Friday, February 6, 2009

Hurrah! We Found a Beach.

This time though, we went by water which I think really increases the odds. About 12 miles south of Panama City in the Bay of Panama are several islands, one of which is the Isla Taboga. It is a gem of a destination with one little town, few cars (only delivery trucks) and golf carts to wander the streets, which are really just sidewalks. There is a daily ferry which on the weekends goes to and fro three times, so you can easily decide how much beach time, or walking time, or eating time you want to spend. The ferry leaves from Isla Noa on the Amador Causeway.

The ride just costs $11 round trip for the 45 minutes and can handle about 150 people on the Calypso Queen. When you buy your ticket they also require you to select the time and day of your return, so no one gets disappointed about not being able to return to Panama City. On the way over we had a delightful talk with a U.S. Naval captain from Washington, D.C. who has been to Panama many times. I started the conversation because he was wearing a University of Virginia logo t-shirt that just shoes the two color V, so he was pretty surprised someone recognized it. Visiting Amanda in Charlottesville all those times was good for something. To complete the family connection he had gotten his graduate degree from William and Mary. In all his time in Panama he had never before been to Taboga. Now you know how the travelling Warren’s are on the leading edge of adventure travel!

A real saving grace for the day was that it was overcast, so the temperatures were pleasant and I think the daily temperature was in the mid-80’s. We did have a 10 minute shower around lunch time. The ferry cruises in an out of all the freighters waiting in the Bay for their transit of the Canal. At anchor was a large cruise ship that was disgorging its passengers for day trips to Panama City venues. A tip off was that when our taxi entered onto the causeway about 9:30 a.m., the large air conditioned buses were headed down the causeway from Flamenco Marina.
Taboga is a very nice day trip for the tourists, and the native Panamanians. The locals are carrying their coolers, food bags, and all the stuff you need for a grand day on the beach. When you get off the boat you are greeted by beach umbrella rental salesmen, all gesturing with their arms like they are singing the YMCA song. It must be an easy to understand universal language. If you are staying at one of the two or three hotels you are greeted by a pickup or golf cart that hauls you and your stuff down the sidewalks.

The town, San Pedro, is spread out above the beach and can’t stretch for more than a mile. We walk all the paved sidewalks to the end of town and out to the beaches. It is very charming and they have some nicely designed new homes. We bumped into a nice lady from Baltimore who now lives in Taboga. She said she can’t stand the cold of the north, and when it gets down to 50 degrees, she is soaking up the Panama heat on the island. The island natives seemed very laid back, smiling and in no rush. There were some workmen pouring concrete on the Promenade and I suspect that they will finish sometime around Saint Patrick’s Day. All counted, I think that there are less than 1000 people living in Taboga.

We were not planning to swim, so in our setting of priorities, we searched out a nice place for a leisurely lunch. By luck we ended up at the Vereda Tropical Hotel, which is the top rated restaurant by Fodor’s. At the next table was another gringo couple which I had spoken with on the boat. They were from Dubuque, Iowa and had been in Panama since mid-December, mostly in the northern island areas and eco areas of the Panama states near Costa Rica. Surprisingly, he just retired as a trial judge. Small world! Lunch was great, with the breezes off the Pacific and the views of the harbor.

When we got back to the pier (there is only one so it is hard to get confused), we sat in the shade read or talked and waited for the boat in a very relaxed attitude. We met a guy from Toronto who had been on extended travels. My harem of ladies is still panting about this very handsome guy. He could have been Bret Farve’s brother. I was also talked to by a young Panamanian about how to get into the package tour business. I of course gave him suggestions, worth all of the price of the advice. On the returning boat all the local teenagers were all hyped up singing, dancing and playing around with there digital cameras. Like kids everywhere! It was a great day and a very nice inexpensive day trip.

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