My time in Panama was brief, only three nights but Tom and I managed to squeeze in quite a lot. Of course we visited the actual canal, and luckily when a cruise ship had just entered the Miraflores lock. So that was fun, although hard to see over the throng of tourists on the viewing platform waving at the throng of tourists on the Celebrity cruise ship who were waving back at them. The Museum of the canal is really worth taking in and in addition to describing the history, politics and engineering that went into the canal, there are some great displays, one of which is a simulation booth of a pilot house in a freighter and you get to steer the ship through the locks.
We covered some territory in Panama City as well seeing the Old Quarter with its many plazas, churches and museums. We also headed up above the city to a mirador where we could see the full length of Panama City with its impressive sky line filled with office towers (Trump) and some pretty interesting works of modern architecture. Sadly in between the signature towers of great wealth and where we were standing are pockets of poverty the appearance of which is accacerbated by the obvious disparities.
As recommended by all the guides, we took the train along the canal, across Panama, crossing from the Pacific to the Caribbean in just over an hour. Colon the terminus city for the train can be dangerous as there is great poverty and addiction in the downtown core of the city. Our taxi driver gave us a quick tour that provided us with a chance to see some of the highlights, really they were lowlights, of Colon before we hopped a bus to Portobello.
The local buses in Panama are old American school buses and each one is pimped up by the owners to reflect their personal style. The views along the bus route are beautiful and it was nice to the Caribbean side of Panama. We had lunch in Portobello and wandered the few blocks of the main square before heading back up the coast to spend the rest of the day at the beach. A national park with some private enterprise in the form of restaurantes and change rooms rim a beautiful little bay with the warmest water I have ever encountered. It was truly as warm as a bathtub.
We opted for the bus back to Panama City in order to see the road route and landed at the Terminale in Panama City that rivals some small airports in size. Connected to the bus terminale is a huge mall and again only reminded one of the poverty that we had seen in Colon and across the country only hours earlier. Since I had been to Costa Rica a couple of times, I decided to fly to Nicaragua and attend Spanish school while Tom saw more of Panama and Costa Rica.