Panama Canal Cruise 2013:
Day 5 - Panama


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Panama Canal Cruise 2013: [Day 1 - Ft. Lauderdale] [Day 2 - At Sea] [Day 3 - At Sea] [Day 4 - Colombia] [Day 5 - Panama] [Day 6 - Canal] [Day 7 - At Sea] [Day 8 - Costa Rica] [Day 9 - At Sea] [Day 10 - Guatemala] [Day 11 - At Sea] [Day 12 - At Sea] [Day 13 - Mexico] [Day 14 - Mexico] [Day 15 - At Sea] [Day 16 - San Diego]

Tuesday, January 22, 2013: As we neared Colón, Panama, we were struck by the huge numbers of ships surrounding the town.

We assume that they were waiting their turn for the Canal, but we really don't know.
The ship carefully backed into its berth in front of Colón 2000, a shopping area specifically created for the cruise ships. It is a little oasis from crime in a town where every online port review (and our tour guide) said to be extremely careful if you venture beyond this point.
There was chaos in the shore excursion waiting area as tours departed later than expected, but before long, we were off on our Aquabus Amphibious City Tour. We passed the first of many, many McDonald's as we made our way through the congested streets of Colón.
We saw many of these brightly colored buses, often featuring someone's name near the entrance. They appeared to be a local form of public transit but unfortunately, we don't know anything more about them.
Colón was once a beautiful town, but now it is rundown and covered with graffiti.
Here's another colorful bus.
We passed the Chagres River, noted by our guide, Ricardo, as the most important river in the country.
This mysterious dome is the Baha'i House of Worship.
Our tour took us from Colón on the Caribbean side of Panama to Panama City on the Pacific side. In an hour, we were in the outskirts of Panama City. This shot shows a Do-It Center, a Taco Bell, a McDonald's, and a Maersk truck.
Apparently, Golden Oreos are nueva in this part of the world, even though we've had them in the US for years. It's time for Oreo to share the golden goodness with Panama.
We arrived at the Panama Viejo Museum.
It is located right on the Pacific Ocean, but it was low tide when we arrived so there isn't as much ocean in this photo as there might have been later.
We got photos of Orchy with statues of Queen Isabella (identified here as Isabel La Catolica) ...
... and this gentleman, Pedro Arias de Ávila, who founded Panama City on August 15, 1519.
We went inside and learned a little something about Panama City's origins. We saw pottery and coins and a model of the city as it looked centuries ago, but the most interesting thing we learned was that Panama uses the US dollar, after a very brief attempt to use their own paper money back in the year 1941.
After the museum visit, it was time to board the Aquabus, a bus on land and a boat in the water. Seating onboard was extremely cramped and our seats in the back row of the bus/boat forced our knees into the seats in front of us, but it was a very fun trip.
We passed another McDonald's and got a shot of the ad for McFlurry Maria. What could that be? We have no idea. On the left is an ad for a Triple Con Queso burger for $1.65. Alas, we couldn't stop to try them.
Panama City was a surprise to us -- a very modern city with lots of unusual architecture.
This half-moon building is landmark visible from many parts of the city and bay.
Like any other modern metropolis, it has billboards, freeways, and Golden Arches.
This is the Mercado de Mariscos (seafood market), a magical place filled with fresh fish for sale and seafood restaurants. We might have to come back to Panama City someday just to spend a week in this market.
Our bus tour guide, Patrick, was a native Panamanian with flawless English and an American way of phrasing things. He told us that this side street was home to a market for many things, including the second hand books he needed for school when he was a kid.
We drove past the old section of town, Casco Antiguo, to look at the well-preserved buildings there, ...
... and passed some typical buildings with balconies overlooking the water.
We headed back toward town and that magnificent skyline.
We were quite taken with the assymetrical balconies and brightly colored glass accents of this building.
This dude is Vasco Núñez de Balboa. He was kind of a big deal in these parts back in the 1500s.
We drove into the marina and had our first splashdown into the water.
Admire the Panama City skyline with us.
Once on the water, we were allowed to open the windows in order to get better photos. We were fortunate to be sitting right next to the part of the window that opened.
Behold! One of the photos we took.
This architectural wonder, called the Twist Building, is amazing to see.
This is the view from the bay back toward the causeway, Casco Antiguo and Ancon Hill.
Here's Casco Antiguo zoomed in, ...
... and here's Ancon Hill. It was a little disconcerting to be in the water, because there is just no way that this bus should be afloat, but we didn't sink. Obviously.
From here, we could see the Pacific anchor line for ships waiting their turn to traverse the Panama Canal.
Our bay tour ended when we headed back up the ramp to the marina.
Next, we headed toward the causeway, passing Best Access, a company with which Tom's company has done a lot of business, so we had to take a photo.
Here's a more typical neighborhood.
We took the freeway out to the Panama Canal Zone. This is the Unidad Administrativa de Bienes Revertidos building, whatever that is.
We passed this sculpture as we entered the causeway. That's the Panamanian flag flying overhead.
We drove out to a set of three islands that are now connected by the Amador Causeway. Here's the view looking back toward the city.
Look closely and you'll see the ramp we were about to take for our second splashdown of the day.
Splash!
We passed a marina filled with rich people's boats.
We circled around to the back of the islands and got a look at the Bridge of the Americas, which signals the entrance (or exit) of the Panama Canal. We'd be seeing it up close the next day.
We exited the water one last time, ...
... then drove to a local shopping mall for a restroom break and to board our regular bus. We got a full shot of the Aquabus in all its glory. Once we were back on the regular bus, we received a turkey sandwich, banana muffin, piece of candy, and a water bottle, which we wolfed down.
We passed the brightly-colored, oddly-shaped, unfinished Museum of Biodiversity, designed by Frank Gehry. We got a better picture of it the next day from the ocean side.
Back in the Panama Canal Zone, this fountain was built in honor of Arnulfo Arias Madrid, and installed by his widow, Mireya Moscoso, a female Panamanian president who succeeded her late husband.
This is a monument to George Goethals, the chief engineer of the Panama Canal. It stands in front of the Panama Canal Administration Building, 85 feet above sea level.
Our guide told us that the green space in this boulevard is exactly the same size as the locks in the canal itself. It's hard to believe that our ship fit into the canal, because surely it must be wider than this space. Panamax ships can't be any wider than approximately 106 feet.
We returned to the ship via a different route, one that followed the canal. We spotted Maersk containers loaded onto Panama Canal Railway Company rail cars.
We caught a glimpse of a cruise ship transiting the canal, which was very exciting, ...
... but not as exciting as seeing an actual Maersk ship loaded down with Maersk containers transiting as well.
We were delighted to have the chance to cross the Centennial Bridge, opened in 2004 for Panama's centennial in 2003.
It's a beautiful bridge, and our awesome seats in the front row helped us capture a little of it.
Here's the view northbound toward the Caribbean, ...
... and here's the view southbound toward the Pacific after we came back across the bridge.
From there, we drove through the lush Soberania Parque Nacional, known for its excellent birdwatching, until we rejoined the freeway we originally came in on.
Back at the port, the light was finally perfect for the shot of the Maersk Bratan opposite the channel from us.
In our cabin, we watched several lectures on the history of the Panama Canal and the logistics behind it, and learned more about the route we'd be taking the next day. Prior to our trip, we'd never really known that the crossing goes from northwest to southeast, and that once we reach the Pacific, we are actually slightly north of the Caribbean. Look it up on a map and you will be amazed too.
This slide showed the lock system on the Pacific side. The lectures were interesting but the speaker used variations of the phrase "Render unto Caesar" so many times that we considered turning it into a drinking game.
It was dark before we left Colón, since we didn't have far to travel. That evening, Tom's GPS showed that we just sailed out to sea in a large circle before returning to the entrance of the canal in the morning.

We try not to photograph everything we eat, but this chicken salad and salsa appetizer was just too beautiful to go without documenting it.

Day 6 >


Panama Canal Cruise 2013: [Day 1 - Ft. Lauderdale] [Day 2 - At Sea] [Day 3 - At Sea] [Day 4 - Colombia] [Day 5 - Panama] [Day 6 - Canal] [Day 7 - At Sea] [Day 8 - Costa Rica] [Day 9 - At Sea] [Day 10 - Guatemala] [Day 11 - At Sea] [Day 12 - At Sea] [Day 13 - Mexico] [Day 14 - Mexico] [Day 15 - At Sea] [Day 16 - San Diego]

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