Central America

Self-Guided Walking Tour of Casco Viejo and Nerding Out at the Panama Canal

Fresh from checking items off my bucket list and surfacing from 3,000 photos, it’s time to continue on from my arrival in Panama City

— 09 May 2014 —

I awoke early from the taxis honking right outside the window. Blurry eyed and stumbling in the dark, I managed to get dressed and down to Super Gourmet for a good feed before a self-guided walking tour around the Old Quarter. It was only 8:30am and the sun was out in full force, rays glaring down and burning my pale skin.

I followed one of the walking tours from Tripadvisor and made my rounds through Avenida A and B, taking photos of the crumbling fortresses, the house where Daniel Craig stayed when he was filming Quantum of Solace and the very narrow streets. Another movie set down!

After an hour in the sun, the heat was getting a bit too much for me and sweat beads were forming on my back (gross), so I took refuge in the Panama Canal museum.

I had 2 hours here before I had to meet *C and another girl for our visit to the Canal (I’m so glad I wasn’t the only nerdy girl out there). Everyone could see I was a tourist, in my hat and audio guide earphones in but I couldn’t care less. I just wanted to learn about the canal.

The exhibit is spread over 2 floors and well laid out. I was mostly interested in the working conditions and daily life of those who worked on the Canal, the key people involved and the construction of the Canal. There is an extensive section on the declarations, agreements and Treaties signed between Panama and the U.S. (there were so many revisions because the Panamanians were never happy with the previous one). There were many tourists passing through but none seem to spend too much time at each of the display. I guess they aren’t as nerdy as I am.

Before long, my 2 hours were up and I raced back to the hostel where C* was just chilling and fanning herself with hot air. It was bloody hot but we didn’t feel it with the AC on in the taxi.

WE WERE OFF TO SEE THE CANAL!!!

It was a short 20 mins drive to the Miraflores Lock and *S and I were getting to know each other, whilst *C sat at the front sweet talking to the taxi driver in Spanish. I caught a few words but I left it up to her to get us a better price.

We arrived at the canal and was immediately ushered into the multimedia centre as the English video was about to start. The video was all about the expansion project and how, in Panamanian time, has fallen behind schedule and will only be completed at the end of 2015. Ahhh, a PM’s nightmare.

To get to the viewpoint on the 4th floor, we had to walk through the museum which was filled with information about Panama flora and fauna (random, this has nothing to do with the canal!!!), the history of the canal and the expansion of the new canal. The information about the New Panamax ships was the most interesting. The new container ships are going to be massive!!!

Once we were finished nerding out (*S and *C were more into the flora and fauna stuff and I into the canal), we headed out onto the deck and waited for a ship to come in. It wasn’t a long wait, maybe 20 mins max and then we were all scurrying towards the ledge.

The whole sequence of events actually happens quite slow. The ships “shut down” when they are in the canal, trolleys attach their ropes to the ships, and guide the ships through the locks as the water “level out” from one side of the lock to the other.

IT WAS SO AMAZING (I took like 200 photos of the same thing)!!!

I’ve read about the canal many times but seeing it in person was so much more awesome. I think my expression says it all.

We were famished, by the time the ship sailed off into the horizon so we went to a restaurant *C wanted to go to, at another part of time, the Amador Causeway. It turned out pretty well, because I actually wanted to go to that part of the city and to have people to see it with, was… nice.

We chatted and got to know one another during lunch, while enjoying the view and the slight breeze that was flowing through the restaurant. *C and I downed an ice-cold beer to relieve ourselves of the heat, stared out at the boats on the water and watched the people in the pool while enjoying our yuca, plantain and fried seafood. So much fried food.

Another thing on my to-do list was the Biodiversity Museum (Biomuseo) designed by world-renowned Frank Gehry. I used to study this work in interior design and I’ve visited a couple of his works in Santa Monica, LA and Chicago. All very impressive might I say, and convince you too. Unfortunately the Biomuseo wasn’t open yet, even though it was scheduled to open this year. Another construction schedule down the tube.

It was about 16h00 when we finished all our sightseeing and I was exhausted. I still had to experience the nightlife! So it was off to the hostel for a nanna nap.

The rest of the day didn’t turn out as eventful as I had imagined. I imagined me in my party dress (black lace), a bit of fine-dining, a little bit of alcohol, a little bit of dancing, more alcohol and then hitting up the salsa club till the wee hours. Instead, I was in a jersey dress (the humidity was a bitch!), had dinner with a couple of German girls at the local, found a group of backpackers at Luna’s Castle, drank a little, then headed back to the hostel, drank a little more and it was off to bed before 23h00.

At least I was going to get some sleep before tomorrow’s adventures…

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