For our adventure we had an idea of places we wanted to visit. But what we did not have was good maps because all of the maps only show maybe 1/3 of the street names. To make driving more difficult, very few streets have street signs. So my navigating was based on reviewing two maps and trying to keep a sense of direction as to where we were going.
Our first planned stop was the ruins from the original Panama City. After going in a circle in the city twice, we gave up and headed towards our next destination, Casco Viejo. I was able to find the area and we drove up and down the cobblestone streets. We did not find the “gold church” somewhere in the area but we got a good sense of the place with a lot of locals and little stores and a combination of beautifully restored buildings and totally trashed buildings. Eric and Scott did not want to get out of the car so we continued on our journey.
Next we headed to the Amador Causeway, which we had been to the week before and I was confident I could find our way back. This is a road that connects three small islands in the bay. The road was built using dirt/rocks dug out of the channel for the Panama Canal. We drove out there and had a very nice jumbo shrimp lunch in an outdoor restaurant. Everyone loved their shrimp, but then we decided to top off with an ice cream cone from the ice cream parlor next door.
Next we wanted to try to find the jungle. It looked simple on the map because there was only one main road the direction we were headed. We found the road and realized we were going past the Miraflores Locks that we visited last weekend. Suddenly we hit a toll, ugh. $0.90, ok we could afford that twice. A few more miles we hit another toll of $1.50. We hoped that was it. We enjoyed looking at the countryside and the rural ramshackle houses where most Panamanians lived and seeing what we considered the “real Panama.” People lived in very small cinderblock homes, some painted very colorfully, packed together. Everyone’s laundry was hung out to dry. There was no landscaping that we noticed. Then we came to another toll booth. $5.50 each way!!! We asked if we knew of a specific destination we were going and when we all answered “no” we turned around so as to not pay the toll.
We made our way back and then headed over the beautiful Americana Bridge. This bridge crossed over the Pacific entrance/exit to the Panama canal. We stopped to take pictures and saw a huge cargo ship cross under the bridge. We drove further to look at the countryside over on this side of the bridge. One of the major forms of transportation for the locals is city buses. There are lots of them and they are always packed with people especially at rush hour. The buses are painted very colorfully and uniquely by a local artist and each has its own name. (I will have to photograph some and post them in a future blog.) On this road, we noticed a lot of the buses dropping off and picking up people. We guessed they probably worked in Panama City and took buses to and from home.
We turned around and headed back to Panama City. We drove by some of the fancy new condos, including the new Trump tower. It is amazing how many new condo skyscrapers are being built. It seems like Every fifth building is new under construction. I felt a renewed confidence that I could the city ruins, so we headed that direction and found them rather quickly. I felt redeemed. The ruins were amongst gravel rocks and neither Eric or Scott had the energy to transfer back out of the car and tackle the gravel. So we returned back to the hotel for a quick break then out to dinner. We drove since we had a car and found another Italian restaurant where we ordered our own pizzas and watched the Panama vs US soccer (futbol) on TV. Panama won, which was probably a good things since we were sitting amongst Panamanians and we stood out as foreigners.
It was a nice day being able to get out and drive around unrestricted and see new parts of Panama.