Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Playing Tourist in Panama and Introducing Frat House Follies!!

Current location:  Isla Contadora, Panama

Mickey and J.P. with Panama City in the background.

 Once we arrived into Panama City and settled in, I was able to do one of my favorite things this cruising life offers, sightsee!  Some of my fondest travel memories are the several months in  Europe with my sister meandering through museums, eating in local restaurants and hustling through sketchy neighborhoods. Recently the members of the Floating Frat House were able to do all of the above in Casco Viejo, the old town of Panama City.

After the bombing and pillaging by the famous Welsh pirate, Henry Morgan in 1671, they moved the city here.  This is how I got the two little Doolittles on board and excited for our excursion. In the teaching profession, we would call this the “hook”, often times the hardest part is reeling in the little suckers and getting them excited to learn. 

I am proud to inform that J.P. has decided his most recent research report will be about pirates and am assuming it is inspired by our visits to these historical places.  I am completely convinced it is NOT the “Sid Mires Pirates” video game he plays on his IPod Touch.  One of the best parenting tools is denial, a beautiful thing. On the other hand, Mickey has chosen the subject of WWII, so maybe I should be rethinking our sightseeing venues and steer us toward less violent subject matter.

So off we went to the Cosco Viejo, where the city was rebuilt after the previously mentioned pirate, Morgan, spent several days bombing it with cannons.  His main goal was to persuade the residents to give up and forfeit the enormous amounts of gold in their possession.  The story goes that the local priest hurriedly painted an altar of solid gold located in the church to camouflage the pirate booty. Unfortunately, our attempt to see it was in vain since we arrived at the church on a Sunday to find it locked up (what…Sunday?).

So we continued on through the cobblestone streets and enjoyed the amazing old buildings. To Ben, it reminded him of his time spent in Cuba and for me it was reminiscent of New Orleans, Louisiana. Minus the Mardi Gras crowds and the throwing of beads at topless women…which, I most definitely did NOT participate in!! (This is where I respectfully request all friends who accompanied me on that trip to destroy all evidence to the contrary).

As a nod to my father and the family line of Irish masons, we stopped to acknowledge the construction of the new streets.  They are restoring the old town to its historical architecture, complete with hand laid brick roads.  Panama gained more of my respect in that they chose this instead of plastering down large concrete pads of cement amongst historic 400 year old buildings.  I find his quite ironic in a country of people that have a strong sense of not working too hard. 

Laying some brick in the streets of Casco Viejo.

To be clear, I don’t mean this as a slight, but just an observation and by no means pertains to ALL Panamanians.  However, it has been an interesting journey in adapting to the concept.  At first I assumed it was me and my Spanish skills, that all of a sudden my Spanish skills had declined so badly that nobody understood me anyomre. Then later thinking that they didn’t like me because I was American…until….I came to the epiphany that it wasn’t me at all!  They treat their fellow Panamanians in the same manner. One common example is walking into a store and asking for a specific item which will be met with a blank stare, no smile and roundabout answers that do not really pertain to my question at all.  It would be common sense to deduct that it was my gringo Spanish skills, but with further observation that was only part of it!

Apparently if a person wants something you must request it several times in many different ways and then cut to the chase, with statements like, “O.K., so are you saying you have a _______ (enter noun here) or are you saying you do NOT have it?”.

Only then will I receive a straight answer.  To be honest, I am becoming quite entertained by this; it forces me to abandon any niceties, no beating around the bush, smiling or being sweet. I am usually polite, kind and respectful, especially when visiting someone else’s country, but apparently Darwin was correct, you must adapt or die.  I found myself in a Panamanian grocery store recently, saying with a big frown pasted to my face “Look, I’m want flour. Walk me to where it is right now!”  I managed to assuage my guilt long enough to find the bag of $2 flour.

Furthermore, I must admit my new hobby is arguing with taxi cab drivers.  In Panama, there is no set price for a destination and it is consistently a roller coaster of bargaining which usually begins quite high for the visiting gringo. During some rides, they have often changed the agreed upon price and announced that the fare went up by 2 or 3 dollars due to:

a.      The amount of groceries I loaded into the car.

b.      All of a suddent the driver noticing that there was another little human being with me (who was there at the beginning of the ride).

c.       The driver did not understand that we wanted to go ALL the way to our destination, not just in the vicinity.

d.      All of the above.
One of the beautiful buildings in Cosco Viejo with a dreaded taxi in the foreground.
I have never seen my non-confrontational husband fight so much in my life!!  The easy-going Ben has been replaced with the affronted, angry, Franken Ben who will yell at cab drivers in his convoluted mix of French, Spanish and English. Many a rides have ended with me whispering to Mickey and J.P. in the backseat, “Get the bags and get ready to bail out as fast as you can when we get there!!”  The Doolittle boys have become quite adept at wildly flinging grocery bags from the car and scurrying quickly away. I can attest that Mickey and J.P.  have become quite amused by this new argumentative version of their father. Perhaps it’s the pirate coming out in all of us!

But, as usual, I digress….while we were wandering around Cosco Viejo, we visited the Museo del Canal Interoceanico, an impressive museum located in the former headquarters for the original French canal company (the French attempted to build a canal a few years before the U.S., yet failed).  The boys enjoyed teaching their parents about the Panama Canal since they had previously visited the Mira Flores Museum without us, complete with observation decks of ships transiting the Canal. 

The room that struck me most was filled with a timeline of the politics surrounding the Canal.  Let’s just say from the Panamanian perspective, the U.S. really screwed the pooch.  Again it was a great opportunity to teach the boys history using multiple perspectives. I can say that being in the room full of Panamanians made me feel quite uncomfortable, being the bad guy and all.  I was telling this to a British friend recently and she said, “Oh, really? Try being British….I feel guilty in every country I visit.”

Anyway, our sightseeing day was punctuated with a visit to an organic deli complete with baguette rolls and seeing Kuna Indians of the San Blas Islands selling their tapestries. Of course, the day would not have been complete without feisty negotiations with a taxi driver for our ride home.

Couldn't resist taking pics of the tourists all wearing Panamanian hats! I have to admit, I want one, but it's too hot to wear.


I’d like to introduce to a new concept, called the Floating Frat House Follies.  Coming to the realization that too many nuggets of comedic, boyhood ditties on our boat go undocumented, I will include with every entry an interesting story involving one of the Frat Brothers. This one already appeared on my Facebook page recently, but here goes…

 Last week J.P. noticed something of interest while his Kindle was in hibernation mode.  A picture of Alexander Dumas, the author of one of my favorite books, The Count of Monte Cristo appeared on his screen.

He pointed to it and said, “Hey mom!! Look at this!”

The proud teacher, Mrs. Doolittle anticipated the intellectual observation her student would show regarding the famous writer.

And then J.P. turned to me and said, “Hey, if I add another “s” to his name he would be dumb ass!!!”

Ah, the shaping of young minds continues….aboard the Floating Frat House.


Here are some additional photos....

After there was strong opposition to building the Canal in Panama (some wanted it built in Nicaragua) because of earthquakes, the officials used this arch as proof that it was a safe location.  The original flat arch had been standing here for hundreds of years when the Canal was proposed. 

The boys with a Kuna Indian off to the right selling her tapestries. They were works of art!!

Old meets new!


It was Christmas time and although they resisted, the Floating Frat House guys posed for some cutout holiday photos!!

 Apparently there are different building codes regarding electrical work here in Panama. 

Knee Deep is for sale!!

We are headed to the East Coast, and rather than waiting until the last minute to try and sell the boat this fall in a "fire sale" we thought we would list it now. Spread the word....your cruise ready sailing vessel is already in paradise!!

Here is the Ad:

Our well loved and well equipped Catalina 38 is for sale. We are on the Pacific side of Panama with plans to transit the canal, visit the San Blas and then work our way north to Belize, Key West, and up the East Coast. Buy your cruise ready boat in paradise! We find that we SAIL this boat at least 50% more than our peers on heavy displacement "cruising" boats.

1000 hrs on Universal diesel w/ a 250 hours on the transmission. Folding prop, newer canvas, electric windlass, newer upholstery, cruising spinnaker, Autohelm, new Lowance chartplotter at helm, radar, propane stove/oven, frig, inverter, battery charger, microwave, 9 ft dink and 5 hp outboard.....totally turn key, as in, tomorrow we turn the key and continue our cruise.

Asking $55,000, willing to deliver anywhere.

Current location: Isla Contadora, Panama

Please contact us with questions or for more photos.