Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Panama (February 2017)

Our flight to Panama, left Charlotte on February 7. This is the first time we have ever cashed in credit card points for a flight. The only problem with this: the tickets were not up-gradable, so we were stuck in basic economy. For a 4-hour flight, it wasn't a real problem.

Our hotel reservation at the Hyatt Place Panama City/Downtown, were made through We arrived there about 11:30 PM and immediately went to bed.

The view from our room that greeted us the first morning.

February 8 (Wednesday)

For our first full day here in Panama City we did what we usually do when we get to a new place - we walk around, exploring, until we exhausted ourselves.

After a good breakfast at the hotel, we started walking toward the waterfront, with Casco Viejo (old quarter), our intended destination. Along the way, we got a great view of some interesting building, the water front and a great view of the city.

Iglesia del Carmen (just around the block from the hotel)

A pretty apartment building

The owner of this home appears to have some money

A small sampling of the buildings we passed

Interesting knife-edge

Most of our walk was along this promenade. Note the lack of shade!

The tide was out, so some boats were sitting in the mud

These boats are not going anywhere until the tide comes in

Not exactly high and dry

looking back at the skyline

Nice cat sculpture

As we approached Casco Viejo, we passed the fish market, went through a poor area (one of many) and then arrived in this UNESCO protected neighborhood.

Since we had left the hotel without water, our first stop was at the coffee shop, Casa Sucre, for an iced tea and a bottle of water.

Next on our agenda was Independence Square, celebrating Panama's independence from Columbia. However, between us and the square was the government palace that was blocked to through traffic (at least, cars). We took another route where we enjoyed some other sites. There are many building in this area that are being renovated, or at least, propped up. The streets are narrow, with lots of traffic congestion (although we did get a few photos without cars).

Iglesia San Francisco De Asis

Interior of Iglesia San Francisco De Asis
Plaza Tomas Herrera

A hotel on the Plaza

A reasonable fixer-upper

Yeah, right!!

We finally made it to the Plaza De La Independencia. The Panama Canal Museum, located on the square. "The current building dates from 1874 and served originally as the headquarters of both the French and U.S. companies engaged in the construction of the canal." It was an interesting museum but only the exhibits on the first floor had English captions. We made up the stories ourselves to the second and third floor.

Museo del Canal Interoceanico de Panama
We were hungry and we had passed a brew pub on our way into this area, and it was recommended in the Lonely Planet guide to Panama. Therefore, that was out next stop - La Rana Dorada. We were greeted with a flight of their beers: Pat chose the IPA, while I picked the Black IPA. Both were good and we had a pizza to go with our beers. While there, we met some tourists from British Columbia.

Our taster - the Black IA was in addition to their regular four beers.
This place only serves their beers which were all very good.

Good beer

After lunch, we decided to try for our first Panama geocache, located on canal causeway and started walking another 1.6 miles. Unfortunately, the heat finally got to us, so we sat down in the shade of the football stadium and summoned an Uber to take us back to the hotel, where we took a 2 hour nap.

Dinner was at La Posta for a really good dinner. We both had the local fish, Corvina (sea-bass), each prepared differently. We recommend this restaurant.

February 9 (Thursday)

Today our main goal was the BioMuseo, housed in a building designed by Frank Gehry. It is located on the causeway near the entrance to the Panama Canal. (Note: after yesterday's long, hot walk, we decided to take an Uber, and having the app on our mobiles, makes it very easy. Local cabs are so much more expensive - 2-4 times more so.)

The BioMuseo

What a design

The model of what they are developing on the grounds

A display showing species and how they are endangered

Megalodon Teeth

A model of a Megalodon jaw (I could easily stand in there)

When we were done visiting the museum, we decide we would search for the 2 nearby geocaches along the causeway. The first was 1/2 mile from the museum, near a monument to Omar Torrijos, the general who signed treaty with President Carter to return the Canal to Panama. Got the cache, our first in Panama!

The path along the causeway

Omar Torrijos' Monument

Nearby the monument were several abandoned buildings (in general, a very run-down area, and not somewhere I would want to be at night). We love collecting photos of graffiti.

After getting the geocache and taking photos of graffiti, it was time for lunch. We continued on to the Balboa Yacht Club, where we had lunch.

Not my visualization of a yacht club

Having lunch at the club

After lunch, we continued a short walk to where there was supposed to be another geocache. We were unsuccessful.

Took an Uber back to hotel for a short rest, then began exploring area near hotel, looking for a couple of brew pubs. First one, Animal something, was a bust. The next one, Istmo Brew Pub, was not open for at least another hour. Once we knew it would be open, we returned to brew pub for not so good beer and a very dry burger. We would not recommend this pub.

February 10 (Friday)

Going to Tabogo Island on catamaran out of Balboa Yacht Club. Of course, we went by Uber for $10 (cab wanted $25). Got there just as boat had begun loading. To get to the island we had to pass many ships waiting their turn to pass through the Canal. The ride to the island took about 1/2 hour.

Arrived at the dock, looking at the only village, San Pedro, on the island
When we docked, the tide was out

While the tide is out, there is beach out to a small island

Pat enjoying the beach, collecting sea glass (no shells)

Looking back toward Panama City

Walked on beach, out to the small area at the end of the beach, while Pat looked for shells and sea glass.

We then left the beach and walked into/through the village of San Pedro. There is not much to the place, but there are some pretty homes and lots of colorful flowers. We also stopped at the church, Iglesia San Pedro, the second oldest church in the Western Hemisphere.

Had lunch at Calaloo Beach Fish Bar & Grill, a small restaurant along the main street. It was not crowded since the weekend crowds don't arrive until Saturday and Sunday. Our lunch was light and included beer (as usual).

Calaloo Beach Fish Bar & Grill

Very small restaurant

Local beer
The restaurant was being managed by a lady from Prince Edward Island, Canada.

Other sites on the island:

After lunch, the tide had come in. We had read that the small island in the pictures above, would be cut off from the main island at high tide. Of course, we headed back to that beach to see the difference.

The connecting beach is getting smaller

The beach is almost gone

Not only had the tide come in, the wind had picked up. When our boat arrived, just after 2:15 PM, we had difficulty getting back aboard. Only a few people at a time were permitted to descend to the floating dock; the rest had to wait on the pier. We were helped aboard by 2 soldiers, as well as the regular crew. I wish I had taken some photos, and perhaps a video, but we were just focusing on getting aboard, I forgot.

Took an Uber back to the hotel.

Then headed out for a walk to see some of the cool building, about a mile from the hotel.

Ate in mall restaurant. Good wine pour - didn't skimp. Malbec.

February 11 (Saturday)

Today we transited the Panama Canal - the big reason we wanted to come here. I have a great-uncle, Harvey Edwin Whyde (1880-1946), who was a craneman on one of the steam shovels at the Calubra Cut. His starting salary in July, 1907 was $185/month; raised to $194.25 in July, 1908. He resigned on July 2, 1910. This information was found at United States, Panama Canal Zone, Employment Records and Sailing lists, 1905-1937.
Harvey E. Whyde's Panama Service Record Card

We had to arrive at the Flamenco Marina by 6:30 AM. Took Uber there for about $15 (cabs wanted $35). Duh!

We had arranged our tour through Viator, a site we generally use once we have determined a destination city/country. The tour was the Panama Canal Full Transit Tour.

The boat we boarded was the Pacific Queen. It could take 298 of our closest friends. Served breakfast, lunch and afternoon snack (called in groups of about 50 by color-coded wrist band). There were 2 guides on the boat: one presented commentary in Spanish and English; the other, German (because there was a large group of German-speaking visitors). The commentary was very informative.

Leaving the Flamenco Marina
The flag identifying our boat, Pacific Queen

Between the marina and the approach to the first lock, we slowed down to take on a pilot, who would be in command of the ship until we passed through the final set of locks at the northern end.

The pilot coming aboard (we never stopped moving)

In the first set of locks, the Miraflores Locks, we were joined by 3 tug boats and 3 other small boats.

The control tower on the Pacific end of the Canal 

A car carrier coming south from the Canal

The Bridge of the Americas

Approaching the first lock with some of our fellow travelers
Other boats joining us in the first lock

Two more boats

The gates have been closed and the lock begins to fill

Electric "Mules" used to guide large ships through the Canal

Culebra Cut is where my great uncle Henry Edward Whyde drove a steam engine during the construction. This portion of the Canal crosses the Continental Divide.

Entering the Calubra Cut
After passing through the Cut, we stopped at Gamboa, where many of our passengers disembarked. One of the groups to leave was the Ohio Funeral Directors (one of whom I talked to because he was wearing a Cleveland Indians cap and a Lake Erie tee shirt). Small world.

Passing a container ship (see the K-Line, Alan)

Our next point of interest was the Colon Locks, at the Atlantic end of the Canal. Here we shared the chambers with a large freighter carrying windmill blades.

Freighter with windmill blades

Car container ship entering the Colon Locks ahead of us

Entering the Colon Locks

The car container ship in the adjoining chamber

The freighter joining us

Leaving the Colon Locks

A new bridge is being built over the Canal at the Atlantic end

Once we docked in Colon, we left the Pacific Queen and boarded a bus that took us all back to to the Flamenco Marina. We then call an Uber to take us to our hotel.

February 12 (Sunday)

We had nothing scheduled for today, so we decided a visit to Panama Viejo, the site of the original Panama City. This archaeological site included a nice museum and a wonderful group of ruins. Once again we got the senior discount without asking for it.

Taking the tram out to the ruins

The Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción
(Cathedral of Our Lady of Asunción), built between 1619 and 1626

The Cathedral

Another side of the Cathedral

Another view of the Cathedral

Between the Cathedral and City Hall

Looking out of the tower

The signage was well done in Spanish and English

The tide is out on the mud flats

On leaving the ruins, we had lunch at a steak house, Los Anos Locos, although we didn't have steak, we had salads and shared a sausage appetizer. If we were going to be here longer, this is a restaurant we would return to.

Walked back to our hotel, with a stop at an ice cream shop.

Dinner at another La Rana Dorato.

February 13 (Monday)

Today we are again traveling outside Panama City, to the Anson Valley. This is another day trip scheduled through Viator: Day Trip to Anton Valley from Panama City

We were picked up at the hotel by Edwardo, our driver and guide for the day. He is from Vacamonte, a city west of Panama City. Edwardo spoke pretty good English and was most enjoyable to be around.

Driving over the Bridge of the Americas, looking toward the Miraflores Locks

Stopped at a rode side cheese store for a queso empanada. This is a stop that Eduardo makes every time he comes this way, and he does often since this the way to his village.

These were wonderful - could have eaten several more

We then continued on to a small zoo, a waterfall, a warm spring and a market in the Anson Valley.

Left the Anson Valley and headed for the beach at Santa Clara, where we had lunch and a walk on a beautiful beach. Pat very disappointed there were no shells and no sea glass.

Back to Panama City.

February 14 (Tuesday)

Happy Valentines Day! We celebrated with a hike through the Parque Natural Metropolitano. This is a nice park within Panama City and a short ride from our hotel. It was one of the highlights of our trip, as we like to take nature hikes wherever we are. We walked the 2 upper loop shown on the map.

Just outside the visitor center, and on the way to the trails, we saw 2 pygmy sloths in a nearby tree. As you can see in the photos, they were not really out in the open.

One of the interesting things we learned about the park was from signs posted on one of the trails: this park collaborates with the Cleveland Ohio Metroparks. They study birds that migrate from the Cleveland area and winter in Panama.

Migratory map

I like thid "Canal to Canal"
 And now, various photos from our hikes:

Mother and baby

This may be an abandoned ant nest (see next photo for closeup of another one)

Ant activity

The trails were cleared and make walking easy

There is actually a palliated woodpecker (probably from Cleveland)

One of the many leaf-cutter ant trails

View of Panama City from the highest point in the park

As this was once a military training facility, this has that kind of look

From the Parque, we went back to the Casco Viejo. The first thing we found was an ice cream shop, recommended in Lonely Planet. Good ice cream.

Since the tide was out, Pat wanted to walk on the beach, where she found a few more pieces of glass.

Finally found a place for lunch and a beer (Atlas for Pat; 705 for me),

Walked to a more central location in the area to make it easier to be picked up by Uber.

Back to the hotel to begin organizing to head home tomorrow.

February 15 (Wednesday)


1 comment:

  1. WOW. Not exactly what I expected but very impressive.