A few months ago, Mikkel and I were interviewed by a writer for a well-known international travel magazine. This reporter had come down to the Azuero Peninsula, stopping several places throughout and interviewed several people. We spent about 2 hours one morning on our veranda sharing our experiences.
About a week ago the reporter emailed and asked if I would answer some follow-up questions. I was happy to do so, but started thinking upon a suggestion by our friend Tim, that maybe I would incorporate these questions and answers in my blog; possibly others following my blog would have some of the same questions. And who knows if our interview would ever go to print.
Although the reporter initially asked for answers to 3 questions, there were several more questions for each category and then some more. So here is what I wrote and I hope you enjoy it. I have added some pictures to this blog post.
1- You mentioned that whenever you can, you try to explore Panama on day trips. Could you tell me a few of the places you’ve been to (your favorites?) … what you did and liked about them? Are there any places you are dying to visit that you haven’t been to yet?
On day trips, where we could drive and explore to and from Pedasí within on day, one of the trips we enjoyed was to Bucaro, a small fishing village further southwest on the Azuero Peninsula. We drove there by way of a newly paved road from Las Tablas to Tonosí, a very scenic road that takes you through the countryside, mountains, and several small villages. At one tall vista point, you can see the Pacific Ocean on one side and more mountains and valleys on the other. After arriving in Tonosí, we continued southeast out to the end of the road, Bucaro. There we discovered another beautiful beach; the water was very clear and warm as usual. We only saw 2 others while we walked along and waded in the water; they were snorkling out a little further. The houses in town were built with plank wood, unlike most houses here in Pedasí built with concrete blocks. We returned to Pedasí by way of Cañas along the ocean, stopping to explore the end of another road that lead to the ferry to Isla Cañas and another through the town of Cañas to the marina. The only drawback is that the road between El Cacao, outside of Tonosí, and Cañas was unpaved and full of potholes. And the remainder of the road to Pedasí, although paved, can also have many potholes, depending on the season.
Many of our other day trips included just turning onto a road off the highway between Pedasí and Las Tablas and seeing where it would take us. If we turned toward the ocean, we discovered small beach communities such as La Concepción outside of Pocrí and La Candelaria outside of Paraiso. If we turned west toward the hills, many more communities Lajamina and Buenos Aires. One time, thinking the road would take us back to Las Tablas, we ended up circling around back toward Los Asientos, a town we pass when driving to Playa Vanao from Pedasí. We ended up at a dead end in a very small communitiy (I think it might have been called El Tablano or just beyond) and had to turn back, but what an adventure and we discovered the gorgeous countryside in the hills around Pedasí. But if it wasn’t for having a 4-wheel drive car, we probably would not explore a lot of these towns. We found ourselves on dirt roads, crossing streams, driving through roads with tall grass in the middle of the tire paths, and avoiding potholes. We didn’t see many vehicles on the roads, mostly Panamanians riding on horseback.
Another day trip we have enjoyed is not by car, but by boat from Playa Arenal in Pedasí to Isla Iguana. It is about a 30 minute trip across the ocean. There is a white-sand coral cove where you can lay in the sun and snorkel around the reef while the iguanas run around the outskirts of the beach. It costs about $70 for the boat, so it is best to go with others to split the cost. You also need to take food and drink along with your beach and snorkeling gear. Because the island is a National Wildlife Refuge, there is an entrance fee once you arrive; $10 for visitors, $3 for residents. But we had a gorgeous day enjoying the sun and discovering colorful fish and turtles while snorkeling.
There are several places we would like to visit still. Southwest of Tonosí we hear that Cambutal is beautiful. I think you can go there for a day trip, but apparently there is a very nice resort or hostel at the beach to stay overnight or a few days. We would also like to take the ferry over to Isla Cañas and explore the Wildlife Preserve on the island. Mikkel has mentioned he would like to visit Torio which is on the western side of the Azuero peninsula, but there are no good roads across the National Forest Reserve, so we have to drive north to Santiago and then back south. So this might be more than a day trip. Other places we would like to visit based on reports from friends who have previously visited, but definitely would not be just for a day are: Santa Catalina (across the gulf west of the Azuero peninsula), Las Lajas (toward David), Puerto Armuelles (on Burica Peninsula near the Costa Rica border), the Spanish ruins near Portobelo, and the San Blas Islands. Panama has so much to see and we are always hearing about places we haven’t been to yet.
2- You mentioned that you love the ocean and that was one of the main reasons you liked Pedasi. Do you like walking along the beach, swimming, fishing, or just spending a Saturday or Sunday laying out? What is it about the beaches there that you enjoy?
We definitely like to walk along the beach and occasionally swim where we are able depending on the surf conditions and season. Sometimes we do have to watch out for jellyfish (Mikkel has been stung a few times.) Mikkel loves to body surf and we both like spending any afternoon laying out on the sand, but usually under a tree for shade so not to get burnt. Mikkel also likes to occasionally go fishing both in the ocean or Lake Gatun with a few of his buddies. I think it is more for the camaraderie than the fish. Last time they were more impressed by the breaching of passing whales and dolphins than catching the 5-6 tuna.
For the most part, the beaches here are not crowded, unlike those in Southern California where I grew up. We may only see a dozen other people or we may not see anyone on the beach while we are there. The water is warm and usually clear. Hearing and seeing the endless ocean always revitalizes me.
3- Do you ever use the Pensionado discounts? Can you give me an example or two of what you might use them for and how much you save?
Yes, we have used our Pensionado discounts. Copa Airlines offers 25% discount- that is a huge savings when flying to the U.S. We also save 20% on prescriptions, over-the-counter medicine, and vitamins. Some restaurants have automatically given us the Pensionado discounts; some we ask for; but for the most part, if it is a small inexpensive restaurant, we don’t ask for it. I know we qualify, but it is really not that much to insist upon.
4- Could you please describe your ideal Panama day? Do you have a cup of Panamanian coffee on your terrace in the morning? Walk to the town square in the afternoon? Have people over in the evening? If you could paint me a picture that showcases the best of your life there, I’d be very grateful!
You have basically already described our ideal day: coffee on the veranda in the morning, a walk to town square or around the pueblo, usually with our dog in the afternoon or evening. We love to go to the beach in the late afternoon as well, about 4-5 pm. And we enjoy hosting people for dinner in the evening on our garden terrace. Mikkel is a great cook and serves wonderful meals. Since moving here, we have had many new friends and visitors from all the world over for a meal, drinks, and a good conversation (many who we met through my blog). On days without company, we still spend much of our time and meals outside on the front terrace or back patio, even when it is raining. Occasionally we like to go out to a local restaurant where we usually still sit outdoors to eat, many times with other friends. We live in town where we can walk almost anywhere anytime.
P.S. On average when the power goes out, how long is it out? A couple hours? More? A full day?
On an average, the power may go out for about an hour or two, sometimes less, sometimes more. There have been a few occasions when it has gone out for 10-15 hours. It seems to be going out less often or less in duration, although more so during fiestas and holidays when more electricity is used. I think we are getting used to it and make do (read books, play games, writing on my blog, have emergency lights, etc.) The only real headache is when the whole town looses electricity, we also may lose water which is pumped by electricity. We have on occasion been without both for several hours, and although we have water reserves, it can be a little uncomfortable without water especially for washing and using the toilet. This has only happened in the past year a half a dozen times, and obviously we have survived. We are still here enjoying our blessed life.