As was evident from my last post, Panama City is a place of infinite possibilities and by that I am of course referring to food opportunities, but this post is going to be about the activities we got up to in the city. No food or drink. Ok, some food and drink. I’ll try hard to cut back after the last post’s monograph on the food scene in Panama City.
From previous experiences, we knew that Brendan and I weren’t very successful at finding supposedly obvious things, a prime example of which was our failed search for a whole river on Isla de Ometepe. However, we weren’t disheartened and this time we had help from a lanky Dutch bloke by the name of Dutch Pete. What we were searching for couldn’t have been that hard to find either. It’s only an enormous park on the edge of the city.
A few hours later we had been warned about going down a major road in town because we were likely to get shot, a man had fallen behind with exhaustion (spiritual Euan from the last post) and we had pleaded strangers on the street to help us locate the park. No one had a clue. Now on the outskirts of the city, in housing and industrial estates, we wearily stumbled into a petrol station for some sugary sustenance in the form of iced tea. By some kind of miracle, the young man behind the counter knew where the park was and we set off invigorated. The enthusiasm soon turned into fear as we began walking on motorway bypasses, hard shoulders and grassy verges. Not ideal. But then, the fear of being crushed by a car went away. The world was a beautiful place again. There was a sign to the park.
We had to pay. A rocky start to proceedings, but we’d come this far, and trust me when I say it was far, so we went ahead and paid. We made the most out of that park, we saw every inch. Every track, every trail, every terrapin. Oh yeah there were a lot of terrapins. We wouldn’t have known this if it wasn’t for Pete throwing some bread at a lifeless specimen on the muddy edge of a pond, only for hordes of them to ascend from the murky depths like a scene from some horror film. Only they are tiny and quite cute. An unsuccessful and low budget horror film then.
The views from the park were undoubtedly incredible and while I did take lots of photos of the skyline, I was a little distracted by a man wearing toe shoes. Shoes are for hiding your creepy disgusting toes you cretin. It doesn’t matter how many flashy colours you have on them it won’t distract me from your toes. You are a step back in the evolutionary chain.
Anyway, after Pete ran out of bread to throw at animals and we had persuaded him to forget about getting a taxi back, we started our long walk to food. The route we chose to go back was much faster but had a little bit of a gangland, we might be killed on this very road feel. People started shouting to each other and emerging from a ramshackle house. They were gesturing towards us and shouting at us. That was a sign to me that we should probably cross the road and quickly get to somewhere safe. That safe place was subway. Nothing like a foot long sub to keep your mind off a potentially life threatening situation.
7 hours out and about in Panama City and we were ready for a beer and a lie down in a hammock. We slept well that night.
The Panama Canal is a feat of human engineering. A marvel of the modern world. A must-see when visiting Panama. We thought we should probably go and check it out. The only problem was that getting there required us to use the metro, so that we could get to the main bus terminal (Allbrooke) and then onwards to the canal. By this time we had become masters of the bus domain, but throw a train into the mix and well, it confused us a little.
Turns out we needed to buy a railcard to use the metro and being incompetent with anything technology related, the machines made no sense to us. Fortunately, after fumbling around and getting in the way of commuters, our saviour came in the form of a teenager and we were ready. The railcards also had the bus symbol on so all the busses around town so we were sorted for the day. To top up the railcard you needed 1, 2 or 10 dollar bills none of which we had and so we set off to find somewhere to buy some cheap plantain snacks. These were thinly sliced, deep fried and thrown into a bag, they were found everywhere we went (to my joy). Any excuse to eat plantain and it was seized, patacones I miss you. Money changed, ready to top up, more help from a kind stranger and we were well on our way. All we needed was one stop on the train and we were in Allbrooke terminal. Once we arrived we found out that the railcards we got were only for the metro and inner-city buses and not buses from the terminal, for that we’d need a different card. One that required us to have ID to obtain. Of course, we weren’t carrying ID. Why would we need it? We were only catching buses and trains. Either way, no Panama Canal for us because there was no way we were catching a taxi.
Instead we made the most of our situation and went shopping for dinner within the terminal. Frankfurters and a mix of two miscellaneous packet sauces was the order of the day. Who needs a marvel of the modern world when you’ve got bus terminal shopping on a budget!
The fried frankfurters with two mixed sauces on rice actually turned out to be a great dinner. But it would’ve been a disaster without one of the hostel cleaning ladies. We were having a little trouble peeling the thin plastic off the individually wrapped sausages because, who in their right mind decides that individually wrapped sausages is a good idea. We didn’t say a word to her but she could see our plight so stepped in and took the reins, peeling sausages like her life depended on it. In fact, it did… I jest. I wasn’t quite hungry enough to kill someone in cold blood but I was pretty damn close.
Somewhere we had been saving all trip to go to, Panaviera is the name of the bar on the 66th floor of Trump’s Ocean Sun Casino. On our second attempt to gain entry (the first time they didn’t believe Brendan was old enough and surprise surprise neither of us had ID), we headed into the belly of the beast. If you get there when they open you’re in for a treat. The lift doors open and you emerge onto a narrow terrace looking out over the magnificent skyline of the city, with the sun setting in the distance and the infinity pool reflecting the orange sky. We grabbed a table, feeling underdressed as ever and had two lovely cocktails each, and at $12 a pop that was my limit. We managed to stretch them over 2 and a half hours, watching as the lights came on in the skyscrapers. I felt like such a country boy in awe of the big city, it was undeniably beautiful.
I added to the wealth of a man who is now president. My money from 2 cocktails may have been the tipping point in his campaign. You’re welcome America.
Ancon hill on the edge of Casco Viejo is worth the climb (we saw a toucan, a sloth and impressive views of the city).
Trying to explain why we say, “taking the piss out of somebody” to a Dutch person might be the funniest conversation of the trip (he wanted to know why it wasn’t taking a piss on someone). The whole idea of taking body fluids out of someone didn’t sit well with him. But it’s ok because, in Holland they call flip flops slippers, which is obviously absurd.
Panama City and in fact, Panama in general was an incredible place. 10/10 would get lost there again.