Up to now I’ve avoided big cities if at all possible due to heavy traffic and navigation issues. In fact, if there was a way to avoid Panama City I would have taken it. What a mistake that would have been.
The approach to Panama city was memorable. The suburban buildup started about thirty minutes out, but puzzlingly disappeared the last few miles before the city. The road was surrounded by thick jungle on both sides with no buildings to be seen. Then, I rounded a bend and the Bridge Of The Americas, which spans the Panama Canal, loomed ahead of me.
What a thrill it was crossing this magnificent bridge. I knew getting to the bridge was an important milestone on the trip – more or less the halfway point of the trip – but I was not expecting such a welling up of euphoria as I crossed the bridge. Going over the highest point of the bridge the astounding skyline of the city appeared before me. After over seven thousand miles and so many months of villages and small towns, arriving at this metropolis was exhilarating.
Maybe I was a bit too thrilled. As I was going over the bridge I pulled into the slow lane so I could get a good gawk at the ships passing through the canal below. Well, the car ahead of me had the same idea and slowed down to stare at the ships also. I looked back at the road just in time to swerve and avoid him. No matter, the elation of being here was just too overpowering to worry about minor things like traffic hazards.
I made my way in to the old part of the city, found a cheap hotel and settled in for a couple of days. The old city was part yuppified, part falling down and had a different atmosphere than anywhere else I’d been so far. It was a mix of Latin American, European and Asian – a true crossroads of the world.
I spent a couple of days wandering the city, taking in all the sights
I met fellow travellers, Kary and Omar from Mexico who are also traveling to Argentina in their cool VW Combi. The website is here. They are financing their trip as they go, so if you need any graphic design work done, drop them an email!. See you guys on the road again sometime.
I met up with my biker friends from Santa Catalina and we went to visit Richard Harwood and Lupe at their apartment, which had spectacular views over the city. Richard and Lupe have travelled the world on motorbikes, so much tales were swapped and much wine was consumed. Thanks again for the hospitality!
The buses in Panama City have fantastic paint schemes, and the drivers are very proud of them. One of them even stopped in the street when he saw me preparing to take a photo.
Of course, a visit to the Canal is almost mandatory so off I went one afternoon to check it out. The Miraflores locks visitor center is only fifteen miles from the city center. The viewing platforms were mobbed, but it was a stunning sight to see these large ships pass so close by. The sequence below shows a ship passing through the canal from the Caribbean to the Pacific. The price to sail your ship through? Oh, just a quarter of a million dollars (based on tonnage and number of containers).