La Pollera, Panama’s national dress

January 01, 2010 Category: Culture

polleras-blogThe Pollera is the most beautiful and admired national costume of the Americas. There are many tales related about its origin, but the popular opinion is that it was adapted from a gypsy dress worn in Spain at the time of the conquest of Peru and brought to Panama by the servants of the colonial families. It normally consists of a blouse or shirt and a two-tiered full skirt.
The lavish satins and brocades that made up the dress of society at that time were not suited to the tropical climate and the servants’ garb was appropriated by the mistress and enhanced with lace and embroidery. It was not worn outside of the home but gradually the ladies added more lace and ribbons, ornaments for the hair (tembleques) and jewelry for the neck and eventually it made its way into the public eye.

The experts agree that the ground cloth must be white and the 12 yards of material required can be fine linen, cambric or voile. The motifs may be formed by birds, flowers, fruit, vines, garlands or native designs. The height of elegance is achieved when these designs are executed in “talco en sombra” which is hand-sewn appliqué; however, they can be also created in cross stitch or embroidery. The cost of the gala costumes runs into hundreds and sometimes, thousands of dollars, depending on the hand work involved.

The basic pieces of the pollera are the gown or upper part, the skirt or lower part and the petticoat or underskirt. The gown or blouse consists of two ruffles, appliquéd or embroidered in favored color and design edged with valencienne lace and gracefully draped from handmade thread lace insertion at the neckline (this blouse is worn off the shoulder.) Wool is woven in and out of the insertions and two big pom-poms are centered at the chest and back. The wool must be the same color as the shoes, which are heel-less and made from velvet or satin.

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The skirt is two wide pieces ornamented with the chosen motif and joined together with insertion and bordered with insertion and lace. It is very fully gathered on a waist band. Four wide ribbons hang from the waist, two in the center front and two in the back–they are called “gallardetes”, meaning “graceful streamers”. The petticoat is often as elaborate as the skirt but is always pure white and the trimming is hand-made thread lace

The ornaments, “tembleques”, for the hair are exquisite. A large tortoise shell comb embellished with pearls and gold is worn on top of the head and resembles a crown. This is the key piece and the gold hairpins and tembleques, which are quivering pins and worn in pairs, are placed on the head to give the appearance of a radiant halo. Two small discs tied to the hair at the temples with black silk thread and large gold filigree earrings with pearls or corals complete the head dress.

The jewelry adorning the neck usually consists of a pearl or coral rosary, a flat gold chain or “cadena chata”, a chain of gold coins and a gold cross on a black velvet ribbon worn as a choker. The jewelry worn with the pollera in the olden days was indicative of one’s wealth and sometimes as many as a dozen chains were worn, all of pure gold and precious gems. A large gold and pearl button or rosetta is worn over the wool pom-pom and a purse suspended from the waistline and fastened with two gold brooches is the finishing touch.

Four days before Ash Wednesday are “carnival” days and La Pollera comes into its own. The streets are filled with merry makers and each Pollera one sees seems to be more beautiful that the last. La Pollera has to be seen to appreciate the work and imagination that produces this loveliest of dresses. The grace and enchantment of the Panamanian women is never more in evidence that when she is wearing La Pollera.

Recommended links

May 26, 2009 Category: Recommend links

In this section we will  be adding links to sites we find useful to travelers wanting to explore and/or learn about Panama.

Tours
Embera Village Tours- Highly recommended. Run by Anne Gordon who is actually married to an Embera. A better guide and more authentic experience to an Embera village does not exist.

Whale Watching- Anne also arranges whale watching tours when it’s the season.

My Friend Mario- They offer fantastic tours at good rates. Our guests always love Mario and his guides.

Adventure Panama- They offer adventure day trips such as hiking, whitewater rafting, and mountain biking.

San Blas Sailing- Well organized sailing trips through the San Blas islands.

Birding Panama- For bird watchers

Panama Boutique- A US travel agency that can arrange tours in Panama as well as Guatemala, Belize and Brazil.

News on Panama
The Panama News (online newspaper)

Eye on Panama- A great site for news, local events, and insightful articles about daily life in Panama.

Yahoo groups Panama

Background info
Wikipedia on Panama
Lonely Planet Panama Guide
Panamaretire.net – informative website by American resident

Selva Santa Fe – unique private nature retreat development (real estate)

Relocating to Panama

MovetoPanama.com

Panama Pet Relocation

The Golden Frog -pet relocation


Directories

Panamastart.com - if you can’t find it here, it does not exist
Visitpanama.com - the official website of the Panamanian Tourist board

Domestic airlines in Panama
(airport 5 minutes away from Balboa Inn)
AirPanama
Aeroperlas

Nederlands
Startpagina Panama
Panama Prikpagina

Panama op Wikipedia
Land in Panama (grond te koop)

Deutsch
Wikipedia über Panama

Español
La Prensa

Other B&B’s in Panama – put together your own vacation

Isla Taboga

Cerrito Tropical on Taboga Island. A 1-2 night stay here is an excellent option to combine with a stay in the Balboa Inn. Also great option for day tours, ask them about their day pass.

Gamboa

Ivan’s Bed & Breakfast in Gamboa - great for birdwatchers.

Santa Clara

Las Sirenas- cozy cottages with ocean views

Togo B&B- beautifully decorated B&B near the beach

El Valle de Anton

Casa di Pietra- charming and hospitable B&B in El Valle.

Golden Frog Inn- Top B&B with beautiful gardens and a pool.

Park Eden country retreat – homey B&B

Azuero Province

Posada del Mar near Las Tablas, right on Playa Uverito
Casita Margarita in Pedasi - a great new option to explore the beautiful beaches around Pedasi.

Santa Catalina/Coiba

Hibiscus Garden- Charming hostel in Santa Catalina, will help you with any day trips to Coiba.

Boquete

Boquete Garden Inn - in beautiful Boquete.

Tinamou Cottage- Dutch run accommodations in beautiful green surroundings.

Coffee Estate Inn- A mountainside inn the provides private tours of nearby coffee estates along with other personalized services.

Las Lajas

Las Lajas Beach Resort- Just an hour from David and right on the beach. A perfect spot if you’re exploring Chiriqui.

Bocas del Toro

Villa Paraiso- A beautiful and private location right on the beach.

Lula’s B&B- Friendly B&B on Isla Colon

Playa Bluff Lodge- well run Dutch owned accommodations on the beach

David

Hotels in the city of David are limited and basic. If you are looking to stay in David for a night here are some hotels recommended by other travelers.

Hotel Iberia- (507) 777-2002

Hotel Puerta del Sol- (507) 774-8422

Canal Administration Building

May 25, 2009 Category: History, Travel guide

At only 5 minutes walking from the Balboa Inn and atop a large hill rests the Panama Canal Administration building…

The building overlooks the Pacific entrance of the canal along with parts of the city and the nearby Balboa neighborhood. It houses the administrative offices of the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) however its not all business and paperwork here, the building is also known for its amazing murals that adorn the rotunda of the building. These murals are a narration of the history of the Canal and the intense manual labor that went into its construction. It is a way of commemorating the history of the Canal and all those who worked on its construction and operations.

The administration building is a 5-10 minute walk from the inn and less than a 5 min taxi ride from Albrook Airport. It’s also the starting point for the hike up Cerro Ancon, It lies right of the side of Ave Roosevelt and atop a large hill i.e. you can’t miss it. For more information about the Canal visit their website.

from Tocumen (and back)

May 21, 2009 Category: - from Tocumen airport

There are 4 possible scenarios to get you from Panama’s International Airport Tocumen to the Balboa Inn:

  • We pick you up
  • You take a taxi
  • You drive with a rental car
  • Friends pick you up

(1) We pick you up
We highly recommend you let us arrange your airport pickup transfer. At $35 for up to 3 people  it’s only $ 2 more than the airport taxi and you can be sure to have a reliable driver that knows our exact location and doesn’t confuse us with another inn. Remember, we haven’t been around that long. We can arrange pickup at any time of the day or night. To use this service, simply arrange it during the booking process or send us your flight data.  We will then send you a copy of these airport pickup instructions.

(2) You take a taxi
If you prefer to take an airport taxi. No problem. But please, make sure to print out this document and, very important, take it with you :-). Even the most geographically challenged taxi driver in Panama (and they are all very challenged!) should be able to make it. Remember, Panamanian taxi drivers can’t read maps so make sure they read the Spanish instructions that refer to well-known landmarks. The map is for your own reference. And do be sure to note our phone number just in case.

We don’t mind late check-ins but we definitely don’t get excited by being called at 11 p.m. by a confused taxi driver who has never been to Balboa, took the wrong turn, can’t count beyond 5 or took you to Balboa Avenue instead of the Balboa neighborhood. And we know you won’t be happy neither. So, please print the instructions and carry them with you.

(3) You drive a rental car
No problem. Although driving in Panama City – depending on the time of day – is not always for the faint of heart, it certainly not as bad as Bangkok or Calcutta. As an option, you may actually consider picking up your rental car at Albrook airport after you arrive at the Balboa Inn. Driving in the Canal area is a whole different story and getting in and out of town, from Balboa, is very easy. We’re right near the Bridge of the America’s and the highway to Colon.

Please review and PRINT the  instructions on this page (in PDF).  to make driving over from Tocumen as easy as we can possibly make it.

Don’t count on your rental-company supplied GPS! We just had guests (October 2010) that spent over 2 hours driving around because their GPS didn’t work.  We also know some rental companies don’t update the local maps which can lead to all kinds of aggravation.  When you call the Balboa Inn in such a case, we will recommend you flag down a taxi and have them lead you to the Balboa Inn.   Of course for this you will need the directions for a taxi driver in Spanish.  So just place safe: print it and take it along.

(4) Friends pick you up
It’s good to have friends! Just make sure they know where the Balboa Inn is and when in doubt, tell them to check out this page and the maps above.

Return to Tocumen with a rental car?

Very easy.  Please review and print this page or ask our staff to print it.

Domestic Airport: Marcos A. Gelabert

May 18, 2009 Category: Travel guide

One reason many guests decide to stay at the Balboa Inn is our conveniently close location near Panama’s domestic airport Albrook Airport (official name: Aeropuerto Marcos A. Gelabert). Flights from here will take you to all parts of Panama including David and Bocas del Toro. The two airlines are AirPanama and Aeroperlas. If you have a flight with either of these two airlines do check about 24 hours ahead of time to confirm the time.

Domestic airlines have luggage restrictionsPlease remember these are small planes so the airlines have luggage weight restrictions in place, currently 25 pounds per person. If you have more than that, you can safely leave luggage in storage at the Balboa Inn until you return. Well, assuming you carry a little less than this lady. Also a note about liquids, sometimes they are sticklers about liquids and aerosols so keep this in mind. It’s not part of their official regulations but it has happened in the past that they prohibit these items.

If you are thinking about renting a car in Panama for a trip to the interior you might consider picking it up at the Albrook Airport this way you can avoid the hassle of going all the way back to the Tocumen International Airport.

Getting to the airport is easy as it is just a 5 minute taxi ride from the Balboa Inn and right next to the Main Bus Terminal and Albrook Mall. For more information about Albrook Airport call (507) 315-0403.

Below a picture to give you an idea of Albrook airport and its surroundings.Albrook airport is around the corner from the Balboa Inn

Car Rental Agencies at Albrook Airport:

National Car Rental: (507) 315-0416 / 0417

Budget Car Rental: (507) 263–8777

Thrifty Car Rental: (507) 315-0144

Helicopter Rental/Tours at Albrook Airport:

Helipan Corp.

Albrook Mall: Shopper’s Paradise

May 18, 2009 Category: Travel guide

albrookDepending on where you come from and what you need to buy, you may want to pay a visit to the Albrook Mall, the largest (covered) mall in Central America. Located just 5 minutes from the Balboa Inn ($2 taxi) and across the runway from the domestic airport, Albrook mall is great if you need:

* clothing
* electronics
* catch a bus to the country side

The Albrook Mall is attached to the Main Terminal where you can catch a bus into Panama City or even further into the interior of the country. You can even catch a bus to Costa Rica from the terminal.

The terminal aside though, Albrook Mall is a HUGE shopping mall that could take you hours to get through because of everything it has to offer. At first slightly overwhelming this mall can be maze-like but once you get the hang of it you can enjoy the variety of shopping here.

The stores range from affordable department stores like Conway and Titan to more brand name boutiques like Diesel and Converse. It also includes a bowling alley, movie theater, supermarket, pharmacy, and plenty of places to eat. Either way this mall is worth a visit and if you’ll be staying in Panama for a while you will find yourself visiting often whether its to catch a movie at Cinemark or grab groceries at Super 99.

Mall Hours:

* M-Thur 10am-8pm
* Fri & Sat 10am-9pm
* Sun 11am-7pm

Isla de Barro Colorado

May 18, 2009 Category: Travel guide

barro_colorado_big_tree-300x199

One of the prize points of Panama is its flourishing ecotourism. You can be just 20 minutes out of the city and explore the wildlife of the rain forest. Panama is home to thousands of different species and Isla de Barro Colorado is a well maintained reserve that is home to many of them.

The island was created during the construction of the Panama Canal and is currently used for research by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Access to the island is allowed to a limited number of tourists a day so do make your reservations through a tour agency before going. It’s located in the Gatun Lake less than 30 minutes from the city so if you want to get to know more about the wildlife in Panama be sure to take this walk through nature and don’t miss the “fat tree” lovingly referred to as Barrigon (big belly). You might even catch a glimpse of a howler monkey.

Visit the Smithsonian Research Institute to learn more about making a reservation.

Restaurant Picks

May 15, 2009 Category: Culture, Food, Travel guide

cevichePanama’s culinarly landscape is a reflection of its cultural diversity. You can find most types of food that you are looking for in the city. However hear are just a few recommendations that we will be updating periodically and remember we’re always here to make a reservation or if you have suggestions, let us know!

Local Spots

Niko’s Cafe (Balboa)-

A traditional Panamanian spot to get a quick, casual, and cheap meal, food is served cafeteria style. The sandwhiches are recommended. A 5min walk from Balboa Inn.

Rodizio‘s $$

A Brazilian restaurant within 5 minutes of the Balboa Inn. They serve an all you can eat deal of grilled meats and salads ($20 p/person)

Los Templarios- $

This small restaurant has a wide variety of dishes on it’s menu, including pasta seafood and some traditional Panamanian dishes. It’s also just a short walk from our Inn on the street heading towards the Amador Causeway.

City Center

Machu Picchu (El Cangrejo)-$$

A restaurant popular with the in-the-know Panamanians, they serve delicious traditional Peruvian food. Make sure to try the Pisco Sour.

Las Tinajas (Bella Vista)-$$$

A very popular restaurant because of its folkloric show offered T-Sat(9pm). Aside from the show the food is delicious, a great place if you’re las-tinajaslooking to experience Panamanian food in a fine dining atmosphere. Just a sidenote, the show is $5 and its a $12p/person minimum consumption.

El Trapiche (Via Argentina)- $

A popular place that serves hearty traditional Panamanian food as well, but there’s no dance here. However if you want something traditional, quieter, and less touristy this is the place.

Eurasia (Bella Vista)- $$$

As evident by it’s name Eurasia serves European cuisine with an Asian influence, it’s one of the famous restaurants of Panama, located in the neighborhood of Bella Vista near Parque Urraca. This is the place to go for a fine dining experience in Panama City; great food, great service, and great ambiance.

La Posta (Calle Uruguay)-$$$

A relatively new restaurant La Posta has quickly become known as one of the best places in town. Their menu consists of plenty of seafood dishes along with some meat and pasta dishes, classic dishes with a latin flavors.

Amador Causeway/Canal Area

Cafe Barko-$$

This restaurant is located on Isla Flamenco in the Causeway. From there you know you are going to have nice ocean views along with your meal. They serve seafood, sushi, and traditional Panamanian food…this is the place if you’re looking for lobster or fresh and delicious ceviche. The staff is bilingual which could be a plus if you’re spanish is rusty or nonexistent.

Mi Ranchito-$

Right on the water and very popular with locals and tourists alike this place can get very busy, they serve mainly traditional Panamanian cuisine. A good place for groups and families but not if you’re looking for a quiet place to dine.

Miraflores Restaurant (Miraflores Locks)-$$

This restaurant has the most amazing views as it is located right on the Miraflores locks of the Panama Canal. It is a very popular restaurant so reservations are a must, however if you can’t make it to dinner come in the afternoon and have a drink on the terrace and enjoy the views.

Casco Viejo

Manolo Caracol-$$

This restaurant lies near the edge of Casco Viejo on the corner of Avenida Central y Calle 3ra. The chef is Spanish from the province of Andalucia. They serve a fixed menu that comes with a variety of plates. The dishes are creative and delicious and the atmosphere romantic for dinner.

CasaBlanca-$

This is perhaps a more casual option for those looking to dine in Casco Viejo. This restaurant is located inside Hotel Colombia on Plaza Bolivar. They serve the usual typical fusion style cuisine but the food is very good and the atmosphere relaxed.

Mercado de Mariscos (Ave de Balboa)-$

A fish market that has a small restaurant upstairs. You won’t find fresher fish in Panama and you don’t have to stay for dinner, just pick-up a delicious serving of ceviche downstairs in the market area.

New history book

May 14, 2009 Category: History

panama_feverThere is an excellent new book on the history of the Panama Canal by British writer Matthew Parker. “Panama Fever”. Subtitled ‘The epic story of one of the greatest human achievements of all time – the building of the Panama Canal’, I can really recommend this book. Fascinating and pleasant to read.

The other classic, ‘Path between the Seas’ by David McCullough, an American is also excellent reading. While covering the same topic, the different nationalities of the writers do result in a somewhat different perpective and focus. Matthew Parker gives more attention to the experiences of the average worker – mostly blacks from the West pathbtwnseasIndies – on the project and you’ll read a more critical note here and there about the American power politics which is mostly absent from Mr. McCullough’s book.

These books don’t just talk about the building of the Canal, they also cover the politics behind the ‘creation of Panama’ in depth. Really fascinating stuff.

Get them at Amazon.com: Panama Fever and Path Between the Seas.

Fiesta Patronal Virgen del Carmen, Isla Taboga

May 14, 2009 Category: Culture, History

Every year on July 16 the people of Taboga pay tribute to their Patroness La Virgen del Carmen.

The holiday is based on a story passed on through the people of Taboga for centuries. According to this story around the 16th century the island and its peole were plagued by pirate attacks because of its use as a port for Panama City at the time.

taboga-virgencarmenOne day around noon the people of Taboga Island were preparing once again to defend themselves from the pirates and as they were heading towards the beach armed with sticks and stones they saw a woman on the sand facing the approaching ships. To the pirates this woman appeared to be the commander of the armed group and upon seeing her they quickly retreated and left the island in peace. The townspeople unaware of what had happened went to the island’s church to give thanks to God. When they arrived they saw wet footprints leading up to the altar and the statue of the Virgen del Carmen’s feet were wet and covered with sand.

The people believed that she had protected them from the attack and thus named her Patron Saint and Protector of the Island of Taboga.

The island celebrates this day with a boat parade and on the weekends with special church services and celebrations.