Published: November 13th 2011November 12th 2011
After settling into the apartment in El Cangrejo, we decided to take a walk and see what was in the area. El Cangrejo is a little way outside the centre of the city, and isn’t very close to where the backpackers usually reside down in San Felipe. We had however heard it was a good place to stay, and true to this, we were rewarded when stepping into the little square plaza moments from our hotel. It had everything we needed: a bagel place for breakfast, restaurants for dinner, and a pub. Perfect! In no time, we felt relaxed, and really at home here, and wasted no time in doing an awful lot of walking to explore this wonderful city.
Our plan whilst in Panama City was a simple one. We planned on seeing the famous Panama Canal, organise a tour to San Blas Archipelago, and generally just take it easy and recuperate. However, things are never quite as simple as they should be in our world, and trying to organise both trips was becoming a real headache. It seemed that there were no tour operators in which to book the tours on the streets, and when going online, you
could never actually just book anything, it was always a ‘leave an email, and we’ll get back to you’ , plus you always had to pay these online tours in cash?? What’s the point of having a website if you can’t pay online? Didn’t make much sense to us.
Anyway, after a full 2 days asking the hotel to call people for us, getting on Skype, visiting hundreds of websites, and a wasted trip to the middle of nowhere and back, we finally had our two tours booked. The Hotel was a real help in getting things sorted for us, but if truth be told, it was the pub that was our saviour, and really got us through it. Whenever the going got tough, and we were ready to kill each other or throw the computer out of the window, we called into the local, ordered a few pints, and things miraculously seemed OK again, and decisions became, as always, simple whilst slightly inebriated. Throw in The world Series of Baseball on the pub’s TV, a band playing (as they were celebrating Oktoberfest), and a fun crowd of locals, and all worries seem to fade very quickly.
tour we had booked for the Panama Canal was a partial transit of the Canal, which could only be taken on a Saturday. So, once Saturday hit, we got up early, grabbed a taxi, and made our way to the dock taking in the spectacular view of the city once more. After arriving at the dock having passed some beautiful Yacht clubs, bars and restaurants, we were greeted with about 5 large tour buses and about 300 tourists fresh from their large resorts, sporting Cameras and Panama hats. Not the sort of tour that we ideally like to be on, however, it was the Panama Canal, and as the tours only run on a Saturday, we didn’t really expect anything else.
As we were on this type of tour Donna decided that when in Rome, do as the romans do, and grabbed the camera for some really cheesy touristy photos (people do take photos of the strangest things – apparently as do we!!). So we boarded the vessel after a lot of farting about, and we were off down the canal.
The tour lasted around 4 and a half hours or so, and was really worth doing. You
can go to a viewing tower near one of the locks to view the boats going through, however I think if you are going to come here to visit, it’s worth shelling out the money to get on a boat to actually go down the canal and through the locks yourself. For us, I think the most amazing part of the canal apart from its sheer size, is the fact that it still works exactly the same today as it has done since the early 1900’s when it was first built. How they managed that feat back then is really quite incredible. For those wanting to know more about the canal, I have attached the below link, as my knowledge is limited to say the least!
One piece of advice if going on the partial tour of the canal would be to bring sunscreen! Neither of us really came ‘creamed up’, and Donna (not me due to there being more hair on my face than actual face at the moment) suffered at the hands of the Sun, and was pretty burnt by the end of the day. It wasn’t all bad though, as a few days later
she had the gross, but satisfying pleasure of peeling her entire forehead and nose!
On the way back, we decided to get a cab to the backpackers usual hangout of San Felipe. On the way there I have to admit to being pretty uneasy, as the contrast between the modernisation of the city, and here was vast. Some of the areas around San Felipe can only be described as slums, and goes to show the other end of the scale to the designer shops and restaurants of downtown. I suppose it’s the story of most cities, but you don’t always get to see the poorer parts of a city when on holiday or on a fleeting visit, and it just makes you think that it really doesn’t seem fair that this is how some people are forced to live.
When reaching San Felipe, it seemed that there was another contrast between old and new in the form of the buildings there. Actually that isn’t entirely correct, as the ‘new’ places are actually restored colonial buildings from the 1500’s and those that have been converted to hotels, restaurants, and shops are stunning. The other end of this scale was
the buildings that had been left vacant for years and years, and are all but shells of their former selves. Apparently there is a lot of money going in to this area though due to tourism, and hopefully this means a lot more of these gorgeous buildings being restored, and hopefully therefore more work for the area, to help pull some of the poorer classes away from the awful standards they have to endure.
Anyway, that’s enough of me getting all a bit lefty, and I’ll leave it there by saying that we really loved our stay in Panama City, and were now looking forward to chilling on one of the many islands of the San Blas archipelago with the Kuna Yala indigenous people…….to the beach…again!
There are more photos below