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When in Panama - visit the canal!

sunny 30 °C


After breakfast at the hostel we headed out for a full day of sightseeing. There was no water in the hostel this morning so luckily we had both showered last night before bed, but it was going to be a bad hair day for me straight up (literally).

We walked the short distance to the fish market and saw all the fresh fish etc on offer. Prices were pretty good and we decided we needed to check out the cooking facilities of the hostel before we buy any of the produce.

Mercado de Mariscos
The Mercado de Mariscos is the city fish market, open for business to local restaurants and the public every day except the 3rd Monday of each month when it is closed completely for thorough cleaning. It's the best place to buy fresh fish in Panama City - everything from tuna to snapper to lobster to octopus - or ceviche to go from one of the many vendors.


One of our missions for today was to get to the bus station to purchase our bus ticket for our next destination next week. Not quite sure how to get there, after the fish market we decided to catch a taxi to take us to the Albrook Mall (shopping mall) and bus station. We had spoken to others at the hostel and they had paid just US$3 to get to the main bus station so I was gunna try to get to our destination for the same price. It's so much fun not being able to speak the language of the country you are travelling in. But this little detail has never been a deterrent for us. I had written our intended destination on a piece of paper and wrote $3.00 underneath it. After crossing a 4 lane main road, that had police stopping traffic for pedestrians to cross, we stood by the side of the road and waited for a taxi to approach us. This did not take long as everywhere we (tourists) walk taxis are beeping to see if you want a ride. Ah, by the way, taxi's are not metered here, that is why you need to agree on a price before you get in. Obviously locals know the going rate for everywhere they want to go but we of course had no idea. A taxi stopped, I showed him my piece of paper, pointing at the $3.00 and he smiled and nodded yes. Once in the car I again confirmed by pointing at the $3.00 and he laughed and entered back into the traffic. The taxi ride was about 25 minutes and I started to feel a little guilty that we were only going to pay this driver $3.00. When we pulled up outside one of the biggest shopping malls I have ever seen, I handed the driver $3.00 and he seemed happy with that. Had he asked for more I probably would have given it, but he seemed to be happy with the agreed amount.

Ok now Albrook is a major bus depot and I had investigated (googled) that we could get a public bus from here to the Miraflores Locks in the Panama Canal. Our hostel offered an return shuttle to the locks for US$9 per person, but what fun was that. Much better to attempt to get there on public transport when you have no idea which bus goes where or no language skills to get directions. Again, with my trusty paper & pen, I wrote down where we wanted to go and with a smile stuck it under the nose of a bus warden. He rattled off in Spanish exactly where we needed to go to catch the correct bus, but of course not understanding a word, reading his hand gestures and hearing the words 'alli arriba' (up there) we got the general gist of where we had to be.

Standing in the general location as advised, we soon realised that we needed to buy a transport card as all buses had a swipe in system, no cash was paid to drivers. This again was a major feat for us with no Spanish, but we had a lovely lady help us who we could not understand one word but managed to point us in a the right direction, coming up again to ensure we were sorted. The kindness of strangers! Through the help of the not so friendly ticket seller we managed to purchase a card for US$2 and work out we can both use the same card. It seems bus fares are one price for every ride so you only need to swipe in, not out, so multiple passengers can use one card. We paid an extra US$2 to put credit on the card and returned to the bus stop. Unfortunately the wait for the bus was almost an hour and judging by the locals waiting in the same line this was not normal as they were all getting pretty frustrated and looking continually at their watches.

Finally the bus did show up and we had a comfortable, air conditioned ride that costs just 25c each and delivered us all the way the to steps of the Miraflores lock entrance. Here we climbed the stairs and paid the US$15 entry fee (only US$ for residents). Our entry fee included a short 20 minute interesting film showing the history and building of the canal and entrance to the museum. Outside there were viewing platforms and we were there to see 4 tourist boats and 1 sail boat sinking as the water in the lock drained out. Perhaps a huge ship would have been more exciting but you get the gist of how it all works. To tell you the truth is was all a little underwhelming. We have seen plenty of locks working in action during one of our previous trips when we cycled along the Canal du Midi in France, and we have seen the very big locks on the dam of the Yangtze River in China. But I suppose who could come to Panama and not see the Panama Canal??

Miraflores Locks
Miraflores is the name of one of the three locks that form part of the Panama Canal, and the name of the small lake that separates these locks from the Pedro Miguel Locks upstream. In the Miraflores locks, vessels are lifted (or lowered) 54 feet (16.5 m) in two stages, allowing them to transit to or from the Pacific Ocean port of Balboa in Panama City. Ships cross below the Bridge of the Americas, which connects North and South America.


We caught the 25c bus back to Albrook mall and went in search of the ticket booth for our next destination. Of course we picked the wrong one but were kindly instructed to the correct counter and managed to purchase tickets for next Tuesday. Later on when I was rethinking about our ticket purchase I remembered I had investigated (googled) and thought our ticket should cost US$25 each, however we only paid US$9.70 each. Hopefully my googling was miss information or otherwise we are on a real chicken bus that is much cheaper than buses I had googled. Lyn said not to worry, chicken bus is an experience too. So we shall see on Tuesday what kind of transport we end up with.

After our successful ticket purchasing we had a quick lap around inside the giant Albrook Mall. Man that place is big. Fun Fact: When one thinks of Sydney Australia, the first thing that comes to mind is the great House of Opera in the city’s port. Inside Albrook Mall you can build 5 times this wonder of the world.
We had lunch in the shopping centre food hall only cause we were hungry and the mall was air conditioned.

Due to our successful day of navigation on the public transport system, Lyn decided it would be a cinch for us to get a bus back to Casco Veijo instead of a taxi. And sure enough, after a couple of queries to bus wardens and fingers crossed we were standing in the correct bus line, before we knew it we had swiped the 25c fare and pushed our way through the turnstile, yes the buses have turnstiles, and were sitting in a bus on our way home.

A short walk back to our hostel was interrupted by a restaurant tout, from one of the numerous eating places outside the fish market, who coaxed us in with the offer of US$1 beers. How could we resist? Well it was still bloody hot and we need to stay hydrated, and the beer was soo cold. We tried a different one this time Panama Lager - pretty good also. The waiter was a bit peeved we did not stay to eat but we had a late lunch and said all we wanted was a cold drink.


Walking back past the fish market from this morning, it was now high tide and the boats floated in the still water instead of laying on the mud as we had seen them this morning. A slight detour to the supermarket for supplies ie 6 pack of rum & cola for US$6.50 and some bread for our cuppa soup dinner, found us back at the hostel which still had no water! Arg and a cool shower would have been so refreshing.


Instead just as it got dark we headed out for a little walk around the block to discover it was a full moon so we took a few pictures and meandered back to be told the water was back. Well now it had to wait for us as we had a date with the roof top terrace to sink a couple of cold rumbos. After 2 cans each we were happy and it was time for that shower.


A very successful and productive day.

Are we enjoying Panama City? Hell yeah!


Posted by Cindy Bruin 20:57 Archived in Panama Tagged panama canal miraflores locks

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OMG really earned your 'Scabby' nickname with that $3 25min taxi ride - giving aussie tourists a bad name lol
Karma may get you on tuesdays bus. ???

by April Surridge

Great blog as always. Where to after this?

by Toni Hatton

So your back into travelling mode & Lyn's fully recovered, sounds fun.very sadly Billy died from an aggressive form of Leukemia. But we now have a new little friend called Jack(black cross poodle) enjoy.

by Carole HARRIS

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