“Panama” from San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize – Part Three.

Today’s edition brings the three part series of the trip that Rose and I made to Panama City to a conclusion. Now aren’t  you just pleased about that!

On our first full day there we attempted to cover the massive Albrook Mall. We gave it a good shot – in fact Rose gave it a very praiseworthy shot – but failure is failure any way you want to put it.

For our second day we visited the fish market and the old town but we had the saved the best till last. For our third and final full day we were going to see the Panama Canal which has been named by many as the 8th wonder of the world. Not by me though. It’s good but that nomenclature can only be used to describe Thierry Henry when he was in his pomp at Arsenal!

OK I’ll be serious.

After breakfast at our hotel we took a leisurely stroll to the nearby Iglesia del Carmen Metro station where we took the train to Albrook. We had a few hours to spare and we were determined that it would not beat us. We would get around all of it. We gave it a good go but I started to lose the will to live. Rose? She looked as fresh as a daisy. Little doubt that the fairer sex is made of much stronger stuff!

Succumbing to my impassioned pleas of “No mas” we took our leave of the mall and headed to the bus terminal and joined the queue for bus to the ‘Canal. After around 10 minutes our bus arrived.

Unfortunately it wasn’t one like the brightly coloured one above. No, we got to travel on a rather bland beige coloured bus. I was so looking forward to sitting on a psychedelic one for a magical mystery tour (OK, so we knew where we were going but …).

The journey took around 25 minutes – with plenty of passenger drop off and boarding stops along the way- and all for only 25 cents using our Metro card. We had arrived. At the Miraflores locks, the set of locks on the Pacific Ocean side of Panama.

Entrance to the museum and th canal viewing stations.

Our timing was nigh on perfect – we arrived just at 13.50 hours- the film was going to be shown at 14.00 hours. So we went straight to the theatre and settled down in really comfortable seats. 

The film lasts around 30 minutes and provides a very informative history of how, over time, Panama has been used as a means of getting goods from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. Initially using horses and mules, moving on to a combination of horses/mules and the river, to a railway and ultimately the construction of the canal. A project that took 10 years and involved around 250,000 people. 

We then proceeded to work our way through the museum which hosts some really interesting exhibits and provides a wealth of facts and figures. I didn’t time our tour but I think it probably took us around 90 minutes. This included some time in a mock up Bridge  which simulates the movement of a ship along the ‘Canal and through the lock system.

Our ‘ship’ moving along the ‘Canal.

We then found a position on the veranda to watch a ship (I’d checked the shipping schedule so that we would get the timing about right) enter the locks.

A feat of engineering excellence .

By the time we left it was around 17.30 hours and we thought we would have time to return to the hotel to shower and change before heading out to dinner but the no bus showed up for over an hour and there was a distinct absence of taxis do we revised our plans. Let’s go straight to our chosen venue for the night, the Blarney Stone (c’mon there’s an Irish pub everywhere).

I chose the Irish stew made with lamb (and very good it was too) and Rose had the beer battered fish and chips (chips as in British chips ) nicely washed down with 

for me

and a glass a Chardonnay for Rose.

The rain was hammering it down outside so we were ‘forced’ (told you earlier that I have no willpower) to have a few more each). Common sense took over in the end though and we ordered a taxi back to our hotel. We had a plane to catch the next day!

Panama City. A very interesting place to visit.

I’m now busy planning our next trip which we will make after Christmas and will probably be to Colombia.

The headline for today’s edition is the same as for the previous two editions. Yes, that’s right it’s the single released in 1984 by Van Halen.

“Panama” from San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize – Part Two.

Now where was (see what happens when you get to a certain age, you’re memory starts to fade) I? Oh yes, we retired early on the Saturday night so that we would be refreshed for our Sunday in Panama City.

We awoke to a grey sky and the rain was pouring down. But what do you expect when you visit a tropical country during rainy season! Undeterred (we’d had the good sense to bring rainwear with us) after breakfast we made the short walk to the Metro station -passing through the gentleman’s club area of the city –

I’ve never seen Santa Claus dressed this way before.

and took a train to 5 de Mayo where we alighted and after around a 5 minute walk we were at Mercado de Mariscos (the fish market).

We bought ourselves a ćoctel de gambas (prawn cocktail) each for US$ 2.50 and found ourselves a table in the restaurant area. The container and the prawns within it were huge.

We then took a stroll around the harbour

In the background a skyline that reminded Rose and I of Hong Kong when we first visited nearly 30 years ago.

Fishing boat being prepared for a new paint job.

Next stop was Casco Viejo or the old town.

A renovated building that is now a hostel. Classy eh!

A building readied for renovation.

A fair bit of work to do on this one.

With streets that are reminiscent of some towns in Spain the old town 

is an area which is strangely at odds with the inner city with its skyscrapers.

Our walk around the cobbled streets was brought to a sudden halt when the sky opened up and the rain came tumbling down. And I mean TUMBLING. Only one thing to do. Visit the museum

The Casco Viejo Canal Museum.

It’s a really good way to spend a couple of hours, and especially when it’s teeming down with rain. Lots of exhibits and tons  of interesting facts and figures. The only pity though is that they apply restrictions as to where and what in the museum you can photograph. And guess what? This generally applies to all of the good stuff. Not all of the good stuff though.

Rose signing the Visitors’book. Told you I was able to photograph some of the really good stuff!

As we were leaving the museum we were treated to seeing some young girls dressed in national costume. 

As you can probably see from the first photograph in the series the rain was still pouring down, so we grabbed a taxi (taxis are relatively inexpensive but DO negotiate and agree the price before you set off) back to our hotel. Time to get ready for dinner!

After a shower and change of clothing we took a taxi to Gaucho restaurant where we enjoyed two very good steaks complemented with some fantastic homemade bread. I can’t recall exactly how much the bill was but it was around US$ 90. Not bad for an entrée each,  steak for our main course, a half a bottle of wine for Rose and two beers (yes, I’m a philistine) for me.

Oh, in case you don’t believe I went with Rose here’s a gratuitous photo of me near the harbour.

Not wishing to spoil your day I’m including a photo of Rose.

Now that’s better!

Well that’s enough from me for today so if you want to read the last thrilling instalment – our visit to the Panama Canal – you’ll just have to wait for the next edition.

The headline for today’s edition is the same as yesterday’s (lazy or what!). It’s based on the single released in 1984 by Van Halen.

Panama from San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize.

Around 5/6 weeks ago Rose and I enjoyed a short visit to Merida and while we were there we spoke again about the promise we’d made to each other that we would use our Ambergris Caye home base to visit neighbouring countries and countries in South America far more than we have done so far in the 41/2 years we have been living in Belize.

So early last week we got the atlas out and we pondered (Rose is quite good at pondering too) and then I remembered (the memory still works from time to time) that last December Copa Airlines introduced a twice a week (Tuesday and Friday) service between Panama City and Belize. Why not give it a try, we thought.

With the decision made I got up early the next morning (around 04.30 hours for those of you that might be remotely interested), made myself a mug of coffee (instant, black and unsweetened), grabbed the iPad and headed out to the veranda (the western, lagoon facing one). I had some Googling to do!

It didn’t take too long to start pulling our itinerary together. Fly out on the Friday and return the following Tuesday. With the travel arrangements made I chose a hotel in the business district (I’d been told by friends who’ve been there that this’s is a safe and central location) of Panama City fairly quickly. The Hilton Garden Inn if you want to know. Even if you don’t want to know, that’s the hotel I booked. 

After breakfast – at Estel’s Dine By the Sea of course – I popped in to Tropic Air and booked our flights to Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport and the around to Pampered Paws to book Ziggy’s ‘holiday’. All set.

On Friday morning we dropped Ziggy off at his holiday ‘resort’, I dropped Rose off with the bags and found a parking space for the golf cart. Ready to go!

When we landed on the mainland I was amazed again by how much change the airport has undergone. It just seems ( maybe it’s me, maybe it’s not) but it appears to be getting bigger and bigger. Nothing like the airport we landed at 18 years ago on our first visit to Belize.

From the fairly new sign

to the recently added Check In desks.

There’s no doubting that Philip S.W. Goldson Airport is fast gaining the appearance of an international airport. Personally I prefer the charm of the way it used to be but with ever growing tourism numbers there’s no arguing that the changes were necessary.

After a fairly uneventful flight – well that is apart from having to circle for 20 minutes before landing because of a thunderstorm – we arrived at Panama’s Tocumen airport where we spent nearly an hour getting through Immigration and Customs. This is the only airport I’ve ever landed at where they X-Ray your luggage on entry!

A 25 minute drive to our hotel (US$30) and we were in our room by 19.30 hours and out of it having unpacked, showered and changed within 45 minutes. Time for a local beer (Polar if you’d like to know) and a bite to eat.

The next morning we were up bright and early and after breakfast we headed straight to the Metro station that was a short walk from our hotel (one of the reasons I chose the hotel). We were off to Albrook Mall, currently the 14th largest shopping mall in the world. 

On arriving on the concourse we purchased a US$2 ticket from one of the dispensing machines and then ‘loaded’ it with US$ 4. Rose and I would use the same ticket -swiping it twice at every turnstyle reader we had to pass through – and at 35 cents a journey on the Metro or 25 cents on a bus I was fairly confident that our US$4 would cover our 4 day trip (it did, by the way).

Our Metro ticket.

The very helpful route map they make available at the stations.

It’s a new transport system and it shows. Spotlessly clean and modern platforms

and immaculate trains. No eating or drinking allowed in the carriages.

Five stations later we were at the mall and wow. Everything about it is huge.

From the snowman outside the mall.

To the model animals that each of the wings are named after.

To the food courts.

And the hundreds and hundreds of shops.

And there was cultural entertainment thrown in too!

We spent nearly a full day there and we still didn’t get to cover the entire mall – Rose did her best though and trust me her best is pretty good – because it really is BIG.

We stopped on the way back to the hotel for dinner and a few beers (it would have been rude not to ‘sample’ some more Panamanian beers) and then a reasonably early (around 22.00 hours) return to our hotel. We had a busy day planned for the next day. A visit to the Mercado de Mariscos and a tour of Casco Viejo. And we were (obviously) going to visit the Panama Canal.

All will be revealed in the next gripping (yeh, right) instalment !

The headline for today’s edition is based on the single released in 1984 by Van Halen which reached number 64 on the UK Singles Charts and number 13 on the US Billboard Hot 100.

“Happy Anniversary” in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize.

One of the most pleasing things for Rose and I since relocating to Ambergris Caye are the friendships we have made. Many of them with Belizeans. 

Some of these friendships started to form when we visited (usually twice a year) from our (then) home in the UK for holidays. Amongst those embryonic friendships were the relationships we began with Carlo and Ernie (they of Carlo & Ernie’s Runway Bar fame) when they both worked at BC’s.

Since moving here the friendships we already had have strengthened and we have made new ones. And, unless you are a recluse, the friendly nature of Belizeans (amongst the friendliest I have witnessed on our travels over the years) have made it nigh on impossible not to.

One of the real joys for us is to be included when events are organised to celebrate special occasions and the latest of these was yesterday when Rose and I were invited to join Alma and Carlo on a day trip to Mahahual to celebrate their wedding anniversary.

Obviously the day held significant importance for Alma and Carlo but it had some significance for us too. Why? Well Rose and I were invited to their wedding 8 years ago but I worked for a living back then and was in the middle of a major project and just couldn’t take the time off for a holiday. 

We were told to be at the old Sunset Grill (on the lagoon side quite close to the water taxi terminal) at 06.30 hours. A bit early? Not for me! I was up and out on the veranda (the western, lagoon facing one) with a mug of coffee (instant, black and unsweetened) and my iPad by 04.00 hours. I just have to have my ‘me time’ no matter what.

Rose and I set off from home just after 06.00 hours and arrived at the ‘meeting place’ (or so we thought) around 06.15 hours. Nice and early! And we sat there waiting for eveyone to turn up. But nobody did. Time to make a ‘phone call. “Damn”, I’d forgotten to pack the ‘phone again. In my previous life ( that’s when I used to work) I didn’t go anywhere (and I mean ANYWHERE) without a ‘phone. Now? I hardly go anywhere with one. How times change!

Only one thing to do. Drive to Carlo’s house. He’s always late for these kind of things so there was a very strong possibility that he hadn’t left home. And he hadn’t. He was walking in the street. He’d been headed to tell us (not being able to get us on the ‘phone) of the change in meeting venue. We were now going to depart from the the Hurricane’s Ceviche Bar dock but some of the group were at the ‘Runway Bar. So that’s where Rose and I headed.

I just managed to finish my second mug of coffee for the day before the anniversary couple arrived and we on our boat, Miss Belize, and on our way by 07.00 hours. Only 30 minutes after schedule. Pretty good by Belizean standards. In fact you could say we were early!

Captain Rolando (‘Rayo’) , ably assisted by Modesto, getting us on our way as we headed north.

I think – but I don’t know – that Rose was assuring Celi and Rick that you can still get 2 Belize dollars for 1 US dollar.

A bit of what we saw on the way there.

And then we were in Mexican waters. Time for Captain ‘Rayo’ to put on his Mexican shirt

and for the rest of us to grab hold of a life jacket. Not too sure if this was because the ‘Sea was a bit choppy or to appease the Mexican coast guard (or to be precise, the Armada de Mexico).

Either way within minutes we could see the coastline of Xcalak.

We waded to shore 

and then Rick, ‘Rayo’, Modesto and Chris secured the boat.

Ernie and Carlo found the ideal spot to park their butts while we waited for our transport to Mahahual .

One hour later and we on the beach, sitting under umbrellas and enjoying the views.

Will you just look at that view!

And then some food.

Not too sure what Ernie is doing. Looks like something out of Karate Kid.

And then time for some photographs.

Have you noticed how Ernie appears to want to be in every photo.

Told him there was a beer on the table for him. That got him to move!

‘Rayo’ was taking a nap. He wanted to be fresh for the journey home. 

Happy anniversary to a great couple, Alma and Carlo.

But Ernie wouldn’t be outdone.

My success of the day was to get a very shy Lillian to have her photo taken.

Lillian to Rose’s left.

Just time for Sherryl to have a swim
before heading back to the boat.

We did have time though to stop on the way

to get a few  (Mexican) beers for the journey home.
Chris in a contemplative mood. Probably dreaming of Barcelona winning La Liga!

Carlo and Ernie trying out those Mexican beers for size. They look like a good fit, don’t they!

A very happy looking Alma and Carlo and a tired and emotional Ernie.
And then it was time to disembark as Chris brought us safely in to shore.

Happy anniversary Alma and Carlo. And thanks for letting us be part of your special day.

The headline for this edition is based on the single released in 1978 by the Little River Band which reached number 16 on the Hot 100 Billboard chart.

“Money on My Mind” in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize.

Regular readers will know that I’m one of the world’s great ponderers. But, I have to admit, it wasn’t always that way. When working in the UK (boy does that seem an eternity ago) I used to ponder but back then I described it as thinking. I was paid to think, and think quickly, not ponder, you understand. 

But now ? Well now I ponder. And I ponder a lot. I ponder about the weather. Will it be sunny? Will it rain? Will our water tank be full soon? Will Arsenal win the next game? You give me a subject and I’m  sure I will able to ponder about it. But the subject I’ve spent a lot of time recently pondering about is the sterling v US Dollar exchange rate. It’s fair to say that I’ve had money on my mind.

Why? Quite simple really. My pensions and the majority of our easily convertible assets are in sterling and sterling has taken a real pummelling recently and particularly so since Brexit

Before we moved here I did all of our budget calculations on the basis of US$ 1.50 to £1 exchange rate. The rate was better than that but my years of managing budgets for companies that I worked for had taught me (well actually it was the Finance Directors that browbeat it in to me) to always be prudent. I then did the same calculations – for the cost of building our house and living expenses during and after the completion of the build – but this time using outliers . I even went so far as calculating a 1:1 exchange rate. I never, ever, expected the rate to drop so low but I wanted to be sure that if it did we could still ‘cut the mustard’. And we could.

Since moving here -and especially during the build process- I’ve studiously watched sterling’s movement in the currency market and bought sizeable ‘lumps’ of US dollars when I thought the rate on offer was good. During the early stages of our house construction (the period when the staged payments to our building contractor were among the highest) I managed to secure exchange rates in the low to high US$ 1.70s. Sometimes ‘beating’ my budgeted rate by over 15/16 %.Good times. 

But now? Well now the exchange rate has swung viciously the other way and you’re lucky if you can get much better than US$ 1.25. A negative movement from my budget rate of 16.66%. Swings and roundabouts right! But we got the positive swing on the rate during the heavier cost of the build as opposed to the much, much lower costs of covering everyday living expenses. So no complaints from me. These things happen. And if I complained it wouldn’t change a thing. So why waste the effort!

This US dollar exchange rate monitoring is not something that becomes ‘a way of life’ only for people like me from Britain. It will (obviously) be the case for anyone whose ‘funding ‘ isn’t already in US or Belize dollars. 

So my message to anyone thinking of moving here who find themselves in similar circumstances is to spend a little time calculating how a range of US dollar exchange rates will affect your ability to live in Belize without negatively impacting upon your standard of living. 

There are ways of taking out the risk/uncertainty of what rate you will get from month to month. For example if you have the necessary funding you can make sizeable (maybe enough to cover your living costs for a year) by exchanging currency if the rate moves in your favour. Another way is to enter into a forward currency contract.  Neither option significantly increases the exchange rate but you do have the certainty. You know exactly how many US dollars you have to spend. 

Now if you’re wondering why I’m putting this ‘out there’ (wherever ‘out there’ might be) it’s just to let you know what some of my ponder moments concern themselves with. I don’t just sit there out on the veranda – the western, lagoon facing one that is- drinking coffee – instant, black and unsweetened- and dream about Arsenal once again winning the Premier League or winning the Champions League for the first time.  Oh no. Now you know that I do occasionally ponder about far less serious stuff than that!

The headline for today’s ‘Business Section’ edition is based on the single released by Sam Smith in 2013 which reached number one on the UK Singles Chart.