Sep 132011

Taxi to the Le Meridien hotel was pretty uneventful, except for a driver who definitely had several screws loose.  He had the radio in his car maxed out on volume, and was driving like he was determined to get somewhere quickly – where I have absolutely no idea, but we made it to the hotel by 4pm with little drama.

We got to the room, and Matt had arranged for them to have a cake delivered.   He mentioned the reason for the trip, and for some strange reason they decided to wish me a happy early birthday.  Odd, but it’s the thought that counts!

We grabbed a quick snack in the Executive Lounge while catching up on e-mail, and I’m convinced this is where I made a fatal mistake.  Note to self:  avoid ceviche and raw fish in developing countries – especially when they’ve been sitting out on a buffet.  Didn’t get bad until the middle of the night, but I spent most of the next week dealing with the consequences.

Dinner was at a restaurant called Manolo Caricol which I had read several good reviews of online.  It has no menu, and you just eat what the chef finds in the market that day and cooks for you.  It is billed as 8-12 tapas sized courses, and was pretty tasty.  It definitely wasn’t gourmet, but was solid, fresh, and tasty and for $25 per person you really can’t go wrong!  The chef was definitely a bit on the eccentric side and kept wandering around the restaurant with his iPad taking pictures of random things.

The next morning, stomach more or less under control, we headed out on our tour of the Panamá Canal with Ancon Expeditions.  We had booked the “rainforest tour” which was basically a 4 hour boat trip down the canal  and the feeder waterways.  We ended up seeing a couple of baby crocodiles, several monkeys, and a giant anteater up in the canopy.  One of the more unusual sites were the giant ants nests hanging from the trees.  A jungle survival trip was to grab a handful of the ants, squash them all over your skin, and it acts as a natural repellant of poisonous snakes.  Go figure!

One of the cooler things we saw were the groups of monkeys.  You could throw an orange or banana to them, and they would actually come down to the boat to grab it.  Unfortuntely, one also saw a bag of cookies someone was carrying and decided he would rather have that…so he grabbed it and ran!

After the boat tour we had a quick picnic lunch (thank God for ginger ale) and then headed to the Miraflores Locks to see the point where the ships pass through.  Most of the museum was under renovation, but we did at least get to see one small tourist boat pass through.  It was cool to see exactly how the locks operate.

We got back late afternoon, and decided to head to the *** mall to do a bit of shopping before dinner around the corner.  Picked up a couple of shirts, and then wandered the area trying to find the Marina Marina cafe.  Food was decent, and I went with my usual developing country strategy of a couple of margaritas to cure stomach bugs…after all, is there anything tequila can’t kill?  We were back relatively early and to bed to get ready for a big day of flying the next day!

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