It was a noisy beginning of 2020 – or so Norma told me the next morning while enjoying a great breakfast without hangover.
Panama’s beaches were exploding with fireworks while China’s economy exploded from the sales of all these fireworks. New Years in Panama is, like many other holidays here, a day for the family. Families here include several generations and they love to spend time together.
We live in a condo building where several established Panamanian families host their huge families for several days over any holidays. The unit of these families is just wonderful. In spite of huge differences in age, everyone seems to be busy with one activity or another–and for several days on end.
Living right at the beach makes it relatively easy to entertain groups. A part of that entertainment is always playing on the black and white sand beach, braving the surf, kicking the soccer ball or throwing the football. For the younger children, the pool or
playground seem to be the preferred place while the adults gather together in the shade, discussing how to best keep Panama out of the world’s so many troubling situations.
One of the things that amazes me is how these families handle their daily meals:
Forget take-out or pizza delivery or even visiting a local restaurant which has been completing with advertising for business. Panama appreciates home cooking! The aromas that emanate from the condos or the eating area by the pool make me seriously want to throw off my natural reticence and pretend to be a long-lost relative so that I can partake of some of that food.
But in Panama, a meal with family is a very serious event. People sit down at a table together. They do not take pieces of food with them to the beach or walk around, but rather sit together eating
their meal and conversing convivially and usually quietly.
Their musical entertainment is usually quite enjoyable and turned off or down by 10PM. After that time, they do seem content to sit on the lounge chairs by the pool after dark and talk or text or whatever they want to do on their phones. Or some just disappear–we suspect they go to their condos for a movie.
There are plenty of holidays in Panama and most of them seem to encompass at least 3 days, so travel from the city makes sense for these families–and they make the most of those days.
If you travel to Panama, be certain to look up Panamanian holidays on the internet and try to avoid having to travel out of Panama City on those days–or having to travel back to the airport or the City on days that conclude those holiday weekends. You will thank yourself!
Did you know that Whale Watching is a really big deal in Panama?
While the vast majority of Northern Hemisphere visitors to Panama want to come while it is winter at home and summer here, there is a great season apart from that for Whale Watching.
So, I need to update you on a great trip we took last August for that very activity. It was one of the most interesting trips because we got involved in many great unexpected events.
Pedasí, a town far down on the Azuero Peninsula, was on our radar from the beginning of 2019, not because it has a reputation of quietly hosting some of Hollywood’s Illuminati, but rather to see what time or progress was doing in this part of the country. The last time we had spent a night in Pedasí was 5years ago. We did not mean for it to be 5 years–it wasn’t because it wasn’t fun or exciting the first time we visited. No, it’s just that Panama has so many places to go and see that it is sometimes difficult to do repeat visits. Well, it took us 5 years to be drawn to Pedasí again:
Whale Watching – we have been on a couple of other whale watching tours since we moved to Panama. One
was an uneventful cruise around the Bay of Panama without any whale sightings. For sure, on that one, the social fun had to replace whale sightings. Another was a tour that took us down to the Pearl Islands to Contadora on a good-sized pontoon-type cruiser with about 50 people on board. We never really got close to the whales but we did get to see them, doing some acrobatics in the water and entertaining us. After these experiences, we looked for opportunities to go to different areas and hopefully get a closer look at these amazing giants of the ocean.
So off we went to Pedasí.
The first surprise was the highway we drove on. 5 years ago, the roads were 2-lane roads filled with holes large enough to accommodate a Smart Car! Now we were driving on a rebuilt 4-lane highway where you were tempted to exceed the speed limit! And you always have to be on the lookout for the good highway cops who shoot radar from their motorcycles and, when they zero in on a speeder, step into the road to wave them over to receive their ticket–seriously! The first time we saw that, we thought,”They are either exceedingly brave or totally insane!”
So on we drove on this lovely road past cities like Chitré and Las Tablas. We arrived in Pedasí in the late afternoon, detecting no changes in 5 years, and went to the beaches.
Pedasí has 2 large beaches. One of them accommodates fishing boats, the other is rocky and not really very hospitable for surfers or bathers. At the fishing beach, we asked a couple of folks who looked like they might speak English if they knew about whale-watching tours. Well, this is not Gorgona or Coronado so there are barely any expats there, particularly at this beach.
Our second attempt was asking the fishermen. Thanks to Norma’s almost perfect Spanish knowledge, we found the guy who has the reputation of being a whale guide. We agreed on a trip for the next morning, just us two, to see the whales in the morning with a stop at Isla Iguana.
The next morning, after a great breakfast and a stop at one of the only groceries in Pedasí to buy water and sunscreen, we were boarding our vessel at 8AM sharp and heading out to meet the whales!
After donning life vests, we hit the water–yes, we actually did hit the water! I had no idea that my back was able to absorb those jolts created by the large waves on the ocean. The good thing was that not just Norma and I were looking for firm grips, our Capitano had to deal with the same situation! Since he was smiling and very entertaining, we concentrated on the environment rather than counting the hits our backs had to absorb. It was windy with an overcast sky as our eyes were fixed on the ocean, hoping to catch a glimpse f the whales that we knew were in these waters. It took close to 2 hours of cruising around, maybe creating some impatience in us even though we know you can’t just whistle for these creatures to appear. But just past the 2 hour mark, our skipper called our attention to some patches of water with a concentration of waves. And, Yes! The first guy showed up, huge, majestic movements almost too exciting for me to concentrate for a photo shoot. It was like we had found Whale Village, as there were several of those biggies all around us. The greatest thrill of seeing 3 whales jumping through the water just about 10 yards off the starboard side of our fishing boat (can you refer to Starboard if it is just a little 16-foot fishing boat?) Farther away, we saw the whales breach and spout. It was amazing! It was like a kind of a dance. We were able to watch this spectacle for close to 2 hours in various locations.
The whale show was definitely by far the best we have experienced here. It was the 3 of us on the little
fishing boat. There were a couple more small boats at a distance. On the more commercial whale-watching tours, you are usually sharing the area with 10 – 20 other fairly large boats looking for the same prize you are looking for. I guess there is one advantage to these larger tours with lots of people: if you don’t spot any whales, you can party with the people on board!
Some of our photos are here. They were taken with my iPad, which was not optimal. An old-fashioned camera with a good lens would probably have been much better for the job, but I was happy to get the photos I was able to get.
Around noon, our Skipper deposited us on Isla Iguana
for a couple of hours to watch the wildlife and enjoy the crystal-clear water there. We have never seen so many iguanas of all sizes & descriptions and hermit crabs in our lives. They were everywhere. The iguanas are like dogs and fairly beg for scraps from your lunch (which we had to pack and bring with, since there are no services on the island). It is really interesting to watch hermit crabs shopping
around for new homes, checking out the newly arrived shells on the beach. And we did go out and swim in that beautiful water. We could see all the way down to our feet, the water was that clear.
Isla Iguana was one of the areas where the US Army played war during the era when the US owned and operated the Panama Canal. They have found unexploded bombs here and indeed have an entire area that is full of holes from bombs. That area is strictly off-limits! This island is not inhabited, with the exception of a couple of Officers who take care of immigration duties (you have to sign in when you come to the island) and catching or chasing drug smugglers!
Right on time, our Skipper came to retrieve us to take us back to the beach. It was a wonderful and exhausting day and so worth every penny! It could not have been better. Friendly service and the kind of people you want to meet again.
Always wishing you good times and fun!
Frank & Norma Backe