A man, a plan, a canal… Panama!

24-28/10/2013

A large contemporary city is something worthy of admiration after months of deserted islands, far away beaches and lost corners in some jungle.  The chaos that falls over us as we step out of the bus after a long night ride is something we have forgotten its existence.   The flux of thousands of persons coming and going, the pushing and pulling to get on the bus, the scenery of crowds waiting and even the overload of information and options comes as a first born child, we don’t know how to handle it.  We are dazzled by flashing lights, horning cars and traffic police blowing their whistle.  We get our way to a bus, push ourselves through the small doors and look each other with wonder still not believing we finally managed to find the wright transport to the centre of Panama City.  We get out at the Plaza 5 de Mayo walk the long Av.Central pedestrian street where the first market stands are pulled up, and walk straight to the old town where our British friends told us about a good place to stay at.  With its good location, modern minimalist art decoration, the good reference from Ed and Sophia, the nice all-knowing helping staff and its payable prices, the Panamerican Hostel is a perfect basecamp from which to conquest the metropolis. (25$ a night for the both of us)

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The historical part is, as most central Americas cities, in colonial style and lies on a small peninsula of which there is a stunning view on the rest of the capital.  A several kilometers long, following Av. Balboa, sea walk connects both parts and offers a cost line full with free open air sport facilities such as gyms to workout, tennis and basketball court, a yate club, football fields and playgrounds for kids. On the way there is the fishers harbour with its ‘Mercado de mariscos’ to buy fresh fish or to eat something for those who can make up their mind on an endless proposition of dishes and ‘cebiches’. (2-6$ for Cebiches)

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The centre of Panama is all about modern architecture, fashion and high tec, with hotels as the ‘Hard Rock Hotel Panama’, with malls to lose yourself in and with fancy sport cars showing off their well-polished stallion, jaguar or bull as they slide by on the through the city passing highway.

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It is the city that has it all…but solutions to cross the ‘Darien Gap’, the well-known travellers mind breaking border, separating Central from South America.  Speaking over several days with lots of traveller and locals we finally get in contact with Angel, a seller at the local handcraft market, who is from ‘Kuna’ origin.  The ‘Kunas’ from Kuna Yaladistrict (for them Guna Yala) is the tribe which control the border passing on the Caribbean side of Panama.  No road, street or highway connects the two countries.  The west side boat trip options are bringing travellers to a Colombian area controlled by drug lords and ‘FARC’, the few paths through the jungle promises hard core hiking on routes used for drug and weapon traffic…if in the first place it is possible to find a guide who is willing to take the risk.  And finally crossing the border at the Caribbean Sea without help or permits from the Kuna means paying a luxe sailing cruise for 3 till 5 days.  So Angel, our only hope, helps us out with the details and is offering payable prices.  He brings us in contact with other Kuna on an evening in the Kuna ghetto of Panama City.  It is meant good but seems impossible in a bar with very loud music, a football league happening at the inside court and a bunch of drunken Kunas who have seem to forget how to speak Spanish after the many beers they had.  But as said, we arrange the trip with a too much promising Kuna Angel and take the risk.  But before that we visit the Panama Canal, a day trip that turns out a real adventure if going with public transport.

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The most famous canal (77km long) of the world is a real disillusion… It’s a very touristic place (5$ lowest entrance fee) which just shows how ships are been guided in different phases through the narrow space.  Visiting a canal is a weird decision to make but then again it is the most famous waterway in the world with the highest traffic rate (almost 15.000 ships a year) and being in Panama City and not visiting the attraction is just… never heard of.  So the last evening, cooking a last good meal before we start the border crossing adventure, I’m talking with Giorgia and notice somebody tapping my shoulder.  I turn around and look straight in the eyes of Ed.  The Earles are back!!! We are delighted with their arrival as we thought we wouldn’t see them again after our farewell dinner in Bocas Del Toro.  So the fact that it takes longer than expected to organize our border crossing is rather a good thing: we have another last evening with Sophia and Ed.  We enjoy an evening of drinks and laughs on the roof terrace with spectacular sights over Panama’s City old town.

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Recommendations:

-Bus transport is not to expensive but as the driver is not allowed to receive money, travelers need a rechargeable bus card to enter. Bus cards are sold in the center of the city so not convenient if just arrived.  Neither is it allowed to enter buses with backpacks… but once entered the bus it is impossible to turn around and get out again. We asked any person to pay for us the fee and we payed the 0.25$ in cash to her

-The bus to the canal is: ‘Miraflores’ last stop and from there it is a 20 minute walk on a very busy (read dangerous) road. The cost is 2$ a person each way and takes quite a while.  For that we recommend taking a taxi with 4 persons at 2$ each

-Take a day with pic-nic for the sea walk and enjoy the views and ambient of a sportive capital

The strange title for the post refers to one of the most famous Palindromes 😉

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Categories: Panama | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “A man, a plan, a canal… Panama!

  1. Pingback: Renting a private island at Kuna Yala | The Hermes' Journey: a panamerican story

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