August 9, 2015: Exploring the Azuero Peninsula

It is just the family today and our goal for the day is to take the car for a drive and explore the southern Azuero Peninsula here in Panama.  As always it took us a while to get everyone up, dressed, ready and out the door.  It was more like ten by the time that we were actually pulling out of Playa Blanca to start our drive.  It would have been a lot better if we could have gotten moving three hours earlier but not the Miller family.

Once we turned left out of the end of our “driveway” we were into unknown territory for Dominica and the girls.  They have never even see Rio Hato, which is walking distance away in that direction, let alone anything beyond it.  I have at least driven through Rio Hato to the far side and turned around to come back before so at least I know that it is there and what there is, more or less.  Dominica, apparently, had not believed me when I told her that the village was immediately on the other side of the new mall being built at the end of our road because she was pretty surprised to find that the village was right there.

From Rio Hato it is about ten minutes to Anton, a much larger town where we discovered that there is a small grocery store!  All this time we have been making trips to the big stores in Coronado half an hour away and there is a grocery store just ten minutes away!  We have no idea why we were told to drive out to Coronado, that makes no sense.

We continued on the PanAmerican Highway to Penonome which is the much larger village or small city in the region.  We got off of the highway there, fueled up the Toyota Yaris, and drove around Penonome for ten or fifteen minutes to get a little feel for the place.  It is a larger town that we have seen in this region, lots of stores and stuff.  Very busy streets.  Downtown was not attractive, though.  We had heard good things about it but this was not looking like the kind of place that we would be interested in.  We did not spend much time before we got back onto the highway.

We got to Diviso where Route 1 and Route 2 diverge and headed south on Route 2 onto the Azuero Peninsula.  Almost immediately we stumbled upon a nice looking pizza place on the west side of the highway so we pulled in.

It was a neat place that made their own cheeses, so the cheese for the pizza was really excellent.  We ordered a normal plain cheese pizza, which was even dollars, and got some light desserts to eat while we waited which included a chocolate cake for the girls and something akin to tres leche that Dominica and I shared.  And we got coffee, although Dominica spilled hers.  So we split mine.

The pizza was quite good.  The crust was exactly like my mother’s.  The cheese and sauce were really good.  We were surprised to find just a little japapeño in the cheese.  It was the right amount, just a little flavour and the girls still liked it.  We ate seven eighths of the pizza there.

When we were done eating we could see a big storm rolling in.  The sky was dark, especially down to the south over the peninsula.  We have seen so little rain here in Panama.  This will be quite a change.

We got on the road and within five minutes heading south on Route 2 the rain had started and within ten or maybe fifteen minutes later it was coming down so heavily that several cars were pulling off of the road to avoid driving in it.

It was still raining when we reached Parita.  Ever since we got west of Rio Hato we had been loving the lushes countryside.  Instead of the clearly Central American poverty and odd ramshackle houses along the highway, it had turned to gorgeous tree lined lanes and gorgeous pastureland.  Very different in a way we had not expected at all.  Coming into Parita was the first we saw of the really cute villages.  Down here on the Azuero it is very different than up along the PanAmerican like we have been seeing.  We did not have time to investigate Parita but it looked very nice.  The rain was letting up a bit as we came through.

Soon we came into Chitre, which is the main city of the peninsula.  This is a large European city with what we would think of as “normal” businesses.  A modern city with a full infrastructure.  After weeks in Panama popping into Chitre is actually a bit of a shock.  It is completely different from what we have been experiencing.

We avoided the bypass and drove through the middle of town so that we could investigate a little bit.  We did not stop but did look around a little and took some pictures of the big church in the middle of town. We did take note of a place called Frostee’s as we drove through that had an indoor playground thing for the kids that we thought we might stop and check out on our way back north.

It was a long drive south from Chitre but a very nice one.  Route 2 is a nice and easy road.  The landscape is nice and traffic is easy.  There were lots of attractive small towns to investigate along the way.  This is a really nice area.  We are liking it here a lot.

In Las Tablas we turned from heading south to heading east.  This town was really something.  We’ve clearly moved into a more affluent portion of the country.  The houses here were really nice.  Looks like a great place to live.

Going east out of Las Tablas was a police road check but they just waved us through.  We have heard a lot about these checks but we are definitely passed right along.  Our guess is that because we are so close to so much coast line that they have random stops along the roads to make sure that people are not sneaking into the country.  Panama faces immigration issues that are pretty extreme given their geography and overall global location.  The whole country is an unguarded border!

The road got much smaller after this point.  Technically much of it was still Route 2 but quickly it became a smaller and smaller road heading out to the remote corners of Panama.

Las Tablas was the last “real” settlement as we headed south east. After this everything was very tiny and just a little collection of houses and a church near the road.  Lots of nice places, but very rural.  Clearly just farm support communities.  It was still quite a long drive from this point down to Pedasi which actually is the last settlement.

Pedasi, when we finally came to it, was gorgeous.  Completely different from the Panama that we know.  This is kind of a resort town on the outskirts of the country.  Great little village full of restaurants, bakeries, tourist places, hotels and the like.  There are many beaches just minutes from Pedasi so it is a launching point to surfing destinations all over.

We continued on through town and just took the road less traveled.  We went south and finally arrived, literally at the end of the road, at Playa Destiladeros.  We drove down and suddenly the road actually ended, as if it had been washed away, right at the beach.  Cars were parked along the side and there was nowhere else to go.  You had to just pull over and leave the car, which we did.  It was pretty nice.  The people that were there were only there for another ten minutes or so.  I talked to them a little and they were super nice locals.  One of them owned a seafood restaurant in town and another owned a small hotel.

Once they left it was a desolate beach with some wild ocean.  It is clear why surfers enjoy these places here.  We spent an hour or two on the beach.  First the girls played in the water.  Then they turned to playing in the sand.  Some dogs came and played with them too.  They had a really nice time, which they needed after having been stuck in the car all day long.

It was starting to get darker so we decided that it was time to go.  The girls would happily have stayed another hour.  We drove back the same path to the north.

When we came back through Chitre we got lost for a while, both Apple and Google maps are useless around here.  It took us quite a while to find our way through town, which is sad as it is not a large town.  We found our way back to the Frostee’s and stopped for dinner and for the girls to play.

It really was a perfect stop.  They had pancakes for the girls and covina sandwiches for us which were very good.  The girls had a great time played in the rickety indoor playground stuff.  They have had nothing like a playground since we got to Panama so they were very thankful for this one.  We spent more than an hour, maybe even two hours, here.  We were pretty bored but the kids needed to play and wear themselves out.  We got our money’s worth from our dinner.

Before leaving we had a little “ice cream” but it is the watery frostee stuff that I do not enjoy.  The kids only ate a little too.

It was fully dark when we left to drive the rest of the way home.  The girls fell asleep in the car pretty quickly and the rest of the drive went quickly.  We made great time getting back.

We have a small emergency of being down to the last pull up for Luciana.  We had been planning on getting more today and now that we went through Anton we looked but the store was already closed.  Doh!  Now we are going to have to get up in the morning and go looking for some.  That’s going to eat up a lot of the morning.

It was just after ten when we got back to the condo at Playa Blanca.  About an hour to wind down and everyone was off to bed.