My Time as a Travel Writer for Mondo Explorer

As an erstwhile writer and photographer for Mondo Explorer Panama (erstwhile because my translation career has taken up more and more of my time), I thought it would good to have a selection of my articles together in a Panamajama post. I was so pleased to write for Mondo Explorer – to get paid to gush about the place I love seemed like a dream come true. My other dream is translation, however, and a more lucrative one, so this has taken priority over the past year or so.

A selection of my Mondo Explorer Panama posts – please click the title or the photo to read:

Panama City day tripsJesus atop San Francisco de Asis church, Panama City

Nature Hikes Close to Panama CityOrchids, Parque de la Amistad, Panama

Nature Walks Further Afieldcropped-old-howler-monkey-and-friend-playa-bonita-panama.jpg

Gardens of BoquetePainted Dolphins, Mi jardin es tu jardin, Boquete

Things to do with Kids in PanamaAnteater at Summit Zoo, Panama

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Sultan Lebanese Restaurant, Panama City

Cityscape from Sultan Restaurant, Las Terrazas, Multiplaza Mall

One of our favorite places to eat here in Panama City is a Lebanese restaurant, Sultan. This place has pretty good food, but it is the location that brings us back, time and time again. The open-air situation and outstanding cityscape views from Las Terrazas (literally, The Terraces) in Multiplaza mall make this a special place to visit, rendered even more special and otherworldly by the Great White Egrets that frequently fly past.  They fly so slowly, in such a relaxed manner, and look so incongruous against their high rise backdrop.

This place even has a Hookah Menu, which, so far, we have not been brave enough to try! I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure this would be illegal back in the UK.  Anyway, a lot of the clientele sit puffing these at their tables, giving the place a very exotic air. I think they are just ‘smoking’ fruit-flavored water, but I don’t really get it.

Hookah Menu, which I do not pretend to understand

Anyway, the food: the best thing to order for a family or a group of friends is a ‘Mesa Libanesa’, literally a ‘Lebanese Table’. This gets you all the best items from the menu in portions to share, a little like the idea of Tapas, but with enough for everyone to get a good meal (unlike Tapas, in my experience). There are lots of hummous and hummous-like mysterious pastes with this option, as well as stuffed vine leaves, which I love, but my husband and children do not, as well as Mozarella sticks, which are too yummy and cannot be good for you at all! Giant portions of kebab meat, succulent lamb, chicken that tastes so much more interesting than it normally does, and non-chewy beef (a rare find in Panama) usually arrive just when you feel you can’t eat any more, but, somehow, you manage!

Lebanese Family Meal – Una Mesa Libanesa

 

Assorted Yummy Kebab Meat. Sultan Lebanese restaurant

Wraps, salads, fried Corvina (Panama’s favorite fish dish, roughly equivalent to Sea Bass), there is plenty to please all tastes here, from the more adventurous to the slightly less so.  Buffalo wings and chicken fingers are available in the Starters menu – these make great meals for your children if they are not mad on the Mesa Libenesa.

Something to be aware of here is that they have a (to me) confusing system of having a separate bill for food with soft drinks, and another for alcohol. Many times we have been chased through Las Terrazas by a waiter waving the alcohol bill! Another thing is that when we asked for desserts during our last visit, the waiter told us the desserts would be coming from a different restaurant. All very bizarre, so obviously we skipped dessert! So – definitely not a restaurant for the sweet of tooth.

If you like savoury, exotic food followed by Turkish coffee, or, I suppose it must be Lebanese coffee (coffee with a kick!), and the exciting big city atmosphere and views, you will greatly enjoy your experience here.

 

Turkish, or, I suppose, Lebanese, coffee at Sultan Restaurant

Until we moved to Panama three years ago, I had never even heard of Lebanese cuisine, let alone tasted it. For some reason there is a large Lebanese diaspora here and hence many Lebanese restaurants.

There is actually a really outstanding Lebanese restaurant in the city, name of Azul. The food is slightly more tender, and just that little bit better all round, with a hefty price mark-up accordingly. But, for me, dining out is about more than just simply food, and the ambience of Sultan, coupled with the outstanding urban views, plus being outside at night in the beautiful warm air of Las Terrazas, make this the Lebanese restaurant we return to again and again. It was the first restaurant we visited at nighttime after our arrival here all that time ago, and for this reason as well, it will always have a special place in our hearts.

Approximate cost: $80 for a family of five, including wine and coffee along with smoothies for the children. This price is based on a Mesa Libanesa for three, which fed our family of two adults and three children ranging from 5 – 10 years old, more than adequately.

Food 3.5/5     
Ambience and cityscape views 5/5       
Overall 4/5

Gallery of Gamboa Views

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  During the carnival celebrations, we headed the opposite way from the action in Panama City, and found ourselves at the restaurant overhanging Lake Gamboa.

  Many times we have turned around and driven straight back over the bumpy bridge (an ancient, rickety railway bridge) due to a preponderance of buses and coaches. But today, presumably thanks to all the partying in the city, it was muy tranquilo, so we stayed, had a nice lunch and admired the wildlife while we ate.

  Here is a slide show of just a little selection of what we saw. We were not doing anything special to look for these creatures and sights, just having a nice little lunch followed by a nice little walk!

  Most of these photos were taken from this restaurant as seen in my nice wobbly panorama pic here:

Lake Gamboa from Restaurant, Panama

  If you have ever been unfortunate enough to sit through the truly atrocious film ‘The Tailor of Panama’ you may recognise it because Pierce Brosnan has lunch here. Then, if I remember correctly, he goes for a swim in the lake. We skipped the swim!

  P.S. The thing which looks like a whip against a fence was a superslim snake spotted by (who else?) our daughter.

Azuelo Peninsula Vacation

Staying in Casa de Mango, an amazing beautiful house in the grounds of Eco Venao resort overlooking the Pacific at the southern most tip of the Azuelo peninsula. Woken up this morning by the sound of the howler monkeys in the trees beside our house.

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Power cut last night in the restaurant just as we were sitting down to dinner, power still off today, wondering if it will ever come back on during our week’s stay here.

It is a beautiful resort though, with, unexpectedly, many species of crab. There are amazing amounts of fiddler crabs just outside our house, bright blue with orange claws.

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And on the beach last night, my daughter was pinched by the hermit crab she was examining. She was screaming and screaming, as the inch long crab gripped her thumb and held on like a bulldog. I tried to pull it off, but it was latched on so tight, my daughter screaming, ‘don’t pull, don’t pull’. Then I remembered my can of Off! insect repellant in my waistband, took it out, sprayed the hermit, which, after three seconds of this treatment, released its grip and fell, motionless, onto the sand. My daughter, ‘is it dead, I really hope it isn’t dead!’. Hermit crab starts walking away, like nothing has happened. Best possible outcome for this family of nature lovers.

So many crabs on this beach, large hermits, and sand crabs, which live in large, deep holes, and leap out as if they have been catapulted, right at your feet, making us all scream and jump out of our skin!

The restaurant cat followed the children home to Casa de Mango last night, and slept on my son’s bed, which was a big thrill for him. It stayed in our house all night.

Round the corner from Casa de Mango is a Pirate Ship. We followed the signs to this, not sure what to expect, would it be a real ruined pirate ship? Would it be a replica? This is what we found:

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A fabulous hand-constructed children’s playground, complete with real ship’s wheel and two hoistable flags – a Jolly Rodger for when you are feeling like a mean pirate, and a flag covered with love hearts, for when you just want to spread the love around.

Off to try out a new beach today which is meant to be very child friendly, so here’s hoping.

Now, should I drag the family off to the tour of the laboratories where they study the life cycle of the tropical tuna? I think yes.

Panama Air Show 2012

This morning we made a last minute decision to go to the Panama Air Show at Howard Air Base, an ex-US Air Force Base on the other side of the Bridge of the Americas from Panama City. As we were meant to be Skyping grandparents at this time, we took the iPad and Skyped from the car on the way to the show, meaning they got to travel across the Bridge of the Americas, all the way from Glasgow.

The show was free – free entrance, plus free goes on Bouncy Castles for the children! Here is a DHL cargo plane, which was a nice sight to see, but I couldn’t really understand why there was such a humongous queue to get to see inside. We passed, as we have three youngsters who get restless in queues, not to mention me!

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There were some very pretty biplanes doing death-defying stunts, such as loop-the-loops and flying across each other while diving and twirling down to the ground. I took some pictures of tiny specks high in the air….

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And here are some of the biplanes on the ground. Very pretty…

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I liked seeing this family sheltering from the baking sun under the tail of a little plane. This is one of the many things I like about Panama – in the UK at a similar kind of event, the public would not be allowed to get so close to the planes, let alone sit under a tail like this!

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I believe this airport featured in the questionable Bond film, Quantum of Solace, where it stood in for Bolivia so it may look familiar to you.

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San Francisco de Asis Church, Casco Antiguo

San Francisco de Asis church in Casco Antiguo is such a beautiful and imposing building. The day we visited there was such a deep blue sky – it really makes the pastel lemon and white of the church stand out.

There are so many intricate details, not to mention stunning statues. I think this may be my favourite building in Panama City.

Here is a statue from the tower, presumably of St Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals.

And here is the main man himself, perched atop the roof.

Baha’i Temple, Panama City

This flying saucer lookalike sits atop a hill overlooking Panama City. One of only seven Baha’i Hindu Temples worldwide, Panama was chosen as a site due to its strategic position at the Centre of the Americas and because of the canal with its trade routes linking countries across the globe. If you stand just outside the temple you can see across Panama City, from the skyscrapers overlooking the Pacific Ocean to the tropical rainforest.

The Baha’is believe in protecting nature, equality between men and women and lots of other commendable things. The Panamanian temple was designed by a British architect. It is such a beautiful, organic looking building – I believe it should be world famous.

The temple is a place of calm contemplation and meditation, so we begged our young children to be respectful. All went well until we were getting ready to leave and one of them shattered the silence by beeping the car horn – oops!

I couldn’t resist taking this – the spider really makes the temple look like an alien face, don’t you think?

Note: Post updated 4 September 2012 to remove reference to Baha’ism as being a type of Hinduism. It isn’t, apparently. Thanks to Nicholas and Roseann.