"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Favorite, funny, and poignant moments from our trip of a lifetime

Travelers. Day 1 in Quito; Day 7 in Panama City.

This travelogue features some of the funniest, most poignant, or favorite moments from our trip of a lifetime to Ecuador and Panama.

Day 1:  We had one day on our own in Quito before we joined tours to see the best of Ecuador. We knew we wanted to see La Basílica del Voto Nacional (The Basilica of the National Vow), the square in front of the Presidential Residence, and the Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús (The Church of the Society of Jesus) aka The Gold Church.
  • We started the day by hiking uphill to visit the La Basílica. It felt like we were climbing a mountain since it is situated in the city at 9350 feet above sea level -- mere foothills of the Andes). Don and Tom separated from Tony, Kathy, and I to climb the tower. The three sibs were on our own to explore the unfinished cathedral. We were outside on one of the turrets when we rounded a bend to see this ladder with a sign that says "Only Up Stairs." Not sure how we would get down if we dared to climb up. We laughed at how different safety standards are in other parts of the world compared to the US.
  • After exploring the Basílica, we headed toward the Plaza de la Independencia, the main square in Quito which is bordered on one side by the Presidential Palace. When we entered the plaza we were very aware something was about to happen based on the increased police presence. As it turned out, September 26th was Flag Day in Ecuador and we happened upon a ceremony featuring a military parade and speakers, including the President of Ecuador. We couldn't believe our luck arriving when we did to see this special moment full of pomp and formality, so colorful and somber, but the military musicians weren't very good. They reminded us of a junior high band. We had to cover our mouths with our hands to avoid laughing out loud.

  • We walked up and down the street looking for the Church of the Society of Jesus. Everyone told us it was hard to miss because it is covered in gold. We saw no gold church. We finally decided to try the church situated near where we thought the gold church should be. We paid our dollar and stepped inside. Oh! That is why it is nicknamed the gold church. The whole inside is completely covered with gold leaf. It is shocking in its opulence. We weren't allowed to take photos so I snagged this one off Wikipedia. 
    Photo credit: By Diego Delso (Wikipedia)

When we got back to our hotel later in the day we learned that our brother surreptitiously snapped this photo inside the gold church of our brother-in-law gaping at the opulence. I have no idea who/what that nun-looking thing is off to the left. Photo credit: Tony Kingsbury

  • After wandering around Quito for hours, we were hungry. We checked some Yelp reviews to steer us to a reputable place to eat and a restaurant right next to where we were standing sounded great. We went inside Casa Gangotena and wondered if we were a little underdressed but were assured we were welcome. We ate lunch in a very fancy setting and ordered some of the simplest items on the menu, including potato soup, which we came to understand was a traditional national dish. Since some of us ordered hors d'oeuvres, others soup, and one ordered an entree, I asked the waiter if it would be all right if we all got our food at the same time. Our meal arrived in the hands of five waiters. They took me at my word, literally. Later, we told the grandson of the hostess at our hotel where we had eaten lunch the previous day. He sat with his mouth open, stunned. He said that is the most expensive restaurant in all of Ecuador. No wonder we felt so out of place in our casual traveling clothes! The prices didn't really faze us since we were comparing them to US prices and didn't seem out of line at all for a nice meal.
What a sight. This dog, just hanging out his second story window. Photo credit: Kathy Kingsbury

Day 2: The next day we took a one-day tour of the Mindo Cloud Forest with promises of waterfalls, butterflies, hummingbirds, and chocolate. 
  • En route to the Mindo Cloud Forest we passed the equator marker in a big park. We stopped only briefly to gawk at the monument then we learned something funny -- When the marker was installed GPS did not exist, so it was placed several hundred feet south of the actual equator.  
    Here is the equator marker. The compass setting shows the coordinates as 12 seconds to the south of zero, which is just over 1200 feet in distance. Don saved lots of compass shots, like this one, during the trip since we were always curious how high was the elevation at each site.

  • First stop -- to visit a hummingbird sanctuary (San Tadeo Birding), where, if it is possible, we were overwhelmed by the sheer number of the tiny flyers. There were feeders everywhere all visited by a variety of hummingbirds. If we stood really still, they would even feed out of our hands.

  • Our next stop was at a trailhead for the Cascada Namillo a series of waterfalls on the Namillo River. Our guide, a fit Ecuadorian man accustomed to high elevation, assured us the hike was easy. First, we rode across a ravine on a rickety old cable car. We all just clamored onto it in faith it would hold up. The hike, to see just the first waterfall in the series, was a lot harder than 'easy' but we all made it down and back up eventually. Thankfully I had my hiking stick and Don to help me climb up the boulder-sized steps. Kathy wasn't wearing hiking boots and was still suffering from an ankle injury from earlier in the summer, so we were quite the pair.
    The waterfall and setting were awfully pretty but it was hard not to compare this with falls near where we live or in other States.

  • The open air cafe where we ate lunch made it inviting for a number of dogs to wander in and out from the street. I was surprised when one of the dogs rested his head on my lap during a 'sneak attack' (begging for food) from under the table. After lunch, we walked to a nearby butterfly farm and then on to Yumbos Chocolate factory. We learned so much about the process of making chocolate from the trees to the finished bars. The guide talked about the special type of cocoa beans they use, Nacional -- Fine Aroma, which are the highest quality cocoa beans in the world. In the photo below you see our guide talking about the products they sell after our tour. We bought a few bars and some baking chocolate. We would have purchased more if we weren't in a tropical climate with a lot of traveling left to go.

Day 3: The goal for the first day of our 4-day tour of the Ecuadorian countryside: To climb Cotopaxi, the second highest volcano in Ecuador.
  • This was our last day in the lovely, historic Hotel la Basilica Quito before we hit the road for a four-day tour. Our hotel hostess had a little goodbye ceremony where she gave us gifts and spoke her thanks in Spanish into the translation app on her phone to play it back in English for us to hear. The people we encountered in Ecuador were so sweet, with Miriam at the top of the list. The ceremony was both touching and funny at the same time. Most humorous was her request to give the hotel a good rating on Tripadvisor...and do it right away, please.
Miriam checking us in; the lobby of Hotel la Basilica.

Another view of the lobby from above. It was really a beautiful place.

  • We were told breakfast on the road was our planned first stop, but imagine our surprise when we discovered it was at a gas station restaurant. Ha! We decided this was more akin to what East Coasters in the US find when they pull over for gas off the turnpikes/thruways. The food was fine, though I suspect the melon smoothie gave me a bit of tummy trouble that day.

Cotopaxi, the second highest mountain in the Ecuadorian Andes, is an active volcano. In the photo you can see the steam escaping from the top and the clouds that form from it. Photo credit: Tony Kingsbury.
  • Our next stop was Cotopaxi National Park where we first stopped at a little visitors' center to learn about the mountain (volcano). At a second stop we were served coca tea to give us 'energy' for the climb. Later in the day we learned Kathy bought a small bag of coca leaves to take home for her son. We reminded her she likely wouldn't make it through customs since cocaine is derived from coca leaves. We all laughed imagining Kathy going to jail for sneaking components of cocaine into the country, innocently of course.
    The mountain climber wanna-be's

  • For the first two days of our tour, an Israeli family joined our group -- dad, an 18-yr-old daughter and 23-yr-old fraternal twins who had recently completed their compulsory active duty in the Israeli Defense Forces. Their luggage didn't arrive in Quito on their flight from Amsterdam, so they were outfitted in new outdoor wear or the clothes they traveled in. We enjoyed their company for our two days together. With the war in Gaza/Israel in the weeks since, we assume the two young people were recalled to IDF duty and pray for their safety and hope that peace comes soon.
  • Cotopaxi is an active volcano so we weren't allowed to climb to the top -- as if! Ha! Kathy and I made it to the edge of the parking lot (elevation 15,000 feet+) before returning to the van. Don and Tony made it part way up to the base camp before turning around. Only Tom and the Israeli family made it all the way to the base camp at 16,000 ft elevation. While the guys climbed, Kathy and I sat in the van telling funny stories to each other and laughing uproariously. When I saw Tony and Don returning down the mountain. the driver had to let me out of the van to take photos. (The back door wouldn't open from the inside. Hmm?) When we noticed Tom making his way back down, Kathy hopped out and took a photo of him. Then she got back in and we laughed some more. See the photos below for the difference in our photo-taking abilities. When we looked at the photo she took later, more hilarity ensued. Clearly the coca tea worked, not so we could climb mountains but so we could think we were hilarious.
    A fun sequence of the guys coming down off Cotopaxi. 
The photo Kathy took on the left; Zoomed in at right so we can actually see Tom. 

  • While waiting for everyone to make their way back down the mountain, an Ecuadorian "wolf" sauntered through the parking lot. It looked more like a fox to us, especially to Tony who often has foxes in his backyard at home in California, but what do we know? Actually we looked it up and both are correct. The animal is a culpeo, sometimes called an Andean Wolf or Andean Fox. It is a subspecies of the American fox but is more closely related to wolves and jackals. (Wikipedia) Whatever it was, we were thrilled to see it.
Culpeo: is it a wolf or a fox?

  • That night we stayed at a lodge between Cotapaxi and our next day's destination at an elevation of 12,000+ feet. It was raining and cold when we arrived, so we all looked forward to the advertised 'spa' (thinking hot tub in our minds). When we asked the hostess about the spa she said it would be ready in about a half hour. That should have been our tip-off. The setup was more like a Finnish spa with a sauna, steam room, and a cold tub to dunk in after heating up. Sigh. Not the warm soak in a hot tub we had hoped for!
Day 4:  The agenda for the next day of the tour: to visit an indigenous family in their home and Laguna Quilotoa.
An indigenous farmer holding a plate of potatoes he grew; the farmer's granddaughter, posing only after Don gave her a dollar. In addition to vegetables, the farmer also raises guinea pigs, a local delicacy.

  • On our way to visit with an indigenous family, we kept seeing dogs alongside the highway. The dogs weren't running wild in packs. Some had collars. The dogs were oddly just laying by the road as if waiting for something or someone. If we saw one or two dogs, this comment wouldn't have made the blogpost. But we easily saw 50 dogs all along the road!
Taken through the front window of our van, so the photo quality isn't great but you can see the dogs beside the highway. Photo credit: Tony Kingsbury.

  • Quilotoa is a lovely lake formed by the implosion of a volcano that erupted in 1280. Once again our guide downplayed how difficult the climb in and out of the caldera would be, though she did assure us mules would be available to ride back up from the bottom. Only Tom and Don even tried this climb. We had become wise to the guides' claims about 'easy' hikes by then! The guys eventually made it up out of the caldera after the mule driver made Don pay extra because of his size. Don wasn't affronted but our guide had pre-negotiated the rate and demanded a refund of the extra charge. While we waited for Tom and Don to return, Tony, Kathy, and I moseyed around the town taking photos on the glass shelf over the lake and with alpacas. Tony wouldn't go onto the glass shelf because it cost $1. Kathy and I teased him about being a tightwad the rest of the trip as only older sisters can do!

  • Our guide, Irene, was very proud of her country especially of its roses. As we drove toward our next destination she had the driver stop at a flower stand beside the road and bought each of the women a long stemmed red rose for less than 50¢ each, talking nonstop about their exceptional beauty and noting how the Ecuadorian roses are exported all over the world. It was a sweet gesture but we didn't have vases with us so the roses wilted before we got to Baños!
  • That night we stayed in a hotel in the resort town of Baños. As the name would imply, Baños is famous for the hot spring 'baths' which attract tourists from all over Ecuador and the region. We hadn't read the tour description very carefully, so none of us seemed prepared to go to the hot spring baths after a long day on the road. Our guide gave us five minutes to drop our bags in our rooms and meet her back at the van for a drive to the baths. She then had to come inside with us because we couldn't understand all the "rules" about how to rent/buy swim caps, where to secure our clothes and valuables, and so forth. We eventually got everything figured out, found the changing rooms, secured everything, tucked our hair into our caps, and got into the medium hot pool. We moved to the hotter pool after awhile and enjoyed the soak overlooking the Cascada el Cabello de Virgen (Virgin's Hair) waterfall nearby which was lit up with ever-changing colored lights. (See video below. You can hear our guide, Irene, talking.)  We were probably the only gringos in the pool, but we were there and the experience alone was worth it and the soak felt good, too! 
  • After the walk back to our hotel we were all too tired for dinner. Don and I dined on a shared power bar and other snacks that night. As we readied for bed we realized the curtain and valence were on the same rod, so we couldn't close the curtains to keep the light out. Fortunately, I had found a big paperclip in my coat pocket earlier in the day -- random!-- so we secured the curtains as best we could and went to bed. Just as we were dropping off to sleep, around 10 PM, a loud rooster commenced crowing. He kept it up at regular intervals all night. More fodder for our post-trip stories!
Day 5: Our next day was crammed full of activities: Shopping, trying guinea pig meat, the 'Swing at the End of the World',  several more waterfalls, a visit to a rehabilitation zoo, finally arriving at an ecolodge in Amazonia for the night...and it was RAINING all day!
  • Tom was determined to try guinea pig meat. Irene, our guide, took us to Baños' popular market, Ecuador's version of a food court. On the sidewalk outside, several women were roasting the delicacy, "Cuy" in Spanish like the sound a guinea pig makes. All the guys tried it. Don's comment, "The sauce was good," spoke volumes. Ha!
  • We purchased a knit Aya Huma mask. "The Aya Uma is "the symbol of the whole, the past and the future on a single head that looks both ways. It's the duality of the world representing in one single character the north and the south, above and below, day and night, evil and good simultaneously." Right after we bought it, we saw a man walking around with one on his head. The mask has been a hit with our grandsons.
  • The day was raining and cloudy at the 'Swing at the End of the World' so our photos don't look like we are swinging off into space. While waiting out a rain squall here we told Irene about the reason for this trip -- to walk in our Grandfather's footsteps. Hopefully that answered a question she had running through her head as to why these clearly unfit gals came on this trip and then couldn't even climb Cotopaxi!
  • At one stop, we boarded another cable car across a river to have a quick look at a towering waterfall. This cable car was even more ricketty than the first one and the rain and wind made the ride much more memorable than the waterfall. 
  • Our next stop was to visit a very famous waterfall. The guide assured us again the walk to see it wasn't treacherous but we wore our hiking boots, thankfully. The route involved a cable suspension bridge, wet boulder-sized stairs, and lots of people. The guys went down as far as they could to get under the waterfall, while Kathy and I watched from one level above. Tony's comment after we all returned to the van soaked to the skin was he got wetter from the rain than from the waterfall. It was really coming down.
  • We arrived at the restaurant for our lunch stop soaking wet. Kathy found a place to change clothes, the rest of us just dealt with being wet and dried out during lunch. The restaurant was attached to a very artsy hotel and we had fun exploring the gallery and gift shop. Tom's menu featured an interestingly funny cover: one side had a painting of Trump and the other was Putin. In the photo you can see how wet his clothes were.
  • We drove through several places our grandfather mentioned in his diary. Each of the towns had large, colorful letter sculptures spelling out its name. We hopped out of the van and took a group photo at most of them. The sign in Mera was especially funny because someone had left headdresses, horns, and feathers to dress-up with. We did, thinking we were hilarious. The fellow who manned the station then showed up and asked for a tip. We gave it to him without fuss. It was worth the money for the fun we had.
  • Tom did a double take in one of these towns when he saw someone walking along the street wearing an Oregon State University t-shirt. Go Beavs!
  • It's hard to believe how much was crammed into one day but we still had one stop before we arrived at our destination for the night, the Bioparque Yana-cocha (rehabilitation zoo). The place was fabulous and we practically had it all to ourselves. Many of the birds were uncaged, and the monkeys had their own island where they were free to roam. Wild and dangerous animals, like pumas, ocelots, and a black caiman could be seen up close. The funniest moment was when Kathy kept saying "Pretty Boy" to the parrot who was screaming "HOLA!" to everyone. We reminded her that pretty boy was English and this was clearly a Spanish-speaking parrot. Obviously we not only had funny things happen to us, but we also think we are hilarious.
  • During our last leg of this day's trip, as it was getting dark, Don tuned into the Xfinity Stream app on his phone and was able to watch part of the Stanford vs Oregon football game. Even in the depths of the Amazon jungle, he found a way to watch college football!
  • We arrived at the ecolodge in Tena, in the region of the country known as Amazonia, at 8 PM. We were met by the whole staff who had waited for us and made a delicious meal to eat in the main lodge. It was by far the most touching, delicious meal we had on our trip. Yucca fries are my favorite. I swiped those off Don's plate because all I ordered was potato soup with all the doodads (popcorn [like corn nuts], cheese, avocados). The manager and staff had their children with them so we ate dinner to the burble of little kids. Lovely. Then we were trundled off to bed, each in our own little bamboo cabins with thatched roofs. Under the mosquito-netting we were lulled to sleep to the sounds of woolly monkeys hooting in the not-so-far-off jungle. What a day!

Day 6: Our last day on tour was another jam-packed one where we toured an Amazonian lagoon, went bird-watching, made chocolate ourselves, then traveled back to Quito for the night.
  • We woke in our bamboo cabins to sounds of the jungle all around us and were greeted by all varieties of water birds since there was a lagoon just outside our doors.
I'm not sure if this bird is a black heron (of daytime/nighttime gif fame) but it sure looks a bit like it. The outgoing bird ran to each of us and stood between our feet with wings spread, practically scaring me to death. Here he is happily standing between Tony's legs while I took of photo of Tony taking a photo of him.

  • Breakfast in the lodge was typical of the breakfasts we had everywhere in Ecuador: scrambled eggs, bread, a cup of fruit, and pretty terrible coffee. The eggs and the bread weren't very good anywhere, but the fruit was usually spectacular in its ripeness and variety. Later in the day, Irene gave us a lesson on the unique fruits and vegetables we'd been eating without knowing the names:  quanabana, pepino dulce (sweet cucumber), tamarillos (tree tomato), and yellow dragon fruit among them. Oddly, though Ecuador is a big coffee producer, they export their good stuff to Columbia so only the not-so-good beans are left for local consumption. We expected fabulous coffee and were always disappointed with meh coffee each morning.
Irene is giving us a lesson about Ecuadorian fruit.

  • Our bird-watching tour was a bust. Our guide used the same Merlin bird app several of us have on our phones but with Spanish names for most of the birds we had no reference points. Also most of the birds, if we saw them, looked like small black specks in the sky or trees, even the flock of parakeets that flew over us, since none of us had binoculars. 
Kathy, Tom, Tony, and way up front, Irene (her Anglicized name) on a lagoon in the Amazonia region of Ecuador.
  • Once we clambered aboard a large canoe for a tour of a circular shaped lagoon with an island in the middle, we were able to see more clearly some of the water fowl up close. We also heard and saw several different types of monkeys (wooley, spider, and squirrel monkeys.) We were thrilled. 
    Don created a GIF out of a photo of a small monkey evading his mother as she reaches for him. It reminds me of Jamie, our grandson, when he doesn't want to be caught.
  • To get back to our ecolodge compound the canoe owner turned into a motocarra driver. We all scrunched in and laughed the whole way back to the lodge. We had quite the experience!
I don't know how, but seven of us scrunched on this thing for our short ride back to the lodge.

  • Next up, the same man who was our bird-watching guide transformed into a chocolate-making teacher. Similar to when we visited the chocolate factory in Mindo four days earlier, we witnessed the steps for making chocolate from the pods to the creamy, melted stuff we love so much. This time, however, we did all the steps ourselves, including grinding the nibs into powder and then stirring them over the fire to melt them into sauce. We all voted for the addition of sugar and cream, making it "milk chocolate". Later we got to eat our chocolate concoction by dipping strawberries shaped into flowers and a banana dolphin eating a grape. We were touched that our hosts worked so hard to make our time with them so special.

Our chocolate-making experience: Teaching, grinding, product after grinding, heating/melting, sampling by licking off leaves, final presentation surprise, banana dolphin, strawberry roses, eating.

  • After a flurry of shopping in the tiny little shop associated with the lodge, we piled back into the van for our return trip to Quito. During the tour we usually didn't know what roads we were on or where we were specifically on the map, but we could tell we were gaining elevation rapidly. Our driver did his best to avoid potholes and washed out areas of the road but this trip was a real jiggler. I gained over 10,000 jiggle steps on my Fitbit just sitting in the van. At the summit of a 12,000 ft pass, the poor van gave out, leaking from a radiator hose. We spent an unplanned hour layover at the viewpoint while Tony and our van driver, Andres, fiddled around and created a make-do fix. Tom, Kathy, and Don had ample time to separately wander off to find a spot to help "water" the plants. I inspected the very Catholic roadside shrine where people stop to pray for friends and loved ones who lost their lives on the road, often leaving behind pictures, flowers, and candles. Funny that a shrine was built there but not a restroom. By this point of the trip, none of us were feeling very well. Was it the jiggly, curvy highway? The altitude? Or something else? Tony and I both had a cough and sore throat. Tom was achy. Don was having trouble breathing. We decided to skip our last scheduled stop at another hot springs in favor of getting back to Quito and saying our last goodbyes to Irene and Andres with our thanks (hugs and tip$) for a wonderful adventure. 
Andres working on a fix for the van to get us back to Quito.

  • We stayed at a hotel next to the airport in Quito and, after a quick dip in the pool and an unremarkable meal in the hotel restaurant, we retired early so we could catch the shuttle at 4:30 AM for our early morning flight to Panama City. Don's breathing problems persisted during the night to the point that I wondered about calling the desk to see if they had any oxygen. Instead, I insisted he try the old hot shower routine I used when our daughters had asthma attacks in the night and the nebulizer wasn't doing the trick: stand in a hot, steamy shower until the bronchial tubes loosen up. That seemed to work and Don was able to get a few hours of rest before our flight. We chalked the situation up to the high elevation... but we were wrong, 

Day 7: Panama -- Old town and the Miraflores Locks on the Panama Canal.
  • Our flight arrived in Panama City before 9:00 AM and we got to our hotel within an hour. Fortunately, our hotel allowed us to check-in early so we had time to get settled and rest a bit before lunch and our scheduled afternoon tour. Our guide took us to walk around Old Town and gave us a quick history of the area -- from the Spanish colonial period to the 1989 U.S. invasion, as well as construction of the canal. We next visited the Miraflores locks (Pacific side) of the canal. Before seeing the actual locks we watched an IMAX movie about the history, construction, and operation of the canal. Later when Don and I were reviewing the day, we realized both of us nodded off during the movie so we didn't get as much out of it as we should have. 
  • Standing at the Miraflores locks and watching the huge ships go through was a complete delight. Our grandfather helped build this canal!!!
  • After leaving the Panama Canal visitor center, our guide drove us across the Amador Causeway out to one of the three islands in the bay created from earth excavated during the digging of the canal. The short-distance trip took forever because of rush hour traffic leaving the city. The island previously housed or was frequented by sailors and construction crews. The area is all upscale businesses, restaurants, and shops. We didn't do any shopping, we just took this photo (above) of us and the Panama sign. By the time we finally got there it was fully dark so it's a miracle the photo is as good as it is.
  • During dinner in the lobby bar, guess what was on the TV? Monday Night Football. Seahawks vs Giants. Football, again?
  • Back in our room that night, we felt cruddy enough for the 2nd or 3rd day that we finally decided we should test for COVID. Only Kathy tested negative.
Day 8: Kathy goes on a tour of the Panama Canal by herself, the rest of us stay close to the hotel with COVID.
  • This whole post is supposed to be about funny things that happened to us on our trip. As Don said, on reflection, nothing funny happened to us in Panama because of COVID. That's not true, of course, but our time there was certainly tainted.
  • Kathy went on the tour bus without us. I asked her to write a paragraph about her day...
    • I didn't want to go on the Ocean-to-Ocean Tour by myself but everyone talked me into it. So, I gathered my things and went off with a darling 21-year-old tour guide named Paola. I hopped on the 25-person bus with only a young couple and their 4-year-old daughter in the back. Paola told us a bachelor party had just cancelled, and since four of my party were sick, we would spend our day with just the five of us. Oh boy! When Paola asked where we were all from, the young family answered in a very thick Russian accent, "We are Americans from Missouri."  Hmmm... As the day went on I asked them what they did for work in Missouri. The man and woman looked at each other questioningly and then said in unison: "We are in business." Hmmm... then it came out that they were in Panama on their way to Mexico where they had been eight times!  Hmmm....Visions of Russian mobsters, or drug smugglers, or money launderers ran through my head -- but who am I to judge? Maybe they just really like visiting Mexico, by way of Panama!
    • Another funny thing during that day was when we went to St. Lorenzo Fort - a 15th century fort used by pirates. While eating lunch in a little picnic area, out came a coati. Paola said his name was Lorenzo and he knew the exact time every day to come out for lunch! (Coatis are a raccoon-like creature very common in Central America.)
    • Photos from Kathy's day on the Ocean-to-Ocean tour. 

  • For dinner that night we found an open-air Lebanese restaurant. Our waiter was a cute boy from Columbia who said he was happy to serve us because he was learning English. At one point we asked him for a spoon. He repeats: "Spoon. Spoon. Spoon. What is spoon?" We pantomime a spoon. He exclaims, "Spoon! Oh I know it. I have learned a new word. Spoon. Spoon. Spoon." He trots off and never delivers us a spoon. We laughed more during that dinner than any other meal on the whole trip...and the food was delicious, too!
Day 9: We rent a car and take ourselves on a tour of the canal and the wildlife in the jungle.
  • We decided since we were only exposing each other we could rent a car and head out on an adventure similar to the one Kathy had on the official tour the day before. With her guidance, we found the spot where we hired a boat and driver to take us out in the canal to see wildlife up close (monkeys and crocodiles). Fernando was our driver and he spoke little English. What fun! What an adventure! We were out in the actual Panama Canal on Gatun Lake! And the monkeys were just an arms length away. 

  • The Gamboa Sloth sanctuary required a two-hour time commitment, seemed too expensive, and it was raining, again. We decided instead to search on our own to see if we could spot any sloths in the wild. Kathy was a pro after one day in the jungle. Lo and behold, Tom spotted one hanging in a tree just off the road, and the mama sloth had a baby with her. The sun was behind her so we couldn't make out the details clearly but we found a sloth!!!! The sloth photo (above) was taken by Kathy on her adventure day. 
  • We lunched at the very swanky Gamboa Resort Hotel. Since it was the off-season we were able to dine on the veranda overlooking the estate and the valley looking out to the canal. It was not a funny experience but it certainly was a serendipitous one! When life gives you lemons COVID, make lemonade memories out of it!
  • Don's and my last dinner in Panama was at El Trapiche, an award-winning restaurant where locals eat. Tony asked the desk clerk where would he go to dinner and this place was his recommendation. My meal was the favorite: chicken fried steak-burger in fry bread (like elephant ears without the sugar) with a fried egg on top. It was huge and delicious. Everyone got a portion of it except Kathy, who didn't realize what she was missing.
Day 10: We flew to Miami. Tom, Kathy, and Tony spent the day back in Old Town at the Panama Canal museum. They asked if any employment records were available for those who helped build the canal. The answer was no, but the staff suggested the Presidential Library might have such records.

Day 11: Kathy and Tom left for Miami on an early flight. Tony's flight was much later, so he had time to explore further. Tony took an Uber to the Biblioteca Presidente Roberto F. Chiari and asked for assistance locating any employment information on our grandfather. The librarian didn't speak English and Tony doesn't speak Spanish but somehow, with the help of Google Translate, she was able to understand what he wanted and guided him to a computer where Tony was able to find employment records. And there it was -- the employment card for our Granddad who began working April 12, 1905 as a carpenter helping construct the Panama Canal!

So ends the account of our family adventure to walk in the steps of our grandfather in Panama and Ecuador, 100 years after he made his big trip all the way from Panama, through Ecuador, down the Amazon River, and home to Brooklyn, New York.

During the trip I committed to writing an account of our trip, which only seemed fair. Tony dreamed up the trip and made some hotel reservations. Kathy organized the details of our tours and our itinerary. I was basically along for the ride. After I wrote "Walking in the Steps of Our Grandfather" soon after we got home in October, I thought my job was done but was encouraged by my sibs to write more about our favorite moments. This VERY long post is my attempt to do just that.

Thanks for reading all of this. You deserve a medal for making it to the end!

 -Anne and Don Bennett

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