Sunday, March 6, 2011

Panama City

.... is rather wonderous. I had no idea I'd see so much construction going on. There are cranes above high-rise office and residential building everywhere.

This is a shot taken from a high viewpoint in an area once "owned" by the United States, during the construction on the canal. Click on it and play "Count the Cranes!"
There was a 2-mile swath on both sides of the canal from ocean to ocean that was held under the control of the US until Dec. 31, 1999 when it was handed back to the people (Govt') of Panama. During the century the Americans had it, they built administration buildings and barracks, hospitals, homes. You name it, they left it. And they are beautiful examples of tropical buildings. The vegetation was gorgeous.

But I dashed a little ahead of myself.

The day got started when we hired a man, Carlos, to drive the four of us on this extended tour with the final destination being the Miraflores Locks at 3pm, when ships headed from the Atlantic to the Pacific are making their way through the last set of locks. This is also where you will find a museum chronicling the construction and history to the Panama Canal.

So we piled in and drove for several hours into the old American section and gawked at the magnitude of what we walked away from. I am pleased to say that whoever is in control of it all now has taken very good care of it, for the most part. This is no easy feat when you acknowledge the endless heat and rain that dumps on Panama every year. We were there during the "dry" season and we saw little evidence of "dry".

Now, Carlos is an American but hasn't spent as much time in it as away from it. He lived and worked in South Florida last but moved to Panama some 5 years ago. I don't know if he grew up here but he certainly knew the traffic patterns and enough of the city and recent history to keep us informed. He was occasionally distracted from the actual driving as well. At one point he clipped the wing mirror of another car with his own. When we arrived at our restaurant, Ego y Narciso, for lunch, he was so busy telling us about the area and seeking a place to park, that he flipped the car in reverse and backed into another car. We piled out while he dealt with the up-shot, got a table and ordered beers.

This restaurant is chic and delish. We ordered a little tapas of kebabs and toasted bread with a heart of palm ceviche topping. If you look past Gary and the "traveling pouch", you'll see what looks like a park setting. It is. They have tables set up out there as well and other restaurants in this square of building that serve throughout the day and evenings.

After 10 minutes of my fretting over the car calamity, Carlos joined us, beaming. He found that all he had to do was pop the fender from behind the damage and all was well in the world. And before the police arrived to really complicate matters.

Ego and this building are in the "old colonial" area of downtown, Casco Viejo. I took this shot because I was struck how similar it is to that which we find in the French Quarter.

Before we go to the locks, check out this suspension bridge:
This is going over the canal but is under repair at the moment. They open it for traffic morning and afternoon work traffic and close it to continue the repairs. We were there around 2 pm and snagged a few shot in the drizzle and slouched off.

After lunch, we continued our journey away from the city, out towards the canal and here is a shot of just one container ship, ladened with cargo...... I hope you are able to grasp the size of this.

Here you can see another vessel about to head away as the lock gate is opening it the bow. See how tight the fit is for these ships? They are at capacity now. This is why Panama is building a 3rd set of locks. Even bigger.

There is too much to tell about this man-made marvel. Suffice it to say, if you are in awe of what ver quod apparatus can do, go to Panama.

(Oh yeah... and at one point, Carlos pulled into a gas station to fill a tire, and bumped the gas tank. Oh and when it rained, he discovered the windshield wipers didn't. Wipe, that is.)

And then head home and relax on the terrace above the Inn with a glass of wine as the sun sets and you discuss where the next meal will be had.

We chose La Posta, a lovely restaurant set (I think) in an old post office. Again, colonial architecture in wood, painted white and soft yellow with green touches (so to be sure, I was right at home!) We had no reservations and were slightly reprimanded at the door. But, as it was early in the evening, they managed to squeeze us into one of 30 or so available and empty tables.

The food was out-standing and the mood light.

But..... seated as we were, we could see the odd patron enter and occasionally go up the flight of stairs just behind us. No one ever came down. We wondered if there was a banquet... or..... something......... going on up there. A few of the tables around us filled. The service was immaculate.

But where, pray tell, and what was this about "reservations" if the joint was jumping above us and only a mild buzz in the room where we were seated? John was keen to ferret out the answer and so, he made a move for the stairs as we snickered at the curiosity of it all. He was down those steps in a nano-second and slipping back into the seat as we gawped. "what.????"

"They advised me to 'get lost'". Whoa.

La Posta: Delicious. delightful. Slightly mysterious.... 8 enthusiastic thumbs up.

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