Cold treat on a hot day

Given that today is the first day of fall, with the heat of summer fading into distant memory, I feel like being reminded of one of the joys of the patio season: cold beer.

And I don’t just mean regular fridge cold. Nope, I mean so cold that ice crystals form. I mean SLUSHY cold.

Oh my gosh…on a sweltering day, beer that’s THAT cold is just one of the best things the universe has to offer.

On our last day in Bocas – the day we spent at Red Frog Beach – we were greeted with just such an icy beverage!

We ducked into the little restaurant at the end of the beach for a quick bite to eat and we each ordered a can of Panama Lager to go with our snack – not expecting much. As we cracked the tops open to pour the beer into the icy mugs provided, it was clear that this was going to take a while. The can was half filled with slush!

Mmmmm…so cold.

Admittedly, it would have been better if we could have cut the top off the cans. Furiously shaking them to try to extract the nectar within was somewhat frustrating; it would have been more satisfying to plop it all in a glass and let it melt.

But you take what you can get – and when what you can get is ice-cold lager and fresh ceviche, who’s to complain?!!!

Red Frog Beach

Red Frog Beach

Found ‘Round Quebec City

I totally got distracted. I usually like to do a little wrap-up post about any places I visit just so I can share the few photos that I took that don’t slot nicely into the other blog posts.

I took a few photos around Quebec City that fit this category, and thought I’d share as a nice way to wrap up this little mini-series on my summer holiday with Stephen.

Some fun with camera angles.

Some fun with camera angles.

I just like the colour of this brick house.

I just like the colour of this brick house.

Angling for more fun.

Angling for more fun.

As my friend David pointed out, I went to Quebec and drank BC beer. Such a travesty. At least Stephen had Belgian brew.

As my friend David pointed out, I went to Quebec and drank BC beer. Such a travesty. At least Stephen had Belgian brew.

Breakfast at a wonderful little café - Chez Temporel

Breakfast at a wonderful little café – Chez Temporel

...to accompany breakfast (which, for me, was a bison tourtière!)

…to accompany breakfast (which, for me, was a bison tourtière!)

Provincial Parliament

The frontal tower.

The frontal tower.

Stephen is one of the smartest people I know. I enjoy traveling with him because I learn a lot about the place I’m in. He does his research before hand and he just knows a lot about a great many things.

But he’s particularly interested in Canadian history and politics. So when we decided to take a tour of the Provincial Parliament and the surrounding buildings, it was like having my own personal tour guide. My knowledge of 20th Century Quebec politicians is much richer since this trip.

Frankly I would never have opted to visit the Assemblée Nationale if I had gone to Quebec City on my own. But I’m very glad I did. It was a really interesting tour. The halls of the building are lined in history – and when the official tour guide failed to come up with an answer, I could always rely on Stephen to clear things up.

Also, it was another nice place to grab some great photos.

Maurice Duplessis - AKA La Grande Noirceur (The Great Darkness). Dick.

Maurice Duplessis – AKA La Grande Noirceur (The Great Darkness). Dick.

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I feel sorry for René Lévesque - forever doomed to stand poised above a plaque printed in Comic Sans font. Quel Dommage!

I feel sorry for René Lévesque – forever doomed to stand poised above a plaque printed in Comic Sans font. Quel Dommage!

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Let's move inside the building now...with a closeup of the floor?! What...It's nice!

Let’s move inside the building now…with a closeup of the floor?! What…It’s nice!

Okay, is painted glass more your thing?

Okay, is painted glass more your thing?

Then painted glass you shall have.

Then painted glass you shall have.

Now into the main chamber. It was dark. Forgive my photo corrections.

Now into the main chamber. It was dark. Forgive my photo corrections.

I didn't have a tripod.

I didn’t have a tripod.

One of the large canvases.

One of the large canvases.

I love this photo. Found this phone just outside the main chamber, behind a door. Had to act quick to keep up with the tour guide.

I love this photo. Found this phone just outside the main chamber, behind a door. Had to act quick to keep up with the tour guide.

The red chamber - formerly the senate, but now, after the abolition of the provincial senate, it's mainly used for committee meetings.

The red chamber – formerly the senate, but now, after the abolition of the provincial senate, it’s mainly used for committee meetings.

Saturation, anyone?

Saturation, anyone?

Portrait of Louise Harel, one of the many paintings of past Presidents of the National Assembly that hang along the halls of the building's interior.

Portrait of Louise Harel, one of the many paintings of past Presidents of the National Assembly that hang along the halls of the building’s interior.

Citadelle

A sentinel, to "greet" us on our way into the Citadelle.

A sentinel, to “greet” us on our way into the Citadelle.

Maybe I’m mis-remembering, but I seem to recall that there was a class to trip to Quebec City when I was in grade school. I don’t remember if it was in Junior High or High School, but I feel like a bunch of my classmates went.

I’m positive there was a skiing trip that I didn’t want to go to because the thought of hurtling down a mountain at high speeds frightens the bejeezus out of me. But I don’t know why I didn’t go to Quebec City. Maybe it was all one big trip. I’ll have to ask my mother…she’ll remember.

Anyway, I didn’t go, whatever the situation.

Still, in advance of the trip, I seem to recall us all learning about the CItadelle: the military fort attached to old city. The specifics of that lesson didn’t stick with me, but since that time, the Citadelle and Quebec City have been indelibly tied together in my brain.

And for that reason, the Citadelle was one of the key sites I wanted to visit on my weekend getaway to Quebec City.

We managed to squeeze in a guided tour on our second day. Again, great place to get some nice photos.

Found on our way from the Plains of Abraham Museum en route to the Citadelle.

Found on our way from the Plains of Abraham Museum en route to the Citadelle.

Technically not the Citadelle. This is the roof of the nearby Armoury. At least that's what Stephen told me. :)

Technically not the Citadelle. This is the roof of the nearby Armoury. At least that’s what Stephen told me.🙂

The guards are big fans of Abbey Road. :P

The guards are big fans of Abbey Road.😛

The rest of the shots are pretty much just buildings and cannons inside the walls of the fortress. Pretty self explanatory, for the most part.

The rest of the shots are pretty much just buildings and cannons inside the walls of the fortress. Pretty self explanatory, for the most part.

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Aparently this used to be some sort of time piece - although it no longer works. The ball would drop to mark the time). I was only half listening, so don't quote me.

Aparently this used to be some sort of time piece – although it no longer works. The ball would drop to mark the time). I was only half listening, so don’t quote me.

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Vieux Quebec

One of my faves of all the photos I took. I just really like the crook in the street.

One of my faves of all the photos I took. I just really like the crook in the street.

For many years, I had been hesitant to visit Quebec City – always worried that my French wasn’t good enough to get by comfortably on my own. So when my friend Stephen (a translator by trade) suggested a weekend trip to QC together, I jumped at the chance.

Turns out I needn’t have worried about my language skills – at least not in Old Quebec. Old Quebec is incredibly touristy, and most everyone speaks English reasonably well.

Even so, I found my French skills were better than expected – and better still, they only improved over the course of the weekend, the longer I was immersed.

It’s too bad I let it go so long without visiting. Old Quebec is absolutely charming.

Not that I should have been surprised. Other friends have told me on numerous occasions about the city’s old-world charm; that feeling like you’re in the middle of Paris.

I’ve never been to Paris, but Stephen has and he tells me the same thing, so I have no reason to doubt it.

Whether it’s Paris-like or not, it’s lovely.

The one thing I wasn’t expecting was how hilly it was. There’s even a funicular for heaven’s sake! Maybe friends had mentioned that fact to me, but clearly my brain didn’t remember it.

Not that the vertical nature of the city was a problem. I really enjoyed the hilly, narrow, winding streets. They made for some great photos! We did a walk around Vieux Québec on our first day in town, and every corner we turned offered a new treasure for my photographer’s-brain. I’m so happy I brought my camera.

I was able to snap a bunch of great photos in between our visits to inviting patios for glasses of vin rouge, pints of bière, cups of café and plates of fromages (yes, we ate a drank a lot). I’ll caption the photos below, which are all from the old quarter.

A pop of colour along the roof edge.

A pop of colour along the roof’s edge.

Just a sculpture hung over a door, but I find it hard to resist taking photos of statues face on.

Just a sculpture hung over a door, but I find it hard to resist taking photos of statues face-on.

Steve the Translator. Thanks for a wonderful weekend!

Steve the Translator. Thanks for a wonderful weekend!

I also find repeated patterns hard to pass up.

I also find repeated patterns hard to pass up.

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Close-up of a painted wall mural.

Close-up of a painted wall mural.

Another favourite - doors or windows isolated on a nice monochromatic wall.

Another favourite – doors or windows isolated on a nice monochromatic wall.

Stephen the sailor.

Stephen the sailor.

Thanks to a filter in the snapseed app, a boring photo is saved!

Thanks to a filter in the snapseed app, a boring photo is saved!

You know darn well that many people have taken this shot in the past.

You know darn well that many people have taken this shot in the past.

Cool artwork hung overhead in amongst the old stone buildings.

Cool artwork hung overhead in among the old stone buildings.

Same artwork - opposite angle...and B&W. Gosh, I'm so creative. :P

Same artwork – opposite angle…and B&W. Gosh, I’m so creative.😛

More b&W for the Gothic church. I dunno... is it actually Gothic? I'm not a student of architecture.

More B&W for the Gothic church. I dunno… is it actually Gothic? I’m not a student of architecture.

A funicular - sadly, we didn't ride it.

A funicular – sadly, we didn’t ride it.

Stephen, that just looks gross. I know it's maple ice cream, but still. Guh-ross.

Stephen, that just looks gross. I know it’s maple ice cream, but still. Guh-ross.

That looks slightly better.

That looks slightly better.

Getting creative with the lens flares. Call me J.J. Abrams.

Getting creative with the lens flares. Call me J.J. Abrams.

Colourful balls?! Well, that's just gonna make ANY shot pop!

Colourful balls?! Well, that’s just gonna make ANY shot pop!

Rowr. Face-on shot of a stuffed bear.

Rowr! Face-on shot of a stuffed bear.

Time for wine! Need some energy before I continue walking around.

Time for wine! Need some energy before I continue walking around.

The restaurant wher we grabbed the wine. Apparently it's quite new. Well, their location couldn't be better.

The restaurant where we grabbed the wine. Apparently it’s quite new. Well, their location couldn’t be better.

Busy street! Good thing I like to shoot details rather than wide angles - otherwise, all my shots would have had dozens of people in them.

Busy street! Good thing I mostly like to shoot details rather than wide angles – otherwise, all my shots would have had dozens of people in them.

Harpist-busker. Never seen that before, and we actually saw TWO in Quebec. Go figure.

Harpist-busker. Never seen that before, and we actually saw TWO in Quebec. Go figure.

Lots more door-in-wall photos to come, I'm afraid.

Lots more door-in-wall photos to come, I’m afraid.

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Time for a beer top-up. Only a few more photos to go.

Time for a beer top-up. Only a few more photos to go.

A place to tie your horse.

A place to tie your horse.

Technically taken from the Citadelle, but still a nice shot of an old street.

Technically taken from the Citadelle, but still a nice shot of an old street.

Okay, that's enough for now. Let's celebrate with another pint. You made it all the way through my post!

Okay, that’s enough for now. Let’s celebrate with another pint. You made it all the way through my post!

Second Beach

Reading or napping? Turtle Beach was great for Either.

Reading or napping? Turtle Beach was great for Either.

If relying on a taxi to pick us up from a beach located on the same island as our hotel was cause for stress, imagine how much anxiety I had when relying on a water taxi to do the same thing the next day!

At least on the first day I could conceivably WALK back to the hotel. With a beach located on a completely different island, that option was completely out of the question!

I’m just kidding – it wasn’t really a stress to rely on the boat to get to and from Red Frog Beach, where we went on our second beach day. Things seemed really well organized on that front, and the timing of our water taxi was much more conducive to a FULL day at the beach.

It turned out that Red Frog Beach – our planned destination that second day – was MUCH more peaceful in general that Playa Estrella. Yes, it had plenty of tourists but with fewer locals and no shop fronts blaring loud party music, the beach had a much more laid back air.

Still, Red Frog Beach was busy enough that we decided to explore the area to try to find something even more remote. As luck would have it, just a few minutes walk further along we stumbled on Turtle Beach.

Turtle Beach was largely reserved for use by members of a private resort, so it was VERY quiet. But thankfully, we found a strip of land right by Turtle Beach that was open to the public and that no one had claimed.

We spread our towels, plopped down and sprawled there for the afternoon. It was incredibly peaceful and relaxing.

The photos from that day include shots of both beaches as well as a few images taken on the water taxi and on the walk from the marina to the beach and back. I’ll caption them as best I can.

From the water taxi.

From the water taxi.

That's where we alighted from the water taxi. It was about a 10 minute walk across the island from here to Red Frog Beach.

The Marina, where we alighted from the water taxi. It was about a 10 minute walk across the island from here to Red Frog Beach.

The surf at Red Frog Beach was nice and thee were surfers in the water.

The surf at Red Frog Beach was nice – not too strong, not too gentle – and there were indeed surfers in the water.

Red Frog Beach

A look back at Red Frog from the easternmost end of the beach.

A look back at Red Frog from the easternmost end of the beach.

Strange flora on the walk between Red Frog Beach and Turtle Beach.

Strange flora on the walk between Red Frog Beach and Turtle Beach.

The view of a quiet Turtle Beach.

The view of a quiet Turtle Beach.

Our cozy spot on Turtle Beach.

Our cozy spot on Turtle Beach.

View FROM our cozy spot - where we had some nice shade under a tree.

View FROM our cozy spot – where we had some nice shade under a tree.

Yup. The towel says Panama - and that's where we were.

Yup. The towel says Panama – and that’s where we were.

Junkii learning BodyStep choreography.

Junkii learning BodyStep choreography on the beach.

A few pics of a kid - photographed on the way back to the water taxi at the end of the day.

A few pics of a kid – photographed on the way back to the water taxi at the end of the day.

Getting the juice out of a coconut.

Getting the juice out of a coconut.

The kid's portrait.

The kid’s portrait.

Another shot of the Marina.

Another shot of the Marina at day’s end.

First Beach

Look, obviously it wasn't ALL bad. What's a little party atmosphere among fellow lushes?

Look, obviously it wasn’t ALL bad…I mean, what’s a little party atmosphere among fellow lushes, right?

We hit up two beaches during our stay in Bocas Del Toro: One that we could drive to and one that we had to take a boat to.

The first one was called Playa Estrella (Starfish Beach), and Lonely Planet told us it was about the only nice beach on Bocas del Toro Province. We hailed a cab in town at the south end of the province and negotiated a price to deliver us along a pothole-laden road to the far north shore.

It took us the better part of an hour, as I recall, which gave the driver plenty of time to ask how we intended to get home. Evidently taxis FROM the beach back to Bocas are pretty hard to come by. Thankfully, he would be coming back to the north shore later that day, and so we arranged a pick up time towards the end of the day.

The upside of this situation is that we knew we would have a ride back. The downside is that I was never really truly able to relax. With a set end-time for your day, my mind was constantly preoccupied with the time – and I would regularly check my phone to make sure I wasn’t running late for the appointed taxi trip.

That’s not conducive to relaxing beach time.

You know what else isn’t conducive to relaxing beach time? Loud party music!

From the spot where the taxi dropped us off, we hired a water taxi to take us on a quick jaunt around a bend of the island and directly onto Starfish beach.

On dropping us off, it was clear that this spot was popular with the locals and the blaring music from each of the food stands that lined the beach made it obvious that each business was trying to outdo the one next to it.

The result was a cacophony of Latin rhythms.

We grabbed a couple of chaise lounges and tried our best to relax. A couple of beers each, and a short swim soon helped us get into the mood, but a quiet beach would have been much more enjoyable.

We headed back to our hotel around dinnertime, and were greeted by a beautiful sunset on the secluded waterfront dock just inside our hotel’s gate! What a great way to relax after a non-relaxing (but still fun) day at the beach.

The post-beach view from our hotel.

The post-beach view from our hotel.

our plan for the next day held hope that we would see a more secluded, less tumultuous beach. More on that later.

For now, here are a few of the photos from Playa Estrella.

The cabbie dropped us off at Bocas del Drago - which is a 2-minute water taxi ride or a 10-15 minute walk to Playa Estrella. We went by boat and returned on foot - just to see both options.

The cabbie dropped us off at Boca del Drago – which is a 2-minute water taxi ride or a 10-15 minute walk to Playa Estrella. We went by boat and returned on foot – just to see both options.This shot was taken at end of day, when the cloud was rolling in.

The beach at Bocas del Drago, where we caught the water taxi. Maybe we should have stayed there!

The beach at Boca del Drago earlier in the day, where we caught the water taxi. Sunny and fairly quiet…maybe we should have stayed there!

Hand-painted sign warning not to touch the stardish. There aren't a lot of starfish left around the beach, but we did spot one (and didn't touch it!)

Hand-painted sign warning not to touch the starfish. There aren’t a lot of starfish left around the beach, but we did spot one (and didn’t touch it!)

Boca del Drago

Two chaises lounges, just waiting for us as we arrived on the beach. We didn't even pay for them (although I suspect we were meant to)

Two chaises lounges, just waiting for us as we arrived on the beach. We didn’t even pay for them (although I suspect we were meant to)

A bit of the bustle happening along the beach. Worse were the noisy tourists.

A bit of the bustle happening along the beach. Worse were the noisy tourists.

Definitely would have had to pay for hammock-use.

Definitely would have had to pay for hammock-use.

Still managed to get a few shots without the throngs of people in the way.

Still managed to get a few shots without throngs of people in the way.

Heading back towards Bocas del Drago along the footpath.

Heading back towards Boca del Drago, along the footpath.

Pee break!

Pee break! The beer gets to you after a while.

Windswept look.

Windswept look.

Ready to cross a flooded area.

Ready to cross a flooded area.

Two cyclists decided to forge ahead through the flooded zone, not bothering with the makeshift bridge (or about water-borne parasites either, apparently!)

Two cyclists decided to forge ahead through the flooded zone, not bothering with the makeshift bridge (or bothered by potential water-borne parasites either, apparently!)

A couple more scenes from the trek back to Bocas del Drago.

A couple more random scenes from the trek back to Boca del Drago.

Boca del Drago

Chinese Food

Our native Chinese language expert.

With Junkii as a traveling companion, Chinese language skills have certainly come in handy during our adventures together. His knowledge of Mandarin and Cantonese have been particularly useful during our stops across Asia. Even in countries where it’s not the primary language, there is almost always a Chinese speaker around to help us communicate.

Still, while we knew the Chinese diaspora has extended well beyond Asia’s borders, neither of us expected to be able to take advantage of Junkii’s native tongue in the middle of Latin America.

Neither of us speaks Spanish particularly well. I speak French, and had taken a few Spanish lessons via audio-book. Together, that skill set provided me just enough knowledge to get myself in trouble shortly after starting a conversation.

It will make sense, then, that over the course of the previous week in Panama, we had grown weary trying to make ourselves understood in even the most basic business transactions: ordering food at a restaurant, booking a boat tour, renting a car.

We had the first inkling that there was a way around this communications impasse during our drive to Bocas. En route, we stopped to get gas, and the small cafe (I use the term very loosely) attached to the gas station was run by Chinese. Junkii prodded them in Cantonese and sure enough they responded back without issue. We used the opportunity to fill our bellies with a few Chinese buns and continued on our way.

We had yet to realize the untapped potential of his language skills, and assumed this was a one-off situation.

As we wandered the streets of Bocas one evening a couple of days later , looking for a place to eat, we passed a place that looked to be selling some form of Chinese cuisine. we ducked in to take a look at what was on offer and it looked quite tasty.

The restaurant owner saw Junkii and addressed him in Chinese – the second instance in as many days. That’s a trend!

Again, we took advantage of the situation, relieving ourselves of the stress of ordering in Spanish.

It’s certainly important to try to engage in the local language. How else is one to avail oneself of the best local delicacies?! But we both like Chinese cuisine as well, and Chinese entrepreneurs do seem to have set up restaurants in pretty much every corner of the earth…so it’s nice to have this option on the rare occasions when it’s just too much effort to tough it out in an unfamiliar language.

Found ‘Round Bocas del Toro

The Ferry from Colombia, docked offshore from Bocas.

The Ferry from Colombia, docked offshore from Bocas.

Bocas is an interesting place. A little island on the Caribbean Sea, just off Panama’s mainland, it’s southern half is occupied by a small town full of hotels, restaurants, surf shops, and places to buy holiday trinkets. The northern portion has a selection of beaches within driving distance.

The town is easy to get around on foot, and it’s a good place to arrange passage to some of the smaller islands nearby…where you can spend the day at some of the nicer beaches.

There’s a small airport in the centre of town – very cool if you’re into planes – and Bocas also offers a stop for a big ferry that runs between Colombia and Panama. No doubt about it, this is a place that relies on tourist dollars.

It’s still a bit of a mystery to me though, because the evening atmosphere seems to be changeable.

We spent two evenings in Bocas, each quite different from the other.

On the first night, the streets were filled with revelers. Young people looking for night clubs and wandering the streets in a party mood. It wasn’t the weekend and we were well past the time of Carnival, so I’m not clear why the mood was so festive.

On the second evening, the streets were much quieter. The weather was just as lovely as the first. The same establishments were open for business, and yet the revelers steered clear.

I’m not sure which of these atmospheres is the more standard. We asked a restaurateur why the change in mood, and she said the party atmosphere comes and goes. It just depends on who is traveling at a particular time. Sometimes it’s a young and rowdy crowd and other times it’s a more tranquil time.

There’s no accounting for it.

I’m old and crotchety enough to know that I prefer the quiet, but if you plan to go, just know that you might be in for a raucous time.

I don’t have any photos from the evening, but we did take a few photos around town during our stay. You can find all our photos at SmugMug but I’ll share the relevant ones below.

On our first day, scouring the town for a decent cafe on the waterfront.

On our first day, scouring the town for a decent cafe on the waterfront.


Good advice.

Good advice.


Some of the colorful buildings near the docks.

Some of the colorful buildings near the docks.


Our hotel had an outdoor pool, but also this lovely deck right on the waterfront. A great place to sit and take in the view.

Our hotel had an outdoor pool, but also this lovely deck right on the waterfront. A great place to sit and take in the view.

"Bocas del Toro"

We had fresh-made donuts for breakfast one morning. While the rest of the means was nothing to write home about, these little guys were scrumptious.

We had fresh-made donuts for breakfast one morning. While the rest of the means was nothing to write home about, these little guys were scrumptious.

"Bocas del Toro"

Unstoppable


This is the very definition of a first world problem, but apparently sink stoppers in Panama are a big no no.

Every hotel we stayed in was lacking.

I’m sure there is no law AGAINST sink stoppers (or at least I’m relatively certain the Panamanian government has better things to legislate than the pervasiveness of sink stoppers), but for someone who daily uses a blade to shave, it sure would have been nice to be able to keep a pool of standing water for a couple of minutes each day.

Hmmm… Maybe I should add “universal rubber stopper” to my travel packing list.😛