Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas in PANAMA!

The day after school got out we headed to Arlington to celebrate Christmas with Nana, Paw Paw, Granny, Blake, Katy, Tripp and Grace. We have had the tradition for several years now where we sing some Christmas songs and read or tell the Christmas story. This year Avery read us the story from Luke. It is always a special time to reflect on what Christmas is really all about. Then we have we watch each other open the gifts.

The next day we went to church with Wes's parents and then quickly got ready to go to the airport. Our plan was to fly stand-by to Panama to visit my brother Aaron and his family. We are able to fly stand-by cheaply thanks to Nana who has retired from American Airlines. When we first started looking at flights they looked fairly open. As our departure date grew closer the flights started filling up, which was rather unnerving. We began to pray that things would work out so that we could go as planned. We decided to try for the Sunday afternoon direct flight to Panama from DFW even though all the seats had been purchased. When we arrived we waited patiently. At the last minute, we were told some passengers did not make their connecting flight which opened up seats for us. What an answer to prayers! Tears came to my eyes as we rushed to board the plane. There were even three seats together which allowed me to sit with the girls.
Abby was only 2 1/2 the last time we went on an airplane so it was a great adventure for her to be on a plane. She was very scared when we took off, but was good to go after a while.
On the four hour flight we had a great time playing UNO, Go Fish and War. Wes enjoyed sleeping. We joke that he has a button on his bottom that when pressed allows him to sleep anytime, anywhere.


My little hams!

Thank goodness for Nintendo DS's.

We arrived in Panama and went through customs where the agent stamped our VISAS into our passports with such vigor that I was surprised our passports were still intact when he handed them back to us. I think they must go to special training to learn how to scare the crud out of everyone as they stamp your passports. Aaron and Janet said they noticed the same thing the 3 times they have gone through customs. He also yelled, "Abigail" and "Nicole" when he was checking out the girls passports. I don't think he wanted to attempt saying Avery correctly. I think the girls thought they were in trouble at first.
Aaron was the only one who picked us up at the airport since it was pretty late. He drove us to the Summit Radison Hotel where we spent our first night. Their house is a good 3 hours from the airport and they do not like to drive at night. Plus we wanted to check out a few things in Panama City.
The hotel was amazing! It is set in the jungle. The grounds were beautiful and it was fairly new. After a great nights sleep we awoke to see the rest of the family and eat breakfast together. The cousins were so happy to see each other. The complimentary breakfast was divine. It wasn't your typical complimentary breakfast you get in the U.S. The table were set in a fancy manner and there were was so much food to choose from. My favorite item was the fresh pineapple. It is my favorite fruit, but I refuse to pay an arm and a leg for it in the states.

The cousins at the fancy breakfast table.

After breakfast we headed outside to the perfect weather for a walk around the grounds and on a trail through the jungle.

Laying on a bench before our hike.

We had to walk fast to keep up with these munchkins.

Don't you see the excitement oozing from these faces when I asked them to pose by this gorgeous view of the golf course below?

When you can't play the real thing, you can always pretend, right?

After playing around a bit we packed up our things and left the Radisson. Aaron took us to the Panama Canal. What a sight! It is a very well run system. The museum was informational -telling us all the history behind the canal. They showed us a neat video that told the history and how the locks all operate. There were some hands-on activities for the kids as well. We were impressed, to say the least. While we were there we even got to see a ship go through the locks which was pretty cool. We were told it was a smaller ship than normal, but we were able to see much larger boats as we drove by the canal on other days.

The kids are in small replica of a typical house of a canal builder.

Outside the museum. Behind Mylen and Avery is the canal.

The kids could open and close this replica of the locks of the canal.

Abby pretending to drive a boat through the canal. There was a screen in front of the captain's chair that simulated and actual trip through the canal. You even felt like you were moving. It was pretty cool.

Watching a ship go through the locks system from the deck of the museum.

The locks are opening to allow the ship to pass through. These gates are 7 stories high!

Here comes the ship!

Abby gets a great view of the ship going through the canal.

Both our families on the top deck of the museum which overlooks the canal.

We were getting hungry at that point so Aaron took us to their largest mall which puts a lot of malls here to shame. We had a huge array of food to choose from at the food court.

This friendly gorilla was at the food court.

We piled into their car for a two hour drive to their house in El Valle. On our way the air conditioner went out and it started raining which made for an exciting adventure. The closer we got to their house we discovered that you really don't need an air conditioner.

Avery, Janet and Mylen are behind me. Wes and Aaron are in the front. It was convenient that the 8 of us fit in their car, so we did not have to rent a car.

Their house is located in a quiet town in the valley of a very old volcano crater. It is lush and beautiful! I can see why they chose to live there instead of the bustling Panama City. There house is nestled in all kinds of beautiful trees and plants with the backdrop of the mountains filled with thick jungles. Wes and I shared the guest quarters and the girls slept in Aivlyn's room. Mylen was kind enough to share his room with his sister.

A view of their house from their long driveway.

A closer view. Yes, that is a little bridge over a creek bed you have to cross over to get to their house. Isn't it lovely?

Their U shaped house had a wrap around porch in the middle of the U with three tables and some couches and chairs. The four hammocks swinging from the porch poles were icing on the cake.

They have a round-about in front of their house.

See the awesome mountain behind their house?

The next day we took it easy and mostly hung around the house with the exception of taking a walk to the nearby soccer field.

This swing on their porch was a hit for all the kids.

A little foot bridge that crossed over the creek just steps from their house.

The cousins on top of the bridge.

Avery, Abby and Mylen playing in the creek bed which fills with water during the rainy season. How fun would it be to have a little creek by your house to wade in?

The kids wanted to pose here outside their driveway gate to take a picture.

Drawing in the dirt at the soccer fields.

Notice the view of the side of the crater in the background of the soccer field.

The next day we went to the beach which is a about 45 minutes away. We rented a thatched roof covering which had a table and chairs and hammocks too. We enjoyed playing in the smooth black and tan sand. We also collected several beautiful sea shells. Mylen was nice enough to share his new Christmas present, a boogie board! We spent the majority of the day there. We had packed a lunch and several snacks. You know how hungry the beach makes everyone.

Avery waiting for us to get lunch out.

This boy looks hungry too!

These two cutie pies are looking out over the water.

This 3 year old is having fun. Can you tell?

The kids had a lot of fun digging this small hole and stepping in it.

Playing in the sand.

Couldn't resist taking this picture. Senior slide show?

Everyone in the water.

Woo hoo!

Abby loved running in the waves!

A view of the beach.

The other side.

Avery going for a ride!

Surf's up dude!

The next day we went on a hike behind their house through the jungle and then into town. We stopped for homemade ice cream before heading home. It was "muy delicioso"!

Wait for us, kids!

Can you smell the ice cream yet?


During our stay at their house we adults went up the rode 5 minutes to a 600 foot long series of zip lines. (The kids stayed at home with a babysitter.) We had to hike up the mountain with all our gear on before zip lining down. One set of lines crossed in front of a breathtaking waterfall. It was an experience I will never forget! God's creation sure is amazing!

Crossing over the river on a wooden rope bridge before hiking up to the top of the zip lines.

Thankfully, we weren't too high, some of the planks were kinda questionable.

I am ready for the adventure!

A view on the way up.

Waiting for the group in front of us.

Janet starting her journey through the canopy of trees.

Go Janet!

Aaron's turn!

You made it!

Wes's turn!

Nice job!

Easy, don't knock me off the platform!

My turn! I am stopping to look at the river below. The waterfall is on my other side.

What a rush!

I am glad I don't have to know how to get this gear off.

Awesome waterfall!

It was fun, sweetie!

Glad we got to do that with you all!

Aaron being goofy on the path back to the car.

One day we visited the small zoo located in El Valle. We were surprised just how many animals they had there.

This ocelot (dwarf leopard) was the biggest hit. When we walked up, it was in the middle of dinner - a cute little bunny. He had fur hanging from his jaws and he was not happy to see company. He gave us a deep growl and would not continue his meal. The kids didn't seem to upset by the whole ordeal. Ha! Now we know why there were so many rabbits in cages to look at. Poor things!

The kids and their new friend, the raccoon.

What are you looking at?

Not a great picture with the monkey in the cage.

There were tons of birds!

The tapirs would not wake up no matter how much we yelled. Boring!

The cousins had a blast playing with each other every day. We adults played cards every night and had a great time hanging out!

The kids had fun building this car ramp which ended in a bowl of water (the car wash). So creative!

Wes reading for his grad class in style.

On Sunday we got to worship with the Metro Church in Panama City. In Bible class Abby volunteered in front of 10-15 children to say the prayer. Several of them were even teenagers. Aaron had stayed in there with them and told us about it. I was super proud of her! It was special meeting with these other Christians who worship the same God. We sang songs in Spanish and English.
We went to lunch with a missionary couple at a Colombian restaurant overlooking the ocean. After that we headed back to the wonderful hotel for some swimming.
Our flight left early the next morning. We were sad to go, but thankful for the 8 wonderful days we got to spend with family in Panama!

Our little fish.

The kids are trying to push Uncle Aaron in.

The other pool. The rain is coming!