AND THE REST OF PANAMA CITY!

Let’s go to the most famous part of Panama City, all of Panama for that matter, the Panama Canal. Right on the edge of Panama City is the Miraflores Locks. Not golden locks on a young child’s head, not the locks that keep you safe at night, but one set of 3 locks that make up the Panama Canal.

We bused to the entrance to the locks and then hiked the 20 minutes to where you can actually view them. We entered the building, after paying a fee of course (the tens of thousands they charge the huge ships to go through is not enough to keep the canal running I guess), then high tailed it up to the 4th floor outdoor viewing area. I have to say it is impressive, the gargantuan size ships squeezing through a little channel with inches to spare on each side is quite the scene.

And who knew the oceans on each side of Panama and the Continental Divide were of different heights, only 8 inches, but I guess a big deal in the world of water passage ways. Although it looks much more than 8 inches to me (that is what she said)!

This is how I saw it, like good little ships they line up to get into the canal, and when one is next in line a big “I think I can” tug boat helps to guide them into the narrow locks. Then train-like cars on tracks along both sides of the channel are hooked up to the boat in front and in back with cables to guide the boat the rest of the way. Of course the water is set at the right level in the first lock (a lock is the area between each set of the huge gates that help control the water levels) before the whole process begins. The boat gets all the way in to the first lock, and then they close the gate behind the ship, lowering or increasing the level of the water as needed. When the second lock is at the same level to the first lock, the gate is opened and the large ship is guided through. The process happens again, when the water is at the same level to the ocean, the lock is opened and off they go to merchant marine whether it is in the Caribbean Sea or the Pacific Ocean.

I know I make it all sound so simple, but it is really a rather amazing thing, and of course, my husband, the engineer was amazed considering when all of it was constructed. The history behind the Canal is pretty cool too. Here is my brief Wikipedia overview of it all.

History of the Panama Canal in Five Easy Steps
1) In the 16th Century Spain wanted a faster route to transport the gold they were pillaging from Peru, Ecuador and Asia, but they dropped the idea by 1534. I guess they had enough gold, the thieving so and sos.
2) It was not until 1880 when the New French Canal Company arrived led by Ferdinand Marie de Lesseps who built the Suez Canal did the idea move forward. They were going with the same sea level concept that worked for Lesseps at Suez. Work was performed from 1881-1888, but due to tropical diseases and other problems killing off 22,000 workers, and the insufficient appreciation of the engineering difficulties the French failed by 1889. Maybe the French should have stuck to chocolate croissants and wine.
3) After the United States made a small attempt at a canal through Nicaragua, and then faced the tiny little task of talking Panama into freeing itself from the Columbians, the Americans stepped in. The Maritime Canal Company took over the French property in 1904.
4) The Spanish tried and failed, the French tried and failed, and the Americans were not going to be strike three. They had to make sense of the project and overcome the barriers of dealing with disease, living conditions, and the hardest of all, the Continental Divide. Solving this big barrier was done by excavating the Gaillard Cut. Next came the dams, all four of them. Finally, the locks were completed and the first ship sailed through on August 15, 1914. Victory was ours! In your face France and Spain!
5) The U.S. controlled the canal for 63 years and on September 7th, 1977, President Jimmy Carter signed over control of the canal to Panama.

Click Below on the Photo for the Panama Canal Album:

Panama Canal – March 2009

Previously, we had heard about this great Seafood Marketplace, so it was finally for us to see for ourselves, more like taste it for ourselves. We walked through Casco Viejo, then through a waterfront industrial rough neighborhood to get there, but it was all worth it.

The Market is in this big bustling warehouse with all sorts of seafood vendors hawking their products. The best thing was that some vendors were selling ceviche in little cups. They had maybe 8 different types of it, but we were only able to try two since we needed to save room for lunch upstairs in the mezzanine restaurant that overlooks the market. Before we headed for lunch, and while we enjoyed our appetizer, we took a walk and gander around the marketplace. So many different kinds of fish, along with squid, octopus, crab, and clams. We had to wait for a seat, as it is very popular with locals and travelers alike. Once we found a table we ordered a shrimp dish and a grilled fish dish, both delish! We took our time, taking in the views of the modern city skyline from one side and the hustle and bustle of the fish market from the other as well as looking at the heaping plates of seafood melodies others were ordering! On our way back out through the fish market we saw the night cat relaxing on the stairs, before for a good night of work or, uh, eating!

We stumbled out onto the main street with full bellies. We needed to catch a bus to Panama Viejo. We were like locals, jumping on the bus as it was still moving. I think we surprised the “Hawker” who stands at the door to take money. Safely on the bus without any bodily damage we were on our way to the Original location of Panama City. I told you in detail of Casco Viejo, well, Panama Viejo is even older. That darned Pirate Henry Morgan (who we’ve been following the tracks of since September during our east coast travels) pillaged the city in 1671 and left it in ruins. Instead of rebuilding, the good people of Panama City up and moved a few miles away to a more defensible location, now called Casco Viejo. The ruins still stand. We went to the museum first. This was the second museum we had visited in Panama and I have to say they are interesting, more words than objects, which may not be fun for some (like me). But if you took the time to read an entire history book of Panama printed on the walls of the museums, I am sure you would find it all very interesting! Thank goodness we did not have a lot of time for this museum before it closed so we took a quick look-see and then hit the mile of Ruins walk.

The city was set along the coast line, so between the rubble of rocks, some still in some formation of walls or buildings even, and the view of the ocean we had a nice walk. It ended at the once tallest building in Panama city, a 4 story tower and an overpriced arts market.

On the way back we decided to walk around the downtown high rise building area. It was not such a great idea because they are doing tons of construction and the area was just not set up for strolling around yet. We did walk on over to Calle Uraguay to check out the scene there, we were hoping for at least a little bit of a scene because it was St. Patrick’s Day. Calle Uraguay has many bars, restaurants and discos, so we thought we were in the right place. Before we hit any bars in search of green beers, we stopped by Waffles and Crepes to have dinner. With our bellies full once again we were off. On the way to dinner we had seen an English pub, so we headed back. To our surprise, two men were painting the outside of the pub and told us the place did not open until 6pm. I was aghast and explained to them it was Dia de Santo Patrick for crying out loud! That did not move them, so we went to Habibi’s, a Middle Eastern place. Although I love that name, if I recall right from my time in Egypt, it means My Love. The Middle East is not known for beer, much less green beer, but we did have one of their overpriced $3.00 beers, and then headed on our way.

But do not worry, because to our surprise 4 days later after returning from some islands, we found a St. Patrick’s Day party with green hats, beads, beers and fire jugglers! So all is well with my Irishness.

Click on the photo below to see our Panama City Album:

Panama City – Fish Market & Panama Viejo – March 2009

We were not far from the Casinos, so we decided to check them out. Woo Hooo…craps baby! I won $300.00 in Vegas, Jim won $200.00 in Atlantic City, we needed to keep the dice rolling. Well, we wanted to, but just like celebrating St. Patrick’s Day did not happen, neither did playing craps. We went to one casino and they did not have any craps tables. Then we went to the next and they had two tables, but the tables were closed. We asked when they would open the tables and were told a half hour. So, I played a little roulette, was up, but then got back down. I stopped with my whimpy little $10 loss. Then Jim started to play Black Jack, he was up, then down and then got back up again, just like James Brown! It was going on past an hour and still no open craps table, we took that as a sign NOT to play, and headed out $14 lighter in the pockets. Well, I did come out with something I did not have before, a photo in my mind of two Kuna women playing a slot machine together. Their colorful outfits blended in with the lights and flash of the casino floor, but the idea that they are so traditional in their dress and have no problem playing the slots is rather amusing to me!

After the long day on the town, we headed back to our hotel and I thought the plan was to sack out for the night, but Jim just had to go to Los Banos Publicos to check out the live music. I wanted to as well, but I was beat, hot and beat some more. He left around 9:30pm and I read, falling asleep early I am sure. I woke to Jim coming home just before 1:00 am with two pieces of art in hand and stories of the artist, the owner of the Los Banos Publicos and the crappy band he waited over 3 hours to hear! A good day, but not a day for things coming together right. You’ve got to roll with the Central America slow flow.

Since I mentioned the art Jim bought, I have to mention more about the art we saw around Panama City. Now this is not art found in museums or high end galleries, even though it can be found. It is street, bus and floor art, and some of the best I have seen!

Going back to casinos, I have always loved the whacky carpet they have, but have your ever seen whacky but great tile designs? Well, I have and they are all very old and on the floors of the very old buildings in Casco Viejo. I would say the design of the floor tiles is several steps up from most casino carpeting, but definitely more decorative than the average American kitchen or bathroom.

Looking up from the floors, something you can not miss when walking the streets of Panama is their brightly painted buses. I am not just talking a whole bus painted with 3 colors, I am talking about air brushed works of art. You can see anything from Jesus to popular soap operas to cartoon characters on the sides, fronts and backs of buses. Designs, scenery and words decoratively melded together to make moving works of art. It really does make riding a hot old American school bus with seats made for 8 year old children so much more fun!

And last but not least, what you see from those small bus seats winding their way through the neighborhoods of Panama City is some great graffiti. I did not see much tagging, but did see great graffiti art on the sides of Casco Viejo’s crumbing old buildings, inside and out.

Click the Below Photo for the Art Album:

Panama City Art – March 2009
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~ by HenderBalz on April 13, 2009.

One Response to “AND THE REST OF PANAMA CITY!”

  1. That is pretty interesting. but any manmade construction that links two oceans will be. liked the pictures too

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