After a 7h bus ride from Boquete we arrived in Panama City in the middle of the night. We had misjudged the timing and spent too much time in Boquete when we should have taken an earlier bus. We got to the hostel just before they closed for the night and managed to get a bed in a hot dorm at the back of the hostel.
We were up as soon as the sun was up as one couldn’t sleep in the heat coming from the window. We took a couple of chicken buses (used as city transport) and made our way to Miraflores Locks – the last set of locks of Panama Canal on the Pacific side. We got there on time to see two ships passing through in opposite directions. Very lucky as none passed after we left. I am surprised how much I actually liked the canal. It was a lot of fun learning about its history and development. It was initially began by the French, then picked up by the Americans who completed it and managed it until the 70s when a treaty was signed and the management was taken over by the Panamanians. It didn’t officially belong to them though until 1999. The men who build it were mainly from Barbados and 22,000 dies while building it.
There are 3 sets of locks between the Atlantic and the Pacific.
It is now being expanded – two more lanes are being added at two of the locks to allow for twice as much traffic. They are planning to open them in 2014. 4 major intrnational building companies had competed for the contract. The new project will be environmentally friendly.
Currently 14,000 ships go through every year, and are charged anything between a few dollars to $390,000 for the large cargo ships (5000 containers). The lowest fee ever paid was $0.36 by a man who swam the canal in the 20s. There are 17 accident per year on average. Surprising, as the ships are hardly moving while crossing.
Enough about that, moving on to Casco Viejo – the old town of Panama City. It was an interesting experience. I enjoyed wandering the streets, there was something charming about it. Although there were parts looking very dangerous. We cretainly did´’t want to be there after sunset, and we got stopped twice (by random locals) tellings us not to go into the red zone. A dangerous area guarded by the police. It was nice of the locals to let us know, stops us from going there. What do they care? They seemed to take it very seriously. They literally forbade us to go there.
We then headd to The Causeway – an area outside the city where people go to relax and enjoy the fresh air. There were many posh yachts, clubs, and bars there as well as shops for the tourists coming down from the passing cruise ships. We ended the night at a Greek restaurant, enjoy the night skyline and the ocean breeze. I was so happy to have found a Greek restaurant as I was craving Bulgarian food that day. Greek was as close as it is gonna get here.