Sixteen Days In Central America - dswphoto
Day 13.

A quick breakfast at the hotel restaurant before I headed out again for some more exploring.


And back at Atlantic Railroad Station to meet up with my guide, Mateo.


Instead of heading east to Cartago we would instead head west to the town of Heredia.


And with Mateo in Heredia after the 30 minute train ride from San José.


Outside Mercado Municipal de Heredia in the centre of town.


First opened in 1889 it was a maze of sodas, shops, supplies, jewellery, beauty salons, barber shops and other goods and services for sale.


Sitting down for a breakfast of tortilla de queso, a typical Costa Rican way to start the day.


Inside Iglesia de la Inmaculada that was built in 1806.


And one of the twenty beautiful stained glass windows which were made and imported from France.


Historic photographs of Heredia at Casa de la Cultura Alfredo González Flores, named after the President of Costa Rica from 1914 to 1917 and who was born and died in Heredia.


School students outside their school as we walked through the town streets.


Coca-cola.


And about to catch the bus to the Café Britt coffee tour.


Café Britt was founded in 1985 by American Steve Aronson as a gourmet coffee roaster and now produces more than 200,000 bags of organic coffee a year, 80% of which is sold in Costa Rica.

Today we would be attending their coffee tour situated on the outskirts of Heredia.


This coffee tour was quite a bit different than the ones I had done in Colombia and Guatemala where the farmer led us around his finca. Here the guides while being knowledgeable were professional actors / comedians / entertainers dressed up as coffee farmers and presented the coffee production process with both polished humour and flair.


A lady from Mexico being roped in to demonstrate how to wear the basket for coffee fruit picking.


Walking around the small coffee plantation where we got to sample some both light and dark roasted coffees on the way.


And the onsite industrial-scale roasting and packaging plant.


Enjoying a typical Costa Rican almuerzo of Casado after the humourous coffee tour. Casado is Spanish for "married man" and comes from when wives would pack their husbands a lunch in a banana leaf when they left to go work in the fields.


And buying a bag of the Tarrazu Montecielo to take home before heading back to San José.


Back in the city where I thanked Mateo for the interesting tour of Heredia before heading out for a wander through the streets.


Aguacates a la venta.


Ladies dining at a soda in San José Central Market.


Timeout.


Securidad.


Selfie.


Juntos.


Íntimo.


El Social.


And a tasty dinner of comidas típicas de Costa Rica with a glass of coke at Restaurante Nuestra Tierra at the end of day 14.



Day 14.

After a decent hotel breakfast including plenty of bacon and a chocolate donut I checked out and caught an Uber to Juan Santamaría International Airport.


And checked into my flight on Copa Airlines.


Airside with my boarding pass to Panama City. I had some Costa Rican colóns left so bought a few souvenirs to take back home.


Looking down on the main terminal soon after takeoff.


And the city of Cartago below and the the summit of Volcán Irazú still shrouded in cloud.


Turkey pastry and orange juice served on the 75 minute flight.


The deep blue waters as we fly over the Caribbean Sea.


Panama City coming into view as we circle and descend into Tocumen International Airport.


And stamped into my sixth country in two weeks. I then collected my bag and caught a taxi into town for $35.


My room at Hotel Magnolia Inn in Casco Viejo (Old Quarter) for my planned two (but ended up being three) nights in Panama City.


I then headed out to explore Casco Viejo.


A panoramic view from above with Casco Viejo centre and the Cinta Costera Viaduct to the right.


Up until a few years ago Casco Viejo was a no-go zone in Panama City, being controlled by gangs, was rife with violence and filled with squatters. After much effort by the government it is gradually being restored and with Police seemingly on every corner to keep visitors safe.

And the Dubai-esque skyline of the city in the background.


Plaza de Francia to the bottom-right.


Cinta Costera Viaduct making landfall next to Mercado de Mariscos, the city fish market.


Looking south with Amador Causeway connecting the small islands of Naos, Perico, Culebra and Flamenco to the city in background.


The Cinta Costera (translation means literally ‘coastal tape’) Viaduct was built in 2009 to divert traffic around Casco Viejo.


The islands of Naos, Perico, Culebra and Flamenco were connected by a land bridge in 1913 to mainland that was built from rocks from the excavation of the Culebra Cut during construction of the Panama Canal.


A barge, ferry and tugboat tied up together below in Panama Bay.


Walking back to Casco Viejo through the neighbouring barrio of El Chorrillo.


Calidad en Cervezas.


And back in Casco Viejo where I stopped at Lumaca Café for some mid-afternoon coffee and cake.


At the ruins of Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús. Built in 1747, it caught fire in 1781 and was further damaged by earthquake in 1882.


And the sleepy resident cat at the front gates.


Indigenous women walking the streets of the Old Quarter.


After resting at the hotel for a bit I went out in the late-afternoon to check out the Panama City skyline. The 67 story skyscraper called The Point to the left.


70 stories tall and the tallest building in Central America, the JW Marriott Panama, peaking out above the surrounding buildings. Formerly the Trump International Hotel & Tower, it was managed by the Trump Organisation until being forced out in March 2018 after much shouting and shoving.


The manmade West and East islands nearby, still waiting to be properly developed.


The sun beginning to set with The Point apartment building just to the right. Completed in 2011, it was the tallest building in Latin America at the time.


Dusk beginning to fall with the sun now below the horizon.


And the Monumento De La Bandera De Panamá flapping in the evening breeze.


Blue hour with the city beginning to light up.


The five star Hilton Panama accented with bright pink lighting.


The busy Pan-American Highway lit up with cars and buses.


After coming from San José it was quite striking to see a city that looked closer to that of Dubai.


Forbes magazine has also famously called the city 'Monaco With Bananas'.


For dinner I headed to Nómada Eatery on Calle Pablo Arosemena in Casco Viejo.


And enjoying the delicous Panama Burger with angus beef, local farmers cheese, fried egg, chili pepper jam along with sweet potato fries at the end of day 14.



Day 15.

After getting up before dawn I caught an Uber to the Taboga Express Fast Ferry departure point on Isla Flamenco via the Amador Causeway. The Uber driver managed to take a wrong turn however and we ended up crossing the Bridge Of The Americas on the way.


Panama spelled out in big colourful letters beside Marina Flamenco.


And the sun rising to the east with the motor sailing yacht MSY Wind Star moored in Panama Bay.


Grabbing an empanada and coffee for breakfast while I waited for the ferry departure.


The Taboga Express pulling into the dock, ready to take us to Taboga Island, a volcanic island 20 km away in the Gulf of Panama.


On our way just after 8am. I had booked a day trip package for $65 which included lunch, beach lounger and local tour island as well as the ferry ride.


Taboga Island with the smaller Uraba Island just to the left.


And arriving just after 8:30am. Visiting a beach on mainland from the city takes a 1.5 hour drive. With the 30 minute fast ferry to Taboga Island hence means it is a popular day for both locals and tourists.


I met the ferry 'concierge' who walked us down to the strip of beach and to our allocated beach loungers.


A volt / group of American black vultures taking in the morning sun on the beach. There were several ships moored just offshore in the Panama Bay.


Looking back at Taboga Island with Morro Island to the left connected by the narrow sand spit.


Moored just off the island, the Panama-flagged oil tanker Accra.


Further out was the bulk carrier MV Kapetan Nondas.


Nearby the Cyprus-flagged dredger MV Oranje.


And making the most of the beach lounger and umbrella to kick back and relax.


Just after 11am I met up for the tour of the small town of San Pedro on the island.


'Taboga' spelled out in big colourful letters. I was the only person on the tour who spoke English and I was able to pick up about half of what the guide was saying in Spanish and he filled me in on what I missed in English after.


There were a few hotels, B&B's and restaurants on the island for tourists on an extended stay.


A plaque commemorating the founding of San Pedro in 1524 by Hernando de Luque, a Spanish priest who travelled to the New World in the 16th century.


Isla de las Flores. Taboga is also known as the island of flowers.


The Church of St Peter, founded in 1550 and the the second-oldest church in the western hemisphere.


Inside with the altar featuring Saint Peter with an Orthodox-style cross and holding his signature keys to heaven.


And the historic church bell complete with smiley face.


After the tour of San Pedro I sat down for lunch at Restaurante Playa Honda. On the horizon top-left is Taboguila Island, which I went to check out after finishing the tasty fish and plaintains.


Situated 3.5 kilometres from Tobago Island, Taboguila Island is home to a Decal Panamá oil tank storage facility.


The Marshall Island-flagged oil tanker MV Seaways Goldmar making a transfer.


The 300 metre long Marshall Island-flagged container ship MV San Felix sitting idle in Panama Bay.


Stacks of 40 foot Maersk containers onboard.


And taking on fuel oil from a tender along side.


Taboga Island to the south.


A bulk carrier moored just offshore.


After a dip in the sea and some more down time on the beach lounger I went to catch the 2:30pm fast ferry back to Panama City.


The MSY Wind Star again as we arrive back at Isla Flamenco. I would unexpectantly see the yacht again tomorrow on my visit to the Miraflores locks on the Panama Canal.


After catching an Uber back to Casco Viejo I headed to the American Trade Hotel for the meetup point for the Taste of Panama City food tour.


Sampling some Geisha coffee at Café Unido, supposedly the most expensive coffee in the world. Named after the village of Gesha in Ethiopia where it is believed to have originated, it has been grown in Panama since the 1960's.


We were asked to try and identify some of the flavours we could taste in the coffee. I am normally not very good at these kind of things, but my first thought was that it tasted surprisingly like tea. I didn't want to embarrass myself by describing the world's most expensive coffee as tasting like tea so just kept quiet though.

The first thing our guide Lisa said though that the coffee is known for tasting very similar to tea! It was definitely a very interesting cup of coffee, but I think my simple palate would prefer something a little more fuller bodied.

We then got to taste some organic Panamanian chocolate. After everyone had a piece there were a few extra pieces which I quickly volunteered to help consume by having seconds.


After a short walk through Casco Viejo we arrived at our second stop, the brew pub La Rana Dorada.


La Rana Dorada translates as 'The Golden Frog'.


Getting to taste six of their house brews, including their pilsener, pale ale and IPA.


We then got to pick our favorite for a longer taste, which for me was the IPA.


After the interesting and tasty sampling of Panamanian beer we had a bit of a walk to work it off from Casco Viejo to the Mercado de Mariscos.


The city's seafood market was full of fresh fish from the Pacific Ocean.


In the dining area we then sat down to try some local ceviche. First was the fish ceviche.


Then the calamari and shrimp.


And finally the fresh crab. Amazingly delicous and was great to compare and contrast with the ceviche I had tried in Guatemala and El Salvador.


After the ceviche experience at the fish market we walked back to Casco Viejo and headed up to the rooftop bar at the Tántalo Hotel.


And where we would get a taste of some Ron Abuelo Panamanian rum. On the left was the Centuria rum which goes for $150 a bottle, the 12 year, the 7 year and finally the Añejo which retails for only $17 a bottle.


While the Centuria was a little too pricey we did get to enjoy a very generous four shot serving of the Abuelo 12 year rum on ice at the end of a very enjoyable food tour of Panama City.



Day 16.

After all the gluttony and indulgence the previous night I figured I had to at least attemot to burn some of it off with an early morning run along the waterfront.


I then caught an Uber back at the hotel for the 12 kilometre drive to the Miraflores locks of the Panama Canal.


Luckily I arrived just in time to see the MSY Wind Star about to transit the canal.


And passing through in between the set of gates.


In the distance on the top-left is a large container ship passing through the expanded canal that was completed in 2016 and allows for ships of 130% greater capacity to pass through.


And grabbing a cheese pastry and coffee for breakfast at the Miraflores locks café.


The visitor centre museum was quite interesting and was arrange chonologically, first with the construction attempts by the French from 1881 to 1894 to build a sea-level canal (like the Suez). This project eventually failed however with an estimated 22,000 men dying from disease and accidents.


A model of a dredger used during the United States construction of the Panama canal from 1904 to 1914. While greatly reduced through efforts to control diseases such as yellow fever and malaria spread by mosquitoes, 5,600 workers still died during the US effort.


And in the last section of the museum that details the Panama Canal expansion project. By using water-saving basins the new locks use 7% less water than the original locks, even while taking ships 130% greater in size.


After the very interesting and insightful visit to the Canal, I caught an Uber back to Casco Viejo.

Plaza Tomás Herrera, named after the former President of the Republic of the New Granada, which consisted of present-day Colombia and Panama.


Plaza de la Independencia in front of the Basílica Metropolitana de Santa María la Antigua.


And the beautiful interior of the Cathedral that was consecrated in 1796 after construction started 108 years earlier in 1688.


The preserved ruins of Iglesian Santo Domingo. Originally constructed in the 17th century, the church and convent were never rebuilt after a fire that destroyed them in 1756.


Helados Raspados.


Plaza de Francia, dedicated to France's role and the 22,000 workers who died trying to create the Panama Canal.


Looking out to Cinta Costera Viaduct from Paseo de Las Bóvedas.


And to the city skyline to the north.


Old number plates for sale on Corredor Artesanal De Casco Antiguo.


Pájaro en una rama.


Ya he vivido todo esto (I have already lived all this).


A colourful mural of two indigenous women on a decaying old building.


Café Coca Cola on Avenida Central.


For lunch I headed to Restaurante Saquella.


Some chilled Perrier and an icy Affogato to cool down after all the walking around Casco Viejo.


And the Suprema de pollo al portobello con papas fritas for the main.


It was still an hour until I had to head to the airport so I went for a stroll along the waterfront. Flags of every country in the world from the visit of Pope Francis in January.


The 70 story Rivage Panamá Apartment Tower to the left.


And the skyscraper filled barrio of Punta Paitilla in the background to the right.


Looking down on more of the many high-rise buildings which form the dense skyline of Panama City.


Casco Viejo again with a container ship in the distance heading to the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal.


And some shaved ice with plenty of sugary syrup before heading back to the hotel to collect my bags.


I then caught an Uber back to Tocumen International Airport to start my journey back home.


After checking in I headed airside and grabbed a Quiznos sub. I expected to have dinner on the plane in a few hours but ordering the large sandwich eventually turned out to be a very good idea.


The KLM 777 after arriving ontime from Amsterdam.


We boarded on schedule but the departure time gradually approached and we still hadn't pushed back yet. The pilot soon announced that there was a problem with a water leak. It didn't sound too serious but said that they may not be able to serve coffee or tea with the lack of water on the flight or have running water in the toilets.

About an hour after our scheduled departure time the pilot said they still hadn't been able to find the water leak so we had to push back and move to a remote gate for the mechanics to continue the search.

About 8:30pm, or 2.5 hours after we boarded, we were served some water and a stroopwafel.


Finally at 10:30pm the pilot announced that they still couldn't find the water leak and that they would have to cancel the flight and try again tomorrow.

Disembarking to catch the bus back to the terminal.


The ground staff were a little disorganised and it took a quite a bit longer than it should have but I eventually managed to go back through immigration (and bizarrely having to fill out a customs declaration), collect my bag and then find the correct bus for the ride back to Panama City.

We were driven to the Hotel Riu Plaza Panama and after finally checking in just after 1am I grabbed some dinner at the hotel buffet.


And my room for my unexpected extra night in Panama City. I then promptly crashed into bed at 1:30am to get some much needed sleep.



Day 17.

The view of Panama City from my hotel window after sleeping in until 9:30am.


I then headed downstairs to the hotel restaurant for breakfast.


We were due to leave the hotel at midday so I decided to just chillout with a dip in the hotel pool for the rest in the morning.


And catching the bus again after 12pm back to Tocumen International Airport.


Airside again with some fresh new boarding passes.


Passing a USAF C-17 as we are bussed to the far side of the airport to our now repaired plane.


And about to climb the stairs at the end of an amazing trip to Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.



Day 18.

After a thankfully uneventful flight we landed just before 8am at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.

With the IRROPS my original 4 hour stopover was now 6.5 hours and just enough time for a quick visit to the city.


And arriving at Amsterdam Centraal 15 minutes later.


My last and first time visiting Amsterdam was six years ago on my way to the Baltics and it was great to come back again, if only for an hour or two.


Big morning queue at a 'coffeeshop'.


Super-sized pannenkoek and cappuccino for breakfast.


The Royal Palace Of Amsterdam. It was raining steadily and I had left my raincoat in my checked luggage but for someone living in the desert it was fun to just wander about and get a little wet.


The statue of Anne Frank near the Westerkerk.


It was Sunday morning and with the light rain there was pleasantly few other tourists about.


Brouwersgracht.


Back at the airport to catch my final flight of the trip.


And about to board the KLM 777 to Dubai after a memorable and unforgettable sixteen days!



Epilogue

A few days after I got back I filed a claim for compensation for the flight delay under EU261/2004. I was expecting the process to be quite difficult but it was relatively straightforward to do via an online form and about 4 weeks later I received the below email confirming my request for compensation. A couple of days later the money was deposited in my bank account and has now been sequestered for further travels to come!


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