In Panama, I discovered, it’s possible to have breakfast on an island in the Caribbean, lunch in the city, and dinner in a deliciously cool mountain retreat. Today, breakfast was on the exotic desert island paradise of San Blas, lunch was a taco bell in hectic Panama City, and dinner was a meat feast in M’s family house in tranquil El Valle….incredible.
After our simple yet delicious breakfast it was time to say goodbye to San Blas. It had been another windy night, and it rained at times too, but today, of all days, the sun was beginning to creep through the clouds and teasingly began to send out a few rays to warm the air and the heart. Our boat across at 8:30am was through a sea far more placid than the previous days. Never mind – the weather had done little to dampen the experience.
A drove us back along the same rollercoaster route, but it was much clearer, and the views as a result more inspiring. We saw a huge project – an eco hotel- being built into the side of one of the hills, a Venezuelan entrepreneur’s project, and further proof that rich Venezuelans, escaping from the outrageous constraints of a Socialist bordering on Communist government , were fuelling the economic growth of this country. For Panama is welcoming growth, whereas Venezuela seems to oppose it.
We reached the city after various scenes of near-death driving experiences – which were clearly getting to A. He spoke of his plan to buy a paintball gun and fire it at errant drivers – he’d researched the possibility and found it didn’t break any laws in Panama so he could get away with it. A good plan in Panama, perhaps, but I imagine doing that in Venezuela – the person you’ve shot would probably pull out a real gun and shoot back.
Veronica had been going on for the last 2 days about Taco Bell. It had been built up so much that it was bound to disappoint. Still, the taco bell drive through was empty, so we didn’t have to wait too long for our food when we reached the madness of the city. We drove back to M’s house and devoured our takeaways, which were OK but predictably not as amazing as Veronica had remembered from her happy days of eating there in the States. As we ate, M’s 2 creepy parrots squawked behind us. They walked menacingly up and down their piece of wood, uncaged. One of them had a penchant for saying ‘Hola’, but in a very camp way, which I found hilarious. The vowels were dragged out and the parrot displayed strong command of intonation. Much better than a parrot in England with their flat ‘Hello.’ As the parrots glared at us with their beady eyes, M’s energetic puppy dog did shuttle sprints up and down the garden and yelped at the parrots, who were clearly quite stressed at the situation. As all this happened conversation around the table was animated despite our lack of sleep. It was a typically chaotic Latin lunch, and I loved every minute of it.
After lunch we bade farewell to A – he’d been brilliant, and I’d really enjoyed chatting to this interesting young chap. He said he’d try to join us in El Valle in the evening. M drove us to pick up JR, who none of us had seen since our first night in Panama.. That first night seemed like ages ago now. JR was in good spirits, and the 4 of us set off to El Valle. We made a fuel stop, a supermarket stop, and then we were off to the mountains. El Valle itself is a town of some 5000 people set in the caldera of an extinct volcano, the largest inhabited volcano crater in the world, and the elevation of 600m makes it a lovely cool place to retreat to. The closer we were to El Valle, the more spectacular the views. Indeed, we were rewarded with some of the most spectacular mountain views I’d seen since Merida, Venezuela. The air was pure, clean, mountain air, and our windows were wound down to let us breathe it in. In only 2 hours we’d driven from the city to this harmonious paradise. After arriving in the small town, Vero and I stopped at an artisans market to buy some paintings, while M and JR headed to the supermarket to buy meat, vegetables and booze. Then we drove to M’s place through well-planned, clean, quiet streets. Everything seemed to have slowed down here. The cars drove at a pedestrian pace, people were cycling and jogging the flat streets, lovely big houses in spacious gardens were in abundance, but not too many so as to spoil the landscapes. The moneyed of Panama City all seem to have a retreat here. JR’s parents, M’s family, and M’s grandparents all had a place here. We pulled into M’s hacienda. It was an incredible setting, small mountain surrounding it. The estate had lovely lawns, and even part of a river which ran through the gardens and had been dammed up in one part to create a natural swimming pool. Aside from the main abode, each sibling had their 2-storey house, in the leafy grounds, each one about as big as my family home in England. M and M’s sister had a house, and A had his own house too. As the 2 maids, who live here in yet another house, began preparing us dinner, I thought that I wouldn’t mind living in a place like this forever. Perhaps that’s my Personal Legend – to strive for something like this, where I could sit and drink tea, play my guitar, have friends and family over for parties in a Panamanian English county house and garden.
We all sat down after a shower and a change to a scrumptious steak dinner washed down with 4 bottles of good red wine from Chile. Then we started on the rum. We chatted and got on like old friends. M had brought her sheesha pipe, and we smoked and drank and chatted and drank and smoked and chatted some more. I couldn’t quite believe that this morning I’d been sat on a beach in the Caribbean, at midday I’d been eating lunch in Panama City, and right now I was drinking rum in M’s mountain retreat in El Valle. Panama is one of those places that delights and enchants you from the start. It doesn’t grow on you, it captivates you instantly, and I was in love with it. What a day.