Canals and shopping centres!

Trip Start Dec 30, 2013
Trip End Mar 25, 2014

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Day 45 - Wednesday 12th February

We pulled into the bus terminal just after 4am, we hadn't been expecting such an early arrival. We thought we'd take our chances and head to the Las Americas hostel where we were booked into for the next couple of days. Luckily for us there was a 24hr reception. Unfortunately that's where our luck ran out. The place was fully booked which meant we couldn't check in until later that afternoon....we weren't going to see a bed anytime soon. The staff where kind enough to let us crash on the common room couches though so we did manage to get forty winks before breakfast. We stowed our belongings away in the luggage room and set off on a walking tour of Casco Viejo, the remaining part of the old Panama City and former capital of the country which is located in the suburbs of the modern city. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has some beautiful buildings such as the Metropolitan Cathedral and San Francisco Church. The Panama Canal Museum is also located in the area so we decided to pay it a visit to learn more about Panama's main attraction. The current building dates from 1874 and served originally as the headquarters of both the French and U.S. companies engaged in the construction of the canal. The museum is devoted to the history of the construction of the Panama Canal in its various stages, including the first French construction attempt, the later construction by the United States, and the eventual transfer to Panamanian control. Following our Panama Canal history lesson we strolled around by the seafront of the old town where there are some amazing views of the modern city. We were fairly beat at this stage so we headed back to the hostel to check in, freshen up and have a well deserved siesta. 
Feeling energised after a little R&R we decided to walk into the modern city to have some dinner and maybe catch a had been a couple of months since we'd seen the inside of a cinema so we were all quite excited at the prospect! We strolled in along the Cinta Costera walkway which is a lovely tree lined walking track along the coastline of Panama City. We had underestimated the distance somewhat though so where quite pleased once we reached the skyscraper lined streets....a 5km walk in 37 degree heat isn't exactly enjoyable!! We headed towards the Multicentro mall where we grabbed some food and wandered around the shops all the while enjoying the gloriously cold air-con, a welcome respite from the heat outside. The mall also had a cinema so we spent our evening watching the Wolf of Wallstreet. Leo did not disappoint and we headed home happy bunnies after a lovely evening getting reacquainted with the modern conveniences of the first world.

Day 46 - Thursday 13th February

We were up early today as we planned to do the Big Red Bus tour of Panama. There are two routes within the city, the Canal route and the City route, so we wanted to make sure we had time to see all the sights...whistle stop tour of the city or what! As our hostel wasn't on the bus route we had to taxi it to a nearby stop. We consulted the timetable and set off giving us about 15 mins give or take before the bus was due to arrive. We needn't of bothered! Our chosen stop was on a very busy motorway and the passing motorists weren't shy about saying hello. After about half an hour of incessant horn beeping and convinced that we had to be in the wrong place, the bus pulled into view just as we were about to hail a taxi home! On we hopped and settled in up the front of the double decker. 
One of our first stops was the Miraflores lock on the Panama Canal. Miraflores is one of the three locks that form part of the Panama Canal, and the name of the small lake that separates these locks from the Pedro Miguel Locks upstream. In the Miraflores locks, vessels are lifted (or lowered) 54 feet (16.5 m) in two stages, allowing them to transit to or from the Pacific Ocean port of Balboa in Panama City. Ships cross below the Bridge of the Americas, which connects North and South America. There is also a visitor centre here which allows tourists to have a full view of the Miraflores locks operation. As we had visited the Canal Museum the day before and given the entry fee was $15 we decided to give the visitor centre a miss. We may have been back in the first world but we were still on backpacker budgets!!
Despite both tour routes taking approximately 3hrs combined, we soon learnt there wasn't much else to Panama City after the Canal. The fact that three of the sixteen stops are shopping centres is testimony to this. We hopped off at the fanciest of the three and had a wander round the shops for a while. Later in the evening we headed to the Mercado de Mariscos, Panama's famous fish market, for dinner. As well as selling fish to the public there's a number of food stalls that serve up the days catch as well as ceviche, a seafood dish that's very popular in Central and South America, for very budget friendly prices. Ceviche is typically made from fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices and then spiced with garlic or chili peppers. Jenny and Kathy were feeling adventurous so two servings of Ceviche were ordered along with a fried and grilled "corvina" which is sea bass to you and me. Each dish came with traditional patacones and coconut rice, it was some feed! As it was our last night in Central America we stopped for a "cerveza" or two after dinner before we turned in for the evening.

Day 47 - Friday 14th February
It was officially our last day in Central America, where had the last six weeks gone?! As we had to be at the airport for 3pm to catch our flight we decided to hangout in the hostel, sort our bags and get ourselves presentable to meet Joanne in Havana :)

 Before setting off for the airport we planned to have lunch close by at a restaurant Kathy had found on trip advisor, our Central American last supper if you will. Cafe Rene is located in Casco Viejo just off the Plaza de la Independencia. What a find this place was! All three of us went for the set lunch menu. Coming in at a very reasonable $10 we weren't expecting the delicious three course meal that we got. It's not hard to see why this place is currently ranked #6 out of nearly 500 Panama City restaurants detailed on Trip Advisor! Definitely a must for anyone visiting Panama. With full bellies we returned to the hostel, grabbed our luggage and hit the road for the airport. Bye bye Central America, next stop Cuba!!
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