So heres the last few days in the lovely Panama City
Monday – Planned as Movie Monday and a chance to rest – turned out to be less about watching movies and more about looking on the internet at my new porn obsession – camper vans! In case we haven’t mentioned it we are planning to buy a campervan and explore a bit of Europe although its looking increasingly like that will include some Nordic travel and Eastern European countries. Anyway, I have been sucked in to this seedy world of swivel seats, leisure batteries, fold out beds and cassette toilet fittings. I find I have been staring at various seating arrangements or comparing the benefits of pop-tops against fixed high roofs. I am thinking mileage versus outlay versus practicality and am pondering this for hours and do not even realize the time. I am trying to wean myself off of this because I am not so far down the rabbit hole that I can’t see how it will all end- breaking into caravan parks, molesting virgin T6 campers in showrooms, jail time and therapy.
Today we decide to walk, cycle and shop a bit and start by walking half way across the city- through the business district, nice residential areas, landscaped gardens and on through virtual slums with a very different sort of citizen on display than those in the tourist areas. Its funny how the radar goes up when in these areas. Not because the folk are threatening, or treat you any different. It’s just those irrational scaremongering stories that keep us fuelling the expensive tourist traps rather than spreading the wealth in little corner shops or cafes. People in these areas are generally just poor – nothing else. But traveled as we are we do still go to Amber alert just in case and it makes me angry at myself as we have never had a problem anywhere in the world – irrespective of where go. Anyway. Eventually got to the start of the Amador Causeway picked up a couple of bikes and pedaled out to the islands at the far end. Here you see moored tankers awaiting their turn to enter the canal, astounding super yachts in the harbor and duty free shopping where stuff was more expensive than in the city and we bought a very expensive Bounty Bar.
|The Panama Bio Museum - Funky!|
The government is really trying to do things right with all these new developments and the Causeway is another case of good planning with wide roads, walking paths and bike tracks all running side by side so no one gets forgotten. We dropped into the Smithsonian Museum on Noas Island and wandered along its diminutive trail which, even so, produced a sloth, raccoon, vultures, pelicans, hummingbirds, a terrific iguana and some small displays housing frogs, sleeping sharks (I thought they had to move but these two were definitely cuddled up and stationary) and a collection of frogs.
|Iggy the iguana at the Smithsonian|
Fairly tired by now we waited for a bus. I then irrationally ran back to the museum to get a drink and as soon as I was gone the once an hour bus came so we had to walk further…..grrr. Eventually another passes us and takes us to Albrook Mal. A behemoth of a place whose dimensions I cannot even guess at but in excess of Bluewater and Lakeside put together (These are big malls in UK for those not in the know). We were tired and lost in shopping land and only wanted to get home but every few steps Rachel was assailed by shop staff proffering free samples of soap, nail polish, hair treatments, free make up and anti wrinkle creams. I have never seen her looking so dejected and undermined. I certainly feared for the shiny, bubbly young gay man who without thinking asked what she did for her eyes? I won’t comment further on that note.
|Two tankers going through the Mira Flores Lock on the Panama Canal|
The Panama Canal. So construction was started in 1881 by a bunch of French people including the guy who was responsible for the Suez Canal and Monsieur Eifel of tower fame. But 20,000 Panamanians died of yellow fever and accidents and costs ran away with themselves and the company went bust. The Americans step up and buy the bits and pieces for a third of what it had cost and finish the canal. It's a huge success and big money maker but Pres. Carter eventually signs it back over to the Panamanians who in 2000 take control and have made a healthy living ever since. Recently they have had to expand the operation to build adjoining and bigger locks because ships have outgrown the existing provisions. Up until now the locks have been 304m by 33.5m and could take a ship measuring (unbelievably) 294m x 32.3m. That's 400mm spare on each side of these huge tankers!!!! The canal makes a shed load of money – Various amounts are quoted but its between $1 billion and $1.2 billion dollars a year. Why? Because it's the only way to avoid the 8,000 mile journey circumventing South America . It can take 8 hours to get from the Caribbean to the Pacific. Do it by sea and its two weeks. Even the $58,000 average tanker cost is small change when held against two weeks of fuel, wages, delivery times and dangers in rounding the Horn.
There’s a visitor centre at the Mira Flores Lock. This particular lock drops the ships by 26ft and is very impressive. Big doors that could hold King Kong, Millions of gallons of water being pumped hither and thither. All sorts of machinery doing stuff and a viewing platform for us observers to watch it all from. It is impressive, unhurried and smooth running. It is no mean feat to move these massive ships. But move they do. One after another after another – 40 each day.
|View of Panama from mirador in Metropolitan Park|
More days walking about and drinking in the sights and sounds of the city and walking all the trails in the Metropolitan park – 2.5 hours and saw two butterflies and a lizard – Rubbish!
Now this is strange! One night we thought we would go watch a rooftop sunset have a cocktail and get a pizza. We debated height of roof versus happy hour offers and settled for 8 storeys and $10 open bar for 3 hours at 1400rooftop. We arrive at 6.30pm just as the sunset disappears but resolve to enjoy the still glimmering light over the rim of a Margarita. Man! These were strong. Unlike most happy hour offers where the mix seems watered down these seemed to be alcoholed up. We had another. Then three huge Cuba Libres. So not a vast amount of drinks in theory considering we can normally drink 3 Rum and Cokes of an evening. At 8.45 there is a loud bang and the lights go out. (We find out later that it's the city’s main station overloaded and plunged the city into darkness for 5 hours and gave rise to looting and other unsavoury goings on that had not been seen for 25 years). We, in the meantime, were already feeling giddy from the loud music booming out to us and the other desperate money saving couple 4 tables away. So decide enough is enough and leave. However, the moment we stand and start to walk to the exit the full force of the alcohol hits. We have to walk down the emergency lit stairwell and end up a bit lost in what might have been a restaurant or basement or both.
|Hang on Rachel|
Rachel is constantly lurching and laughing and gabbling on about peeing whilst putting expletives between every other word. Something she is prone to do whenever she drinks more than a lady should. I am hardly any better but think it fun to record some of our antics (not very well) and by doing so can light the way with my phone flash. The few bits that are watchable are a testament as to why older people should not loose control. It is not agreeable but can be accepted in the young. For those who consider themselves within the middle spectrum it is undignified. F**k it! It was still fun.
In précis. She falls over in reception, I film her having a pee from above (I was lighting the toilet for her but this was an added bonus). We stagger down stairs, lay down on a pavement, fall in a bush, laugh our tits off the whole way, cross a busy 6 lane road, zigzag and zagzig our way up roads, get lost, get found, find Jesus, rest in a church doorway and eventually stagger back to our own room. It took 1¾ hours to complete a 20 minute walk.
We had great plans for the Saturday – We WERE going to go to a village on the Caribbean coast to watch a festival about devils and masks. Rachel however spent 24 hours throwing up, moaning, holding her head and swearing the most commonly broken oath that she would never drink again… I give her three days!
And so we are coming to the end of our time here. We have had one final mammoth walk about the town and along the front. We had Lobster Ceviche and chips at the fish market overlooking the Pacific Ocean then watched Kong from the front seats in a very busy cinema where everyone talked all the way through – and this is after they have queued for 30 minutes to get tickets.
Tomorrow we start our monumental journey back to England with a 15 hour bus ride through Panama to San Jose in Costa Rica to start us off.
So. By for now. Hopefully see you back here for our adventures from in Europe . It’s been a blast!