Posted on February 5, 2014
Approximately four years ago I had the great pleasure of meeting the great ‘Panama Hat’ maker Alberto Pulla.
You see- Panama hats are actually made in Ecuador and have a few other names (depending on their quality) such as Montecristi, or Montecristi Superfinos. They were the head covering of choice for many men who worked on thePanama Canal and Theodore Roosevelt was photographed wearing one when he visited the canal. It was because of this and a few other twists of fate that they became known the world over as ‘Panama Hats’.
Alberto Pulla started making Panama Hats when he was just a child and the harsh chemicals they once used in the production of the hats cost him his voice, but not his smile or his kindness. By the time I met him he was a frail man that mouthed words, but primarily relied on sketching notes back and forth with tourists to communicate.
I wasn’t nearly as comfortable with my Spanish back then so I was absolutely terrified of Mr. Pulla even though the special old-worldness of his shop was not lost on me. As Nathaniel and I trickled our way south I told him about the shop and he decided he wanted to buy a hat from Mr. Pulla. Unfortunately when we were just a few days from Cuenca I learned online the famous hatter had passed away.
Sad but undeterred – we spent an extra day in Cuenca to vist Casa Del Sombrero (they are closed on the weekends) so that Nathaniel could get his hat. The shop hadn’t changed since I last saw it, it’s an absolute time capsule and I find that a special quality to be treasured in today’s world.
Posted on January 2, 2014
Before going on this trip, Nathaniel went to Costa Rica with a group of friends in July. This, unbeknownst to him, was the perfect time to go, it was low season.
Costa Rica is on most lists for Best Places to Retire Abroad, but these lists need to be updated as the time of cheap living has passed. Alex and I knew that it would be high-season, but were not prepared for how expensive everything would be.
We got a taste for it in San Jose, when every meal came with a 10% gratuity for staff and 13% tax, so every meal tag was instantly increased by 26%. Hamburgers at a local chain (much like a Mel’s) cost twenty dollars, which for our budgets was breaking the bank.
Getting into the tourist towns didn’t help at all. There are deals to be had at hostels, and we were able to find deals most places we went, but the food killed us at every turn. There is no real street food scene, so no relief there, and every meal ended up being as much, if not more, then it would cost in the US.After having been traveling in Central America for almost three months, it was a rude awakening to be jarred with this exorbitant price change. For anyone thinking of going to Costa Rica during the high season, DON’T!!! There are other countries that are just as safe, where the dollar will go so much farther. Costa Rica has gone beyond the means of the regular traveler as even a small bottle of Gatorade was $2.00 at local markets.
I may not seem that steep to others, but for people who are on a budget for six months, these differences in prices are not affordable. Be adventurous and pick a better spot, or go in the low-season to avoided being overcharged at every turn.
Once we crossed the border to Panama, the prices have eased, though we are looking forward to Columbia. After the boarder crossing (not the worst yet) we high-tailed it to Santiago. The middle between Panama Border and Panama City. Santiago is the Las Vegas of Panama, with several big Casinos and a lot of Love Hotels, the best being the “Beverly Hills Gardens”…Classic.
The next day it was back on the bikes, and off to Panama City. Had enough time to explore the Panama Canal and old town. For me, the Panama Canal is one of the places I remember learning about in history class in high school, and never thinking I would ever visit it. It is still impressive, even after 100 years.
We are staying in a hostel with all of the bikers getting on the boat tomorrow and enjoying our time recounting stories on the road. Tomorrow we head for the Caribbean coast and our ship for Columbia. A new year and a new continent is ours to explore, here is to more adventures to come!