Panama, Will You Be My Valentine?

Colon, Panama 2015

On Valentine´s Day, Anca, one of my best friends from High School, came to visit. The first visitor of the year and on a perfect day and with perfect timing.

In need of that close connection you get only with the best of friends. I was more than happy for this Valentine.

In Panamá it was Carnavales! What is that asks the North American? It is Mardi Gras!!!

Panamá celebrates it for a week so this lucky duck had a nice 4 day weekend :D…and long weekend means I go on a trip. Plan was to some off the beaten path island but I scared Anca so much that she waited until just days before to purchase her tickets and I waited to reserve a hotel. Long weekend means everyone else goes out of town…and so as the story goes…we went to different island.

We headed to San Blas Islands, can´t go wrong there. It had been a year since I´d been…which seems to be a theme with me lately…year later everything…interesting. These islands are amazing to say the least but you must drive 2.5 hours on a very hilly curvy road then take a tiny boat filled with people through the ¨Atlantic Ocean¨ as Anca called it…well it is exactly that…ha ha it is a bumpy ride up and down waves in a tiny boat but well worth it in my book and now Anca´s too…at least that´s what she said. Also, this is the best and most true way to arrive to these islands. I trust, I trust.

We stayed 2 nights relaxing on one of the 365 tiny Caribbean islands. One night way longer than the other…but that is another story.

After 2 days we returned to the city with the idea to make the most of my time off, our time together. We went straight to a BBQ then to the Carnaval Parade and finishing our tour by going out in Casco Antiguo. All fun, full of energy and in good company.

The next 2 days I worked so to make the most of our time, we went for a walk in the AM along the Cinta Costera. Nice and relaxing for me and earning the name as the vacation with the most exercise ever by my valentine :P. In the evening we explored some other part of the city. Day time made me jealous as Anca´s choice of vacation came into play…pool day…ja ja and maybe some tourist type activity…maybe.

Friday I took off from work and I rented a car to go to the Atlantic again, this time to Colón, where the main ports are and of course the third locks of the canal which I had not seen. Best idea ever! It was a nice 30-40 minute drive from Panamá. You take the Corredor Norte (with a toll card) and a left at the round about in Colon….some how you find the sign and road leading there (we looked for San Lorenzo…which is the Castle beyond the canal).

The Gatun Locks cost $5 to enter (versus $15 in Miraflores), you get to see prettier water (Atlantic – Caribbean), and big ships really close up plus a short video on its history. Unfortunately you miss out on the museum, so that is kind of a bummer regarding all the history….so I still suggest going to Miraflores locks to get that part. The set-up here is the same. It has only 2 lanes of traffic (not 3 – though I´ve never seen Miraflores with all 3 working), you are literally on the Atlantic Ocean/Caribbean (versus KM away from the ocean) with blue water and pretty uninterrupted views and the boats keep coming while the mulas pass underneath your feet. Next to this is the expansion of the canal but we decided to skip it, well I decided, because we had spent an easy 3 hours at the locks…easily…it is quite amazing to watch the gates fill, drain, open, close and massive boats pass directly in front of you. Imagine if there was a museum…it would have been a whole day trip alone! The expansion will have to wait another visit…soon as it should be done this year. The Gatun Locks are by far my favorite experience of the Panama Canal…more people should not second guess a trip over to see them…or take the train.

With a large green light at the intersection, we drove off to the next destination…what we didn´t realize was we were crossing the actual canal at water level….holy shit grab the camera! In a flurry of quick movements we tried to capture this unanticipated experience, resulting in many unfocused fotos¨, as we headed next to Castillo San Lorenzo. The drive there was maybe 30 minutes down a lovely jungle ambient road…perfect in my mind for biking and running (returning it was proven to be the place to go running).

The castle is situated at the end of a road just past a tiny airport and some beaches. I thought it would be like the fort in Portobelo (also near Colón and more well know to tourists) but it was bigger and quite unique..thought it did have 1 watchman tower and plenty of cannons. The views here were great, Atlantic Ocean and Chagres River…Camino de las Cruces. Story has it that the Welsh Captain Morgan first landed here and burned down the Spanish fort and killed 300, leaving few (30) survivors he headed to Panamá on the Pacific to capture Panamá Viejo. From this Fort, he walked on land using the Camino de las Cruces, a spectacular 70 miles of sheer jungle trail along the Chagres River and was still able to conquer Panamá City. Luckily for the Spanish a peace treaty was being signed and so power eventually returned to Spain.

Anca´s last day arrived, Saturday. I had to work half day, my own fault…so pool day again for Anca….bummer right? After we went for lunch…getting the most in of our day….a leisure jaunt on Causeway and then a huff and puff adventure up Cerro Ancon at sundown…of course followed by one last night out in Casco Antiguo, some great conversations, and her favorite dish besides ceviche, the Chorizo.

Off she went Sunday am and out to exercise I went after sending her off safely in a reasonably priced ($15) taxi.

Multumesc! Thanks for coming lady!

*Other blog posts on Panama:

Trading One Star For Two (Panama)

1 year living and working abroad (Panama)

Cycling Oceano a Oceano (Panama)

Panama International Marathon 42k (Panama)

Pure Business (Panama)

Other Central American blogs on Belize and Nicaragua.

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