Panama Canal

Trip Start Dec 14, 2007
Trip End Nov 04, 2008

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Where I stayed
Pension Monaco

Flag of Panama  ,
Thursday, May 8, 2008

Well we have to admit that our suspicions about the other hotels in our area being hotels for prostitutes was not that far off. What we didnt realise is that ours is also one! It looked too good and clean for that, but a few details today convinced us of the contrary:

- Sign of "Pension Monaco" with the little red heart instead of the "o". Check picture
- The free pornographic 24 hour channel (channel 65!)
- The amount of couples coming in and out around 4pm
- The fact that a couple left at 4pm and not only left their key at reception but also the TV remote control. You just dont leave your remote at reception every time you leave the room!
- The fact that 2 couples left our same floor at 4pm and left their doors open...maybe they just trust everyone a lot?
- The fact that couples come and go with no luggage
- The sound of spanking in the room next door at 4pm

Anyway, apart from all the obvious facts, our room is clean and large and we heard no noises last night. So we are assuming its just "after work exercise" from local men before they go back home to their wives! We are moving along tomorrow anyway.

We would have assumed that the person that did the reports on the hotels on the Footprint guide would have noticed something peculiar and noted it down. Again we assume that the writer was never there as with many other reports. The whole area is a red light district...with gringo´s staying there and not taking advantage! Terrible!
Anyway - things that happend travelling on a budget. We have come to see how strong the USA influence is in Panama (they controlled the Panama Canal until 31st December 1999). We had breakfast close to the hotel, and it was like being in the US - pancakes, fried eggs, bacon, all the works.

There are US chain fast food joints all over the place (McDonald´s, Burger King, KFC, Pizza Hut, Dairy Queen, etc, etc) and we have certainly noticed that "being overweight" is part of the culture here.

Luckily there are a lot of things which are much better than the mayority of the countries we visited in South America:
- bus and taxi transport is much better (with exception of Chile and Argentina)
- we still haven´t seen any attempt to overcharge us as gringo´s
- there are plenty of supermarkets and malls all over the place
- police is well visible in most places
- there is no lack of change (coins). You can actually hand the bus or taxi driver a $10 note and he will have change. In the rest of the countries (except Chile) any large note was met with "we have no change".
- we have actually seen "health and safety" measures in action within private companies and especially in the Panama Canal Visitor Centre (we were told not to walk on the road and use the pavement....and there were no cars for about 20 minutes passing...)

So back to the story. Today we visited the Panama Canal at the locks closest to Panama City. We opted to go there on the local bus and visit the recently built visitor centre. There was another option which is getting a luxury train from Panama City (South) and crossing all Panama to Colon (North) for $35. However for that trip we had to be at the station at 6am, the train ride was only 1 hour each way, and we had to spend the day at Colon which is basically where all the criminals of Panama seem to hang around (according to travel guides).

We think we made the right choice, and the visit was certainly splendid. The visitor centre is right next to the first lock (out of 46 locks in the whole canal) at Miraflores. From there we could see the huge container ships and other sailing vessles going up and down with the different water systems. A local guide explained all the process and the history of the canal while the boats slowly passed by. Its just like seeing longboats going by in the Birmingham (UK) locks and canals, but with no pub to stop at in the evening!

Inside the building there are exhibitions and all the information, photographs, etc related to the Canal, including the old simulator which was used to train captains to sail along the canal. Veronika made an excellent try and manage to crash only after 6 minutes. Sadly all the crew died and the Canal is theoretically cut for 6 months... Marcos didnt try as he didnt have the minimum height!

We attach a link for full information in English:

The business is going extremely well for Panama, and there is plenty of cash coming in. For example the Norwegian cargo ship which appears in the photographs paid $60,000 for the 8 hour transit, while the sailing boat paid $1,500. Its actually collapsed with so much traffic so Panama has started a new project by which 2 new canals will be build alongside the bottlenecks allowing for higher number of vessles and larger ones too.

Thats all for today folks. The humidity just makes us to stay inside buildings with the air conditioning, plus we are getting an early bus tomorrow towards the West. We will travel to a city called "David".
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