After our time on the Caribbean Coast near Colon, we headed just 80km South East to Panama City. The sight of the massive skyscrapers was a bit of a shock after what we have experienced in the last 6 months. We've been in a few big cities since the US but nothing like this.
The North and South American continents are physically connected but between them the Darien Gap is an impenetrable jungle. Coupled with problems with FARC insurgents in the past and the ongoing problems with drug smugglers. Neither the Colombians or the Panamanians have built a road between their countries. Even the famed "Pan-American" highway isn't truly across all of the Americas, so we have to ship the truck between the counties. The ship goes every three weeks or so and takes about 36 hours. However with the paperwork and loading and unloading, it takes considerable longer. The ship doesn't take passengers, so once we've loaded the truck we have to take a short one hour flight to Cartagena in Columbia. Unfortunately our ship is running late by at least a week.
In preparation for shipping we'd booked a hotel, so even though we still had the truck, we checked in. Actually it was quite a good idea as the jobs that come with growing children had been building up during our time on the road. So it was off to the dentist, opticians, shoe and clothes shops etc. The city is a good place to do these as it has American style shopping malls and plenty of facilities, the dentist was just over the road from the hotel.
Panama City doesn't have a whole load of attractions to make it popular with visitors, apart from the Canal just outside, so once we'd done our jobs we were at a bit of a loss at what to do. We did have a look around the scenic old area of Casco Viejo. This was the site of the original town before the the Canal was built. It had many grand colonial buildings at that time but as the city expanded the affluent residents moved out to the suburbs and Casco Viejo turned into an urban slum. In 2003 it was named a UNESCO world heritage site and now the area is slowly regenerating. It is a strange mix though, with the President's residence overlooking the bay and quite a few smart apartment blocks and restaurants sandwiched next to almost dilapidated blocks which look like nothing has been done since the original inhabitants moved out. In the small network of streets both the tarted up buildings and the ones that looked almost derelict were in beautiful old colonial buildings with balconies with ornate wrought iron railings which gave the place a sense of nostalgic romance.
It is quite a small area though with a significant amount of tourists but venturing just a street further on in any direction and you were back in urban slums with tenement blocks that looked like they had been built in the 1960's.
We have been staying in El Dorado, in China Town, which has a completely different feel. So we can see that Panama City is certainly a diverse place.
The delay is starting to drag on us a little, never mind we've got something exciting planned for the weekend....