Trip Start Dec 14, 2011
Trip End Jan 05, 2012

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Where I stayed
Finisterre Suites

Flag of Panama  ,
Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year! What a night we had! But I will get back to that.

It is 9:30 AM and I am in the breakfast dining room of the Finisterre Suites. I am surprised I am up this early. It is another beautiful, hot day in Panama City.

Before we left the lobby bar to go out last night, I arranged through the hotel to have a cab pick us up from the Las Clementinas at 12:30 AM. I was worried about every cab being busy at that time and I could see that cabs would not be hanging around the less busy and cumbersome (for taxis) Casco Viejo area. The hotel uses a reliable (and expensive) taxi service called VIP Valet. I called the room of the two women who had suggested Las Clementinas to me (whose names turn out to be Yvette and Heidi) and told them what I had done. They weren't sure they wanted to leave the party that soon after midnight and I told them they weren’t committed but wanted them to know what I had done. The taxi would cost $15 with just two of us; $25 for four.

But that was for later, to get to Casco Viejo, we took a cab we hailed from the street. When the taxi dropped us off, the guy at the door of Las Clementinas suggested place a couple of blocks away for us to have drinks since we had an hour before our event started. On the four-block walk back to Las Clementinas at 8 PM we walked past a church half full of nicely dressed Panamanian families with music playing. It all seemed joyous and uplifting. A little girl came out to look at Linda as she and I peered in to look at the festivities. The little girl was adorable so we took her picture with Linda and then showed it to her.

When we walked into Las Clementinas, I saw Yvette and Heidi. I introduced them to Linda and told them I would seek them out after midnight to see what they wanted to do about the taxi ride back to the hotel.

Linda and I got seated in the outdoor garden area of Las Clementinas’ dining area. They had a buffet set up and immediately started pouring wine. After paying them $300, including tax and tip, everything was paid for. Linda and I reminded each other we would have to be careful not to get carried away with drinking---how adult of us!

Linda left the table to go check out the buffet. It was then that I saw them. It was a series of things, some of which I wasn’t even aware. She first noticed me at the Costa Rica airport when Linda and I were checking in, commenting to her husband about my height. Neither Linda nor I were aware of that. Next I notice them sitting in the VIP Lounge before the flight to Panama. Apparently, she and Linda talk briefly in the women’s room. Then, as she boards the plane the woman sees Linda sitting in her Business Class seat and comments to her that she can’t believe she is seeing her again and that we are going to the same place (Panama City). I am sitting a few seats behind Linda and notice this conversation, but don’t focus on her and don’t associate her with the couple I had seen in the VIP Lounge.

Later that day, Linda and she see each other as the four of us pass through the lobby of our hotel as we are checking in. The two women shriek in disbelief that they are, again, seeing each other and that we are all staying in the same hotel. Since Linda and I were boarding the elevator at the time and didn’t want to hold it up, nothing more was said and I, again, didn’t really focus on either the woman or the man. Yesterday, I see a man pass through the hotel lobby with what looks like a new Panama hat and note how good it looks on him and wonder at the time if that is the same couple Linda kept bumping into. 

Then, sitting at Las Clementinas, I see who I think is the same guy with the Panama hat in the garden area near our table. I look over to them and ask if he was the one I saw earlier with the new Panama hat. As he turns to reply, his wife gasps, "Oh, my god, it is him again!" Immediately, I pieced together that this was the same couple from all the previous encounters. Of all the party options available in Panama City, we had somehow ended up at the same one. This started a conversation that would continue the whole night.

Their names were Stephen and Debbie. They were originally from San Diego and Phoenix and had moved eight months ago to Costa Rica. He is able to continue to work for his high-tech company remotely; she had plans to find some kind of work, but had not yet and was realizing she probably won’t be able to because Costa Rica doesn’t want expats taking jobs from Ticos. They were in Panama for a short holiday.

At one break during our eating at Las Clementinas, I was sitting alone at our dining table while Linda, Debbie and Stephen were at the buffet table. I apologized to the attractive women near our table for all the loud banter that was going on between our table and Stephen and Debbie’s. She was French, married to an Englishman (who I would later meet), and both were living in---Omaha!  Omaha? My god, man, how did you end up in Omaha? He does finance for various kinds of grain harvesters. I couldn’t get the full image of his work, but the two of them were ending a 5-year stay in Omaha, after a similar period in New Delhi. Their next stop will be Paris. I must say, I suspect they are looking forward to that move!

After dinner around 10 PM, we moved to the rooftop party. Debbie and Stephen had finished eating earlier and had saved us a place at their rooftop table. I was overwhelmed when I walked out onto the roof. The view of the city and the setting was just incredible. There was a band playing perfect Latino music. All around us sporadic fireworks were going off---mostly from individuals I suspect. Then as the New Year neared, the larger displays started going off all over the city; each and every one of which were visible from our perch.  It was a comfortable crowd with mostly very attractive people (yes, that means, girls). One of which, by the way, was Linda, who looked great in her black outfit.

Linda and I must have commented a million times to each other how perfect the night was. The location, the facilities, the dinner, the drinks, the company of Stephen and Debbie and the other people we met and talked to, the view over the city---everything. Only New Year’s Eve in Rio six or so years ago could compare.

At 12:30 AM I went downstairs to see if I could cancel the taxi, since neither Linda nor I were ready to leave the party. But, the cab driver was there waiting as he was supposed to be and wanted me to pay him even if I didn’t use him, which was a reasonable request. Instead, I asked if he would mind waiting 30 more minutes if I added two more people (Stephen and Debbie) for a $25 fare instead of just $15. At the time, I could not find Yvette and Heidi and figured they had left already. The taxi driver agreed and I went back upstairs to party for half an hour more.

I then spotted Yvette and Heidi and told them there would be room for them in the taxi (since it was a van) at 1:00 AM, but they declined, wanting to walk around Casco Viejo for a while before returning to the Finisterre Suites.

When we got back to Finisterre Suites, Stephen said he would buy us drinks to pay me back for his half of the $25 taxi fare. None of us were ready to call an end to the evening. Shortly after, Yvette and Heidi walked into the lobby and joined us; we all six sat and talked until near 2:30 AM.  It had been an awesome evening. And that is why I am surprised to be at breakfast at 9:30 AM!


It’s about 5:30 PM and I am at the lobby bar of the Finisterre Suites. After spending the better part of two hours in two different car rental agencies trying to rent a car, I finally was successful by about 1:00 PM. I was able to rent a little Hyundai, which is so small I wonder if our suitcases will fit in it. It is also gutless and an automatic, which will take care of any Mario Andretti tendencies I might engender.

When I got back to the hotel from renting the car, Linda was sitting by the pool. We decided we should hang there for a while then leave in the car by 2 PM to go see the Miraflores locks. It was to be an easy drive out of the city toward the canal. Once we found and got onto the toll road, we paid the one dollar toll. Perfect, everything was going smoothly. But suddenly, there were a series of exits with signs to places I didn’t recognize. I was expecting there would be signs to Gamboa and/or the Miraflores Locks, but no. I somehow ended up going the exact opposite direction on the same toll road and paying yet another toll. And then I couldn’t get off the toll road---no exits. How many circles would I do, and how many tolls would I pay, before I figured out how to get off this damn toll road? Finally, I got off the road and used my iPhone to drive through town to get to the canal road. I refused to get back on the toll road---I was afraid I'd run out of dollars before I could get off it again.

We drove all the way to Gamboa where the road ends. I thought there would be more to see, but nope. As planned, we stopped at the Miraflores locks on the way back. Our timing was good; a ship was passing through to the Pacific just after we got there. But, man, was it hot out.

We got back to the hotel at 4:30 PM. I really wanted to nap and went right into the bed. I read for a while and then tried to sleep, but no luck. I got up, showered and headed to the lobby bar for a beer.

Debbie and Stephen apparently saw Linda and me by the pool from their 8th floor room and called us when we went to our room to get ready for our drive. We made a plan over the phone to meet them in the lobby here about now to get dinner together. They were going to spend the afternoon on the Causeway riding bikes.

This town is totally shut down---New Year’s Day. No one was about today and we are told everything is closed. We may have to go to a hotel restaurant to get dinner tonight.
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