Lost in Panama City - Jan 07, 2009
"What is Panama City like?" - That was one question I asked myself before even leaving Canada. The end of the road before going to South America. The major city of Cargo ships passing threw the Panama Canal.
As we were riding closer to Panama City, we were just anxious to see what it was all about. We knew that the closer we would get to it, the more traffic would become intense. Someone had told us to take "the new bridge" - *Puente Centenario*
So we did. As we rode over the bridge, we got our first view of the famous Panama Canal. Our first stop was to see the Miraflores locks. One of the most impressive locks of the 80 kms long canal and the most visited place in Panama!!
The lock gates at Miraflores are the tallest of the three (the others being Gatun and Pedro Miguel), which is due to the extreme tidal variation that takes place in the Pacific Ocean; the tidal variation on the Atlantic coast is by far less. Miraflores Locks are slightly over one mile long, from beginning to end. It is one of the largest and difficult engineering projects ever undertaken.
Tolls for the canal are decided by the Panama Canal Authority and are based on vessel type, size, and the type of cargo carried.
The most expensive regular toll for canal passage to date was charged on May 16, 2008 to the 964-foot (295 m) Disney Magic cruise liner, which paid just over US$331,200!!! The average toll is around US$54,000.
The site wasn't as impressive as we expected, we saw a few big ships at the entrance and end of the canal. We didn't visit the tourist information viewpoint. Leaving our bikes without view was out of the question, also a line up at the door and a out of the budget cost. We watched a couple ships getting ready to cross the gates while we were also trying to make our mind if we would ride to Colon - 70 kms or to Panama city only 12kms away.
We had heard many stories about Colon, being a nasty, filthy slum city. A place where getting robbed or mugged was high risk! Especially on motorbikes! The reason to *MAYBE go there was to find out about our voyage to Colombia. Potentially by cargo boat to Cartagena, Colombia via the San Blas Island in the Caribbean sea.
After seeing enough of the Canal, we decided to head for the closer and safer option... ride to Panama city.
With a population of just over 1 million people. It sure was a test in our ability of driving in crazy traffic - especially for Angela... she's only been riding her bike for several days!! and got her license 2 months ago!!! ( But she did awesome!!! - a fast learning experience I must say!)
It didn't take us long before we got lost. With only a couple of names of different hostels we found on the internet. We asked around to try to find them, but we still managed to get lost.
The city as few traffic lights, one way streets, too many cars and insane bus drivers.
We finally found one hostel that was recommended to us. While I stayed with the bikes at the gas station, Angela walked to the hostel with a military officer to see if we could get a room. She was then told that ALL hostels that they new were FULL!!! - great! just what we needed to know.
So we decided to make our way to Colon after all, but it didn't take long as we tried to get out of the city....we got lost again. Finally got out of the city to Miraflores (we knew that spot well) asked around if there was any hotels not far (to avoid going back to the city) the few that we checked out at 150$ a night!! was way out of budget!
Exhausted from the traffic and frustration of getting lost several times. We went for some food so we come up with a better plan.
"Lets go back in there", I said. Now we know how to get to the same spot downtown, lets find a hotel in downtown.
It was getting late, so Colon was out of the question.
Back in the nightmare downtown. Now pouring rain!!! we were tired, desperate to find a place.
I pulled in one of the first hotels we drove by. Soaked & tired, I asked the lady at the front desk for a room. She looked at me thinking this poor guy... I even had the guts to ask " any good price cause of the rain???"
she laughed, "Si Senior" The normal price is $140, but for you... $77.
Deal!! -* You don't get if you don't ask!!! *
We unpacked the bikes. Enjoyed the luxury of a warm shower, clean room with AC, cable TV, internet, a couple free drinks on the house.
Our miserable experience in the city was only past. We sat in front of the TV and just happy to not on the road to Colon!