Published: April 30th 2012April 11th 2012
Old and New
The riches of Panama's skyline rise high behind the poorer Casco Viejo surburb. View from our room.
Hola amigos para la ultima vez de este viaje!
Panama City is full of juxtapositions! Old, ruined buildings standing next to modern glass fronted high-rises, millionaires in mansions surrounded by slums and shacks. Wealthy businessmen working along side the poverty-striken lower-class, fancy new highways that merge into pot-holed and litter-strewn tracks... It's an amazing place! The skyline of mighty skyscrapers and the ocean is a startling view, they nickname the city "Mini Manhattan" or "Miami of the South", both names are fitting but we still called it Panama City.
When we arrived in the Casco Viejo district of the city we wandered for quite a while, hauling our backpacks from hostel to hostel and hotel to hotel. Many places were full because of the Easter holiday. Because of our style of just rocking up to a place without ever booking anything ahead of time, we were made to roam and search the narrow streets. We eventually settled in a more upscale place that was a wee bit pricier than we'd normally pay. However, because we only had five days left, we decided that it would be nice to splurge a bit and have air-conditioning, a kingsize bed, a sofa,
The City by Night
The view from our room...
a nice view, marble floor, coffee, tea and, of course, a huge bathroom - a bathroom with a sink, toilet and shower that all worked and were not falling from the wall or through the floor! For a hundred bucks a night, we got a penthouse suite on the top floor!
Still focusing on nature, we headed to Parque Metropolitano, a sizeable rainforest nature reserve smack-bang in the middle of the city! Dripping with sweat in the tropical heat we hiked through walls of humidity in a tangled jungle brimming with life. It is extremely rare to find a paradise of nature this close to a city and it is amazing just how much diversity it has. The chattering birds and sloths in the canopy, ponds full of reptiles and countless insect and plant species!... And hardly a soul to be seen! Just the way we like it.
There's a canal nearby the city as well...
Murphy's law states that a short-cut is the longest possible route between two places. The Panama Canal, however, was clearly not built by Murphy and his seemingly abundant (at times) relatives. Saving ships a whopping 13,000 km and 20 - 30
days at sea - the canal is truly one of the worlds ultimate short-cuts. We spent an entire day in awe at the mighty Miraflores Locks on the Pacific side of the canal watching giant ships cruise through like the Galactic Empire's star-destroyer fleet. A phenomenal sight!
This is roughly how it works... An American engineering company, with the help of tens of thousands of workers from the Caribbean built a giant dam (the biggest in the world at the time) on the Chagres River creating the massive Lake Gatun (the biggest man-made lake at the time). The locks at both ends of the lake were created to raise and lower the ships about 85 feet from sea level to the level of Lake Gatun so that the ships can transit across the 50 mile wide isthmus.
The statistics are staggering and fascinating, but we will not bore you with all the facts, just a few:
The lock chambers are 33.5 metres wide and 320 meters long (about three times the length of a football field). These dimensions determine the maximum size of ships which can use the canal; this size is known as Panamax. The ships
The Penthouse Suite.
More juxtapositions as we flung our dirty, sweaty T-shirts on the oaken cabinetry.
can have a draft of not more than 15 metres, so that they don't scrape the bottom. They also need to have an above water height of less than 58 metres in order to be able to clear the bridges...
We took an incredibly scenic train ride across the entire width of the North American continent, from Panama City to Colon, which is only about 80km of course. The lush rainforest, resplendent with wildlife, draped over the tracks as the train followed the shore of the massive Gatun Lake. The Gatun Locks near Colon on the Atlantic-Caribbean side are even more impressive than the Miraflores Locks and we spent a whole day there too. It was totally incredible! Mind-bogglingly fantastic! We thought we'd only spend an hour or two there but it is highly addictive to watch the world's economy silently cruising by... On very large ships... It was grandiose. It was overwhelming, but at the same time, it made us realize that the economy is a very powerful entity, powered greatly by "stuff". Stuff going across the world. Stuff coming and stuff going. Stuff passing through the Panama Canal. In 2014, the new and bigger, 5.7 billion dollar
Our neighbours on the roof tops.
expansion of the Panama Canal will be finished (with a big loss of forested areas). This will allow the bigger ships that carry 13,000 containers to pass through (at the moment only the ships with a capacity of about 5,000 containers can fit). Transporting even MORE stuff... Esta que esta (it is what it is)...
Anyway, we are both fans of words, so we would like to end the canal chapter with this interesting and clever palindrome by master palindromist Leigh Mercer - 'A man a plan a canal, Panama'.
"Panamanians can't give directions" - a local told us this, during a conversation at lunch one day... "In fact, the inhabitants of all Latin American countries are experts at contradicting each other on the subject of directions and distance..." We could find little reason to disagree on this. We knew exactly what he meant... As we've paced up and down the same street many times, back and forth, up and down, turn left, turn right, go straight, go 6 blocks that way... We are sure that if you ask the same person for the same directions four times, they would tell you four (or more) different answers... A
On the roof tops, these cats have a nice private place to hang out.
curious phenomenon... Very different to the 'not having change' phenomenon, which is another baffling occurrence.
Another phenomenon is the cell phone! Every Latino and their dog seem to have one. Every village, no matter how small or how poor, has an overdose of stores selling them. Even in a village with one measly little corner store and one panaderia, there will be half a dozen cell phone stores!? Some locals are even getting bank loans so that they can 'be connected', but unfortunately, many cannot afford to pay back the loans and become debt ridden. We have enjoyed the thoughtfulness of many as they've shared their family arguments and petty quarrels with us as they yelled down the phone as we rode public buses... Internet is also prolific, there are cyber-cafes on almost every street corner... It is quite amazing that in a world consumed by and infatuated by different forms of communication, that there are still so many misunderstandings... XQ NC - Spanish text-language for 'porque no se' (because I don't know)... TQ 100pre - 'te quiero siempre' (love you always)... And the Spanish equivalent of 'BFF' is 'MAPS'... LOL!...
We would like to thank all of
A Black Vulture dries its wings after a rain storm.
our blog readers who have followed us on our travels and shared our adventures. We do read and enjoy all of your comments and messages despite not responding to all of them. This is due to our lack of time to respond whilst traveling, and often lousy internet connections in dodgy internet cafes. Thanks so much, everyone.
Our Central American adventure is now over and we are settling back into the frigid temps of the wild and frozen Hudson Bay, curiously reading travel media and brainstorming for the next adventure - any suggestions!? We have also experienced difficulties in responding in English to certain requests. For example, when in a restaurant and the server asks if we're ready to order, our automatic response is to say something along the lines of, "una momentito mas"... We are still saying "hola", "buenas" and "gracias" too... It can be tough going back...
Dave and Theresa... Los viajeros.
P.S. Just in case you were bored with the canal stats... Just for fun, we (Dave) kept track of how we travelled for the last 4 months From Winnipeg back to Winnipeg...
5 planes -- 69 buses -- 30 collectivos -- 36
taxis -- 13 boats -- 22 cars/pickups -- 5 tuc-tucs -- 1 train and 1 golf cart...
There are more photos below