Panama City, Panama; Panama Canal

Latitude 8.97593°N Longitude 79.53415°W

Monday, November 25, 2002

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Diary:

Greetings everyone!

We arrived in Panama City on Saturday after a tortuous 16 hour Tica Bus ride from Costa Rica and it was love at first sight. Panama City is by far the most cosmopolitan and modern out of all the Central American countries we've visited, and after our long trek it comes as a very welcome treat to us! The Panamanian Balboa has been retired and the currency is now officially US Dollars, so no more currency exchange scams! The food is good, the lodgings are comfortable, the internet cafes are fast, the ATM's dispense US dollars, and everything seems very cheap compared to Costa Rica.

We ate a delicious Dim Sum for brunch yesterday, and for the first time in months went to the theatre to see a movie! ("Red Dragon", which we really enjoyed)

After arriving in Panama City we thought we'd take advantage of the relatively heightened level of civilization to pause for a while to attend to a few matters, like seeing if we could get one of Nick's Canon camera lenses serviced. So the first day the shops were open we took the lens to the service center and after evaluating the problem, they told us it would take 5 days to repair and cost $80. That seemed reasonable so we decided to wait in Panama City for the lens to be fixed. Well, after a week it probably should come as no surprise that on the day we were meant to pick up the repaired lens, the service center told us they were "not really equipped to service such a lens". Why they just didn't tell us that at the start, of course, was a mystery that we gnashed our teeth over for some time.

However, our lengthened stay in the city was not a total waste of time, and we had a pleasant, relaxed time seeing the sites including the churches, museums, and of course, the Panama Canal. We visited the canal locks at Miraflores and saw humungous ships passing through. But only after visiting the Canal Museum, in the old part of town Casco Viejo, does one truly understand the magnitude of the achievement the Panama Canal represents. The engineering behind the creation of Gatun Lake and the 13km Culebra Cut through the Continental Divide, executed with the primitive technology of the early 1900's, is amazing. It truly is one of the greatest human achievements, in my opinion ranking with putting a man on the moon.

One of our more memorable moments was the evening Keiko treated me to a belated birthday celebration. She took me to the historical Casco Antiguo district and we strolled around the old Spanish colonial-era buildings at sunset, some beautifully restored, others, such as the Club de Clases y Tropas (Manuel Noriega's old hangout), still in ruins from the 1989 US invasion. We topped the evening with a meal at the fancy Restaurante Las Bóvedas (in beautifully restored ancient dungeons), where a superb Panamanian jazz combo came to play later on. The music and ambience were a sophisticated treat for us after our travels through Central America, and it seemed like a fitting way to say farewell and greet South America.

Sadly we end this entry with yet another technical snafu. On our last day in Panama Keiko's digital camera suddenly stopped working, so there'll be no more photos on the site until we get a replacement.


Photos: (click on images to see full size)

A container ship passes through Panama Canal's Miraflores LocksExiting the Miraflores Locks 15m higher than Pacific Ocean sea level,
the ship heads towards the Atlantic Ocean 80km awayThe Miraflores Locks on the Pacific side of the CanalPanama City, old and newDrying clothes in a tropical deluge in Panama's old town Casco ViejoThey're called "diablos rojos" (red devils) for good reason
Don't stand in their way!


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