Panama City

In the big city
Panama City, Panama

 


Time to leave. I’m a bit sad! Time goes so quickly – it doesn’t feel that long since we were arriving!!

Time for our final journey as a group to our final destination – Panama City. We left at 8am, again in a private van (thank goodness – as public buses would require about 3 buses and a lot of faffing around).

It was the same, usual journey. Through pretty fields and hills. Then turning into more built up areas.

By 2pm we were finally coming into the city. We crossed over a bridge – Puente de las Americas – across the Panama Canal. Connecting northern to southern America.

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We drove up the famous Avenue Balboa, with the Pacific Coast to our right hand side. Panama City is rich, skyscrapers lining across the sky line. The canal alone produces $5 million per day.

This city is unlike any other city in Central America. After dropping our bags, we headed out for lunch. We ended up in a Panama version of a fast food restaurant – Nikos. It wasn’t great. And it was so expensive! $5 for some cucumber and a bit of fruit! Apparently local people really love this place!

We were at least in a nice neighbourhood, surrounded by old American barracks and with a view of the highest point in Panama City – Cerro Ancon. Then we went for a walk and ended up at the fish market.

Freshly caught fish are brought here by the fishermen each day; tuna, red snapper, giant trevalley, prawns, lobster, crab…at least there were no manta rays or sharks! But it was so busy. A wet market at one end and a restaurant area at the other. We walked back to the hotel, along the pan American highway leading along the water front. It was really pretty!

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Lots of skyscrapers, chicken buses moving past and life happening in the parks. Then it began to rain. So typical.

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We headed out to a local place for dinner, again it wasn’t great. So best forgotten. But then went out to a bar in the dancing area of Calle Uruguay – which was really fun. But lead to a very late night….!

It was really difficult to find a taxi to get back to the hotel. There just didn’t seem to be any around! So we started walking back. I didn’t think it was the best idea. In the dark. With not much clue where we were going. Luckily on the way, we found a taxi and managed to pile 5 of us in.

Sunday 16 November 2014

The final day of my tour already! Time goes so fast, I’m so sad!!

After last night, I managed to drag myself out of bed to be ready at 8.30am for a day trip around the city and canal.

The Panama Canal is said to be one of the world’s greatest engineering marvels. Stretching 80km from the carribean to the Pacific Ocean. Miraflores lock is one of three locks along the length of the canal and is about a 20 minute ride out of the city.

It cost $15 to enter the visitors centre at the lock, where it is possible to climb 4 stories up and observe the ships passing, from above. Ships pay to pass through the canal depending upon their water displacement (I.e. Their weight).

The most paid to pass was around $376k, by a Norwegian cruise ship. The lowest being $0.36 paid by a swimmer in 1928. The average price is $100k.

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Around 13,000 ships pass through the canal every year. Ships are built with the dimensions of the locks in mind. But as demand grows, ships need to be larger and the canal is undergoing expansions, which are expected to be completed in the next couple of years.

It takes around 8-10 hours to pass, saving 2 weeks of sailing time for large ships, so is an obvious route of choice!

We stayed for around an hour and a half. We watched a large American oil tanker pass through, on its way to the UK. Small trains pull the ship through each part of the canal. The men on the ship waved up to the observing crowds!

The next boat was a funny shaped large ship, I missed what it was carrying. In the distance was a large banana container ship.

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The ships pass through surprisingly quickly. Within half an hour, the huge ship had squeezed through, barely a few feet of space on either side of it. In the visitors centre, there was a small museum and a video about the history of the canal.

Just offshore from the city are four small islands, a 2km causeway joins these islands to the mainland. It was a pretty drive along the palm lined road with great views of the skyline.

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There were some funny signs along the road, the usual sign for ‘person crossing’, but the ‘person’ being a very muscular manThey had other varieties of these around the city. One with a large bum. The other just being normal, but with half their legs chopped off. At the end of the road was an expensive restaurant area and a large ‘duty free’ shop. The prices were more expensive than in England, so that excitement didn’t last long!

Panama City has several different areas. One of these is Casco Viejo, the old city, which is now a UNESCO world heritage site. This part of the city was constructed in 1904, at the same time that construction of the canal began. Today, many of these old colonial buildings have been restored.

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Narrow streets, with overhanging balconies, small plazas with street vendors and graffiti covering many of the yet-unrestored buildings. There were a couple of cute vegetarian cafes and juice shops hidden in the maze of buildings. I got a carrot and spinach juice and an aubergine empanada – yum!

After a bit of wandering around, we headed back to the hotel. I packed all my stuff and got ready for dinner for the final time. We caught taxis back to Casco Viejo ($1.50 each. Or $5 for the entire taxi). And went to a restaurant just off the main square. The food wasn’t great. I’ve not been that impressed with food in Panama City! It seems that you get what you pay for in this city! After dinner, we headed to a roof top bar – Tantalos. It was really fun and had a great view out across the skyscraper skyline – the Miami of the South. The bar was full of British navy – several boats were docked for a couple of days. It ended up being rather late, taxis to head back to the hotel were being ridiculous with their prices – always helps being with a local who can argue back in Spanish. So we ended up with a fairly decent price of $2 each.

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