Category Archives: Panama

Panama : The return

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Panama : The return

We are now back in Panama for the last four nights of our amazing trip around Central America. We have seen and learnt so much about both countries. The wildlife, nature, way of life. Also we have seen firsthand the poverty in both countries. We also had some interesting conversations with Taxi drivers about life in Central America. “You can always rely on a cabbie for the real low down on a country”. One told us last night that he and most of the working class people are not impressed with their president or political leaders (to be honest that’s probably the case the world over) He told us that the wages here are very low $500 dollars a month in some cases. We mentioned the fact that we had noticed so many banks , his answer was I quote “ probably to wash money “. I presume he meant drug money from Colombia. This seems astonishing as I look out the window of our hotel room at a skyline consisting of high rise luxury apartments, hotels, banks and a marina full of boats. Also when you consider the revenue made from the Panama Canal how can this be? When we visited this amazing feat of engineering (more on that later). We learned that on average a ship passing through the locks costs $188,000 dollars and rises to a whopping $450,000 for the very large ones. The canal operates 24hrs a day 365 days of the year and around 40 ships a day pass through. So if you just take the average cost for passage through that’s $7,520,000 dollars a day. Which equates to 7.75 billion dollars a year, that’s without all the countries other exports ie bananas and many other fruits, coffee, pharmaceuticals etc. So having seen first hand the areas on the periphery of town, where people are living in run down squalid housing in no doubt cramped conditions, it made me wonder how could this be happening especially for a country with a population of only 4.5 million people. Where does all that money go. Certainly from my point of view not on the infrastructure. Outside of Panama the roads are terrible, the pedestrian walkways even in Panama are a heath and safety risk. In David which is Panama’s second largest city it’s really run down. It has none of the fancy buildings that Panama has, its infrastructure is in bad need of updating. So my question is where does all this wealth go?

Panama Canal : Miraflores Locks

As we were unable to get to the canal when we arrived in Panama back in March due to Friday afternoon traffic. (See my post entitled What a day). We got there around 10:30 quite excited at the prospect of seeing this engineering marvel. When we got to the entrance a staff member told us that no shipping will be passing through until around 2:30pm. So as well as seeing the locks we wanted to view a ship passing through. So rather than going back to our hotel we took a taxi to a shopping mall called Albrook, as it was a short ride from the canal to get a coffee and some lunch. Now if you have seen one shopping mall you’ve pretty much seen them all, but this one is absolutely huge. It has a floor space of 380,000 square metres. In comparison the largest in the UK which is the Gateshead metro centre which is 193,000. Well enough of shopping centre facts back to the canal. We arrived back in time to see three huge ships pass through. It’s mind blowing how close these huge ships are the the lock sides. Also how tall they are. We were on the viewing platform on the fourth floor of the visitor’s centre and on one ship carrying cars towered above us. A really truly amazing spectacle. For some really interesting facts on the locks click here. Entrance fee to the visitor centre is currently $10 dollars.

Goodbye Costa Rica.

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Goodbye Costa Rica.

Our journey through Costa Rica has ended and what an amazing journey it was. We saw so much wildlife that we have never seen anywhere before on our travels around the world. Sloths, White faced capuchin monkeys, Howler monkeys, Coati’s, Scarlet Macaws, Agouti’s, Racoons. I could write a long list. We have visited eight national parks, two wetland parks and done a night hike in the jungle. If you have been following my blog you will have read all about them. We also have learnt so many fascinating things about the wildlife here, and so much about the rain forest, their ecosystems and it’s trees and plants that support both the wildlife and themselves. The whole experience has been totally enthralling. Sadly though our journey in Costa Rica is at an end, and now we are back in Panama. Nevertheless the experiences and memories of this amazing country will be with us always.

Paso Canoas border crossing.

Now land border crossings can be a bit of a challenge, from memory we have done about five. Thailand to Cambodia at Poipet probably being the worst and most stressful. I always research the crossings thoroughly before any trip that involves them. Sometimes though when just reading about them they sound a total nightmare. it’s amazing what the mind conjures up when you have no images in your head. My mind conjures scenes from a Mad Max film or Dodge city. Well to be honest Poipet was just that. So my advice is go onto YouTube and search for the crossing you are going to and someone would have filmed themselves doing the whole thing. Beware though some are painful to watch as it’s just an exercise about look at me, see how handsome or beautiful I am. Despite this they can be a useful source of information. You then have an image in your head of the whole process and then realise it’s not as scary as you imagined at all.

When we crossed the border in the beginning of our trip we went across at a place called Sixola. The whole thing was a breeze. Friendly control officers helpful people. The whole process took around twenty minutes.

Crossing at the main border, Paso Canoas,was a very different experience. We read that it was always very busy and can take up to two hours to cross. Big queues of people, and a ten minute walk between the departing and arriving customs over very uneven ground. Oh well it had to be done, we had no choice. We took the bus from Golfito to Paso Canoas, which took around a hour and a half. The bus drops you off right across the street from where you get your exit stamp to leave and costa around a £2 each. For a taxi to do the same journey you are looking at paying between $60 to $75 dollars. When you leave Costa Rica you have to pay an exit tax $8 dollars or 5400 CRC. You can pay this at the office opposite where you get your exit stamp, but sometimes their systems are down making life difficult. Thankfully where we stayed in Golfito we were told by the host that you can pay the tax online through BCR bank. The page is in Spanish , but most modern smartphones have a translate option for web pages. Click Here for official site. We didn’t actually need to show our receipt for the exit tax as when you purchase the tax online you have to record your passport number on the form so I presume it showed on the customs officer’s computer as paid. This process took about ten minutes. She also told us that it’s best to have printed copies of all of your paperwork Covid vaccination records, Panama entry affidavit, proof of your onward journey from Panama. Also sometimes proof of funds for your stay in Panama, in the form of a credit card or three months bank statements. Fortunately we got all this done in a local print copy shop in Golfito. You can get this done at the border but I imagine it would be much more expensive.

Getting back into Panama was very different. Firstly the walk to get your exit stamp certainly did not take 10 minutes like other blogs I have read, granted the path we had read about was uneven but if you walk along the edge of the tarmac road, taking care avoiding the very large trucks passing you will be fine. On reaching the exit building, another added bonus was there were no large queues of people waiting to cross which we had read about, it was just us. The next part is where it got quite stressful. At the customs officers window you first have to show your exit stamp from Costa Rica, he then hurries you through a door to see a doctor “ I have to say he did not look much like a doctor, he could have been anyone. He then gives you a form to fill out. We were then approached by what we thought was a border official, he had a tee shirt with an official looking logo and an official looking lanyard. As I was filling out the forms he was joined by another guy, they were both very friendly and helpful but were getting a bit close to us for our liking. So Jackie kept guard on our luggage while I filled the forms out. One of the guys then took the forms from us and passed them through the window to the doctor, along with our printed covid vaccination records. They would not accept our digital NHS QR codes on our phone, thankfully we had printed copies. The Doctor then stamps the paperwork for you to take back to the customs officer. He asks you where you are staying in Panama and proof of your onward journey from Panama. They sometimes ask you for proof that you have enough money to support you when in the country. Thankfully this wasn’t needed in our case. He then takes a picture of you and then records your finger prints digitally. Stamps your passport and your done. When we left the building to catch our bus one of the supposedly official customs officers approached us and wanted a tip for his help. We initially said no, but for his cheek I gave him the only few colons (Costa Rican currency) we had, which was no use to us in Panama. So beware. Border scams don’t you just love them.

Getting the bus from the border to David is really easy, just by pass the hoards of waiting taxi drivers to the bus stand and there are loads plying for you trade. These small mini buses charge $5 pp (at time of writing) as opposed to between $55 and $70 dollars for a taxi.

First leg done: Panama City

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First leg done: Panama City

We are at the end of the first leg of our trip. We have spent eight nights in Panama and loved every minute. Firstly Panama City, although it’s a bit rough around the edges, but the people here are really friendly and are more than willing to help out if they can.

Although there is not a great deal to do touristically wise, except the Casco Viejo area (old town, see previous post.) and the canal of course, although it is not really a tourist attraction and the Park Natural Metropolitan, which is a must visit. It’s just an all round nice city, and has a good vibe about it. We will explore more on our return

Our next stop is Bocas del Torro, the group of islands in the Caribbean Sea, on the northern coastline. Is another place to add to your list, if travelling to Panama. Although we did not explore the other islands, except Isla Colon where we were staying. They are a great place to chill for a few days. There is plenty of accommodation to be had, not only on Isla Colon but the other islands as well. Also there are plenty of things to keep you occupied, if your an adrenaline junkie, like quad biking, surfing, snorkelling and scuba diving. Etc etc Although we did none of these things sadly, we were here just to relax.

Next I have to write about our accommodation Villa Seville. It’s such a lovely place. Set in the jungle and about a 10 minute drive from Bocas town. Set in some well kept gardens and with plenty of beautiful flowers to admire. The Villa has only four rooms so it’s not busy even when full. There is also a pool, a honesty bar and the chance to see some amazing wildlife. We were lucky to see, during our stay, a sloth, and some really colourful bird species, including hummingbirds. We must not forget the very load howler monkey’s. I would highly recommend staying here.

I will point out that Panama, especially Bocas is not cheap, in fact I would go as far as saying the prices are on par with the UK, sometimes more expensive for some things. But I suppose being on an island your are a bit of a captive audience. For example in Panama I had some Nachos as a snack. I have to say it was a good portion, but the price was $10. Main meals considerably much more. However we were pre warned, because of reading the guide book before we left. It likened Central America to Switzerland for cost. Which I can definitely agree with. Also, what is slightly worrying, we have heard that Costa Rica is even more expensive , we shall see. We have decided for the journey forward we would look to stay in places that are self contained and have basic cooking facilities to keep down the cost.

We look forward to coming back into Panama in the middle of May, to explore the pacific coast side, and to get to see the Panama Canal before coming home. But that’s a good few weeks away yet. We have plenty to see in Costa Rica.

Casco Viejo Panama

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Casco Viejo Panama

Today we visited the old part of Panama an area know as Casco Viejo. Re built in 1673 following the near destruction of the city in 1673 when the original city was attacked by the English pirate Henry Morgan.

In 1997 Casco Viejo was awarded a world heritage status. Today most of the magnificent building have been carefully restored. With its narrow cobbled street quaint shop, restaurants and bars, and elaborate churches it’s an area not to be missed. We had a great day wandering its streets. Finished off by a couple of drinks up on the rooftop bar of the restaurant/bar Casa Casco.

All that said the area has its dark side. Firstly the British pirate who sacked the city in 1672 then went into doing the same to many other settlements in the Caribbean. In doing so amassed an enormous wealth. Then bought three tea plantations. Then was knighted and had a rum named after him, Captain Morgan. It seems things are no different with our current government.

Whilst we were wandering around the streets, we could not help noticing the amount of armed police in the area. It wasn’t until we strayed off of the tourist trail that we realised why. In stark contrast to well renovated buildings and swanky shops the area becomes what can only be described as a ghetto. People living in derelict buildings and run down shacks. Needless to say we didn’t stay very long.

It bothers us that all the wealth being spent in the touristy part of Casco Viejo none of it seems to filter down to what quite possibly are the original people of the area. I’m sure they could spend some money on some decent living standards for the community. We are really glad we travel the way we do, to see both sides of the countries we visit. People that book holidays with high end tour companies, or arrive on cruise ships, and are ferried around in air conditioned mini buses with blacked out windows have no idea about what really goes on in the cities they visit “I apologise to the people who do” but we feel that all the countries we visit we like to see them for what they are, warts and all.

On our journey back the taxi driver took a route through the poorest area of Casco Viejo and beyond, it was quite shocking. Now,we do not know whether he took that route to show us, as tourist’s,the real truth of the area or whether it was the quickest route. But if he was trying to make a point he certainly did.

What a day

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What a day. Decided to relax, have some breakfast then back to our room to chill after the hectic last two days. Had a nap then decided to visit the Panama Canal. Booked a taxi,off we went only to discover that most Panamanian people stay in the city all week and go home on Friday. Traffic was horrendous so we had a two hour trip from our hotel and back costing $20. Oh well. We did see a bus which was a former USA school bus. Quite cool