Summit National Park and walked around. Not many people were there this day, but it is a huge park with many playgrounds, covered picnic tables, trees, pathways, and a zoo. Then onto the resort, but not until we waited a a stop signal to cross a single-lane steel and wooden bridge, the only way into town, crossing the Chagres River at the Panama Canal/Lake Gatun. The town of Gamboa was built in the early 1900’s as the dredging center for the canal while the U.S. occupied the Canal Zone. Many large homes, a school, churches, a commissary, police station, etc. were all built for the canal employees. The wood used to build some of the homes came from the Sequoias in Northern California, wood that kept termites out. The hotel was a country club with golf course and tennis courts. When the US gave the zone back to Panama, it virtually became a ghost town even though the dredging continues. Today the beautiful refurbished hotel is the main attraction of Gamboa for visitors all over the world. It is located on the ridge of the Chagres River in a rainforest. Besides the golf course, tennis courts, waterfall pools, spa, and restaurants, it offers day and night tours through and above the rainforest and on the river. A village of the Embera tribe live nearby on an island, still using their primitive traditions including hollow-out palm tree canoes and thatched-roof huts. Monkeys, caiman, iguana, capybara, parrots, toucans, and many other animals live among this rainforest. Each hotel room looks out toward the river and rainforest, offering a fantastic view of the hills, as well as the sunrises and sunsets. I was is awe when we arrived at the beauty and still am as I lay in my hammock on the balcony of my room writing this. We took a night ride to observe some of the nocturnal animals around the area and the next day we ended up with a private walking tour through the rainforest learning about the plant and animal life as well as the Embera Tribe’s use of the forest. Definitely need insect repellent for this. (Reminded me of my time in Kenya; I have come to the realization that my short-term mission trip to Nyamusi, Kenya may have been in preparation for moving here to Panama 5 years later.) We also discovered that many soldiers during the Vietnam War trained here in the jungle and the Embera Tribe helped in training some of our first astronauts as well. There is an orchid farm, snake study lab, and marina as well. There is so much to see and do, but besides the two tours we took, we mostly swam and relaxed by the pool or on the balcony hammock. I tried to speak Spanish, but all the employees here would basically only speak English to us, although they were Panamanian. I thank God for the opportunity to stay here; it is so amazing.
The final day and night will be spent back at the Tryp Hotel while Mikkel attends the tourist trade show. I plan to pay my internet bill then. But for now, I am enjoying God’s beautiful creation, listening to the sounds of the jungle after a thunderstorm. Words really can’t describe this, but I am in a state of “tranquillo” for now.