Blogging When Traveling

One of the first things that you are told when you start a blog is that you need to create a standard blogging schedule. This is true for a couple of reasons. First it allows people to know when to expect to see content from you, but it also provides you with a schedule to follow to help keep you consistent. It is hard enough following the schedule during normal weeks when work and life provide constant interruptions, but when traveling it is even harder, if not impossible at times. The question we often face during our trip is whether we worry about getting posts out or if we should just go quiet for a few days and deal with it when we get back.

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Busy Houston Airport During Our Trip to Panama

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Flying Over a River

There is, of course, a simple answer to this particular dilemma, but it isn’t as easy for us as it might sound. The best solution would be to create posts in advance of our travel plans and then schedule them to publish while we are gone. To do so would double the amount of posts that we need to create in a week. We barely have time to get the posts out that we are already creating, let alone write a bunch of extra ones so that they can be used later. Prior to almost every trip, we make this commitment to get some articles created and ready to go. And every single time we have failed to do so.

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Air Travel

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View Above Colorado

The second option, which we do most often, is to be sure that we have what we need to transfer photos and write a quick article with us during our trip. This allows us to take a few minutes at the end of the day to do a quick “here is where we are” post with very little information and a few photographs just to let everyone know what we’re doing and why we aren’t providing more content. The concern is that we don’t whether people appreciate this quick updates or would rather wait to hear about the place where we’re traveling in more detail. Do you find these kind of posts interesting or do you think it would be better if we just waited for our return?

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The Locks of the Panama Canal

Any visit to Panama City should certainly include visiting the locks at the Panama Canal. The new locks opened in 2016 and is definitely a source of national pride for the country as this was the first project run by Panama in the canal. Although you don’t have to understand the history of the Panama Canal to appreciate how impressive the locks are from an engineering perspective. It is obviously much more than a source of pride for the country as every ship that passes through the canal pays fees that can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and potentially even up to a million dollars.

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One of the New Locks Closing

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Cargo Ships Waiting to Enter the Locks

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Only the Lock Crew Can Take the Ships

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The Old Locks in the Distance

The new locks are able to accommodate even larger ships as well as allow ships to get through the locks even faster, both of which means more revenue for the country. The new and old locks sit side by side and both are always in use as ships queue up to wait their turn to get through the locks. Tug boats steer them into the locks, which either raise or lower the water depending upon the direction they are going in order to allow them to continue on their journey. Depending upon the time of year, the new locks have the ability to reserve the water and reuse it for each time that the water is raised and lowered in order to keep the dam levels in Gutan Lake at an appropriate level.

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View of the Locks Empty

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Observation Tower with a Ship in the Locks

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The Locks Before Closing

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Ship Being Pulled in by Tug Boats

The original design for the canal by the French engineers was to just build a sea level canal without the use of locks. The original construction of the canal failed for a lot of reasons including yellow fever and the sheer difficulty of the task. When the US took over construction, they originally considered continuing to do a sea level canal, but eventually concluded that the locks would be a better solution. The Panama Canal was first completed in 1913, however it was overshadowed by the start of World War I. It remained an important military strategic advantage for the United States through the end of World War II.

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Coastline by the Locks

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The New Bridge in the Distance

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Water Retention Reservoirs

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A Drastic Change in the Depth of the Water

When visiting the locks, be sure to either go to the Panama Canal Museum in Casco Viejo beforehand or at least listen to the 20 minute video at the canal locks themselves. A visit to the locks will only take you about an hour, but be sure to stay long enough to at least watch one ship enter or leave the locks so that you can see them in action. We went as part of a longer tour, which is a great way to see the locks and then end up out on the canal itself. We were also treated to something special as our guide arranged it for us to walk across the old locks, which isn’t normally allowed. We weren’t allowed to stop or take pictures as we hustled across the lock. We also drove back across the locks, which is fascinating as well, but that road will not be used in the future when the new bridge is finished.

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Delicious Chicken Pot Pies

Many of us grew up eating the pot pies that you can find in your grocery store’s freezer section, but making your own pot pie is certainly worth the extra effort. As with any food, making it yourself is usually healthier and tastes better. We had a delicious chicken pot pie when we were in Strasbourg and it was rustic and simple. Obviously you can make pot pies with turkey or beef as well, but chicken works out really well. It is a perfect way to use leftovers this holiday season in a way that doesn’t really feel like a leftover. We happen to have a mini-pie maker, which helps, but you don’t have to have one in order to make your own pot pies. You can buy premade pie crusts that are personal size in tin trays and just top with store-bought pie crust. The key to a really good pot pie is the stock that you use, so making a homemade stock is certainly worth the effort. Chicken pot pies are a perfect dinner for a cold winter evening.

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Pot Pie Ready to Eat

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups Chicken Stock
  • 4 tbsp Unsalted Butter
  • 2 tbsp Vegetable Oil
  • 2 tbsp All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 Egg – egg white only
  • 1/2 cup Carrot – diced
  • 1/2 cup Onion – diced
  • 1/2 cup Celery – diced
  • 1/2 cup Frozen Corn – off of the cob (or peas)
  • 1 cup Russet Potatoes – parboiled and diced
  • 1 cup Cooked Chicken – diced
  • 1 tsp Garlic Powder
  • 1 tsp Dried Thyme
  • 1 tsp Dried Rosemary
  • 2 sheets Pie Crust (store-bought) – one package
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
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Diced Vegetables

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Miniature Pie Maker

INSTRUCTIONS

Be sure to cut the celery, carrots, and onion into equal sized pieces. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter along with the vegetable oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the carrots and cook for about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the celery and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes and then finally add the onions and cook until they are translucent. Remove the vegetables from the pot, leaving any drippings. Add the remaining butter and heat until melted. Add the flour and whisk until it is slightly brown and nutty, do not over cook. Heat the stock in a microwave until hot and then add the stock to the roux, making sure to whisk frequently as pouring it into the pot. Add the garlic, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper, and continue to heat until it reaches a slight boil. Reduce the heat to low and add the potatoes, carrots, celery, onion, corn, and chicken and cook until heated thoroughly and the stock has thickened. Spoon the mixture into the bottom sheet of pie crust (if using store bought pie pans, prick with a fork and partially cook in an oven before adding the mixture). The mixture should be about a quarter of an inch from the top of the crust. Cut the pie crust to fit the top of the pie and place over the mixture being sure to crimp the edges together with a fork or with your fingers. Brush with egg white and cook in the pie maker (or in the oven) for the directed amount of time, 12 to 15 minutes in our case. Let them rest a few minutes before serving.

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Cook Vegetables

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Flour and Butter to Make a Roux

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Chicken Pot Pie Mixture

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Pies with Filling

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Brush with Egg White

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Finished Pot Pie

 

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Capturing Local Life in Egypt

One of the things that we do during our travels is to try and capture images of local life and not just photographs of historic sites that we see. We often take tours where we drive through various areas of cities on our way to our intended destination and often these glimpses into the real lives of the people who live there are as fascinating as the tourist locations that we visit. It started with our trip to India many years ago where we took photographs of the stores, houses, and people who lived throughout Chennai. We have continued to do so during all of our trips, especially those where the lifestyle of the people where we are visiting is different than our own.

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Streets of Luxor

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Setting Up Shop

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Donkey Transportation

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Busy Sidewalks Outside of Cairo

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Heading to Work

It is an interesting way to get a sense of a culture that you might not get otherwise. Clearly, any country is diverse and no single picture can capture the entire society, but it is often a window into things that you won’t find in any travel books or brochures. Taking photographs from a traveling vehicle isn’t always easy and you often have just a second to try and capture the image that you see as you drive by. Because we are taking the photographs from a car traveling through a neighborhood, the people in the pictures have no idea that their photograph is being taken. That allows us to take photographs that capture real life, unfiltered.

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Shops and Restaurants

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Horse and Donkey Together

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Bread for Sale

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Casual Conversation

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Very Busy Pedestrian Traffic

We were on several tours during our time in Egypt as we visited cities like Cairo, Luxor, Edfu, and Aswan. On each of these tours, we were able to catch different images of local life from these very different cities. Because we saw such a wide variety of people going about their daily lives, it did give us a sense of the overall society. Do you ever take candid photos as you travel from one location to another that aren’t about the destination, but the journey?

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Motorcycles Were Not Prevalent in Cairo

 

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Daily Life

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Cleaning Up

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Catching a Ride

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Walking Through the Suburbs

 

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Casco Viejo in Panama City

If you go to Panama City, it is important that you take time to visit Casco Viejo, which is the historic district in the city. Originally established in 1673 by the Spanish, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to a variety of historic buildings, churches, restaurants, shops, and hotels. As you walk the streets of Casco Viejo you will find a wonderful mix of architecture that spans the 350+ years of its history. Depending upon the time of day, it can be quite busy, especially on the weekend, but not so busy that you can’t enjoy all of the sights.

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Presidential Palace

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The Flat Arch

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Colorful Dancers

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Quiet Side Street

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Iglesia San Francisco de Asis

Although you can hire a guide to take you through Casco Viejo, we felt that it was easy enough to navigate and learn about the various historic sites without the need for a guide or the hassle of dealing with a group tour. All of the signs were in both Spanish as well as English, so it was easy to understand what you were seeing and there is plenty of information on each of the sites in tourist books, maps, and the internet. We started our tour of Casco Viejo at Plaza Herrera where we enjoyed the park with its Christmas decorations as well as the statue of General Tomas Herrera. We were in Panama City days before National Independence Day, so many of the buildings were adorned with flags, buntings, and banners.

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General Tomas Herrera

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Plaza Francia

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Institute of National Culture

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Tents with Local Arts and Crafts

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La Iglecia de La Merced

Our next stop was at Iglesia Santo Domingo and the Flat Arch (Arco Chato), which is a 17th century church and convent that was destroyed by fire in 1756 and never rebuilt.  From there, we made our way down to Plaza Francia, which was once the main square of the city. Today, it provides wonderful views of downtown Panama City as well as hosts a walking street that is lined with local artists selling traditional Panamanian arts and crafts.

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Beautiful Streets

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Colorful Dancers in Costumes

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View of Downtown Panama City

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Casco Viejo

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Statue at Plaza Francia

There are several wonderful churches within Casco Viejo such as Iglesia San Francisco de Asis, which is the smallest, but perhaps one of the prettiest. It sits on Plaza Bolivar, which is pretty much the heart of Casco Viejo. The beautiful Catedral Metropolitana is certainly an important feature within the city as is La Iglesia de La Merced with its unique architecture. There is also the Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus, which was destroyed by a fire in 1781 and later damaged further by an earthquake in 1882. We were fortunate that it was open the day that we visited as we were in Casco Viejo on several other days and the gate was locked, keeping visitors on the outside of the building.

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Interesting Architecture

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Artists on Walking Street

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Catedral Metropolitana

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Church Tower from a Plaza

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Fountain with Downtown Panama City in the Background

The presidential palace is also located in Casco Viejo, although you aren’t allowed to enter as it is still the residence of the president of Panama. The National Theatre was closed for renovations while we were there, but we read that it is worth visiting as it is supposed to be beautiful on the inside. The Canal Museum is certainly worth visiting as it provides not only a history of the Panama Canal, but it also provides insight into the history of the isthmus in general. We were fortunate to catch part of a dance competition in one of the plazas during our visit, which a unique cultural experience.

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Church Courtyard

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More Dancers

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The Flat Arch

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Street Art

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Inside of One of the Stores

If you are looking for souvenirs, Casco Viejo is certainly the place to go. There are many shops selling local items as well as typical tourist items. We ate dinner almost every night in Casco Viejo as there are so many restaurants to choose from. Without a doubt, any visit to Panama City should include spending time in this wonderful historic district. You will likely find yourself caught in a downpour at some point during your time in Casco Viejo, so use that opportunity to join the locals in a pub or café as they watch the rain quickly come and go.

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Building Façade

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National Pride

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Plaza Herrera

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Mix of Old and New

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Dating Back to the 1700’s

 

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Getting Up Close in Panama

When we travel, we almost always have two lenses for our camera with us. One that is a general, versatile, lens that can cover most photographs that we take of tourist sites that we visit. The other is a zoom lens that we use to either get a closer view of cityscapes or especially to capture animals in the wild. Having  a zoom lens is a great way to see animals up close without having to put yourself in danger or actually get that close to the animal your trying to capture on film. If you don’t have a zoom lens or even a DSLR camera, that doesn’t mean that you can’t get great zoom shots. If you get yourself a good pair of binoculars, you can actually take pretty good zoom shots with your cell phone. We first learned this trick when we were in Ecuador and our guide took photos for us on our phone using his binoculars. The same was true when we were in Panama and our guide once again helped us take photographs through one of the lenses of the binoculars. How ever you get them, getting those close up shots are always interesting.

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Getting a Butterfly to Pose Isn’t Easy

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We Didn’t Have to Climb the Tree to See the Three-Toed Sloth

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Tropical Flower

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Palm Tree

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Cell Phone Camera and Binoculars – We Didn’t Get the Camera Firmly Against the Lens

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Same Photo with the Cell Phone and Binoculars with the Camera Firmly Against the Binocular Lens

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We Weren’t Going to Get Close to Him

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Another Tropical Flower

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Sometimes They Come to You

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He Was Actually a Tiny Little Guy

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Leaf Cutter Ants

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With a Cell Phone Camera

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Flower in the Jungle

 

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Fort San Lorenzo in Panama

As far as historical points of interest within Panama, visiting Fort San Lorenzo is definitely a key site to visit. The Chagres River was a key method of transportation across the isthmus of Panama during the 1500’s as Spain used it to transport gold from its conquests in Mexico and South America to the Caribbean Sea where they could return it to Spain. It wasn’t long before pirates began attacking the ships as they made their way to the sea, so Spain built Fort San Lorenzo around 1560 to protect their ships from the pirates.

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Walking Through the Fortress

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The Chagres River

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Tower from a Mote

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Ruins

The pirates that attacked the ships were not the ones of a Disney movie and were vicious and ruthless. Over the next 40 years, the fortifications at the fort continued to evolve as the fort became more secure. One of the first things that you notice as you visit the remains of the fort is that the canons all face inland and not towards the river. This is because the attacks on the fortress actually occurred from land as the pirates tried to take control of the high point above the river. The cliffs around the fortress are far too steep for anyone to attack the fort from the river. The fortress also has two motes around it providing the ability to trap attackers as the soldiers retreated into the interior walls.

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Canon Standing Guard

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Keeping the Walls from Collapsing

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Seabird Overhead

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Rain Heading Our Way

The fort was attacked and pretty much put into ruins in 1670 by the infamous pirate, Henry Morgan (from Captain Morgan rum fame). It was pretty much abandoned after that, but it was used as a prison during part of the 1700’s. Spain abandoned travel through the isthmus in favor of traveling around Cape Horn, but it became a popular route once again during the gold rush of 1848. The fort was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980 and is part of the current Panama Canal.

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Anteater in a Tree

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Narrow Entrance from the Mote

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Fortress Wall

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More Canons

You travel through a national park on your way to the fortress and during our ride, we stopped several times to see monkeys, a tree sloth, and most interestingly, an anteater in the trees. We spent about an hour walking through the ruins and despite being a world heritage site, our group was all alone during our time there. Afterwards, we set up chairs underneath a tree to enjoy some lunch. We did have one visitor during our lunch as a tarantula poked his head out of a hole in the tree to see what we were eating. We would definitely recommend that you put Fort San Lorenzo on your itinerary when visiting Panama City.

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Tarantula Joining Us for Lunch

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Arched Entrance and Moss Covered Wall

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Where Prisoners were Held

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One of the Remaining Buildings

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Monkey Relaxing in a Tree

 

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Traveling in Winter

We love traveling at every time of the year and that includes the winter season as well. When it comes to traveling at this time of year there are several considerations. Whether traveling by plane or traveling by car, weather conditions can change quickly and you need to be aware of road conditions. Obviously snow and freezing rain can cause havoc with air travel and it doesn’t even have to be where you are flying out of. Flights being cancelled in one part of the country can lead to flights being delayed or cancelled throughout the rest of the country. It doesn’t have to snow to cause delays, sometimes just the freezing cold can be enough to cause a delay as planes de-ice prior to take off, causing flights to spend extra time on the tarmac. When traveling during the winter, it is even more important to make sure that you don’t choose flights with short layovers that don’t provide any buffer if your flight does take off late. Finally, we all want to pack light these days, but cold temperatures during winter don’t make that as easy as normal. It is important to use layers and perhaps wash clothes during your trip so that don’t have to take a suitcase full of sweaters. Fortunately there are many brands of clothing that provide lightweight clothing that keep you warm without being bulky. We definitely took advantage of clothing made with those materials during our trip to Iceland in February a couple of years ago. Here are a few photos for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge, Cold, that just might have you reaching for a blanket and a cup of hot chocolate.

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Snowing in Aspen, Colorado

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We Were Very Cold in Iceland

 

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Driving in a Snowstorm

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Stream Surrounded by Snow and Ice

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Standing in Reykjavik, Iceland

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Frozen River from the Michigan Street Bridge in Chicago

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Snowmobiling in the Mountains

 

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Monkey Island in Panama

One of the day tour options from Panama City is to visit what is called Monkey Island on Lake Gatun. Although it is referred to as a single island, it is really several islands, each with different monkey varieties. When the river was dammed to create the lake, one of the inadvertent things was that some animals were trapped as the waters rose and what were hilltops within the rainforest became small islands. Since these smaller monkeys can’t swim from island to island, they would have perished were it not for the fact that soldiers were stationed on the islands as lookouts and guards.

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It Doesn’t Get Much More Adorable Than This

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Heading Towards the Islands

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Up Close and Personal

One of the first things that you learn as an ecotourist is that you never feed the animals as it disrupts their natural instincts and can create an imbalance. Since the lake was created in the early 1900’s, there was no sense of our impact on wildlife and the soldiers didn’t think twice about feeding the monkeys on these islands. Without that food, those monkeys would not have survived and now they have become completely dependent upon getting food from humans. These days, the monkeys are reliant upon the tours that bring tourists to the island and give them food to entice them to interact with the people on the boat. The monkeys are cute and adorable, so you can see where there might be some temptation for people to catch them and sell them as pets, but the tour guides and people of the area are extremely protective of them and are always on the watch to ensure that no one is smuggling one of the monkeys.

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Attracting a Crowd

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Contemplating Coming Down

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It is Part of the Panama Canal

In order to get to the islands, you obviously need to get there by boat and tour groups come throughout the day to take a motorized boat out to the islands. If you want to have the best experience, starting your day earlier in the day is definitely recommended as the more that the boats visit the islands and feed the monkeys, the fuller that they get and the less interested they become in coming down from the trees to get a treat. Some of the monkeys were given small pieces of banana and they are willing to come into the boats and sit on shoulders and even a head in order to eat some banana. For some of the larger monkeys, you hold a grape in your hand with your fingers lightly gripping the grape and the monkeys will gently open your hand to get their treat. If you hold the grapes low on your lap, you will spend even more time with the monkey than if you just extend your hand.

 

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He Looks Sad

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An Idea of How Close the Monkeys Get

Although the monkeys are reliant on people to get their food, they are not domesticated and are still wild animals. It is important that you don’t make any sudden movements, jump, scream, or even laugh dramatically. Any of those things can be construed as a threat by the monkeys and they will lash out to protect themselves. We were warned by our guides that if we weren’t able to remain calm, they would have to back the boat away from the island for our safety and the safety of the monkeys. Fortunately our group did as told and since we were the first boat of the day, we had excellent interactions with the monkeys.

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Swinging in the Jungle

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There are Birds Too

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We Made a Furry Friend

We did Monkey Island as part of a longer tour, visiting other sites after seeing the monkeys. It is certainly a highlight for anyone visiting Panama City and is worth getting out of the city to see. We saw other monkeys in the rainforest, but being able to get as close to them as you do on the islands makes for a very special memory.

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Rainforest Around the Lake

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Eating a Grape

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Our Boat

 

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The Food of Panama

During our time in Panama, we had the opportunity to visit several restaurants that purported to have authentic Panamanian food. Much of it was seafood that is caught locally, but there were other choices as well. If you want something cold to wash down your food, there are several national beers to choose from that are very good. With all of the influences from various cultures, the cuisine of Panama City has become a melting pot of ethnic varieties. Although Spanish cooking dominates much of the food, French and American traditions can be found as well. We even ate fish prepared by a local indigenous family that was served to us in a banana leaf.

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Lobster Thermador

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National Beer

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Mixed Seafood in a Curry Sauce

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Ceviche with Plantains and Pineapple

One of first meals that we ate was at restaurant called Diablicos in Casco Viejo, which was recommended to us by our hotel. We went there for lunch, but at night there is a traditional dance show which gives the restaurant its name. If you decide to go for the show, there is a 2 drink minimum, but we decided that it was a little more touristy than what we would like. The food, however, was excellent and we had traditional ceviche as well as sausage empanadas. In addition to ceviche, another popular dish throughout the region is Corvina, a tropical saltwater fish, prepared several ways. We ate it at a couple of restaurants, one of them with a form of salsa on top. Another item on pretty much every menu were plantains, both sweet and savory, all of which were some of the best that we had eaten. To beat the heat, be sure to get yourself a scoop of cocoanut ice-cream.

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Empanadas at Diablicos

 

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Tamale Casserole

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Inside of the Restaurant

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Crab Linguini Served in a Crab Shell

Octopus or calamari can be found on almost every menu as well, whether you want it fried, grilled, or cooked in its own sauce. We also at a fried ceviche, which as a little unique as well. If you have the budget, lobster and crab can be found on some menus as well and it is quite delicious. At a restaurant called Casablanca, we ate a wonderful paella as well as steamed clams that were simply delicious. On our last day, we went out to the Causeway Islands and ate at The Buccaneer where we had a crab linguini and sea bass topped with more seafood and a cream sauce (basically like an Oscar).

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Sea Bass with Seafood

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Paella San Felipe

 

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Fried Calamari

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Panama Lager

In addition to all of the wonderful restaurants, we also enjoyed craft beer at La Rana Dorada, which means the golden frog. We tried each of the beers that they offered and they were all delicious. We also tried most of the national beers including Balboa, Soberana, Panama Lager, and San Felipe. In addition to the beer, we also had local red and white wine that were quite good as well. We wanted to try some local rum, but we were so busy that we just never got around to ordering it.

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Pilsner at La Rana Dorada

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Soberana

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Fish and Plantains at the Embera Village

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Outdoor Cooking at the Village

For a true local experience, going to El Trapiche where you can get simple food cooked right. We had heard about the pork, beans, and rice dish that is a favorite of people who live in Panama City and we decided that we had to give it a try. It is actually made with pig tail, which is in the dish, but you don’t eat it as it is just there for flavoring. This restaurant was recommended to us by one of our guides and we certainly weren’t disappointed. Not only was the food very good, but the prices were about half of almost every other place that we went to during our stay.

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Traditional Bean, Rice, and Pork Stew

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Cocoanut Ice-Cream

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Steamed Clams

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Fried Ceviche

If you travel to Panama City, you certainly won’t go hungry. Most of the restaurants in Casco Viejo, or the old town area, tend to be a little more trendy and cater to tourists, but the food is excellent. If you want to get away from the tourists, then take time to go to some places downtown where you can eat like a local. We even went to an Irish pub called the Blarney Stone as we are always interested in how the Irish pub traditions carry through to all cultures.

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