Colombia & Panama With Kids: June - July 2015

This is the first extended stay where John will be traveling with our four daughters and me for the entire trip!

I wonder if we’ll all like each other when we’re done.

Pre-Trip Panic

There is a moment (or several) before every trip when I think I should cancel. There’s too much to do. Too much left undone. Too much hassle. Too much push back from a certain child. Too much freaking stress. Then, I take a breath, think of some of my most favorite memories with my children and push forward.

I’m never prepared for the next adventure. Not really. One week before departure, the weight of not making a single reservation came crashing down. I purchased international airfare months ago and had a general idea of where I wanted to go, but that was it. It’s my job to plan trips for people — those who can usually afford a lot more trip than I can. They stay at some of the most amazing places around the world and it’s a joy to create an itinerary I know they will love.

I need an affordable, clean, and safe place for a family of six. I also need internet in order to keep working while away. Once I’ve met the primary criteria (and options still exist) I like a place that is centrally located with a washer and dryer, if possible. It takes a lot of time to find the right place, especially when you’re booking rental homes.

I have a neighbor who is a landscaper. He once said, “Yes. I’m a landscaper, but don’t look at my yard. It’s always the last to get any attention.” I get it.

This travelogue is for those who procrastinate. Those who like a little more spontaneity. Those who aren’t totally sure they can pull it off. Those who believe that an adventure with kids is an investment in a bank of memories even when it is a tax on your time and means.

Packing

We’ll be in Colombia for one month. Panama for one week. Then, Los Angeles for one week before returning home. Thankfully, all of the destinations share a similar climate so I made it my mission to see if I could pack everything we need (all six of us) in one bag.

I failed.

I only pack for five days even when we’re gone for six weeks, but I forgot how much space John’s camera, lenses, and both of our computers and other accessories take. At the last minute, we packed a bag we don’t need with the intent of leaving it behind since there are always a few things we shed along the way.

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The girls seriously overpacked their TOC travelacks. They included essentials like rock collections, piggy banks, a desk organizer, and a broken Barbie microphone for the child who likes to be ready for an impromptu lip sync.

I had the foresight to peek in their carry-ons when they fell asleep and did some last-minute reorganizing. The true essential was Bob, the purple Jellycat bunny. Forgetting Bob could have been a disaster. By the way, Minerva insists Bob is a girl. John is so outnumbered.

Day 1: June 4 - Departure

Three flights. Four kids. Crap food. One miracle — no delays! By the time we arrived in Cartagena, two of our kids were crying, “I want to go home.”

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Day 2: June 5 - Cartagena Streets

The extreme heat and humidity were forgivable because of two factors: pigeons and fresh fruit. The fortress walls made of coral stone are pretty cool too.

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Day 3: June 6 - Treasures

It’s hard to believe we’re on day three and we’ve experienced so many treasures already. The rest of the trip could be a dud. How can you top a pirate at the castle and a treasure hunt?

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Only Volcan de Totumo can compete with castles and treasures and pirates. Even though the volcano looks more like a cartoon anthill full of slightly sulfuric, but cooling mud. Minerva hated it. Obviously. She did not want us to be dirty. She did not want to float in the goopy mud. She did not want a Colombian man touching me during the mud massage. Listening to her sisters giggle and squeal like little mud-covered piggies did nothing to change her mind. However, we could not get her out of the warm lake afterward. She stripped down naked and played and played.

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Day 4: June 7 - Caballos

I love the pastel facades and cobblestone streets of Cartagena’s historical center. My girls love the horses and carriages. I’m super impressed by how high Minerva can count in Spanish now that she has began counting caballos.

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Day 5: June 8 - Corpus Christi

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Colombia may have more national holidays than any other country, which makes it a great destination. There’s sure to be plenty of parties to enjoy. Today is Corpus Christi. It’s a Christian observance that honors the Holy Eucharist. It’s also known as the Feast of the Most Holy Body of Christ, as well as the Day of Wreaths. Our observation is that it’s a beautiful day when several shops are closed, people are smiling, dressing in traditional clothing, and celebrating with music and dance.

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Day 6: June 9 - Beautiful Tayrona National Park

Northeast of Cartagena (five-hour drive) Tayrona National Park protects 37,000 acres of reef, coastline, rainforest, and mangrove habitat. The park is home to black howler and squirrel monkeys, eagles, iguanas, and parrots. We came for the beaches.

Day 7: June 10 - Beach Babes

We’re beginning to understand how travel changes as the kids grow. Our youngest daughters are adored by the locals, but the extra attention from strangers leads to shyness and clinginess. Minerva (age 2) wants to be carried everywhere. I hear, “No!!! Mama do it.” 100 times each day. Philippa (age 5) still tires easily, but she’s adopted a new phrase for which I’m very grateful. When things don’t go just so, she sighs and says, “I’ll just go with it.” Success!

Hero (age 9) and Cora (age 11) are able and willing to do just about anything. When John wanted to visit the most beautiful beach in the Tayrona National Park — via a 45-minute difficult and sometimes technical horseback ride through muddy, rocky jungle — they couldn’t wait.

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Day 8: June 11 - Cartagena Faves

We stop in Cartagena for one more night to revisit some of our favorites, which include gelato at Gelateria Tremonti, because the Italians know how to make excellent frozen goodness in any country; more pigeons; and Minerva’s favorite, which is touching the big bum of The Reclining Woman — a bronze statue given to Cartagena by Fernando Botero, a famous Colombian artist.

Day 9: June 12 - Hacienda Bambusa

It took half a day to get to Hacienda Bambusa (airport wait time, 1 hr 20 minute flight from Cartagena to Pereira, and a two-hour drive) but it was worth it. This is the heart of Colombia’s coffee region, and we are enjoying cooler weather, rain, and all the gifts of the rich volcanic soil.

Day 10: June 13 - Farm and Fun

The first half of the day was spent exploring the hacienda. We hiked to the cacao plantation, tasted the sweet / slimy fruit, and watched the process of fermenting and drying the cacao beans. From the drying trays, the finished cacao beans can be cracked into nibs. To make chocolate, the bean buyers add cacao butter and sugar.

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We discovered other plants and animals, and picked mandarins from the trees. Walking through the bamboo forest, Camilo taught us about how bamboo is used sustainably for building homes in this seismic region. My body is tired from lugging Minerva around, but it was nice to work off some of the extra fried plantains.

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The rest of the day was spent zipping through the air with my girls. Special thanks to John, who stayed behind with Minerva, enforced a much-needed nap, and introduced her to Bambusa’s guard-dog, Suco.

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Day 11: June 14 - Epic Day in Salento and the Cocora Valley

There’s no other way to say it — today was epic! The tiny town of Salento knows how to celebrate; especially on the Sunday of another three-day holiday weekend. Some weren’t sure what holiday they were celebrating  (there are so many) but El Sagrado Corazón de Jesús did not disappoint. The Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus — a Colombian holiday that occurs on the Monday ten weeks after Easter Sunday, was packed with locals and visitors.

In the main square, Catholics attend one of several church services and all-day festivities. There were recycled carousels, man-powered miniature Jeep Willy races, inflated bounce slides, ice cream and snacks galore. Somehow, they also had the one thing that always makes my kids happy — puppies!

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Salento has a great vibe. I think a lot of that is because of its traditional colonial architecture and typical (except on Sundays) relaxed lifestyle. Many of the homes were constructed with bamboo frames. This flexible, sustainable resource has helped the city withstand some massive earthquakes.

This city is also a gateway to the Cocora Valley. Cocora was the name of the local chief’s daughter whose name means “star of water.” Our daughter Cora would much rather we explain her name to Colombians using this reference instead of corazon, or heart, like we have been doing. I think both options are pretty stellar.

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The Cocora Valley is how I imagine Fred and Wilma in real-life Flinstones. The wax palm trees can reach a height of 200 ft with a huggable diameter. Even though I’ve done my share of tree-hugging to these 100 year-old trees, I simply cannot believe they exist. It is a rare and beautiful landscape.

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The kids loved the full-sized Jeep Willys ride to the valley where they could stand in the back and let the wind whip through their hair. No seat belts or cares in the world. Then hiking in this majestic forest.

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Day 12: June 15 - Montenegro Rafting

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Day 13: June 16 - Leaving Bambusa

Hacienda Bambusa was hard to leave. It was wonderful to have beds and meals prepared for us. We loved all the fun things to see and do in the area. Thankfully, we were able to fly out of the nearby town of Armenia where we boarded a flight to Bogota.

A friend we met during a visit to Chile in May invited us to stay at his rented farm house about two hours from Bogota. We knew next to nothing about the house except that there were enough beds and no internet. The drive was hellish — steep, windy, and bumpy roads. Somehow we managed to finish without incident even though barf bags were ready. Driving instructions included words like, “Ascend steep grade. Four-wheel drive required. Pass Indiana Jones bridge. Black river on the right.”

The moment we arrived, we knew the farm house was worth every bump and jolt along our journey. It was special. The perfect place to let kids roam wild and free, catch up on missed sleep, and be inspired.

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Day 14: June 17 - Chickens

Turns out the barf bags came in handy after all. Why is it that kids always seem to come down with something on these extended trips? We’re diligent about not drinking the water and our food consists of mostly vegetarian meals that are prepared in our rented homes, but we can’t seem to escape the travel bug. I stayed behind with our oldest while John took the others to a nearby chicken farm.

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Day 15: June 18 - Popsicle Plant

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Alcira has been working at the farm for decades. She visited this morning and taught us how to make the traditional arepas — Colombian flatbread made of corn. We prepared eggs with slices of avocado and fresh guayaba juice. I warned myself to eat slowly. I suspected the bug from yesterday was going to make its rounds through our family. But they were so good, I couldn’t stop. The two kids who weren’t feeling well cuddled back in their beds with books while the rest of us headed to town to visit the local popsicle plant.

Day 16: June 19 - History of the Choachi Farm House

This home has soul; no doubt about it. We knew very little when we arrived. What we discovered was intriguing. Shocking, actually.

Without internet, television, and sometimes electricity, the peace and stillness of this green Eden was interrupted only by the staccato racket of tropical rain on our tile roof. I was inspired, wishing to disappear into the surrounding gardens and write for hours from a hammock. I tried, but the little people in my life kept finding me.

We role-played inside a toy house near the main home. We explored the hanging fruits and vegetable gardens. We became friends with the dogs, Don Solomen the gardner, and Alcira the housekeeper. It was difficult to communicate, but it didn’t matter. They were kind to our children. It had been a very long time since they had this many children at the house.

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This place is bursting with stories. The original portion of the house dates back to the 1940s. Singer Carlos Vives played guitar on the porch as a teen. National team soccer stars learned to play on this lawn. But the house is most famous for its role in Colombia’s recent political history.

In in 1990’s, the home served as the writing retreat and country home of three friends — iconic journalists known as “The Mosquitos” — who christened it Finca Zancudo, or the Mosquito Palace. Many of the most influential Colombian books, articles, and papers of the late 21st century were written at the table where we ate breakfast. The leader of the Zancudos was Guillermo “La Chiva” Cortes — the Colombian equivalent of Walter Cronkite.

In January of 2000, Cortes and others (including Solomen and Alcira) were kidnapped from this home. The 73-year-old journalist was taken by rebels at gunpoint. Some of the captives were released into the countryside, but Cortes was held in the mountains for several months.

As a result of this event, neighbors feared for their lives and moved. The region was virtually shut down to visitors, even though Bogota is less than 50 miles away. Now, in the new era of political stability and security, Colombians feel free to rediscover their own country. These mountains, valleys, and rivers are becoming famous for better things: waterfalls, biking routes, whitewater, and artisanal products.

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Surrounded by nature and unable to “connect,” our pace changed. We took time to rest, lingered in pajamas, played games, and told secrets. The girls ran free, bonded with the dogs, climbed trees, ate from the gardens, and poked at a buzzard carcass near the river.

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I suspect very little has changed in the home since the Cortes kidnapping. Treasures crowd every flat surface. Outside, Don Solomen has kept the gardens in perfect condition for more than 30 years. He is a legend, and is frequently visited by gardeners and politicians for impromptu tours.

Day 17: June 20 - Bogota

Re-entry to the city was announced with every bump and curve of the sinuous, 2.5-hour drive to Bogota. The stomach bug I’d dreaded never surfaced, but we were still queasy from the road. We hired a guide and driver to help us see the city. First stop: Monserrate, with its sky-high views, funicular, and cable car descent. A 17th century church crowns the top.

Second stop: The Gold Museum, which is fascinating and unforgettable, even on a condensed-for-children speed tour.

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Next up: Visiting the main plaza and surrounding Candelaria district. “These are not the same pigeons as in Cartagena, Mom! We need to feed them.”

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Finally: A random yoga class before our final stop at the Museo Botero for super-sized symbolism.

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Day 18: June 21 - Flower and Fruit Markets

Busy markets are not always the easiest places to take four kids, but you can see and taste some amazing things. We bought roses, tasted a dozen new-to-us fruits, and took a few things home for a total of about US$15.

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Day 19: June 22 - Shots

Today didn’t happen. Really. I’d like to forget it. Even if it did produce some tips if immunizations or vaccinations are required when traveling. See? I’ve already forgotten. Except for this lump of knotted flesh under my skin.

Day 20: June 23 - Making Stops to Villa de Leyva

Every night when we sit down as a family for dinner, we ask each other about the favorite part of the day. Today I can’t decide; however, it was unanimous that the least favorite part was the drive. Even mom and dad wondered if it would be worth it. Turns out it was.

First stop: Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira. It’s a Roman Catholic church built within the tunnels of an underground salt mine. I’ve never seen anything like it. We’re told Poland has one as well.

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Second stop: The phallic field. The official name is the Muisca Astronomical Observatory Archeological Park–a calendar and ritual site of the Muisca people. When Spanish priests first arrived, they called it El Infiernito–the Little Hell. We’re pretty straightforward with our kids. That’s why the smile on my child’s face changed drastically when I explained what she was hugging.

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Third stop: Casa Terracotta — an adobe home outside Villa de Leyva. It’s shaped like a dragon. Why not? No city codes were involved in its construction. Every staircase, balcony, viewpoint, and jagged metal ornament made me a little nervous for the safety of my children. That’s saying something. Of course, they loved it. After four hours in the car, they deserved something they liked this much.

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Final stop: It was worth it. We arrived to the charming town of Villa de Leyva. It’s considered to be among the finest colonial villages of Colombia. The architecture has been preserved since 1954 as a National Monument. Plus, there is a tiny museum three miles outside of town that houses a very-well preserved kronosaurus and several other fossils. We stayed two nights at the quaint and quirky La Posada de San Antonio in a family suite.

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Day 21: June 24 - Friend of Horses

It was very important to check something off of Philippa’s list of things she must do. Ride horses. She was appropriately named as a friend of horses.

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Day 22: June 25 - Back to Cartagena

We traveled more than we anticipated today. Even though it’s hard on the kids to wake up early and spend five hours in a car, we try to remember that it is still part of the vacation — the overall experience. Time together.

They’ve really improved their ability to narrow options during 20 questions. They’ve designed a complex seating arrangement that rotates based on each child’s capacity to sit next to another. They’ve laughed, used elbows, and been grateful. Especially grateful that the flight from Bogota to Cartagena was so short and that they were back in a city they knew and loved.

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Day 23: June 26 - People of Colombia

My first introduction to South America was as a humanitarian. I ran a non-profit in the United States that focused on health, education, and micro-enterprise efforts in the poorest parts of Latin America. We hired local community leaders as country directors and support staff who loved the people they served. It was difficult work, but it was the right work for me before I became a mom.

I love the people — their struggles, what makes them happy, and what they need for a better life. I hope to return to this work when the emotional needs of my own family permit.

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One of John’s gifts is his ability to tell the stories of complete strangers through photographs. They trust him. They joke with him. In the end, he captures the present condition of their lives. He honors them.

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Today John went to the bustling Bazurto Market with Ana Maria, a friend who runs a Cartagena non-profit with several projects helping working-class entrepreneurs and children. We are always impressed by the kindness, generosity, and genius of these entrepreneurs. Some operate market stalls run by their fathers and grandfathers before them, selling herbal remedies or specializing in certain fruits. Others up-cycle salvaged car parts into stoves and other kitchen goods. Another stall makes wheels for the Frankensteined shopping carts used to haul goods through the market maze. A guy was even making false teeth (!!!) while standing up in an alley.

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John ate lunch with Cecilia, who wowed Anthony Bourdain with her stews. He met mobile DJs, who run street parties on the backs of their pickups. But his favorite was the sign guy: Runner. If you’re having a neighborhood party, or a DJ party in Cartagena and you don’t have your posters painted by Runner, your party will be a dud. This guy has a monopoly on hand-painted cool.

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MBA classes should stop taking international trips to visit with multi-national conglomerates. They’d learn much more about entrepreneurship, ethics, and creativity through a day at any street market.

Day 24: June 27 - Our Life Aquatic

Visiting the Rosario Islands with Team Zissou.

Day 25: June 28 - Daddy Dates

Keeping with tradition, John takes each girl on a daddy date even while traveling.

Day 26: June 29 - Doors

Saying goodbye to our adventures in Colombia today. We’re so grateful for all the doors that opened making room for memories.

Day 27: June 30 - Welcome to Panama

We entered Central America’s most cosmopolitan city during a torrential downpour, but the dense clusters of high-rise condo, office, and hotel towers were shimmering. It’s nice to be back in a dollar-dominated economy where we’re not always calculating exchange rates.

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We had a few hours to enjoy Casco Viejo before taking our flight to Bocas del Toro. We found the best gelato this side of Italy at Granclement and several shops with beautiful handicrafts.

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Once the New World’s wealthiest city, Panama’s fortunes declined as Spain began routing vessels around Cape Horn. But Panama’s attractive geography has brought sub-sequential waves of investment: the California Gold Rush, fruit and coffee booms, the building of the canal, and the current draws of retirement and tourism.

Day 28: July 1 - Bocas Beaches

We woke up at Red Frog Beach ready to explore. Beach days equal endless play. John (Zissou B Squad) can entertain the kids for hours with hand-dug sand forts. I can always count on lots of giggles, a little bit of sunburn, a few tears from sand or salt in eyes, and tired kids.

We loved zooming around in the golf carts. Each villa has a small, private pool. Introducing the girls to the art of skinny dipping turned out to be one of today’s highlights, and a great way to minimize the amount of sand that made its way inside the house.

Day 29: July 2 - Playa De Las Estrellas

Boats. Dolphins. Starfish. Coconut rice. Beach. Couldn’t have asked for a better day.

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Zissou and Hero Star

Day 30: July 3 - Biomuseo

After spending a month in Colombia, we’re rushing to see as much of Panama as we can before returning to the US. We flew to back Panama City early this morning and spent hours exploring the Frank Gehry-designed Biomuseo. The Bridge of Life sculptures were a big hit, but once she was closer Minerva changed her mind about petting the bear.

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After the museum, we revisited the Casco Viejo and hiked Ancon Hill — the highest point in Panama City — for panoramic views and a gigantic Panamanian flag.  En route, our guide helped us navigate the complex history of US and Panamanian relations before, during, and after the canal’s construction.

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Day 31: July 4 - Grand Independence

What better way to spend Independence Day in Panama than by celebrating with some of your favorite people on and around the US-built Panama Canal? TOC Ambassador Kat Dayton and her bundle of boys arrived late last night. We head back to the US tomorrow, but our friends will stay to explore Boquete, Bocas del Toro, and Valle de Anton. It’s killing us that we don’t have more time in Panama together, but we’ll take what we can get by squeezing in a week full of fun into one memorable day.

First stop: Panama Canal. The kids could have played for hours in the Miraflores Locks Museum, pretending to pilot their own ships. But as one of the big boats entered the lock system, we rushed outside to watch a mammoth automobile transport ship enter the first lock. It can take 8 to 10 hours for ships to pass from one ocean to the other. Each side — Pacific and Atlantic — has a series of three locks that raise the ships to Gatun Lake, allowing for passage over the isthmus.

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It costs an average of $130,000 for ships to use the Panama Canal. A private sailboat can make the journey for about $2,000. For a ship this size, it’s a whopping $400,000. I struggled to wrap my head around the amount of money, fuel, and fresh water that is required to transport goods around the world. As efficient as this process has become, the benefits of buying local and needing less are written in boldface here. Encouraging sign: Spar Lynx was transporting massive ready-to-assemble windmill towers and blades.

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More than 100 years after its completion, the canal remains an engineering marvel. The individual sacrifices and collective achievements of its builders were staggering. They created the world’s greatest shortcut — a Gilded Age wormhole. Between 35 – 40 boats pass through 24/7. The two-lane highway of locks accommodates a maximum ship size of 965 ft length x 106 ft width x 41.2 ft draught. While boating on the lake next to these giants, it’s hard to believe that anything larger would float; however, the canal expansion now under construction will add a lane for even larger vessels. By passing through, these ships avoid 22 extra days of travel, harsh weather, and operating costs of up to ten times the Panama Canal fee.

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Second stop: Boating on the Gatun Lake and getting close to monkeys and iguanas along the way.

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Third stop: Lunch and diving at the Gatun Floating Lodge. We wished we could have stayed two nights, fishing, kayaking, and relaxing. Instead, we cooled off by jumping overboard.

Forth stop: Navigating the nearby channels by kayak, hiking through a rainforest that was jumping with frogs, and taking our own leaps from a waterfall.

Fifth stop: Kissing crocodiles. We couldn’t get enough of these little guys.

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Final stop: Ice cream. Of course.

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Day 32: July 5 - Reluctantly to the USA

“I want to go home.” We’ve all taken turns saying it, but not this morning. Not as we waved goodbye to the Daytons who would stay in Panama. We were supposed to fly home through Los Angeles today, but I realized that we would have three days to do laundry, unpack, catch up on work, repack, and drive to the middle of the Californian desert for an extended family reunion. That sounded really dumb.

I called the airline to see what the penalty would be to postpone the final portion of our flight. It was ridiculous. Much less expensive to purchase one-way tickets for all six of us back home one week later than originally planned. The alternative was driving a roundtrip 28 hours in a car with kids who had been traveling for five weeks and were so T I R E D! So were their parents.

We did the only sane thing — called Grandma and Grandpa. Except, they weren’t really our grandparents. They were borrowed. We call Kat Dayton’s mom Grandma Candy because of the never-ending supply of peanut M&Ms and her dad Papa Tennis because of his love of the sport. When we rolled into their Santa Barbara driveway late Sunday afternoon, I noticed a physical difference in all of us. We finally let go.

Our bodies were exhausted, no doubt. But so were our brains. Constantly navigating in unfamiliar territory and trying to understand another language is taxing. Always being on alert for the safety of your children adds to the stress. Was it worth it? Absolutely. But dropping bags in a familiar place with people who opened their hearts and home was definitely the next best thing to home. It was here where Minerva stopped saying, “I want a glass of milk at home.” The phrase we’ve heard a dozen times every day. The phrase that really meant, “I miss home.”

Day 33: July 6 - Getting Out

Santa Barbara is such a beautiful city and locals take great pride in living here. The restaurants, landscape, parks, beaches, and architecture are among the best. Especially the courthouse — a place of civic pride and celebration.

In spite of the many times I’ve visited Santa Barbara on moms and kids’ trips, John had never been. He was eager to get out and explore the city, but the kids wouldn’t budge. You know the hardest part of the day is often getting out the door, right? Well, there was only one way of getting the kids out of their pajamas and away from the ante room with a closet full of remembered toys: McConnells Ice Cream.

In spite of all the amazing ice cream, gelato, yogurts, etc. we’ve had in Colombia & Panama, I hold McConnells personally responsible for the weight I’ve gained on this trip. The twice daily visits might have something to do with it.

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Day 34: July 7 - Land and Sea

I’d say we made excellent tourists today aboard the Santa Barbara Land Shark. The tour is meant to be corny, which made it a good fit for the kids who couldn’t believe the diesel vessel could navigate between land and sea with a mere gear shift.

The evening was spent at Hendry’s Beach. Although the Pacific Ocean is much cooler this far north, the sunsets and family fun were excellent.

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Day 36: July 8 - Around Santa Barbara

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Day 37: July 9 - San Clemente Bubbles

The arrival of borrowed cousins made the experience at Grandma Candy and Papa Tennis’s home even more special. The kids roamed the gardens collecting oranges, jumped on the trampoline, and designed traps for wild rabbits. Complicated, but gentle traps with cardboard boxes hanging from trees and piles of freshly cut carrots.

We promised that they could keep the bunnies they would surely catch as pets. Sadly, we weren’t able to stay long enough to meet our pet. We headed south to San Clemente for a night with friends before heading into the desert.

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Bubble man said perfecting the gigantic bubble took loads of practice and patience, a cotton rope with the core pulled out, 10 parts water, 4 parts Dawn, and 1 part corn syrup. We were all in awe.

Day 38: July 10 - Birthdays

If we’re totally honest, John and I would probably both admit that heading to Hemet, California in the middle of July, during a massive drought, wasn’t high on the list of ways to celebrate his 45th birthday. Regardless, when I asked, “What do you want to do for your birthday?” He smiled and said, “Go to the beach, have a great meal, and go see my family.” So we did.

Strand Vista Park was pretty spectacular. Cafe Rae hit the spot with their giant portions and delicious breakfast potatoes. And when we arrived in the desert and saw these people, I was suddenly overcome with gratitude for them and the man they made. It felt like the perfect way to end so many days away from home.

Traveling in the company of those we love, is home in motion.  — Leigh Hunt

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Day 39: July 11 - Family

Grandma Jan was the baker’s dozen — lucky number 13 born to a family of modest means and great love. Two of her sisters remain, but the families of other siblings gathered with us for a day at a waterpark.

I liked being in the middle of the age spectrum — too old to want to plunge down the slides time and time again, and too young to want to sit in the shade and talk all afternoon. I listened as the matriarchs related stories of their youth — tales of fun, hardship, journeys, and the joys of being together despite difficult circumstances.

These stories resonated with me, as I sat in the shade and remembered the past five weeks. When we travel, we step away from our regular routine and create stories. If I’m lucky, I’ll be a bit like Grandma Jan — embracing each moment with love and optimism. I once asked about her favorite place to live. I knew it would be a hard answer; she’s lived so many places in the USA and abroad. She replied, “Wherever I was.” It didn’t matter if she was in Alaska, California, Ohio, Virginia, Texas, or Japan. She made the best of where she was, and made happy memories by focusing on the loved ones around her.

I’d like to say that is the theme of this trip. I’ve been most happy wherever we were at the moment: in a mud volcano, standing in a speeding Jeep, jumping off a waterfall, and flying through the air on a wire. Even the rough parts — long drives, endless spills, and exhausted kids — added texture and richness to the trip, making the sweet parts even sweeter.

I’m grateful for this extended family — their love, faith, acceptance, and sense of adventure.

Day 40: July 12 - Gathering My Chicks

Everyone is ready to go home now. We want our beds, our glasses of milk, more books to read, clean laundry, the works. Since the flight doesn’t leave until this evening, we decide to meet some friends at a park near LA and let the kids run wild.

There is a beautiful pond full of lily pads and new baby ducks. The girls can’t stop watching them. Then, the giant koi arrive, prowling underneath the ducklings. “Mom, those fish won’t eat one of the babies will they?” one child asks. “Oh, man. I don’t think so.” I said.

I was wrong.

Thankfully, we didn’t witness the death, but when we returned to the pond, only two chicks remained. The mama duck had been pecking — protecting her young best she could. She was exhausted. I’d been on guard protecting my chicks too. Nearly six weeks of new places, new adventures, and the unknown, but I’m feeling so grateful to return safely home full of memories and renewed love for each other.

2015-07-12 14.09.40

Swimwear: J.CREW, speedo
Kid’s clothing: Mini Boden, J.CREW, Tea Collection
Women’s clothing: Anthropologie, J.CREW, Shabby Apple
Men’s clothing: Boss, REI, Arcteryx, Nau
Sunglasses: Tom Ford, Ray Ban, Gucci and Mini Boden
Shoes: Keen, Jambu, Luna

Comments

One response to “Colombia & Panama With Kids

  1. so glad I found this site and this post! we are going to be sailing from San Diego to the Caribbean via the Panama Canal making stops in both Colombia and Panama. great info, Thanks!

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