Usually when I travel, most of the questions are about the type of food I eat, and is the water safe to drink?
So, in order to satisfy the curiousity of my friends, I always try to take photos of the food. A picture is worth a thousand words when it comes to food.
Other than eating breakfast in the Panama City, Panama, Marriott Hotel, we ate the rest of our meals out ,which only consisted of 3 meals. One of the lunches was in local pizza joint across the street from the hotel. I don’t remember the name of it, but it was very good. We had a huge pizza, salads, cokes and mineral water. With tip it was about $24 USD. A little pricey.
Our two dinners out were both eaten in local restaurants that I had read about on Trip Advisor. They were within walking distance of the hotel. Many of the restaurants in the area were open air or at least had an open air part to them. If you wanted the air conditioning, you could sit inside.
The first dinner out was at the Costa Azul , just a block or so from the hotel. It had good reviews. Stephanie had steak and fries, and I had the Corvina fish in a Creole sauce. She had a Balboa beer and I had ice tea that was heavily laced with lemon. We ordered tap water. The place looked clean so we figured the water was fine. We also ate a big order of Calamari plus a couple of salads. Total tab was around $25-a good value. We ate outside under an awning. It was an interesting place. There were a lot of locals, 3-4 Americans, and a mix of other foreigners. I got the impression it was a hangout for ex-pats.
Here are some of the pictures from the dinner at the Costa Azul restaurant.
If you wonder where this whole fish came from, it was actually another customer’s meal. He saw me snapping photos and wanted me to take a picture of his fish……whatever!
We ate our other dinner at a restaurant named The Terrace. I don’t have any pics of the food because it was so dark in the restaurant that we had to use the lights from our cell phones to read the menu. We split a hamburger and some chicken fingers. I didn’t figure you needed any photos of either of those. It was more of a bar than a restaurant.
Next-Leaving Panama and headed south to Ecuador
Panama City, Panama-part 12-The Gamboa aerial tram.
The bus drove us a few hundred meters from the Gamboa Rain Forest Lodge to the base of the aerial tram. There, in groups of two, we climbed into a wire cage for the ride up to the observation tower.
On the top of the observation, were incredible, stunning views of the Chagres River and the Panama Canal.
Even though our guide was responsible for a group of 8 people on this part of the tour, he stayed closer to us. I think maybe he liked Stephanie.
I asked the guide a lot of questions. He told me later how much he appreciated tourists that showed real interest in the area. He said, “sometimes, people just shrug off the beautiful views and the flora and fauna”, so when tourists like Stephanie and I drill him with questions, it is his oppportunity to show off his beautiful country. A good lesson here.
We stayed up on the tower for about 30 minutes just taking in the views and shooting photographs.
Soon, we headed back down, where we toured a butterfly exhibit with live butterflies, then a little orchid exhibit.
Later, we toured the snake exhibit which was a little freaky.
Stephanie didn’t want to see the snakes, but I told her it was a once in a lifetime opportunity–I didn’t want her to go home and think, “darn, I wish I would have gone into that snake exhibit in Panama”. She did it.
Our guide told us he had a pet boa that he lived with and it sometimes sleeps in his bed (how do you spell C-R-A-Z-Y?). The guy was enamored with snakes, but told me he was increasingly afraid the boa was going to eat his pet chihuahua. I remembered thinking, “that chihuahua would be the least of my worries if that snake was sleeping in my bed”–which it wouldn’t be!
The entire tour lasted from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. It was very hot up in the Gamboa Forest. We were glad when it ended. We had a pleasant drive back to Panama City. Franklin stopped several times and waited for us to take photos. The entire tour, including the van for the 2 of us to go up to the Gamboa from the city, plus the tours of the forest was $170. I gave him an extra $10 as a tip. Later, I sent his boss an e-mail telling him what a good job I thought Franklin did.
It was a great way to spend a day with my daughter. Very educational. Stephanie had a t-shirt on that day that says it all:
Next-Food photos of Panama City, Panama
Panama-Part 11-Gamboa Rain Forest (Cont’d)
After about an hour druve from Panama City, we arrived at the Gamboa Rain Forest Lodge. Whoa!!! This place was really nice. An incredible view of the Chagres river and the surrounding forest as seen through the floor to ceiling windows in the main lobby.
The Lodge is a central point for people to stay who are taking many of the area side trips. Have to admit, it is a very nice place to relax. Stephanie was whining about why we had to stay in a big, hot, city like Panama City when this place existed. If we had more time, the lodge would certainly be a good place to stay for a couple of days.
We looked around for the property for 30 minutes or so until the shuttle came to take us to the aerial tram that was part of our tour package.
Next-part 12-more of the Gamboa
The drive to Gamboa
Now remember, we arrived in Panama City, Panama on Wed. night about 8 p.m.—so by now we have done all those things that I have posted in my earlier blogs, and it still only Friday morning (Just for reference, I need you to stay with me on the time ). Yes, we have been on a fast track.
I scheduled a trip for us to visit the Gamboa Rain Forest on Friday morning. The Gamboa is only about 1 hour from Panama City. The tour company I used was:
At 9:15 a.m. our tour driver, Franklin, arrived. He spoke no English, so again a great opportunity to practice Spanish. It was a good thing we had toured the day before with Alberto, because Franklin spoke that real flast, blurry, coastal Spanish, and I was already somewhat used to it. He was a tough number to understand, but a good guy. We were the only two people in the van.
On the way out of the city we drove through some of the same neighborhoods that we had been in the day before. One in particular was El Chorillo, and Franklin told us it was a very bad area and we should never go there. He made sure our doors were locked. He seemed nervous.
Outside the city we drove along the Canal for most of the way up to the rain forest. A lot of big container ships and tankers were transiting this particular a.m. Very interesting. We stopped to take a few photos where there was some work being done on the Canal. Below, Stephanie pokes her camera through a security fence to take a photo of some construction activity on the Canal.
One of the bridges we had to cross just before arriving in the rain forest was a one way bridge. They have some kind of automatic system that alternately stops traffic, so only traffic from one direction can cross. Then they change the direction of the traffic flow. Interesting. Here is a photo of it.
Next-The arrival at the Gamboa
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Part 9-Casco Viejo (cont’d) More photos
We continued to stroll through Casco Viejo for a couple of hours. Here are some more photos of the area.
If you are going to go to Panama City, you really should visit Casco Viejo. It is a nice change from the modern part of Panama City. It is a pleasant place to stroll, take photos, stop for lunch or drinks and feel like you are really a long way from home.
We would have liked to have spent more time in Casco Viejo, but the heat really start to get to us,. Since we were on such a tight time schedule , we decided to head back to the area around our hotel, get something to eat, and rest up for our trip the folowing morning to the Gamboa Rain Forest
Next-The drive to the Gamboa Rain Forest
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Panama City, Panama-Part 8 -Casco Viejo
Casco Viejo is a very old, but yet interesting part of Panama City. According to the Lonely Planet guidebook : ” in 1904, when construction began on the Panama Canal, all of Panama City existed where Casco Viejo stands today”. The area is very historic and houses some nice restaurants. It was definately someplace we felt we should see while in Panama City, Panama.
Once we arrived, a street policeman befriended us and served as an unpaid tour guide for about 10 minutes.
As we walked through the streets I kept thinking “hmmm….this area seems familiar. Seems like I have been here before”. Then it dawned on me….with the old buildings and narrow streets, it reminded me of Cartagena, Colombia.
We spent some time taking photos in Casco Viejo. Here they are:
It was very hot in Casco Viejo, so we stopped inside an ice cream store and while sitting there I noticed a street vendor outside, so I shot this photo(below) through the door from where we were stitting:
I have a few more photos of Casco Viejo. I will post them on the next blog (Part 9)
Next-More photos of Casco Viejo, Panama
Part 7-Las Isletas
Stretching out into the ocean from Panama City, Panama, there is a causeway that many people stroll, bike, drive, or whatever, just to get away from the hustle-bustle of the city.
We wanted to check it out and Alberto was more than happy to take us. I think by this time, Alberto was beginning to see $ signs for the tour. He was doing a great job and we were enjoying it.
On the causeway, there are lots of open air restaurants, bars, and souvenir places to spend your money. It’s also a place for the yachties to hang out and enjoy the different restaurants and bars. If you go to Panama City, you should at least drive out the causeway. You get a great view back at the skyline of the city. Shown here is an example of the view:
Here is how the yachties keep out the riff-raff :
Below is an example of one of the many restaurants to keep the tourists occupied–and spending!!
Afterwards, we were ready to go back to the city and relax. On the way back, we got caught in some of the worst traffic I had ever seen. After 6 hours of rapid-fire Spanish from Alberto combined with the hectic traffic we were glad to get back to the Marriott. Alberto had exhausted us.
How much did we pay Alberto? $75 including tip for 6 hours total. At the end of the day, he asked me how much I thought it was worth and I told him $75. He said he thought that was fair. We got to see everything we wanted that day, so we thought it was well worth it.
Once back inside the hotel, they served us some iced coconut coffee in the little bistro in the lobby. Delicious stuff! The coffee had espresso in it, so after a few minutes rest we were wired and decided to head to Casco Viejo next. Stay tuned–
Panama city, Panama-Part 6-More photos of the Panama Canal
After a couple of hours at the Panama Canal, we jumped into Alberto’s taxi to go back to the Marriott hotel in Panama City. Alberto, being the businessman he was, said he wanted to personally show us other parts of the Canal and the city. We thought “what the heck? Let’s let this guy be our guide for as long as possible”.
There are two well known bridges across the Panama Canal: The Bridge of the Americas and the new Centenario bridge. The Centenario is quite an architectural masterpiece and after first seeing a photo of it a couple of years ago, it had always been my dream to cross it. Alberto must have read my mind because that was the first place he took us. Here is a photo of Centenario from the locks of the Canal and then a photo of it close up.
After some time driving up to the bridge, photographing more parts of the Canal, it was time to head back to the city.
Next-Back to the city.
Part 5, The Panama Canal
Alberto drove us through Balboa which is part of the Canal Zone. He showed us all of the original buildings, explained about how it was when the Americans were there, and basically just gave us a lot of trivia that we found to be very interesting. He seemed genuine in his effort to make us feel welcome to Panama.
When we arrived at the Canal, Alberto asked if he could just wait for us and take us back to the hotel. He said it would be better for us since we already knew him. We agreed, fully realizing that he wanted the opportunity to make a few extra bucks, which was really ok with us.
The entrance to the museum building is shown below:
The museum is incredible. They show the whole story of how the Canal was built. There is also a short film of about 12 minutes in the auditorium. You don’t want to miss it. To really do the museum right, you need to allocate about 1.5-2 hours. There is lots to see—also a gift shop.
The real show is outside on the Canal when the ships come through. They announce them on a loudspeaker as they enter the lock. There is outside seating in a shaded pavilion to observe the passage of the ships through the Canal. It is quite a show. I was fulfilling a life long dream of seeing the Panama Canal.
As the ships pass through, the crew members on the ships are often times on deck taking photos as they pass the Miraflores sign on the locks. It is funny, they are taking photos of us and we are taking photos of them.
Here are some photos of the canal and of a ship as it passes through the Miraflores locks.
Next-some other photos of the Panama Canal and two famous bridges
Part -4 The skyline of Panama City, Panama-Incredible!
At this point, we just let Alberto take us to where he thought was best. Up until now, we had only seen the skyline of Panama City from the ground. I was anxious to see it from up high. Alberto said he was taking us up on the high hill, Cerro Ancon, for the view we were looking for. It was a beautiful drive up to the top-lots of flora and fauna-several hikers on the trails doing birdwatching.
At the top of the hill was what we were looking for-breakthtaking views of the skyline of Panama City, Panama. It looked like Miami Beach-unbelievable! Panama City is the most cosmopolitan city in Central America and when you see it from Cerro Ancon, you will believe it! Also from the top, you can see all the ships at anchor waiting their turn to go through the Panama Canal. I think I counted 40 of them. If you go to Panama City, you have go up Cerro Ancon.
On the other side of the hill was a great view of the Panama Canal and Balboa. Alberto was very patient with us, wanted to give us lots of time to take pictures, and was interested in answering all of our questions-in Spanish, of course!
After we took all the photos we wanted, it was off to the Canal.