What's Old is New Again, Part II
Trip Start Sep 07, 2011
54Trip End Dec 22, 2011
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Looking for ways to kill time I decided the Gatun Locks near the ass of Panama would be a good way to spend the day. One possible route is bus to downtown Colon and then switch a few blocks over for another one to the locks
Being the resourceful person I am, I asked around and discovered I could hop off the bus early "near" 4 Arcos Shopping Center and then search for a Gatun bound ride on a nearby street "across the railroad tracks." I got off "near" the shopping center in an area I would at best describe as sketchy and I didn't feel so safe. You know how in the US a city will have a wrong side of the tracks? Here both sides just looked so wrong and having no idea where to even look for the transfer chicken bus without being liberated of my backpack or wallet, I headed into the relative safety of the shopping center to regroup. I can't even imagine what downtown Ass, I mean Colon, looks like!!
In front of the grocery store, some negotiations with my un poquito Spanish bought me a $15 taxi drive there, hour waiting time, and then return to the bus stop for Portobelo. Turns out my taxi driver, Jorge, is an electrician for the Canal and drives taxis in his off time
Most tourists venture to the Miraflores Locks near Panama City as part of some overpriced tour and the rest of us have Gatun Locks pretty much to ourselves. The $5 admission here is easier on the cashflow than the $12 at Miraflores, too. And 15 years ago, I had been to the locks near Panama City and wanted to see something new anyway.
Watching the ships enter the locks and then drop down is amazing. Three sets at Gatun lower or raise the ships a total of 85 feet as they make their way to or from the Atlantic. Each lock chamber is 1050 feet long by 110 feet wide, and these dimensions are known as Panamax to describe the maximum ship size that can transit the canal.
Jorge dropped me off on the side of the road near 4 Arcos where a large crowd was milling about in the trash and mud for the next bus to wherever. I joined this mass of humanity who can likely afford neither car or taxi and waited for a Portobelo bound chicken bus. The locals were looking at me like what the hell is this white dude doing here taking the bus? Luckily a brightly painted hooptie ride came by in about 5 minutes and scooped up about 10 of us into its oven like insides
Like a '78 Cutlass Supreme rolling on 22's in Atlanta, the only item of worth in this entire bus was the sound system belting out the obligatory salsa type rock music. I watched as an old woman who could barely climb the stairs took her seat, closed her eyes and then bumped along to the beat. I particularly liked the dozen or so Glade solid air fresheners (the kind in the containers you twist and raise the outer shell) though having long since lost their stink were all hanging in one batch by the door. The crowning touch to maybe 20 pine tree air fresheners was a plastic Jesus dangling amongst them in all his glory right in front of purple feather boas stretching across the front of the bus.
Another observation I have is that this whole chicken bus system could be sped up if people used some courtesy and common sense. The bus will stop to pick up one person in front of a house, then roll ten seconds to pick up another and then another 15 feet further up the road. Can't they all collect in one place? The same goes when they scream "Para" for the bus to stop since no fancy cords to pull or buttons to press exist on a 1970s school bus
On the ride I reflected on the long dead air fresheners and noticed some more recycling going on outside the bus. For all of you into home decorating here is a great tip. Save all those Happy Meal boxes and hang them from your concrete shack like some sort of junk food paper lanterns. It's the Panamanian version of Christmas tree lights hanging in July. Oh how Ronald McDonald can dress up a front porch in so many ways better than say a fresh coat of paint and some house cleaning. If Micky D's is not so much your taste, don't despair. The poor residing in these shacks take creativity to a new level with paper orange juice containers. Just slit one down the side several times and push the top and bottom together in a way to make a nice hanging decoration we will call a Lanterno de Tropicana. Yes, all that is old turns new again.
Digging up the unexpected such as Happy Meal lanterns and Jesus air freshener displays is what this trip is all about
How I got here:
Chicken bus from Portobelo to 4 Arcos Shopping Center- $1.65 One hour
Taxi roundtrip to Gatun Locks - $15
Chicken bus from 4 Arcos Shopping Center to Portobelo - $1.65 45 minutes
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