Saturday, February 14, 2009

Back to Reality

Heading Home!

All good things seemingly must come to an end. As we leave Panama the weather forecast in Chelan is for snow this week. We may not have timed this vacation in Panama quite right. Maybe another two weeks would have kept us basking in the pool rather than in possible snow drifts. In any case, I hope the articles of the blog have been of interest and maybe cheered you up in whatever cold clime you may be in. If you are just arriving at this travel blog, a quick index tutorial is that 2007 was our winter sojourn in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico; 2008 was both islands of New Zealand with short breaks in Fiji and Tahiti, and this year of 2009 our adventure were in Panama. Please enjoy the 15,000 words of scintillating description and several hundred photos on the blog and in the web album.

A Lot of Time Off The Bench

By Judge Thomas C. Warren (Ret.}
Chelan, WA (or somewhere in the world)

The Panama Adventure – Part I

Our travel addiction does have some structure to it. Prior to retirement we decided that we did not want to go the same place each year, nor be tied into a condo in Arizona, or a time-share in Mexico. Our plan was to go to a different country each winter, preferably to a location where the average temperature was not 30 degrees Fahrenheit, like it seemingly is in Chelan during January and February.

Our requirements for a destination condo have been pretty simple. We require a washer-dryer, a safe location (within reason!), a kitchen, a second bedroom so our friends can visit, a neighborhood with a lot of restaurants and things to do, and of course high speed internet access. So far we have been doing pretty well. In 2007 we totally enjoyed San Miguel de Allende, Mexico; in 2008 we travelled and stayed all over both islands of New Zealand; and in 2009 we have had a lot of fun in Panama City, Panama, a country we had never visited before. Who knows what the future will bring? Do you have a suggestion for our destination next year? If so, send me an email ( with your suggestion.

So, why did we select Panama this year? During the summer and fall planning time, I was somewhat concerned with the strength of the dollar versus the euro and the British pound. Little did I anticipate that the dollar would make great gains (or did they come down to the weak dollar) against both currencies because of the worldwide economic downturn. Panama, although its official currency is the Balboa, actually operates on the U.S. dollar. Panama looked like it would have lots to do, with the growth of Panama City, the canal, and its history. The country is considered the safest in Central America and is touted as having no more of a crime problem than the United States. Panama was picked by Budget Travel Magazine as one of the top 10 travel destinations for 2009. Two bonus factors in our decision were that we could fly here with Alaska Airlines partner frequent flyer miles, and it is warm, warm, and hot!

We were delighted to find a very comfortable condo in the El Cangrejo neighborhood of downtown Panama City. This year I used a website called VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner). This site is great for finding short or long term apartment and condo rentals all over the world including the United States. The web pages generally give you the price of the rental and a calendar to check on availability. You deal directly, either by phone or email, with the actual owner of the unit. Our owner lives in Silver Springs, Maryland and was very helpful with local suggestions, and the bonus of Enrique, who keeps track of the property and provides airport pickup and departure service.

Our condo was a two bedroom, three bathroom unit on the 16th floor of a brand new high-rise in a neighborhood with a tree lined boulevard, a nearby park and many of the top rated restaurants in Panama City. The building has a swimming pool on the roof (23rd floor) and it has been fun to watch people and furniture moving in as the building has been filling up. You can look at photos and details of Unit 16A by going to the VRBO webpage at:

In Part II of the Panama Adventure, I will tell you about what we thought were the Top 10 things we enjoyed in our months’ stay in Panama City. For an in depth look at our vacation in Panama check out my travel blog at,

For those of you who just like to look at the pictures, Mary Ann has put together a web album on the internet, which I am sure that you will enjoy. It can be found and viewed at:
You can view it as a slide show by clicking “slide show” just below the bold Panama Web Album 2009.

© Thomas C. Warren 2009

A Lot of Time Off The Bench

By Judge Thomas C. Warren (Ret.)
Chelan, WA (or somewhere in the world)

The Panama Adventure – Part II

In my last travel article (expose’) I discussed how we selected Panama and found our condo. We spent 30 days in Panama and so we explored a lot of things, mostly in or near Panama City. We did not do the ecology tourist “thing” and head for the jungle or the outlying islands. Maybe if we had a better experience with driving we would have gone further afield. In any case it was, as any new country experience can be, a wonderful discovery of a different life style and culture. You can get an in depth feel for our “discovery” by reading the travel blog which is cited at the end of this article. As a brief snapshot of what we enjoyed and discovered the following are our “top 10” Panama experiences:

(1) The Canal, the Canal, the Canal: Whenever you think about Panama, the first thing that clicks into your mind is the canal. The same happens in Panama. It is such an integral part of life here (and for tourists) that it is about the first thing you do when visiting. We visited the locks or the canal four times while here for our 30 days. And it is a great spectacle which kind of mesmerizes you as you view the activity. The tourist authorities here justifiably call it the 8th wonder of the world.

(2) Casco Viejo: I have not been to Havana, but I suspect that Casco Viejo might be similar. Old Spanish buildings, narrow streets, classic old homes and a lot of ambience make visiting a must. Because of the native craft shopping opportunities for the “world’s greatest shopper” we visited the old town four times, the last time just to get those once in a life time family gifts.

(3) Panama ViejoBold: Although the first Panama is in a state of ruins, the clean up and restoration of several of the buildings has been a first class archeological effort. The site and the museum give you a good perspective on the founding of modern Panama (1519) and the life of the conquistadors. Visiting Panama Viejo sets you up very well for enjoying the second city of Casco Viejo.

(4) Zoom, zoom criss-crossing Panama City by taxi: After we aborted the idea of a rental car, due to the chaos of driving with out stop lights, stop signs, and street signs, we became daily users of the thousands of taxies here in Panama City. Depending on the time of day, the zoom-zoom can become crawl-crawl which just makes it a challenge for the taxi drivers to find a quicker back street. Rarely did a cab fare exceed $5, unless you were headed to the airport or to the Miraflores locks on the canal.

(5) Restaurants: In the downtown areas where most of the gringos are staying, including us you can hardly walk a hundred feet without another restaurant or café. We probably ate at 30 or more different places and had a lot of fun doing it. Native Panamanian dishes are a bit suspect, but like all over the world Italian food is a hit, and we ate in at least four or five different pasta or pizza places. Do you want Mexican, no problem? Steaks or international cuisine, there are many options. If you see photos of us on the blog or web album, you can be assured we have not lost any weight!

(6) Relaxing at the condo: So what is a vacation for? If you are staying in a comfortable new condo on the 16th floor of a new building with fantastic views, you should spend time there. Besides I need a lot of time for writing or surfing the net, and Mary Ann has books to read!

(7) Walking our neighborhood: I don’t think you could stay in a better neighborhood than El Cangrejo. Via Argentina is as good as it gets with a tree lined median, a lot of restaurants and businesses, a public park, and beautiful Panamanians around all the time. Just a short walk to the west is the hotel district and one block to the south is Via Espana, one of the major cross town thoroughfares. We walk somewhere in the area every day and there is always something new and fun to see.

(8) Enjoying the culture: As you can tell, if you read my travel blog, I try to view how different people live. I thoroughly love trying to figure out their politics, read their news, watch and enjoy the children and the handsome men and beautiful women. For someone who likes to cultivate his skills of observation, maybe it will even improve my skills of description.

(9) Isla Taboga: It was fun and a change of pace to take the daytrip to the island south of the city in the Pacific Ocean. We had a kick laughing about our problems of finding a Panama beach. This venture also was neat as we met and talked with a lot of other travelers and learned their perspective on the “Panama Experience”. Taboga is a beautiful pristine island and lives up to their slogan of Island of Flowers.

(10) A beautiful modern city: This city is just exploding with new buildings and they all seem to be going straight up. The city itself is not really very large, but it sure is increasing their density. When you view the skyline, from any direction, it is hard to believe that it isn’t just a mirage. I suspect that the same feeling comes from viewing Dubai. Hmmm, maybe we should check that out next.

For a more in-depth look at our vacation and adventure in Panama check out my travel blog at, If you just like to look at the pictures, Mary Ann, with her love of children and flowers, has put together an excellent web album on the internet that can be found at: You can view it as a “slide show” by clicking “slide show” just below the bold Panama Web Album 2009.

© Thomas C. Warren 2009

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