Saturday, June 25, 2016

Uruguay vs Paraguay: Battle of the Guays!

The Guays:  Uruguay and Paraguay.  Two countries both relatively little known outside of South America, but that is pretty much where their similarities end.  Uruguay is one of the most successful countries in Latin America, after Chile.  It’s safe, clean, relatively wealthy, and has drinkable tap water.  Uruguay is on the tourist trail, thanks to its close proximity for day-trippers from Buenos Aires, and is therefore a very tourist-friendly destination – with easy transport, little corruption, a plethora of accommodation options, and plenty of shopping.  The country is politically and socially liberal – with marriage equality and legalized marijuana – and would be a nice place to live. 

Paraguay, on the other hand, was once the most successful country in South America, but that was in the first part of the 1800’s and its fortunes have long since crumbled.  A war with Brazil and Argentina saw a huge chunk of its land get taken and many of its working age men killed in combat.  A subsequent war with Bolivia was won by Paraguay, but at a cost.  The country then stagnated.  By most statistical indicators, Paraguay is only second to Bolivia as the least developed and least prosperous country in South America, though Venezuela is now racing to the bottom.  The country is conservative, not easily accessible, and doesn’t offer much in the way of prominent tourist attractions.  Despite the economy growing steadily and relatively quickly over the past few years, Paraguay has failed to register on the radar of most tourists, and the country can hardly be described as tourist-friendly.  Whether their lack of preparation for tourists is the cause of their low tourism numbers or vice versa, one thing is certain:  I can easily see why Paraguay gets overlooked with all of the more alluring alternatives nearby.

I only visited the capital cities of the two countries:  Montevideo, Uruguay and Asuncion, Paraguay.

A few highlights of my time in Montevideo:

The city:
I started my whirlwind 2-day tour of Montevideo at Plaza Independencia – one of my 103 Things!  A statue of national hero Jose Artigas is at the centre of the square and his mausoleum is underneath.  The mausoleum is impressive with famous quotes by him carved in the centre of the room and main events in his life carved around the sides.  Walking around the city, I stumbled upon several pretty well-maintained plazas, a nice waterfront promenade, and some fun street art.  I looked at one of their prominent churches (because this is Latin America and church visits are obligatory) and had lunch at the Mercado Agricola de Montevideo – a small yet posh indoor market with a nice food court.

Guided tours:
Museums and tours, however, occupied most of my time, and many of them were free which made me super happy.  The country’s main theatre – Teatro Solis – offers free guided tours in English on Wednesdays.  It is fabulous.  Also fabulous is the guided tour of the Palacio Legislativo (their Congress or Parliament).  The tour guide was knowledgeable, the group was small (me and only two other people), and the building is beautiful.  I love going on national capitol (and state capitol) tours whenever I get the chance, and this one makes the books for one of the best I’ve done.

The Museo de los Andes was the first museum I visited and it was my priority since it’s a little bit different than your typical museum. The museum outlines the 1972 plane crash of a Uruguayan rugby team that was later turned into the movie “Alive”.  The museum details how some of the men survived in terrible conditions for more than seventy days, and (most notoriously) had to eat their fallen comrades to survive.  This one is a must for anyone visiting Uruguay.

Elsewhere in Montevideo, the Museo del Gaucho is tiny and has limited information in English, but does offer the opportunity for a few selfies.  It was the worst museum I visited in Montevideo but pretty much better than any I visited in Asuncion.  I also visited three modern art museums in the city.  The Subte Centro de Exposiciones is an underground exhibition space that only has temporary and rather trippy exhibitions.  The Museo Nacional de Artes Visuales (MNAV) has a decent size collection of newer works but I was mainly focused on their excellent political cartoon exhibition.  Finally, the Espacio de Arte Contemporaneo doesn’t have as much as the MNAV but is super cool as it is in an old prison.

After Montevideo, I took a ferry back to Argentina and then immediately flew to Paraguay.

A few highlights of my time in Asuncion:

The city:
Unlike Montevideo, Asuncion’s streets aren’t well-maintained, and its plazas are a bit shabby.  The city features both bad and good: slums near the river and some fancy shmancy areas with tall new glass buildings and a mall for the elite.  As I mentioned before, there is nothing major for tourists to see but I was determined to check out nearly everything recommended in the Lonely Planet, which I did successfully in the span of… one morning.  That’s all it took.

Unlike, Uruguay – which offers a lot English information and excellent guided tours in English at their main attractions – Paraguay offers no English whatsoever.  The city’s main attraction, the Panteon de los Heroes, was closed for refurbishment.  The Casa de la Independencia is a small house where Paraguay became the first country in South America to declare its independence from European colonial powers.  Displays are minimal and only in Spanish.  The Palacio Lopez – the seat of government – is not open to tourists, and the Museo Naval Humaita is on a boat in the middle of a river with no clear way to access it.  The Manzana de la Rivera museum has no information – just walk in and do your best to figure which rooms are offices and which rooms have exhibitions.  The city’s most museum-like museum was the Museo del Barro.  It has some old stuff and some new stuff, and kept with the trend of just walking in and figuring it out.  Why don’t any of these museums have front desks?  Who opens and closes these places?

Slightly better attractions:
The Cementerio de la Recoleta – resting place for Paraguay’s wealthiest – was almost as grandiose as the cemetery of the same name in Buenos Aires.  The city’s main cathedral was quite refreshing as it isn’t nearly as gaudy or tacky as the cathedrals in countries with more money.  The Museo del Congreso Nacional – in the old parliament building – has a front desk with an attendant who told me where to start and which route I should take through the museum.  I was like “YAY!”  My threshold for good museums had gone down so much in my morning of museums that I was stoked just to see someone at a desk.  My favourite of the museums was the Estacion Ferrocarril – the old train station.  As it was the only museum I had to pay for in Asuncion, it also had an attendant.  The entrance ticket was an old wooden train ticket and the old man who gave it to me pointed me in the right direction.  The museum has relics of Paraguay’s railroad – the first in South America – and it was super cool to walk through one of the original dining cars.  I was also super excited to see English explanations on the signage but was completely unimpressed when I realized that the English text was the same on all the signs.  Someone just copied and pasted the English text from the first sign onto all the rest.  Crikey.

As I had a friend in Asuncion, I had a better access to local cuisine.  My friend’s mom made me mbeju – sort of like a pancake made of cassava flour and cheese.  It was really good, but most likely the heaviest thing I’ve ever eaten.  Just one and I felt full.  I had some mate (local tea) and chipa, sort of like their version of cornbread.  The most interesting of them all was the “sopa paraguaya” or Paraguayan soup.  But it’s not soup.  It’s bread.  It looks like cornbread and has a similar texture to cornbread but it tastes like… soup.  It’s weird.  But it’s fucking delicious. Legend has it that someone once was supposed to cook soup for someone important but left it too long and all the liquid evaporated leaving the bread-like remnants behind.  It’s the only solid soup in the world, and I questioned my friend on that.  “How the fuck can you have solid soup?”  And then I ate it and promptly realized that solid soup is apparently a thing in Paraguay.  What planet am I on?

After visiting both Uruguay and Paraguay (well, at least after visiting their capital cities), I’ve come to my conclusion:  Uruguay is definitely the better of the guays.  Paraguay was definitely interesting, but it’s just not a place for tourists.  After the Guays, I was stoked to head back to Argentina for the third time, and this time actually stay for a few days to explore.  But first, let me take a selfie… in each city.

To see more photos of my time in Montevideo, follow this link:

To see more photos of my time in Asuncion, follow this link:

Friday, June 17, 2016

Crepes & Waffles and a Jizztastic Brownie

So, I failed to mention food in my last two blogs about Colombia.  Seeing as I spent over three weeks in the country, I suppose I have the room to create a third Colombia blog devoted solely to edibles.  So, let’s start with the basics:  comida tipica.  The comida tipica of Colombia is the same as in the rest of Latin America – basic lunches of chicken (or pork) with rice, beans, salad, and a plantain of some sort.  That’s why it’s called “comida tipica”.  It’s typical.  Set lunch menus often come with all of the above and a soup to start, which is fine in Medellin and Bogota, but who in their right mind would want a hot soup in Cartagena?  It’s already hotter than hell there.  Less soup.  More ice cream.

And lots of ice cream is exactly what I had in Cartagena because it was so hot.  I also had a lot of ice cream in Bogota despite the fact that it wasn’t so hot.  I’m on vacation.  I’m allowed.

Aside from the comida tipica, there were some Colombian delights which were… well, delightful. Arepas.  Arepes con queso.  These are corn cakes with cheese in the middle.  Fuck yes.  These are popular in Florida so I was excited to have them straight from their country of origin.  Or maybe they’re Venezuelan.  Whatever.  Bunelos were fried cheese bread balls.  I don’t think I need to say anything more about that…

Ajiaco is a chicken soup from the Bogota region.  It has chicken and cream and avocado and rice and happiness and more stuff.  I had it first on my day trip to Guatape, but then again at the famous La Puerta Falsa – one of the oldest restaurants in Bogota.  Patacones are big flattened plantain crackers that basically act as a plate because you pile toppings on them like chicken and salsa and avocado and goodness.  And it’s good.  I had some more arepas.  I had tres leches.  A few times.  Because dessert.  I tried El Corral – Bogota’s top local fast food joint which is way better than its American competitors.  And finally, there was limonada de coco.  It’s coconut lemonade.  It’s fucking amazing.

Speaking of drinks, I had lots of coffee.  Colombian coffee.  Because I was in Colombia and drinking coffee from the source is obligatory.  And it was good.  I tried several cafes in Cartagena, Medellin, and Bogota, but the winner was obviously Salento – in the heart of Colombia’s coffee region.  I had a delicious coffee on my coffee tour there and various coffees at different cafes in the town.

Now, it wasn’t all just about Colombian food.  While Salento is certainly lacking in culinary variety given its small size, the major cities of Colombia have a wide range of restaurants and cuisines.  During my time, I had good pizza, decent sushi, surprising Indian curry, moderate Thai curry, burgers, and the obvious Mexican food.  Yay!  I also ate my fair share of cake and tarts and such from fancy bakeries.

I love fancy bakeries.

But all the fancy bakeries in the world couldn’t prepare for me the peanut butter brownie from a little restaurant called “Brunch” in Salento.  I had heard about this from a fellow traveller that I met in India (Hi Whitney!) and came to this town specifically to try this brownie.

I know that sounds ridiculous but I seriously came to this town just for that.

And it was worth it.  Eating in the restaurant, the peanut butter brownie comes a la mode.  Orgasm.  I also got one to take away for breakfast the next day.  YES.  There’s a pic on Facebook.  Look at it and feel your loins moisten with desire.

Too far?

Finally, there is one food group that I have thus far failed to mention but proved to be my biggest staple in Colombia:  crepes and waffles.  Or, rather:  Crepes & Waffles.  Crepes & Waffles is a chain of restaurants that started in Bogota as a way to help disadvantaged women get work.

And it’s delicious.

There are roughly 27 million Crepes & Waffles locations in Bogota – or about four for each of the city’s inhabitants.

I think that’s right.

Their menu is massive.  It consists of crepes and waffles.  And other things.  They have savoury crepes.  They have sweet crepes.  They have sweet waffles.  But they don’t have savoury waffles.  Because who the fuck wants a savoury waffle?  They have American-style waffles and they have Belgian-style waffles.  They also have soup and pitas and a few other things but if you go to a restaurant called “Crepes & Waffles” and other something other than crepes and waffles then you’re just a buffoon.

Crepes & Waffles has normal restaurants and they also have just dessert restaurants – like glorified ice cream shops with big menus of over-the-top sundaes.  The restaurant offers reasonable prices and each meal comes served with a generous portion of pleasure.

I first saw Crepes & Waffles in Quito, and my first actual meal at a Crepes & Waffles was in Panama City.  I also had it in Cartagena.  But it was in Bogota that my love for Crepes & Waffles was cemented.  I think I ate there five times in nine days.  Don’t judge me.  It’s not fast food.

The chain has restaurants in several Latin American countries now and apparently even in Europe!  The restaurant recently expanded into Chile and I may have gone to two of their locations in Santiago… a few times… or more.  It’s like my new obsession.

My favourite is their Mexican chicken crepe because obviously.

I keep thinking:  surely they should open one of these in Miami because it would do extremely well there.  I mean, Crepes & Waffles is popular in Latin American countries and Miami is a Latin American country so I rest my case.

So, next time you visit Latin America – particularly Colombia – make sure you try some Crepes & Waffles.  It’s the local cuisine.  It’s for a good cause.  It’s better than chicken and rice and beans daily.  And you’ll thank me later.

I don’t have a selfie of me at Crepes & Waffles, so this one will have to do.

To see more pictures of Crepes & Waffles, you should visit their website at:

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A Sexy Policeman & a Wedding in Bogota

After my tour of Cartagena, Medellin, and Salento, it was time for the main event:  Bogota!  As I mentioned in the last blog, the reason I was in Colombia was for a wedding, and the nuptials were the grand finale of my visit in Colombia.  But before that, I had over a week to explore the city.

A few highlights of my time in Bogota:

Museo Botero:
Museums are a big deal in Bogota and they are of high quality.  My favourite was Museo Botero – devoted to all things Botero.  The museum houses a massive collection of his paintings and sculptures and has a fantastic audio guide which provides interesting facts on many of his top works.  The museum also houses works from other famous artists such as Pablo Picasso.  Exceptional.

Museo del Oro:
Most guide books describe the Gold Museum as one of the best museums in Latin America.  And it is.  The collection is huge and the free English-language tour made us look at the gold pieces in a way that the text on the signage just couldn’t.  The museum was one of my 103 Things and I was super stoked to check it off my list.  Another exceptional museum experience!

Museo Historico Policia:
The Police Historical Museum has a great collection of artifacts mainly surrounding Pablo Escobar and other notorious criminals.  The main event for most visitors is Escobar’s red-turned-pink motorcycle and displays on the events that led to his capture/death.  The museum is only accessible on a guided tour and I had my own private tour guide that morning.  And that was the main event for me.  All of the tour guides are police officers and I was assigned to this stud muffin drool-worthy 20-year old in uniform.  He smelled nice.  I could hardly pay attention to anything he was saying.  I wanted him to frisk me.

He didn’t.  I was heartbroken.

Other museums:
Elsewhere in Bogota, I visited the Museo de Arte Moderno (it’s cool, but not nearly as good as Medellin’s modern art museum), the Iglesia Museo de Santa Clara (with its religious colonial art), and the Museo Nacional (a massive museum detailing Colombia’s history and art).  The Banco de la Republica museum complex where Museo Botero was located also has massive sections for art and the history of money in Colombia.

Elsewhere in Bogota:
I took a recommended graffiti tour one morning in the old part of the city.  I also checked out a few of their malls (I had purchased a suit for the wedding in Medellin but still needed shoes and a belt).  I had some time to enjoy a few cafes, and most importantly, I got interviewed for Colombian TV.  I’m not sure if I ever made it on the air, but another traveller and I were pulled aside by a local news crew to ask our opinion on new informational signs that the city installed for tourists.  I’m so famous.  Martha & Thiago also invited all of the visitors out for a night of drinks and dancing at a club/restaurant with live music in one of the trendier parts of town.

Outside of Bogota:
Martha & Thiago arranged a bus to take all of the foreign visitors to a few sights in the countryside.  The most famous is the salt cathedral at Zipaquira.  At 180 metres below the ground, the salt cathedral is a massive church built into an old salt mine and one of only three like it in the world.  The other two are randomly in Poland.  Aside from the church, there was an introductory movie and a light show.  Very weird.  But very cool.  The trip also included a stop at the small town of Guatavita to visit their small museum and check out the man-made lake, and the town of Sopo, home to the Alpina dairy brand.  Alpina has a massive store there where we stopped to pick up some delicious dairy desserts.  Yummy!

The big day:
I had a prequel to the wedding the weekend before the big day.  As the first foreigner to arrive in the city, I was invited out to Martha’s uncle’s farm for a big family BBQ and get-together.  I was the only gringo.  I can speak some Spanish one-on-one but a big group trying to talk to me just goes straight over my head.  Some of the cousins tried to make me dance.  I’m Jewish.  I have no rhythm.  These people can salsa all night long and it looks effortless.  I humoured them for about fifteen seconds before I escaped to the bathroom.  Thank god there were no Colombian gays there to see my terrible moves.

The main event was the following weekend at Martha’s family’s church in the countryside outside of Bogota.  The ceremony was beautiful but super long.  Leave it to the Catholics to make religious weddings painful.  They were delaying my cake!  But it was all worth the wait:  the reception was a ton of fun!  The food was delicious, the drinks were free flow, the music was good, the dancing was fun (there were other gringos there so I didn’t feel so embarrassed dancing among the talented Colombians) and Martha & Thiago have a great group of friends that I was introduced to.  It was a fantastic night!

I would like to thank Martha & Thiago for the invitation.  It was such a great event and I’m so glad I was able to come share their special day with them – and get the chance to explore Colombia too! I wouldn’t have come to this spectacular country had it not been for them.

Now, I know what you’re thinking:  why haven’t I mentioned Colombian food?  Don’t worry:  I will.  But first, let me take a selfie.

I was the only guest tacky enough to take a selfie with the bride and groom.

To see more photos of my time in Bogota, follow this link:

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Cartagena, Medellin, & Salento

Colombia was not on my agenda for this trip.  Not at all.  That all changed when I met Martha & Thiago on my camping tour in Namibia in July.  They are a lovely Colombian-Brazilian couple who I got along really well with on the trip, and since I was going to be in South America at that time anyway, they invited me to attend their wedding.  How could I say no?  The dates didn’t fit perfectly, so I had to give Bolivia and most of Argentina the axe, but I got to add the Galapagos and give Colombia a good exploration.

Colombia used to be one of the world’s most dangerous countries.  An armed conflict engulfed the nation for many decades, and it’s far too complicated to explain here, but drug trafficking and kidnapping were rampant.  You can Wikipedia that shit for more information.  It wasn’t until about a decade ago that the situation began to improve.  Ten years ago, there were only about fifty thousand foreign tourists coming to Colombia.  Now there are more than four million annually.  That’s a big jump in a short amount of time.  The country still has some dangerous pockets and you have to be on guard even in the safer areas – these are the main reasons I wasn’t originally contemplating a visit – but if you have a good head on your shoulders and don’t do anything stupid, then Colombia is actually a lovely place to visit.  Travelling around the country was surprisingly cheap and easy, though the winding mountain roads made for some nauseating bus rides.  Luckily, domestic flights were often cheaper than long-distances buses.  WIN!

A few highlights of my time in Colombia:

Everyone loves Cartagena.  The city is one of the oldest Spanish settlements in South America.  It has gorgeous old city walls which you can walk on, and funding from UNESCO has turned the old city into a gorgeously restored tourist mecca.  Like, super gorgeous.  But I didn’t like Cartagena.  Not at all.  Let me explain.

It was hot as fuck in Cartagena and I wanted to die.

Like, terrible hot.  I was melting.  It didn’t help that the whole neighbourhood’s power went out for 28 hours due to some rain (but it rains there all the time!)  So there was no AC and no fan in my hostel room one night.  It was like an oven.  I got up early to walk around and tried to find shade and a restaurant with air conditioning in the blazing heat of the afternoon.  I went to Cartagena’s best mall but it was pretty shit except for the fact that it had strong AC.  There are beaches not too far from Cartagena but it was just too hot and I am far too pale to be in the sun like that.  I spent my entire fourth day in the hostel.  Look at my photos.  I am so sweaty in every single one.  These will not be my profile pics anytime soon.  Or ever.

Aside from melting, I also did wander around the tourist sites.  I spent quite a bit of time walking on the old city walls and through the colourful streets and gorgeous plazas of the old city.  I visited the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas – a big Spanish fort on a hill with views of the city – as well as several museums – none of which had much English explanation and all of which wanted you to hire an English-speaking guide for an exorbitant amount of money.  The Museo de Arte Moderno wasn’t anything to write home about, neither was the historical museum inside the old Palacio de la Inquisicion.  Surprisingly, the only one that was remotely interesting was the Convento y Iglesia de San Pedro Claver.  San Pedro Claver was a Spanish missionary who preached to and helped the slaves, and he became a saint due to his great work.  While I don’t normally enjoy religious-themed anything, the story of his life was something a bit different than you normally get in church museums, and he’s actually buried in a glass coffin right in the nave of the church.  His skull is visible, which is both creepy and intriguing at the same time.  The museum also had a normal, boring religious art section and I took a selfie with a statue of Jesus carrying the cross because there was really nothing else to do.

Even when I was planning Colombia, Medellin wasn’t on my itinerary until just days in advance.  Once the most dangerous city in the world and home to the most notorious criminal in the Colombian conflict – Pablo Escobar – Medellin is now a relatively safe tourist destination.  I started my time in the city with the Real City Tour – a four-hour walking tour which goes over the history of Medellin including much detail on the armed conflict that tormented the city for ages, and about its recovery.  If you have Netflix and have seen Narcos, it’s set here in Medellin and our tour witnessed them filming a scene in one of the parks.

The museums of Medellin were fantastic – leaps and bounds ahead of Cartagena.  The Museo de Arte Moderno continues to be one of the best modern art museums I’ve visited in Latin America.  The Museo de Antioquia contains a bunch of boring stuff – mainly colonial religious art – but its highest floor is devoted solely to Fernando Botero.  Botero is from Medellin and is one of Colombia’s most famous and most celebrated artists.  He’s known for his sculptures and paintings of voluptuous, disproportionate figures.  The museum’s collection was large and outstanding with plenty of English explanation.  Outside, the Plazoleta de las Esculturas contains around two dozen giant Botero sculptures.  I love it.  I didn’t really know Botero before this trip, but I absolutely love his work.  Also in the city I visited the Museo de la Ciudad.  It wasn’t so much a museum as it was just a gallery of old pictures of Medellin, but it was really cool to see old photos of the city, including those of the construction of the metro (see more below).  The Museo de la Ciudad sat atop Cerro Nutibara – a hill in the middle of the city.  The hill had great views and a small recreation of a typical village of the area.  Medellin had several fancy malls and a handful of high class residential and commercial areas.  The mall at El Tesoro was up on a hillside and had great views of the city.

Medellin’s Metro:
The most impressive part of Medellin, however, was the metro.  Medellin is Colombia’s only city with a metro system.  It has two lines – one that runs north-south through the long valley and a shorter one that runs east-west.  The metro also had two lines called the metrocable.  The metrocable is basically a cable car system like you’d find at a theme park, but it’s an integral part of transport in the city and your ticket into the metro includes the metrocable.  The metrocable runs into the hills where the normal metro can’t run and connects people in the poorest districts of the city with jobs and resources in the city center.  It has dramatically changed the socioeconomic landscape of the city and has been one of the biggest factors in the increased safety of the city since it opened.  Fantastic.

While in Medellin, I took a day trip with some fellow travellers to Guatape – a small town about 2 hours away by bus.  The town sits next to a big reservoir, and a giant rock nearby (675 step to the top!) offers stunning views of the region.  The town is painted bright colours with fresco-like adornment, but aside from a few pretty pictures and climbing the rock, there isn’t much to do there.  I think should have been skipped in favour of more time in the city.

I headed south to coffee country after Medellin.  I love coffee.  Coffee is my friend.  And thanks to Australia, I am a complete coffee snob, and realizing that coffee around the world is rarely as good as Australia has made me homesick quite a few times.  I visited during one of the region’s rainy seasons, which wasn’t the best idea, but I persevered anyway.  The town of Salento is quite small and only recently became a part of the tourist trail.  It features a lovely viewpoint up a hill and a lot small cafes and souvenir shops.  The best of the town, however, lies just beyond its borders.  Kasa Guadua is a private nature reserve and I took an absolutely excellent guided tour which went over the history of the area as it relates to the ecology.  I learned all about plants and animals in the cloud forest, and saw quite a few new bird species.   Did you know that Colombia has a species of bamboo but no pandas to eat it???  Nearby, I joined one of the obligatory coffee tours (because if you come here and don’t do a coffee tour then you’re an idiot).  I learned about the coffee process (it’s very similar to the chocolate process), the history of coffee in Colombia, the different types of coffee hybrids, and even got to pick coffee berries (I think this is how they get free labour…)  The end of the tour concluded with homemade coffee from beans grown and processed right on the premises.  I normally drink my coffee with milk, but this black coffee was delicious.

The next morning I tried my luck for a five hour hike in the Valle de Cocora.  The valley is famous for its many wax palms – the tallest of the palm tree species.  The wax palms normally grow in the cloud forest, but when the forest was cleared for agricultural land, the wax palms were left behind as their wood was considered useless.  The hike included scrambling over some dodgy bridges and logs, and a halfway stop at a little café that features hot chocolate with cheese!  Yummy!  It also featured heavy rain and fog for about four out of the five hours.


It was pretty despite the weather, but I’ll need to go back when it’s not terrible outside.

I have a lot more to write about Colombia – including Bogota and all about Colombia’s food.  This entry is already long enough so I’ll stop here.  But first, let me take a selfie.

To see more photos of my time in Cartagena, Medellin, and Salento, follow this link:

Saturday, June 11, 2016

A Man, A Plan, A Canal - Penis

Haha!  And you thought I was going to complete the palindrome.


I had passed through Panama City on two previous flights so I thought I would actually see a bit more than just the airport this time.  Third time is the charm.  What did I discover?  Miami.

Seriously.  Panama City is Miami.  It’s on the coast.  There are tons of tall condominium and hotel towers.  There are heaps of Jews (I was surprised!)  Nearly every restaurant was an American chain restaurant (YAY FOR A FROSTY FROM WENDY’S!)  There were some extremely fancy neighbourhoods.  There were some neighbourhoods that were super dodgy.  There were lots of shopping malls.  And everybody speaks Spanish.  Just like Miami.  If you blindfolded me and dropped me from an airplane with a parachute and I landed in Panama City I would swear I was in Miami.  I would also kill you for throwing me from an airplane but that’s not the point.

I accidentally stayed in the rich Jewish area of Panama City.  There were kosher restaurants all around and I had a lovely turkey sandwich from a Jewish deli my first night there.  It felt oddly at home.  The Multiplaza Mall down the road was one of the best I’ve been to on my trip (nothing like Dubai Mall, but in the running for #2).  My hostel, however, was pretty terrible.  Aside from the amazing location, the hostel was my first real bad pick of a place.  Leave it to young Brits to do cocaine in my dorm room and then come in loud as fuck at 4am.  The staff also didn’t smile at all.  Lovely.  But I did make friends with a German girl and a Danish girl who did not do cocaine in my room and I hung out with them for the majority of my stay in the city.  Yay for new friends!

A few highlights of my time in Panama City:

Panama Canal:
Obviously.  This is the thing you come to see in Panama City.  I mean, there are other things to see too, but this is really the only thing really worth making the trip here for.  The Miraflores Visitor Center is on the first of three set of locks and is just a short Uber ride from the city.  The centre includes a museum, introductory video, and several viewing decks where you can stand and watch the ships (if you can fight your way through the crowd).  I stayed there for an extra-long time and got to watch three large ships making the transit from the Pacific to the Atlantic in the morning (the afternoon is when the ships travel through this set of locks in the other direction).  Two new sets of locks – one on the Atlantic side and one on the Pacific side – are set to open soon (scheduled for 2014… right…)  The new locks will accommodate longer and wider ships.  I think it’d be fun to go back one day and actually ride a cruise ship or something through the locks.

Panama Viejo:
Panama Viejo (Old Panama) is the original city that was sacked and destroyed by Captain Morgan and his band of rum drunks.  I’m serious: Captain Morgan is real!  I swear I’m smart but sometimes I feel really… not-so-smart.  There’s not much left of the city – mainly just stone ruins – but it is a UNESCO World Heritage site so I had to walk through it.

Casco Viejo:
After Captain Morgan, the city was rebuilt in an area called Casco Viejo – and it stayed within the walls of Casco Viejo until the canal was built and the city boomed.  All of the rich people moved out into newly constructed neighbourhoods and the area fell into shambles.  It’s now being restored and is a destination for tourists and nightlife.  Walking around the area offers plenty of restored old buildings, churches, a little bit of street art, more churches, souvenir shops, and views of the gorgeous Miami skyline.

I mean the gorgeous Panama City skyline!  Close enough.

I’m usually an avid museum-goer but Panama City is not really the city for a museum adventure.  Aside from the museum at the Panama Canal, there is a another museum devoted to the waterway in Casco Viejo:  the Museo del Canal Interoceanico de Panama.  The museum was good but an audio guide was required as there was not much English information in the displays.  Pictures weren’t allowed and that really grinds my gears.  I also went out of my way to visit the Museum de Arte Contemporaneo because Lonely Planet said it was good.  It was not good.  It might have been good had it been more than just three rooms, but it was not more than three rooms and I was done in ten minutes.  Fail.
I really only had one meal of “comida tipica” in Panama City – and it was standard Latin American fare:  chicken with rice and beans and salad and a plantain.  Snooze.  But Panama City offers a bunch of other food that I really enjoyed.  First, there was Jewish food.  Jewish food!  I had a lovely deli sandwich at a Canadian-owned joint and went to a Jewish café and bakery as well.  I had Mexican food (obviously), Greek food, and had my first experience at Crepes & Waffles – a Colombian chain that I will blog more about soon.  I had American chains that I hadn’t had in ages:  like a Frosty from Wendy’s, Cinnabon, and Quizno’s (at the airport).  I had some really good gelato at Granclement in Casco Viejo and even went to a craft brewery!  There was one overarching theme with the restaurants in Panama City:  terrible service.  Often times beyond terrible service!  Restaurants lost my order, overcharged me, and often took ages.  What the hell?  The only true exceptions were the Jewish establishments.  They were on point.

Of course.

Four days in Panama City proved to be about one day too much.  But that’s ok.  I was happy to spend a day in the air conditioning of the big fancy mall.  It was hot as fuck in Panama City and it wasn’t going to be any better at my next destination:  Cartagena.  But first, let me take a selfie.

To see more photos of my time in Panama City, follow this link: