Central AmericaPanamaScuba

Saturday, February 21: Coiba to Panama City

Saturday, February 21, 2009 – Coiba Island to Panama City

Commute to Panama City
We had breakfast on the boat and then packed up our gear for civilization, but not before some fun group pictures.

The Yemaya II Crew

Top row, L ro R: Laeticia, Frederick, Jono
Next row: Andrea, Louis Michel, Marcelo
Next row: Jesus, Pierre, James
First row: Maelle, Eric, Kadu, me
Photo by Eric Cheng

Empty family table

We took the pangas in at high tide, so the fifty minute ride was reduced to fifteen. So sad to leave our little pangas behind.

On our long 4-hour drive back to Panama City we were re-routed through some local roads since the main ones were blocked off for Carnivale celebrations. In Panama part of the tradition involves throwing water on people and passing cars, and as we drove through local neighborhoods little boys waited on the roadside with super-soakers and water bottles. Ready to douse on demand. But our bus was never hit because all our windows were closed and, really, what fun is that?

Eric got the bars back on his Blackberry and learned that the Steve Irwin was raided by Australian authorities hours before at the pressure of the Japanese government. He wondered if the footage was confiscated, since Animal Planet cameramen had captured the Japanese whaling fleet killing a whale. Through a series of emails he learned that Animal Planet was allowed to keep the copies, though the originals were confiscated. Much more to come on this in the coming months, I’m sure.

Touristo Lunch
We had lunch at a touristy spot on Naos Island in Panama Bay with a lovely view of the city. The food was decent despite the unoriginal menu, but more than that was the odd restaurant amenities. Apparently not only can you eat there, but you can also use their pool and tiny little beach.

View of Panama City

Passing submarine

Lunch crowd

Odd lunch spot – anyone want to go for a swim after lunch?

Miraflores Locks
Immediately after our rather late lunch we visited one of the locks of the Panama Canal – the Miraflores Locks. A few interesting facts about the Panama Canal:

  • 80 km long
  • Inaugurated on August 15, 1914
  • Three sets of locks, each with two lanes, that elevate ships 26 meters above sea level
  • Ships propel themselves, but are assisted by electric locomotives on either side
  • Many ships that pass are designed specifically for the size of the locks, allowing 50cm of space on either side of the ship between itself and the lock walls
  • Ships are permitted on a first-come first-serve basis, though a reservation system gives priority and permits reservations up to a year in advance.
  • The locks are open 24/7, though only smaller vessels can pass through at night. Larger (cargo ships, tankers, and cruise lines) must go during daylight.
  • Ships are charged based on size and amount of cargo. This can be – for cargo and tankers – in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The center had a drop-off level on the upper level and a parking lot on the upper. Our bus driver and tour guides, Rainald and Bianca, tried to get us dropped off upstairs – using Cousteau as an excuse – but the guard said Cousteau could get out but the rest of us had to walk the stairs from the lower level. In a burst of energy E and I raced up the stairs. He won, just for the record.

Miraflores Locks

Cruise ship through the canal

E and me

Oil tanker being supported by locomotives

Oil tanker passes through the canal

Locks closing

Long queue for the locks

E in front of the bus, loaded with scuba gear. We were the first to the bus since we raced *down* the stairs too.

Panama City – Old Town
We then took a tour through Panama’s Old Town which has architecture much like that of Paris, Buenos Aires, and New Orleans. There was a time when this was the center of the city, but then it fell to ruin. These days it’s a mixture of newly-renovated historical houses and crumbling ruins. Panama City is such an interesting combination of nature / technology, and old and new.

I paid 35 cents for a flavored icee, just so I could shave my own ice. I never drank it, though. Just threw it away, happy just to have the experience.

Photo by Eric Cheng

The man who owned the ice cart
Photo by Eric Cheng

We walked around the San Felipe peninsula and took pictures of the beautiful sunsets and the contrast of old and new.

Sunset over Panama

Sunset over the peninsula

Old and new cities


Saying Goodbye
We dropped half the group at the Aeropuerto; all of France left to catch their flights to Europe. We also said goodbye to Cousteau (who has assumed the new name of Abuelo – grandfather in Spanish), who demonstrated his prowess by climbing the ladder to the top of the minibus to ensure his luggage was untied appropriately. This antic was accompanied by Andrea and Marcelo, running over to the bus and circling their arms to catch him if he fell. Of course he didn’t; for a seventy year old man he’s unbelievably fit.

Cousteau, don’t jump!
Photo by Eric Cheng
Touristo Dinner
Eric and I checked in to the Radisson Decapolis hotel; our splurge for ourselves. It was colored in neon lights, booming music, and the check in desk had a DJ spinning table suspended next to it. Eric likened it to a W Hotel – which I don’t think I’m cool enough to stay in.

Radisson elevator bank

E and the elevator bank beanbags. Which he later threw at me for no particular reason.

Pretty self-explanatory
Photo by Eric Cheng

We dropped our bags and decided to get something to eat since it was almost 9PM. But downtown Panama City is like the Las Vegas of Central America; there is nothing but chain restaurants and we were without a guide book for better recommendations. Our appearance wasn’t very impressive, either – shorts and t-shirts that looked traveled-in. The doorman at the Radisson took one look at our cargos and flip-flops and just shrugged. So as much as it *shamed* us to be in another country and not eat local fare, we caved and went to the Hard Rock Café, Panama.

E, hoping he doesn’t see anyone he knows

An “unidentified diner” at the Hard Rock Cafe
Photo by Eric Cheng