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Discover Panama

Exotic and still a bit wild; Panama is one of the world’s fastest developing tourist destinations.
January 18-27, 2015

I’m Michael Wald, a Dallas Friendship Force Club member and former Peace Corps volunteer in Panama. My wife and I lived in Panama for two years and know the country inside out. I have arranged a special tour of areas that include highlights certain to satisfy your tourism itch in the wilderness while surrounding you with comfort. See it while it’s young and untamed!

Tentative three night homestay in Santiago. Other nights in resorts/hotels.
Meals not included unless indicated.


Sunday, January 18—arrive in Panama City. If travelling with ED on the official flight (American Airlines #1208 leaving at 3:30 PM), transport included to Radisson Summit Hotel and Golf Course (3 nights, breakfasts included), a golf course cut out of the jungle and popular with US Military when the Canal belonged to the US. If travelling on another flight, transport to hotel is about $40 per carload. We will stop on way to hotel to buy a snack. Otherwise you can buy food at the hotel restaurants.

Jan 19, Monday—You will be blown away right away. Note: if you are a golfer, this is the day to get in a round. The group will explore, catching our Coaster bus early. Activities (all meals included):
• 6 AM train along Panama Canal to Colon City.
• Visit Gatun locks of Panama Canal and visit new museum there with explanation of canal expansion project.
• Visit Fort San Lorenzo.
• Travel by dugout canoes to a nearby Embera village for lunch (included). The Embera are an amazing indigenous culture that still survives on the land. You will feel like you are in the depths of the Amazon.
• Folkloric Restaurant Tinajinas for traditional food dinner with traditional Panamanian costumes and dances. Return to Raddison.

Jan 20, Tuesday—The jungle excitement continues. Fishermen? You’ll love this.
• Take Eco boat tour of the Panama Canal and the surrounding jungle (lunch included)--wildlife observation, visit floating lodge, optional kayaking to a waterfall and swim or fish on Gatun Lake, the world’s second largest manmade lake.
• Return to Raddison. Get a nice meal (on your own) and rest up for our trip in the morning.

Jan 21, Wednesday—up early
• Visit Summit Park (next to hotel)
• Head out to Panam a City to “the interior” of Panama, stopping first in El Valle de Anton, referred to commonly as “El Valle,” pronounced “El Va-yay” which means the valley .
• Visit new butterfly center.
• Optional El Macho zipline through jungle (your cost and risk).
• El Valle is a preferred getaway spot for rich Panamanians so you can observe some of
Panama’s largest mansions from the road.
• Lunch at the highly acclaimed La Casa de Lourdes Restaurant, known for its celebrated
Panamanian chef and romantic setting.
• Travel by bus to Santiago to meet homestay families. Evening with home stay family (3
night homestay). Santiago is the site of the most likely future FFI Club in Panama.

Jan 22, Thursday—THE ARTISTS OF PANAMA DAY. Enjoy the tradition and culture of Panama with visit to artists of the Azuero, the most historic part of the country.
• Stop at mask artist’s workshop in Chitre.
• Visit award-winning dressmaker-artist at her home in Enea.
• See traditional Devil Dance performance with traditional music and get explanation of meaning (from dance artists) in Guarare.
• See traditional Panama dancing with pollera dresses performed by friends of Santiago host families. We will stop along the way during the day someplace for lunch (not included), and anticipate dinner will be with host family.

Jan 23, Friday—Plan your meals with your host family. You may want to take them to dinner.
• Visit center of City of Santiago.
• Cathedral.
• Adjacent pre-Columbian art museum.
• Open air farmers and fish market.
• Tour Normal School.
• Possible visit to sugar factory.

Jan 24, Saturday—Participate in English Club of Santiago meeting—your native language tongue is all you need to bring. Say goodbyes to host families after lunch (not included). Reboard bus to visit:
• Gamous ancient church in Nata
• Farm in Penenome
• Cigar factory in La Pintada, time permitting
Stay at Hotel Cocle (1 night, breakfast included).

Jan 25, Sunday—Arrive at Country Inn and Suites in Panama City (2 nights, breakfasts included).
• Visit Cerro Ancon for a panoramic view of Panama City.
• Head to Veracruz Beach to swim and for typical lunch and drinks. Taste the regional beers of Panama (you order and pay off menu).
• Visit Amador Causeway.
• Possible night walking tour of Cacso Viejo—the Havana of Panama, time and weather permitting.
• Group dinner in Casco Viejo (included).

Jan 26, Monday—
• Ferry to Isla Tobago—an offshore island where the locals go to the beach. Snorkeling equipment and snacks provided. Cabanas are there to change to bathing suit, but don’t forget sun screen and water. Lunch at a tropical restaurant on the island.
• Tour Casco Viejo by day. Stop at best souvenir shops. Some people may like to stay in this part of town for dinner (on your own) or taxi to another nearby eating zone. Others have enjoyed the Marina Country Club next to the hotel or the TGI Fridays attached to the hotel. If group wants, we can have a dutch “farewell” dinner.

Jan 27, Tuesday—After breakfast, group transfer to airport for trip home, included. If traveling at another time, transfer is not included.


Cost: $2065 based on double occupancy. This does not include airfare. Official flight will leave from Dallas on Sunday January 18 at 3:30 PM – American Airlines #1208.
Single supplement: $775.
ED will assist with roommate matching if needed.
Deposit: $650 – deadline August 15, 2014.
Balance due by September 15.

Application: Your deposit and application is required to reserve your place. A link to an application is available on our website Home page: http://www2.thefriendshipforce.org/forms/exchanges/Ambassador_Application_and_Agreement.pdf or from the Exchange Director. Please send it with a check payable to Friendship Force International, to: Laura Romero, 127 Peachtree St. NE, Suite 501, Atlanta, GA 30303 USA. You may also pay with credit card via:
https://www2.thefriendshipforce.org/payments/pay_fees.aspx Exchange number: 12371
Only 20 Ambassadors will be accepted.

Passport/Visa: You must have a valid US passport with at least 6 months of remaining validity beyond your return date. A visa is not required for US citizens to visit Panama.

Mobility: This trip is STRENUOUS (optional kayaking and zip lining) to MODERATE (long walks in very hot climate) so ambassadors should be in good health. Homestays likely to lack air conditioning—see below.*

FLEXIBILITY—due to unpredictable weather and other circumstances in developing countries (sudden loss of electricity, unexplained closures of sites, sudden price hikes, etc.) the cost of the trip is difficult to accurately predict. We build that unpredictability into the price. We also crammed packed our days but understand we may have to alter plans depending on how things play out. If there is a surplus at the end, it will be donated to FFI and you will receive a charitable deduction statement for tax purposes unless you specifically request a refund.

* A note about homestays. Panamanians live a much simpler life than Americans and spend most time outdoors or on patios surrounding a home. All hotels are chosen for their comfortable, air conditioned rooms. In contrast, even in the nicest homes, typical Panamanians do not use air conditioning, even though the climate is tropical and very close to the equator. You may find your skin gets a bit clammy with a thin layer of sweat, and it may take a night to adjust to sleep without air conditioning. The sweat is nature’s natural air conditioning system. If you are concerned, the ED suggests you bring a “travel sheet.” See Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Cocoon-COCO-01-Cotton-TravelSheet/dp/B001DX803W/ref=pd_sim_hg_8?ie=UTF8&refRID=021V8V326JKS309G12GF for an example of what that is.

Itinerary is subject to change and there is a possibility of not being home hosted.

Cancellation Policy:
From September 15 until November 10 50% non-refundable
From November 11 until December 15 70% non-refundable
From December 16 until December 31 80% non-refundable
Later cancellation or no show no refund

Questions? Contact Exchange Director Michael Wald at mwald999@gmail.com or 972-489-1000.


Azerbaijan and Georgia

You are invited to experience
Dallas, TX, USA to Baku and Tbilisi May 11 - June 8, 2015

•  Departing DFW May 10, arriving in Baku, Azerbaijan May 11
•  Sight-seeing in Azerbaijan, including Caspian Sea - May 11-18
•  Homestay in Baku, capital of Azerbaijan; hosted by FF Baku,
   May 18-25
•  Transfer by air - Baku to Tbilisi
•  Homestay in Tbilisi, capital of Georgia; hosted by FF Tbilisi, May 25-June 1
•  Sight-seeing in Georgia, including Black Sea - June 1–8, departing
   Georgia on June 8

One roundtrip air ticket (not included) will cover flight from the USA to both countries. Transfer by air between the countries is included. Sight-seeing tours are optional.

This Exchange is moderately challenging with walks every day to explore historic city centers. We will walk on cobblestone streets or a natural trail as well as use public transportation in urban areas. This Exchange is open to all Friendship Force members or potential members. . Dallas members receive priority up until September 15, when the exchange will be open to other clubs. Apply now!


First week: Sight-seeing tour from Baku to Sheki and Masalli, Azerbaijan - May 11 to 18, 2015. We will enjoy:
A trip by bus through the countryside to the historic town of Sheki, an important stopover on the silk road, which is a silk weaving town. We will stay in a converted caravansarai hotel, visit Khan's palace, an interesting Albanian church, museums, carpet and silk factories. We may also visit Lahij-Ismayilli, an ancient village more than 1000 years old, with Iranian architecture and Farsi language.

Next to Masalli - Azerbaijan's southern subtropical paradise. We tour the Khan palace - the summer residence of Sheki khan. We will be accommodated in cottages near Istisu, a Soviet style health resort. You may enjoy sulphur hot spring mineral water, with a traditional massage.

Second week: Hosting by FF of Baku May 18 - 25 includes homestay with host families, a welcome party, a meal in an open air restaurant by the Caspian Sea and other exciting adventures.

We will tour Baku, Azerbaijan, a UNESCO World Heritage city that embraces changes from old to new. We will see the old, historic part of the city alongside modern additions - old Soviet apartments next to new, shiny glass towers and perhaps visit some of the elegant shops. We will visit the Miniature Book Museum and Shirvanshahs Palace - home of the ruling dynasty in the 15th century and an ancient Zoraestarian Fire temple, using natural gas - sight of pilgrimage for centuries.

Third week: Air transfer Baku to Tbilisi, Georgia on May 25. Homehosting by FF Tbilisi, May 25 - June 1. We will further our understanding of the rich history and culture of Georgia and develop new friendships. We will experience Georgian lifestyle, visit cultural and religious sites, watch folk dancing and hear traditional polyphonic singing.

Fourth week: Sight-seeing tour in Georgia, June 1 - 8, called "one of the most beautiful countries on earth" by Lonely Planet.

We will rediscover 7000 years of Georgian arts, folklore, lifestyle, religion and architecture. Along the way we will see some of the spectacularly beautiful Georgian landscape. We visit the House-Museum in Tsinandali of Georgian King Irakli II, market, lunch at winery; city tour of Tevali. We visit Gremi – Archangel’s Church (1565) and UNESCO Cultural Heritage Kvevri village (Georgian winemaking method using the Kvevri clay jars); and enjoy a special Georgian dinner.
In Gori we have an optional visit to the Stalin Museum - birthplace of Stalin and visit Uplistsikhe – 7th C. BCE cave city that is a highlight in this region. We visit Kumistavi – the Gelati Monastery/Academy, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Prometheus Cave in Sataflia National Reserve with its dinosaur footprints. Then to Batumi – visiting the Bagrati Cathedral Heritage Site, Gonio Fortress and Botanical garden, with time for swimming at the Black Sea resort or city exploring. Return to Tbilisi airport.


This Exchange consist of four options. You may choose any of them or all of them:
•  Week One: sight-seeing tour of Azerbaijan: May 11 - 18, estimated price
   $ 750/person double occupancy, $815/person single occupancy (includes all meals)
•  Week Two: homestay in Baku: May 18 - 25, $590/person
•  Week Three: homestay in Tbilisi: May 25 - June 1, $693/person
•  Week Four: sight-seeing in Georgia: June 1 - 8, estimated price $750/person
   double occupancy, $870/person single occupancy (includes breakfast and dinners)
Costs for the tours may vary depending on the number of people who go. If you select all four options with double occupancy, your total would be approximately $2783.

Tour prices include:

•  Accommodations at hotels, guest houses, or cottages
•  Arrival and departure transfers
•  Entrance fees and luggage handling
•  Touring in an air-conditioned motor coach
•  Meals as indicated
•  Local taxes and service charges


International airfare is not included in these prices. The best connection from Dallas is with Lufthansa airline, via Frankfurt Germany to Baku, with return from Tbilisi, via Munich and Frankfurt to Dallas. Airfare from Baku to Tbilisi is included. When making your own flight arrangement, plan to arrive at Baku, or Tbilisi International Airport, on the starting day of the tour or Exchange – details TBA.


Your International Exchange Application and deposit of $250 are required to reserve your place on any of these options, which will be applied to the final payment. Please specify which weeks you wish to attend (form is included in flyer).

Please mail a check for $250/person, payable to Friendship Force of Dallas, to:
Zia Shamsy, Exchange Director before November 30, 2014. Balance of payment is due by February 28, 2015. There will be an additional late fee of $250 for applying after November 30, 2014. Contact Zia for address; it is on the flyer.

Cancellation Policy:

Cancellation, number of days before departure Charges as a percentage of total price:
59-40     25%
39-22     50%
21-8       70%
Later cancellation or no show 100%


You must have a valid US passport with at least 6 months of remaining validity beyond your return date. A visa is required for Azerbaijan at estimated cost of $180. UPDATE: Passports will be sent to Washington DC to be stamped in Jan/Feb 2015. No visa is required for Georgia.

For more information and an application form, please contact Exchange Director:
Zia Shamsy, zia_shamsy@yahoo.com


Future Domestic Exchanges

Patty Niemeyer is also looking for a US club who are interested in domestic exchanges. Contact her with suggestions or names of your contacts at peanutpatti1@verizon.net.

Return to Exchanges


Contact Information
Postal address: P. O. Box 551151, Dallas, TX 75355
Phone and fax: 214- 699-7574 
E-mail: friendshipforcedallas@yahoo.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FriendshipForceDallas/
Webmaster: mwilliamstxtravel@yahoo.com