This Year It’s All About the Shoes!

Appropriate Footwear for the Travels Ahead

If you haven’t already done so, it’s time to finalize those 20018 travel plans. My plans (details in future posts) thus far include a hiking trip with REI to the Greek Islands (thus the need for new hiking boots); a  trip to the Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks (gotta actually use the boots now); and a destination, to be determined, with a rented Class B motorhome. As usual we plan family visits to Chicago and the environs during the nicer weather.

The Chicago Loop

Chicago makes a nice hub for visits to midwestern destinations. Likely we will revisit the Chicago Jazz Fest

One of many concerts at the 2017 Chicago Jazz Fest

and the massive arts and craft fair in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Ann Arbor Art Festival

Wow! A great year awaits.

Panama: Planning (Part 2)

Orange and yellow hibiscus

I have for most of my travel years traveled independently. Pre-internet, I would use travel agencies to buy tickets, and the like. In recent times, though, I’ve had occasion to develop what I call hybrid travel plans, where I still travel independently, but I use local travel agents to organize parts f my trip.  I started doing this after a trip to Japan in which I discovered that in Japan travel agencies receive deep discounts, priority tickets, and finally they are a necessity to pay businesses that lack online payment systems and English-language websites. We also worked with an Alaskan company for a DIY trip that also included tours.

With this trip to Panama, my Frommer’s guide recommended hiring a guide if one isn’t renting a car. As it turned out, hiring a tour operator or joining a group during  the rainy/off-season isn’t necessarily simple, as many tourist-related activities shift into low gear. Many of my email requests went without response. I did finally find Ecocircuitos.

However, though they had a tour listed on their website that matched my interest, I was told that it would not be available as a group tour since not enough people had signed up. But, they would work with me to do a semi-private tour. After a day of emailing, we settled on an itinerary. This would include: 1) A partial transit of the Panama Canal; 2) Transcontinental train and a visit to Portobelo; and 3) A visit to Barro Colorado Natural Monument; 5) Five nights of lodging and transportation.  All for $1430.  (In Central and South America you are also charged 5% if you use a credit card which you will likely have to use).

Case closed, correct? Well not quite.  As I was busily transmitting my payment info, my agent emailed me that the Smithsonian would cancel the trip unless there were four people.  Arghh!!! Stay tuned!

Panama (Part 1: Planning)

Flowers

This month I’m off to my first visit to Panama, just in time, as it turns out, for the absolute worst of its rainy season!  I’m retired, thus pretty flexible in my travel availability, so  how did this happen? Well, I had some time in the Fall and I had hoped to visit South America (I have on my bucket list, visiting all the continents), but the more I looked at a trip to South America, the more I wanted to spend some time planning and prioritizing, so…

The trip to Panama morphed from a trip to Patagonia. In the interim I had also considered the Galapagos, a combination Galapagos-rainforest trip, Costa Rica, combined Panama and Costa Rica, and finally Panama. I found an incredible bargain trip to Panama but it had too many stops and too little time at the canal so I decided a DIY Panama trip was my trip (I couldn’t convince any of my relatives to come along, though).

I was able to make a booking.com reservation for five nights in a Panama City hotel cost for as much as one night in most other major cities of the world. This convinced me that I had chosen well.

Unfortunately, I failed to modify the time that I planned to travel:  November in Patagonia would have been a good idea;  In Panama, though,  it is apparently  the REALLY, REALLY, REALLY rainy season. Sad to say, a change in flight would have cost me $200 and Copa Airlines wouldn’t negotiate a change (I miss my Southwest). Well, I am  Floridian, so I think that I can deal with a little bit of rain (she said hopefully).

I initially tried researching the trip online, but beyond the hotel and flights, I have found the Internet time-consuming for researching  locality attractions. Google search generates Google and TripAdvisor reviews, and not much else.  So, as I have been doing for years, I bought a paper guidebook. After testing out the various options (researching a specific question), I chose Frommer’s Panama guidebook as my cheap travel assistant, and horror of horrors, bought it at an actual bricks and mortar bookstore (Yes, I know, very retro and reflective of my age).

Frommer wisely suggests that the DIY traveler not completely go it alone. So, with the list of local Panamanian tour operators from Frommer in hand,  I went back to the Internet with a better plan.  I looked at the various local tour operator websites.  Many have multi-day tours, but as I found out, most are only available during the peak tourist season as they have minimum number of participants. As always, traveling alone creates extra costs and issues. But I think that I finally found a tour operator through my various email inquiries that may provide me with what I need: a relatively  inexpensive custom tour. We’ve been working out an itinerary. In my next post, I’ll know better and can report on the rest of my plan.