A Man, a Plan, a Canal, Panama!

Trip Start Jan 23, 2007
Trip End Dec 24, 2007

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Flag of Panama  ,
Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Had to be the Smart Alec on this entry - you will notice the title reads the same forward as it does backward (there is some geeky name for this that we can't remember) - thanks for that one Ms Rooke.

Took most of the day to get here on Tuesday, as Panama City was about 500km from Boquete - in fact we arrived at our hotel in Panama at about 4 o'clock only because of the great quality of the roads here - very smooth and they even have passing lanes (Great Scot!!). For our viewing pleasure the bus driver put on 2 movies that couldn't have been more different.
The first was a movie called 'Gods Warrior' about some dude in 18th century England who illegally printed bibles and got burnt at the stake for his troubles. Basically it couldn't be more wholesome if it tried. The spanish overdubbing (who funded that) added something to the overall goody-goody effect. The most violent part of the whole movie was when the lead actor banged his fist on the table in outrage at some ruling by the church.....
Immediately following this was a pirated version of a new movie produced by Quentin Tarantino 'Planet Terror' - a blood-and-guts ode to the horror movies of the 80's. At one point, the lead actress Rose MacGowan gets her leg blown off, and so jams an assault rifle into her bleeding stump to use as a peg-leg. Needless to say she uses it to shoot people soon afterwards. Other tasteful highlights include Quasi-zombies bursting pink and purple puss-filled pimples (now say it ten times fast) on other people to turn them into zombies too. Heaven only knows what Gods Warrior would make of all that.

Anyhoo, our hotel is a bit of a splash-out for our last nights in Central America - it has a pool on the roof and a great buffet breakfast - look out hotel profit margins!

Today we got the dreaded area out of the way first, visiting a beautiful but rundown area of the city, Casco Antiguo. In fact, the guide book turned out to be a bit outdated on the danger front - there was a heavy tourist police presence, which made us feel pretty safe. Our first stop here was the Panama Canal museum, where we struggled through the spanish signage to find out about the history of the canal, and who brought it into being.

The sacrifices, expense and engineering wonders needed to complete the canal were overwhelming - over 20,000 died from tropical diseases, immense amounts of earth excavated, and years of toil and political skullduggery later, the canal was officially opened in 1914.

After a couple of hours there, we walked around the neighbourhood enjoying more of the colonial architecture - even if the majority of it looked like it would fall down if you leaned on it! There was a great view of the city from the sea wall - Panama is amazingly wealthy in parts, with a great skyline - there must be a about 10 or 15 buildings about 60 storeys high.

Before we left for the canal, we paid a brief visit to the Iglesia de San Jose, which is famous for housing an altar saved from the pillage of the old city (which we'll talk about tomorrow) by an enterprising priest.
According to the story, on hearing the town was to be overrun by Henry Morgan and his 1200 pirates, the priest quickly painted the ornate gold altar with black paint. Then, when Morgan came searching for it, he told him that it had been stolen earlier by another pirate, and even convinced him to pay for a replacement. Morgan is reported to have said 'I don't know why, but I feel like you are more of a pirate than I am!'

Nearby was an arch in a ruined church that apparently played an important role in deciding where to build the transoceanic canal. Given Central America's notoriety for strong earthquakes (especailly in the other frontrunner Nicaragua), the fact this arch had remained in tack for centuries (see the photos) was taken as strong evidence that Panama wasn't as prone to earthquakes.

Soon afterwards, we caught a bus to Miraflores locks on the canal - arriving at 3 o'clock, just in time to see the first of the enormous ships pass through.

It was really amazing and intriguing to watch the ships slip into position and watch them slowly sink down 20 metres or so before your eyes! There was another museum on site too, which we flitted through before watching the behemoths outside make their way through the locks. Sam was in 7th heaven (see photo 3).

Returned home a had a small dinner before watching Seinfeld reruns on cable, Sam still fizzing about all the ships and freight we had seen that day, and all the facts he can unleash on unwitting Trivial pursuit opponents!!
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