Panama City, Panama

panamaTo be honest, I thought Panama was going to be a little scary. Everyone is warning us to be careful, watch your back, always be alert and so on. Thanks for putting that fear into existence. The fact is, Panama is amazing, the people are nice and nothing crazy happened. As anywhere you travel, abroad or not, you have to be smart, don’t be stupid and don’t get too comfortable. Its the same for Panama. We decided after quite a bit of time in Costa Rica that we would give ourselves a little pampering and get a proper hotel in Panama. The Hyatt 10th floor room was perfect, a big fluffy bed and lots of pillows, even a little sitting nook with an L shaped couch and proper lighting. We didn’t break the bank either, another reason Panama is great.

The Panama Canal was at the top of our list of things to see so we quickly booked a tour with the front desk. Only $75 for the two of us to see not only the Panama Canal, but Old Panama, Panama Viejo, and Puerto Flamingo plus an added side trip to cross the Bridge of the Americas. What a great deal and that covered everything we wanted to do.

First stop, The Panama Canal, we got the full detail on how it was built, it truly is an engineering feat, even today, and to think it was opened for use in 1914 is even more fascinating. Its basically a step system and it takes 8 hours for a boat to get from the Pacific to the Caribbean side. It cost a pretty penny to take a boat through with makes me understand why cruises through the canal cost as much as they do. There are a number of locks, we only spent time at the Miraflores Lock. I really think when you have seen one, you have seen them all! Its mesmerizing to watch one cube fill with water and the boat float on up and move to the next one, like watching ships go up stairs.

From the canal we took that bridge from South America to North America, and back. Neat little thing to say you’ve done but the bridge is nothing too spectacular. Off to Puerto Flamingo… at least I think thats what it is called. As they dug out the canal system they needed somewhere to put all the dirt and rocks, that is now this port, its extravagant and reminds me of what Dubai would look like. A lot of boats in the harbor, and you can see the lineup of boats either preparing to come in, or just come out of the Canal.

Old Panama, now this was really cool, all the old buildings reminded me of New Orleans, they were nicely renovated but with the character of each building still intact. We walked all over, past old churches, restaurants, shops and famacias. We made it to the Panama Hat store, where clearly I had to get a Panama Hat! If they are well made they will have both black and white straw woven but you wont be able to see where the black startd or ended, these hats can run as much as a few hundred dollars. I stuck with a white with black ribbon, and it kept me remarkably cool as we continued our walk about town. We passed a coffee shop, that we would later come back to for “the best coffee in Panama, most expensive cup in the world” its called Geisha Coffee and you can find it at Bajareque Coffee House. I’m not a coffee drinker but they had Geisha Tea so I tried that, its made from the coffee berry, and honestly it wsa just ok… actually thats a lie, I can finish “just ok” tea but this just wassnt to my taste. Brandon seemed to enjoy the coffee but wassnt readyto buy a bag of it on the spot so, I dont know Panama, your $9 cup of coffee may not be that much to brag about! Good marketing though!

From Old Panama we went to the Older Panama, Panama Viejo, its in ruins but its in the middle of the city. Its bizarre to stand in the tower knowing it was a part of the first Panama village in the 1500’s and around you are these skyscrapers, a sign of all the money and power that is in Panama now. To see that the Panamanian people do not make nearly the money to live up to the expectations that the big buildings put on the city and country. Its a very odd observation and its all due to the canal… it gives economy, but its greedy with the money and the locals suffer. We had watched the sun set from the 66th floor of the Trump Tower the night before, all I could think about now was how nothing is as it seems. We had to pay $20 per person to get a voucher for food and drinks just to get into the area to watch the sunset from that tower. We had 2 appetizers and 2 ginger ales and still owed $8… that is probably more than a local could afford on “going out” in 6 months or a year. Panama Viejo definitely gave us all something to think about.

One night for dinner we found a Lebanese restaurant, just around the corner. We ventured out at night-ha!-and it was a riot!! Not literally, but figuratively. The food was pretty good, but the entertainment was top notch. They had belly dancer girls who came around to the tables and danced to live music, they also offered hookahs. I seriously felt like I was in the mid east. It was such a fun night, I even wore my romper! We also made our way to the mall, now that was something! ALL the US based chain restaurants are there, its disgusting! It cost $1 to go to the bathroom, but they did have an Aeropostale and we each got 2 new shirts! With our fresh outfits we also decided it was time for a haircut, so off we went, $20 later we are fresh and clean cut!

Panama you were more than I expected, your waterfront walk is very well kept, your metro system is super easy to use, and the girl who got hit on her motorbike was assisted by everyone within seconds. You are a kind town, Panama, with a past that puts you on the radar as sketchy. Thank you for showing us your good side, I’ll recommend you to travelers and I hop to be back some day!

With this adventure coming to a close, we decided to extend our trip, I no longer needed to be back in NC so we kept the traveling going, next stop Nicaragua!

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