Da Monkee from Quarry Heights

by  Señor Magnanimous (aka Bill Eldredge)

Arriving at night, after an uneventful flight, we could see the beautifully illuminated skyline of Panama City. The skyline seems to be getting bigger and brighter each time I come back.

It was late when we got to the Panama Vacation Quarters in Quarry Heights. We had dropped off Anita and Tom at the Country Inn Amador, because Anita’s class (BHS64) was having a mini reunion there. Twenty two people showed up for the reunion. Most of the folks stayed at the Country Inn; however, we stayed at the Panama Vacation Quarters which was very nice. I would highly recommend the PVQs to anyone going back to Panama. The accommodations were very nice, the location was excellent, and the service was outstanding. I also have to say that the beds were wonderful. I slept like a baby every night.

Carmen and Clara were hungry, so I decided to go to Napoli for a pizza. As I walked out of the suite, a taxi appeared. Flying down Ancon Hill with Pedro Andretti, in his “Taxi Pirata”, was exciting to say the least. Gorgas Hospital passed by in a flash. Thank God it was close by…just in case. We rounded the corner onto Avenida De Los Martires, then a sharp left turn near the Instituto National, weaving through traffic and people. He slammed on the brakes so hard that I had to brace myself to keep from going through the windshield. Napoli had just closed…he said “No Problema, I know another restaurant that is very good and open all night”. This was also another joy ride through an obstacle course via Chorillo, Calidonia, and down J Street (The infamous Calle Jota), with all the neon lights, bars, clubs and ladies of the evening. For a Zonian Boy, it was a trip down memory lane.

Finally, he dropped me off and waited at some café, in an area that I could never find again if I tried. I placed an order for three Sancocho, Arroz con Pollo, Ceviche, and Flan, plus drinks. The total cost was $15.00. I walked out with two large sacks under my arms…what a deal. The ride back was equally exciting through “Sal Si Puedes” (Get out if you can.), and other colorful neighborhoods, with him weaving through traffic and beeping his horn as I was hanging on to the food. The experience reinforced my belief to never drive in Panama City again. It was a near death experience…like a Jackie Chan movie.

As I walked back into the suite at PVQ, Carmen and Clara jumped me and devoured the food. I think the ladies were hungry… The food was quite good and we didn’t get sick.

The next day we took a taxi back to the Country Inn Amador to join Anita and Tom, plus the rest of BHS64 folks. We then took a tour bus to El Valle to visit Doug and Lil Webster in their beautiful home.  The temperature was cool, the food was wonderful, and the views were spectacular. The delicious  empanadas and ceviche were outstanding. Ronnie Evers was also there with his humorous stories. The ladies also went shopping at the Indian market and contributed to the local economy. Everyone was having a wonderful time. El Valle has always been an enchanting place to me since I was a little boy. Gracias…Doug and Lil, we will be back.

That afternoon we drove to Buenaventura (near Rio Hato/ Santa Clara area) to visit Joe Bremmer and his lovely wife, Cathy, at their beautiful beach home. They were also very gracious. We enjoyed the afternoon reminiscing, while some people went swimming, and others relaxed under the coconut trees. We capped off the day with a fabulous Paella dinner. Joe looked great and thanked everyone for their prayers. Joe…you will have company in the future.

The next day, Antonio, our tour bus driver, took us to Miraflores Locks, which always amazed me. I did notice that many of the ships were riding high in the water. It must be because the ships are carrying less cargo due to the poor economy. We also toured Clayton, Cárdenas, Albrook, Balboa, and Quarry Heights. The changes were dramatic… Some areas were run down, and some the same, and others were even more beautiful. In addition, we visited the ruins of Old Panama, Casco Viejo, and the Church of the Golden Altar. Each place had a special memory for the folks on the tour. I have to say that Claire McNaught did a great job organizing the tours. Keeping us under control was like corralling a herd of cats.

That evening I went back to the PVQ to check on Clara who became ill that afternoon. I found her partying with a group of ex-Zonians by the pool. It was like old home week in the Zone. Some of the folks that I met were: Bob Medinger (the owner), Lewis Stabler (I knew his family years ago.), and Beattie and Kathleen Hendricks to name a few. Clara was wondering why she was not seeing any monkeys in the backyard. Somebody said that they were not getting any free bananas. Then it started…”Hello, hello Napoli…this is Da Monkee from Quarry Heights… I want to order a pepperoni, mango, and banana pizza.” We had a good laugh and *Da Monkee* became part of our trip. The Monkee story grew legs and took on a life of its own. It got sillier and sillier during the trip.

Another reason for the trip was also to get our Cedulas. After listening to Bede and Kathleen describe their 3 and 4 day ordeal, we decided that we could not take Ophelia’s one finger typing, translating, and bureaucratic run-around. So we decided to make another special trip in the near future. This trip made me realize all the benefits of having a cedula. A retired person with a cedula can get many discounts and benefits.

The next evening we all had Covina for dinner at Mi Ranchito, on the causeway, over looking the Bay with Panama City skyline as a backdrop. The food was good, but not great. Clara had a papaya shake which she liked. Our imaginary Monkee friend liked the flan. We also let him pay the bill…

The following day we went to Taboga, which is also one of my favorite places to go in Panama. The Monkee was in the pilothouse with the captain steering the boat. He was one happy Mono…

Taboga has a special place in my heart. I spent many weekends there when I was younger. When we got there, we were disappointed to fine that the old hotel we knew, with the beautiful gardens and Macaws, had been demolished. It was a pile of rubble. We were told that another resort will be built in its place. While we were walking around the island, we discovered a wonderful small boutique hotel about 50 yards up the hill over looking the Bay. What a jewel…it was called Hotel Vereda Tropical. The view of the fishing boats and Tabogilla Island was like a picture postcard. The sea breeze made us hungry. I have to say that the food was superb, and the Corvina , smothered in garlic butter, was the best I had during our trip. The monkee enjoyed the fruit salad… The next time I go back, I am going to spend a couple of days there and chill out. I’ll just let the sea breeze and the sound of the waves put me to sleep.

Lying on the beach and swimming in the ocean was rejuvenating. The monkee also enjoyed doing the backstroke near El Morro rock. You should have seen him in his speedo and sunglasses.

The next day was a day to relax and recoup. Some people went to the Biodiversity Museum in Amador. Unfortunately, we got confused and ended up in the wrong place. Later that afternoon, we met with Awilda Thomas, Anita’s friend. We all went to Manolo’s on Via Veneto and had Sancocho which was very good as usual.

We were very fortunate to meet a very nice taxi driver named Carlos. He was our “Amigo in Panama”; he was a colorful and multi-talented fellow. He can help you with tour packages, airport transfers, real estate, legal assistance, furniture shopping, and bus & boat parties. He can even help you with your taxes…what a guy. If you go to Panama, I would recommend him. He can be contacted at www.panamacarlos.com or his US phone # 281-668-7813. He is very knowledgeable, courteous and a safe driver. He even told my family that I was Señor Magnanimous. I am Magnanimous, but don’t push it…

On the way to Manolo’s, he dropped us off across the street at the Vento Hotel. As we were getting out of the taxi, we noticed many photographers and TV cameras. They were waiting for the Carnival Queen and Princess’ to arrive. When the Queen came, Da Monkee could not resist monkeying around with her and the Princess’ and having his picture taken by the Paparazzi. He was dancing and yelling “Pesco”!!!

On the fifth day, we went to Boquete. The flight on Aeroperlas from Albrook to David was uneventful until we started our approach into the David airport. It was extremely windy and turbulent, which is unusual. Da Monkee was hanging onto his seat and praying to the Monkey Goddess…

We rented a car at the David airport and drove to Boquete. It is OK to drive in David and Boquete. It is not as crazy as Panama City. The road to Boquete was very nice and the scenery was spectacular. Unfortunately, when we got to Boquete it was raining and the wind was howling. We met up with some of the BHS64 folks that drove or flew up earlier. We all stayed at the Panamonte Inn, which is a charming hotel with a lot of character. It reminded me of a New England style Inn. The accommodations, food and service were first class. I was told that the chef has won many awards. The prices were quite reasonable as well. I would also recommend this hotel.

Since Mother Nature did not cooperate, we spent most of the time indoors; mostly in the Bar near the fireplace, which was cozy. One evening the power went out, so we all ate dinner by candle light which was very nice and intimate. The strong winds reminded me of an old Panamanian expression…”Tumba Mono”, which means to knock the monkeys off the trees. I think all the monkeys were hiding in some monkey house up in the mountains. In spite of it all, we all enjoyed each other’s company.

When the rain let up, some of the folks went bird watching to look for the elusive Quetzal. Others went shopping in town. I finally got my Agua de Pipa (coconut water), which was very refreshing.

While we were there, we also visited Valle Escondido. It is a elegant gated community with a 9 hole golf course, equestrian center with Tuscan style condos and homes. In addition, we toured Los Molinos and the Boquete Country Club Estates. Both of these developments had beautiful homes and condos as well.

On the way back to the David airport, we stopped off at the Las Olas Beach Resort. From what I could see, the condos, homes and clubhouse were nice. The food was also good… However, the temperature and climate was quite different from Boquete. Boquete was nice and cool, while the beach was hot. The black volcanic sand was so hot you needed asbestos sandals to walk on it. You could fry an egg on it or dig a pit and roast a pig Hawaiian style. The monkee stayed in the shade under a bohio…mucho calor. It is a nice place if you want to work on your tan.

When we got back to Albook, Carlos (Our amigo in Panama) sent his lovely wife, Julia, to meet us and drive us to the Riande Hotel which is close to Tocumen Airport. The Riande is also nice and convenient if you have to take a morning flight.

Although the Monkee was an imaginary and whimsical creature, and the story has been embellished a little bit, the events are true. As they say…” That is my story, and I am sticking to it”. My family had a fun time making up stories about Da Monkee during the trip, which added humor.

Panama is a beautiful place and the people are happy, cheerful, and laid back, so don’t expect things to happen fast. Just go with the flow and it will all work out.

Leaving was bitter sweet as we said goodbye to Panama. We could see the Monkee waving to us with a sad face and a tear in his eye. We will be back…adios monito.