Sunday, 13 October 2013

Day 1 - Arrival in Panama

I think today has possibly been the easiest travel day in recent memory. From the mini-cab picking us up being right on time, and a very smooth drive through London to the airport (it being 4:30 in the morning helped), to the easy transfer in Madrid, super pleasant flight over (being in business class made such an amazing difference) and then the shortest time through the airport ever - from wheels down to walking into our hotel room was exactly 1 hour hour. It would have possibly been even faster had we not gotten into a little traffic balagan on the way. Yes, very glad that we will not be trying to drive ourselves around on this trip.  

We're staying at The Bristol and while I knew it had a stellar reputation, the reality has been really quite lovely indeed. We booked in on a special package which includes two nights bed and breakfast and a half day tour of the old town, which we'll have tomorrow. 

After getting settled in the room (rather enormous with possibly the best bathroom I've yet come across in a hotel), we had a little bit of time to kill before dinner, so we had a bit of a swim and a stretch to ease out the few kinks remaining from the flight. Though it was overcast most of the afternoon, the temperature is still really quite pleasant and the movement felt great. 

Then we took it easy getting ready for our evening, had some cocktails in the bar (called 8'58", the latitude of Panama City) and then down to the main restaurant for dinner. I must say that one of the things that excited me about the hotel was the restaurant it hosts. Called Salsipuedes, it was founded and is overseen by one of Panama's most famous chefs Cuquita Arias de Calvo. She specialised in modern Panamanian food, which sounded like just the thing for our first evening.

While I won't say it turned out to be a disappointment, it wasn't quite what we had hoped. The dishes were certainly interesting and the ingredients were top notch, but they were often combined in ways that didn't quite work. For example, Stephen had a starter that he described as "General Tsao's Crocodile" which though very flavourful, he said that because of the preparation (itty bitty pieces deep fried then coated in sauce) he didn't really taste much difference than if it had been chicken. My starter of lobster medallions in a five herb sauce with truffled lentils and a candied fig, was excellent in isolation, but together it didn't quite work very well. All were beautifully presented, however. 

The theme (beautifully presented, excellently cooked, superb ingredients, bizarre in combination) continued into our mains - lobster ravioli in a brown curry type sauce for Stephen and jerked veal for me with rice & lentils and fried plantain fritters. All very good, but the spices often completely overpowered the ingredients used and the combination of the different aspects of each dish was rather jarring at times.

We opted not to have wine, partially because we were already a little tired from our long day and didn't want to overdo it, but also because the prices were rather insane ($40 for a glass of Chilean Merlot). This was much the same as what we had noticed in the bar earlier. We are starting to have a sneaking suspicion that wine might be a status symbol and the more normal choice of alcoholic beverage is probably beer. No doubt we'll have a good time testing this theory over the course of the next couple of days.

After mains, we were both rather tired and freezing (we are clearly not acclimatised to air conditioning any more), so we opted out of dessert and headed back up to the room for an early night. The guide comes to fetch us from the hotel for our tour at 9am! And so the real sightseeing will begin. 

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