When we pulled out from the Dunkin Donuts on avenida Balboa, where we’d gone for breakfast, dead center downtown Panama City, the digital clock on the dashboard of our rental car read 9:17.
When we pulled into El Valle town, it read 11:01.
We’d plodded through a series of construction zones…been slowed behind the requisite number of tractors, trucks, and buses…and paused a couple of times for Jackson, 9, who gets car sick.
Last month, we named El Valle de Anton the World’s Top Retirement Haven. It fits every one of the criteria I reference above…plus it’s about an hour-and-a-half, we reported, from the cosmopolitan distractions, amenities, and services of Panama City.
“El Valle an hour-and-a-half from Panama City?” a couple of readers wrote in to ask. “Kathleen, get real,” they continued in so many words. “You can’t get from Panama City to El Valle in anywhere near an hour-and-a-half.” One reader insisted the trip takes three hours.
How could our collective memory be so flawed, we wondered, and the El Valle Challenge was on. It was a good excuse to return to this sleepy mountain town we so enjoy.
In El Valle on Saturday, we hiked to El Macho, the biggest of several waterfalls just outside town, with a guide who named the birds and tree life we passed as we made our way through the rain forest.
We fed the ducks and the goats at the petting zoo out back of the Hotel Rincon Vallero, where we had fresh sea bass for lunch.
Then we set out in search of the serpentarium, which we’d never visited before but a friend had recommended to Jack. We had to call the cell phone number posted on the front door to ask the proprietor, Mario, to come over to open up and let us in. He was happy to be summoned and arrived a few minutes later on his bicycle.
Inside his snake house, Mario allowed Jackson to touch and hold one snake after another, even to drape a small boa around his neck, until we reached the venomous varieties. Great fun for Jack, it was an education for the rest of us…in which of Panama’s 140 species of snakes to avoid…