COSTA RICA - Tips and Reviews - UPDATED - November 2012

Entry and Exit

San Jose Airport (airport code SJO)

Arrival - The entry process is typical of most international airports.  The immigrations and customs speak some English and the lines are generally short and move fairly rapidly.  When you exit the terminal there is usually an agent of the airport that can help you through the chaos and assault of taxi drivers.

NICARAGUA - Tips and Reviews - UPDATED November 2012

Entry and Exit
Penas Blancas (land border crossing between CR and Nicaragua on the Pan American Highway)
Entry – I entered Nicaragua via bus from Costa Rica and can only explain the process I experienced. Traveling through in a small group or by private auto may be different.  The bus initially stopped at the CR immigrations where my passport was stamped for your departure.  We were greeted on the bus by a Nicaraguan who took our passports and $13 USD to get our inbound visa for Nicaragua.  We then rode the bus for a few hundred meters to the Customs inspection of our bags which took about 30 minutes.

PANAMA - Tips and Reviews - UPDATED January 2012

NEW stuff

Metro bus transport; You must now have a Metro Card to ride the bus, drivers no longer take money to ride.  This policy took effect on 16 February 2012 and while it caused a lot of confusion at first, it did not affect the service.
Metro cards are available at various locations around the city, as well as the main terminal at Albrook Mall.  The initial purchase of the card is $3 which includes a $2 service charge, so you’ll only have $1 worth of rides.
Cards are rechargeable and I recommend adding at least a few dollars at the same time you buy the initial card.

PANAMA - Panama City - Jan & Feb 2012 - HOUSE SIT

15 Jan 2012
Well I’ve started my Panama house sitting gig. This house is actually a Spanish teaching school with locations in Panama and Costa Rica. It’s a very interesting concept that it includes class time, local immersion, and adventure tours (white water rafting, scuba diving, surfing, etc), check out their website at “Spanish at Locations” ( For now, the house is a transfer point where students stay for a day or so before catching a flight from the national airport. The plan is to also teach classes here, so in the near future, the school will have four locations.

PANAMA - Panama City - January 2012

Well it’s been a couple of days since I arrived in Panama and I probably should update the blog.

I made a slight mathematical error when I said I was getting a room in an apartment for $200 for the week, it’s actually $300.  But that is still cheaper than staying in a hotel for 7 days.  This is the first time I’ve stayed in an apartment shared by others.  What we have here are 4 bedrooms, each with a private bathroom and a shared living room and kitchen.  Each bedroom has AC, a TV, desk, chair, and bed.  The reason my price went up is I wanted one with a balcony so I could sit outside.  Anyway, we have daily maid service so it’s basically like a hotel.
While I did buy some breakfast stuff I still go out to eat a least lunch or dinner daily and have yet to spend more than $10 for a meal.  I usually eat a decent breakfast, skip lunch, and then eat dinner between 4 and 5 pm.   Wait, I did eat breakfast at McDonalds the other day.

On Sunday I ate at a corner restaurant called “Restaurante y Cafetería Del Prado” which is on Via Argentina.  The food was good and there was plenty of it.  I ate here before (Feb 2011) and since it was first day, I figured I’d hit someplace I knew.

As for today I had brunch at a placed called Manolo on Via Argentina and dinner at an Italian place called Mananello.   When I walked into Mananellos the owner was chatting with his friend and got up to greet me at the door.  I didn’t even sit down, I just walked with him to the counter looked at the menu and order a pizza.  While he was telling the cook, I made myself at home, went to the cooler and grabbed a beer.  The friend looked up and said the mugs are in the next cooler.  As you can tell, it was a relaxing place.

The plan is to go to the Metropolitan Park, which is located partially within the city limits of Panama City tomorrow about 6 am.  Yes you lazy bastards, 6 am.  I’m not on vacation down here, I’m livin life and sometimes that means I have to get up early to catch the worm.  Anyway I hope to get some good pix and I’ll post at least some of them.  So until then c-ya.

12 January 2012

So I went to the Metropolitan Park today expecting to see exotic birds and monkeys.  Hell that is what everybody I talked to said I would see, so I believed them; nope, not a stinking one.   I went with an older couple that is staying in one of the rooms here in the apartment and we had a pretty good time.  They live in the DC area now, but they are from Russia.  In addition to English and their native language, she spoke German and he spoke French, but neither spoke Spanish.  Hence, I translated for them speaking to the taxi drivers, the park agents, and other hikers.   The three of us walking through a foreign park conjured up some crazy ass stories, that I won't go into now.  I did want to see the park though, but now I know why we didn’t see any exotic birds or monkeys, there was entirely too much talking going on.  If I were an animal I would hide too.  We did see some birds, some butterflies, turtles, and a ground hog (the big rat looking thing).

Sign to entrance of Metropolitan Park - Click for more photos

Ground hog - Click for more photos
13 January 2012

Well today was pretty slow because I spent most of the day doing my on-line course to get certified to teach English as a Second Language (ESL).  I completed the basic certification but now I’m working on endorsements for grammar, to teach young people, and to teach business people.  I figured since I may want to live overseas, why not teach English at the same time I learn the local language.  Hell, who knows, I might even get paid to teach English.  Anyway, I’ve been working on that and hope to finish it within the next couple of weeks.
But now tonight, it started out slow, with the apartment manager (good looking Columbia) and I sitting on my balcony chatting and all of a sudden we heard a bunch of yelling.  We looked down to the street and the Panamanian National Police had a couple of guys up against the wall.  One guy would not listen as he was repeatedly told to put his hands on his head, then one cop through him to the ground.  The other cop pulled his pistol and drew down.  The other “suspect” stood there and didn’t move, probably for fear of being shot.  Finally suspect number one complied and the cops put suspect number two on the ground and waited for a transport vehicle.  At one time we could hear one of the suspects crying like a lost child.  Again, I think it was a fear of being shot.  But no shots fired, two suspects apprehended, cuffed, and hauled off to who knows where.  From my experience with Latin American police, they were lucky to have been able to walk to the transport vehicle.  I’ve seen guys beat down by the cops and dragged to the transport vehicle.

So, other than that, it was another quiet, sunny, hot, and enjoyable day here in Panama.

14 - 21 January 2012

While I’ve been house sitting here in Panama City, Panama, I’ve also done a lot of hiking on Cerro Ancon (Ancon Hill).  It’s the highest natural peak within Panama City and it’s not really published as a tourist attraction.  The area was held by the US as part of the Panama Canal and in 1977 Cerro Ancon was returned to the Panamanians as through the Panama Canal Treaty.  Since it was in the possession of the US for most of the 20th century, the Ancon area escaped much of the modernization and construction of Panama City.  Thus, it’s a little jungle oasis on the northeast end of Panama City.  Around the base of the hill and surrounding slopes, there are numerous single family houses and a couple of bed and breakfast establishments.  But overall, it is a quiet area.

I’ve walked the hill at least five times and have seen some spectacular views of Panama City and the surrounding area.   I’ve seen a sloth, some monkeys, several species of birds to include a Toucan, but it escaped my camera.  The walk from the base of the hill in the Quarry Heights area takes about 30 minutes to walk up, and that is at a leisurely pace.  You will walk up a single lane paved road used mostly by taxis with a few tourism vehicles as well.  Vehicles driving up or down the hill are not permitted to stop at the several photo spots so walking will provide you more photo opportunities.  There are plenty of benches along the road to sit and watch the wildlife or simply rest.  The one thing I would strongly recommend is, if you do elect to walk, take water.  While there are a few vendors on top of the hill, none of them sell water.
Casco Viejo



Where do I start?  As it is with any story there has to be a beginning, but this one will have two.  The first one was my original plan which had to be cancelled because of a hurricane, so the second beginning will be the detailed one.

Who is Mike?

Who is Mike, Generally Speaking

Good day and welcome to Travel Thru My Eyes.  I’m Mike Hopkins; a dreamer with a passion for travel, and a man who was tired of being told when I was hungry and "you're too young to retire".  Already retired from the US Air Force, I knew the part about "too young" was bogus.  So now I had to find a way to keep my dreams alive.

So, what’d I do?  Gave up the air conditioned office with a view and built this blog to share my views of this world we call home.  Now my ‘office’ view is always changing; today it may be home in Florida, but tomorrow it may be someplace else in the Americas, Caribbean, Europe, or some other country.

Traveling has been a major part of my adult life, now I’ll share these experiences in this blog and through print and online publications with words and photos. 

My travels will be a combination of leisure travels and as a house/pet sitter.  As a house sitter, I stay in one location for extended periods of time, thus living like a local, seeing things not normally seen by tourists.  On many of my journeys I travel solo and in doing such, some of my stories may be of familiar places, but have a solo traveler twist.

So it doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a freelance travel writer and photographer to write about some exotic or not-so exotic place or a house/pet sitter to take care of your property and pets while you see the world through you own eyes; you’ve come to the right place.

Travel Thru My Eyes, Let's GO!!!

   Mike - Then & Now


After twenty years of service in the US Air Force, which allowed (required) me to travel throughout the US and internationally, I retired in 1996.  I had a goal to beat the “normal” retirement system and travel when and where I wanted.  But as life would have it, I had to forgo my travel plans, and work a few more years.
In 2000, after buying my childhood home I returned to Florida.  It was here I realized I life without travel was passing by, and that was unacceptable.  Traveling is simply a part of my life; a part of who I am.

With my goal of beating the retirement system, I made a career change and worked a few more years as an independent contractor, specializing in logistics.  As such I worked in South America, the Caribbean, and the Middle East before finally beating the system and retiring at the age of 55 in August of 2011.



Not wanting a ‘real job’ and living on a pension, how can I continue MY travels?  By no means am I rich, so instead of limiting my trips I had to figure out a way to extend them.  That’s when I ran across house/pet sitting, later adding travel writing and photography.

Basically I equate house/pet sitting as watching your neighbors’ house while they’re on vacation.  It can be done either in your home country or internationally; me, I do both. 

I've watched million dollar homes, homes by the ocean or a lake, homes with pools, and with and without pets.  The owners of these homes were people I knew and people I didn’t know until a few days before they left on vacation.  In all of them, my priority was, and still is, to take care of their property and pets as if they were my own.


Mike, As A House / Pet Sitter

For those not familiar with house/pet sitting, basically a house sitter is there to provide security for your home and personal possessions and care for your pets.  Wikipedia has a more detailed definition of house sitting.

Mainly I see house/pet sitting as an opportunity to meet and help others as well as allowing me to travel and experience life as a local, where ever it may be.  As a house and pet sitter I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many people that I now consider friends.  Some are home owners and others are fellow house sitters; as we continue traveling, we share our experiences through photos, blogs, and emails. 

You may be asking yourself why you need a house/pet sitter.  Please take a few minutes to follow this link “Why Do I Need A House/Pet Sitter”.

A few things you, as a home owner can count on from me are reliability, integrity, responsibility, respect, cleanliness, security, privacy, and communication. I'll immediately notify you of major issues.  In addition to our regular communications via email and telephone calls, simply visit this blog, where I post the routines of daily life.

I’ve sit homes in the middle of town and rural areas where I couldn’t see the neighbors through the forest or down the hill.  Some have been lifelong homes where the owners reared their children and others have been downsized retirement homes.  The locations range from the Caribbean Islands, to Central America, and the Southeast U.S.; some are as close as 5 miles from my own home.


  Mike, As A Travel Writer and Photographer

I'm a guy that explores the paths less traveled, searching for those hidden treasures.  At times they’re found in exotic places; at other times, not-so-exotic places.  I go to places that offer excitement and relaxation.  Slept 5 star resorts, family operated inns, bed and breakfasts, vacation rentals, and hostels.  Many times, my travels have taken me to places my native language isn't widely spoken.

Sounds of nature and living life as it comes my way are common themes throughout my travels.  Most of the time life is predictable, but on occasion, it throws us a wild pitch involving risks.  I embrace both with open arms, but when the pitch is wild, I step back, evaluate, and go forward with caution.

I’ve hiked jungles of South and Central America to watch monkeys swing in the trees.  Jumped from cliffs into pools at the bottom of waterfalls or the ocean; walked secluded beaches, stopping to sit beside dogs waiting for the return of their surfing owners.  I’ve partied with locals on Caribbean islands, and watched local sporting events, just enjoying the day.

As a writer and photographer, I’m affiliated with American Writers and Artists Inc. (AWAI), and the International Travel Writers and Photographers Alliance (ITWPA).  Through these alliances I have access to current and growing trends and advice from other professionals.

Welcome to "Travel Thru My Eyes"

The world as seen through the eyes of a freelance travel writer and house/pet sitter.

  Video Introduction