Sunday, 26 December 2010

Panama City

*spoiler alert: we didn’t visit the famous canal*
Since we are running quite late in keeping the posts up-to-date (and we are receiving some complains), I would summarize the trip to Panama City in the following way:
  • A 6 hour over night freezing cold bus ride from hell, without a reclining chair.
  • Beautiful Casco Viejo with colonial buildings.
  • Trip to old panama city ruins under rain.
  • Tentative trip to the canal, spoiled by traffic jams due to the love of Panamanians for their mothers. 
So, we left Bocas del Toro in direction to David, where we thought about spending the night. The bus driver resembled very much Hugo Chaves but I am almost sure it wasn't  him (maybe it was..).
The bus struggled with the uphill most of the time, with a maximum speed around 20 kmph, it was packed full but we were lucky with seats next to the driver that allowed us to see very well the landscape.

We decided get a night bus directly to Panama City from David, because we were anyway arriving in David quite late and it would save us the search and cost for a place to stay, while we should anyway be allowed to have some rest during the trip. We managed to get our tickets and after some fried chicken dinner on an open air restaurant with a well-used jukebox, we embarked on the bus.

After 10 minutes trying to lean back my seat in every possible way (first the advised one, then the forced method and finally using various hacks..), I realized that my seat was the only one not working and that I would have to spend the next 6 hours sleeping in a vertical chair through bumpy roads. But that was not the only problem, by the end with my fight with the chair, I was feeling very cold.  Reason: The air conditioning was streaming directly on my head and the temperature was not more than 10 degrees.

Luckily for me, my sweet Helena decided to share the pain, (actually she *shared* more than me), at one moment she even decided to seat on the floor in the corridor at the front of the bus, where it was a little less cold, and a girl took pity of Helena and offered her a blanket, making the last two hours a little more bearable, but anyways we decided to nickname this as: 'Bus ride from hell #1'.
Conclusion: We arrived in Panama City completely chilled, without much sleep at 5 in the morning and without a place to stay.

After a stop in a internet cafe, and a few phone calls we realized that the best places were fully booked and that we had to stay on a waiting list until 11 in the morning before knowing if we had a room.

We decided anyway to walk to one of our preferred hostels hoping that someone would quit their reservation, allowing us to get a room.



The people from the hostel were really nice, they showed us a place where we could leave our stuff while waiting, they offered breakfast (coffee, pancakes and bananas), and some time later we had already one shared room assigned for us.
 (Indigenous Kuna woman under the umbrella hiding from the camera, only realized that later, oops.)
The Hostel was placed in Casco Viejo, kind of the 'old town' of Panama city (since the real old town of Panama city is just old ruins and kept as a memorial after being burned down by pirates).

Casco Viejo is very beautiful, a mix of renovated and decaying buildings of colonial style. We made our way through the little streets and squares, and at night it felt even more authentic when locals put their chairs on the streets holding theirs beers, and enjoying the music that was playing loudly from inside their homes.
The next day started a bit late, motivated by the rain that was pouring down outside, and also by indecisions on our planning on how to get from Panama to Colombia. We finally made it out, but stayed in the Casco Viejo area and enjoyed the sunset over the sea with some nice views of the new districts. In all,a good day to recover some energy.

Next day, the rain seemed to have given us a break and we made our way to visit the ruins of the Old Panama Viejo. We managed to make our way to an old ruined church just before it started raining again. We occupied our time making crazy faces to the camera, and realized after one hour under shelter that the rain was not going to give us a break anytime soon.
We decided to move on to visit the Canal, and as almost every bus in town has to pass through the main bus terminal, we also had to go there.

Buses in Panama are like moving art, outside they are heavily decorated with paintings of whatever crazy idea they want to pass on, inside it feels like a cabaret where loud reaggeaton beats come from powerful sound systems, moreover bus drivers must have all PhDs in Paris-Dakar rally.
It was like chaos, inside the terminal endless queues of people waiting for their bus. The shopping center next door where we had lunch was also going crazy, where people seemed to have gone wild buying stuff. Something was going on..and Christmas was still more than 15 days away…
After queuing and waiting for 1 hour for a bus that would take us to see the Canal, we decided to quit as it was getting dark, and took another hour just to get a bus out of the terminal.

But what was going on with this city? was it the heavy rain? And what about the thousands of people buying furiously next door?
We later learned that the 8th of December is Mothers day in Panama (a National Holiday), and that tradition is for people to have a family reunion and to give their mothers a gift!

We also learned that the canal had been closed because of the heavy rain, where the water levels reached record limits. So we didn't miss much.

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