Up at 7:00 then down to breakfast – same stuff as Sunday but quiche instead of omelets. Then back up to prepare for the day. We were supposed to meet the guide at 8:40 but got a call at 8:20 that he was waiting. We threw our stuff together and zoomed down to the lobby. Jeff was our guide and Julie (Canada) and Vivian (Texas) were the others on the tour.
Driving through the city we went by the old US military base and a large container terminal. They unload some cargo from some ships so they can get through the canal, then transport then by train and reload on the Atlantic side.
We arrived at the Miraflores lock and went through a small museum. Some nice exhibits on the French attempt at a sea level canal as well as the American successful effort. One quite interesting exhibit was a speeded up view of a cargo ship going through the canal. There were three screens and when you stood between them you felt like the ship was rocking. Interesting illusion.
Then out onto the observation deck to look down on the lock and canal. The lock – two gates on the Atlantic side and one on the Pacific – was huge. Not much was going on except routine stuff but in the background… Frantic activity with trucks and shovels racing around constructing the new canal – or extension as they call it. It will be a separate channel and will hold ships 60% longer and 40% wider than the current canal. Average cost for a ship to use the canal – about $200,000. No ships went through while we were there.
We then traveled to the largest hill near the mouth of the canal. It was a Spanish fortress and later the US military command center for the Southern Pacific when it was the “Canal Zone.” It was now the scene of upscale houses (left over from the US military) and government buildings. The top held the largest Panamanian flag in the country and a small park.
The view from the hill were quite spectacular. On one side you could see the canal and the extent of the container storage yard, the bridge of the Americas, the canal, and the jungle beyond. There was a very talkative souvenir vendor who explained the fabric Molas – some geometric shapes were very traditional and the ones of birds and animals were made for tourists. Some of the baskets of the local groups were so tightly woven that they could be used to transport water…
On the other side of the hill we had a grand view of the “Two Panama Cities.” The new city has all been constructed in the last 25 to 30 years and is filled with sky scrapers (most of which were pretty vacant) and the “Old Town” that partly dates from the Spanish period. The government is constructing a road around the old town in the ocean so that people can travel from the new city to a soon to be constructed convention center. Quite controversial as it destroys the view of the water and the look of the town.
We then headed out a long causeway to Amador Island – which isn’t since it’s connected by the causeway, but we had a nice lunch of fresh fish with Creole spices. Very flaky and moist. Also fried yucca and coconut rice. A nice relaxing lunch with a great view of the city.
Back on the road we went to look at parts of the old town. Much of it is still a slum but it is becoming gentrified. Some of the buildings have been redone to their former splendor. Indeed, it is a UNESCO world heritage site so they cannot change the outside appearance of the buildings. Lots of shops and restaurants. We stopped in one very nice shop and took a break at a coffee shop. Several very old Spanish buildings and churches. Beautiful narrow streets (and cars that drive them are pretty big).
Also evidence of great wealth as well as some remnants of the US invasion – one building still has not been repaired since it was bombed in 1989. Also quite a startling site to see that the tide was out and the whole area that was water from the hill earlier was now a large mud flat. Also the eye sore of the new road. On the plus side it is planned to have a bike and walkway. Planned is a word used very loosely in Panama according to the guide.
On our way to take a look at our guides new apartment (he’s to move in today or tomorrow) we passed a man with some reptiles. Nice iguanas and a two foot boa. Minna let us put the boa around her neck. Quite fun! The guide’s apartment was very nice – very modern.
Finally back to the hotel. We said bye to the folks then walked around the hotel area in the daylight for a change. Lots more stuff! We bought a few things but mostly just looked. It was rush hour so things were very crowded. We saw a McDonalds stand that only sold ice cream, plus several street vendors and an old guy “playing” a violin. Vibrant place but lots of construction – they’re building an underground but the sidewalks have holes and open grates… We got back to the room then went up to the roof so I could work on my classes and Minna could do some reading. It took quite a while.
Around 9:00 we went out looking for dinner and went to a place – “Beirut” – recommended by the desk clerk. Had a chicken and mushroom pizza and a mojito. Lots of folks smoking hookas made for an interesting meal. We finally got back to the room at 11:00 after a long day.