Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Panama City

My hostel was pretty close to Casco Veijo a very cool part of Panama city. Lots of old buildings, neat little streets and shops.

I met a Canadian at the hostel, 1 of the ones that was in our island party, she too wanted to go check out this neighborhood so off we went. It is about a 45 minute walk from the hostel, but it was really hot out so we opted to take the bus at a cost of about 50 cents and a 20 minute ride.

I love the buses in Panama, like most Latin American countries they are old school buses (blue birds) and they are hot noisy smoke belching things. The gears grind and I am pretty sure they won't go any faster than 50km. They also have some of the most fantastic art work on them, these people take their bus graffiti very seriously. I could stand on the corner all day and just watch the buses go by (if the fumes didn't kill me after an hour or 2). There is usually a driver and a loader, he is the one that yells out what bus it is and then gets your ass on and off it as fast as he can. Tuck and roll cause sometimes they are not at a complete stop when you get off. They take great pride in their buses and when some of them caught me taking pictures of them they would give me a thumbs up and a huge smile. Sadly this era will be coming to an end soon, one of the drivers told us that the city is buying new buses that are better for the environment and they will be taking the school buses off the road. Good for the environment, I'm all for clean air but still sad, an entire art form will be lost. Hopefully they will preserve some of them and display them somewhere.

Okay back to Casco Veijo. We kind of just randomly wandered the streets, neither of us remembered to bring a map along. Lots of different architecture but pretty much all of the buildings have the street balconies. If I ever decide to grow up and become a home owner my house has to have cool balconies and a turret, and be over 100 years old with lots and lots of wood and hidden rooms and courtyards and a moat would be nice with some cannons. Guess I should get a real estate agent working on it now.

Lots of the buildings are in disrepair and many of them have squatters living in them. They don't seem to have electricity so I'm assuming water and sewer are also not hooked up. This is changing, lots of resto's going on in large part due to the expat community, they love this area and are willing to pay large dollars to live there. I went by a real estate office and to rent a 1 bedroom apartment was in the $1200.00 US a month range. Apartments were selling for $250,000 + and entire buildings (that were not in good shape and would need some serious TLC) were going for over $650,000 US. The area is full of court yards and gardens as well as many many churches. It is listed as one of the most romantic areas of the city. Made me question going with Canadian girl, I think we were both thinking we should have picked up a little man something at the hostel for this trip. Sitting on the patio of a cafe for a few hours sucking back latte's is a great way to waste away part of the day.

There are a few vendors selling jewelry along one of the roads, the vendors are mostly Kuna folk. They were run out of Panama by the Spanish and settled in the San Blas islands. The Kuna are very little people, I don't think I met one that was over 5 feet tall. I did purchase a small macrame bracelet off them for $1.00

On the way back to the hostel from Casco Viejo there is a very large street market. It actually goes pretty much all the way back to the hostel. Bargains, bargains bargains, tops and shirts for $1.00, cheap jeans lots of fruits and juices, everything a broke backpacker could wish for. I had a few things I needed on my list. A long sleeved light shirt as I had gotten a little too much sun on the island adventure and the sun screen was not enough protection. And my $5.00 3 year old mexican sun glasses went missing in the surf at Manuel Noriega house. Forgot they were on top of my head when I submerged. Ah well, they lasted a long time and made it through 9 countries. So long old friend I will miss you. I found a India shop were I got a nice light over the head tunic for the large sum of $3.00 and I found some sun glass for another $3.00. I was pretty proud of myself and celebrated by purchasing some fruit to snack on for the rest of the walk back. For people that know me fruit is not in my usual food groups, however chocolate is but it is very hard to get chocolate in hot places that has not melted and been re-refrigerated and does not taste yucky. So when traveling I eat fruit, not as good but a much healthier choice. I did find some chocolate in Cartagena that was very good so I did binge there and made up for lost time.

One of my main reasons for going to Panama was to see the canal. I never did, some folks at the hostel went to the milford locks, an $8.00 cab ride each way and another $8.00 to get in they all said it was okay but watch it on line. Apparently the museum has a not very correct but sunny story about the building of the canal. I would have liked to have gone to see the Gatun Locks but the tours from the hostel ran on Tuesdays and Thursdays ($35.00 US). I arrived on the Thursday and I left at 5am on the Tuesday so just bad timing. So watch the live web came version on the link above and we will all have seen how it works without having to pay for it and stand around for 2+ hours as that is the minimum of how long it takes to go from one to the other. When we did the boat trip to the island I did see all the boats waiting to go through, there were at least 25 of them just in that 1 part of the harbor.

I also did not make it to the downtown section of the city where the hi rises are or to the old city ruins. The ruins because it was just too hot, the last thing I wanted to do was wander around some broken stones where there was no shade. So I did miss some stuff but when you are on a budget and have time constraints you do what you can, Panama is not a cheap country and you pay to play here. When you are on the road for 3 months sometimes you just want a day of doing nothing. With traveling and sight seeing you just can't keep it up every day, then it wouldn't be fun it would be more like work. There are some days all I want to do is grab a beer and go sit in the local park and people watch, makes for a boring blog entry but it's an awesome way to spend the day. At night I am pretty happy to sit around the hostels drinking with my fellow travelers rather then going to the bars, it's more like a house party every night and you don't have to shower and look pretty cause we have all seen and smelt each other at our worst :-)

My time constraint on this leg of my travels was because I had a boat to catch. You can't get to Columbia from Panama overland, well you can but there are no roads and lots of people with guns hiding in the bush and other people with guns hunting them and large shipments of cocaine going through so not a good idea (so says my Czech friend V). I had booked my boat before leaving Vancouver and it was leaving the San Blas Islands on March 16th so I had to leave the hostel at 5am to catch my jeep that would take me there.

Next stop, the sailing ship Stahlratte (steel rat) and a 3 day tour, a 3 day tour.

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