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Published: April 13th 2011
I left the Lost and Found at about 8am as I expected a long day's travelling to get to Panama City. Originally, I had planned to stop half way to go and explore some slightly less travelled spots along the Pacific coast, but in the end, a combination of wanting to save some time and hoping to catch up with Ana and Luka, made me decide to do the trip in one go.
The first bus ($2.5) was an hour's ride to David, where I could get the bus to Panama city. When I got to David's bus station, as I was looking for the Panama bound bus, I spotted Rob and his bike. He and Gerald were just arriving from a day in Boquete and and on their way to the capital. We opted for the direct bus as it was leaving first and at $15, it was only $3 more than the basic option and the lady told us we would be in Panama City by 4pm. It sounded good so we loaded our bags (and the bicycle) and got on the coach for the comfy journey.
A good few hours later, after some card playing, chatting and biscuit
eating, we finally got to Panama City. It was closer to 5pm than to 4pm but no matter. My main concern was that a phone call to the hostel early that morning had revealed that they had no beds available for me. The 2 guys had booked the night before and they were sorted, so in the end I decided to share the cab with them and see if anybody had departed that day and left a bed for me. When we got there, I was told that the only room available was a private room at $30 (against $12 for a dorm bed) but if one of my buddies wanted to share with me, they would find somebody else to take their dorm bed. In the end, we had a look at the room and decided that one of us could sleep on the floor and decided to go all 3 of us in the private room. I was very grateful to Rob and Gerald, because otherwise, I would probably have ended up going to a different hostel and not had as much fun. Once we had settled down, it was time to track down Ana and Luka, which
wasn't too difficult. After a quick detour via the supermarket to buy food and drinks, we sat down for a great evening, fuelled by beer and rum (can't beat the local brew!) and meetings with old friends (some other guys who we'd met previously at lost and found) and some new friends, one of which was Hong Kong born Canadian Alex who had been in town a little longer than us. Later that evening, most of the boys headed for the casino, leaving Ana, Alex, Gerald and me to chat late into the night. Some old man came back to the hostel with half his birthday cake and we helped him on his way to eating the second half... All in all, it had been a great night!
The following morning, I had no hangover, but the same could not be said of everyone. Rob hadn't even made it back to the room after the casino and when I got up (at 7am) I found him making pancakes in the kitchen. There, was also another guy I'd met in Nicaragua and had just arrived, so it was nice to catch up.
That day, we decided to go for a walk
to Casco Viejo. There was a good bunch of us: Ana, Luka, Rob, Gerald and Alex, acting as our guide, as he'd already spent a week in Panama City. Our route took us along the coast, with great views over the skyscrapers and the fishing boats and through the fish market, which made us decide to have some seafood for dinner. After the walk in the hot sunshine, we got to Casco Viejo, a more traditional looking part of town, with colonial buildings, some well preserved and some very dilapidated. This was definitely a more touristy area and where most of the backpackers chose to stay. It had cafés, fancy restaurants and street sellers trying to flog overpriced goods. We had a good stroll around, taking time to see the cathedral, the main square, the seaside and walking through the souvenir sellers. Our final stop before returning to our temporary home was the fish-market, to buy some of the catch of the day.
Most of our group then decided to get the bus back, but Gerald and I walked home, through some of the streets we were probably not supposed to walk through. The smell of wee, dirt and someone
shouting at us through one of the grotty tower block windows, made me accelerate the pace a little. We eventually made it back alive and glad to be! The others had returned a long time before us, but I was still happy to have gone the slower way.
Not much happened for the rest of the day and our evening was spent cooking and eating seafood risotto, mackrel and potatoes. This was definitely a little luxury budget-wise, but it was as good as eating in a restaurant and still for a fraction of the price, enjoying sharing our culinary creation with a bunch of friends around the table. Definitely what the travelling experience is all about!
For me, the next morning consisted of a big shopping trip. I was only looking for a couple of bits, but it turned out that finding a fake Panama football shirt (I didn't specifically wanted a fake, just a cheap one) was just about impossible. I asked a few people who sent me to some really dodgy looking places, but in the end, I still had to spend over $20 in a real shop and I wasn't over the moon. I also felt
that I had wasted half my day as I hadn't really visited anything...
I got back to the hostel at lunchtime, to meet with the others and confirm we were going to go to the Miraflores Locks in the afternoon. This is one of the best places to see the boats going through the Panama canal. We had been told that 2 hours on site would be plentiful so we didn't leave until around 1pm. There was about half the hostel going, I think we had more than 10 people, but the more the merrier. We caught a bus to the main bus station where we stopped to grab some food in the shopping mall before jumping on another bus the the locks. By the time we arrived, it was around 2.30 and the place closed at 5pm, so we thought we would be just about OK for time and bought our full tickets ($8 including entrance to the museum and a video projection) and made our way to the top floor to see what was happening. There was one big cargo boat just finishing crossing and another one approaching, as well as a cruise-ship, so it was looking promising
(it's more impressive to see the big boats crossing but it is partly down to luck and partly due to the time of day whether you get to see big boats or little boats). We all snapped away but the process was slow. As time moved on, a few of us decided to go and have a look at the museum while the boat wasn't in the locks yet. As we were looking around the museum (it was not bad but not amazing either). I kept an eye out to see the boat's progress and ended up having to rush back up to not miss it coming through. It was impressive and all of us enjoyed it, despite the time it took. By the time the 2 boats had gone, it was just about 5pm and we were getting kicked out with most of us having seen neither the museum nor the video and wishing we had got there earlier. Still, we had a cool afternoon and were glad to have come to have a look.
We got the bus back into town (after a long wait) and returned to the hostel via the supermarket for some food shopping for
that evening. For me, this was the last night in Panama City, as I was leaving for Colombia the next day. I had a few options to get across: go on a sailing boat and do a cruise to Cartagena, via the San Blas archipelago, a 5 or 6 days trip for around $450-$500 (all included). This was the option most of my travel buddies had selected, but would make me arrive in Cartagena around the 10th of April (it was the 1st) and as I was tight for time, I decided not to go with that one. The next option was “the hard way” and involved a flight from Panama City to Puerto Obaldia, near the Colombian border. From there, I would have to catch a boat across to Capurgana, stay the night, catch the morning boat to Turbo and from there a bus to Cartagena (with mixed reports as to whether that was doable in one day or not). All this was around $150-$200 but a right pain in the backside and I was feeling too lazy for it.
My final possibility was to fly from Panama City to Cartagena, 1 hour and $350. That's what I eventually
decided to do, even though I felt a little guilty for picking the easiest option...
I had my last supper with my “new friends” and an early night to finish my Central American journey. The next day would see the start of the South American part of the trip...
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