On February 14th, 2013, we said to goodbye to Jim, Sandy and the unique town of La Manzanilla, Mexico. It was a quick flight from Manzanillo to Mexico City, then a 2 1/2 hour layover until we boarded our next flight to Panama City. This was just a quick 3 day stopover on our way to the Caribbean. We were told to stay at Lunas Castle Hostel in Casco Viejo, but they didn’t take reservations for private rooms and they were an hour from the airport. So after a lot of searching we booked Hostel Aleman, only 20 minutes from the airport. The owner of
the hostel even offered a pickup for $20 US at our 9pm arrival. Patrick, originally from Germany greeted us once we collected our luggage. He was young, energetic and made you excited to be in Panama City. The hostel is actually Patrick and his mothers’ house. They just rent out rooms, private and shared bunk beds to travelers. Our private room with shared bathroom was $30/night. One of the nice things in Panama, like Ecuador is that they use US currency. No need to convert all those numbers in your head or figure out new money. The best thing about this hostel was the closeness to the airport. The worst part, but not end of the world was that it wasn’t close to any attractions, restaurants, or nightlife, just two grocery stores.
The next morning we got up, had their somewhat big German breakfast, looked over a map and left in search of a city bus to the main bus terminal/ giant Albrook Mall. We had a fellow traveller, Julio from Costa Rica, join us in our search. It took about 20 minutes to find a bus headed in that direction. Now at this point, we had been traveling on local buses for 4 months, but we had never seen or experienced one quite like this. It was an old school bus, with a bench seat on the left-hand side, which could squeeze in 3 small bodies and a small bench seat on the right-hand side that could squeeze in 2 small bodies. Once this reggaetone blaring bus filled up, meaning all 5 people in a row, plus the entire aisle jam packed, we headed for the main terminal, stopping to let people on and off along the way. It was over 100 degrees (30 + celcius) and beyond humid making this the longest, stickiest and smelliest one hour bus ride ever. But you couldn’t beat it’s price tag of $1 each and the awesome reggeatone. Once we reached the terminal, we hailed down a number of taxi’s. We were told it should cost $5 to the Miraflores Panama Canal Locks, but each driver wanted $7-10. So we kept trying until eventually, one said he would do it for $6.50. Once in route, the driver asked if it was okay if he stopped for fuel. Majority of the taxi’s we took in South America all had the same request, so we didn’t think anything of it, until he took us down a back industrial road with no one on it. We quickly started to hide our money and tried to hide the shear panic on our faces. Without speaking, we both felt like we were about to be robbed. But panic turned to relief as he pulled into a gas station, realizing he was just taking a short cut. Phew!
We were told to check out the Panama Canal Museum as well, so that’s where Abe requested our driver drop us. But even with Abe’s fluent Spanish, things get lost in translation and we ended up at Museo del Canal Interoceanico in Casco Antiguo, no where near the Miraflores Locks. We made the best of it and explored this little section of the city, enjoying lunch in an outdoor cafe. In search of a taxi, we continued on a long walk, which put us in Casco Viejo in front of you guessed it, Lunas Castle. We instantly wished we were staying there. It was a multi-story, colorful hostel right in the center of one of Panama City’s main nightlife areas. There was no shortage of taxi’s in Casco Viejo, but they all wanted $10 to get to the Miraflores Locks and there was no negotiating. So we hopped in one and arrived at our original destination 15 minutes later, only an hour and half before closing. It was $8/person for the Locks viewing, museum and movie. We paid our fee, climbed the stairs to the viewing balcony, squeezed in and watched as the locks filled and drained with water with giant cargo ships slowly passing through. It was pretty cool. Our viewing was quickly shortened by the announcement of the final movie being shown, which turned out to only be about 10 minutes and more like propaganda than informational. Since we were already downstairs, we made our way through the four-story museum, which was fairly interesting. The best part was the captain’s room, where you could play with the controls, moving the ships through the canals and locks. Its fun to act like a kid sometimes! The announcement for closing came on the loud speaker, so we shuffled out with many others in hopes of finding a bus, rather than a taxi back to the main bus terminal. We came across a guy in a shuttle van, offering a ride for a $2/person. He only had a few takers, so along the road to the station, he would honk and stop for others walking or waiting at bus stops. The locals were allowed to pay whatever they could afford. We still weren’t quite ready to head back to the hostel, so we explored the giant mall, making a very needed flip flop purchase. Once we had enough, we got in line for the bus back to Panama Viejo. This time, it was much cooler, but less exciting without the reggeatone. We got back, changed out of our sweaty clothes and walked down to a grilled chicken and french fries spot for a quick dinner. Then grabbed some beers at the grocery store and joined some of our fellow travellers for drinks around the communal hostel table.
The next day, neither one of us wanted to get back on that bus again, so we just hung out at our hostel and caught up on our blog. That night we all decided to have a BBQ together before heading off in new directions. It was fun to hear everyones stories of where they had been and where they were headed next. We we’re bummed that we didn’t get to experience any of the nightlife in Panama City, but grateful to meet new people that also have a passion for traveling.
We got up early the next morning for our flight to the Caribbean. Patrick was up and ready to take us. As we were loading up our luggage in the car, Abe had to keep running back to the bathroom… to throw up. Now Abe rarely gets sick and this is by far the poorest condition I have seen him in all our travels together. He had serious food poisoning and of all the days to be sick, this was one of the worst.