Saturday, September 30, 2017

Panama City, Panama, September 30, 2017

I started the day with a visit to the Museo Del Canal Interoceanic de Panama.  It presents the history of Panama with a more indepth history of the canal.   It was very interesting and I couldn't believe I spent 2 hours there!  Unfortunately no pictures were allowed.  

Then, I walked down along the bay to the fish market and had my first ceviche mixto  - shrimp, octopus, calamari and snapper.  Unfortunately it wasn't my favorite.  As usual they served it with soda crackers.

I kept walking along the water and decided to check out the hostel where Madventure is staying.  Unfortunately Jan wasn't there - naturally I didn't call ahead, but I had a great visit with Bob, a Canadian from Barry, Ontario who is also on the trip.  It's interesting because I contacted Bob when I was first considering an overland with Madventure and now 3 years later, we meet!  

After the hostel visit, where I wish I was staying - very quiet, very new, very clean compared to Luna's Castle which is a rocking party house - right up my alley- not!  Music in the Rustic Bar right below my room starts pumping at 8 am and finishes at 2 am.  Luckily I am a good sleeper!  Anyway, after the hostel visit I found the Hard Rock Café Hotel, then the HARLEY DAVIDSON STORE!!!  Unfortunately nothing appealed to me so....

Supper toniight is the same as last night -

Pretty sweet for about $4 Canadian!  

No pictures today because when I tried to load my camera onto my IPad, they all deleted without saving.  I didn't have many, just wish I had one of the HD Store.

I'm going to the San Blas Islands tomorrow for a 2 day, 1 night trip.  I won't have internet until I return, Monday night.  Looking forward to meeting the Kuna!

Friday, September 29, 2017

Panama Canal, Mercado des Mariscos, Casco Viejo, September 29, 2017

The beds in my dorm at Luna's Castle are sort of like capsule beds in Japan-

We each have our own light and a curtain we can pull for privacy but unfortunately no plug in.  The curtains work really well to keep out the cold - I decided to book a room with AC after hearing about the horrendous heat and humidity in Panama.  It rains often so how could it be any different?  The AC in our room is excellent and luckily I have a couple of blankets.  Also, when I pull the curtain closed, my bed becomes a private room of my own.

After an included breakfast of pancakes, I started out for Miraflores to see the canal.  It was pouring but fortunately after about 20 minutes it stopped, at least enough to get going.  It is possible to go with Uber to the canal - two girls did it yesterday for $6 US each way, but I decided to check out the very new metro instead.  After a 20 minute walk down a pedestrian only very commercial street, I came to the station.  After buying a plastic, rechargeable card for $2 and adding some fare money, I was on my way.  Upon arriving at the last stop, Albrook, I crossed the pedestrian sky walk to what turned out to be the National Bus Terminal in Panama.  It's very similar to the one in San Pedro Sula, Honduras - filled with modern shops and  many many ticket kiosks to go everywhere and anywhere in Panama and Central America.  Passing through the terminal is where the local buses stop and for 25 cents, I was on my way to Miraflores.  Now, the bus leaves the carreterra and drives the kilometer or so right to the entrance of the canal - something fairly new apparently.

I bought my $15 US ticket and went straight upstairs to the viewing deck and was lucky to see 2 ships in the process of passing.  The first was in the main locks and was from Singapore.  

The lock is ready and the ship is on its way-

The ship is pulled into place-

And in about 20 minutes-

The gate is opened-

And the ship moves through-

The second ship was in the NeoPanamax which just opened in June 2016 to handle large container carriers.  The chambers are 60% longer and 40% wider-

The French were the first to begin digging the canal in 1879.  The ditch was 22 meters wide and 8 meters deep.  In 1884, there were 19,243 workers, mainly from Jamaica.  Thousands died of yellow fever and malaria. In 1903, the canal was handed over to the United States to complete and update.  It took 11 years.  Over 150 million cubic meters of concrete and steel were used in construction.  In 1977, President Jimmy Carter signed it over to Panama, effective December 31, 1999.  This would also end U.S. military presence in Panama.  By 2010, over one million vessels had crossed the Isthmus of Panama since its inauguration in 1914. 

Rates are reviewed often.  The cheapest crossing cost 36 cents paid by Richard Halliburton, a swimmer, in 1928!  Today however, it's not cheap.  Smaller ships pay $300,000 - $500,000 and large ships using the Neo Panamax pay $500,000 to $800,000.  There are 14,000 transits/year.  You do the math!  Today close to 50% of total revenues come from container ships as opposed to former days of vessels carrying corn, soy, wheat, minerals and petroleum products. 

The museum has some interesting artifacts.  The Corozol, a ladder dredge, was built in Scotland and started working in Panama in 1912.  It had 52 buckets so it could dig more than 1000 tons of material in less than 40 minutes-

There is also a fast forward video from an actual crossing, complete with sound effects, so it seemed like I was on the ship going through the chambers-

It has a floor dedicated to the flora and fauna of the region including Owl Butterflies-

aptly named!  And beautiful blue Morphs-

The Canal is an 80 km waterway connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  It takes 8-10 hours to pass through a total of 5 locks in 3 lock complexes each with 2 lanes.  At Gatun, on the Atlantic side, ships are raised 26 meters in 2 steps.  After passing the Continental Divide, they are lowered back to sea level.  Ships entering from the Pacific at Miraflores are raised 16 meters in 2 steps.  The middle stop is called the Pedro Miguel Locks where in one step ships are raised to 26 meters-

A lock is 304.8 meters long to accommodate a 284.1 meter ship and 33.5 meters wide to accommodate 32.3 meter ships.  They are as tall as an 8 story building.  All chambers have the same dimensions and it takes 100 million litres of water to fill them.  There are 40 pairs of miter gates with a 2 meter thickness and 19 meter width.  They are 14 to 22 meters high depending where they are.  Miraflores has the highest because of tidal variation.  Each set weighs 730 tons.  

Looking south-

Looking north-

And centre - ready for a ship-

Walking back to the hostel, I had a $3 lunch from a restaurante on the street-

There was rice under the stewed chicken, under the salad and mixed in with the kidney beans!

My next stop was the fish market where I purchased supper - huge prawns and an avocado, cilantro, onion, limón and tomato for pico de Gallo.

There was a lot of fish to choose from including Red Snapper-


And octopus-

Other carne included pig skin to be deep fried for chicharrón-

And pig's feet-

The vegetables looked fabulous-

Later on, I went on a walking tour of Casco Viejo.  Reconstruction has only been happening for 4 years and is quite remarkable when I see the rubbiness to the newness.  Up until recently, Casco Viejo was run down and only poor locals lived here.  Now it's bustling with renovated hotels, restaurants,  apartments, shops and bars-

According to the Heritage Council, the outside must remain intact but the inside can be gutted-

Someday this will be beautiful.

Parts of the original wall remain-

The vendor shaves ice for the slushes-

Afterwards, I enjoyed a glass of wine on a rooftop terrace-

However, the highlight of the day was my little cowboy-

Looking forward to more exploring tomorrow!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Mexico City to Panama City, September 28, 2017

I had a great 6 hour sleep on the Aeromexico flight from Calgary to Mexico City.  I had three seats to myself and before I knew it, we were being told to prepare for landing.

Mexico City Airport is naturally a busy place but has the comforts of home:  Starbucks and 7-11!  Free wifi is available but only for a few minutes each time.

Going through security, my IPad was tested for chemicals and set off the alarm!  I haven't had it out of its case for a couple of years so the chemicals were probably dirt and filth!  Anyway, it resulted in not 1, but 2 pat downs.  They are like mini massages and so I never refuse one!

I am staying at the Luna Castle Hostel in Casco Vieja - the old city.  From the balcony-

is a nice view of the new city.  Some of the buildings rival those in Dubai-

I hope to get a better picture of this sky scraper.  It's made out of green glass and looks like a giant Jenga tower-

After getting settled in my dorm, I went walking.  Casco Viejo is either in ruins or restored.  Lots of work is being done.  Él Museo de Historian de Panama is closed and draped-

as is la Cathedral Metropolitana-

Only the walls remain-

The interior has been completely gutted and once renewed, it will look something beautiful like-


Supper was creole shrimp con ensalada-

at the Coca Cola Cafe-

More walking led me to this human elevator-

Wrought iron balconies remind me of New Orleans-

Another beautiful building -

Not sure what tomorrow will bring - probably more exploring!

P.S. -

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Central and South America - Here I come! September 27, 2017

As the days get shorter, leaves turn yellow and frost threatens, it's time for me to get out before it gets too cold and the snow starts to fly.  I am on my way to Panama City for a week and then on to Cartagena, Colombia where I will join Madventure for my third overland.  We leave Cartagena October 8 to drive down the west coast of South America to the southern tip at Ushuaia, Argentina and then up the east coast to Rio de Janeiro in time for the carnival February 9, 2018.

It was not easy leaving today.  I had the privilege of looking after Nico a couple days a week this summer and I fell in love with him.  He is so fun and cute and happy and cuddly and curious and smart and..... Just plain awesome!

He's 18 months old and will be a completely different boy when I get home in 6 months.  I'm going to miss him!  Thank goodness for FaceTime!

  Cancun, Mexico to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan,     December 31, 2023 I was up at 4:30 and walking to the bus depot by 5:30.  I wore my headlam...