Edit Blog Post
Published: July 25th 2010
Our arrival in Panama City might not have been quite as impressive as Henry Morgan's was in 1671, but we bet he had better weather. After a bus and a taxi from Tocumen airport, night was just beginning to fall, and the rain was too. By the time we had checked in to our 17th floor room, the sky was lit up like Blackpool illuminations. Streaks of lightning aided our limited view of the cloud covered bay and the skyscrapers that are going up at an alarming rate.
As we settled into our $320 per night room (cheers Mike!) we found that breakfast wasn't included, nor was wifi (which the t's & c's kindly told us we could prepay or have added to our room bill). The room, however, did surpass expectations. The bed was vast, mini bar fully stocked, 40" tv, writing desk, sofa and coffee table, bathroom with dressing table and the all important backpacker requirement of soft slippers and robe.
We slept in on our first day. Well Nic did, Paul watched two games of the World Cup from the comfort of the kingsize bed. In the afternoon, during a break in the rain, we took a
Skyscrapers at Sunset
Panama City is expanding at a furious pace
stroll along the seafront to Casco Antiguo, the second old town. It was rebuilt where they thought it might be harder for the likes of Morgan or other Privateers to ransack the place. Love the word 'privateer' ... state sponsored piracy, but because the Crown gave it the thumbs up, Drake and co were heroes rather than the villains and tyrants who robbed the third world blind and left them borrowing from first world states because they now have little else to sell.
We digress. The old town is hopelessly run down, falling down and very picturesque for it. Some buildings have been well cared for (palaces and churches) some have been restored, but generally the place looks like a work in progress. Far from being an off limits downtown area though, street parties abound although they are able to so due to a high police presence. On the day we were there the biggest music festival of the year was taking place. 4 open air venues in various plazas and historic buildings. Unfortunately, also taking place was the biggest storm we've encountered on our trip. Rather than moving our feet to the rhythm of the music we squelched
Exiting the Miraflores Locks
them back to the hotel where it took 3 days to dry out our shoes.
Next day was a visit to the canal. It is pricey for a look at something you can see in Devizes for nothing, but the boats are a bit bigger and coming to Panama and giving it a miss would be like going to China and steering clear of the Great Wall. So we whiled away a couple of hours watching lock gates open and close, reading about one of the most amazing engineering feats of the 20th century and generally being impressed that the USA have got one right for all their interference in Central America ... placing the running of the canal into the hands of the Panamanians. Who it should be said are doing a fine job of administering it.
Our journey there and back took a few buses and it would be wrong not to give Panama City's buses a few lines of their own. Spectacular paint jobs, additional chrome (including spoilers), derestricted exhausts that make an F1 car sound like a purring cat and light & sound systems that the Ministry of Sound would be happy with. All for
Party time on the streets
This is actually a Costa Rican bus, the Panama City ones were much more garish!
only 25 cents per ride. The only things that are missing are comfortable seats (and on occasion you can drop the word "comfortable" from the sentence) and drivers with any idea of how to drive.
This goes for intercity buses too. Rather than smoothing out the bends the drivers find a way of accelerating into corners guaranteeing the need for heavy braking through the turn that means both hands are required to keep you in the seat ... not easily accomplished on our overnight bus to Bocas del Toro. But all was forgiven on arrival.
Bocas is a boat ride from Almirante on the mainland and we caught the first water taxi just as day was breaking. The lack of sleep seemed irrelevant under the pink & orange sky as the sun rose over the archipelago. The sea was dead calm as we weaved our way out of the mangrove forest and into the islands.
There isn't much to do in Bocas, but a boat ride away are any number of beaches, snorkeling sites and wildlife watching viewpoints. We combined all three in the popular dolphin watch/snorkeling/beach/more snorkeling tour. "Dolphins guaranteed. We keep one in
Henry Morgan's access bridge to sack the city in 1671
a box on the boat in case the wild ones aren't out", said the agent. And he was right - about the guarantee, not the box. The only trouble is you rarely see them up close because as soon as one breaks the surface, 6 boats rev the engines and make a beeline for the creature. The startled animal unsurprisingly takes a dive. The snorkeling doesn't have much in the way of fish life (our best spots were a lobster, a few rainbow wrasse and some parrotfish) but the starfish are abundant and the corals are the most colourful we've ever seen.
The beach is a bit disappointing. The famous Red Frog Beach does have red frogs, carefully caught and kept in moist leaves for the the tourists to capture on camera, for a price. Also for a price is the upkeep of the road (unnecessarily built), rubbish collection (perhaps we could carry our own out) and lift from the marina to the beach (by the ecologically sound 4x4). It's not really paradise and a large part of the day is spent on a water taxi and an expensive floating restaurant, but if you get a group together, it can
Bocas del Toro
The Dolphin tour delivers on it's promise
be fun. And it was.
After breakfast it's a short water taxi, minibus, hike across the border crossing, bus journey and you're in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica, for a late lunch. It was our only stop in Costa Rica apart from a night in Liberia to break up the trip out, but it was a restful time on the Caribbean coast. Costa Rica isn't really the sort of place backpackers can keep to their budget and we'd heard good things of Nicaragua ... so we moved on.
Tot: 0.46s; Tpl: 0.016s; cc: 13; qc: 28; dbt: 0.0179s; 1; m:saturn w:www (126.96.36.199); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.3mb