Tours and Places

New spot: Country Store

Enjoying a coffee on a nature reserve

By José Díaz

Country StoreEnjoying a coffee in the country, yet near the city.

When George and Angie decided to open a business, they wanted to keep it close to home. That’s why clients who arrive at Country Store have to ring the bell to enter the couple’s cute boutique café from Monday to Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. They live upstairs.

The simple fact that someone opens the door makes one feel that they are entering an exclusive place. And when seated at the table breathing fresh air and listening to the birds sing, it is clear that one is seated in the middle of a nature reserve, although just 15 minutes outside the city.

The name “Country Store” is not in vain. George and Angie have a few farms that produce fruit, lumber, flowers, coffee and vegetables. They harvested their own trees to build the furniture for the shop and used what was left over to create part of the menus that have captured the attention of the clientele for the organic ingredients they offer.

Country StoreSign at the entrance of Country Store.

The morning starts well, with coffee and orange juice from Panama´s interior. The pigmy monkeys have just left after aproaching the Country Stores’ fence to pick up some bananas.

George’s grandfather was one of the pioneers of reforestation in Panama during his time as Minister of Environment for many years.

After years of sprouting, the seed planted by his grandfather has seen one of its fruits: Country Store. In few places in the world can one get in touch with nature, fill up his stomach and buy a flower or a designed craft to make one’s partner happy.

Super Gourmet addition

Bocas has a new bar ...the chocolate kind

By Julia Stein

Super Gourmet in Bocas del Toro
Super Gourmet in Bocas del Toro.

Bocas del Toro expat, Lorelei Kusin, has been saving a special spot at her bustling Super Gourmet store on Isla Colón. With specialty items to please every taste filling the shelves, freezers and the popular deli area, the foyer of the colorful store still needed something special.

Lorelei’s dreams must have been filled with Umpa Lumpas and chocolate rivers because she awoke with the idea of creating a Chocolate Bar. Says Kusin: “One Sunday I woke up and realized what I had to do with the space in my store – fill it with chocolate!”

Chocolate lovers from way back

“The Super Gourmet has supported local organic chocolate since its opening ten years ago,” said Kusin. “We’re now featuring delectables not only from our original Caribbean Chocolate Company (now owned by Super Gourmet Casco) but also from Oreba, Cerruti’s Green Acres, Dorothy’s Own, La Loma Jungle Lodge and Up in the Hill.”

Get it now!

Sweet, tempting specials are now being served at the Chocolate Bar, including smoothies with an option for the inclusion of protein powder and flax seeds, rum balls, gluten free chocolate muffins and a French silk pie which already has a cult following.

As the deaconess of delicacies for an entire province that is also Panama’s top tourism destination outside of the city, Lorelei has a lot of customers to please. She has reported that many of her customers have special requests that they are not afraid to share with her. “I knew people were passionate about chocolate, but we’re going to have to expand the menu to satisfy all the cravings of Bocas Town,” said Lorelai.

Super Gourmet in Bocas del Toro
Artwork by Julie Jorgensen.

Attend an event for choco-holics

Since it’s opening at the end of January, The Chocolate Bar at Super Gourmet has hosted two demonstrations and there are more to come. In February, Dave Cerruti showed how to use chocolate nibs. Mouths watered as he described the process of making chocolate, highlighting the health benefits of nibs in particular. No longer inhibited by fat or calorie concerns, the crowd dipped their spoons into a heavenly chocolate.

The Chocolate Bar will continue to host events posted on the Super Gourmet Facebook Page as well as in-store and via email. Up next, with Cerruti’s blessing, The Chocolate Bar in association with local farmers, will host the annual Valentine’s Chocolate event scheduled for Saturday, March 17 to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day “with sweetness.”

Facebook fans of Super Gourmet will receive weekly specials and announcements from the Chocolate Bar. Hours of operation are the same as the Super Gourmet (9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. from Monday to Saturday). Stay tuned for more events about the properties of chocolate.

Panama’s #1 attraction

The Miraflores Visitor Center, right on the Canal

The Miraflores Visitor Center
Panama Canal perspective: entering the Miraflores Locks aboard a Canal & Bay Tours transit.

The Miraflores Visitor Center is the busiest of all tourist attractions in Panama. It offers a front-seat view of the Panama Canal. The center is located on the eastern side of the Miraflores locks and is just 15 minutes away from downtown. Hundreds of people visit every day.

You can get there by taxi. It is customary for the driver to wait for tourists to finish their tour and return them to the city. Set an hourly rate for this service, $10 or $15 is standard. There is also a bus service available from the Gran Terminal at Albrook.

Right in front of the center ships are transiting the Canal through the hydraulic locks system, seemingly almost close enough to touch. Tourists learn about the operation of the Panama Canal, the history of its construction, its role in world trade and the importance of its watershed. There is a large theater with presentations on how the waterway works. A virtual tour takes tourists the entire length of the Canal.

Take the Canal transit option

To truly live the experience of the Panama Canal, one must transit it. Regular tours are offered by Canal & Bay Tours. Visitors can choose between a full-day or half-day transit which includes transportation, snacks, refreshments and meals as well as bilingual guides. Visit canalandbaytours.com or call 209-2009. The fleet of Canal transit ships leaves the Amador Causeway from the dock at La Playita.

There are three observation terraces, two snack bars, a gourmet restaurant, a souvenir shop and a hall for special events. Most areas are available for rent.

In the exhibition hall, there are historical pieces that were used in the construction of the Canal as well as equipment, interactive modules, videos, mechanical models, and other attractions that teach the importance of the Canal and its flora and fauna.

Historic schooner to function as Panama's tall ship training vessel, offer charters and tours

Courtesy of panama-yachting-services.com

Part of the team that worked on the reconstruction of the boat
Part of the team that worked on the reconstruction of the boat back in 1964.

The classic kauri schooner Valkyrien, with a quadruple planked Kauri hull and a square rigged foremast, is soon to be offering Panama’s naval cadets traditional sailing skills on the Bay of Panama – something that Panama needs to rank in the marine world. Leading maritime nations have a tall ship or ships to train their cadets under sail. Panama will soon produce capable seamen conversant with the basic skills needed on the sea. The ship will also be available for charter and tours around the bay. But her story prior to Panama is a legend within itself.

Valkyrien was abandoned on the surf beach of Playa Venao, close to Punta Malo, on the Azuero Peninsula, after she broke a boom in heavy weather. Leaking and in poor condition, she had limped down the coast from San Francisco under the command of Maxwell Taylor Kennedy, son of Robert and Ethel Kennedy. She was headed for Washington D.C. to be restored and renamed The Pearl – and become a replica of The Pearl an early schooner that fled Washington with a bunch of runaway slaves in 1826. The Pearl Foundation – a 501 charity – intended to restore her with the help of under privileged youth, who would learn boat building skills and the heritage of slavery. She was also to be used as a training ship.

The ValkyrieThe Valkyrie plows through waves on the open sea.

That ended when the boom broke. Captain Kennedy anchored her on a high spring tide and put her up for sale. When a purchase was agreed, he put up money for a delivery to Vacamonte Astillero for a rebuild. But the delivery crew found her on the beach – anchor out, but unable to be moved until the next spring tide a month later.

A kauri schooner (even in bad shape) was a treasure in the eyes of James Laing, who has been quietly developing a business restoring classic wooden boats in Vacamonte’s Astillero Nacional. He saw the availability of national woods, such as mahogany, guayacan and teak at economic prices, together with a pool of experienced wooden boat carpenters and caulkers as an opportunity to build a boat restoration yard that competed against the expensive yards of the East Coast and Caribbean.

Over four years, he had restored a famous 1914 gentleman’s racing schooner, Ranger and was looking for a new wooden boat project. So he brought his team out to the beach, patched her and finally floated her. A shrimper towed her to Vacamonte. The new owner begged for her to go up on the hard. And then, he reneged on the purchase. Kennedy did not want her back, so Valkyrien became an abandoned hull.

The Valkyrie
The Valkyrie beached in the sand on Panama's Azuero Peninsula.

But a man with a dream is not easily beaten. Slowly, the paperwork was resolved and a company formed to restore her and put her out on the Bay. Valkyrien Adventure Inc has a capital of $100,000 with 100 shares – each worth $1,000. Already over half the shares have gone to a wide range of investors, including some members of the family that lived aboard her in Hawaii in the 1960’s and turned her into the dredging boat for Maui Divers that built a coral jewellery industry in Hawaii in the 1960’s.

By July 1969, she was famous and featured on the front cover of Argosy Magazine. But Valkyrien began her life of adventure well before the 1960’s.

Originally, named Valkyrie, the schooner left the famed ship-building yard of Charles Bailey in Auckland in 1928 and set off for the South Seas under the Command of Captain Gillingham. But the sailing adventure took too long and the passengers were no longer in good humor when they finally made port in Suva. This voyage unfolded in scandal when it was found that the ship’s cook was in fact the Captain’s lover and when he returned his affronted wife seized the vessel. So started, Valkyrie’s colorful and fascinating life on the Pacific Ocean.

She stayed with Captain Gilling until 1937, when she was sold in Tahiti to an American, who took her to Hawaii in 1938. During the Second World War she was used by the US Marines as an inter- island barge and after the war fell into disuse and became a derelict in Pearl Harbor. The value of her kauri hull and construction were not recognized. The US Marine Department sold her in the late 1950’s for $3,000. She became the comfortable home of a young family – complete with bath tub.

The ValkyrieIllustration of the legendary sailing ship.

In 1964, she became a restoration project, when Captain Stewart took on partners and the boat was rebuilt to become a trading schooner around the remote Pacific Islands. There are videos of the restoration and under water diving from this time – along with family photos.

Restoration completed in 1966, she was chartered by the Scripps Institute of California to take a team of five scientists to test for radiation fall-out from nuclear testing on Mururoa in the South Pacific. There are a number of stories on this part of her life – still to be checked!

After this adventure she returned weathered and ready for more adventure. She began charters and day tours and became the support boat for Maui Divers, dredging pink coral at 900 metres and diving for black coral at 55 metres.

When in Hawaii, Jack Hargreaves lived on the Valkyrien, and she was chartered by a film company for background shots in the film "The Hawaiians".

Finally she left Hawaii and was brought to San Francisco, upgraded and again starred as an excellent racing boat in San Francisco Harbor. Then after her last owner fell ill and maintenance slipped, the Pearl Foundation bought her for $45,000 and sold her to Maxwell Kennedy for One dollar! Kennedy took on an old boat that needed love and serious rebuilding. He estimated the bill would be $300,000. Here in Panama, she is being restored on a $100,000 budget – the reason Panama is now viewed as an attractive location for restoration of classic boats.

Now Valkyrien is getting the love and careful reconstruction required – at a third of the price of overseas yards. The planking has been replaced, the worm and rot dealt with and the hull made sound. She has been sanded, the destroyed keelson replaced with Guayacan and she is ready for caulking, painting and the lead for the keel put in place. The 3 tons of lead worth $30,000 will add considerable value to this restoration project.

Once she has a sound hull, the boat will be floated at Vacamonte and the rest of the interior and topside will be restored in the water. That’s when Valkyrien’s adventurous life will begin another chapter, as Panama’s first Sail Training vessel, in line with the trend around the world to put historic vessels to work giving the young real sea experience.

She will do sail training courses and also be available for charter and day tours. The videos and memorable items will be available for sale to boost returns. For more information visit www.panama-yachting-services.com/valkyrien.html

Around and about The Beaches

Many schooling options to open for Panama’s younger beach expats

By PlayaCommunity.com

Many school options around the beaches
Lucy Molinar, Minister of Education addressing parents and students at the Initiation Ceremony of the Coronado International School.

Coronado and the surrounding beach communities are growing in size and now attract not only retirees but people with young families from all around the world, looking to live the tropical dream. More families mean more recreational facilities and, of course, more schools.

The good news is that international schools at the beaches are brimming with students and expanding to make room for newcomers.

Last week the long-awaited Coronado International School held a ceremony to celebrate the initiation of construction of the new school.

The ceremony included a blessing by Father Oscar Williams from San Jose de Chame Parish and was attended by Coronado founder Roberto Eisenmann, who has a close eye on this project. The school’s future director Teresita Cerrud was also on hand to welcome parents. The Minister of Education, Lucy Molinar gave the audience a rousing speech on education and Panama’s future. The Coronado International School is expected to open this year, in August.

Many school options around the beachesSwim students earn achievement certificates and pose proudly with their swimming teacher at the Coronado Hotel pool.

Other schools in the beach area

There are also two other international schools in the area for parents to choose from when deciding where to educate their kids at – and they are growing. Parents choose international schools to broaden their children’s horizons in a global world. International schools offer an alternative to traditional education.

Panama Coast International School (PCIS), in Gorgona, opened its doors in 2009 with four students. Kathy Kress, the founder of PCIS noted that there is more of a demand for private education in the community. Last year the school enrolled 32 children and this year to date they are educating 50 children, from the Panamanian and Expat community.

Five Star Academy is another International School at the beaches. It opened its doors just over a year ago in Santa Clara. The school has also seen a substantial increase in young expat families to the area. Students attending

Five Star travel from Coronado and Buenaventura to attend the school. The school opened with four students, and this year they are approaching 30 students.

And that’s not all for the younger demographic

Swimming lessons specifically for kids are now offered weekly in both the Buenaventura and Coronado along with tennis and music lessons. Panama Surf School has seen a increase in surf lessons to the younger folk, with Fridays dedicated to families at the school. Picasso Restaurant has also dedicated a few of their events to accommodate the kids, and hosts fabulous Birthday parties for groups of 20 kids or more.

The Beach Area of Panama is now not only a retirement haven but a tropical area filled with young and the young at heart. It is incredible to see a community growing before our eyes, and to be a part of an area that is one of the top preferred destinations in the World to visit and for many of us to stay.

Beach Activities, Events & Specials

In affiliation with PlayaCommunity.com

Thursday, March 1

Playacommunity Mixer. Starts at 11:00 a.m. Come out and enjoy a buffet lunch at Paraiso Restaurant in Las Uvas. 3 km up the road to El Valle. Meet new people and catch up with old friends. Door prizes. Guest: Don Winner.

Sunday March 11

Picasso Community. Farmer fresh fruits and veggies, crafts, jewelry, home baked goods and more. Starts at 9:00 a.m. at Picasso Bar and Restaurant, on Roberto Eisenmann Rd, across from fire station inside the Coronado gates. Phone: 345-3777/ E-mail: claire@picassobarcoronado.com.

Friday March 16

Live Concert to mark the opening of Penonome’s 6th Annual Art en el Parque festival. 7:00 p.m., City Square in Penonome.

Saturday March 17

Arte en el Parque. An outdoor festival of art and artists. Live music, vendors, art raffle and art for sale. From 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Karoke

Every Saturday at 8 p.m. join MC Luigi y Los Karoke Locos at Dad’s BBQ. Drink specials and prizes. Located on the InterAmerican Highway in between Cochez and the Village Mall. Call 345-4520 for more information.

Salsa Dancing

Salsa classes at Paraiso Restaurant in Las Uvas (3 km up towards El Valle) every Friday at 6:00 p.m. $5 per person.

Spanish Classes

Every Tuesday at Finca la Maya from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. $4 / class. No reservations needed. Located in the village of El Nance. Call 240-8281 or visit www.fincalamaya.com for directions.

Fitness

Get in shape in 2012. Email natasha@sunwavefitness.com or call 507-6533-9311 for info.
Tuesday 7:00 a.m. - BEACHFIT @ Solarium in Coronado
Tuesday 9:00 a.m. - Dancefit @ Solarium in Coronado
Wednesday 8:15 a.m. - AQUAFIT @ Playa Blanca Resort
Thursday 7:00 a.m. - BEACHFIT @ Solarium in Coronado
Thursday 9:00 a.m. - BODYSCULPTING @ Solarium in Coronado
Saturday 8:00 a.m. - YOGACISE @Solarium in Coronado