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Cartagena and Tayrona NP Colombia and Panama City

January 30, 2016

Winter Trip 2016 Report

January 17 – Chad dropped us off at the Dayton airport at 4:45am and we landed in Cartagena Colombia at 2pm (no change in time zone).

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After checking into our guesthouse, we began to explore the old city by walking the northeast sections of the city wall.  There are over 8 miles of city walls (Las Murallas) and we walked every inch during our stay!  The construction of the city wall began during the 16th century, after a pirate attack by Sir Francis Drake, and was completed in 1796.

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After walking our first section of wall, we started working our way through the maze of the old town.  Cartagena was the main Spanish port on the Caribbean and the major northern gateway into South America.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with cobbled alleys, churches, plazas and balconies covered in flowers.

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Cathedral of Cartagena was begun in 1575 and completed in 1612.  It is officially called the Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica of Saint Catherine of Alexandria and is one of the oldest episcopal sees in the Americas.

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Street art across from cathedral

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Plaza de Bolivar – Simon Bolivar’s troops took the city from the Spaniards in 1821

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Statue of Pedro de Heredia who founded the city in 1533

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After a little bargaining, local crafts were relatively inexpensive

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Helen’s first jewelry purchase of the trip – pearls

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Cheese snack

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Interesting restaurant, we actually ate outside at another across the street – La Cevicheria.  We knew it was a seafood restaurant and ordered Ceviche Douglas thinking it was a kind of seafood platter.  Well, it turns out Ceviche is raw seafood and what we each ordered was a VERY large bowl of raw (seasoned) shrimp!

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January 18 – Our first three and last three nights in Colombia were spent at Casa Marco Polo in the San Diego district of the old city of Cartagena – a privately owned and remodeled Colonial house

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Terrific breakfast included – first great coffee, the fruit plate (some we had never had before) and juice, followed by eggs anyway you would like them (we usually had “everything” omelets) and bread/jam

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Stairs up to our room (one of only three)

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Our room was the one on top, above it was a roof lookout

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We started the morning by walking to Plaza de la Aduana and then up onto the west city wall

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We then went outside the city wall to the Parque de la Marina where there are monuments to the Colombian Navy

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Two of the monuments were particularly interesting to me, the first was one to Colombian Naval heroes

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And the second was a 16th? Century Japanese battleship

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We then continued our walk on the west wall

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Plaza Santa Teresa from wall

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Uh-Oh!!!   This resulted in a 50 kt emerald pendant

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Nice shoes but couldn’t get the right fit

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Fried cheese sticks from Jose became our “go to” snack or small lunch

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Balcony flowers everywhere

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Statue of Fat Woman Reclining in the Plaza de Santo Domingo

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The Palacio de la Inquisicion preserves some of the gruesome details of the Inquisition in Colombia, which started here in 1610.  The crimes were magic, witchcraft and blasphemy and resulted in public executions.  About 800 met with horrific deaths before the trials were ended in 1821 with Colombian Independence.  This is Juan, our English guide.

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One of the outside displays – the gallows!

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A portrait showing an “autos-da-fe” or Inquisition trial with relatives looking on

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“Tools” of the trade – to force confessions!

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Yesterday we got disoriented several times as we walked through the maze of the old town.  Today, we were like old pros!

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“Snake Oil” salesman – actually selling plant flavavoids

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We ate chocolate crepes while watching the sunset at Café del Mar on the northwest corner of the city wall

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Should have bought one or more bags – I can’t believe I just wrote that; no wonder Helen enjoyed this trip so much!

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Hot days (90s) and comfortable evenings

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 Evening snack

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Puerta del Reloj – city gate

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January 19 – Monumento a la India Catalina; statue of Catalina, a Carib woman who served as interpreter to Pedro de Heredia when the Spaniards first arrived.  It is located outside the main entrance to the old city.  I meant to take a front view picture in early evening but never got around to it.

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It was a big day for walking and we started by following the east city wall to Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas – The Fort

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When I first saw this picture, I wasn’t sure who this was!

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Approaching the fort

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Some sticky nourishment on a hot morning

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The fort was begun in 1657 and by 1762 it covered the entire San Lazaro hill.  It was Spain’s greatest fortress and was never taken despite numerous attempts.

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One of a complex system of tunnels

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Approaching the top

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The fort dominates the cityscape and gives great views of the old town

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And new city

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After the fort, we continued our walk on the east and then south old city walls around the Getsemani District

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A “have” house next to a “have little” house

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Walking to the city gate along the Muelle Turistico de los Pagasos

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Male on the left and female on the right

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We continued to the Plaza de Bolivar and toured the Museo del Oro Zenu or Gold Museum

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Small but very interesting collections of gold and pottery of the Zenu people who inhabited the region before the Spaniards – and it was air conditioned!

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Burial urns

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Shared a grilled fish dinner at the Majagua restaurant located on Plaza Fernandez de Madrid and then returned to our room to pack for our trip the next day

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January 20 – Took a taxi to the airport to pick up our rental car and drove to our accommodations just east of Parque National Natural Tayrona on Colombia’s Caribbean north coast.  It took us 7 hrs (2.5 extra hours) due to car rental delays, construction and Google Maps problems getting through Barranquilla.  The route we traveled is one of the few in Colombia that the US State Department states is relatively safe to travel during the day.  Here are a few roadside sites that we experienced along the way.

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Entering Finca Barlovento property, which is located at Playa (beach) Los Naranjos where the Rio (river) Piedras enters the Caribbean.  Caiman are crocodiles that inhabit the river here.

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The following pictures of our amazing guesthouse, Finca Barlovento, were taken over a 3 day period.  View of Finca Barlovento from the west – our accommodations for three nights.  This may be the most scenic location we have ever experienced in that there was natural beauty in EVERY direction!

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Our room was the one on the corner directly behind Helen; the only one ensuite

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The center bottom is the kitchen and the dining area is on the right

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Windows on left looked out on the beach to the north

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Window in center looked east and was right above the point where the Rio Piedras enters the Caribbean

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Note the thatched roof

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Shower view!

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Our balcony

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Lace (wave) on beach and local fisherman (on rock)

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Feathered friend below balcony

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View looking north

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View from water at low tide

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Portuguese Man-of-War (jellyfish)

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Deck

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Breakfast coffee and view to the south

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Breakfast and dinner included

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View of beach and Finca Barlovento (center left) from the south (Tom on rock)

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View from the north

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View west up river – jungle and Sierra Nevada mountains

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January 21 – Karla and Will from our guesthouse joined us for a full day in Tayrona NP.  It was a short drive to the only road entrance to the park at El Zaino.  The park entrance fees are relatively expensive.

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Required park orientation

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You may be checked for alcohol or glass bottles – don’t risk getting shot!

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Will is Australian and Karla is Colombian.  Karla was a great help (Spanish) making our entrance relatively smooth

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Our parking area near Canaveral – these pics were Helen’s idea

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On the trail to Arrecifes, took about 45 minutes

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Arrecifes has nice beaches but you need to be careful of dangerous currents

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Trail mishap – I had my ball cap on and was running to catch up after taking some pictures

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Re-creation of trail mishap – didn’t see the low tree!!!

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Hiked for about ten more minutes to La Aranilla where there was a pretty cove for swimming

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After a short dip, we hiked another 20 minutes to La Piscina

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We decided to by-pass the beaches here and hike another 20 minutes to get to our final destination – Cabo San Juan del Guia

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Leaf cutter ants – after all, this is the jungle!

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Nice boulders

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There is camping, an outside restaurant (ate lunch there) and hammocks for rent

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Here we found the best and therefore most popular beaches in the park

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We could have hired a horse to bring us here – about $10 one-way.  Helen wanted a picture of his stirrups

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The east cove.  The hut in between the coves has two small “rooms” as well as six hammocks that can be rented

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The west cove.  Even though there were more people here than anywhere else in the park, it did not feel crowded

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Here are progressive views from the hut toward the west cove – beautiful!

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It took us about 1.5 hrs to hike straight back to the car – it was a super day in Tayrona National Park

 

January 22 – Spent the entire day enjoying the beaches and environs of Finca Barlovento

January 23 – Started driving after breakfast, stopped at Tayrona NP to buy a park T-shirt and then headed toward Cartagena.  About an hour northeast of the city we stopped to experience the mud bath at Volcan de Lodo El Totumo.  The “volcano” is a conical mud formation about 35 ft high.

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Climbed about 10 ft down a ladder into the center of the “volcano.”  I have seen pictures where the mud is near the top – not sure why we were 10 ft down

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The mud is geothermally warmed and is a comfortable temperature.  I didn’t submerge my head due to the cut I had incurred two days earlier.

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You to pay to go into the volcano, then you were expected to tip the official who took you to the top and did photographs with your camera, the massagers, the fellow who held your clothes, the woman who rinsed you off and then had to pay for the shower you needed to really get the rest (almost) of the mud off.  In total about $24 for both of us.

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Escaping from the volcano

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Helen – a little stinky and view of the road coming toward the volcano and lake

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It was clearly a bonding experience

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Hard on my tender feet

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Heading for a rinse – ouch, ouch, ouch

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Warm water from river

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Shared a fish lunch to celebrate our “born again” dousing

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Dropped the car off at the airport, took a taxi into Cartagena, showered again, and walked to the Plaza de San Pedro Claver for iced coffees.  Beautiful evening, watched a wedding party exit the church with music and dancing.

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It was Saturday and our one-night out in Cartagena.  We went to the Café Havana for snacks, strong rum drinks and a loud live Cuban band – the place was packed!  This is a picture of our new Brazilian friends

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Notice the sharp looking woman with the emerald pendant!

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January 24 – walked to Iglesia de Santo Toribio de Mangrovejo (completed in 1732) for mass but discovered we would have to wait over an hour.

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So we continued to Iglesia de San Pedro Claver.  it is named for the Spanish monk Pedro Claver (1580-1654) who lived and died in the adjacent convent.  He is called the “Apostle of the Blacks” or the “Slave of the Slaves” for spending his life ministering to enslaved people brought from Africa.  He was the first person in the New World to be canonized a saint (1888).  He is buried in a glass coffin (can see his skull) in the Italian marble altar.

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Side altar to the Black Virgin

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Walked the west wall of the city again, more iced coffee and shopping

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Texted this picture to the grandkids –

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Helen wasn’t feeling well, so we went back to the room for the rest of the day.  I went out for some OTC meds and then walked a section of city wall around sunset

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January 25 – took a taxi to the Convento de la Popa – Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas (Fort) is left-center, the Convent is upper right at the top of the hill (about 500 ft elevation)

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Entrance to Convent and Chapel, which was founded in 1607.  On February 2, the Fiesta de Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria, thousands of pilgrims process up the hill to honor Cartagena’s patron saint – La Virgen de la Candelaria.   We missed it by a week.

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Great city views from the top

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Fort is right-center, Old Town is in distance

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Harbor and modern city of Cartagena

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Charming flower-filled patio of Convent

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Practicing hymns

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Representation of pre-Spanish pagans

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Chapel of La Virgen de la Candelaria

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Padre Alonso Garcia de Paredes – murdered along with five soldiers for trying to spread the good word

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Next stop was Mercado Bazurto – Cartegena’s 24 hr central market.  It is a labyrinth of alleyways offering about anything you might desire.

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Did a last visit to the central Old Town in the early afternoon.  I commissioned a silver pinky ring for Helen from Silver Smith Jose Baza (Fabricacion y Reparacion de Joyas).  His little shop is across the street from this statue of Pope John Paul II who visited Cartagena in 1986.  Helen specified style and size and Jose took the measurements.  We picked it up one hour later.

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Returned to our room, rested, packed and then headed outside the north wall for our final sunset in Cartagena

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Celebrating our Colombian adventures with the Ultimate Paella Seafood Platter!!!

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January 26 – Helen’s Birthday!  Unfortunately, our morning Avianca flight to Bogota was a couple of hours late, which meant we had to reschedule the flight from Bogota to Panama City.  Long story short, we arrived at our hotel in Panama City at 1am.  You can fly from Cartagena directly to Panama City in less than an hour but the only airline to fly that route, the Colombian airline COPA, charges almost twice the Cartagena to Bogota to Panama City fare – they know they gotcha!

January 27 – decided to tour Casco Viejo (Old City) on our first day in Panama.  The weather was the same as in Colombia – hot.  We’re not complaining, that’s what we wanted on this trip.  We started by visiting the Panama Canal Museum (Museo del Canal Interoceanico) and then the Catedral Metropolitana (begun 1688, completed 1796).  The bell towers are inlaid with mother-of-pearl.  It was host to the signing of the declaration of independence of Panama from Colombia in 1903.

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Both are located on Plaza de la Independencia

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Ongoing preservation and restoration efforts

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Beautiful baroque altar of Iglesia de San Jose.  According to legend, it was painted black the night before Pirate Henry Morgan’s sack of the city and afterward moved to its current location.

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One of several attractive side altars

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Nuestra Senora del Carmen

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Parque Herrera – General Tomas Herrera on horseback

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Plaza Bolivar with Iglesia de San Francisco in background; we had a nice outdoor lunch, from Restaurante Casablanca, while sitting at the plaza

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Palacio Bolivar, a former convent where a congress of Latin American union was held in 1826.  It is now the Foreign Ministry.

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Craft stalls along the Paseo General Esteban Huertas

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Helen purchased two of her molas

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Helen wanted a picture of the native leg sleeves

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The Plaza de Francia is located on a prominent point right below the French Embassy.  The obelisk topped with a Gallic cockerel is to honor the French for their pioneering attempt to build the Panama Canal.

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Ferdinand de Lesseps – 22,000 workers lost their lives in building the canal!

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Low tide view of Casco Antiguo area of Casco Viejo from Calle 2 Oeste

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Relaxed at the pool of the Country Inn & Suites by Bradford on the Canal in the afternoon and then had dinner at the Bucanero’s Restaurant at the end of the Amador Causeway

 

January 28 – Visited Parque Natural Metropolitana in the morning – tropical America’s only wildlife refuge and forest within city limits (573 acres).  Enjoyed walking the trails but the pollution of the city is having its effects on this national park.

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We walked the Sendero El Roble, Sendero La Cienaguita and Camino del Mono Titi trails – a total of about 2 miles

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The park is noted for its dry forest – during the dry season, the trees drop their leaves

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Can you see the spider?

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Lots of interesting trees

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This is a grape palm

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Sign for Mirador or “Lookout point” – highpoint of park, about 500 ft elevation

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Also known as Cedar Hill

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The park is known as the “Lung of Panama City’

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Looking for sloths

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We saw two three toed sloths

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Pond/wet area

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A good parting thought – “The Earth is Our Home”

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We started our afternoon by walking to the impressive Biomuseo, which opened in 2014.  It is multicolored-shaped and meant to represent the branches and leaves of a tree and the forces of nature.  Panama hopes it will become a symbol of the city, much like the Opera House in Sydney.

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The museum has eight multimedia exhibition halls showcasing Panama’s tremendous biodiversity.  It also does an excellent job of covering Panama’s history in Spanish and English.  It is surrounded by a “biopark” showcasing Panama’s flora.  We highly recommend a visit!

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Our Country’s Pillars – monument “Pilares de la Patria” was erected by Bladex Bank

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We rented bikes nearby and cycled across the Amador Causeway to the Punta Culebra Nature Center.  The Causeway extends three miles to the islands of Naos, Culebra, Perico and Flamenco.  It was built with rock from digging the Panama Canal and protects its Pacific entrance.  The Nature Center has indoor and outdoor exhibits featuring some of the tropical biodiversity of Panama.  It is run by the Smithsonian Institute.

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Downtown Panama City from end of Amador Causeway

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Bridge of the Americas – entrance to Panama Canal from Pacific Ocean

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Freighter exiting the Panama Canal – taken near our hotel

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January 29 – I have always had a fascination with ships/boats and have wanted to experience the Panama Canal since I was a young boy.  Today was the day – we did a “partial transit” with Panama Marine Adventures on the Pacific Queen.

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We entered the canal from the Pacific end.  Our boat was paired with this one, the TORM ARAWA as we proceeded through the locks

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Ocean Tug boat

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Biomuseo from the canal

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Country Inn & Suites – our hotel on the canal

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This is a MAERSK line container ship that was actually too large to go through the canal.  The containers were off-loaded onto a train and taken by rail to the Atlantic side of the canal and re-loaded onto another ship.  They are building another parallel canal that will accommodate larger ships.

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This is the Port of Balboa where the MAERSK and other ships were docked

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Following the TORM toward the first lock – MAERSK is docked in center of pic

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Approaching the Miraflores Locks

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The TORM is going into the left lock, another ship is already up in the right lock

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The White side of lighthouse is visible to ships entering the Miraflores Locks from the Pacific but the black side is not visible to ships exiting the locks toward the Pacific

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Canal Tug

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There are three sets of locks on the canal.  Locks are 110 feet wide and 1,000 feet long.  Some ships have been built to fit exactly into the locks.  They are called PanaMax and are 106 at the beam and 950 feet long.

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The TORM appeared to be the maximum width but not length, so our boat could fit behind it

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Lock gates closing

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Going Up!  Mules attached by cables left and right keep boat in center of lock

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Looking back, lock full

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The boat moves forward under its own power.  Miraflores Locks Visitor Center is center right

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Entering the second lock.  The two locks raise a boat from 43 to 65 feet (average 54 feet) depending on the tides of the Pacific Ocean

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Double gates here for safety

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In case boat in first lock hits first gate

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Two spectators

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After exiting the second lock we sailed about a mile on Miraflores Lake to the Pedro Miguel Lock

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The Pedro Miguel Lock lifts boats an additional 31 feet to the level of Lake Gatun

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Mule on the left – ships proceeding toward the Atlantic next pass under the Centennial Bridge.  The Canal runs Northwesterly to Southeasterly.  The Atlantic entrance is about 27 miles further west than the Pacific entrance – a good trivia question!

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Beyond the bridge is the Culebra or Galliard Cut – through the Continental Divide.  The French spent 20 years trying to build the Panama Canal (1879-1899).  A 1903 treaty allowed the US to purchase rights and properties from the French.  The US also purchased properties from private landholders.  Construction started in 1904 and was completed in 1914 at a total US cost of about 387 million dollars.  The 1977 Torrijos-Carter Treaties turned the canal over to Panama.

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Passing the Emerald Star

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Looking back at the Centennial Bridge, ships moving toward the Pacific Ocean.  Note the channel markers

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The Panama Canal is only about 51 miles long – I thought it was longer.  It takes 6 to 8 hours for a ship to pass through

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Cost of passage depends on vessel type, size and cargo.  In 2010 a cruise ship paid $375,600.  The average toll is $54,000.  The lowest toll paid was 36 cents by an American who swam the canal in 1928.

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The Mermaid Ace is a Panamanian vehicle carrier.  It is 107 feet wide and 656 feet long

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Panamanian prison that houses Manuel Noriega, former military dictator of Panama

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Entering Port of Gamboa

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Our cruise ended here and we were taken by bus back to our hotel.  Had we continued through the canal, we would have sailed onto Lake Gatun and then passed through the Gatun locks, which would have dropped us 85 feet to the level of the Atlantic Ocean.

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Had dinner at the Balboa Yacht Club on the canal.

We left the hotel at 5am the next day, flew to Miami and on to San Juan Puerto Rico.

 

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