Post Canal Buzz April 11 2007
It took several days for our feet to come out of the clouds and touch the ground after transiting the canal...so we took it slow...visiting the Panama Canal Museum, shopping at a US style mall, food shopping at the Reba Smith supermarket, sampling Panamanian restaurants (yes, the best view of ship traffic and the Bridge of the Americas is in fact TGIFridays) and playing tourist with a visit to a rainforest. The Pacific Mall is similar in style and stores to any mall in the US. We found some DVDs and clothing staples that were non-existent up until now. Smells were even the same as a US mall with Cinnabon and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Reba Smith's supermarket (beside the mall) allowed us to stock up on our favorite food group...cheese...Cheddar, Jack, Havarti and Feta - yum! Chris is already strategizing an entire shelf of the fridge dedicated only to cheese for our departure to the Galapagos. Ceviche is a national specialty and Erin had a delicious version with coconut milk at Cafe Barko - located after a great walk down Amador Causeway...a walking street beside Balboa Harbor where super tankers pass by on their way to or just exiting the canal...very twinkly. We also found a mexican restaurant (next door to Hooters - tee, hee, hee)...gosh, were we spoiled in California...it was good...but... At a Kuna handicrafts bazaar Erin excitedly bought an ankle wini after kicking herself for not getting one while in the San Blas. The Pacific side of Panama is different than the Atlantic side - safer to walk around and many more familiar products for sale. But there is much the same; verdant jungle, squads of pelicans flying in formation and the sound of song birds all around the city. The hot, humid climate is perfect for numerous palms and flowering bushes and trees, including bougainvillea and plumeria.
On Easter Sunday (4/8) we headed to Barro Colorado, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Center (www.stri.org) for a hike in a virgin rainforest about an hour from the city. It is an island within the canal that became an island when Lake Gatun was created for the construction of the Panama Canal (thanks for the tip Cameron). It is part of Barro Colorado National Monument with extremely diverse wildlife; thousands of insect species and more than 120 species of mammals (nearly half of which are bats). There is a path laid out of cement cinder blocks (similar to paving stones of a garden path)...it felt kinda like going from lily pad to lily pad through the dense, green jungle. With a bit of patience we were lucky enough to see several critters; bats, red tailed squirrels, tiger heron, toucan, poison dart frogs, bull frog, leaf cutter ants, beetles, agouti, howler monkeys...and heard many other critters. It was a true rainforest experience...right down to the hitchhiking ticks that hitched a ride on us. No worries - they do not carry any diseases...they just need to be found and removed.
4/10 we hired Max and his taxi van for five hours to provision for the next several months through the Galapagos and French Polynesia. Chris's Spanish is really saving us and smoothing many transactions (Max had very little English). We created a shopping list and checked it against our current pantry inventory...and off we went! Yikes - it was a very full day and boy did we fill the van...Mega Depot (similar to Price Club or BJ's) and Reba Smith's...15 cases of beer, 3 cases of soda, 5 cases of wine, loads of freezer items (hamburger, chicken breasts and as much frozen veggies as would fit) and loads of canned stuff (from artichoke hearts to corned beef hash to bamboo shoots). We had to go through check-out more than once which generated a few giggles from the cashier...grande fiesta was our explanation. Chris strategized the transfer of items to the boat while Erin got the zarpe (official departure document for the boat).