A man a plan a canal Panama (read it backwards)
Trip Start Dec 08, 2004
38Trip End Dec 07, 2005
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Where I stayed
We hiked the beautiful Senderos de los Quetzals (walk of the Quetzals), taking us deep into the forested mountains, in search of the elusive Quetzal bird. We still never managed to see one, it doesnīt help that they are green! We think we heard the call but thats about it! The hike took us to a very impressive 60m high waterfall, which I nearly lost my skin too, trying to shower under naked. Not one of my brightest ideas but funny all the same!
Back in David and unfortunately the heat, we stayed at a very bizarre hostel called the Purple House, and true to its name every single thing in the house was purple, including the toilet paper and the pet dogs collar
So finally we arrive in Panama City, the last stop on the North American continent before flying to Colombia and continuing our adventure in South America.
Panama City is a very modern city and rivals many in the world for its skyscraper skyline. Its an international centre for banking and trade, mainly due to the Canal which disects the country just south of the city.
We have visited most of the sites in and around Panama City:
Panama Viejo - The ruins of the first settlement of Panama City. Not much to see here, as they really are ruins with not much more than a series of small walls!
Casco Antiguo - Colonial Casco Antiguo was much more interesting, its the old town of Panama
Panama Canal - This really is an impressive piece of engineering. It stretches 80km from Panama City on the Pacific side to Colon on the Atlantic. About 14,000 ships pass through it each year with an average transit time of 24 hours. Most ships built worldwide are built with Panama Canalīs locks in mind, 305m long and 34m wide. Passage is paid in weight, with the record being over $200,000 US for a french cruise ship. The smallest fee was $0.36 paid by Richard Halliburton who swam through the canal in 1928. A staggering 52 Million gallons of freshwater is released into the ocean with the passage of each ship.
We saw a few large cargo ships transit the Miraflores Locks. The ships are pulled by tugs (which cost over $5 million US each!) and guided by up to 4 trains on each side of the lock, which tension and release steel cables as necessary to keep the ships in the centre of the lock.
There is a good museum attached to the visitors centre, if you ignore the glossy version of the history surrounding the canals construction. They are very keen on positive facts, but sadly leave out some of the most important aspects. They mention it took 75,000 people to build the canal, but they neglect to tell you that most of these people were virtually slaves recruited from the carribean and that up to a staggering 25,000 of them lost their lives during the construction due to bad living conditions, landslides, malaria and yellow fever
We also managed to get some much needed shopping in, to replace some of the stuff I lost in San Jose. We got to see the latest Star Wars film on the day of release and we met up with Greg again, who we last saw in Mexico! Greg is cycling from Alaska to Chile and has just left on a flight for Ecuador. We went out for a meal and to watch some traditional Panamanian dancing which was good fun. It was great to catch up again and compare stories of our travels so far. Were hoping to meet up again somewhere in South America. Hes also got a travelog if anyones interested in his trip:
One of the most interesting parts to our stay in Panama were the protests that are taking place at the moment. The government has decided to reform the Social Security Fund (CSS) in order to raise funds needed to widen the canal. The basic effect of the reforms increases the retirement age by 5 years and increases the number of years that people need to work to draw a pension from 15 to 25 years. As you can probably imagine the Panamanian people are not a happy bunch, and in the good old central american democratic way have taken to the streets to protest and are striking from their jobs. The protests have been on a massive scale, the police are using tear gas and heavy handed tactics to control the big crowds, which is causing even more angst among the protesters.
We decided to get out of the city for the weekend and head 2 hours north west to the town of El Valle. We hiked to a beautiful waterfall on the Saturday and did all our souvenir shopping at the regional crafts market on Sunday.
Now we are preparing for our flight to Colombia tomorrow and the next part of our adventure.