Perky Panama City….that’s the capital of Panama of course !!!

Panama City colourful busesPanama Canal

Hola from Panama

Well I have to say until I started travelling I hadn’t heard much about Panama. Like Colombia it is another secret jewel awaiting discovery. My flight arrived on time and immigration didn’t even ask for an onward ticket, mind you I had kept him distracted asking questions about all of the lovely places to see. Norma had recommended a hostel in Panama city which was new. I only had an email address and after searching on the web discovered it was called “La City”. No address and a phone number that could be for anything. I’d been told to go to the upstairs floor where the taxis to town are cheaper. I went to tourist information and a woman there gave me her mobile to call the number I had (I’m liking Panama already !!). No answer but it was Ryan’s no. , the guy who owned the hostel. We called back and he answered and gave my directions. La City actually turned out to be in Marbella and in a new apartment block. It feels like I’m back in Hong Kong but it’s very chilled and lovely to stay somewhere so new and shiny, even if I’m in what feels like the maids quarters.

I read a little about the city and then go out for a wander. Wow, it’s a fast food frenzy right here on my doorstep. It all looks so American. Marbella’s obviously a richer area. Then I see a “Next”, I have been trying to find new jeans maybe they do a “petite” range. No joy, they have no jeans in the shop. This city is really much more modern that I was expecting. There are skyscraper apartment blocks going up everywhere. I then find a shopping centre. Now, generally I’m not a shopper but I am feeling a tinge of excitement. Oh, there are some great shops and I find a department store and jeans !! Usual story, the legs are way to long. Somewhere in this part of the world I am sure there is a denim abyss because barely any women here can be tall enough for these to fit ( well unless they have secretly squashed bodies and extra long legs). Desperate measures lead to desperate things and I head to the children’s department (oh, the shame !!). The jeans are disgusting but I find a lovely pair of pale blue cords ok so they are age 14 rather than size 14 – but I want new trousers !! Maybe I’m shrinking !! They do actually fit, I am now realising new possibilities, I could be raiding my nieces wardrobe upon my return !! Then I found tops, I went a bit mad but it means I have new clothes and got rid of all of the old ones, lovely to have a bit of change after 10 months. Then I went mad on toiletries and hair accessories – someone please take me out of here…..finally 2 hours later, in the dark I left. I went back to the hostel and chatted with a Norwegian girl called Martha and then went to bed.

The next day I am off to see the sights. The obvious stop is the Panama canal. I caught a taxi there and got there in time to see the incredibly large container ships going through. The canal is opened so that ships can travel through the locks one way in the morning and then the opposite way in the afternoon. I was at the Miraflores locks and I have to say it was a pretty impressive sight and certainly slightly larger than the ones on the canal at the back of my house. They are actually going through a process to add some more locks at the moment so they can let bigger ships and more cargo use the canal. The canal itself is 50 miles long and it takes 8-10 hours to get through although most ships spend on average 24 hours there. It’s quite funny waving goodbye to the crew as they go past. It’s the only place in the world where a captain relinquishes control of his ship to a canal pilot. The canal was finally opened in 1914. The idea was originally started by the French as a way to connect the Pacific coast with the Atlantic coast. The canal started as a 9 foot deep ditch (now at 40 foot). Too many of the French died of malaria and yellow fever so the Americans took over the idea and completed it using many people from the Caribbean and worldwide. Which is why I think Panama looks like a complete melting pot. In an expanding world the canal now handles 15000 ships a year which brings in revenues of over $1B. No wonder the Americans took so long to give it back. I have to say it’s pretty impressive watching 26 million litres of water fill and empty in the locks. After watching ships for a couple of hours I go in to see the museum and film. What I liked about the programs here is they seem to be very aware of the enviroment and ecology and everything they are working on for the future is taking this in to consideration. The local wildlife on display looked particularly interesting especially the tarantula eating wasps (what do they do if there’s a shortage ?)

Well time to leave, so I caught a local bus (referred to as a chicken bus or “the red devils” here, I think because of their driving) and went in to town. I got off at the same place everyone else did having absolutely no idea where I was. The streets were really lively and contained lots of market stalls. I asked someone where I was and then walked towards the legislative palace. Not worth seeing, so headed on down Central Avenue towards the old town area of Casco Antiguo. On the way I kept seeing a lot of women in brightly dressed clothes. These turned out to be from the Kuna Yala people that originate from the San Blas Islands. The women had lots of beads around their ankles and although they were dressed up the men and children with them weren’t.

Casco Antiguo is possibly one of the dodgiest areas of the city. It’s okay in the day but apparently at night you have to be very careful. Although I have to say it didn’t feel dangerous. It has the usual churches and square and a lovely sea front where some of the buildings have been completely rennovated. Then these sparkly ones are next to ones which look like they should be falling down. I winced seeing local children standing on the balconies which looked like they were about to collapse.

I walked back through town and spotted the incredibly colourful buses. I really quite like it here…as in the title it really is very perky !!Back at the hostel I spent the evening chatting to Martha and a guy called Eric. Before we knew it it was gone 3am so I went to bed. Oh well, I can highly recommend Panama City, there’s lots of other things to do here but I’m still behind schedule although think I’ll cut time for Costa Rica ratherthan here and it’s now time to head to the countryside.        

Transport count:

Plane = 24, Bus = 103, Train = 2, Boat =16, Sunglasses = 7, Mosquito Repellant = 9, Books Read = 26 1/2, Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all



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