Panama City

23 01 2011

Team Gonzo

Has it really only been 2 weeks since we arrived in Panama City?  It feels like that trip was so long (in a good way) and far behind us.  I am posting this now two weeks after the fact, and I had hoped to do it much sooner… BUT  I think a break from posting has been good for me.  I have been able to reflect on our visit to Panama City and really appreciate the things we did and sights we saw.

Part of the pull for Miguel and I to go to Panama was how highly everyone spoke of the city.  Everyone had told us it was a lot like Miami.  Well, I’ve never been to Miami, but I have seen pictures and I have heard Will Smith’s “Welcome to Miami”.  So, I feel like I’m a pretty good judge of how Miami-esque Panama City is.  And, my verdict is, it’s not really Miami-esque.  Panama city is way cooler with less of a night life (at least, less of a night life than Will Smith lets on about Miami).

Panama City skyline from Casco Viejo

While in the city, we had a vague outline of the places we wanted to see and the things we wanted to do.  Luna’s Castle also helped tremendously in our preparations as they recommended some pretty neat places to visit, places that we wouldn’t have gone to otherwise.

Among the very cool things to see in Panama City is the Panama Canal.

Now, Miguel and just about anybody we talked to made complete fun of me before our trip because I knew absolutely nothing about the canal and how it works.  I knew it was big and it saved ships tons of time and money by offering a short cut…  I had no idea that there was a crazy water-level regulator that makes the canal so cool.  Basically, the Pacific and Atlantic oceans are at different heights.  In order for ships to properly travel from one side to the other, there are a series of locks in place along the canal that raise and lower water levels to let ships smoothly travel through.  Also, there are some ships that travel through that have just 6 inches of space between their body and the sides of the canal.  All of this is just incredible to watch at the Miraflores Locks in Panama City.  There was a museum, a film, a cafe, and a whole presentation on how the locks work.  The canal was super cool and now I feel like less of a dummy in front of my friends.

A huge ship transporting cars across the canal

The locks in action

In addition to the Canal, Miguel and I tried to take in as much of the city as possible.  We stayed in the old capital city of Casco Viejo.  This area houses the Presidential Palace, the old slum of Barrio Chorrillo where Noriega hid out from the US military, a myriad of cool churches, and most interesting were the ruins of an old city in the process of being renovated.  I loved Casco Viejo.  It was charmingly dirty and beautiful like New Orleans or old places in Europe.  It was cool to see Miguel’s reaction too, because it was the first time he has seen something that old and dilapidated. I remember looking over at him and he just looked up at the buildings and said, “Whoa!  This place is cool!”.

Plaza Mayor

Walking around Casco Viejo

Building still being renovated. Step one, remove trees?

Narrow walkways

We stayed close to Casco Viejo for the majority of our time in Panama.  We liked walking the streets and going into the little shops.  But, to venture out we went on a day trip to the Amador Causway.  The Causway is a chain of islands that have been connected with a road.  The road is lined with a great walking/biking sidewalk, shops, and restaurants.  Miguel and I rented the most ridiculously awesome bike we could find and we rode down the Causway taking pictures and racing other people in their less-awesome bikes.  We stopped for lunch mid-day, partly because we were hungry, and partly because we had been peddling so fast we were sweaty and needed a break.  It was a good day.

Our own little Red Devil bike

Taking a break on the Causway

Miguel snapping pictures on the Causway

On another day we went to the Albrook mall and took advantage of Panama’s much cheaper prices.  We also walked along Balboa Avenue and Central Avenue taking in sights of local vendors and the ocean front view of skyscrapers.

Albrook Mall is HUGE, and yes, that's a huge Godzilla statue in the background.

The view of the city from Balboa Ave.

To get around to most places we took taxis.  In Panama they have buses that are incredibly cheap, but incredibly dangerous.  They are called Diablos Rojos… Red Devils.  Many are airbrushed with crazy designs on the outside and loud salsa music with disco balls and flashing lights on the inside.  The drivers race each other on the roads and often times the seats have been replaced in order to make room for poles and dancing space.  While Miguel and I were very interested in these Diablos, we didn’t want to ride in them.  Call us crazy, but taxis are way cheaper in Panama than in Costa Rica and we were a little terrified of the Red Devils; although, riding in taxis proved to be pretty crazy in its own right.  We had to hail taxis like you would see people on TV do in major cities.  We learned quick that what you hail was what you got.  Some taxis we would open the door and be greeted by a cool breeze of air conditioning, and others we were greeted with trash on the floors and weird decorations pasted all over the front.

The taxi we took to the Canal was by far the most memorable, and if it weren’t pouring down rain, we probably would never have gotten into it.  But, when it’s dumping rain and you have no where to go, you will get in just about ANY taxi.

Miguel's "Damn it's raining" look

The first sign that things were off in the taxi was the sight of the numerous fuzzy, sparkly, bright yellow stickers and decorations lining the dashboard.  As my eyes scanned over the smiley faces, Winnie the Pooh stickers, and Matchbook cars lining the dash, they fell upon the passenger side door which was held closed by a screwdriver that the taxi driver had to repeatedly shove into place to prevent… to prevent, I’m not quite sure.  I think the door was at risk of just falling right off,  but I could be wrong.  The windows were permanently stuck open, but that was good because it was raining hard and the heat in the car was fogging the windshield.  It was also good that the windows were permanently down because I think the exhaust of the car must have fed right into the back seat.  I haven’t ever ingested so much car exhaust in my life.  Anyway, all of these things stood out pretty clearly right away.  Before we even left the square we were in, I got out my camera and snapped a few shots because I knew we were just getting started.  The ride to the Canal is about 20 minutes, and while huffing car exhaust in a taxi like that, I just knew there was potential for anything to happen.

This picture doesn't really do the taxi justice

Taxi ride from hell

We were about five minutes from the Canal in the backseat of the taxi.  Miguel was behind the driver and I was behind the empty passenger seat.  The sky opened up and rain was dumping down.  The driver turned on his “defrost” to see better, and rolled his window up slightly to prevent rain from coming in.  But, as I stated earlier, the passenger window was permanently stuck open.  We were on the highway and the Taxi was struggling to keep momentum and drive the speed limit.  As the car puttered along pumping black smoke into the back seat, a huge big rig passed on the passenger side.  I remember seeing it fly past and seeing the wall of water its tires were making as it moved forward.  That wall of water finally made its way to the open passenger window, and I remember briefly closing my eyes thinking, “Man, this is going to be bad.”  Then I opened my eyes.  I was shocked… I was only sprinkled by the passing big rig and it’s wall of dirty rain water, and then I heard the taxi driver yell an obscenity at the trucker, and I looked over to Miguel.  He was drenched.  Water was dripping down his face.  His hair, face, chin, shirt, shorts, legs were all soaking wet.  He was hit full on with the wall of water that the big rig kicked up.  I’d like to say my first reaction was, “Oh No!  Here’s my sweater, wipe yourself off!”  but the reality is, I lost it.  I laughed so hard at the sight of him.  The shock and disgust was written on his face and it was so so so funny.  He remarked about how some of the dirty street water had gotten in his mouth, and I laughed even harder.  The taxi driver wanted to laugh, but I think he felt so bad he just pursed his lips and down shifted.  A bit delayed, I handed Miguel my cardigan and helped him wipe himself off.  I felt something wet on my seat, and I looked down and noticed my seat was all wet from the splash.  I looked over to Miguel and said, “Oh man, my dress is wet!”  He rolled his eyes, and handed my sweater back to me.  We were both slightly dizzy and soggy when we arrived at the Canal.  I vaguely remember people unabashedly staring at us as we got out of the cab dripping wet.

Crazy taxi ride aside, the trip was great.  We left Panama all the more excited to share it with Pam and Brian when they visit in the summer!  BOOK YOUR FLIGHT!!!  Love you!  😉

V-

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One response

23 01 2011
Brian

Oh man…called out in public. We’ll get on it.

Great post…especially love getting a visual of your golf cart bike and hearing about Miguel getting drenched with water. So he also got soaked on the boat to San Blas? Maybe he’s cursed.

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