Panama: day 1
Two of us made it to Panama City on Monday evening and our third friend was coming from New Zealand and had to fly from Auckland to Los Angeles to Miami to Panama City. Needless to say, there were delays in there and she made to Panama City the next day. I just want to start by saying since all of my travel has been to Europe or Canada, I had not experienced the scrutiny that one experiences in Central America at immigration.
My friend Kelly and I arrived together and I am used to going through customs/immigration by myself with no issues. She suggested we go through together and we did not have what was deemed an acceptable address on our entry form so that took a little explaining and I will admit, some good old-fashioned flirting to get us through. Our Airbnb was great but the directions and address were were kind of terrible. Casco Viejo and the weird street addresses are kind confusing for the uninitiated. When our friend Cheryl arrived the next day, we gave her very detailed instructions since she was alone and speaks the least Spanish of the three of us.
That said, Kelly and I arrived, headed out for a nightcap and to explore a bit and found Pedro Mandinga Rum Bar. Ahem, we proceeded to head there every evening afterwards. We had to bring Cheryl back but then of course we kept meeting interesting people! Some Americans who were in Panama working at the Smithsonian Institute, some Brits who were very funny and entertaining, and then the fourth evening (yeah, I know) we had new friends meet us there who we’d met along the way after grabbing tacos for dinner. I will say though, I had their Rum Old Fashioned 3 nights out of 4 and it was delicious. When in Central America/the Caribbean, drink rum. There’s a reason it rhymes with yum.
After our nightcap, we headed to bed to get the day started fairly early so that we could explore Casco Viejo before heading to the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal (which I was really excited about!). We wandered about the neighborhood that morning, then got an Uber to the Miraflores Locks where we arrived just in time to sit outside and watch a Mexican schooner cruise through the locks (first entry on the Pacific side, in case you’re wondering). It was a very special transit because even the Canal employees were excited and snapping selfies with the boat. I would have just called in a pirate ship thingy because I know nothing about boats but the Panama Canal employees kept calling it a schooner, hurrah for knowledgeable people.
Originally, I wanted to do a Panama Canal cruise, the full transit. After going there, I am glad we did not. Wow, that would be 8 hours on a very slow boat eating up a whole day in the short amount of time we had in the lovely country. I think we got more bang for our buck by going on the smaller boats in the jungle cruise the next day. It ended up that the full transit tour sold out far in advance and I’m glad it did. Visiting the locks was enough for me in the short time we had in Panama. When I go back (this is a theme with me and every place I go :) I will go to San Blas - Google it, trust me, do a full transit of the Canal, and visit some other areas of the country as well.
After the Locks, we headed back to Casco Viejo for lunch because Cheryl was arriving soon. We ate some lunch at Mahalo, Cheryl met us and then we let her freshen up, get her own lunch, and went out to explore Panama Viejo. Panama Viejo is the site of some colonial era ruins, very interesting, not very safe, apparently. We spent an hour or two there and then it started raining and we ordered an Uber. We paid $8 to just walk the grounds. When our Uber picked us up, I opened the door and he said “you are very brave, this is a red zone.” Well then, there were police there and we were in a group so I never felt threatened. I’d read online to not be there after dark (no shit, there were no lights or people around), and we’d planned accordingly. I would suggest going there, it was interesting and the viewpoints of downtown and the rest of the city were great. I’ll have a post of just photos from Panama Viejo later.
After Panama Viejo, we had a reservation an Donde Jose for their 10 course tasting menu. We were lucky enough to be the guinea pigs for the first night of a new menu. I think the chef was VERY nervous. He was so friendly and nice and everything was delicious. It wasn’t the same experience as La Degustation in Prague (which still may never be topped in my lifetime) but it was thoroughly enjoyable and tasty. Service was excellent and the seating only allowed for about 20 people to be dining in the space at one time. My favorite course of the meal was the taco.
After Donde Jose we headed to our Cheers of Casco Viejo, Pedro Mandinga, for our nightcap since Cheryl missed it the night before. This was the night we met the Smithsonian Institute employees and talked all things we disliked about the current president and they also told us what they did in their jobs at the Smithsonian. We definitely expressed our concern that the current administration might defund such projects. Then after that night, we tried not to talk about politics or the US president.
Day two of Panama was our jungle tour with a lot of monkeys and more tacos. Stay tuned.