Panama City

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Our time in Central America is drawing to a close and Panama City makes for the perfect final destination of the first leg of our trip. We have spent a wonderful week here, thanks to the generosity and kindness of Frederique (below), a French expat we met in Boquete who has let us stay in his wonderful apartment in the centre of town. It has allowed us to properly relax and enjoy the city. He is definitely one of a kind and has made our stay in Panama City very special.


 

Panama City is a city of two halves in every sense of the word, full of contrasts and contradictions, reflecting a melting pot of cultures, eras, and levels of wealth. From the moment we arrived our eyes were drawn to an unexpected skyline for Latin America, that rivals Miami with high rise modern skyscrapers and busy office workers milling the streets. There are cranes everywhere and it is a city which is growing rapidly. Even Donald Trump has claimed his share of the Panamanian pie with a new construction. Looks can however be deceiving as there is also another  very different side to this sprawling metropolis.


On a peninsula jutting south into the bay, is Casco Viejo,  Panama City’s oldest quarter. It is an odd place. Once considered a slum, many of the buildings have been renovated to their former glory and the area is now populated with stunning churches, the presidential palace and colonial architecture. There is however a distinct line that separates the barrio (neighbourhood) from what is now a major tourist attraction. On one side of the street is restored buildings and tourists dining outside sipping cocktails in a beautifully manicured square and a block further on presents a series of run down shanties with people sleeping on the streets and dilapidated buildings. The Colonial buildings in this part of town mark the last that have been spared by the expansion of the modern city.


The Panama Canal
We had been looking forward to our visit to Panama Canal for a number of week. We headed to the Miraflores lock, 20 minutes outside the city. We arrived just in time to see vessels of all sorts from yachts to heavily loaded container ships from China line up to enter the canal. They were being pulled manually or by tug boats and driven into the narrow lengths of the locks with inches to spare on either side.  We spent a few hours witnessing these giants pass through the water and were glad we got to experience this magnificent sight.


Some facts:
The Canal itself is about 80km long and is essentially a shortcut between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and can save a vessel up to 8,000km on their journey. It has three sets of locks which serve as lifts to elevate vessels 26 meters above sea level from the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans to Gatun Lake. It costs anything from $500 to $200,000 for a boat to pass through the canal and takes 8-10 hours to complete the journey. We learned a lot from our visit and enjoyed witnessing an engineering feat in action.

Last night we met up with Seth and Parker and their 20 friends for some beers in the old town. They made it too and it was exciting to see them. Our days in Panama City have been very enjoyable despite the unbearable humidity and heat. Tomorrow morning at 5am we all leave Panama City for to the San Blas Islands and then set sail for Cartagena, Colombia. The next  entry will be from a new continent. 

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