Friday, March 17
The Blue Zone might as well have been the Ritz-Carlton as far as we were concerned. The hostel was quaint, but it was also new and well-furnished. And they gave us towels in our rooms, which is more than I can say for the Oasis. There's no hot water in the showers, but hair this long can only take so much dirt and salt water without washing. Just getting the sand off my body was enough to make me give the place rave reviews.
The outside was even better than the inside. Just past the office, a hut with hammocks sits on the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean. Outside my window there was a lime tree and a great view of the mountains. There's even a little porch where you can lounge around after catching some killer waves in the morning. For $7.50 a night per person in a 2-person room, you can't expect much more than this place offers.
We had decided that driving was going to be our big activity for the day. We had a 5-hour trek (without stops) back to Panama City, and with nothing to do, we were going to take our time. our first big stop was at a city called Penonome where we had bought some great supplies at a hardware store on the way down. The place had machetes and accessories, so we had basically cleaned our their stock of leather sheaths. On our way back, Chuck and Kevin decided they wanted a few more, but the place hadn't restocked.
While we were there, Chuck showed us a prison where he had done an easy mission during his time in Panama. It now serves as the headquarters for the National Police in Penonome.
According to Chuck, his commanding officer called the commander of the prison the day of the attack and said, "We're coming to take over your prison at 5:00. Have your men standing out front ready to surrender or we'll kill every one of you."
"He did what?" Chuck reacted. He thought his commander was insane to give up the element of surprise. Now the PDF (Panamanian Defense Force) soldiers would set up an ambush. To him, this was a suicide mission.
But sure enough, when the Rangers arrived, all the PDF soldiers were standing out front with their hands up saying, "No mas! No mas!" Not a shot was fired.
Our second stop was in a town called Santiago. We were all hungry, so we scoped out the lunch scene. As we walked, we stumbled upon a woman grilling some chicken that smelled amazing. So we stopped there and ate a half chicken each for a measly $2.
We made it back to Euro Hotel (the hotel formerly known as Hotel Europa) in time to check into a room that wasn't on the street side. By then it was almost time for dinner.
While doing more unnecessary shopping before we'd left for Coiba, Chuck met a guy who was from the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. Mr. Flores used to be in the car business, but had seized an opportunity to escape to Panama. Now he owns a classy restaurant on the Amador Causeway, and he says he doesn't really miss anything from the States. After some searching, we finally found his restaurant and sat down to eat. The head honcho Mr. Flores himself came and sat with us for awhile. Chuck told him stories about his role in the invasion, and they traded stories about the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. Small world indeed.
Back at the hotel, we had an exciting night of blogging, emailing, and packing. Saturday was Kevin's last full day, so we figured we'd make the obligatory visit to the canal museum at Miraflores Locks. Everything else in Panama we wanted to see was too far away from the city for the time that we had. Darn, I guess we'll have to come back.