Up & on bus to David by 8...arr & lv on bus (10:30) to Panama City-henceforth, just "Panama" which is what locals call their capital. Marianna (from Argentina) is traveling on same bus to Panama...arr 4pm. Bus station for country-wide buses is same place we get city bus to Casco Viejo, an area of old Panama City quite run down and struggling still to recover after US invasion to oust/capture Noriega. Marines pretty much demolished this part of the city. We ended up at Luna's Castle Hostel/Hotel
, nice open common areas, brkfst is do-it-yourself pancakes and tea again...nice, helpful folks and many travelers. Now looking for air flights to Cartagena, Columbia, tho we had hoped to cruise there via San Blas. As it turns out the boats going there are fewer than we thought and the time frame would no doubt put us ever more behind. Plus, Galapagos calls, ha!
Bon tried using the free Internet at the hostel to buy air tickets to Cartagena unsuccessfully - would not take our cr card. Folks here suggested we go to airline office, so a taxi the hostel trusts took us... Intending to go to watch store at a mall for Bons battery after. At the airline office we were informed that discounted tickets could only be gotten online! The taxi driver took us to nearest internet but after a fruitless hour we paid the driver the $10 we agreed upon for his hour waiting and Bon continued her attempts to pay for tickets, being met w/ denial every time. Finally, after over two more hours and numerous "chats" w/ personnel online ending in frustration Bon called VISA. They had cancelled our card! Our card # had turned up on a list submitted by a business whose records had been hacked into! VISA had set a new card to MT...they were nice enuf to supply info for us to resubmit our new cr card # but it too was rejected and VISA said they had received no auth request at all! Now Bon called airline! Luckily, there was a fellow who spoke English at the airline who was able to confirm our reservations, give us a #, and told us to go back to the office and pay...which we did, in CASH! This whole process took from 9:30am til 3:30pm...but at least we now have a confirmed flight, two stops, 9 hrs, & half price savings of over $300. YES!
"we went to the Mall ... I know, a Mall?? (See Pics)
Well, had serious shopping to do you know ... batteries & other stuff. And this is one HUGE mall!!!! Big as anything I've ever been in. Completely modern, all the FF & lots of other chains, even has a full sized carousel (yes, like with music & horses, a'la Caras Park) in the food court. I mean, this place is something else. NOTHING like this in Costa Rica that we saw or heard about ... big cinema of course ... and apparently there's another mall in the financial center that's even bigger - & more expensive. Unreal. Anyway, in this AIR CONDITIONED wonderland I got the watch batt replaced which was great (and it was working fine until just a bit ago & now doing squirrelly things ... maybe it's just the 98% humidity AND temp both today & tonight!! No exaggeration there - everyone here at the hostel is just dripping wet ... we're all taking about 16 billion cold showers to try to survive. Ha Ha! So I'm hoping it will recover when the climate becomes reasonable - or when we go to Colombia, whichever comes first!) But it didn't stop there, Tim got his butt pillow, I found a fan (important down here on the busses!), and we found a shop with a replacement spring for my little knife's scizzors (yeah, can you believe?!), a tiny LED light for Tim, and even a small compass - not as good for what I want as the REI one Tiff will send with you, but good for until then maybe (still deciding) ... oh, and a woman in one shop is searching the town for a camera battery for me - should know tomorrow a.m. AND, Tim was looking at the Panama hats ...not as good as the China one he lost for travel tho, so prob a no go on that. Maybe I can get my glasses fixed ... hmmmm ...
It occurs to me, though, as I'm writing that this is such a city of contrasts ... we're staying in the area that was, for 200 years, all of Panama City ... great colonial buildings, everything from nothing but shells of walls standing, to newly renovated ... an area in a very slow rejuvenation since early 2000's. Used to be one of the most dangerous, crime-ridden areas till folks got on the historical preservation wagon. Now not so bad. 2 good, big, & full hostels. Unesco actually made this one of their sites a few years ago which helped w/ crime clean-up I'd guess - tho taxi drivers still charge double or more to come here at night, but prob just because they can - and yet, not far from here, there are these huge, modern malls and tons of high-rise buildings. And they use the dollar for currency like El Salvadore. Sure makes it easy.
Realize I'm going on here ... but so surprised at the difference between Panama & Costa Rica. Why is everyone talking about CR so much & not here ... weird. Just interesting ..."
To the Airport Mall...found Bon's watch battery, my blow up pillow, the tiny spring that fixed Bon's Swiss Army scissors, and ...? All in all a successful day, especially since we did not know our cr card was obsolete. Being here (in Panama City) we were in a position to correct it via Tiffany and Skype thru direct contact w/ VISA when it was somewhat convenient instead of an emergency. Now also our friend Mark can bring the new card down w/ him when we meet up in Peru in June! All things seem to work out the way they are meant to...just a bit of perserverance and patience. How many times I lose my connection w/ "being-here-now" only to discover my foolishness once all works out?!
5/1 (See Separate Entry For Day Trip to Canal)
"The Canal was great!! Got there a bit before noon and didn't leave until 4 or a little after. I'm not sure what all Tim did - think he spent a good amt of time inside the visitors center with the AC (Ha Ha!), but I saw 5 big cargo ships (2 of them tankers with hazardous cargo that go VERY slowly & carefully through), 2 smallish (big ferry size) and one good sized catamaran with sailboats rafted to it on either side that went through together, and one other sailboat (32-33?) going through same time as one of the big container ships ... i.e. right in front of it. I loved it - watching the whole process, I mean, this is THE Panama Canal!! You can see them come through the upper Pedro Miguel locks and thru Lake Miraflores to the Miraflores locks where the visitors center is. Takes a long time, but what a process. Hotter than blazes out there, but worth it ... someone said it was 48C. .... that's pretty hot! especially with the humidity. But what's nice is that in between ships there's a short movie to watch and a VERY good museum to see, plus they have a restaurant, a snack bar, & 3 different viewing areas, one shaded. Now I tell you all this because it is absolutely mind boggling the difference between our visit to this canal vs. the Suez. At the Suez we almost got thrown in jail for taking a few pictures (really! 2 solid hrs. of talking as fast as I could with the policemen to convince them we really didn't need to go to the police station, we just needed to go to the BUS station! which we finally got to do, but with a police escort, flashing lights on, police buying our tickets, telling the bus driver and all other bus folks there about us, and not leaving until the bus door was closed and we were driving off!!!!). Here we came by bus, walked to the guardhouse, greeted with a smile & directions to the visitors center in English, & welcomed to Panama! then we took all the pictures we wanted to, along with all the other folks there (groups from 2 cruise liners filtered through). Just blew my mind ... 180 degree difference! The only other canal I've been to was the one on the Yangtze at that new, HUGE dam they built (still working on it when we were there), and that one we went through on the ferry in the middle of the night. So interesting to be in the boat when the locks fill and discharge. Took us several hours (3? 4? hrs. to get through.
As for CR ... yeah, I think it's just been touting the tourist horn for so long that it's created an image, or reputation, of being a wonderful tourist spot. Supposedly has tourist needs & infrastructure nailed down. Well, that may be so for the high end tourists, and high end backpackers!, who are perfectly willing to pay for being schlepped around to everything on tours, and having guides everywhere. But all that makes it not only expensive, but also very difficult for independent travellers to get to some/most of the things to see & do (no local transport avail.) So for us it wasn't much different than other CA countries in access to things, it was just very expensive. But the major thing for me that always makes or breaks a country is the people, and the Costa Ricans were no where near as nice, friendly, helpful as some others ... more in line with Hondurans and maybe Salvadoreans in San Salvadore & the south. Panamanians smile much more ..."
Took a walk around Casco Viejo and a trip to Panama Viejo. See pics.Traditional Mola InfoComparison Cartagena vs Casco Viejo Panama City & Casco Viejo InfoMore Casco Viejo Info
Today we went to the Post Office & our first box shipment home...a big relief to rid us of 'stuff', mainly heavy guidebooks. It was, as usual we have found, a learning experience...first, to locate the PO, which none of the folks at the hostel could help much with (all young people), other than show us the place it should be according to a city map. Asking how to get there, they said to take a taxi. "We´d like to go by bus" Don¨t know how, never been there.
We take off walking in the general direction and as usual, ask about every 6-8 blocks where it is. Finally, after one man says, "Only 4-5 blocks more" and we clearly see the towers to a church which is supposed to be across from it more than 1 km away we hail a taxi since we have already walked 2-3 km and are soaked in sweat. A short taxi ride and $1.50 less money we hop out and into the post office. Sorry, wrong one, we don't do packages here. You need the one that is back down the street in the direction we'd come, almost where we picked up the taxi.
Getting there and asking 2-3 more folks, finally, a lady selling drinks from her portable wagon/stand pointed it out exactly. In the actual 'office', a smallish room not much larger than a big living room, is a line of 10-12 in front of one window. Only one person helping people and we kind of guess our way thru the process, getting the wrong paper to fill out while waiting, then finally, asking the one other lady who is talking to people behind the windows she tells us we must fill out a different form - twice, seal up the box and go next door to the florest shop where they will wrap it in paper.
This done we reach the head of the line and get stamps, address the box, and the lady fills out all the info, hands us the two sheets we've filled out and says we must put on the stamps and tape the two sheets to the box. This done we wait while she finishes the next customer and returns her attention to us..."OK, listo!" Two and a half hours later.
Ya gotta love'em! What other choice do you have?