Crossing the Isthmus. Atlantic to Pacific in Two Hours By Car.

First read this: The Passage to Panamá: Part Two

In the morning of the fifth day aboard Fritz The Cat we anchored off the mainland of Panamá, near Carti, packed our backs and waited for a boat taxi to come pick us up.  The boat showed up on time and we soon had 17 of us and all our gear on board.  We puttered a short way along shore, then made our way up a small river that we were told was full of 2.5 meter caymans.  The boat dropped us off about 1km inland and we packed ourselves into 4x4s for the journey across the isthmus.  We climbed up through some small rolling mountains full of lush, green, very jungly vegetation.  Soon we came to the Pan-American Highway, an old friend that we had lost in Colombia.  The first thing that we noticed about Panamá was how nice the roads were.

After just over two hours in the car we came to the Pacific Ocean and the highrises of Panamá City.  You could place that skyline on any coast in the United States and it wouldn’t be out of place.  McDonald’s and KFC were everywhere; we thought that we had gone straight back to the States.

Panamá City skyline.

We stayed in a rich suburb near the old town.  That night we went for a little walk looking for food and wandered into one of the longest streets of cheap stuff (think Chinatown on steroids).  We ate some street snacks and were amazed by the cars which actually waited for pedestrians to cross the street.

The next day we walked towards the old city of Casco Viejo.  Don’t walk the wrong way heading toward the tourist center.  We accidentally took a wrong turn and made our way through a slummish neighborhood that was very interesting.  All colonial building that looked like they were still destroyed by war.  Only three blocks from where we were supposed to be, the police came and grabbed us and made us take a taxi the three blocks back because they said we were in a bad neighborhood.  In South America good changed to bad over kilometers, here it was over mere blocks.  I guess we need to be more careful around here.

Crumbling colonial buildings.

Sadly, in Casco Viejo almost every street was ripped up with construction crews everywhere.  They are probably replacing the cool old cobblestone with new asphalt.  This made it hard to take good pictures and just annoying to walk around.  However, we did get to watch the boats in a long line to cross through the Panamá Canal.

Boats in line to cross the Panamá Canal.

Everthing in Panamá City is super westernized, but it is a pretty smelly city.  However, even with all the chain restaurants, there were still plenty of the Kuna people walking around dressed in their awesomely colorful (but never matching) outfits.

We only stayed for two nights.  On our bus out we crossed over the famous Canal.

Panamá Canal shot from the bus window.