Next day at 930 on the dot the guide picked us up at the hostel. We were only four people in the group, me like a lot. It's the big hoards of people that turns me of doing guided tours. So i was very happy about this number of people. We started with a walking tour of the old part of Panama City, Casco Viejo. We learned that this part has been burnt down several times back in the old good pirate days. We also learned that the only gold that the pirates didn't take was the alter in one of the churches. The priest was clever enough to paint it black and the pirates were stupid enough to fall for it:)
Casco Viejo is a UNESCO world heritage site which means that no buildings can be demolished and if the buildings are renovated then they must keep the original structure. The buildings were not taken care of for many years and started to fall apart but now there is works going on to restore buildings again after pressure from UNESCO. There is only low rise old feel houses, small narrow streets, a hand full of beautiful churches and a good few restaurants and bars. All this makes the area very good to stay in.
After Casco Viejo we drove though the financial city and the more modern buildings. Its a big contrast comparing the old city with the new, here you can only find high rise buildings and everything feels very modern and expensive. This and its only a ten minute drive between the two parts. This area holds a lot of banks so its a big financial district. Big shopping centres can be found here as well. We were highly recommended to visit the bar at the 66th floor of the Trump tower around 5 PM. This to watch the sunset over the Pacific. I didn't get around to do this but i would imagine it would be very beautiful.
Then it was time to drive in to the Canal zone. The French was the first who made an attempt to build the canal but they basically caught all the deceases they could get, a lot died and they gave up. By this time Panama was part of the great Colombia but they wanted out. USA came along and kindly said "if we can build the canal then we will help you become independent". Of course Panama liked the sound of this so they agreed. They marked up a 4 km wide strip where the Canal would be built and this is what is called the canal zone, this was American land since they were the ones who owned the canal.
The construction started in 1904 and took 10 years. They finished 6 months before deadline and came in under budget. Not bad!, Since the Canal zone was controlled by Americans they also had Americans flags. This angered a lot of Panamanians. In 1963 it was agreed that also the Panamanian flag should be flagged in the canal zone. This was not respected and in 1964 there was a big uproar and 21 students died after being shot when they tried to get the Panamanian flag going in the canal zone (or maybe it was 28). This caused Panama to break all diplomatic ties with the US. After a lot of going back and forward it was agreed that the Panama Canal would be handed over to Panama on the 31st of December 1999.
Our guide, Miguel, or Michel as he wanted to be called, drove us up a big hill after the canal zone. This so we could get a birds eye view of the city and most importantly over the canal. We would then get a better understanding of the set up when we got close and personal with the canal. Most people don't get to see the birds eye view since you need a car or scooter to get here. It was impossible to get a picture of the canal since its so grand. So you get a birds eye view of the old and new city instead.
Finally it was time to head down to the locks of the canal to see the ships come in. First we went to one lock and then we were very lucky because it was time for a cruise ship to pass. Cruise ships only makes up 2% of all ships coming through the canal. As soon as a ship goes in to the lock then a Panamanian captain takes over and its really impressive how they manoeuvre with very little space on each side. It was well impressive to see two men in a tiny rowing boat, rowing up to catch the rope from the cruise liner as well, see top pic to the right below, the rowing boat is the dot between the pier and the ship.
Last stop was at the Miraflores lock which is where the bigger operation happens. Here we were offered to either pay the entrance of USD 15 to the museum and the 4th floor view of the canal or just have a drink on the second floor. I thought a drink on the second floor with a good view sounded great. Decided to lean back and take it all in with style so ordered a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon and relaxed. We got to see a container ship slowly slowly making the way through the lock. Again very impressive how this huge boat makes it. The neat price tag of USD 300 000-500 000 for the ships to pass is also impressive, not cheap but apparently hell of a lot cheaper then going around Cap horn. The price is decided on size and weight, a sailing boat is around USD 800. The smallest amount anyone ever paid was 36 cents, a man who swam the canal in the 1920s.
Before ending the tour we were also dropped off at the fish market but then it was around 5 PM so nothing really going on. After the fish market we were brought back to our hostel. I really enjoyed this day. The tour took 7 hours but felt much shorter. Of course we also stopped for lunch during the day. Michel knew so much about the canal but then he is also an engineer that decided to make his own business in the tourist industry instead. Well travelled guy and very intelligent man!!!
I hope i managed to get all the facts correct in this post.
USD 29/ EUR 25.50
Good investment and defiantly worth it.
I did the tour with Panama road trip.
I decided that it was time for a career break. So handed in my notice to the company who I worked with for the last ten years. It's time to pack my bag and depart from Amsterdam which been my home town for the last 4.5 years. -"Amsterdam, it's not you it's me and I need a break!". Read more
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