Celebrating My Birthday in Panama

My birthday was March 26, and of course I started celebrating early (as usual). The Sunday before, Jimmy barbecued his famous ribs, made mashed potatoes and gravy, bourbon flavored barbecue beans, sweet corn and much more. We invited our friend William Jaen and his family to help us eat this over-abundance of food Jimmy typically prepares. A great time with some good friends

On birthday morning, we departed for the nearby city of Chitre, where we’d booked a tour of a local rum factory, Hacienda San Ysidro. We also booked a room for that night at what has become our favorite restaurant and bar in Chitre (bonus – it’s next door to the “American” grocery store). We had lunch at the restaurant, and then were picked up by the tour company for the beautiful 45 minute (or so) drive to the small town of Pese. We were the only two people in the tour bus, so were able to really enjoy the drive. We were met by our guide for the next several hours, Mel, who greeted us with our souvenir hats and then escorted us into the “colonial house” where he went over the history of the Varela Brothers.

For more in depth information on the history of this family owned business, click on

From there, we climbed back into the tour bus and headed for our “authentic oxen cart ride” as promised by the tour brochure. What a hoot!! – the driver was one of the local farmers whose sugar cane crop is regularly delivered to the factory in this very same ox cart. Between my limited Spanish and his limited English, we had a nice chat.

We arrived at the tasting room, and had the first of our three cocktails provided on the tour.

Mel led us through the entire facility, from where the sugar cane is delivered all the way through to the production tanks. This part of the tour was absolutely fascinating, but very technical. The photos speak for themselves.

The next stop on the tour were the warehouses or “bodegas”. The best story of the day was when Mel explained to us why Pirates and rum are so entwined.  Neither Jim nor I can remember the exact story the Mel shared with us, so the following is paraphrased from the website StackExchange: “Rum rations were given by the Royal Navy to its Privateers. Many of the privateers later became pirates or buccaneers raiding Spanish flotillas, they continued the tradition. Also, since rum was more potent than previous rations of brandy, the Navy began diluting it with water and adding citrus juice to effectively combat scurvy. This is the beverage called ‘grog’ and was also prevalent on pirate ships.”

After that it wast time for us to go back to the tasting room. We took a small break before the actual tasting began – the grounds were breathtakingly beautiful. We’ve been to several wine tastings, including many in Napa Valley. This rum tasting was the very best experience we’ve ever had. We even got graduation certificates!!

After a magnificent late lunch/early dinner, we climbed back into the tour bus for the ride back to Cubita Resort in Chitre. We checked in, got our key and help with the bag, and headed to our room. My wonderful husband pre-arranged for me to be surprised with balloons and a piece of cake – the hotel apparently didn’t have any pie 🙂

We spent our evening sitting out on the hotel room’s balcony, enjoying this extra special bottle of champagne, cheese and bread.

The hotel was hosting a rather large tour group the same evening. Those guests had a private dinner and entertainment in the courtyard area of the hotel. Since our balcony over-looked the courtyard, we enjoyed the show too.

Another great birthday in the books. Next year brings a dreaded “zero-birthday”. Tentative plans include the Hawaiian islands, swimming with sea turtles and maybe even another tattoo. Stay tuned.

3 thoughts on “Celebrating My Birthday in Panama

  1. Lisa, what an absolutely wonderful way to celebrate your birthday… This place is so beautiful I just don’t have words. My bucket list has been amended to add Panama. I got a Pace Maker and now feel like I can conquer the world. Soon I hope we will have the funds to fulfil our dreams.


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