The Panama Canal just got served
I never really got to sleep. By the time I posted the last entry, we were already out the door by 10am for Chinese-Panamanian dim sum, which according to our well-traveled guide Manuel (Tatiana’s friend in Panama who showed us around last night), is arguably better than New York’s or Hong Kong’s. Hmm, better than Hong Kong’s? That’s a tall claim there…
In Manuel we trust.
To say the least, I was very impressed. The dim sum we had was pretty flawless and I couldn’t say if Hong Kong’s dim sum was that much better (and that is saying a lot for what you would expect for dim sum in anywhere but Asia).
Afterwards we headed to the Panama Canal, one of the 7 wonders of the modern world and one of the greatest feats of human engineering.
Those of you who don’t know anything about it, it’s a man-made canal constructed in 1914 that allows ships to pass between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, saving about 8000 miles of journey when ships had to otherwise sail around South America’s Cape Horn to get to the other great ocean.
How it works: Ships would come into a portion of the canal, the water levels of that portion of the canal would sink to a certain level, and then special locks would release the ship to a new level of water and another portion of the canal. This process repeats itself to eventually allow for the ship to enter the other ocean. The whole journey through the canal takes about 8-15 hours depending on traffic (after all, it’s the ONLY thing that’s connecting the two great oceans other than the one by Cape Horn).
You usually have to pay some kind of admission/entrance fee to see the canal, but if you say you have reservations for the Miraflores Restaurant inside, you can get a restaurant pass and enter for free:
I love free things. Thanks Manuel & Tatiana for the tip!
The Panama Canal:
The Caribbean/Atlantic side
The Pacific Side
After seeing the Canal, we said our goodbyes to half of our group and the rest of us continued on to explore the rougher neighborhoods of Panama City:
We found an alleyway that literally is referred as: “Get out as quickly as you can alleyway.”
We then stopped by a park in Casco Viejo where supposedly the unemployed would spend entire days here:
- At time of posting in Panama City, it was 32 °C -
Humidity: 59% | Wind Speed: 4km/hr | Cloud Cover: scattered clouds
After a truly awful border crossing experience earlier today, we were welcomed at the Albrook bus terminal with the hospitality of Tatiana, a Panama City native and who offered to drive us around her city.
This would be the first time Tatiana and I would meet, as she had found my blog earlier last year while googling North Korean elevator experiences. She was about to come onto this trip, but work prevented her from pulling through. Nevertheless, I made it a point for us to meet regardless, and we did:
Fitting all 7 of us in her CRV!
...with Kym in the back!
She first took us to see the Panama Canal administrative building, overlooking Albrook and the prettiness of part of the Panama Canal:
We even befriended and took pictures with a famous “bad guy” Panamanian pro-wrestler:
We also appreciated a low-flying plane landing in Albrook Domestic Airport:
And then after sunset, we drove around towards our hostel, located within Marbella, their financial district:
After freshening up at the hostel (our first shower in days!) we met Tatiana’s Chinese-Panamanian friend Manuel, who was gracious enough to take us to dinner at the fish market.
FYI, the fish market was incredibly affordable as $25 was able to feed all 9 of us.
Then it was series of simultaneous bar-hopping and sightseeing in Casco Viejo (the Panama old town), thanks to Manuel.
View from one of the many rooftop bars in Casco Viejo
Lightning strikes in the distance
Then it was more drinks at the Hard Rock Cafe before finishing our night by dancing among the venues along “Calle Uruguay”; the street filled with lounges and nightclubs. Club Pure and Prive were the two that were recommended by Manuel.
FYI, we found out that Prive is free cover, whereas Club Pure charges a $10/per person cover. Be prepared to hear mostly reggaeton and salsa as house and hip hop are usually saved for the last 15 minutes before closing, sadly. But we made the most of it!
Okay, I’ve pretty much pulled an all-nighter to type this post out (it’s 7:30am right now), so let me pass out for now and get back to you in the morning…zzzzzz….
- At time of posting in Panama City, it was 24 °C -
Humidity: 94% | Wind Speed: n/a | Cloud Cover: few clouds
I’ve done quite a few overland border crossings in my travels, but none was quite as bad as the one I just did today from Costa Rica to Panama. This is probably as bad as it gets but today was probably way out of the ordinary and we were simply unlucky to get caught up in some extraordinary circumstances.
1) We began with a 4 hour bus from Manuel Antonio to San Jose, which cost about $9 per person. Afterwards we cabbed it to the Ticabus station and boarded an 11pm bus ($60 per person) for Panama City. We were on the bus for about 5.5 hours before we arrived at the border town of Paso Canoas between Costa Rica and Panama:
2) It was about 4:30am when we arrived at the Costa Rica border, so you can imagine how sleepy we all are when they wake us up. We were then barked at to get off the bus to get our Costa Rica exit stamps in our passports, after which the bus drives away to the Panama border…and then we find out that the Costa Rica passport office/border post doesn’t open until 6am. So we waited for an hour and half outside in the dark.
Other border crossings would have allowed us to sleep on the bus. So I slept on the floor instead.
4) At 6am the Costa Rica border post opens, and thankfully it didn’t take long for them to process our passports.
5) We then walked over to the Panama border:
6) However, once at the border entering Panama, we arrived to discover only one person was working for a crowd of over 500 people, one by one in a line, trying to enter Panama. Yeah, right. But really, we wait over 3 hours while moving at a glacial pace.
(We were told later on that today was a holiday which means everything in Panama was short staffed…but no amount of research online afterwards to confirm would yield such information).
7) After that nightmare was over we were introduced to another: we were made to take our bags from the bus and bring into a customs room, where again, only one person was going to search all 500 of our bags, one by one.
8) After discussing Freud, debating some Kant and deriving the formula for cold fusion, we got back on the bus and made our way to Panama City, which was going to be another 9 hour ride.
It may not seem that bad in writing, but imagine being told by previous travelers that the crossing would take only 30 minutes when it actually took 4.5 hours (9 times as long!).
The bus company felt so bad (because what had happened, they said, was totally unexpected) that it stopped at a McDonald’s for an hour and bought us all chicken sandwiches:
Tica Bus, brought to you by McDonald's
9 hours later, we arrived finally at Panama City:
Panama Canal up ahead!
And their Albrook Bus Terminal in Panama City was a welcome sight for sore eyes and cranky limbs:
- At time of posting in Paso Canoas, it was 28 °C -
Humidity: 78% | Wind Speed: 8km/hr | Cloud Cover: scattered clouds