Panama City stretches from the canal in the west to the Panama Viejo in the east. Me and Ann stayed pretty central in Casco |Viejo. This is the old town. It was left to crumble on the edge of the sea for years. There is now an urban renewal program which is seeing many of the buildings being restored to their formed glory. So it is a mixture of restoration and dilapidation. There are abandoned houses and bordered up ruins everywhere. It is still a high crime area and there were tourist police with big guns everywhere. They did not really fill me with confidence. It really does have a faded charm though and I really enjoyed our walk round the town. The town is on the coast and you had views of the business district and further out al the ships lining up to enter the Panama Canal. The business district had huge glass and steel towers. Half of the buildings seemed to be in progress - giving the impression that the skyline would be very different in a couple of years. The skyline resembled Sydney, Singapore, Shanghai - basically any built up city on the coast!
We found a lovely little place to eat on our way - Café Casablanca. It was so nice. I treated myself to seafood risotto (which had little octopuses in it) and shared a lovely bottle of chilled white wine. Hapy days!
The hostel was OK. It had a a large common area which we actually used a lot. It was nice not to be going at the same pace as the tour! We had free wifi and breakfast. The breakfast was a bowl of batter which you had to transform into pancakes on a hot plate. My first attempt was pants and it got thrown away! The next 2 were OK. Over the time we spent here I significantly improved.
I have wanted to visit the Panama canal for a long time - don't ask me why because I don't really know. There just seemed something really intriguing about the whole thing - a monument to what man can achieve. It truly is one of the world's greatest engineering feats. It is 50km long and lowers boats by 85m. It connects the Atlantic to the Pacific and around 10000 vessels cross the canal each day! Ships are build worldwide with the dimensions of the panama canal locks in mind. The average fee is $30k . The highest has been around $375k (based on a ships displacement) and the lowest $0.36 paid by a guy who swam across!!! It takes a boat 8 hours to navigate the canal and the canal is open 247 365.
We went to the Miraflores Locks (there are 3 in total) as these were the closest to Panama City. There is an excellent museum here and that is the opinion of someone who is usually not bothered by museums. Each lock has 2 levels and they can fill and empty each part in 8 minutes - faster than filling a bath tub. The boats are huge. To give an idea, one ship was carrying in the region of 5000 cars. I watched several boats go through and could have stayed there even longer. I was totally mesmerised. On the way back from the canal we found a lovely wine bar with a happy hour. WE thought we would just have a quick one, then another and then another! It was a lovely way to finish off a perfect day.
Round the corner form the hostel was a fish market. It was great. Lots of fish, noise and people. We bought some sea bass and watched the guy fillet it as a cat looked on! In the even I poached it in white wine and served it with homemade guacamole, salad and pasta. It was superb especially when washed down by a nice bottle of wine. Not the typical backpacker!
We visited the ruins of Panama Viejo. This was the original location of Panama City until it was ransacked in 1671 by welsh pirate Henry Morgan. The ruins were small but you could still see the impressive tower of the cathedral.
Went on a bit of a shopping session. It was meant to be Ann buying but as often is the case she couldn't find anything but I seemed to go mad. There were such bargains to be had:
Denim Skirt only $2;
England T Shirt - totally needed for our world cup efforts;
Cuticle cutter for 39c - never seen one before and was totally intrigued. Not sure I will have any fingers left though as it gets a bit addictive!
Toothpaste only $2;
Lucky eye bracelet, which everyone thinks I have got from Turkey.
Ann had to tear me away before I spent any more and as for where I am going to put it all - I don't know. Then we popped into the supermarket. I was just waiting in queue, trying out my cuticle cutter when Heinz ketchup caught my eye. No, could this mean …….. I raced to the Fijoles aisle - could there be Heinz Baked Beans???? NO! The disappoint was overwhelming. I shall just have to continue dreaming about my first baked beans on toast. So strange what you miss!
Panama City was really wonderful. |I really enjoyed my time here. I only wish I had realised how much more there was to do and I would have stayed longer. Fellow travellers raved about the coast line and I never even got to see it. They need to seriously rethink their marketing strategy as I think people should be coming here by the droves. I will certainly be back.
However, it was time to go. All packed and off to the airport we went. Everything seemed to be going smoothly until we got to the x-ray machine. They stopped my bag and wanted me to empty. Not an issue - I have nothing to hide or so I thought. My face was a classic when they pulled out my brand new Swiss army knife still in it's box. Nooooo, how could I have left it in there. Oh my god but it gets worse. Then they find my extra big aerosol can of insect repellent. I wanted the ground to open up and eat me. Thankfully I don't think I look like a terrorist and I think my face said it all. I was horrified. I had imagines of being taken away, spot lights, the Spanish inquisition along with their soft cushions, and comfy chairs or not. Thankfully she just seemed to think I was a stupid English traveller - spot on there. Rather that than a terrorist any day! I have never been so relieved to finally get on a plane.