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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 Comments (3)

Continuing on the Canal du Midi

Shake, rattle, let's roll - litterally!


Friday 11th October 13 (day 41)

It was cold last night, really cold. And the trains did sound like they were travelling through the middle of our tent, not 20 meters away from it. The fact that we were surrounded by water at the lock did not help the cold situation or the need to pee when I first woke up. Hardest thing about free camping on the side of a well used track, trying to time a bit of privacy between the passing traffic is a little tricky. But when you gotta go you gotta go and that guy on the bike could have just as easily looked away instead of copping an eyeful.

Anyway, we managed to scratch together breakfast, most importantly hot tea and coffee and we were on our way at about 11. Yeah I know, but still no rush.

The sky was blue-ish, but always cloudy, however we had no rain overnight and turned out all day it was dry also.

Our destination today was to get to Toulouse which we figured was less than 20 km away from our free camp as we had ridden a long way yesterday. The path again was good, but not very exciting, not much to look at and very soon we were in the outskirts of Toulouse. Like any bigger town the outskirts are industrial so like I said not much to look at.

In just over one hour of riding we came to the intersection of the canals ie Garonne and Midi. Lucky for us someone had hand written a name and arrow to show us the way to go. We don't really have the urge to go to the centre of Toulouse and know that the cheaper hotels are on the outside of the cities usually.

Cycling along the pathway next to the canal and the busy city traffic who do we run into but Frank - our Canadian friend we met a few nights ago. He had made it to Toulouse yesterday and was on his way out to find a tent pole he needed to replace. He told us about a cheap F1 hotel he was staying in about 10km out of town and this is where we decided to head to.

The cycle path through town did not go directly through the centre which suited us but was good enough to keep us out of the traffic. We just had to dodge pedestrians and other cyclists. Riding along I spotted a Velo shop (bike shop) and suggested we stop to see if they stocked the size tube we needed for Sofia and Fonsi but were having so much trouble finding. To their credit they did and we purchased 2 so that we had a back up in case of a puncture or flat tyre in the days to come when the track gets rougher. This was a relief to finally get them.

We rode and rode, stopping to get some lunch supplies as we started to head back out the other side of town. Frank had said the hotel was about 10 km out but we were starting to think we had somehow missed it. We stopped just before a highway underpass and Lyn asked a roadside food van if they knew where the F1 hotel was. Ironically it was on the other side of the underpass and had we continued on for another 20 meters we would have seen it for ourselves.

It was only about 2pm, but we had finished cycling for the day and yes they had room and it was a cheapy at only 32 euro - with shared bathroom facilities. But this was fine, after the last 5 nights free camping all we wanted was an indoors bed!

We had lunch in our room and basically rested the rest of the day. I went out at some stage to look for milk and bread for the morning. I rode for about 30 minutes back in the direction of town trying to find a supermarket which I eventually did after riding through a giant university campus. Wow this was the size of a small town.

We caught up with Frank later and we all had dinner together at Buffalo Grill an American restaurant that was next to the hotel. Not very French I know but it was all that was around and it was ok for a change. We had no problem chatting the evening away with Frank, nice bloke.

Returning to our room (which smelt like smelly cheese due to our breakfast cheese waiting for the morning consumption) we went to bed.

Saturday 12th October 13 (day 42)

Lucky we put the alarm on this morning as we had closed the blind which made the room very dark. Outside looked cloudy and cold and it was cold. Seems like the temperature has suddenly taken a nose dive. Not only the night temp but the day time temp also seems to have dropped dramatically.

We loaded our bikes, via exiting the bags out the window, great when we get a ground floor room. Riding off this morning was the hardest day yet due to the drop in temperature. The sky was cloudy with blue trying to come out. It had not rained overnight and did not end up raining all day, but we had a fair bit of wind which also added to the chill factor.

Path was good this morning and we were starting to wonder what everyone was on about that the path on this half was shit. Trees lined the canal most of the way which hid the sun from us but did make for pleasant outlook. Fields and fields of dead sunflowers just made me wish even more we were here earlier in the season to see them all in bloom.

We were making good time and stopped for lunch at Gardouch. With no end destination decided on for today we were just going to ride until we found somewhere suitable to stay.
Just after lunch around 2pm we hit the shit track at Avignonet-Lauragais. Suddenly our wonderful wide bitumen pathway turned into a goat track. 10 minutes later it got even worse as it turned into a very narrow dirt walking track. Tree roots and stones some of which were impossible to miss made for a very uncomfortable and bumpy ride. Enough to make our teeth shake loose. 20 minutes after we had hopped off the bikes our wobbly bits were still giggling around. OMG here was the pathway from hell that we had been warned about. There was no way we would be able to ride the rest of the canal on this sort of surface.

After about an hour it did get better much better. Not as good as the previous pathway but certainly enough to keep out giblets intact. And we had a long stretch that was on road shared with cars (although we only encountered a few) so it was manageable.

Somehow today we ended up riding the distance I thought would take us 2 days to do, because before we knew it we had arrived in Castelnaudrey - which meant we had come about 50km today without even noticing the distance, rough track and all. So as a reward we found a nice hotel - although we have a 3rd floor room without a lift (20 euros cheaper than a 1st floor room). The day was so cold we didn't even want to think about camping tonight.

We settled in (leaving our camping luggage on the first floor) and then went for a look around the town. Lyn was chatting with a fellow on the street while I was checking into the hotel who claims there are a lot of Australians living here but we did not encounter any. There is a large basin here where a lot of the hire canal boats depart from, a huge church and an old windmill - which are the major sites of Castelnaudrey. We walked around the basin, found some unusual passionfruit growing on someones fence which we sampled, soft orange skin and bright red inside, but the distinct taste of passionfruit. Wandered up to the old windmill, where there was also a great panorama looking out over the countryside, and then headed back to hotel.

We have a TV but of course no English channels. Surprise, surprise the Simpsons can speak French!

Sunday 13th October 13 (day 43)

Our room was cold but no way as cold as it would have been if we had been camping. Not sure if the tent is going to get another airing, but we will carry a little longer just in case. Of course being October the hotels have not yet turned on the heating which we would have had cranked up last night if they had. But the quilt was enough to keep us warm.

As is our usual routine, we woke around 9, had breakfast etc and let on the bikes around 11. The day looked blue skied, sunny and a little warmer than yesterday.

We rode out of Castelnaudary with a mission as I booked a hotel in Carcassonne for tonight, so this is the first time we have to be somewhere at the end of the day. Was not a hard task as the distance was only 45km which we have covered in a day easily, however we did not count on the poor state of the cycle path.

Our exit along the canal was not too bad but it was not long before the track turned bad and we were soon bumping our way along at a slower pace than usual to try and avoid damage to us and or the bikes. Less than a hour in we passed a fellow Aussie cyclist going the opposite way who gave us welcomed information regarding what to expect on the path ahead. He advised there was a particularly bad patch of track between Bram and Carcassonne which he seriously suggested we take the road instead. We did get to this part and there was a sign which actually said the walking/cycle path had ended. When we looked at the thin path that continued alongside the canal we decided to take the advice given and we rode along the road for about 5 km.

Lunch stop was at a roadside picnic stop near a village called Villesequelande. About another half hour on the road and we came to a bridge that crossed the canal again. The path looked passable again so we decided to take it for 2 reasons. The road ahead looked hilly and the pathway was shaded from the sun that was now beating down.

Another hour or so of bumping, dodging and weaving (our bike handling skills growing with ever near miss of a rock or tree root) and soon we were riding on a road on the outskirts of our destination town - Carcassonne. The hotel I booked was on the canal and opposite the port so easy for us to find. We glided in at about 3pm with bums and knees feeling the last 2 days ride.

Checked into the hotel, Lyn did a bit of sink washing and then we went out to explore the town. Being a Sunday afternoon of course everything was closed, but that was fine. We walked up to the old medieval city. This is an amazing sight with its giant walls and ramparts which were built to protect the city inside. The buildings inside are now tacky tourists shops and restaurants, so it is better to see it from the outside as the narrow cobble streets lined with these shops do the medieval city no favours. Although the giant basilica did have some awesome gargoyles. We did however have a wander around and a peek in a couple of the shops. Tomorrow we will explore the outside more extensively as we are having a rest day (not sure if our old bones can take another day in a row of rattling around on bumpy tracks) and will spend another night here.

Monday 14th October 13 (day 44)

Lyn went out for this mornings baguette, to the supermarket just across the square. We had a very comfortable night in the hotel.

Rest day is the plan for today, with washing hanging in the bathroom that also needs the day to be able to dry.

Mid morning we head out to go explore the medieval city that we had visited yesterday.

We were walking down the main pedestrian shopping street which was very quiet due to it being Monday not many shops are open until the afternoon. No idea why, but Monday seems to be just half a day, it was the same in Holland.

We were heading in the direction of the tourist office first to find out some information about a hire car, when who do we bump into but our mate Frank. He had just rolled into town - funny how we keep catching up with each other. So we walked together to the tourist office as he was looking for maps for this onward journey. We then all walked up to the old city walls where Frank bid us goodbye as he wanted to get his maps and get on his way.

The day was giving us another beautiful blue sky as Lyn and I walked around between the two ramparts of the town. I would guess that a bit of this has been resorted and is kept up but it was still pretty impressive that something like this was built in the 12th century. Deciding not to do another round of the tourist shops inside the walls we started to make our way back to the hotel at a slow leisurely pace. I must admit it was nice to have a full day off the bike to be able to get our bums back into normal shape (extra large) and to give time for the wobble to subside.

Stopping at a supermarket we bought some supplies for lunch and sat in a park to eat and watch the passing of traffic - auto and pedestrian. Who should roll up next to us but Frank! Having found his necessary maps and had a restaurant lunch he now decided it was too late to depart today when we spied us. Knowing we would have the best hotel deal in town he came over to ask where we were staying. As our hotel was just around the corner we pointed him in the right direction and made arrangements to meet up for dinner later that evening.

We relaxed the rest of the afternoon, enjoying the only English channel we could get on the hotel tv. BBC world where everything is repeated every 30 minutes, but at least it was in English. The hotels wifi was non existent, so there was little else to do.

Dinner time came around quick enough and Frank came knocking on our door. We chose a restaurant just around the corner from the hotel as earlier in the day we had spotted a flyer on a car that advertised mussels and chips for 5 euros. What a bargain, and they were very yummy. The portion size was a lot more than we expected also. It was a most enjoyable night, we all had a few laughs. Frank bid us farewell for the last time as it is doubtful that our paths would cross again as he was now heading inland over the mountains and we would definitely be sticking to the flat ground of the canal. Although we are going to be taking a few days off the bike as tomorrow we are going to hire a car for a few days to visit a friend of mine who lives near by. I met Noelle when we were both living in Azrou, Morocco and she is now living in a yurt not far from here. Seemed crazy to come so close and not go visit her and have a bit of a drive around the country side here.

Posted by Cindy Bruin 13:29 Archived in France Tagged canal du midi Comments (1)

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