Rainforest & Volcano

Trip Start Jul 02, 2012
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12
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Trip End Oct 04, 2012


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Flag of Panama  ,
Friday, July 20, 2012

Our wake up call came at 4.45am and bleary eyed, we went downstairs to our vans at 5.30am.

Ali & family went with their tour company while we met Tony, our Panamanian guide who I had corresponded with by email following rave reviews on Trip Advisor.   He is great guy and really took care of us for the day.  

Leaving at 5.30am we thought the streets would have been quiet but there were long (up to 100 people) queues at the bus stops and the 3 lanes going the opposite direction from us were bumper to bumper.

We had a 40 min drive to the Rainforest Discovery Centre (www.pipelineroad.org/ ) in the Gamboa region.  Once we turned off the main road, the road leading in was very rough - if we had have been driving ourselves I am sure we would have thought we were going the wrong way it was so rugged.

Arriving at the Rainforest Discovery Centre, we checked in and watched the amazing hummingbirds buzzing around feeding from the hanging feeders.  They were very colourful and awesome in the way they flit about flapping their tiny wings 25 beats per second.






 We set off with binoculars in hand up a trail which led us an Observation tower.  We climbed 30m (100ft) up a spiral staircase of 174 steps where we had fantastic views across the top of the forest canopy.  We saw Toucans of all sorts of colours as well as some gorgeous Woodpeckers tap tapping on the trees.

A couple of hours later we walked back up the trail to the visitor centre and saw a Nequi (small rodent) and of course more of the very cool hummingbirds.

Driving back to the hotel we were thrilled to see a Squirrel on the edge of the forest and then a huge group of vultures (google tells me a group of vultures is called a committee!) feasting on a dead animal on the rail tracks.

We enjoyed a lovely complimentary breakfast  when we got back - waffles, scrambled eggs, pastries, fresh fruit by the platter (watermelon, melons, pineapple) - heaven!

After Ali & family arrived back, Tony picked us up at 11.30am and we drove 1.5 hours through beauiful lush countryside to a place called Anton Valley (http://www.antonvalley.com/ ) which is a small community settled in the crater of an dormant volcano.

Our first stop was at the El Nispero Zoo & Botanical Garden.  It was at the end of another unbelievably rough road - we literally drove all over the road at 5km per hour trying to avoid the massive holes, dips and bumps.  The zoo had an amazing variety of birds and animals.  Most were in relatively small cages which, being used to the space of Orana Park at home, seemed tough on the creatures, however it was awesome to see animals we'd never seen in real life before - jaguars, owls, raccoons, endangered golden frog, monkeys, tapir, coyote, ocelot and a very sweet sloth.  
 
After a great time at the zoo, we headed back to the main street where there was a well known handicraft market selling all sorts of hand made crafts - necklaces, bags, jewellery, wood, weaving, trinkets etc.   Tameka came in to her own with her ability to barter prices down although I think they never lost out rally.  At one stall we paid $12 for a lovely necklace that started at $15 but then when I asked if I could take  picture of the stallholder and she noded, I took it and she held out her money for payment.  They definitely saw me coming a mile away!!
 
After the market, we went to the local thermal pools but unfortunately they were just closng so we didn't get to swim in them - I'm not sure swimming in thermal pools in 33 deg heat would have been fun anyway!  We did but a pottle of thermal mud which purports to have all sorts of healing and cleansing properties, so Des, Tameka and I will try that at some stage!
 
Driving home we came through torrential rain - Tony told us it rains 9 months of the year and in the rainy season most days.  It was perfect timing for us though and was interestng to see the locals taking shelter under all manner of things or simply carrying on walking through the downpour.  The funniest thing we saw was a helicopter on the back of a truck with a guy sitting in the cockpit!
 
As we got closer, the Friday night traffic going home (the opposite direction from us thankfully) was unbelievably heavy.  Cars were backed up 2 lanes wide for more than 5km and were not getting anywhere in a hurry.  

It was a great day and we're looking forward to tomorrow's adventure with another early start in the morning.



Interesting facts we learned today: 
-         In the previous Olympics, a Panamanian Long Jumper won the Gold Medal (the first Gold in Panama's history)

         Baseball is Panama's number one sport followed by soccer then basketball

         A 30 second ad on TV during the Super Bowl final cost $3.5 million   

         Ships travel from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean through the canal in the morning, from the Atlantic to the Pacific in the afternoon and either way at night.

         The tug boats that work the canal cost between $2.6m and $6m each
 
         The Panamanian president's nickname is "loco" (crazy) and he is considered corrupt.  Ricardo Martinelli was a very successful businessman prior to election and people believe he bought his way to office.

         Panama holds it elections every 5 years

         Many ships that pass through the canal are too heavy and so sit too low in the water to pass through so they enter, unload all their containers on to 1km long railcars, the train travels through to Colon (the next province) and they are loaded back on to the ship when it sails through.

         They are currently dredging the canal and creating a new channel to allow those bigger ships to pass through and this will be complete by 2014 (the 100 year anniversary of the opening of the canal).  It is the biggest construction project in the world.


         Children in Panama start school at age 3 after a series of interviews (!). School starts at 7.30am and finishes at 1.30pm.

         Malls open from 10am to 8 or 9pm

         There are significant discounts for seniors on goods and services - women from 57 yrs and men from 62 yrs.

         There are a lot of female police officers - this is because they are considered more difficult to bribe.

         Speed cameras have recently been introduced and there is a 'spray' on the market which purports to blank out the licence plate number if a photo is taken.

         60,000 cars pass over the Americas bridge each day
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