In order to get to Panama City from Boquete, I took the chicken bus back to David and from here took a coach bus directly to Panama City ($15.25). I hadn’t booked in advance but thankfully there were seats available and I had two to myself for most of the trip! The coach dropped us off at the terminal which is also a big shopping mall, and a short walk took me to a line of taxis. I made my way to Mamallena’s Panama City, the sister hostel of where I had stayed in Boquete. The journey cost $5, although I had heard it should only cost $2 or $3 and even after telling the driver this he still wasn’t budging so I just bit the bullet and paid up. Slightly frustrating!
The hostel isn’t as ‘homely’ as Mamallena’s Boquete, but it has decent sized dorm rooms and a comfy living area. The heat here was a lot more intense than Boquete, where the relatively cool climate was very refreshing after the heat of the Costa Rican Caribbean coast.
On my first morning in Panama City, I bumped into Jenny, a Swiss German girl I had hiked Volcano Pacaya with in Guatemala almost two months ago! She was heading off early to the Panama Canal Miraflores Lock with a few others from the hostel so I joined them for the trip. It was a short taxi ride from the hostel and entry to the viewing level over the Miraflores lock cost $5. If you want to go into the museum it costs an extra $2 or $3, which we opted to not do as we had heard it was a bit on the boring side!
It was fascinating to watch over a huge cargo ship making its way verrry slowly through the narrow canal that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. It’s about 110 feet wide and 48 miles in length and is a key conduit for international maritime trade. The locks lift ships up to Gatun Lake, 85 feet above sea-level, which is used to reduce the amount of work needed for a sea-level connection.
The work on the canal was first started by the French in 1881, but soon had to come to a stop because of engineering problems and a high death rate. About 22,000 people perished due to disease such as yellow fever and malaria. The US took over the project and it was eventually finished in 1914. It is known as one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, making it possible for ships to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific in half the time it previously took.
That afternoon, we decided to go to the Casco Viejo (Old Town) for some sightseeing and ceviche by the docks beside the market. There is a row of cevicherias to choose from, and I picked a mixed ceviche from one of the vendors which was served with saltine crackers. It was delicious, really fresh and tasty, a perfect light lunch. The love affair continues!
After a couple of days in Panama, it was time for me to take my flight to Colombia! I took a shuttle from Mamallena’s to the airport ($10) and had tonnes of time before my Copa Airlines flight, so I took advantage of the two hours free wi-fi offered by the airport (nice!) but unfortunately had to spend an EXORBITANT amount of money on breakfast. At a small Cinnabon stand, it cost an insane $15 for a coffee and meal deal comprising of an extremely dry turkey sandwich, cookie and bottle of water. I really should have come prepared. Nevertheless, I was happy to finally be getting on the plane and after an extremely short flight (about 45 minutes), I would be arriving in Cartagena, Colombia!