Sunday, October 25, 2009

Our Trip Back to Costa Rica For a Spell

We haven't been around computers in a long while so here's an update from mid-October.

While we were in Boquete, Panama we learned that Michelle's brother and sister-in-law were heading to Costa Rica for a 10th anniversary celebration. It turns out that they were going to be only a few hours from us so we decided to crash the party. First, however, several factors came together at once to make Mark decide to cut his hair.

1. Michelle's brother Kevin asked Mark if he was going to be joining Al Qaeda;
2. Mark kept noticing 1-3 year old little girls with the same hairstyle as himself: Namely, a pony-tail directly on top of the head;
3. Finally, Mark was fed up with his longish hair and wanted to look more presentable when meeting people for the first time.

It was a great experiment.

After the haircut we headed back to Costa Rica where
we met Kevin and Amy. What looked very close on the map turned into a 9-10 hour travel day, but it was WELL worth it to see those guys and play tourist for a spell. They stayed in a luxury resort and we stayed in a $20 place (luxury for us) called Dagmar Hotel with a wonderful family who practiced Spanish with us and gave us rides to the highway to catch buses. We had such a great time with Kevin and Amy. We took surfing lessons and all of us were able to catch waves. In fact, I don't think Mark missed a single wave and was thus offered a job by the owner of the surf company at the end of the day. We also took a zipline tour together and were taught how to zip hands free and upside down. The zip line included a couple of rappels, the second of which we also did upside down. Talk about a rush of blood to the head. At the end of the tour we were able to tarzan swing way out over the canopy. I got offered a job at the end of that tour... Maybe because I screamed the loudest. Another day we drove in Kev and Amy's 4x4 deep into the mountains in search of a waterfall known only to the locals. We took millions of photos but don't have any to post (for reasons which we´ll explain later) so check out Kev and Amy's blog because they might have some. Thanks for letting us crash the party guys, we had such a fabulous time.

While we were in Costa Rica we found this tasty pizza place run by a lovely couple. (We'll link to it when we find their information.) We enjoyed delicious pizza and watched the fútbol (soccer) world cup qualifying match between the US and Costa Rica. It was an intense game and Costa Rica was winning the entire game... First 1-0, then 2-0, then 2-1 toward the end. When the Tico's (Costa Rican's) scored you could hear the sounds of cheering and drums and yelling erupting from every building with a television all the way out in the streets. Probably 96% of the population was watching that game and the other 4% were under five months old and asleep. Finally the game ended but went into a couple of minutes overtime and in the final minute of overtime the US kicked toward the goal and a player head butted the ball into the goal for a tie game. A tie game meant that Costa Rica did not qualify and Honduras (one of their main competitors) qualified instead. It was quite exciting for us but very sad for the Tico's because they absolutely needed this game to qualify for the world cup. We felt very privileged to to have experienced the excitement of that game while in Costa Rica.

After saying goodbye to Kev and Amy we headed back to Panama and went straight to Panama City. We lucked out by finding a penthouse apartment in a building which overlooked the city on one side and the Panama Canal on the other. What a treat! We ended up renting the apartment for $100 per week. It was perfect. We had a balcony, a small kitchen, a bathroom, and a large bedroom. Our apartment was right on the defining line between a scary, dangerous part of town and a tourist district called Casco Viejo. Casco Viejo is a blend of historic redevelopment including museums, the Presidential Palace, restaurants, and galleries intertwined with decrepit buildings which are either abandoned or housing several families within it's crumbling walls. It's a unique and very strange mix. There is a large police force called the 'tourist police' and we felt like we had our own personal bodyguards. Each day we would stroll toward the redeveloped area and the locals and police alike would warn that we were coming from 'a very dangerous area' and that we should be very careful and avoid it at all costs if possible. We replied, ''We know. We live over there because it fits our budget.''

Each day we arose early to explore virtually every inch of the city. We spent an entire day at the Miraflores Locks at the Panama Canal where we watched several gigantic ships pass through the three sets of locks. Here is a brief time lapse video of a cruise ship passing through the entire canal. At the locks we learned how much the ships pay to pass through the canal. We saw one huge transport ship carrying stacks and stacks of cargo containers which paid $204,000 to pass, and we also watched a luxury cruise ship pass through which paid $308,000 in fees. ¡Wow!

We spent a day in the Panama Canal Museum and another day in the Simón Bolivar Museum, both of which were only blocks away from our penthouse apartment. Simón Bolivar is considered the liberator of Latin America and even the smallest towns from Mexico to the tip of South America generally have at lease one plaza and one street honoring him. It is said that if all of the sculptures, statues, paintings, and other art of Simón Bolivar were gathered together, no museum or building on the planet could house them—there are simply too many.

On October 24th we took part in the International Day of Climate Action where we participated in a worldwide peaceful demonstration of the number 350. (Click on this link for some truly remarkable pictures from around the world.) This is the number that ''leading scientists say is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide—measured in "Parts Per Million" in our atmosphere.'' We made the front page of the paper and you might be able to spot us as part of the number 5 in the vertical section just before it curves around. We're both wearing reddish colored hats and the photo was taken in front of the Panama Canal Administration Building. It was a fun day.

We both agree, however, that the best day of all absolutely and without question was the Sunday we spent at the Bahá'í Temple just outside of Panama City. The Bahá'í faith is extremely interesting to both of us and we are excited to learn more. We felt such a deep peace in the Panama Bahá'í House of Worship which is one of only seven in the world and which is open to everyone for meditation and prayer. What a special day.

Anyone reading this blog probably has noticed by now that there are no photos of Mark's gorgeous short hair, our trip with Kevin and Amy, the Panama Canal, Panama City, our participation in the 350 campaign, the Bahá'í House of Worship, and the plethora of other experiences we have had. We've tried to make up for this by linking to a lot of other photos and sites.... Well, the reason for this is that our fabulous waterproof Pentax camera was stolen right out from under our noses in Panama City. We were bottlenecked for a moment in a crowd and a professional pickpocketer opened our backpack and lifted our camera in a blink of an eye. We noticed within moments but the thief was gone. Ouch! Sadly, our memory card contained photos from San Cristobal, Mexico in April through Panama City, Panama in late October. Fortunately we have this blog. Mark was insistent that our camera was within two miles of us so we had to be able to find it. He delved into the seedy underworld of Panama City for three days before we decided to continue our journey to Colombia.

During those three days Mark went to pawn shops and searched the streets of the city asking for where to buy a ''second hand'' camera. After getting a tip from someone 'down by the docks' he went with our two neighbors Nick and Colin to check out the latest location for hot goods. These three big, strapping white guys waltzed into a narrow, dark alley which led them to a door, behind which was allegedly someone they could ask about buying goods such as a camera. The door opened into a dimly lit room which was a bar with prostitutes at the tables, a group of very rough looking men, and no visible exit. The three of them decided then and there that the seedy underworld of Panama was not where they belonged and they turned around and left.

We struggled with the decision to buy another camera. A used one would probably help perpetuate the theft of other cameras because it supports the demand side of the supply-demand equation. Also, the used ones obviously didn't come with chargers or memory cards or USB cords. A new one would set us back further than we could afford.... We finally found a camera at a repair shop. We're convinced it was a floor model which needed a minor repair—it still had some new stickers on it. It was also a Pentax and our charger, our extra battery, our cord, and our extra disk all fit and we got it for a song. So, in our next blog we will begin with a photo of the repair shop, Mark's new hair cut, and our new adventures.

Soured on Panama City we ended up flying to Cartagena, Columbia....

Sadly, we haven't had access to many internet cafes and those we've seen haven't had Skype so we haven't kept up with emails and calls. Please forgive us. We hope to be settled soon and can catch up with you all. Meanwhile, we are sending you all of our love from Mérida, Venezuela (another story for another time).

Mark and Michelle

PS We both have some very exciting news to share. We have two new nephews! Mark's brother Geoff and his wife DJ had a boy they named Gabriel Alexander Knight on October 17th, and my brother Jared and his wife Heather had a boy they named Emmett J Morris on October 28th. It's the first child for both couples. Isn't that awesome!!!! Congratulations you guys—we are SO happy!!!

1 comment:

  1. I continue to love reading your travelogue updates, although I'm so bummed your camera got stolen! I was so lucky to never have anything stolen on any of my adventures, although there was the time I was on the train on the way to the airport in Amsterdam to fly back after an 8 week journey. I could actually feel the seedy guy seated behind me unzipping the outermost pocket of my backpack (which I was wearing). I did a quick mental inventory, realized what was in that pocket, then I turned & smiled at the scruffy little thief, silently hoping he'd relieve me of all of my dirty underwear and socks that I was storing there!
    Um, interestingly enough, although he left the zipper undone, nothing seemed to be missing when I arrived at the airport. Hmmm.
    I hope many more wonderful journeys are ahead for you two!