Friday, September 11, 2015

Panama 2015

 Thunderstorm rolling into Panama City as seen from atop Cerro Ancon

Part of my rather "Trip Filled" year, was a visit to Panama back in September.  

I had asked Sandi, almost a year ago, if she wanted to take a trip to Panama.  Her Mother is native to Panama and met her Father while he was serving there while in the U.S Army.  She has always balked at the idea of going back...perhaps because it had been so long since she had left there.
Sandi left Panama when she was 11 years old and had not been back since.  I have always wanted us to connect with her family there, as Sandi's Mom is the only one (of her siblings) that left to live in the U.S.  

On a night when she was in an especially receptive mood, I asked her about taking our vacation there this year.  When she agreed that it "might" be fun to do so, I got on Expedia, checked out Hotel Reviews, discovered i could get a great price on airfare and booked the trip!  The next morning she was more than a bit surprised when I told her I had locked us in for Panama.  She told me, "I didn't know you were going to go book it!  Yep, I did.

Long story shot, she connected with a couple cousins via Facebook and let them know we were coming.  One of those cousins, Amett, would faithfully message Sandi and stayed in touch for the months leading up to our visit.  He and another cousin of Sandi's, Malvira, would prove to be wonderful friends (and cousins!) and would make our trip incredibly memorable.

I will not attempt to condense the experience of this trip into a blog post.  There was simply too much in the way of experiences, sights, and family connections to explain and properly write about.
I will say this.  In over 20 years of marriage, I have never seen Sandi smile as much or as big...and have never seen her moved so deeply, as I did during this trip to Panama.  She was able to retrace her beloved "Mama's" steps both figuratively and literally.  She walked through "Mi Pueblito", her Mother's favorite place to visit every time she went back to Panama.  She saw and re-connected with Cousins and Aunts and Family that welcomed her as their though she had never left.  She smelled the jungle, enjoyed the food and re-discovered the sights and sounds of Panama...the Panama that for the most part, had not changed much (outside of Panama City) since she had left.  She visited her Great Grandmother's house where she played as a little girl and chased chickens...and there are still chickens there!  She put her hands on her Mama's hand prints still preserved in the cement floor of a house built by her Parents, that sadly, no longer remains in the family.  These were special moments and often, very emotional experiences.  I think she had forgotten how "Panamanian" she is.  

It was the first time I can remember, that Sandi was not ready to come home at the end of a trip.

Rather than even attempt to tell the story, I will select a few special photos and caption them.  It will provide a glimpse into our experience in Panama. 

I went through approximately 900 photos taken between the two of us, edited a ton of them and put together a 109 page Photo Book from Shutterfly, so that Sandi would always have a chronicle of the trip.  I will post a pic here of the prologue contained in the book as well as the cover "quote".  A picture (or several) is worth a thousand words...and saves me ALOT of writing in this case!

Front Cover of the Photo Book

Prologue in the Photo Book

Leaving Miami, heading to Panama

Arrival at the Airport in Panama!  Sandi and Malvira.  Two peas in a pod!

 Sandi and Amett

 Outside the Food Stand where we ate our first meal upon arriving in Panama City

Waterfront. Panama City

Church In Casco Viejo

Cousins and fast friends, Malvira, Sandi and Amett

 We visited Many Old Churches In The Old Part Of Town

Old Town vs New Panama City

Plaza Francia

Tablet describing the idea of a Canal through Panama by the French (Plaza Francia)

Graffitti In Casco Viejo

  Closeup of Casco Viejo, from atop Cerro Ancon

Nighttime, Casco Viejo

The "Metro"

School Kids In Uniform

Malvira and Sandi, Late Night Talk

 Portobello, Panama   Cannons defended the Port from Pirates seeking gold in the 1700's

School girls in Portobello, Panama

Portobello...just over the Old Forts' Walls.  My favorite photo of the trip.

 Portobello "convenience store"!

Portobello Store (larger view)

Sandi with some Portobello students

Colon, Panama

 Ghetto, Panama City

Sandi in the Hotel Lobby

Albrook Mall

Albrook Mall

Sandi and Amett, Trump Tower, Panama City

House that Sandi's Parents (and Malvira) Built in Penenome, Panama

Penenome, Panama

Mama's hand prints and Name (Evida) in the cement

Family in Penenome!  Pablo, Joyce, Malvira, Jaja and Sandi

Night View from our Hotel. Downtown Panama City

 Our hotel room

 Panama Canal

Panama Canal

Panama Canal

 Best cake I have ever eaten.  (I had 4 pieces)

 Jungle near Gamboa, Panama

 Men's Room, Hard Rock Hotel, Panama City

 Old Tower at the ruins of Panama Viejo, a medieval town of sorts

Another view from the tower looking down at what would have been a small village

Saying goodbye to Panama 

I will try to update the captions and organize these pictures a bit better, until then these will give you an abbreviated visual of our trip!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Grand Canyon "Rim To Rim" Part 4 (Hiking Out)

Sleep??! What sleep!???  Morning came even quicker than the day before!  For a brief moment I thought, “Maybe that rest really helped my legs recover from the hike yesterday”.   I did feel much better as I swung my legs out of the bunk and onto the floor.  I quietly gathered my things, stood up and put my small pack on.

As we made our way out the door, careful to not wake the other 7 people in the bunk house, I was surprised that it was still quite warm!  Not cool in the least!  A few steps from the bunk house I think we laughed...I know I legs were not rested AT ALL!   It was comical seeing each of us hobbling along for several hundred feet, until our legs stretched out a bit.
We walked to the sign that pointed us to the trail head and off we went.  It was 3 am and the stars were amazing!   I had brought my DSLR and a small tripod for moments like this, as I had planned to capture the Milky Way as it loomed large in the dark, desert sky, but my interest in taking the time to do this was simply outweighed by the desire to make the most of our hiking time in the cool darkness.  It shows just how much the energy drain affected my photographic enthusiasm.

Shortly after hiking out of the campground, we came to a large foot bridge.  We would cross the Colorado River here as we hiked down the South Kaibab trail.  As we crossed, Dennis was grumbling about coming all this way and not being able to see the mighty Colorado River!  He was right, it is a rather large geographic feature to miss!!  He was very disappointed that we were out in the middle of the night, on a foot bridge with the river beneath us...and all we could do was listen to it.  I mean, technically we could see it....when we used our headlamps/flashlights to illuminate the tiniest portion of it!  Check that off the list...."Saw Colorado River"!  Done! 

We made really good time to the first rest point.  The uphill grade was a very welcome change and was so much easier on the knees.  No pain, all gain!  We hiked through sand along this part of the trail, which seemed odd to me!?  We also found ourselves quite close to the edge of the trail at a few spots.  I should mention that perhaps that aspect of this hike was one of my favorites.  The trail today as well as the day before, came excitingly close to the edge on numerous occasions.  I suppose for some it would be quite alarming if thought about too much, but it really gave the trail some character and added to its adventurous feel.  We took a break at the River Rest House about 1.5 miles into the hike and after watching a group go past, we hit the trail.  It was still dark, so no photos and no real interesting observations as we were just hiking in the dark at this point.

What I really liked most about the next section of the trail, was the long and somewhat dramatic switchback about midway between the River Rest House and the Indian Garden Campground water point, some 3 miles in front of us.  Dawn brought some light to our hike and we were now able to take a look around us!   This climb was enjoyable for both the views and the uphill climb.  The ascent certainly got our heart rates up, but I really enjoyed this stretch.  The scale of the trail here was made clear when you were able to see a hiker further up on the long, stark switchback.  It is one of my favorite parts of the trail/photos that I included here.

 Look close, find the person on the trail to the right. Gives a sense of scale!

We rested at the top of this beautiful switchback and took in the view as we watched some hikers slowly making their way up...breathing hard and smiling....just like us.  We then set off for the Indian Garden Campground.  We walked through some pretty green areas at this point and I was surprised at the change in geography.  Up until now it had been mostly "desert" in nature.  We rounded a corner and came upon a little waterfall...almost an Oasis of sorts!  After pausing here we walked a good long stretch with trees and greenery on both sides of the trail.




We were feeling good at this point and before we knew it, we were walking into Indian Garden Campground.  This was a nice little area with water, benches and even a couple Raven's to keep us company.  I felt like we were really moving quickly compared to yesterday's initial downhill of 4 to 5 miles. 


After a short break we were on our way, with the sun accompanying us!  When that sun comes out, you feel it!  From here out, we would start to feel the effects of the sun and the elevation gain, but we would also start to enjoy the views available from a higher perspective!   We continued our hike up the trail, and by this time it really started to lead "UP"!  1.7 miles up the trail, we took our next break at the 3 Mile Rest House.  You earn this rest a bit more than the previous part of the hike as the grade steepens a bit.  We were certainly feeling the previous days hike in our legs! 

 Just as we were about to start back down the trail, we observed some mules and riders taking a break on the trail.  It was proper etiquette to allow the animals to rest, as going past them would be impractical and rude.  Hell we didn't mind a longer break...who am I trying to kid!!?? 


When the mules made their way past us, we got up and followed a few other hikers that had been waiting.  From here on, the trail would maintain a relatively constant and significant uphill.  We found ourselves moving a bit more slowly from here on.  The previous days hike...the elevation gain, and the heat...would continue to slow us down.  We found ourselves taking more frequent breaks.  In hindsight, it was a good thing, since it forced us to take a longer look around and soak in some of our unique surroundings. 

An additional interesting fact in my case, was that as I became more tired throughout the day, I found myself occasionally not lifting my left foot up high enough to clear a stone or carved out step in the trail.  This caused me to bang the hell out of the front of my foot/shoe several times...and each time I thought to myself, "pick up your damn feet"!!  This hurt like hell, as the previous day had my feet hitting the front of my hiking boots once in a while due to the steepness of the descent the first few miles.  I would later pay the price for my laziness!


As we trudged our way along the trail, with fresh faced tourists walking down laughing and talking...likely wondering why we looked like tired old men, I remembered something I heard at the Phantom Ranch the previous day...that this hike was "not a race"...and, "try to enjoy the journey...take it in vs just completing it".  As we took our break at the 1.5 Mile Rest House, I realized that we were about to complete what had been a likely "once in a lifetime" adventure.  From this point on, while I enjoyed the views from our ever improving vantage points, I felt a little somber that the whole thing would soon be over.

We were now taking breaks even more frequently, sometimes after just a hundred yards or so.  It was of some comfort that the wide eyed, energetic tourists that we had seen come down the trail earlier, would later be huffing and puffing, with looks of "I didn't think it would be this hard" on their faces, on their way back UP the trail.  It made me feel better....

Our legs were smoked as the last three miles are just a steady climb up and out of the Canyon.  We talked a bit about the hike and what we might sit down to eat once we made it to the top.  When we rounded the last corner, legs sore, and somewhat exhausted from the 2 days of hiking, it was exhilarating and sad all at the same time.  Patrick wasn't able to sit and take it all in, as Dennis and I sat down just before the end of the trail.  He hiked on up and out!  I think he simply couldn't resist just finishing, and he was the first one to the end. 

After a few minutes, Dennis and I got up, groaned a bit in doing so, and walked the last 400 feet or so, meeting up with Pat near the South Rim Lodge.  We decided to have a sit down meal at the lodge....we deserved it!  After a fantastic cheeseburger and several of pitchers of lemonade/iced tea each, we did a little looking around in the Lodge's Store and picked up the requisite "Rim To Rim" T-Shirt!  We then slowlllllly made our way out to the rental car and we were off to Las Vegas...A/C on full blast!  We had completed the Rim To Rim Hike! 

After a long drive back to Las Vegas, and a long hot shower we were able to get a good nights sleep...FINALLY!!!!  The next morning I enjoyed a great breakfast with my two brothers, and I was dropped off at the airport.

It had been a whirlwind adventure...challenging...difficult for sure, but at the same time very rewarding .  We had met some very nice, and equally tough people along the way.  I had completed the hike with my two brothers, making it all the more gratifying.  It would take some time for the whole thing to sink in.

A week later I would lose three of my toenails as a result of banging my left foot into a few steps!  A small price to pay for conquering the Rim To Rim!!