Panama for the holidays to join high octane CEO daughter Emily Doubilet for Xmas, my birthday and New Year’s another mother/daughter adventure planned and arranged by Emily. It is the best possible gift for a big birthday–I don’t have to make one plan or phone-call! Emily alighted in Panama City last winter for 3 months to work and escape the cold. A communal scene here with other mobile young entrepreneurs, shared office space & living quarters all made possible by the internet: business can be conducted wherever there is wifi. What a life, what a world!
Parts of Casco Viejo in Panama City are like a tropical Williamsburg, Brooklyn–renovated old buildings beautiful old architecture– turned into hip cool hotels, clubs, bars, apartments alongside rundown, crumbling buildings. Construction is everywhere. Across the water from the old city is a skyline of skyscrapers rising along the shoreline like a 21st century shock: there is alot of ex-pat money invested here in the hot humidity. Flying into PC @ night many ships many dots of light line the ocean waiting to go through the Panama Canal.
Emily has rented an apartment in Casco Viejo from Casa Sucre Boutique Hotel for our first few nights in PC a bright yellow newly renovated old building on the harbor with a wrap around terrace just up the street from her apartment. Although the hot city is Xmas empty, fireworks go all night long on Xmas eve and loud music blasts through the streets: the city is so noisy & sleep impossible! We walk through some old town squares Plaza Bolivar & Plaza Cathedral– morning & evening not during high afternoon heat, past beautiful crumbling and transforming colonial architecture looks like pictures of Havana. Beautiful walkway along el Paseo las Bovedas in Casco Antiguo at dusk along the harbor.
After many hassles/plans A & B, we settle on an itinerary based on availability due to Xmas booked out: 4 nights @ Hacienda del Mar in Islas de las Perlas (we need immediate fix high-end beautiful ocean resort); then 2 nights in mountain village spa & natural mineral springs of El Valle; then 2 nights over New Year’s with a bunch of Emily’s peer group organized in the San Blas islands.
Hacienda del Mar is the only resort on San Jose in the Pearl Islands and because the big plane overbooked on Xmas day we go on a 6-seater with 2 other passengers and an overflow of luggage. The landing strip a grass swath cut in the lush undergrowth and the airport is a little wooden hut. But we are in tropical wilderness from the city door to door within 2 hours. Turquoise & yellow macaws squawking raucously let us know who truly owns the island. Snorkeling in the warm waters off a gorgeous beach after a delicious lunch of grilled fresh red snapper and fresh lobster salad. Nothing feels as good as swimming in a warm sea.
Right now it is a pouring morning rain. And the unrelenting humidity and mucho SAND FLEAS remove the high-end index. Paradise? A season of Survivor was filmed here and I can see why! Early morning snorkel over sandy rippled bottom and dappling light rays zen-like. A surprisingly wonderful dive around Monkey Head Rock swirling big schools of big Pacific fish snappers & jacks; torpedo-like silvery dorados zoom around. I wonder if there are any green morays and then we see one grinning and disappearing into the rock under-hang. Then I wonder if we’ll see any sharks and a big grey nurse swims by quickly. First time Fernando my dive master has seen one there. Am I shark bait? Big langostas waving their antennae as we peer into rock crevices. The bottom littered with empty clamshells & langosta carapaces much feeding and activity going on. I spot a very big scorpion fish camouflaged perfectly as a sandy rock; Fernando sees a giant Goliath grouper in a cave. Big Pacific big fish.
On the plane over one of the two other passengers is wonderful Ingmar Herrera, a Panamanian sound engineer and musician on personal holiday. Named after Ingmar Bergman by his father who loves Bergman films(!), Ingmar (karma-ly!) works on film and TV shoots (he worked on Survivor). On the plane back to PC a lovely 30-minute flight over glistening ocean and softly hazy air just Em & I fly again over the Panama Canal and the endless line of ships waiting to pass through from the Pacific to the Atlantic or vice versa. Our driver meets us for 2-hour drive to El Valle from heat & humidity to cool, mountain breezes. The road into El Valle off the highway twists & hairpin turns like a giant snake.
Los Mandarinos Hotel & Spa is a beautiful Tuscan style hotel where we take advantage of the spa with hot rock geothermal massages, steam room & Jacuzzi. Casa Lordes right next door is a first class restaurant where we end up dining both nights as so delicious! A trip into town for the natural hot springs where everyone goes to apply mud masks men, women, children all walking around like New Guinea mudmen! Our skin is rejuvenated by this mud facial. The Sunday market in El Valle is brightly colored with crafts and locally grown veggies & fruits.
Our driver takes us back to PC where another driver picks us up at Emily’s apartment at Casa Malecon on el Terreplen near el Mercado de Mariscos (fish market right next to the public pier) and starts our adventure to the San Blas Islands. A 2.5-hour drive turns into 5 hours as we weave through New Year’s Eve day traffic to pick up 5 other passengers (Kuna Indians) and some cases of beer. Quite a tour of traffic choked PC. But finally we turn left off the highway to hit the unbelievable road–what an engineering feat!– to the Kuna Yala, the San Blas Islands snaking through rain forest and gyrating up and down mountains for an hour.
New Year&’s Eve on Needle Island: a group of young social entrepreneurs put together by PJ (Peter Yesawich, Director) and Katie Garstin all with something to offer and not knowing each other bond and drink and carouse and swim and have fun! And talk the high-speed talk of media connected savvy young Type-A’s. Davies, a Kuna Indian, owns the island camp where some sleep in tents and some like Em & me get to sleep in a “private” bamboo hut with thatched roof and sand floor. Shower & toilet seldom work so we use the public ones. But our cabin is placed in a most beautiful private spot amidst dancing palm trees and blowing breezes and whitecaps breaking on the reef just steps from our open doorway. What a place to start 2013!
The breezes actually increase to constant winds for our whole 2 days but it is a most soothing and beautiful presence. I wish I could bottle up that wind in the palm trees and sounds of the ocean to open at will home on my NYC terrace. I purchase 2 beautiful molas on Needle Island aptly named because it’s known for intricate stitching and good quality molas with several layers of fabric. Leaving San Blas is hot & sweaty in the required life vests as the sun finally comes out and the water taxi to the port island is loaded with about 20 of us so it chugs slowly through the wavy sea. We load into cars for the drive back to PC the incredible road like a roller coaster–driving skill required– through the rich rain forest but this time rocking out to reggae in Spanish! So fun with EVERYONE in our car including Andrew Horn, the identical twins Miki Agrawal founder of Slice (organic pizza) and Radha Agrawal.The ac quits for awhile much to the young driver’s dismay for his brand new Toyota 4 wheel drive but cuts back in after we get back on the main highway an hour later.
My final night at the Trump Hotel and Ocean Club in the Oz-like high-rise line on PC’s horizon is a one-night stay in luxury. Towering over the coastline surrounded by shanties topped with satellite dishes is a one-night stand in air-conditioned marble opulence. The infinity pool on the 13th floor looks over a sparkling Pacific and the open glass elevators to my room on the 28th floor provide an aerial view of this high-end skyscraper neighborhood. A vertical urban trip –such contrast to the thatched hut with sand floors. A late afternoon swim followed by an early next morning swim in the infinity pool is deliciously surreal. Now winging back to freezing NYC. THANK YOU darling Emily for a Panamanian zoom around showing how much this country has to experience. What a memorable birthday gift–we sure laid down some exciting new history!!
See my movie PANAMANIA!
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