April 6th, 2011...Don’t know what day of the week it is. It’s day 8 of our cruise. Today we were in Panama at Puerto Amador. Right now I’m sitting on the balcony watching a thunderstorm off the starboard side of the ship. Finally, I’m on the correct side of the boat!
I just finished watching Secretariat on the Lido deck, under the stars. Saw lightning and was hoping we’d finish the movie before it got too close....we did. Now rain is threating my post here on the balcony. Half our balcony is covered, but the breeze is blowing in spit. But, back to our day.....
After we left the canal yesterday around 4pm, we basically anchored just outside of the entry to the Panama Canal. We “park” out in the ocean, along with a bunch of other ships. We could see the tall buildings of Panama City in the distance.
This morning (Lightning) we rode the tender shuttles into port for an 8 hour excursion into the El Valle eco-park. We left around 8am and (L) were transported in 2 large A/C tour buses. The port where we caught (L) the bus is an island off of Panama that is connected to the main land (L) by dirt fill roads. The roads were made as ocean breaks (L) to help keep the tide influence calm for ships as they enter the canal. The tides raise and lower 15-20 feet at every change.
The view of Panama city is crazy. Many, many tall buildings....but my favorite is one that spirals up to a point, which leans slightly one direction. We didn’t actually go into Panama City, and for that I am grateful. I think the traffic would be horrific.
On our tour (L) we had a great tour guide. He gave us a lot of information about the city that I wouldn’t have learned other wise. (Thunder) At one point we crossed over the entrance to the PC on the Pan-American Hwy. He, his name is Juan Carlos or JC for short, told us that the newer bridge that we passed under yesterday, the Centennial Bridge, is currently closed for repairs and the Pan-Am bridge is the only way to get from one side of Panama to the other right now. Because of the that traffic during rush hours is especially bad. Most low to middle class people live 45 to 60 mins out of the city so there is a lot people that travel into and out of the city. Because traffic is so bad now, semi trucks are required to park along the road and allow the cars to travel the highway. After 4pm, they are allowed to drive again. We saw many trucks parked on the shoulder, one even had a hammock strung between two of them with the driver sleeping in it. The police are big on speeding tickets here, unless you ride a motorcycle. If you are in a car, you will get a ticket. If you zoom by on a motorcycle, no big deal.
The Panamanians love to party. If there is a party in the suburbs, 100,000 people might be driving to get there. In order to stop drunk driving, the police set up roadblocks leading away from the parties. If you (L) blow to high on the breathalyzer, they make you call a taxi or stay over night.
When you arrive in the airport at Panama you can apply for insurance while you are here. The government will cover you for health and life and maybe other, for 30 (T) days. The government will help people who can’t afford medicine or (L) medical, but that is only if you have no way to pay for it your self. If you want money, you have work for it. Education is guaranteed through highschool. Colleges and universities are available here too. If you are an American and want to go to LSU, FSU, Norte Dame or OSU (that’s Ohio), they have campuses here and classes are in english. Cost is $3,000 a term. What a deal. But regarding the spanish here, JC says that it’s not a good place to learn spanish. The locals speak very fast and it’s hard to pick up. He says go else where to learn Spanish.
I think Panama has a lot going for it. It’s industry is (L) “services”. The provide service through the PC, which they earn Billions of dollars from. The highest paid one way trip through the canal was just over $400K. The lowest fare was like 36 cents by a famous actor in the early thirties (Robert....H....something). He swim 10 miles of the canal.
Pamama is trying to improve their standing with tourism as well. They are building a new international airport to west to service the beach front communities that are popping up. I would love a condo here once the airport is in. Speaking of buying a place.....you can get a standard 3 bedroom, 2 bath cinder block house with a laundry and parking for two cars for (T) about $50k. The condo’s I mentioned are under $200K and are made for (L) retirees. When you purchase property here as a foreigner you don’t start paying taxes for 20 years. The taxes they do have are pretty low (L), the breakover point being $3,000/mo. Average salary is about $450/mo. We could be rich here honey! There are direct flights from several major U.S. airports. (T).
So, we drive up into the crater of a dormant volcano, through the rain (L) forest that covers the hills. On the trees we see cashews and mangos growing. The cashews are weird little (T) nuts....they grow on the underside of the fruit. One nut per fruit. That’s why they cost so much. The fruit is like a cross between a tomatillo and an old pepper that is getting soft. I don’t see any value in the fruit. I have pictures, I hope they turn out.
Onward and upward our bus goes. We first stop at volcanic fed hotspring for (L) a dip in the pools. (T) (L) I was going to go swimming, but the water color is not very attractive, so I just soaked my legs. There was also mud that you could put on your face and legs, but I didn’t see any good way to get it off without getting wet, so I passed on that too. The grounds are beautiful. I took many pictures of the trees and flowers. One (T) of the grounds keeper spotted at sloth in a tree, but most of us couldn’t see him.
Back on the bus to see a 30 m waterfall. We took a hike through a canopy adventure park to reach the water fall. Nice to see the rain forest up close. The waterfall was pretty, but ya know I’m from Oregon....(L) you gotta do better than that. Back on the bus to (T) a secluded hotel for lunch. We had an authentic chicken and rice dish, with fried plantain and a salsa salad. I tried Balboa beer, a Panamanian beer....I liked it. The alcohol content was 4.8%.
After lunch we stopped at the local village market and souvenir shops. I bought some Panamanian coffee and a little change purse. (T) Dad bought a complete outfit that I call him Pedro when he wears it. Perhaps pictures to follow. (L) On the way back, we enjoyed the scenery and most people ended up falling asleep on the drive....until we got back on the Pan-Am hwy. You can’t help but wake up with the curves and speeds they (L) drive. (L) (L) We made it back to the tenders, and there was a (L) bit of a line. Back on ship at about dinner time and after a quick check of the menu I decided (LL) I’d forgo it tonight. Dad, or Pedro (L) went any way. I took a walk on deck, then headed to the buffet and pizza....brought it all back and ate on the balcony. (LL). It was nice to have the quiet tonight. I didn't feel like talking (L) (T) (L) through dinner. (LL)
After a shower (L) I went on deck to watch the movie as mentioned at the start of this post, then ended up here. (L). The storm is picking up and I may be forced inside. So far the thunder isn’t very close. (L) the lightning intensity is picking up (T), probably because it’s so comfortable out tonight. I’m sure it’s cooler than normal (L). You know me though, I’m a weather (L) geek. I’m going to stay here as long as I think it’s reasonably safe. Things have really heated up now....gonna go watch the sky!!