Part 1

Panama City, Taboga Island and the Panama Canal

Anand was nice enough to come in the early hours of the snowing morning to take us to the airport.  Six to eight inches of snow fell that morning.Deicing the plane.

In Panama City, we walked down Avenida Central, the main shopping area.  Here they're selling medicinal herbs. The big ones are aloe.This is a strange fruit that I've never seen before, for sale on the streets of Panama.  I asked the name of it, but didn't write it down.

Authentic chicheme for sale here.  It's pretty good--it's like a thick blended sweet corn drink, with vanilla and other spices.We'd lost our compass (very handy for finding your way around a city), and bought a new one from Joseph Berger, a Polish immigrant who runs a army/navy store.  Very friendly guy.

Here's another strange fruit we tried.  Probably wouldn't try it again, but it was interesting.  The outside looks like a small round eggplant, and the inside is filled with large seeds with an edible pulp around them.  It left a strange gummy paste on my lips.This is in the Casco Viejo section of Panama city.  It's the old colonial part of the city, with lots of tourist potential, but it's also very dangerous because of gang activity.  We were pretty nervous when walking around, and finally decided to get out when a police officer on a bike gave us detailed instructions on where to go and where not to go.

Many of the buildings were empty shells, although Eric thought he saw families living in them.The cathedral.

Plaza de la IndependenciaEric at an old abandoned military building, with a view of the financial district.

You can see the cops in the shade here.  They told us they were there to prevent criminals from taking over the building.

Old colonial streetCalle de Pacifico.  Many young couples hung around here, sitting on the benches.

The ruins of an old convent.Outside the San Jose Church (it has a famous golden altar that didn't look too impressive to us), we met a group of young kids who wanted to have their pictures taken.  Just from looking at their poses, with the menacing gestures on the part of the boys, they seem very influenced by the world of gangs and rap videos.

This is a street the police officer who was warning us about the area told us definitely not to go into.Many of the local buses were very colorfully painted.

Writing up notes in our hotel room at the Hotel Covadonga.  It seemed pretty basic at first, but after we got back from the provinces, it felt deluxe!The next day we took a trip out to Taboga Island, an island inside the Bay of Panama.  The ferry went through the last part of the Panama Canal, and under the Puente de las Americas (Bride of the Americas) which is part of the Pan-American highway .

On Taboga Island, there's an overlook where you can see all the ships waiting to go through the Canal.This was our hotel room (Hotel Chu) on Taboga island.  Pretty basic, but clean and friendly.

The sitting area at the front of the hotel had a definite 50's style, plastic covered couches and all.This was the first of these little dugout canoes that we were to see everywhere.  They're tiny!

The street our hotel was on. The island, aside from 2 little minivans, was basically pedestrian only.This cemetery is supposed to date from the 1600's, but we didn't find any old headstones.  Most of the graves were in bad shape.

Paul Gauguin stayed on this island for a few months.  He worked on the Panama Canal for some time.Right next door and reachable at low tide from Taboga Island is Isla El Morro.  It was the headquarters for the Pacific Steamship Navigation Company, that ran steamships between Chile and Taboga.  There's all kinds of leftover equipment and ruins on the island.

Eric with an old propellerRuins of the wharf.

A boiler, maybe?The black thing is the base of an old hand blown bottle.  It's amazing how the bottles, over the years, melt into the old iron until it seems like they're a part of it.

Back at the restaurant that belongs to the hotel, we had some delicious papaya (right), pineapple, and fried yucca.We took a walk on some of the old paths around the island.  During World War II, this was strong US military presence here, and you can see many old buildings and foundations.  This is an old Quonset hut, built into the dirt.

Here's the entrance.One of the paths had a really under-engineered utility line along it.

The paths were very fun to walk along.One of them led us to a great deserted beach, with huge stones.

On the way back, the tide was very low.  The wreck of an old boat was on the beach.I think this is the wheel from a steamship.  It was completely exposed at low tide.

Another wreck, and more steamship equipment

The seed on the right was everywhere on the island.  They twirled around when they floated down similar to maple seeds.  Only later did see where it came from--this large seed pod on the left.For dinner--mixed seafood soup, with lots of octopus.

The view from the hotel.These ships are waiting to enter the Panama Canal.  The pipes at the bottom are sewage pipes from the hotel.  On the Atlantic side, since the difference between low and high tide is only about a foot or so, the outhouses are built directly over the water.

We hiked up to the top of the island one morning.  There's an overlook there (formerly a World War II defensive outlook) with an awesome viewOn the way, there was a house built onto the hillside.  The interesting part of it was that there was a concrete slide down to the house from the road, so they didn't have to carry down the supplies.

We found this strange fruit along the way.....and this seed pod from some legume.

It was a little tough figuring out what the white things were at the top here of the mountain, but we decided that they were a set of airplane navigation beacons.Also at the top is a World War II lookout.

with some great views...

This is Isla El Morro, which has the Pacific Steamship Navigation Company ruins on it.Later in the day, we watched from the restaurant of our hotel while a bunch of kids got ready to go to deliver lunch to the men working on the ships waiting to pass through the canal.  Apparently the islanders have a contract to do that, and the kids really enjoy going out to the boats and delivering the lunches in person.

I didn't quite understand the financial aspect of this (maybe it was in exchange for the lunches?) but some of the ships waiting to pass through the canal are fishing boats, and they give the less desirable fish to the islanders, who clean them right at the waterside.The trash pickup is one of the few motorized vehicles on the island.

There's also a wildlife refugee on the island.  Unfortunately, on the road that we thought leads there, we found the island dump.  It was quite a disappointment to find that.  It was on the one place which would have had a great view, too, because it was such a steep slope.  Presumably that's why they used that spot, because there was such a large drop-off that the trash would drop down a long ways.The funny reddish shadow on the water beyond the trash dump is from the smoke of a big fire burning on the mainland.  Lots of fires are set here, mainly to clear out underbrush.

These are more ruins from US installations built during World War III'm looking at the spider in this picture...

On the way home we caught up with a group of kids on scooters.

At dinner (I think we were the only ones around--definitely not many tourists there) we found that we could combine the binoculars with the digital camera to make something like a zoom.  It worked much better than expected.  This ship is way out in the water.Leaving the next morning, these are some views of Taboga from the dock.

Back to Panama city, and renting a car.  Our first driving experience in the city (trying to get out of the city) was pretty nerve wracking, although Eric likes driving aggressively.  This car pushed right up in front of us, and then had to back up to turn.

We went out onto the causeway, built right outside Panama City from the dirt and rocks taken from when the canal was built.  There's a Smithsonian sponsored wildlife center there, and formerly a military installation.These climbing cactuses were all over the place in drier climates.

There was a tank with sea creatures in it that you could touch.  Eric's holding a sea cucumber here.And here, a sea turtle.

It's hard to see, but in this middle of this picture is a sloth.  You can click on the picture to get the full image.After the causeway, we went to the Miraflores Locks on the Panama Canal.   It's the last set of locks on the canal.  Luckily we were there after 1 PM--before then, there's no ships going through the canal.

These locomotives pull the boats through the canal.  The engine is made by Mitsubishi, and cost 2.3 million dollars apiece!Notice how much the ship goes down

Out to the Pacific!

Surrounding the canal is rainforest, necessary to provide the fresh water that's drained into the canal whenever a boat goes through the locks.Eric with the car we rented.

Another view of some of the freshwater lakes right around the canal.