Isla Contadora to Panama City to

El Valle 24 - 28 Dec 2005

Christmas in crater town El Valle and the Panama canal


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On the morning of Christmas Eve, we flew Honey-Mooney to Panama City - back to Gelabert (or Albrook) airport after an absence of nearly 5 weeks. We visited Jorge at the Mapiex FBO to find out how he was progressing with our permits for Ecuador and Peru. Ecuador was OK and he thought the Peru permit would come through by the time we returned to Panama City on the 26th.
We picked up a rental car and drove southwest for an hour and a half to El Valle, a pretty town nestled in the crater of an extinct volcano that erupted 3 million years ago. Fortunately, the Interamericana highway was in better condition than in Costa Rica and we didn't have to keep our eyes peeled for potholes.
Since this was high season, we had also pre-booked at the Rincon Vallero hotel. In fact, it had been a struggle to get a reply from them so we'd ended up phoning them. When they finally sent us their confirmation by email, the manager apologised for the inconvenience, and offered us an upgrade to a suite, space permitting. We waved the email in front of the receptionist and, sure enough, we got our upgrade. The Rincon Vallero was one of the nicest hotels we've stayed in on our trip so far. It used to be a privately owned country house and reminded me of a Mexican hacienda. The bathroom was the best feature of our room. It had stone walls and the shower water flowed out from a stone ledge, like a natural waterfall.
After a delicious lunch, we went in search of a real waterfall that was mentioned in the guide book and eventually found it. We had a great time swimming in the natural pool beneath it, allowing the current to push us along until we hung on to the banks and swam back up against the current again. And, what's more, we had the whole place to ourselves.
The next morning we hired a young Indian guide, aged 10, to take us to La India Dormida - a section of the crater wall shaped like a sleeping Indian woman, if one used one's imagination, that is! During the pleasant 3-hour walk, we worked up a hearty appetite for our Christmas lunch at La Casa de Lourdes, which was an amazing place. The house looked just like an old Tuscan villa, but was built only a few years ago under the direction of the owner, called Lourdes, and her husband Edward, of English origin. While we waited for our lunch (which was delicious), Edward chatted to us about his life in Panama. He was in the market gardening business and exported fruit and vegetables. The poor man didn't get much peace at the weekends, as he had to help his wife run the restaurant. As a matter of fact, they were rather overwhelmed with the number of clients who turned up for lunch. They hadn't been expecting a full house and it was actually our doing. We had read about the restaurant in our guide book and recommended it to a large American family staying at our hotel. They arrived before us, hence the wait for the table.
Thanks to the cheapest phone cards we've ever come across - about US$5 for an hour of calling to Europe - we were able to make long calls to our families in Denmark and England. Just as well we were in Panama over Christmas, as we later found that phone cards in Ecuador, Peru and Chile only last for about 10 minutes.
On Boxing Day morning, we decided to try out the local Pozos Thermales (Thermal Baths), where we applied 'healing' mud to our bodies. We were told to wait for it to dry before rinsing it off and plunging into the hot bath. It was all good fun, but I don't think the mud made the slightest difference to my neck and shoulders that have been suffering on and off ever since I strained them, pruning the cherry tree in our garden in Geneva.

Our bathroom in Rincon Vallero where the shower water flowed out from a stone ledge, like a natural waterfall

Flemming with the healing mud at Pozos Thermales (hot springs)

La India Dormida (sleeping indian woman) seen from Rincon Vallero hotel

Our young indian boy guiding us up La India Dormida

On the way up to La India Dormida

Undulating hills near the El Valle crater

JAlbum 6.2 Copyright: Angela & Flemming PEDERSEN