Wednesday 19th September – Colombia (Bogota) – Panama City
I had a lovely relaxing breakfast at the hotel in Bogota and then headed back to the airport for the second leg of my flight to Panama City. I had plenty of time to check in and drop my bag (or so I thought!), but at check in, the lady behind the desk asked me to show my proof of exit from Panama. Unfortunately, I had exactly 30 minutes to buy and print a ticket to leave Panama -PANIC! I rushed off to find an internet café in the airport, then battled with their slow internet until finally I was able to buy the first bus ticket I could find out of Panama into Costa Rica. I made it to the lounge just in time for boarding, albeit with a wallet $40USD lighter! The first thing I noticed upon arriving in Panama was just how green, hot and humid it was. I caught a taxi to Casco Viejo and spent the afternoon wandering around the old city, admiring the old buildings. Regan arrived that night at around 10pm and we went out for some beers to celebrate the start of our trip. We found a really cool bar which was in its soft opening and the owners were really excited to talk to us about their ideas for the run down building that they were working to convert into a bar and restaurant.
Thursday 20th September – Panama City
This morning we had a sleep in and then a late brekky in Casco Viejo. We had figured out that it would be cheaper to take Uber taxis around the city so we utilised the app for the trip to our first destination, the famous Panama Canal! We arrived just in time to catch the last of the huge boats of the morning passing through the two closest channels near the Miraflores Locks. The amazing construction that is the Panama Canal allows these huge ships to pass directly from the Pacific Ocean to the Carribean Sea – saving them 22 days at sea, and costing them a hefty sum to pass through the 8 hours generally needed to make it from one side of the canal to the other. It has been a very profitable piece of infrastructure for Panama – particularly in the years since the Americans passed ownership and administration of the facility over to Panama and they have been able to run it at a profit! Two years ago a new section of Canal was opened which allowed even the largest boats in the world to pass through. The canal consists of a number of blocked off locks – boats pass from one lock to the next and gravity is used to allow water to flow from one lock into the next allowing the ships to change water depth from one ocean to the other. Onsite, they also have a museum which spouts the history of the canal from a very biased perspective. For example, there is no mention of the thousands of people who died in the construction of the canal, nor of the environmental impact that the Canal has had on the surrounding mangroves – particularly with the ships passing through and dumping their wastes into the surrounding seas. Still, overall, it appears that the canal has been an economic boon for the people of Panama and that the people are very proud of what their country has accomplished over the past 100 years.
Our second stop for the day was a visit to the Soberania National Park, a few kilometres down the road. We had thought it would be a large and busy NP but when we arrived, the place was pretty run down and there didn´t appear to be any other visitors. This suited us though, and we took a nice walk on the paths through the park, we saw some toucans which was pretty cool, but no sloths unfortunately. We did see one old white guy doing yoga in his underpants by the river though! Late in the afternoon we headed back out to the main road to try and catch a bus back into Panama. Some local guys gave us a lift in the back of their ute to the main road and then we were able to catch a bus back to town.
Friday 21st September – Panama City
Our last day in Panama City today – we took a bus downtown to visit the area of the city called Panama Viejo (old Panama). This was the area where the original city of Panama was – but the city was moved to more sturdy ground in the late 1500s. There are still some remains of the original buildings with a lot of information about how the city was built and moved, in the museum on site. We were also able to climb the impressive tower which gave us great views over Panama City. Most of the site has been looted in order to build the newer parts of the city, but it was still really cool to wander around and imagine how city must once have been. In the museum there was also a great display showing how they think the city might have looked at its peak. The trip was also interesting because we passed through some pretty rough areas to get there in the south of Panama City. I hadn´t seen this type of poverty so far in Panama – they people were living in very simple run down houses and a woman on the bus told us not to get off at the stop we had planned as the area was quite dangerous. After exploring the ruins, we took a self-guided walking tour of the streets of Casco Viejo by night and then, very tired from the head of the day, we headed back to the hostel to prepare for our night bus to our next adventure in the jungle in the north of Panama.
Thursday 27th September - Panama City
We made it back into Panama City quite late last night so we had a nice relaxing morning with a delicious breakfast at a restaurant before taking an UBER out to NP Soberania a huge green space practically in the middle of the city. The aim of the National Park is to preserve a green corridor between the two ocean coasts of Panama, allowing wildlife and birds to migrate. The space is full of different birds animals and insects – we saw a sloth in a tree right outside the park office! Regan and I took the walking track through the tropical forest to the miradors which gave great views over the city all the way out to the Miraflores locks and the huge container ships waiting to pass through the Panama Canal. It was a beautiful walk and a great way to spend our last morning in Panama. In the afternoon we were off to the airport for our flight to Cartagena, Colombia.