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Monthly Archives: August 2010

So you’re in Panama … and you want to get drunk …

no suprises, of course! There are three main touristy areas in Panama City that you could do, but only two places that will be absolutely thumping!

  1. Calle Uruguay is a neighborhood filled with bars and discos for wealthy Panamanians and foreigners. We went along the street twice in our three days and I would liken the scene to a “West Mall” thing in Trinidad or “Yorkville” in Toronto.
  2. Zona Viva (pronounced “Zohnahabeeba” .. all one word). This is an enclosed party district, guarded by the tourist police – you will need to show ID or your passport. I didn’t have my passport with me when I went and I almost didn’t get in … but trust your English speaking ability plus making a scene and holding up the line to get you in … but that is my trick – so take some picture ID with you.
  3. Casco Viejo – this is the old city. It is gradually being gentrified, and the buildings that have already been restored give a sense of how magnificent the area must have looked in past years. However, part of the allure of strolling along Casco Viejo’s cobbled streets is the dilapidated charm of the crumbling buildings, abandoned houses and boarded-up ruins. As for bars and restaurants, there are some nice places to go, but no where will compete for the thumping beats or energy of Zona Viva or Calle Uruguay.

The reason I mention the three areas and not any others,  is because Panama City is a bit dangerous, if you don’t know what you’re doing or where you’re head. This is definitely not the city to be wandering outside the “known” areas. 

Be careful in both Casco Viejo and the Panama la Vieja ruins area. There are a lot of tourist police in both neighborhoods but you have to have your wits about you and definitely if you’re a single female, do not wander too far in these areas alone (even in the day) and certainly not in the evening. Stay out of El Chorillo, Santa Ana, and San Miguel. Typical, drug gang infighting and there are reports of tourists have been kidnapped right off the street.

When partying, definitely be careful when crossing the street! As I mentioned before,Panamanian drivers are notoriously aggressive when the traffic allows and will not slow down for you even if you’re lucky enough to find a crosswalk. There’s only one way to cross the road here. Wait for a break in the traffic and walk. Once you start, keep going. Drivers will stop(99% of the time……)

A Trini, a Thai and a Russian walk up to a Panamanian bartender …

then you can pretty much add any ending to that joke you would like.

Panama has definitely not been on my bucket list of destinations. Panama’s claims to fame in my mind have the been

  • The Panama Hat (which btw, isn’t even Panamanian – it’s a traditional brimmed hat of Ecuadorian origin that is made from the plaited leaves of the toquilla straw plant – Teddy Roosevelt wore the thing when the Canal was being built and everyone associated the hat with Panama)
  • Manuel Noreiga – no explanation needed
  • Some sort of engineering marvel or whatever you want to call the “big ravine” that separates the country. (that is how a Trini would describe the Panama Canal … yeah seriously)

One of my first recommendations when you get to Panama, is to find a car rental agency. Like other Central American countries, public transport while available, is never on time, difficult to navigate if you’re not a local or don’t speak Spanish and packed to capacity.

My first marvel at the public transport was the presence of the Diablo Rojo. In Trinidad, early in the 90’s, we had the presence of the souped up “maxi-taxi”, which was a glorified mini van with 13 seats, 5234 speakers and could be heard from 2.647 miles away, when you weren’t trying to make out with some girl among 21 other people. Well the “Diablo Rojas” truly blows this away in terms of aesthetic appeal.It was easily one of my favorite and hated things about Panama. 

These buses are essentially tricked out American school buses.   They’re so colourful, tacky and ridiculous that it is tough not to love them, unless you’re a driver. Driving in Panama has one rule … like Fight Club, the first rule ois not to talk about it. Seriously … Panamanian are some of the ridiculously unskilled, insane drivers I’ve seen/experienced globally. As for those Red Devils, I have no idea how safe they are or how good the seating is, but on a Saturday night, there are a lot of girls drinking on those buses … so it might not be the worse place in the world for a traveller to be.

I’m pretty sure the Red Devils don’t have A/C and me being stuck on a bus without A/C is probably not a good idea for anybody involved, especially not when its 100 degrees outside.

As for the Canal, it is impressive as an engineering marvel and that is about it. Overall, we spent about 2 hours at the Panama Canal, I checked it off my list of things to see in the world, and I can move on. Really …  that is exactly how I feel about it.

I don’t think I can write anything about the Panama Canal that hasn’t been written already or describe in any other detail that would make it sound better or worse than it exactly is … if you have seen a lock system in the world work, this is no different except that you can go from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean in a day.

Watching the boats go by is cool for about 10 mins and then you get bored. More interesting to me was the presence of enlarged features on signs in Panama.

For instance, if you have ever seen a bigger bum on a sign than the street signs in Panama, I must come to your country to photograph those signs.

I wonder what this sign represents?

or this sign?

Pretty much the collection of pictures summed up the experience of Panama. Questions?

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Are there ferries in Ferryland?

So you’re in Newfoundland, and a couple thoughts might pass through your head, such as

  • “Ok, I expect to have the best fish and chips around, since these people know their fish”
  • “I feel like scotch, since this place looks like what I imagined Wuthering Heights to look like when I was in my form 3 English Literature class”
  • “Am I in Scotland? I could sure use some scotch … preferably a dram or two of Bunnahabhain 25 Year Old
  • First passages of Hamlet …
  • What would Bilbo Baggins do on a hike over the hills here to Mordor?

Walking along the coast, with the water crashing on shore and a cold breeze passing over you, you can help but think about the storms to pass and how difficult life used to be.

Thinking about a bleak, dismal morning after a long night of fog horns and lighthouses …

At no point, was I thinking that I would be on the Irish loop, heading to Ferryland for the Lighthouse Picnic. If you’re heading out of St. Johns, having lunch by the lighthouse would be a worthwhile stop. You’re furnished with everything needed for a nice little picnic by the shore.  What makes this place incredible is its location and its concept.  You go into the lighthouse to order and then they give you a picnic blanket and a patterned flag that symbolizes your order.

The conversation goes something like this after

  • Me: “Where do we go?”
  • Them: “Anywhere…”
  • Me: “What do you mean?”
  • Them: “Go find a place.”
  • Me: “Anywhere?”
  • Them: “Yes” <insert their thought process … look ya dumb f##k … we’re in a lighthouse, and you’re by a cliff … go outside and stop asking dumb questions.>

Overall the process is like this …

  • You’re given blankets, one per couple, and feel free to pick your pied a terre for your picnic outside among the beautiful, rugged surroundings on lighthouse point.
  • The blankets are made specially made of a heavy fabric with tartan print and the bottom is covered in vinyl, so that it is easy to clean and doesn’t soak through. A small flag is also provided. You stick them in the ground next to your blanket so that the servers will know which group you are for serving purposes.
  • After walking around and taking the necessary pictures, the girls ended up with two picnic hampers containing a variety of scrumptious looking goodies.
  • All of the breads at Lighthouse Picnics are made daily on site. I peeked in, as they were being brought out of the kitchen and found the aroma of the beautiful, large loaves of foccacia and whole wheat bread to be intoxicating. It was like smelling the most wonderful perfume. Needless to say these breads made fabulous sandwiches. I tried a curried chicken salad on whole wheat made from fresh roasted chicken in a creamy but lightly seasoned curry dressing. It was a standard pedestrian curry spice but the whole assembly made a delicious sandwich.

Now I have to say, that as a Trinidadian … this whole idea of lighthouse picnics, craggy moors, crashing waves and thistle is pretty foreign to me. I mean going to Caura River in Central Trinidad is enough of a camping, picnic experience for me – however this isn’t the worst thing ever.

While in Ferryland, there is also some culture and history to take in. There are the ruins of the Colony of Avalon. I dont know why, but I just think about King Arthur, some knights on a square table and scotch wench. Anyway, most people have no idea that there was permanent European settlement in North America so far back, and that Newfoundland played such an important role. The Ferryland settlement was “forgotten”, and its remains lay undisturbed for centuries.

Cool as all this was, I was still on the hunt for fish and chips … and the general feedback was that we should head over to Ches’s.

By the way, after lunch, driving, scotch and fish and chips and learning that addresses in Ferryland use the alphanumerically lowest postal codes in Canada, starting with A0A

I’m still looking for ferries …

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Cheapest Days to Fly and Best Time to Buy Airline Tickets

Cheapest Day to Fly – Wednesday

We did an in-depth study of our proprietary historical airfare database (world’s largest) and pinpointed the cheapest day to fly is Wednesday for domestic travel (gory details at the link).

Wednesday is one of the three cheapest days, the others are Tuesday and Saturday (Friday and Sunday the most expensive days to travel). The cheapest day to travel internationally are a bit different — we are working on this research and it should be up shortly.

The cheapest time to fly is typically the first flight out in the morning – yes, that means you have to get up at 4am. Next best times are flights during/after lunch and flights at the dinner hour (of course the absolute cheapest time to fly is on those limited routes with red eyes).

Link to the original article

Never check luggage for a weekend trip

Time is money … we’ve all heard that before, but few people truly realize that they can save heaps of time in airports by looking at what they carry on to a plane; they can also save a few bucks at the same time.

All these airlines, now levy an extra charge for checked baggage, but this is only the start of what’s fast becoming a textbook example of how to nickel and dime consumers. Blankets, pillows, headphones and — believe it or not — bathroom access are all becoming pay onboard now. Welcome to the “Great Ass Raping at 30,000 feet”. Since I travel from Monday – Thursday to the client site, I have a simple strategy: pack once and then reload, so that I never check luggage again.

For all trips under 5 days, I am a single bag traveler – which I define as one personal bag and one carry on piece. I pack strategically and fit every item I need into a well-designed and well-packed carry-on bag. If it won’t fit in a reasonably sized carry-on, it stays behind.

As a guy, you generally need the following for a 5 day trip (You only need the essentials … embrace it!)

  1. One pair of underwear/socks per day (5 pairs)
  2. One pair of jeans that you’re wearing with belt
  3. One pair of shoes that you’re wearing with socks
  4. Two pairs of dress pants
  5. Three shirts
  6. Two T-shirt
  7. One pair of shorts

Everything else is optional - in fact I know travelers who will even cut this minimum down to half – but this is my comfort level. You can buy travel sized stuff in any pharmacy on the road. It isn’t worth the hassle to carry this stuff through customs. Here are a couple other tips to become a single bag traveler:

  1. Find the right bag

    Know the limits of the carry-ons and know that you can “jet-bridge” anything as long as you’re comfortable with it. I always use the jet bridge for my one carry on item, since I know it almost never fits in the overhead compartment. You’re allowed to do this and it is free.

    The right bag is something that is about twice the size of the large gym bag or one duffel bag size. You can pack everything I listed above and more without the extra charge or weight.

  2. You aren’t just a vessel of knowledge but can also be luggageWhat you wear for your flight is part of your travel wardrobe. Choose these clothes strategically — your one pair of work shoes and jeans and t-shirt is part of your trip wear, but they’re also fine to wear on the flight – make that one outfit count. To minimize the tech gear you carry in your bag, consider a travel vest … you won’t need a tech bag or maybe even decrease what is in your tech bag … if you’re a traveling blogger/consultant like me.
  3. Liquids aren’t necessary, but if you must, travel size itSeriously, all that conformity to the TSA’s 3.4 ounce rule for liquids. Do you really need soap, shampoo and lotion. Most hotels you go to will give you this for free and if they don’t, you really need to find a better hotel.
  4. Learn the secret packing techniquesThere are no secret packing techniques – use common sense. If you pack shoes, ensure that you stuff the sock inside the shoes.  Roll your shirts together etc.. if you don’t know how to pack a bag/suitcase, learn how