Panama City

Trip Start Sep 30, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

Flag of Panama  ,
Friday, November 11, 2011

So we arrived to Panama City on Tuesday night and it was pouring down, nice welcome! Since we had to go in two separate jeeps, Ramón and I took one each in case we needed to speak to the driver in Spanish. We were the first to arrive and unfortunately even though we had a booking for 6 persons we were not able to go into one dorm. Amy (Gypsy Moth) was kind to book us into Mamallena hostel in Panama City before leaving the boat. Again we had to split, me and Ramón in a dorm with 4 others, Adam, Angela, Jenn and Steph in another with 2 others and Hannah and James had a double. Ramón, Hannah and James arrived a good bit after us, turns out they had had to wait for another Kuna boat with more backpackers, and then they dropped the other ones of at their hostel in Panama first. They were not too happy since we thought we would be in Panama City around 6pm and it was past 8pm already. Because of the heavy rain we decided to order pizzas, from Dominoes, I really did think we had arrived in the US instead of Panama by now. That evening we didn't last long, soon after pizza and beer we all headed of to bed.

The next morning we wanted to explore the Casco Viejo (Old Town) of Panama City, Adam, Jenn and Steph had the same plan and joined us. It is actually not the original old town since this was destroyed, so the Casco Viejo is where the Spanish rebuilt Panama City after being destroyed. Well, it is falling apart!! We walked from the hostel to get a feeling of the city, going straight down a few blocks from the hostel we got to the seafront and were able to walk along the sea all the way to Casco Viejo. It gives you a nice overview. To the left you have all brand new modern skyscrapers and to the right, typical colonial style buildings of the Casco Viejo. Casco Viejo is a UNESCO World Heritage, however a lot of work is still needed, the majority of the buildings are falling apart, it is sad to see really. We spent the morning exploring the old town and reading up on the most important monuments through the Lonely Planet guide. The weather was miserable, the sky was grey and threatening. We had decided to go to see the canal in the afternoon, between 3 – 5pm is supposed to be the best time. So we had lunch in Casco Viejo and took a taxi to the Pedro Miguel locks where you could see the canal for free. We hung around for about one hour and sat unhappily in the rain under my umbrella until we decided that we were not going to be able to see much of the locks at all. So since we were already in the area we got a taxi to the Miraflores locks where the visitors centre is and paid the 5$ entrance fee to the viewing platform. We had the funniest commentator, he was repeating everything twice, in Spanish and English, his English was this unreal super American accent and he put emphasis on certain words in a really funny way. Well, according to him we were super lucky, we arrived just in time to see these massive cargo ships going through the docks. Each lock take about 8 minutes to go through, sound fairly fast, but when all you are doing is watching a massive cargo ship waiting to get the right water level it seems like a lot longer. Anyway, I am happy that we went, we couldn’t have gone to Panama City without seeing the Panama Canal. And when you think about how it takes 10 hours from one coast to another instead of the 14 days journey it would take to go around the tip of South America, it is quite impressive. The ships pay according to weight to go through the canal so there are some that brings their cargo to one side of Panama and then get the cargo on a train to take it to the other side of Panama. There is ongoing work at the moment to make the canal bigger, 60% wider and 40% longer I think. Currently, new ships being built are built according to the dimensions of the Panama Canal. And looking at these massive cargo ships, they literally just managed to fit, with a margin of 30cms only on each side. To stop the ships from hitting the side of the canal they have electronic little train that maintains the ship in the middle of the canal.

Back at the hostel in the evening, the guys from the Gypsy Moth had decided to go to the casino, apparently as long as you gamble, you have free drinks. We were not really up for it, so we stayed at the hostel and had an early night. We had agreed to go to the bus station and get bus tickets for Bocas del Toro for everyone the next morning since there was no chance we would be hung over.

The next morning, Jenn and Angela managed to be awake enough to come with us, I think it was the big shopping mall next to the bus station that was the main reason. We got to the station only to find out that the ticket office wouldn’t open until 3pm that day, due to it being a bank holiday. Well, we had no other option than to pop over to the shopping centre for a few hours. We had a good time and Ramón found Billabong swim pants for 20$ and I got Billabong beach shorts and a Billabong dress for 55$ in total. Happy with our purchases we went back to get the bus tickets. We had no problem getting the 8 tickets for the same evening, we had brought a list of everyone’s name and passport number. That night was spent on another very cold bus with seats that hardly reclined at all and had very little legroom, wonderful for an overnight bus ride. At least we were prepared and had plenty of clothes and our sleeping bags in our hand luggage.

We arrived in Almirante at 6.30am the next morning and made our way to the speedboat to take us to Bocas del Toro.
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