Christian May 11th, 2008
We took the early flight that left Quito at 7 AM, which meant we had to be at the airport by 5:30. We paid our $40 each to leave the airport and were on our way. Panama City was tough to find cheap accommodation. We narrowed it down to a few budget hotels and one hostel. We ended up trying the hostel (Zuly’s) first and ended up staying there. It was definitely not the nicest or cleanest place that we had ever stayed in. They only offered dorm beds for $6.60 each if we shared one. It was pretty grungy looking, but we decided it would be okay for a couple of nights. **We later found out from a couple we met in Bocas, that they had stayed there and found worms in the mattresses of the hostel** As soon as we checked in we headed out to the city to explore.
Panama City is different from all of the other cities we have seen so far on our trip. Driving into it from the airport, it almost felt like we were driving to a city in the USA. There are many tall buildings, new highways, and nice cars all over the place. Once we were out and exploring a bit, it was not all that familiar. There are chicken buses running around the city, getting people to where they need to go. Chicken buses are US school buses that have been brought back for a second lifetime and are decked out in colorful paintings and ornaments. We braved trying to navigate the chicken buses to try and see some of the city. We took one to the mall that is located at the bus terminal so that we could buy our tickets. We decided before buying the tickets that we should take some time and plan out our stay in Panama City to see how long we needed. So we walked the mall, which was huge and super nice. There were hundreds of stores selling all kinds of super nice clothes and electronics. Casey ended up buying a new camera, since hers just bit the dust in the Galapagos. We even ended up seeing Ironman at the cinemax for $3 each. After the movie we decided that one night in that hostel would be enough. We went and bought our tickets at the bus terminal, figured out if they had luggage storage, which they did, and headed back to the hostel. At the hostel we organized our next day so that we could see the Panama Canal, which took some research in order to take public transportation rather than a overpriced taxi or tour. After that we went to the grocery store bought some snacks and walked around for a bit. We got in early and I passed out.
The next morning, since we did not unpack our bags, it was easy to head out. We returned the key, got the $5 dollar deposit back and hailed a taxi to take us to the bus terminal. We dropped our stuff at the terminal for $3.50 for the day and searched for a bus to take us to Plaza 5th of May to switch to another bus to take us to Miraflores Locks. Luckily I asked the driver to let us know when we reached the plaza and got off in time. On the walk to the other mini bus terminal, we had to walk by a dead dog that was on the sidewalk. It was horrible, not something that a dog lover ever wants to have to see. After a 10 minute walk and dodging a few speeding cars crossing the highway, we made it to the terminal. It was only about a 15 minute wait for the next bus to Paraiso, which would drop us off at the entrance to the locks on the way. It was nice that 4 other people were heading to the locks, it made it easier to find. It was only about a 15 minute walk to the locks from the bus drop off. As we got closer we could see a ship was passing through, it was a huge cruise ship. When we got close enough to see what was on the boat, I got super pumped. It was the Semester at Sea boat. I almost extended by graduation a semester so that I could participate in the program. It is a study abroad program where you spend a whole semester aboard a ship circumnavigating the globe. I had my application in and all and was very close to doing the program, so it was pretty weird that their boat was crossing through the Panama Canal at the exact time that we were walking up to it. We made it to the visitor center and went up to the 4th floor to see some ships go though the locks. It was pretty amazing to watch these huge ships go through with barely any room on either side.
The engineering behind the canal was fascinating. The canal has to work with the landscape and elevation of the land, so they essentially had to take a boat from sea level, raise it to the level of the lake and bring it back down to sea level in order to cross the canal. After spending a few hours watching the massive ships pass through, we headed back to the mall to pass the rest of the time before our bus left at 8 at night. On the way back to the bus stop, we crossed a bridge over a swampy area, and Casey noticed a huge crocodile sunning itself on the shores. It was easily 5 to 6 feet long! We contemplated buying some new clothes, but then decided not to. To kill some time, we saw a movie about a group of MIT students who counted cards in Vegas, and then grabbed our bags and got on the bus to Bocas del Toro, a ten hour overnight bus ride away.