A Visit to the Zoo:Between Portobelo and Colón in the town of Maria Chiquita, you come across “Safarick’s Zoologico”. We stopped in to see if Mikkel could talk to the manager/owner about selling his maps and Panama guides in their gift shop. He wasn’t in at the time, but would be in soon. So while waiting, we were given a free private tour (usually costs $25 per person). WOW! We were very impressed. We had visited another zoo (Summit) which is closer to Panama City, and although the grounds are beautiful, the zoo was outdated and not kept up very well. But this zoo was modern, clean, and very well-built. Built within the last year or so, it is mostly a rescue-type facility for wild animals, birds, and reptiles, somewhat like a zoo (Folsom Zoo) close to where we used to live in California. The animals that should be living in the wild come from a variety of situations: former pets that people could not take care of anymore because they got too big or aggressive such as an ocelot or monkeys; some were found injured and needed mending; some were just being cared for while their owners were on long vacations. There are parrots, peacocks, toucans, pacas, macaws, agoutis, capuchins, spider monkeys, owls, sloths, ocelots, howler monkeys, tamarins, ducks (not indigenous to Panama), coatis, and cabybaras, to name a few. The goal, after taking care of any health needs, is to try to reintroduce these animals back into their own original habitats and then release them. Unfortunately, they are unable to do that with some and the zoo becomes their permanent home.
On the tour we visited many very large cages with environments conducive to the animals inside. There is a butterfly enclosure and a walk-through aviary. A snake enclosure is in the process of being built as well. We were also shown the hospital, food prep area, and snack bar. Our tour guide, although Panamanian, spoke very good English and was very knowledgeable about the animals that were there. Afterwards, the owner and his wife met us in the gift shop and shared their vision about this place. They have obtained a grant from the Panamanian government for rescue and research. Tours are offered for groups and schools, and packages that include an afternoon at the beach as well. I am glad we stopped.
Rental Car woes:
After our enjoyable visit to Safaricks Zoologico, we traveled on to Panama City for a couple of nights. There is a great new toll road built from Colón to Panamá, but it also takes you to Corredor Norte which requires a “Panapass”. To travel on this road,and others like it around the city, your car must have one of these passes placed on the center of the windshield. It is very much like the “Fast Past” lanes in some parts of California where you pay ahead to travel through the toll gates. It has a bar code and is read by a computerized camera which opens the gate automatically when you go through. Unlike those in California though, it is a must for all vehicles. If you don’t have one or you don’t have enough money paid toward the user fees, the gate will not open and you will receive a ticket. This can be very difficult for visitors who live outside the general area and do not travel to the city often. Fortunately our rental car included one and we were able to drive through on our way to Colón with ease. Unfortunately the rental car company had not paid enough to re-enter on our return to the city. So, to our surprise, the gate did not open and a transit police directed us over to the side to issue a ticket. We explained to her that it was a rental car; she explained that the ticket was for the car rental company who owned and was issued the pass. We then exited the highway soon after to avoid any more Panapass gates again.
Mikkel has become more familiar with the streets of Panama City. Again the WAZE navigational app works very well here and directed. He has also gotten used to the crazy driving that occurs in the city. With no problems venturing through the streets, we arrived at our hotel, The Hampton by Hilton, in the El Congrejo district-a very nice hotel with all the amenities, far different than what we had stayed in before on this trip.
We chose this area to stay because it was the first place we lived in for over a week when we first moved to Panama, near Via Argentina. There are many restaurants, stores, and a park nearby we had become familiar with before, and it is centrally located. The hotel was new and we had received a discount voucher through Groupon. After parking the car in the garage and checking into our room, I went back to the garage to obtain my iPad I had left under the seat. That’s when I discovered that someone had sideswiped the right front end of the car leaving significant damage. It couldn’t have been 10 minutes since the car was parked. I raced back up to the room, telling Mikkel what had happened. He went back down to the garage to see for himself. Sure enough, he remembered parking next to a white car and there was white paint left on the damage area of the grey rental car. Of course the car was gone, no note left-this is Panama. I reported it to the front desk; nothing they could do and no cameras had yet been installed in the parking garage. I called the rental car agency who asked us to send them pictures and fill out a report. I called the credit card company who covers the collision insurance part. Again, they emailed us a claim form to fill out. No damaged white car was found the two days we were there-yes, we looked many times. Thank God the damage did not stop us from continuing our travels back to Pedasí and there were no personal injuries. Bottom line- we had to pay for the estimated damage of $700 up front, charged on our credit card and be reimbursed by the credit card benefits company after all reports and paperwork is filed and approved. This type of damage would be about $2000-$3000 in California, but the insurance companies would handle it-no upfront charges. Nothing much we could do but chalk up another experience in Panama.
As sick as I felt over the incident, this did not discourage me or Mikkel to continue enjoying the rest of our journey. We went to a few different restaurants including an Irish pub, visited a very posh Tea Room while meeting with a new business client, and shopped at Albrook Mall for a few kitchen supplies. On the way home, we stopped at the new PriceSmart (Panamanian Costco) in Costa Verde for some grocery items. This was a very successful trip for the business and we discovered many new places on our travels, in spite of the accommodation disappointments and rental car incidents. Still looking to buy another car, but in the meantime, we still will be traveling occasionally and there will be more travelogs to write.
Miscelleneous Pictures from the City