Parked in Panama...eventually!

Trip Start Jan 16, 2008
Trip End Jan 01, 2009

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Flag of Panama  ,
Thursday, March 13, 2008

Hello all!

Well it´s been a while since an update but we arrived in Panama fine, despite a few little hiccups, one major one being my fault in that I temporarily lost my passport and in the time it took me to find it, we had missed the flight here! So I hold my hands up on that one.

But we´re here now and it´s a big change from the island of Utila! It´s a capital city so it brings with it all the things that come with capital cities...lots of traffic, lots of people and everything´s big! Panama City however, does have some things going for it, namely, being only an hour from beaches, valleys and a lot & lots of history & culture and one other thing...lots and lots of fake boobs! Apparently it´s only behind LA & Colombia in the plastic surgeon stakes! One thing it doesn´t have going for itself however, is good hostels. We´ve been in 2 so far and both are at the bottom of our list of hostels so far. However, they´re nothing to get too worried about!

The first couple of days in the city were wash outs...literally! Weirdly, it begun to lash rain at about 2.30pm on both days and continued to do so for about the next 4 hours. And when it rains here, everything stops..traffic comes to a standstill, and taxis don´t want to pick anyone up, so our plans to visit the canal were put on hold for a little while.

When we did eventually get to the Canal, it was an impressive sight and when you see what goes on from an engineering point of view underneath it all, it makes it all the more interesting! After an hour or so, it does get rather boring look at a small strait of water. It takes a boat between 6 and 8 hours to get through the canal itself, but can take up to 6 months off the trip. So it's a massive achievement. Panama only have full ownership of it since December 31st 1999, so they're getting to grips with the tourist thing, and they have lots of plans in place for the future including a major expansion of the canal, which will be even more impressive than the existing one.

After two days we moved to a different hostel and were joined by Ollie, a Kiwi we met in the previous one. A sound guy, who had decided to grow his facial hair for the three months since leaving his homeland (3 months ago!). In theory it´s a great idea, and definitely a one off experience, and I had to give it to him for his ability to keep it going, but in reality he looked like an Afghan terrorist!I know Ollie will be reading this and I don´t think he´ll mind me saying that! So once settled in the new place we then decided on a proper night out. What we didn´t know was Panama is a very expensive place compared to the other cities in Central America. We'd agreed to go on an "organised" pub crawl, but it wasn´t very organised at all and we ditched it after the 2nd pub. While in the second pub however, I was chatted up by a very attractive Panamanian lady, who wanted English lessons. What I didn´t know was that her husband was standing right beside me also...he wasn't so keen on the idea though...amazingly!!! So we traipsed through whatever Panama City´s nightclubs had to offer and spent an unplanned fortune! 

The following day, Saturday, we decided that we´d all have a few days off the drink and partying and on the Monday night, we´d celebrate Ollie´s birthday in style. And I´m very proud to say we did just that, and the two days in the middle saw us cook some fantastic home meals that made everyone in the hostel jealous!

On the Monday of Ollies birthday we starter drinking about 4pm in the only place that serves a good drink here, including Guinness (albeit at $7 a pop!), the only other bad point to this is the name of the pub..."The Londoner", so we decided the best way to counteract our guilt for drinking Guinness in an English pub was to put on our Irish jerseys and Ollie´s Kiwi t-shirt! Needless to say we had a great time and took lots of photos in front of the Oirish memorabilia in the pub. Turns out the owner was from Galway in Ireland anyway so it wasn´t all bad! 

Back to the hostel and a quick change later, we invited our room mate, Maggie from USA out with us. We did warn her that we were going to Hooters to celebrate and that we were probably going to be getting quite drunk! She bravely accepted the offer and joined us anyway. 

Once in Hooters, I informed our lovely waitress for the night, Sindy, that it was Ollie´s birthday, and could they offer some entertainment for the occasion. After dinner, the Hooters girls surrounded the table and gave Ollie two menus and asked him to stand on the table. What followed was an hilarious minute or so, as he had to dance like a chicken...there´s a video attached so you can all see for yourselves! We retired to The Londoner for some after dinner drinks and unfortunately nothing else was open on Monday night so we called it an early night at midnight...not without trying though!

As I said earlier, Panama does have a lot of history and culture so we visited Casco Viejo, which is an old part of town that has all the old buildings and houses from hundreds of years ago. Some of the buildings were derelict and falling down, and others were only marginally better, but still had people living in them! In some parts you can actually see through the streets and across the sea to where the new town is and the contrast between the towers that belong to the multinational banks and companies and the poverty in front of us was never so apparent! It was a nice little part of town and a lot more relaxed and laid back to the hussle and bussle of the city centre, only a 10 minute drive away.

Our next little day trip was to the scenic little town of El Valle (The Valley). This gave me plenty of opportunity to practice my Welsh accent while saying this! The only bad thing I could say about here was the bus trip was a little too long, and as such it cut into our time here. All of the four of us (we were joined by Amber and Jana, two girls from the 1st hostel we were in) that went here wanted to spend more time here.

The town itself it´s set right in the middle of the Panamanian Mountains (hence the name The Valley!!) It´s a bit tourist based with lots of little shops and stalls selling all the usual tourist items, but way cheaper than the city. We went to the town museum, but it turned out to be closed. However, one of the local parishioners opened it especially for us and only charged us 50 cent for a guided tour, which was made up of arts and crafts made by all the locals, including a replica of the World Cup, as well as a history of the town. The local church and most of the town had been destroyed by a volcano over 250 years ago, but when the church was rebuilt, the saved the one of the original walls and placed it into the current one, right behind the alter, which I had to admit was pretty impressive!
If we had more time there we could´ve visited the Thermal Water lakes for a dip, but because the last bus was leaving at 4pm we had to back for it. We did get to see a baby sloth, which looks a lot like a baby monkey. It took a bit of a shine to Eoin and it was a bit of a struggle to get him off!

Back in the big smoke of the city we settled back in the hostel for the night, which is probably the worst hostel so far as there is little or no interaction between the fellow backpackers and the owner is very very picky about who she talks to!

So we´ve two days left here and then on to Sao Paolo where we hope to enjoy the Paddy´s Day celebrations in style, so will be back soon with more photos and stories!

Good luck

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