Casco Antigua, Casco Viejo … it’s an interesting place, not least because it has more than one name. It is the formerly chic quarter, Panama City’s “old town,” that fell to ruins after the new downtown began to be built and the old city walls were taken down (only a small remnant remains). One of the interesting things, as you’ll see, is the way old, often seemingly abandoned buildings, some with squatters included, sit side-by-side with newly renovated, chic hotels and restaurants. It is a neighborhood in transition and the contrasts are stark. It is also full of historic buildings, churches and museums.
We won’t have a gallery for each and every day but this was the first stop on our tour and the first spot of earth we touched outside the US. We didn’t end up staying at the hostel with the murals, but it was groovy.
A couple quick shots of our first leg of travel. More galleries to come soon!
We were very fortunate to be able to spend a month in the Galapagos. We volunteered at a farm called Hacienda Tranquila for the first 3 weeks we were there. The farm is located in the Highlands of San Cristobal island. We had no idea that the Highlands (which are only at about 1500 ft) had such a different climate than the coastal areas of the Galapagos. Is was chilly (down right cold at night) and misty/drizzly every day there. The work was interesting and we learned a lot. But the weather was very hard on us. Some lessons we learned there: – it is very important how you hold and swing a machete; where the blade contacts the object is even more important; and, it would really be nice if someone told you that rather than learning it for yourself; also, if you have a machete, you really don’t need anything else. – no one really needs an oven, you can cook/warm pretty much anything on a gas camp stove (including pizza). – if someone recommends that you wear rubber boots, you should. – bulls are more scared of you than you are of them (even if it doesn’t seem that way). – wires connected to a shower head can make the water warm without electrocuting you. – you can share your space with ginormous spiders once you get used to it. – washing clothes by hand in a bucket sucks! – you have to peel a lot of coffee beans for just one cup. – milking a cow takes real forearm strength. – a little sunshine can be a great gift. – people everywhere are generous and wonderful!
On Saturdays and Sundays, we would head out of the Highlands and explore by hiking and snorkeling. As one would expect, we saw unimaginable wild life. Of course, finches are one of the first things we noticed. The finches in the Galapagos are what sparked Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. On San Cristobal, Sea Lion colonies predominate. They are so common that you really do trip over them if you aren’t looking where you walk. There were tons of baby sea lions who would fall asleep (as did their Moms) while nursing. Baby sea lions sounds remarkably like lambs.
Marine iguanas also dominate the scene on San Cristobal (and the other islands we visited). They are the same color as the lava rocks they hang out on; so, again, if you are walking on lava rocks and aren’t looking, you can step on them. What is really cool about the marine iguanas is that they feed underwater. While doing so, they take in a bunch of salt. While sunning themselves on the lava rocks, they shoot the salt out of their noses. This causes these black/grey lizards to have white salt crusted on their faces and heads. I think it is really beautiful! Equally beautiful and memorable are the red crabs all over the black lava rocks. We also saw the famous Galapagos tortoises, frigate birds, and blue-footed boobies on San Cristobal.
My parents were able to join us for our last week and a half on the Galapagos. We spent a couple of days on Santa Cruz (the most populated island). There, we visited the Charles Darwin Research Center and headed up to the Highlands to see Galapagos Tortoises. The tortoises on each island are distinctly different in size and shell-shape.
Isabela island was our favorite place! The port town is very, very small and laid-back. We saw penguins, pink flamingos, blue-footed boobies, tortoises, and sharks there. Corey, Audrey, and Oliver hiked to the top of an active volcano. Corey and Audrey saw an 8 inch sea horse along with sea turtles, penguins, manta rays, golden rays, and white tipped reef sharks while snorkeling in lava tunnels.
Other than wild-life, we also noticed other unique qualities of the Galapagos. Nothing is very developed. You will not find a McDonalds there. Their idea of “fast food” is made-from-scratch-when-you-order hamburgers, empanadas, and fresh fruit smoothies. While there is an abundance of fresh fruit, vegetables are hard to come by. When eating in restaurants, almost every meal comes with a side of fries AND rice. It is hard to get protein if you are a vegetarian. It is just not easy to get things out to the islands. So, nearly every restaurant is out of something everyday.
Of course, we learned a great deal of science while we were there. When you get a chance, ask Audrey and Oliver about the Cromwell, Humboldt, and Panama currents, how to tell the difference between male and female sea lions, frigates, and blue-footed boobies, shield volcanos, life cycle of Galapagos tortoises, the Nazca tectonic plate (and Nazca boobies), the difference between endemic, native, introduced and invasive species,….the list goes on and on!