|Well here we are in Panama, currently in a town called Boquete,in Chiriqui province near the Costa Rica border, which we are planning to cross in the next few days, but more of that later! We spent our first few days in Panama City,
a fascinating city of many personalities!It has its financial sector, with skyscrapers
to give Manhattan a run for its money; the old town, where the crumbling facades of french built properties are slowly being renovated
so that a smart new apartment block occupied by wealthy Americans or Panameñans sits next to a run down shell taken over by squatters;
several massive churches,
as you would expect; its equivalent of Oxford Street is called Avenue Central and, like Oxford Street, is full of shops selling cheap clothing, individual
stallholders selling alarm clocks or plantain or sunglasses or iced drinks - even a man reading a novel through a loudhailer! Then two blocks away is a slum area, of which there are many. We have stayed well clear of these, which is easy as there are plenty of police about to protect the area. We found our way onto the chicken buses (used by the Panameñans to get everywhere, used to be the USA yellow school buses but now very colourfully painted) to get to the Miraflores Locks. These are the first two locks that ships pass through on their way north through the canal. We watched a few going through, and were amazed at how enormous they are and how little room there is to spare.
Apparently a ship designed to be able to transit the canal is known as a Panamax vessel, and its dimensions are very carefully calculated. We have lots more QI facts about the canal to share with you but I sense you beginning to yawn already. We spent another day actually passing through the entire canal which was really interesting.
We were on a relatively small ferry boat, and felt quite intimidated by the massive cargo ship which followed us into the lock basins.
What else can I say about Panama City? Well, the people are very gentle, polite, eager to please. They are of many ethnic origins, as descendants of the many races that came to build the canal - including french and other european, afro caribbean, and the various indigenous tribespeople. The weather has been warm to hot, but very humid. It has rained every day, but in short, heavy downpours so it doesn't really affect anything. Oh, I nearly forgot to mention that it is very very LOUD! We didn't get one good night's sleep in Panama City - there is always a car passing playing loud music - sounds more like a mobile disco, or people yelling at each other in the street - simply because they can, or children playing or doors slamming. Quite an assault on our poor english ears.
On Sunday we left Panama City and took a 7 hour bus ride to David and from there to Boquete, where we are staying two nights. This region is higher up, so it is cooler but still quite humid. Today's walk took in coffee plantations, several streams and a cow being carried up the hill - Les didn't get the hint unfortunately and I had to use my legs. We are planning to walk up Volcan Baru (the highest point in Panama) tomorrow, and camp near the top to get the early morning view of both the Atlantic and the Pacific from the same place. From there we hope to walk down and catch a bus across the border into Costa Rica. So our next update will hopefully come from Costa Rica but who knows what lies in store tomorrow?! xxx