Essentially we had one full day left in Panama City. There’s quite a bit to do so it in order to see as much as possible, it was an early start. We headed down to the seafront, with its landscaped gardens and promenade, for the obligatory group photo next to the Panama sign. He you also get a nice view along the coast to the modern section of the city. There are plenty of skyscrapers located here, and with its waterfront setting, this area resembles somewhere like Miami. Many of these buildings are connected to the financial and insurance industries, although my blog legal department has advised me not to mention rumours about money being laundered here!
Next we walked up Ancon Hill, the highest point in the city, and some nice panoramic views. Jorge seemed to get a bit stressed when half the group managed to get temporarily lost walking down. Near the hill is a causeway that connects the islands in the bay that were made if the rubble resulting from digging out the Panama Canal. This area mostly consists of high scale homes, glitzy hotels and fancy restaurants. Frank Gehry’s first building in Latin America, the Biomuseo, is also located here. I like to take photos of Gehry buildings and have visited a fair few during the past year. However this one wasn’t easily accessible on foot and I only have a long distance photo that doesn’t look great due to excessive zooming. We continued onward to The Bridge of the Americas. This was the original bridge used to cross the canal and doesn’t look too dissimilar to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Although a newer bridge has replaced it as the major crossing over the canal, The Bridge of the Americas remains an endearing symbol of Panama City.
To get to the old town area of Casco Viejo you need to pass through one of the poorest areas of Panama City. This area was heavily bombarded during the US invasion in 1989 to remove General Noriega (who coincidentally only died a couple of weeks ago) and still looks in disrepair today. It’s quite sad to see such a sight in a country who gains revenues in the billions of dollars from the Panama Canal and in a city where the financial services are coining it in. Casco Viejo is full of beautiful colonial architectures, grandiose churches and cobbled squares. Until a couple of decades ago it was also run-down and largely derelict. Gentrification has made it very much a desirable place to be. Casco Viejo is understandably popular with tourists and is extremely pleasant to stroll around.
For lunch today I had a dry piece of chicken, a few undercooked chips (to a point of almost being raw), salad (a bit of lettuce and 1/8 of a tomato) and a can of Sprite. This cost $11. It dawned on me that in both Costa Rica and Panama, the food has not only been expensive but largely of average quality at best. As Central America isn’t far from the great culinary nation of Mexico, I was hoping that maybe some of their influence may have rubbed off down here.
If we was on Family Fortunes, I’d say that the five things Panama was most famous for are: 5) Baseball 4) The Panama Papers 3) Roberto Duran and 2) Manuel Noriega. The top answer by a mile would surely be the Panama Canal. This afternoon we finished off by stopping off at the visitors centre next to the Miraflores Locks. Inside there’s a documentary screening and exhibition looking back at the history of the canal. As we arrived, a huge container ship was in the process of passing through the locks. This required rushing to the ticket office and running up to the viewing platform in order to view this engineering marvel from close-up. Apparently the last time Jorge took a tour group here they waited for two hours and no ships passed through. Today we were lucky. As well as the container ship, two other vessels passed through. Watching vessels maneuvering the incredibly tight locks and then be moved up and down is a sight to behold. Since the visit I’ve seen some great time-lapse videos on YouTube. The documentary screening and museum exhibits are also great, although it would have been nice to see more recognition given to the 5,000 people who died during the construction of this amazing innovation.
It was our last night in Panama City and I stayed out until a respectable 1.40am, eventually having enough of some awful Panamanian R&B and even worse karaoke!