We started today (Monday) in Panama City. We needed to pack up, grab breakfast, go buy a Panama cell phone (it is a crazy feeling to NOT have a cell phone!), and get out of the city by 9am. We had a long drive to our first holiday location. We actually managed to get out of town by 10, which by Panamanian timing is probably pretty good. We easily found our way out of town (we are so proud of ourselves – we feel that we have figured out how to navigate the city!). We went over the Panama Canal via the Bridge of the Americas and headed out. We spent about 3 hours traveling from PC over the Panamerican Highway, which is a terrific 4 lane “interstate” divided highway. Along the way, Mike and I switched drivers so I could give him a break – after all, we knew where we were going and the guide could drive for a while. We then turned off onto Highway 3 at Divisa, to head to the Pedasi area on the Azuero Peninsula. We didn’t miss any turns or get lost during this entire part of the trip. 🙂
The drive to Pedasi (our destination) should be about an hour, but it is definitely NOT a highway – it is a 2 lane country road. The government is widening the road to a 4-lane highway which will be great in 2 years (the deadline), but right now it abounds with road crews, one-way sections of road, huge equipment, cars trying to travel fast (us) and cars & trucks creeping along in no hurry whatsoever (the other 95%). The countryside is scenic – it is VERY green and has rolling hills filled with trees, cows, grass, cows. And more cows and some horses. We were rocking along, listening to music that Gary (Greenwood) had recorded for us, enjoying vacation. We knew exactly how to get to Pedasi, and so we let our guard down. We entered the town of Chitre, which is apparently the 3rd largest city in the country. We did not know that and were NOT prepared (1 strike against the planner of this trip). So, I was driving, and we were short a navigator. We suddenly found ourselves in the midst of the city square and blocks and blocks of a market filled with people very busily Christmas shopping. Merchandise was spilling onto the streets, which magically became 1-way streets! Aaaarrrggghhhh! We immediately became completely disoriented, Mike got extremely stressed (because I was driving) and I did deep breathing exercises to not hyperventilate. After we found ourselves deep into a residential neighborhood, we found a place to stop (actually in the middle of the street), and the primary driver/navigator team returned to control of the vehicle. We went in circles, our voices grew louder, and our heartbeats certainly accelerated as we saw the same shops (and toys) multiple times. We drew deep breaths and finally found our way back to the road we came in on – we tried to find where we missed our turn. I saw a Thrifty car rental place and we screeched a U-turn (boy, Mike is getting GOOD at this traffic!) and went for help. The guy at Thrifty couldn’t speak a word of English, but called his buddy to talk to us – after the call he drew us a map of the route. We basically followed the route and successfully made it through town. (We later found out that there is a bypass but you have to know!)
So, down to the last hour or so. How difficult can that be? We made it to Las Tablas, and thankfully had a simple route through the very attractive town. We made it to Pedasi, which is very small and quiet, and headed on through. At Limon, we turned down a small road to trek to our B&B. After a couple of miles, we turned down a road which informed us that we had 7KM to the B&B – and the road was unpaved. Folks, we are at the end of the rainy season, and the roads have not been graded for the dry season. To put it mildly, our little Thrifty rental car was probably not the right car, but hey, no choice! The last .7KM was really wild – I wasn’t sure we wouldn’t slide backwards in several places, much of the road and several bridgers were 1-lane, and many 4-wheel drive vehicles were flying through the road, coming at us! I told Mike that I could NOT wait to get to the bar to get a drink. He said “just give me the BOTTLE!”
We reached our hotel safely, the Hotel Villa Romana. It is absolutely beautiful, and sits on a cliff overlooking the blue Pacific Ocean. We were shown to our beautiful casita (all rooms are individual casitas), and headed to the bar. We had great drinks, got to know our host (Hans), took pictures, enjoyed the view, unpacked and settled in, and closed out the evening with an amazing dinner overlooking the ocean. After much discussion about the total lunar eclipse occurring overnight (I told everyone about it), Mike and I agreed to meet Hans outside at 2:15 am to see the event. I think we bid one another goodnight clearly not believing the other party would show up, but we were determined (well, at least I was!!) to see the eclipse. After all, it would be the first total lunar eclipse to occur on the day of the Northern Winter Solstice since 1638!