Wrestling Crocodiles in Panama!

The Jungle Tunnel

How I Spent My Christmas Vacation

One thing we definitely didn’t do for Christmas was go to the mall to buy new winter outfits! No. Having gotten rid of all heavy garments, we shopped instead for new bathing suits!
No parkas. No boots. No warm hats. No hot chocolate.
Shorts and iced beverages was the order of the day. Yes, in December and January, the so-called “dry season” in Panama.
What a great environment for the many retirees we are meeting here more and more. We meet them just everywhere!

Nik with captured cayman

Nik with captured cayman

So anyway, in December, our son Nik came for a visit. We wanted to do something interesting and exciting (not to say dangerous!) while he was here, so we decided to take him along for an adventure into the jungle.

We began our adventure when we met a boat at the public landing at the Panama Canal, just past the Miraflores Locks. We boarded for a ride along the Canal and into Lake Gatun, to a bona fide floating lodge. What ensued was great fun and excitement, as we went on a nighttime boat ride to hunt for and catch crocodiles and cayman! Yes, I am serious!
Besides that truly amazing escapade, we also went out on boats to do monkey and bird watching, fishing and climbing a waterfall in the middle of the jungle!
A great and promising adventure for a young man to meet others in their 20s, right? Wrong. Many of those on our excursions were again retirees! How wonderful for us to be able to not only afford a tour like this, but also to find outfitters who make certain that the more mature segment of the population is included as well.

The Beginning

The Floating Lodge

The Floating Lodge

So, to give you a rundown, the boat ride from the docks to the floating lodge was about 35 minutes. Unbelievable, to be flying along in the shipping lanes of the Panama Canal! We arrived at the floating lodge with our fellow participants, only one couple from Sweden–so 5 guests total. This was great because they can accommodate up to 60 guests, but because it was the night before New Year’s Eve, we were a small group. Fantastic!

We were treated to hors d’oeuvres and cocktails upon arrival. Then we jumped into waiting kayaks to explore the many waterways covered partly by rainforest. After a workout in the kayaks and the sight of some monkeys, we arrived back at the lodge to enjoy a wonderful tasty dinner. Our host is an expat from the US who has spent a substantial part of his life creating this lodge and adventure and living on a boat.

The Cayman!

Norma and Frank approaching the jungle tunnel

Norma and Frank approaching the jungle tunnel

After dinner, we climbed into a boat with our fellow guests, a boat pilot and 2 guides to go hunt in the pitch dark for cayman and crocodiles. Our guides, an Englishman and a Panamanian, took turns shining a strong flashlight across the surface of the water while the other watched like a hawk for the gleam of the reptile’s eye.

Our Panamanian guide was absolutely fearless. When he spotted a cayman along the shore, he slipped quietly over the side of the boat, crept around the front and caught the cayman around the neck, then proceeded to haul him into the boat. Although there were other smaller crocodiles that our guide caught from the boat, this cayman was the most daring. This particular one was between 3 and 4 feet long and didn’t like being caught at all, although he submitted to being handed around to those among us brave enough to hold him. I must admit that I passed on the offer to hold him and let Nik play with him instead. This was the closest encounter I have ever had with these reptiles with the very, very sharp teeth and strong jaws! Please understand that this undertaking was strictly “catch and release.”


Glowing cayman

Glowing cayman

The remainder of the evening on the floating lodge was spent discussing the excitement of the night excursion and listening to the jungle noises. Howler monkeys dominated the acoustic scenery!

Day Tour: Monkeys, Fish & Waterfalls

In the morning, we were served a delicious breakfast and encouraged to jump onto another boat to go out to see tamarin monkeys, capuchin monkeys and howler monkeys. The tamarins and capuchins we were able to feed with bits of banana and peanuts from the boat. The howler monkeys don’t really like humans much, so they kept their distance.
After the monkey business, we went to a different part of Lake Gatun to do some fishing. Lake Gatun is loaded with fish and it did not take very long to catch a meal for a huge family.

Not only are there a lot of fish in this huge lake, there are also hardwood forests: underwater forests with huge marketable trees! The trick is how to get these trees logged without polluting the water by using chain saws. I will certainly go back not only to say hello to the crocodiles, but to check into the timber situation. I owned a timber business 45 years ago in Cincinnati and it is still in my blood!

At lunchtime, we were joined by the day-adventurers, about 60 of them. After a delicious lunch, some of the kids enjoyed running and throwing themselves into the lake from the second level of the floating lodge. Most of the adults piled into kayaks again to go deeper into the rainforest, with lots of growth and flowers and through a channel that is hidden behind a curtain of vegetation. The quietness of using kayaks instead of anything with a motor was just wonderful. The channel ended at a beautiful pool fed by a waterfall…picture-perfect! The younger folks in this large group climbed up the waterfall, about 8 meters up, and took turns diving into the pool below, brave souls!

Heading back to reality

Taunting Frank with the Cayman

Taunting Frank with the Cayman

After this final treat of our time on the jungle adventure, we gathered our belongings from our room and climbed aboard a boat to go back to theboat landing, where we had left our car. I was a bit anxious about making sure the car was still OK, since the parking area is about 35 minutes away from any kind of residential area and always busy with people hanging around. However, across from the parking lot lives a prominent character from Panamanian history, Mr. Manuel Noriega, who is jailed at the wooded prison compound which is heavily guarded. I guess this makes this parking lot one of the safest ones in Panama!

Whata great time this was for us. Everything was extremely well organized and the staff was very competent, making for a very fun time.

Ifyou are looking for an adventure in Panama like this one, we will be happy to share the information with you. Just connect with us at fpb@anamericaninpanama.org



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Every morning around 6 AM, there is a group of people walking the beach from Gorgona (where we live) to Coronado for approximately 1 1/2 hours. Ostensively, the reason for this daily activity is to exercise themselves and their dogs. Most of the men and women own at least one or two dogs and some of them show up with 3 or 4! We have been part of this group since we moved into the area. Now, of course, since early December, Duke makes us full-fledged members of this fraternity.

No matter how long someone walks with the group–everyone according to his/her daily schedule–there is not one boring moment. First of all, a bunch of dogs–Rottweiers, Poodles, Huskies, Labs, Beagles, Heinz 57 (mutts)–keep the group on alert so that we don’t get run over by the dogs. Second, of course, this is a place where people talk politics! We solve all of the world’s problems right here on the beach. A group of people between the ages of 24 and 75 from the US, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Dominican Republic, Poland–you name it–with a lot of life- and educational-experience and having no agenda of their own can manage to produce some very interesting opinions!

A recent quote from one of our resident philosophers was “The present US government is against the entire US population!”
I will be introducing this group over the coming weeks and will be sharing with you some of their experience as investors and retirees in Panama–and we will include some photos of their dogs!



If you have a question of general interest, please send it to us at fpb@anamericaninpanama.org and we will answer it in one of our future editions.

I am planning to travel to Panama for several months to see if this is the country we want to spend at least part of our retirement in. I was thinking of getting a rental car. Can I use my US driver’s license? RG from Texas
Yes, you can use your US driver’s license, as long as it is not expired!
When you drive in Panama, you will need to keep your passport handy, along with your US driver’s license. You are permitted to use a US driver’s license for only 90 days in Panama. The police officer who stops you will check your passport to see when you entered Panama. If you have been in country for longer than 90 days, expect to get an expensive ticket!

On the question of rental cars, they are pretty much available in any part of Panama today. The rates from International rental agencies are very high. The advertised rates are low, however the insurance that is added to it (they tell you it is mandatory in Panama) pretty much doubles the cost!

If you plan to stay for several months, it would make sense to visit one of the long-term shops who can rent you a car with insurance, unlimited mileage and for substantially less money than the other guys.

Diesel engines are also a dream here in Panama since diesel is much less expensive than gas here and your mileage will also be much better!
For specific questions, please email me at fpb@anamericaninpanama.org

From Panama with love. Frank and Norma

From Panama with love. Frank and Norma

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