Panama: urban adventures, a village in a volcano crater… and a blocked highway

Much later than my initial plan was, I arrived in Central America. When I started planning my trip, I was thinking about 3 months of South America and 3 months of Central America. But there I was in Panama City, on the 31st of January, with less than two months left. Many travelers that I’ve met along the way had had similar experiences, so I guess that’s just the way it goes!
I landed at Panama Tocumen Airport, which is the very airport from where I will take my flight back to the Netherlands. Strange to realize that.
Just getting from the airport into the city was already an adventure, I was trying to save some money and took the bus. About 3 hours later I finally arrived at Luna’s Castle hostel (funny, since it only took me one hour to get from Medellin to Panama City). At the hostel I was lucky to get a bed, since I hadn’t been able to make a reservation. “If anyone asks, just say you had a reservation, ok?” Ok.

Luna's Castle, great hostel in Casco Viejo

Luna’s Castle certainly is a cool place, located in Casco Viejo (Panama City’s historic district) in a big old colonial house, with big communal areas, including some guitars on the wall that you can just pick up and play. But I was exhausted from the trip into town, and all I wanted was some rest and some food. And so my first day in Panama City ended with some pizza.

The next morning started out with a pancake breakfast. At Luna’s Castle, they just make a big pot of pancake batter, and put out some frying pans, maple syrup and a basket of bananas: help yourself! I like it! After breakfast, I took a bus (which are old, repainted US schoolbuses that have been dubbed ‘Red Devils’) to the Miraflores locks of the Panama Canal. Couldn’t miss out on that one of course! There are three locks in the canal, where they raise and lower the ships that come through. I got there in the morning and could see some huge freight ships coming through, quite impressive. Besides that they had some expositions about the construction and a movie. I watched it all with great interest. One thing that astonished me was that the US, after financing the construction, actually controlled the Canal area up until 1999!

Miraflores Locks at the Panama Canalship going through the locks

and another one coming

So that probably explains all the American (as in: the USA) influence in Panama. Looking for differences between South and Central America, this was one of the first things I noticed, especially in Panama City. Lots of American restaurant chains and American cars, the currency is the US dollar, more English is spoken than in South America… It reminded me a lot of Florida (including the climate). But then there’s many similarities with South America as well; of course the language, the way the people look, the intercity bus system, the colonial architecture, the street vendors…
All in all it makes Panama an interesting mix-up of different cultures, and I could definitely appreciate it.

That afternoon I walked around in Casco Viejo; a typical Latin American colonial old town, but it’s still in renovation process, so it’s an interesting mix of newly renovated and worn down buildings. It’s said to not be very safe, and I had to watch my back, but there was plenty of military and police to watch my back as well. My favorite spot was what seemed like an old city wall, from where you had a view over the Pacific Ocean and the modern skyscrapers of downtown Panama City. Oh, and this was pretty nice too:

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IMG_1942.jpgCasco Viejo, Panama City

view from Casco Viejo over the modern center of Panama City and the Pacific Ocean

Panama City

After two nights in Panama City I headed to the bus station to take a bus to David, thinking to end up in Boquete, a town in the mountains of Western Panama. But all of that wasn’t going to happen. At the bus station I saw that there were no buses going to David that day, for unknown reasons. After some online research I learned that indigenous groups had blocked the road, because of plans of corporations to start mining on their land.
Ok, now what? After consulting the internet and Lonely Planet, I found a new destination: El Valle de Antón, a little town in the mountains, not too far from Panama City. Before I got on the bus I bought a new camera (Canon Powershot A3300) in Albrook Mall, a fancy, modern, American-style mall right next to the bus station. It was a bit more expensive than back home, but not too bad. My old one had been having some problems, I’ve had it for 5 years now so I guess it was time for a change anyway.

El Valle de Antón is a lovely place. It’s just a small, quiet town, in a valley (which is actually the crater of an old volcano), without the hecticness and heat of Panama City. Quite a few things to see around here, and I rented a bike to get around. (I realized I hadn’t been on a bike in about 3 months, how did I survive that?). There’s a waterfall, some nice hiking possibilities, a small zoo with the infamous Panamanian golden frog, some swimming spots, rocks with ancient drawings and square trees (yes, really). Enjoyed my time here, just taking it easy.

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me with a square tree

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the famous Panamanian golden frog

Meanwhile I kept checking on the road-blocking situation, but it looked like it wasn’t going to end anytime soon. So I decided to book a flight to David, which is close to the Costa Rican border, and then go straight to Costa Rica.
Once in David it turned out that there were no buses going at all, except on some short routes. Should have taken a flight straight to Costa Rica I guess… fortunately I found a willing taxi driver who would drive me to the border, and fortunately I’d met a German girl on the plane who wanted to share the ride with me. So we made it to the border!

I’m way behind on blogging, meanwhile I have spent 4 weeks in Costa Rica, and then moved on to Southern California in the USA. Spending the last two weeks of my trip here.

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3 Responses to “Panama: urban adventures, a village in a volcano crater… and a blocked highway”

  1. Li@ Says:

    Opnieuw mooie ervaringen opgedaan en je zult wel tot de laatste dag in de USA genieten van ieder moment. Hoop dat je op 22 maart afscheid kunt nemen van dit avontuur en verheugd huiswaarts zult reizen: velen kijken naar je uit en wat een weerzien zal dat zijn!!!
    Warme groet en geniet nog maar van jouw onvergetelijke reis die niemand je meer af kan nemen!
    Bedankt voor al jouw verslagen waardoor ook ik het gevoel heb een beetje op wereldreis te zijn geweest 🙂

  2. Anja Gielen Says:

    Hee Edwin… nog 4 dagen en dan zit het erop! Wat zal dat wennen zijn zeg wanneer je weer hier bent in het koude regenlandje met al die eigenwijze Nederlanders 🙂
    Het was weer leuk om je blog te lezen! Wat een heerlijke saxofoonmuziek bij het filmpje!
    Geniet nog even en: save journey back home! Het zal leuk zijn je weer te zien.
    Groetjes,
    Anja

  3. a journey called life » Blog Archive » California: a perfect ending Says:

    […] and I sure was happy I didn’t have to go all the way into the city center again (remembering my first time in Panama City in January). I just took it easy and relaxed, and being in this area, with a fancy mall right next […]

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