Feeling Blissfully in the Flow, In Panama with my Mister

After departing Victoria and a brief lay-over in Toronto, Mister and I were heading to Panama on Air Canada Rouge, a stripped-down airline service where everything from alcohol to food to movies is not only limited, but costly. We’d flown with them before, though, and knew the drill, so at least I had purchased a gluten free sandwich at a kiosk prior to boarding. We also had an iPad, fully charged, with the Air Canada App installed and a splitter so we could enjoy watching a movie together.

Lucky for us it wasn’t a full plane and the extra seat in our row remained vacant when the boarding completed announcement was made. What would have been a cramped and uncomfortable space became bearable. We settled in, watched a well-done documentary titled There’s No Free Lunch, rested and read and soon we were landing.

Peering out the tiny window, my gaze was drawn to the sun peeking out of the clouds and illuminating the impressive coastline dotted with shiny skyscrapers and the sparkling ocean. I could see the forest spreading out in all directions from the city, shade upon shade of green, and I felt excited that I was about to get reacquainted with Panama. I love Panama.

181687-004-BE9ACF1D

Panama City Harbour

 

We were staying the first three days in the city, at a condo in the Amador Causeway we’d rented from our friends at Patty’s Casitas. Patty and her husband Rudy greeted us warmly at the buildings entrance and helped us load our massive amount of luggage onto the lift.

The condo was beautifully appointed and pristinely clean, just like the units we’d rented from them in the past in Casco Viejo. They’d left a complimentary bottle of wine so we opened it and toasted our arrival over a glass.

After unpacking our things and freshening up we walked over to a local restaurant Patty had recommended, La Fabrica. We were able to communicate sufficiently to our Spanish speaking server and I ordered the Salmon Marrakesh that was full of flavour and textures. The ambience was friendly, welcoming and relaxing and as we sat under the canopy of a star-filled night we felt content.

the-best-gastrobup-in

La Fabrica

Our first day started early as we were being picked up by a driver arranged by our lawyer who was taking us to apply for our cedulas, the national identity cards in Panama. We met two Australians in the line-up and engaged in interesting conversations on topics from politics and economics to humanity and health, making the two and half hours fly by quickly.

After our business was taken care of we decided to celebrate our success over lunch at one of our favourite restaurants in the city, La Fragatta. The architecture and interior design created the experience of being on a high-end cruise ship. The well-dressed waiter, who spoke not a word of English, greeted us with professionalism and warmth and directed us to a cozy booth.

DSC_1519

La Fragatta

Mister took the liberty of ordering us a bottle of Catena Malbec, una botella vino tinto por favor. We glanced at the menu, but we were both eying two of the appetizers we’d chosen at our last visit. The cheese plate featured a variety of sharp, tangy cheeses, including a luxurious manchego that was my favourite. The grilled vegetable platter consisted of a variety of delicious delicacies, seasoned and cooked to perfection.

Friday turned out to be Fabulous Friday, as Friday’s often are. We slept in. We took a long stroll along the causeway. We shopped for window coverings, a phenomenal experience with the expertise of Susana at Nostalgia Designs. We refreshed over a light lunch at Paul’s and then did some more house shopping, buying a gorgeous gray leather sectional and stunning floor-length mirror.

IMG_1883

Mister & Me on the Amador Causeway

Back at our condo we indulged in Happy Hour, which turned into happy, happy hour. Feeling like cats and canaries and the day wasn’t even over!

Fabulous Friday concluded with a taxi ride into Casco Viejo for a romantic dinner at Grapes. We walked into a cozy space with inviting décor. The tables were dark wood with chairs upholstered in crème leather. The side wall featured an impressive wooden built-in wine fridge. Black chandeliers of intricate design hung from the ceiling, and although not to my taste, suited the space.

IMG_1871

Me & Mister outside Grapes, with a view of downtown Panama

Our server was pleasant and very professional. When he informed us the bottle of wine we’d requested was out of stock, he suggested an alternative, much more expensive Argentinian Malbec. It was one of those wines where the first sip is alluring but with each taste grows more and more pleasing on the palate.

We decided to go all in with three courses. I started with the corvina ceviche, a local favourite dish, whilst Mister savored the trio of tacos. For our mains I chose the stuffed chicken breast in a curry mint sauce that was phenomenal. Mister ordered a filet of beef which he reported to be masterfully seasoned and cooked to perfection. For dessert I had the house made crème caramel which danced silkily over my tongue and Mister chose the chocolate brownie. Throughout the two-hour experience we engaged in fluid conversation, easily moving from light to deep topics and I felt blissfully in the flow.

We’d planned to take Saturday off, but then we received a call from our builder. He was requesting we make a trip into Tech and House, our appliance store. I was feeling a little frustrated, but when we arrived to discover the air conditioning at the shop was down and I had a low blood sugar, a little became a little bit more. It hit the ceiling, though, when an accident on the bridge had traffic backed up in every direction downtown and what should have been a ten- minute taxi ride home became two hours.

The next day we packed up and checked out of our casita. Rudy was driving us to Coronado to view our home for the first time since we left in February. It is difficult to describe how it felt, but I’ll try.

Upon entering the house, Mister and I were both impressed right away with how magnificent our floor tiles looked. Stepping into the office immediately to the left, it was barren, with no murphy bed, desk, or bookshelf installed, as requested. Apparently, their carpenter had been unwell.

IMG_1896

Living & Dining Room of our House

We next viewed the bathroom off the office. The large matte tiles were gorgeous and complemented beautifully by the shiny small black mosaic tiles. The granite and sink both looked amazing. But the window was mounted over the sink instead of the toilet, leaving no space for a vanity mirror. The tempered shower glass doors were not installed and the toilet was taped over; plumbing not yet available.

In the kitchen the cabinets looked gorgeous but there were no knobs or handles. The wine fridge and dishwasher were too tall (even though we’d sent the dimensions long before), requiring them to take off the granite counter. Finally, the fridge wasn’t installed because the builder informed us it was also too large for the space provided.

Appliances became an issue once again when we viewed the laundry room, which quite frankly looked horrible. One could barely open the washer and dryer because the hall was so narrow. The walk-in closet was the final disappointment, resembling more of a cave or dungeon.

We went outside and were pleased to discover the completed pool filled with clear, clean water. As a few flies buzzed around me in the heat, I couldn’t help but feel disheartened. I was realizing that there was no way we were going to be able to move in to our home in three days with the amount of work still to be done and I could only hope the condo we’d rented for three days at Coronado Bay would be available for seven more.

Feeling our mixed feelings, we drove to the rental, relieved when the owner assured us that we could have the unit for the duration of our visit. We were even more thrilled when we found out that because it was low season and late in the day, it was only going to cost us $900 for ten days for a one- bedroom, two- bathroom condo right on the beach.

IMG_1887

View from our condo balcony

We didn’t have the energy to cook ourselves dinner so we walked over to our favourite restaurant in Coronado, Luna Rosa. The atmosphere was inviting, and the food was, as always, fabulous. It was one of many more to come in following days, and I felt grateful.

Over the next seven days our schedules were filled with meetings with the builders. They were generous in accommodating us and together we came up with creative solutions to the challenges we’d identified.

There was more shopping in the city, a few good work-outs and yoga practices. All of our packages that we’d ordered from Amazon and Wayfair were stacked in the garage and it was like Christmas as we unpacked and revealed the items we’d purchased. Everything from our dishes to wine glasses looked amazing.

Mister and I shared quality time together, taking advantage of the rooftop pool and ocean access that our rental provided. We ate great food and drank beautiful wine.

As the trip came to an end, I found myself in the same frame of mind I’d been in Canada – grateful to be taking on life’s challenges together as team. Bien equipo. I know in my heart that our home will be perfect when it is all done and that we will both love living in our space, in our happy place; Coronado, Panama.

So yeah, I’m feeling blissfully in the flow, in Panama with my Mister.

Feeling jazzed about my trip to Panama, Summer of 2016

My last blog dealt with some deep spiritual content, so I decided to switch gears and write about something completely fun and frivolous; my recent trip to Panama, with a focus on food.

 

DSC06198.JPG

view from our balcony

Flying into Panama City is quite a spectacular site. The modern city line reaches majestically into the blue sky. Built along the sparkling waters of the Pacific Ocean, the view is reminiscent of a miniature Miami and in fact has been described as such. The architectural grandeur was pleasantly surprising and I felt excited as I peered out of my Air Canada Rouge window.

Our arrival this year corresponded with the opening ceremony of the new locks and the police cars and motorcycles were out in full force. It added some extra time to the typical 45 -minute drive from the city to our destination of Coronado Bay. Our driver talked animatedly about the opportunities in Panama while I held my husband’s hand and took in the lush green countryside and the peaceful hills, a faded blue-gray in the distance.

We’d been to Coronado Bay the year before, on our first visit to Panama, and had such a fabulous experience we decided to return. Unfortunately, the suite we had rented previously wasn’t available. The unit we were shown to this time was spacious, colourfully painted with seaside blue walls and decorated with bright paintings. It had some wear and tear and lacked an oven or dishwasher. The balcony overlooking the pool and ocean was in similar lacklustre condition but made up for it with the spectacular view.

We decided to walk the short five minutes to our favourite local restaurant, Luna Rossa, for dinner. We were greeted by the owner, a delightful woman originally from Italy. The atmosphere was cozy, the service excellent and the menu featured both Italian fare and local specialties. The wine list was limited compared to what you might find in the more cosmopolitan city, but the selection was suitable to our tastes and the prices were reasonable. The barbequed lobster I indulged in was perhaps a little bit over-done, but tasty and decadent nonetheless.  Over the course of our 7 day stay in Coronado we dined here several times. I ate tangy tomato and seafood risotto, imported from Italy melt-in-your-mouth cheeses, thin strips of medium rare beef tenderloin and a rich dark chocolate torte. But my hands-down favourite was the smooth and creamy cappuccino, the best I’ve ever had anywhere in the world.

The possibility of purchasing an investment property was on our agenda and we’d contacted a realtor before our arrival. The first day out we viewed several properties, including two condos at Playa Blanca in Founders, three units in an older building in Playa Serena and one in Coronado Bay where we were staying. There was one unit in Playa Serena that was basically turn key and listed for the incredibly low price of $215,000 USD that we felt was a contender.

A few days later our realtor showed us some stunning condos that were under construction in a brand new community called Casamar. With ocean and mountain views and everything you needed on site, including a gym and a restaurant, they were enticing. There weren’t many already built that were for sale and even the ones that were ready didn’t include air-conditioning or appliances. Listed at $290,000 USD without the aforementioned items, the cost, effort and challenge of trying to oversee construction and furnishings in a foreign country from out of country seemed too daunting a task for us to consider.

We saw a few more units and talked with a Property Manager. Hearing his stories about short-term renters trashing the place and his opinion that we should consider long-term rentals was off-putting because I wanted to be able to use the property as a vacation rental for ourselves and our family. When he went on to describe dishonest property managers who claimed the rental was vacant when actually occupied in order to pocket the money for themselves it had us feeling even more deflated and discouraged.

Before throwing in the towel on the whole property investment idea we decided to go and view a house in a gated community near Coronado that we had looked at the year before. As we walked up the cobbled pathway to the pale yellow stuccoed and white-trimmed show home we recalled instantly why we had loved it so much. The magnificence of every detail was even greater than I’d remembered and it blew everything we’d seen out of the water. The skill and craftsmanship of the builder was apparent in every detail. The show home was selling with all of the high-end furnishings, appliances and a pool in the back yard for $360,000 USD and we both felt certain we had found our space.

After the emotional reaction settled, we realized that we loved that property as a space to make our home, not as a property to rent out to strangers. We started looking honestly at all of the decisions we would have to make, including financing and lawyers, not to mention finding renters we could trust, and concluded that it just wasn’t the right time.

With that decision made we were able to focus on relaxing and rejuvenating. We managed to exercise regularly at the rooftop gym of our building, which had the extra bonus of spectacular views. We spent a few hours dreaming and sunbathing by the pool but unfortunately the weather was frequently overcast with occasional thunderstorms and we didn’t get to lounge around as often as we would have liked.

One of the most impacting experiences during our stay in Coronado was the one day we made it down to the stretch of ocean just outside the gates of our building. We were the only people in sight as we went about laying out our towels on a beige patch of sand overlooking the craggy rocks where the ocean waves were crashing. I lit a candle and sat in silent meditation, letting the ebb and flow of the waves soothe my soul as my breath united in tandem with the oceans’ rhythm. Peacefulness enveloped me, feeling in flow with the universe and full of gratitude. I smiled when I opened my eyes, marvelling at the shift in my perception, where the black volcanic sand that had appeared to me as a dirty canopy of the earth’s crust now appeared like a sheet of midnight sky, the sand sparkling like a multitude of stars. 

When our beach vacation came to an end it was off to spend five days enjoying the culture and food of the city. We rented a casita in the district of Casco Viejo from Patty, the friendly and delightful owner. It was a very small studio, decorated artfully with attention to every detail and was impeccably clean. After dropping off our luggage and taking a quick peek around we left in search of a restaurant in the area that Patty had recommended.

Nazca was just a few blocks away, nestled in amongst a row of shops and eateries. We were treated with the attention of a skillful waiter which added to the experience. We ordered a bottle of Catena Malbec and a bottle of still water. I savoured the chef’s specialty, a local grouper in champagne sauce with crisp steamed vegetables that was absolutely delicious. Feeling particularly decadent, we decided to finish by sharing a caramel pudding the waiter suggested that was crazy sweet and likely not the best choice for a diabetic but so creamy-smooth and delicious the extra insulin requirement seemed worthwhile.

 

078

Nazca

 

We walked through bustling markets with artisans selling their wares and music blaring from speakers in the alley. We took selfies with cityscape, ocean views, and local attractions in the background. We walked along the immaculately clean city-designed walking pathway that stretched along the ocean, through the bustling fish market, complete with gardens, tennis courts and fountains. We even took in a live jazz show at Danilo’s Jazz Club in the American Trade Hotel.

A highlight was the day our tour guide Rudy picked us up for a day of sightseeing. We began in the oldest section of the city, Panama Viejo, constructed in the 1500’s. It was the first European colony to be established in the area until the pirate Henry Morgan came along and ransacked it. We drove through various other neighborhoods while Rudy spoke with pride and enthusiasm about the history of his native country.

The tour culminated with a trip to the Miraflores Locks. We were directed into a theatre and shown a brief movie that explained the history of the canal. We toured the museum before beating the crowds to stand along the viewing area and await the arrival of two ships making the passage down the narrow, intricately designed canal. The spectacle as the massive ships were towed and lowered while the water drained and rose again in the containers was amazing and definitely a site worth seeing.

 

DSC06250.JPG

Miraflores Locks

We shared many delightful culinary experiences in Casco Viejo, but our absolute favourite was the Veggie Moon restaurant. The designer of the space created a unique dining experience by featuring individually decorated tables and settings. It was whimsical and cozy and inviting. The waiter spoke little English and we spoke little Spanish but with a few eyebrow wags and hand gestures we were able to procure a Malbec that was bold and peppery on the palate. It was luscious, swirling and sipping the deeply purple-tinged red liquid.

Then there was the food. The chef prepared for us an appetizer that featured a sushi roll of delicately mashed sweet potato combined with quinoa, rolled in nori and served over a smear of avocado mousse, sprinkled with sparkling citrus mango salsa and garnished with fresh, crisp pea shoots. Slices of aromatic freshly baked bread were being served in a miniature doll-sized steel shopping cart. For our mains, my Mr. chose the pepper crusted tuna over garlic mashed potatoes. I picked the lentil risotto with beans. Listed as gluten free, I wasn’t expecting the explosion of flavours. It was without a doubt the most incredible vegetarian dish I have ever tasted, and Mr.  agreed upon tasting that it contended for the best dish ever, including those featuring meat!

 

095

Veggie Moon

Feeling jazzed – and suddenly quite hungry – remembering our fabulous trip to Panama.