Travel Ideas

One of the good people from RelayRides asked me if I had any ideas about travel – tips, tricks, things I must have, or helpful comments. (By the way, if you are traveling in the US check out RelayRides. They pair people needing to rent a car with people willing to rent out their personal cars. What an interesting idea. And, if you have a car you can make some extra money by renting it out. Their website explains it all.)

I have traveled mainly by air and bus, and have recently started to travel a bit by bicycle. There are others with far more experience, and many others who also share their ideas and tips, but maybe this post can pull together a few important points.

It seems to me if you have your passport and credit cards, a sense of humor and some patience,  anything else can be solved. But, I also try to be prepared for the “what if’s” so hiccups along the way won’t be so difficult.

I carry a copy of my passport, residency card, drivers license, important phone numbers, airline and hotel reservations, and any other important cards and documents. I also have scanned copies in my tablet, and in my email so I could pull them up from any computer with an internet connection. If something would happen at least I have these copies to show officials, and the important numbers and other information to help me get the documents replaced.

I also have a number of credit cards. It is no fun to go to the store or ATM and find there is a problem with your credit card. If you don’t have another card to use you could be really stuck. I also have scans of my credit cards in my tablet and my email, fronts and backs. If something happens I have my numbers, and also the phone numbers to call and report a card lost or stolen. Also, if you are traveling to another country don’t forget to tell your credit card company so their fraud control measures don’t shut you down.

If there is anything you cannot do without like medicine, contact lenses, any critical item, be sure to keep it with you and not in your checked luggage. I keep a ziplock bag with enough contacts and solution for 4-5 days, my toothbrush and few other toiletries and toss it in my backpack / carry on. With travel size bottles you can have a “survival kit” that doesn’t take up much room, and you can survive lost or diverted checked luggage. I keep anything expensive like a small stash of cash, my iPad, and camera (with chargers and connectors) with me and not in checked luggage. I also carry an empty plastic water bottle (fill it up after you get through security) and some snacks. It never hurts to have a couple plastic bags and cloth or paper napkins, just because, and a pen, a bit of paper, and some business cards for the fellow traveler who wants to check out your blog or share email addresses.

Beyond that, most of the details are personal choice. I prefer to travel as light as possible but have plenty to do to occupy myself. I would rather wear the same 2-3 outfits for a month than struggle with lots of luggage. My iPad (a much appreciated gift from Joel) allows me to bring plenty to do in one compact package. I can work in my blog, listen to or read books and articles, sort and edit photos, play games, and do even more if there is an internet connection. Clothing in layers is good too, with a sweater or light blanket so you don’t get too cold in the air conditioning. We are so acclimated to a hot climate that this is especially important for us. I also like comfortable shoes for hiking through airports and bus stations.

Above all, have fun! Take good care of yourself with enough rest, good food and fluids. Go exploring – talk with the locals, eat local food, experience new places off the beaten paths. Leave time and flexibility in your schedule for new experiences, and a bit of room in your luggage for a new treasure or two.

Any of you who have traveled much probably already know these things, but a bit of review is sometimes good. Now it’s YOUR turn! What good travel tips do you all have to share? What have you found is important to have or do when you travel?

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A Cyclist in Need

My Turkish cyclist friend Elif, who I met when she was in David, was hit by a bus. Thank goodness she is OK except for scrapes and bruises. I can’t believe she wasn’t killed. Her bike was run over and ruined though, and her camera and computer were broken and she is stuck in Venezuela.

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This is one of her photos from Facebook

 

This is what she first posted on Facebook – today i passed pico de augilar, venezuela 4060 metres my first pass in andeas. i coasted down through lots of crazy hairpin turns and went to the other side of the mountain. guess what while i was cycling to my friends house a bus hit me and he drag me 200 metres and rolled over me and my bicycle and finally stopped. i wanted to hit the guy but people seperated us frown emoticon the driver will not get any punishment. he and the bus owner will continue their lives. me, i am fine i had minor wounds. firemen took me to the hospital.

There is more of the story on her website but it’s all in Turkish and the translation tool in my browser doesn’t work very well. But, from the bits and pieces I have picked up since the accident, the bicycle is a total loss. Perhaps the computer and camera can be repaired and screens replaced but at this point she doesn’t know for sure.

All the cyclists I have met have been very giving and generous people. I know if I was in a jam they would help me, so I am posting this in hopes that some of you can help my friend.

http://www.nuzerel.com/destek-donation/

 

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This is Elif when she was in  David with Mike from Mississippi and Alain from France.

I hope she can get back on the road again!  I am also so thankful that she wasn’t seriously hurt.

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Pan-American Highway Construction

The Pan-American Highway in Eastern Panama is a good, 4 lane highway. The Pan-American Highway in Western Panama between Santiago and David, however, is in very poor condition and only 2 lane. A few months ago a massive construction project was started to make this section 4 lane and it’s going to be fantastic when it is done. Right now though, it’s quite a mess.

On my recent bike trip I chose to travel this part in the bus and I am very glad I did. On my return I was in the front seat next to the driver which gave me a great view of the highway. As a cyclist I was especially conscious of how dangerous it would be to travel this road on a bicycle. There are bikes all over Panama including on the Pan-American Highway east of David. In this section however, I only saw one local guy on a bike. Even the Panamanians who bike everywhere know better.

Here are some of the photos. Excuse the poor quality of the ones taken through the windshield and tinted screen.

Many people are curious to know how things are going with the construction so I hope this gives you some idea. They are working hard and I can see a lot of progress every time we travel through. It’s just such a huge project so it’s going to take time to clear the land, move the dirt, build bridges, move utilities, prepare the road bed, and get it all paved. Then, when the new part is ready I expect we will be driving on that while they repair and rebuild the existing road. Even this will be a huge improvement over the cracked and broken road that is currently in use, but it’s going to be a while yet.

For my cyclist friends though, I strongly urge you to take the bus for this part of the trip! It will be hard for you on this road, and it will be hard for the drivers who have to make their way around you. Any bus with a roof rack can take your bike, or any of the huge blue David-Panama buses can put it in the baggage area. It cost me $13 from Santiago to David on a coaster bus, $9 for me and $4 for the bike. The other way it cost $11 for me and $5 for the bike on the big blue bus from David to La Divisa (about 20 miles east of Santiago). My idea of touring isn’t riding the bus either but in this case, I think it is much more important to arrive safely.

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Pedasi Beaches

The southern part of the Azuero Peninsula of Panama is known for the beautiful beaches. Since I was down there visiting my good friend and fellow blogger,  we decided to pick up another friend and blogger and enjoy a visit to some of the beaches in the area. It was a most enjoyable morning with great company, and the scenery was so beautiful. I had a hard time deciding on a reasonable number of pictures to share because I have so many that I like.

It was a short but wonderful visit to Pedasi, and I was happy to see all of my friends. I thought Allison was going to be away but her plans were delayed by a day, so I got to visit with her and her family on Friday evening. She has recently moved to Pedasi with her husband and two daughters. Look for “the Panama Pause” if you are on Facebook. It is interesting to read about their lives with school age children, and their sweet dog Finny.

Saturday afternoon after our beaches outing, we got a bite of lunch and went back to the house to relax and chat. Later in the afternoon I caught up with my friends and other fellow blogger Al and Shelly. They have a growing business offering house and pet sitting, so if you need someone give them a shout. His blog is also a lot of fun, often with a humorous take on some of the things that go on in Panama.

You just never know what will happen when you start writing a blog! Because of my blog and theirs, I have all the good friends mentioned in this post, all living in the same area, and all writing interesting stories about their unique and different lives in Pedasi.

This is the story of my visit to Pedasi (or perhaps just an excuse to post photos :D), but I’m sure it won’t be the last visit with my good friends, nor the last photos of this beautiful area. As you all know from my last post my friends took me to Chitre the next morning where I caught buses back to David. I had a front seat on the bus from Santiago to David, so the next post will be about the construction and road conditions on the Pan-American Highway.

Posted in Exploring Panama, Panama, photography | Tagged , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

Mi Amiga y Su Bici

Kris Cunningham:

This is by my good friend who met me outside of town and got some photos of me arriving.

Originally posted on In Da Campo :

My friend Kris came for a visit over the weekend in a non traditional kind of way, traveling part of the way on her bicicleta.  I rode out to meet her at the edge of town and here is her arrival.  You can read her first post about her trip here.  We were so very glad to see her arrive safely even if it was for a short time…in the campo.

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A Bike Tour to Pedasi

I just returned from my first out of town bike tour to Pedasi, where I visited good friends and a fellow blogger.

Actually, I started on the bus. The very busy Pan-American Highway is under construction between David and Santiago and it is not safe for a cyclist. I took a bus from David to La Divisa (about 20 miles east of Santiago at the road heading south).

My goal the first day was to bike to Chitre (about 25 miles). I got an early start but the 4 hour bus ride landed me at my starting point around noon, so I was biking in the hottest part of the day. The route started out fairly flat but I encountered more and more hills the closer I came to Chitre. By the time I arrived I was tired, sweaty, and thirsty in spite of drinking almost all of my 5 bottles of water. But, I made it and overall, it was a very good ride.

It was hot in Chitre and the hostel was downtown with a lot of street noise. It was also on the second floor so I was very thankful for a young Irish guy who carried my heavy bike upstairs. The good part was I had booked a bunk bed but I was the only one in the room, and the shower was heavenly!

The city noises woke me about 5AM, so I actually had to wait for it to get light enough to set off for my next leg of the trip. This day my goal was to make it to Pedasi, about a 50 miles.

I was very happy with this ride! There were more hills than I expected, some of them challenging. And, even with my early start it didn’t take long to get hot. But, I arrived in Las Tablas (about half way) feeling better than expected so I biked through and stopped for lunch a bit south of town. I wasn’t especially hungry but I ate anyway, and drank two pitchers of water.

I set out after lunch feeling surprisingly refreshed and energetic, and I enjoyed the two lane, quieter, more scenic road. By the time I got close to Pedasi though I was feeling a bit wilted from the heat and the hills. Imagine my delighted surprise when I saw my friend waiting for me on the edge of town to welcome me and ride in together!

It was a great visit in Pedasi. I stayed with my good friends and was able to see many other friends as well. I’ll post more about that later with photos of the area beaches.

On Sunday I was ready to head home but how? It was very windy and I would have been biking over all those hills again, but this time in a strong headwind. Could I make it to Chitre for another night in the noisy downtown hostel? And, when I reached La Divasa how long would I be standing on the highway hoping for a bus with room for both me and my bike? Would I have to bike on to Santiago on the busy highway? My friends convinced me to take them up on their offer of a ride to Chitre where I could catch buses to Santiago and then David.

This turned out to be a very good decision. In Chitre I had to wait for three buses until one arrived with a roof rack for the bike. Then, in Santiago I had to wait about 1 1/2 hour for another bus with a roof rack. But, I made it back without incident (except for a dent in my bike rack).

I learned a lot from my first bike trip. First, and most important, I am up to the riding! I accomplished a 49 mile ride with hills without a problem, and I felt fine and ready to ride again the next day. Biking for a few hours alone is nice, but biking for a couple days alone wasn’t as enjoyable. I would prefer a companion on longer trips. And, a companion would also help if I need someone to watch the bike, or hold it while I rearrange something. (My loaded bike is too heavy for the kick stand.)

What now? I’m ready to plan a longer trip, maybe to Costa Rica or Nicaragua but I’d rather go with an experience bicycle tourist. I don’t find bus travel as enjoyable, especially with a bike so I’d rather head west. Meanwhile I’ll continue biking around here, and working on more strength for the hills. I must make it to Boquete one of these days!

Posted in Exploring Panama, Panama, travel | Tagged , , , , , | 26 Comments

Weekly Photo Challenge: Scale

Weekly Photo Challenge: Scale

Some of the trees here in Panama are massive, on a scale that is unusual in the US. We were out biking yesterday and took a break in the shade of this one.

The tangles and twists of the branches are amazing!

The tangles and twists of the branches are amazing!

More tangles and aerial roots

More tangles and aerial roots

You can get an idea of the scale of this beautiful tree when you see my friend and our bicycles below.

You can get an idea of the scale of this beautiful tree when you see my friend and our bicycles below.

Posted in Panama, Photo Challenge, photography | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Rich? Poor? Perceptions of Money

We are very rich in the things that matter – family, friends, happiness, a good life, and having what we need. But, this post is about money.

We are in an interesting situation here. We are from the USA but there, we are considered poor, not poverty level but close to it. We are too poor to owe taxes. I am poor enough to have subsidized health insurance. We are poor enough to not want to admit to our meager income.

We could not live in the USA without working. To retire there would mean a large drop in our income, and we would have to give up a lot just to survive. And, even if we were willing to work longer, what if one or both of us was unable to work? We knew we needed to find an alternative and that led us here to Panama.

We live in Panama now where we have more money than many of our friends and neighbors, and probably more than a large percentage of the population. We don’t want to discuss our income because it seems like we’re too wealthy. We have enough to cover everything we need, and even some travel and other fun things.

I’ve thought about this many times and I’m actually thankful that we were forced into this move. It has been a wonderful experience beyond any expectations. If we could afford to live comfortably in the USA we probably would have missed out on all of this.

I have thought about this more recently as the deadline to sign up for Obama Care is almost upon us. I have spent most of my adult life without insurance. As an independent contractor I would have had to pay full price out of pocket and it was an impossible amount. Blue Cross actually laughed at me once when I called them for a quote (I weigh more than their height/weight charts limits – talk about a humiliating experience). Even putting me on my husband’s work policy was about equivalent to our mortgage payments. Thankfully I am healthy and have needed next to nothing over the years because a serious illness or accident would have wiped us out. But now, I have coverage for $1/month, $6250 maximum out of pocket per year (which you can run up just walking through the door in an emergency room!). I am so thankful. If I get in a jam and can make it back to the US, I can get care. Thank you Obama.

Money can’t buy happiness, but not having enough for necessities can certainly buy stress, frustration, and unhappiness.  As a home health nurse I saw plenty of that among my senior age patients. We are so lucky to be here where we have a really good life, and we also have enough money to meet our needs.

I still can hardly believe I have health insurance…

Posted in cost of living, expat, medical care, Miscellaneous, Panama | Tagged , , , , , | 51 Comments

Some Scenery and Some Critters

I’ve been up early a few mornings, even early enough to see the sunrise colors! This is out of character for me but I do enjoy seeing the beautiful, cool, calm morning.

We also had rain on Monday and Tuesday! It is dry season now so this was a welcome surprise. We really had a good downpour and soaking on Monday. Afterwards Joel grabbed the camera and got some wonderful shots.

After the rain cleared up, I noticed this fantastic cloud over the neighborhood reflecting the sunset colors.

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What a nice end to a nice day – rain, birds, a new critter, and a beautiful sunset. Life is good in Panama.

Posted in bird watching, photography, sunsets, wildlife | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Boquete and More

Sunday we all set off for another day trip, this time up the Boquete side of the mountain. Since I didn’t make it all the way up on my bike trip with Jérémy, I figured he should at least have an opportunity see this well known area while he was in town. Lauren also wanted to check it out, and Cedo is always up for a day trip. Joel was at the wheel today (thank you Joel).

First we stopped at Los Molinos. This is a residential area on the way up to Boquete, and there is also a nice hotel and restaurant/bar area where expats tend to congregate for various fun activities. What interested me the most though was the view over the huge canyon. It’s hard to photograph to show the real size of the canyon but I can’t resist giving it a try.

After our stop there, we headed up on to Boquete. It was a beautiful day, and they had recently had the Flower and Coffee Festival so the fairgrounds were ablaze with flowers.

After a nice lunch at Mike’s Global, where you can always count on something good to eat, we headed home.

I have really appreciated having Jérémy here for a couple weeks! He has helped me, inspired me, gone riding with me, and taught me a lot. But all good things come to an end at some point. Tuesday morning we rode up the hill again. I stopped a bit short of Los Molinos because I was tired and slowing him down. Even with his bike fully loaded he can easily outbike me! He headed on to the Caldera Road, then across to route 10 which heads over the mountains to Bocas del Toro. (Yes, he made it! He said it was a very very difficult ride though) From there he will cross into Costa Rica, have a reunion with his family and a couple friends, and then he and his friends will be biking back through this area on their way to Colon, the ferry, and South America.

Posted in Exploring the Area, Flowers, Miscellaneous, Panama, photography | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments