I woke up in a sweat in my San Jose hostel room and it certainly wasn’t because it was hot! Far from it as it was cold at night but I awoke and realised I had booked the wrong bus and thankfully was able to change it to the one an hour earlier.
Business Class travel to Panama City from San Jose was nice but who really needs such comfort just for a flight that falls under an hours travel time! From one extreme to the other as I then took a local chicken bus from the road opposite the Airport to Casco Viejo. Nearly 40km of travel, all for an incredible $0.25!
I checked into a hostel for $11 a night (dorm room) and went out for a wander around the old town which was awash with half-crumbling white coloured colonial buildings and cobbled streets across the water from the high rise buildings of the city which I know I hadn’t expected to see when when I saw a programme on the place a few months prior to my trip.
Cafe Coca Cola may have a fairly cr*ppy name but in these parts it is an institution and was where I went to get yet another round of rice and beans for lunch before I wandered aimlessly around the old town where it can be hard to distinguish between ruins and just building sites! With no real sense of direction I decided to ascend Ancon Hill for something to do as much as for the panoramic views from the top. It took far longer than I expected as there was no obvious path up to the parking area from where people have to walk up the winding road to the top which does offer some great views of the new and old. These views can be seen in ‘The Tailor of Panama‘ (2001) on 50 minutes albeit nighttime shots.
My last full day in Central America was spent getting to its famous waterway; the Panama Canal. Whilst I sure can appreciate that its one of the worlds great engineering feats and has a great history I didn’t really anticipate it being too much of a spectacle. Could it really be much better than Foxton Locks (a somewhat smaller waterway landmark close to my family home back in Britain)?!! Despite good intentions, I didn’t get to the locks till after the 9-11am peak time showing of the big liners passing through. I intended to be there for the heavier through-flow of traffic but it took me far longer than expected to finally get to Halbrook bus terminal and from there I just couldn’t work out how to get a bus to Miraflores Locks. When I eventually did, I met both a family and a German couple (Daniel and Oanna) from my hostel by chance.
We paid the $5 entrance fee for the 4th floor observatory deck but didn’t hang around too long. Buses back to Albrook didn’t seem to be forthcoming so the german couple and I shared a taxi back to Casco Viejo where we got out at the fish market and Oanna was promptly sick due to the excessive heat which was in the mid 30’s. She recovered quickly and we had lunch which enabled me to get my fix of Ceviche. I had seen Anthony Bourdain sample such a thing on his ‘No Reservations‘ TV show and wanted to try a couple of cups (below) of this cheap fresh raw fish marinated in lemon juice which is spiced and seasoned with chopped onion, celery, habanero pepper, and sea salt.
Afterwards we walked back to the old town where we parted ways leaving me to have one final look around the place and do some souvenir shopping before my early departure back to Tokyo (via Miami and New York) the following morning.