PANAMA: David City, Boquete, Panama City

Posted by on Feb 23, 2016 in Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Another all day bus ride out of San José, Costa Rica took me to David City, Panama. Customs was its usual combination of clusterf@ck and bureaucratic nonsense combined with the omnipresent Latin American border town dust and humidity. Since my destination was just after the border, I arrived at my hostel and was gratified to discover that my six bed dorm room included an air conditioner. Unfortunately, I was stuck with the top bunk for a night, but it was an indignity easily endured with the chilled air in force. David City is a non-touristic place, but a good home base for exploring this part of the country. I did so much in Costa Rica that I don’t feel compelled to explore as much in Panama other than checking out the nearby city of Boquete which is supposedly quite picturesque, and of course the Panama Canal in Panama City. I really need to get serious about planning the Machu Picchu Peruvian phase of the trip since you need to book the trains well in advance.

It’s clear to me now that my future lies in Europe. The weather, the dust, the heat, and the overall grunginess of Central/South America is just not something I can acclimate to on a full time basis. It’s beautiful in parts, but it just doesn’t feel like home. I’d rather downsize in France than have a big place with a maid and gardener here. It’s all about the quality of life. I’m also here in the cooler season, and I still find the heat a trifle oppressive. I knew after one week down here that France was it. Now, I’m counting the days until I fly into Paris. So much for my protracted stay of ten months in Central/South America. I will have managed two and three quarter months before the inexorable cultural and culinary magnetic pull has sealed my fate, and drawn me back for a second European Tour in as many years.

Until April 7th. when I fly out of Santiago for NYC, I have a number of very nice adventures planned and cities to explore. One of the cities in Ecuador named Cuenca is a Unesco World Heritage Site, and the darling of expatriates of all stripes. The weather there is a mild 50-75 degrees year round, but I sincerely doubt that I will be deterred from my endless European Obsession. That said, I still remain open to other options. I haven’t been to Malta or a few other compelling spots, but I continue to digress excessively.

Let’s get back to Panama shall we. It’s hotter than a snake’s ass in a wagon rut here. Even our resident coatimundi has run for cover. I’m surprised she hasn’t taken a dip in the pool, and I’m in my room with the A/C on full blast and am just barely hanging on.


BAMBÚ HOSTEL – A laid back hostel with A/C and a pool to help cope with the blistering 100-degree heat and 95% humidity.


RESIDENT COATIMUNDI – I just can’t get enough of these creatures. This one is a resident of the property and will let you pet her. She also likes a nice raw egg in the shell, as well as a variety of fruits. Traveling as I do, I  have a pet so I have briefly taken her under my wing, having fed her an egg before scrambling mine this morning. I call her “Coati.”





MAIN STREET – Although scattered with decent restaurants, I was not impressed with this so-called, highly rated, expat retirement haven. Not very attractive and short on sanitation and maintenance, this mountain refuge has all the charm of a Mexican border town replete with crumbling sidewalks, dusty streets, and unsightly buildings. I guess the Gringos hang out at their country clubs, condos, or houses. I wouldn’t live here on a bet.






Here I am with my new 100% authentic Panama hat. The only validity to that claim is that it was made in Panama. However, real Panama hats are actually made in Ecuador! This one was only $25 and the quality was good so I couldn’t resist. I could have probably atheisted him down on the price, but I felt it was worth it.


HOSTEL REFUGIO DEL RIO – Highly recommended by the owner of the Bambú Hostel.


A spotless place with a river running past it.


One of the charming private cabins featuring a river on your doorstep for just $40 a night. They also have dorm rooms with real mattresses, a comprehensive breakfast and a super clean kitchen for cooking your own meals. Top shelf hostel. I would have stayed here a couple of nights, but I need to get back to “Coati”. I picked her up a huge papaya from the local fruit vendor for 40 cents.


Another nice touch at the Refugio del Rio. It’s also cooler than David City by at least ten degrees.


                                 Downtown David


MAIN STREET – Casino on the right on yet another scruffy bit of Central American terrain. I fell asleep after my return from Boquete and awoke at 11 pm well past dinner time. Luckily there is a 24-hour chicken joint just past the casino so I got fed and stopped by to pick up some eggs for me and “Coati” in the morning.


Latin Americans tend to live life out loud so fireworks are commonplace. Blaring music in restaurants and public places are ubiquitous. Another reason I opt for the tranquility of the French countryside.


MY TOXIC RELATIONSHIP – This refers to my liquid ménage à trois with a Zero and a Monster. Obviously, this has been a terribly abusive relationship in which I have paid dearly, and one that I am quitting in short order.

I watched a video by a California nutritionist that I came across in an ad on Facebook. My coworkers, friends, and family have long decried my indulgence in the repellent beverages you see depicted above. As it turns out diet soda actually causes weight gain, and I’m not sure I even want to know what Monster does to you. I originally consumed Monster to augment my sales career and granted it did supply the boost I needed when energy or enthusiasm were flagging.

However, I think that proper diet and avoiding processed foods and crap could produce better results in a far more healthy way. Not to mention sparing me the desperate rush to the toilet that Monster has a way of provoking. Certainly not a good sign. Then I had another thought. How much has this truly destructive Coke Zero/Monster habit been costing me on a monetary basis? I reckon based on a conservative estimate that it adds up to at least $2,500 per year!!! Holy crap, I could get Dina 3-4 pair of new shoes and still have two grand for myself! Giving this stuff up puts money in my pocket, improves my health, and may help me drop some weight so I don’t end up like Brando in “Apocalypse Now”.

So I have one Zero and four Monsters left before I make the switch to water. It’s 4:30 in the morning and I am on one of my last Monster writing binges. I’m taking the 11 pm bus to Panama City tomorrow night so I should sleep all the way.


Heeeeeeeeeeeere’s Coati! Up a tree and ready for breakfast.


One farm fresh egg is all that’s needed. She’s not fussy.


She cracks it open and slurps it up. I’m gonna miss her. Bye bye, Coatí.



                                                            Panama City


Panama City has an impressive skyline with some interesting architecture in the modern part of town. This is where the El Machico Hostel is located, and the place I will spend three days.


Reception with the pool through the doors in the background. The Machico is in the Marbella neighborhood which is very safe and has many restaurants and markets in walking distance.


Don’t get your knickers in a twist about the spelling of travelled! Travelled is the British variant while we spell it traveled in the United States. The point here is something I can certainly attest to in that I have received a truly amazing education during my 14 months in transit. Some of it has been most disturbing in the form of being enlightened about some of our interfering in the affairs of various countries I have visited, usually at great cost to the people involved, as well as, our own standing in the world. Here in Panama, we were playing footsie with Noriega, a horrible, shiftless, drug dealing dictator with bad skin. Yet another shameful chapter in our history.


THE PANAMA CANAL – Finally a more pleasant chapter in our Central American history. After the Spanish became bored, and the French gave up because of disease and other issues, the United States stepped in and completed this amazing feat of engineering in ten years, thus opening up important trade routes for the world.

Completed in 1914, the Panama Canal was open for business. In 1977, control of the canal was turned over to the country of Panama through the implementation of the Torrijos-Carter treaty. It was feared that Panama would be unable to administer the control and maintenance of the canal, but this fear has proven to be entirely unfounded.

It takes six to eight hours to pass through the canal and the tolls range from $800 – $3,200. The lowest toll ever paid was 36 cents by Richard Halliburton in 1928 when he swam the canal. There are expansion plans underway to add larger locks to handle mega capacity cargo ships, so the future is bright for Panama and what has been called one of the seven wonders of the engineering world.






No ships in sight from this juncture.




Built in Scotland for the Panama Canal, the ladder dredge Corozal began operations in 1912. With a massive chain of 52 buckets, it could dig more than 1,000 tons of material in less than 40 minutes.


A small section of one of the massive 300-ton doors that close off the locks.


A smaller ship makes its way through the Lock.




Our wonderful driver, Ricardo, feeling bad that we saw no ships at the Miraflores Lock, drove us to the next one toward the Pacific and lo and behold here comes a cargo-laden behemoth.


See the locomotive behind the bow towing the vessel toward the enclosure.

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A tugboat shoehorns the ship into place.


The locomotive heads back to assist another approaching vessel.




RICARDO – Our Hero – Next he drops us off at Ancon Hill for a climb to a beautiful view.


Here is what a couple of Irish lassies and I got for our hiking efforts!



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The Panamanian Flag atop Ancon Hill.


From the other side a view of the canal.


After the hike down we set the iPhone to guide us to Casco Viejo or the Old Town. A mural depicts more death (muerte) doled out courtesy of the U.S.A. Is there no end to our violent ways? I’m not sure which conflict they were on about here, but the muralist may have just been generalizing. This is actually apropos given the fact that the U.S. supplied more weapons to other countries in 2015 than any other country in the world. Makes you think of those sage and sober words by Dwight D. Eisenhower regarding the potentially dangerous relationship between corporate interests and the military.

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.”

I’m generally not one for conspiracy theories, but I can’t help having a sneaking suspicion that JFK was murdered because of potential plans to pull out of Vietnam. This way they got a twofer. The CIA could take revenge for the Bay of Pigs debacle, and the war in Vietnam could be extended to feed industries profiting from a war that not only didn’t prevent the spread of communism in the area but essentially made it a foregone conclusion. As it was, we lost 50,000 and the Vietnamese 3 million, but War Inc. cleaned up. Politically we lost big time. Remind anybody of something recent? The mess in Iraq, perhaps? Again lives and treasure lost with even worse political losses in the region, but guess who benefitted? Big business. There are no more countries, only corporations.




Athletic shoe shopping down the main street for a sore-footed companion. I could feel severe hunger pangs and the risk of becoming hangry, so I nipped into a Chinese and snagged four pork dumplings and saved us all from the potential fallout.


Finally, we arrive at Casco Viejo. A much more charming area.








CHURCH WITH WEDDING – A white Ford Mustang parked outside and bedecked with flowers awaits the happy couple.


A long-awaited meal with a view of the city and strawberry mojitos. I had a virgin one, but it was seriously tasty. The ceviche was good as well. The white mustang from the church drove past. At this point, you can see we are a ways from the new city where our hostel is so we spared ourselves another 3-mile hike back, and flagged a cab.


HOSTEL MACHICO –  I prepare for the nightly onslaught of mind-numbing dance music to which nobody dances. Every song if you could call it that, sounds like the last. To make the situation more nauseating, there are a couple of geezers hitting on girls young enough to be their granddaughters. They even claim to enjoy the music, but this is probably due to the fact that they are in an alcoholic haze. If I should ever descend into this kind of madness please send someone to throw me into a volcano. I finished my last Monster last night so this may explain my current rancor.


Another beautiful day and a two and a half mile walk to the Fish Market.




Bike paths and walkways that filled up with happy people on a Sunday afternoon.






Mercado De Mariscos – The Fish Market










A lovely, long, and hot stroll home.






One last night of oppressive thumping music and drunk, skeevy, old geezers chain-smoking and guzzling beers. Next stop Cartagena, Colombia and a nice private room in a hotel for six days from which I can plan my visits to Machu Picchu, Bolivia, and Chile. Here comes #69.




Le Petit Paris – A real French bistro around the corner from my hostel, where I can get my morning omelet to tide me over until I get to Paris on April 12th. Their pastries are very good but are not quite up to French standards. It’s like New York Pizza outside of New York. You can find relatively good facsimiles, but not spot on duplicates.

I’ve got a three-hour wait until my airport shuttle. Thankfully the hostel music is more mellow and melodic today, and not the equivalent of an auditory thumping Chinese water torture as per usual. God, today’s music really sucks. I am so ready for a new country. Bring on Colombia!


  1. Karen Devers
    February 23, 2016

    I’m looking forward to your photos and impressions of Ecuador since that does seem to be the favorite IL site, tied with Panama. I don’t understand the appeal of having a maid and gardener. That is always touted as one of the appealing features of living south of the border. Of course, with all of the dust, etc. maybe it is good to have some help keeping things clean.

    I totally agree that a smaller home space (no maid) in a beautiful place is highly preferable to the alternative. I like to spend lots of time outside so being in a beautiful place is important to me. Your impressions are really worthwhile and I appreciate your detailed accounts. Forge ahead!

  2. The Travel Zealot
    February 23, 2016

    Hey Karen,
    Everything grows like a weed here so you do need a gardener if you have a house, but I have always done my own laundry and picked up after myself. Then I get someone to come in every six months for some deep cleaning. It was more of an illustration if anything. France just has more culture per square meter than anywhere on Earth. Add to that the food, charm, physical beauty, variety, architecture and baked goods…….Well you get my point. No comparison. This trip has shifted from relaxed reconnaissance to rapid adventure.

  3. Karen Devers
    February 26, 2016

    Great photos, as usual and your forthright writing is very entertaining. I like your new word for negotiating a price!

    The hat looks great, does it fold up like the Ecuadorian version?

    I wish I could see Coati, what a lovely creature. I’m sure she appreciated your kind attention and fresh food.

    Barbara Diggs’ article on France is really good. I’m looking forward to exploring the places you both have raved about. I’m saving my pennies! IL folks always say, nothing beats boots on the ground! Keep your boots walkin’!


  4. Big D
    February 26, 2016

    “Coati” is a real cutie! In the fairytale version of life she would have followed you to France.. Considering “menagerie” is a french word I imagine the pet ownership laws there to be pretty loose.

  5. The Travel Zealot
    February 26, 2016

    Hey Karen,
    I could probably fold the hat, but I’m not sure I would enjoy the results. It’s my new summer travel hat, and it should carry me through Europe nicely. I’ll probably purchase a real Panama in Ecuador, and have it shipped back home. Coati is so sweet. I will miss her.

    I just arrived in Panama City after an overnight bus trip. There is a restaurant called Petit Paris nearby that has a bakery, and I had an exceptional pain au raisin there this morning. I’ll be getting my morning omelettes there for the next couple of days. When I get to Paris, I plan to invite Barbara to lunch at Le Train Bleu. It is a magnificent Belle Epoque restaurant in the Gare du Nord train station. It was featured in the exceptional French spy movie “La Femme Nikita”. Google the restaurant and see the movie. Make sure you see the French version. The English one is crap.

  6. The Travel Zealot
    February 26, 2016

    Dina thought my sweet Coatí was scary. She does have sharp teeth, but so does a raccoon. I’m not sure the French climate would be to their liking in the winter though. Plus, I like to move about so pets are kind of out of the question. I sure did enjoy her company while I was there.

  7. Karen Devers
    February 26, 2016

    Big D – I like your fairy tale version. Of course once in France Coati would transform into a beautiful princess! Sorry, too much Disney as a child. Any animal with teeth will bite. I read online that when a coatimundi is raised from a pup they become very tame and when they bite it in playfulness and doesn’t usually break the skin. Reminds me of cats – you don’t want to push them past their tolerance.

    John – you may find that the Ecuador hat is actually made to be folded for easier storage, or maybe it’s just certain versions. I saw that on a Globe Trekker DVD.

    Great idea to take Barbara for a meal and a chat. I hope you get a chance to read her article in the latest IL magazine. It is really well-written. I’ll be with you in spirit! I enjoyed talking with her at the IL conference but that is my memory not hers as I am just one of many whom she has spoken with over the years.

    I’m thinking of finding a French pen pal. I enjoy corresponding with Griff, my Canadian expat on the Gran Canaria island in Spain. He has invited me to visit him and his wife so I may combine that with my visit to France. My nephew’s wife is Spanish and she has invited me to visit her family in Valencia. They have a summer condo there and a home in Madrid. It’s turning in to a longer and longer stay!

    I hope there are some interesting ships passing through the Panama Canal!


  8. The Travel Zealot
    February 27, 2016

    Don’t go wishing any high maintenance princesses on me! Ha Ha! Also I just can’t bring myself to crunch up one of those beautiful Panama hats. I really don’t have the space in my pack anyway.

    Make sure to stop at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, and check out Picasso’s “Guernica”. Amazing! 11 feet tall by 25.6 feet wide!

    There are some cool buildings here in Panama City, and I am heading to the Canal tomorrow which I am having a hard time getting excited about. We’ll see how I feel after I get there. I’m sure the visit to the old town will be nice.

  9. Jason B.
    February 28, 2016

    Hi John, just checking in to let you know how much appreciated all your writing and pictures have been on this lazy Sunday afternoon of mine. You know how some of our favorite TV shows name their episodes with clever obscure titles. Such as Breaking bad’s “full measures” or “breakage”. I am thinking about starting to name some of your particular blogs. For this latest installment or episode I am of course leaning toward “COATI” but for something on the more obscure side i am stuck on “20% MAS PRINGLES”. What do you think?

  10. The Travel Zealot
    February 28, 2016

    Sounds good, Jason. I just tossed the last of my Pringles in the trash, and I’ve been a little bitchy today since I am also off my Monster & Cokes. I did enjoy a four mile walk and a beautiful day which will be the last installment for Panama. Off to Cartagena, Colombia tomorrow.

  11. Karen Devers
    March 1, 2016

    Gosh, where to start, this Panama post is so layered with photos and text, it’s wonderful.

    As you know, I totally agree with you about our ongoing “ugly American” behavior. Did you read the book by that title? I read it a long time ago and sadly it still pertains. It seems we have become worse as our corporate-government marriage does its best to control the world for its own profit.

    It speaks well of the locals in other countries that despite our government misdeeds, they are kind and welcoming to us. I’m sure they are much happier when visitors bring cash into their economy rather than guns, bombs, and dictators. You are a perfect ambassador!

    The photos of the canal show it to be a rather stark and unadorned place. Not surprising since the focus is on transportation and efficiency. The huge cargo ships are like floating islands, amazing.

    So sorry about the deafening music. All of the regulars will need hearing aids in a few years. Maybe that’s why the geezers tolerate it so well, they left theirs at home! I have heard from other travelers that loud music late at night is more common in other countries, especially Spain and South of the US border. That would have me running for the hills I’m afraid.

    Do you see people walking their dogs? I don’t see any pets in your photos so I am curious. It would be hard to match Coati cuteness, but I do love dogs and cats.

    Thanks for the time and effort you put into your blog, it is so much fun to “visit” and we don’t have to hear the loud music! Congratulations on the new food and drink choices, your body thanks you!

  12. The Travel Zealot
    March 3, 2016

    Karen, they do tend to live out loud down here whether through blaring music, beeping horns, or just plain shouting to be heard over the incessant noise. It’s kind of like being in a noisy restaurant where people are reduced to screaming to be heard. I’m moving into my tranquil stage, but I still like cranking up “my” music from time to time. Sure there are pet’s about in South America. My Hotelito has a cute dog I’ll take a shot of. In fact it’s the same breed as in my last lodging.

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