Panama: Panama City (with the Aunts)

For the last 67 days we have lived like backpackers.  We have stayed in hostels.  We have cut corners on food.  We have washed our underwear in the shower or in Joshua’s case—not washed it at all.  We have seen great sights.  We have met inspiring travelers.  We have lived.  We had to shed these personas upon arriving in Panama City.  We got to become vacationers.

Actually, it took a few hours and Joshua’s Aunts’ physically landing in the country for us to make this transformation.

At 5am we found ourselves at the bus terminal in an unknown location in Panama City.  We had our bags with us and had just stepped off the arctic 12 hour bus ride from Bocas (which we were very sad to leave).  We knew check-in for our apartment we would sharing with Julie and Sue wasn’t until 2pm.  What do you do in a city on a Sunday at 5am when you are tired and hungry and tired and have 9 hours to kill?  Joshua makes you walk around and explore until you can’t walk anymore and then you go to McDonald’s.  McDonald’s in Panama was like heaven.  It had plush seats, flat screen TVs, free wireless internet, bathrooms, air conditioning and unlimited fountain soda.  As we waited for things to open, we made a list of activities that would keep us entertained: 1. Hunger Games in Spanish, 2. Bowling; hey, our options were limited.  And much to my chagrin, what did we do: CONTINUED WALKING.

We did manage to see a good portion of the city, although we didn’t know what we were looking at.  We got a great view of the bay.

We saw fish markets in full swing.

We passed through the “tenderloin” of Panama.

We stayed in Casco Viejo.  It is the original area of Panama City where the President still works.  Most other buildings are also from the 1800’s, although they haven’t been maintained as well.  The city is working to repair and restore the buildings back to their original glory.

Right now, it’s full of dust and construction men who whistle.  It does house some of the best restaurants in the city…Joshua and I had to pinch ourselves while dining in them.  ”Best restaurant” has not been in our vocabulary for quite some time.  ”Best street food,” perhaps.

Our stay in Panama was luxurious with Julie and Sue.  From our apartment we had a view of the bay and entire skyline of downtown.

We had a large bathroom, updated kitchen, cal-king sized bed and other amenities that we hardly recognize anymore (washer and dryer?!)  Julie and Sue definitely know how to live. We used TripAdvisor to locate the best restaurants for each meal.

We drank wine.

We tried ceviches.

We hired a cab to take us anywhere and everywhere that we wanted to go.  Our cab driver, German, ended up being an integral part of our trip.  He accompanied us on many adventures, provided recommendations and spoke Spanish with Joshua.

We participated in the arts.  When we noticed that the National Theater was holding an art festival, we located tickets online and found ourselves at an incredible Cirque de Soleil (you know how much he loved that) mixed with modern dance and hip hop.  We were all stunned by, not only the beauty of the theater, but also the talent of the dancers.  We were late for our dinner reservation because we couldn’t pull ourselves away.

We visited the Panama Canal which was originally started by the French.  When they couldn’t complete the work, the U.S. stepped in and found a guy (after three tries) to make it happen.  They dredged up rock from the river, widened areas and even cut through the earth to allow boats to cross from the Atlantic to Pacific or vice versa in 9-10 hours instead of the 14 day trip around the tip of South America.  The canal was completed in 1914.  Forty to fifty ships pass through each day, some paying as much as $400,000 for their load.  The U.S. ran the canal until 1999 when they gave it back to Panama.  Panama has decided to increase the capacity by creating a whole new canal that will allow ships 2.5 times the current size (already MASSIVE).  Their goal is to have it completed by the 100-year anniversary in 2014.  They are, however, using the SAME machines and tools they used to build it the first time.

The Panama Canal is a huge tourist draw.  You can find people from all over visiting to see the lockes in action.  Joshua happened to run into a rabbi from Beverly Hills who was taken by our trip.  He offered to perform a daily prayer with Joshua to provide good luck and good fortune during our travels.  Why not?!  Help has come in many different forms for us on this journey.

We did a tour of the actual waterway that makes up the Panama Canal.  With Carl.

Now Carl is a little bit of a misfit from the states who has found a place to call home on a houseboat parked in the Panama Canal.

He has a strange sense of humor that is somewhere in between not funny and a really awkward comedian doing the bit where he picks on the audience.  For the first hour, my eyebrows were raised.  And then, we made it to the houseboat in the middle of nowhere where he became comfortable and friendly and funny (finally!).  He showed us animals he has rescued, took us to a hidden waterfall by kayak and amazed us over and over again with his wacky personality.

Embracing our life of luxury, Joshua read about the Tailor of Panama.  A family who has made custom suits for over 80 years.  They have dressed presidents, ambassadors, the military, Pierce Brosnan (for a movie based on the store).  Joshua, inspired by a suit purchased in Norway that acts as the perfect reminder of the trip, thought this would make an amazing souvenir.  The first answer from the Tailor of Panama: No time.  The second answer (after the prayer was performed): Come in.  And with that, we rushed in to meet the legend and begin the process.

Shortly after arriving, we realized we had not done enough research!  What cut? Which fabric? How many buttons?  What type of slit?  The lining?  Too many choices!  But when we return to the States, Joshua will have a suit made exclusively for him through a memorable event in Panama.

Notice the man in the picture with Pierce is exactly the same who measured Joshua.  He’s worked there for 40 years!

The whole reason Julie and Sue were in Panama was to participate in Julie’s President’s Club with her company.  She won (as she almost always does).  So we said goodbye to them as they headed to Playa Bonita for 4 days of pampering at an all-inclusive resort.  We, then, moved on to a loud and dirty hostel full of disgusting travelers.  BUT, we snuck in. Actually, his Aunts’ generously figured out a way to get wristbands for one day (anything is possible in Panama).  We drank free drinks, ate free food, took free snacks from the mini-bar, ordered all inclusive room-service, slept in Heavenly beds and used towels with more thread count than I personally own.  We felt like criminals, but it was also like crack.  We just couldn’t stop, but we had to because there was another Panama waiting for us to explore.

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