As always, I was up early and saying my goodbyes. As he had fed me the night before, I didn’t want to hang around for breakfast, so I stopped at a nearby place to get a plate of more uninspired fried things. It gave me the energy I needed for another 3 hours of riding through more hills, until I made it to the start of another big climb. Having run out of food, I stopped at a little store off the road and got to talking to some people at the bus stop. Just after I got there, the Panama City bus stopped and the driver waved at me, apparently he’d seen me the day before. I was tempted to get on, but the guy I was talking to was interesting. He left 20 minutes later, and not long after another bus for Panama City came along. I decided that the 3 days I’d save would be better spent in Colombia. Also, because I’d stayed at Mario’s longer than I’d thought if I didn’t take the bus, I wouldn’t be able to meet up with the Couchsurfing host I’d arranged to stay with in Panama City. I spent the next 6 hours reading Adrift, a book about a sailor being lost at sea – I figured it the perfect thing to read with my water-based voyage to Colombia coming up.
I arrived in the bus terminal in Panama City, having avoided the entrance to the city which goes through some neighbourhoods seedy enough that it’s common to get police escorts. Not everyone gets those escorts, and a few blogs spoke about feeling uncomfortable riding through them and outright hostility. I was glad to be on the bus and not having to deal with any drama. Being such an international city as it is, there’s a definite clash of absolute richness and poverty, in what is called Miami of Central America.
My Couchsurfing host wouldn’t be available until late at night so I figured I’d go and see the canal as I was probably only going to have one full day in the city. Miraflores lock has a visitor’s centre and museum for those willing to pay, but also a place you can just hang out and watch the locks. The problem was, I got there at 5:04, and they closed at 5. It took a 20 minute discussion with the security guard to get in, but eventually I went in and decided to get something to eat at the restaurant for the best view. The soup was pretty uninspired for $6.50, but the buffet would have cost $35 and the spread wasn’t even that impressive. I arrived at a good time and got to see a ship passing through, apparently the larger ones carry up to 35,000 containers… which just hurts my mind to consider. It’s definitely a very impressive feat of engineering, and a visit to Panama without seeing it would have felt like going to Cuba and not drinking any coffee.
The following day I headed to the historical city. There wasn’t a convenient bus, so Gustavo, my host, dropped me off in the shopping district on his way to run errands and I walked the 3-4km with minimal cloud cover and toasty temperatures. There was definitely a feel of wealth in the shopping area with shops I hadn’t seen since the US and large numbers of financial institutes as Panama, like London, is built on the banking industry.
The historical centre looked very much like Havana in many ways, although obviously with more modern vehicles. It is under a serious reconstruction effort and so it was rather maze-like to get around with so many areas closed off. Ricardo Martinelli, the president of Panama was in his residence in the centre so that also meant another area was blocked off, and possibly higher security as there were police everywhere.
Crossing Panama canal
Panama Canal train