Monday, 17 April 2017

Panama City – Days 210 to 215

Jackie pilots a ship through the Panama Canal (not really, it's a simulation)
We planned to get the 09.00 bus from David, but the taxi arrived in a second so we ended up on one that left about 08.15, but at least we were on a bus, a bit old and tired, but in the luxury downstairs seats that we paid a fortune for overnight to Antigua. The AC did work, but as the day wore on it struggled against the sun on the window so I was feeling quite uncomfortable by the time we arrived at the Albrook Mall in Panama City. Then we got off the bus! OMG , it is horrendous, and hasn't got any better. 
The main square in David with the Sagrada Familia church behind
Overpaid in a taxi to bring us to our Airbnb but didn't care, AC! We are in a good, safe area of the City, literally backing on to a park. From where I sit, it's 6' to the patio door (and the nearest cat) 4' across the patio to a chainlink fence, and there's the hillside. Writing is taking a while as I keep getting distracted watching the neque (agouti, or as Abi put it, a Ginormous rat!) picking up the peelings from our breakfast fruit in their little paws to nibble. We have also seen a deer, and toucans, but photographic evidence is sadly lacking!

An iguana wandering around David main square
Our Airbnb terrace overlooking the jungle, occupied by Garfunkel
We have a reasonable room opening into the shared kitchen/diner with the other Airbnb room. Outside is our toilet and the open air shower! The family live upstairs, though that is more complicated than it sounds!  The house is owned by 'daddy' who works in Costa Rica. The Airbnb is run by Ana and her boyfriend Phil in practice, but in theory by Ana and her sister. The sister actually lives with her boyfriend and Phil lives with Ana. HOWEVER daddy came home for Easter, so sister is back in the house and Phil is now a guest downstairs, in the third 'spare' room! 
A common Simon pose
This happens every time daddy comes home apparently. Has he not noticed the two extra cats (Simon and Garfunkel who came with Phil) as well as the three who lived here before? We thought it was just going to be the three of us, however Ana appeared to have forgotten about the four Germans who turned up on Good Friday! All they wanted was beer and sleep, but no beer can be bought from midnight on Maundy Thursday till midnight Friday night! Oh well, we had three nights of peace and quiet! They have been lovely, but four people do take up a bit of space!

There is a Toucan in this photo, taken from our terrace....
We walked to get some food, at the nearby minimarts only to find they didn't really have any meat or fruit, so we hopped on a collectivo that took us back to the Albrook Mall, the nearest supermarket apparently, for 50 cents each ($8 we paid the taxi!) shopped but couldn't find any collectivos back, only city buses for which you need a card you preload with money, but then only cost you 25 cents a ride. Fortunately we met a Polish couple, who were happy to scan us through if we gave them the money. We must have just missed a bus though as we were there for an hour, so we didn't eat till 20.00, despite having 'popped to the shop' about 16.30!

It was much clearer in reality, the phone camera is not very good and it was a long way away
We've seen the main sights, we took our first Uber ride, proving that the lovely young man who bought us a SIM card in Punta Arenas, Chile in December had set it up right, down the causeway and walked back, collecting mangoes as we went. We didn't go to the island used by Francis Drake to pirate Spanish gold as there is nothing of historical significance left there.

The Causeway linking the islands of Flamenco (unseen behind), Perico (on which we're standing) and Naos in front. Panama Canal is almost out of sight on the left of the Causeway up in the top right of this photo. These islands, before the Causeway was built, were used as a port by the Spanish to bring in the gold from Peru for onward transport to Spain
We've visited the Panama Canal visitor centre and locks at Miraflores which we found very interesting. We were there early enough to see a huge container ship and a cruise liner pass through which was well worth the effort. $800,000 it costs for a container ship to pass through the canal! They finished a third canal last year enabling bigger ships to now pass through which we couldn't really see, but I have just been making arrangements with a gentleman on our cruise, to go and see the locks and the new visitor centre the other end when we dock in Colon for the day.

The Cunard liner Queen Victoria and a cargo vessel in the original two Panama Canals. Notice the rack and pinion trains either side of each vessel keeping them straight and preventing the ships from striking the sides. There are eight on each side of each of these large vessels.
Yesterday we went to Metropolitan Park and had an interesting walk, though didn't see much wildlife, I think we were too late. We then went on to Panama Viejo, the original Spanish City, which all the Inca gold from Cuzco left through on its way to Spain, which fell into disuse after being ransacked by Welsh pirate Henry Morgan.

In this shot the lock gates have been closed behind both ships and you can see the water level difference. In the distance is the new wider, longer and deeper canal opened on 26th June 2016 and there is a cargo vessel on that as well
Today we are chilling and tomorrow we are going into Casco Viejo, the old town, which seems to be the tourist hub, though as usual, the museums are all shut today, hence leaving it for tomorrow!

7 smaller craft transiting the canal
Panama Canal Facts: 
- First visualised by the Spanish in 16th century
- Started by the French 1880 as a sea passage with no locks, but abandoned due to financial troubles and diseases
- Continued by the USA in a deal signed 15 days after Panama became independent from Columbia in 1903 (in a USA backed revolt so the USA could control the canal)
- Completed and opened by the USA on 15th August 1914 using three sets of locks either end to raise the water level by 26m. The project included the building of a dam to create what was then, the biggest man made lake in the world, Gatun Lake, which forms part of the canal and is the source of gravity fed water to the locks
- Managed by the USA until 31st December 1999 when Panama took full control following a treaty signed by USA President Jimmy Carter in 1977
- The original twin canals, shown in the photos above are 33.5m wide, 304.8m long and 12.8m deep. The maximum size of ship that can pass through is 32.3m wide, 294.1m long and a maximum draft (depth in water) of 12m.
- All ocean going ships around the world were built within these dimensions and harbours around the world designed for ships of this size.
- Its the only canal in the world where the master of a vessel grants control of his ship to a Panamanian pilot
- On 22nd October 2006 Panama held a referendum to approve expansion of the canal. It involved building a new canal alongside the existing and deepening the depth of Gatun Lake. 705,144 people voted for the expansion, 77.8% of those voting, with a turnout of 43.3%
- The work was completed and the new wider, longer and deeper canal opened for traffic on 26th June 2016
- The new canal is 55m wide, 427m long and 18.3m deep, allowing newer, bigger ships with a maximum size of 49m wide, 366m long and a maximum draft of 18m, called the Panamax
- As a result of this, shipyards and harbours around the world are having to be expanded and dredged deeper to allow these new bigger ships to dock, many of which, including Southampton and Liverpool in the UK have been modified or are in process.
- It is therefore interesting to note that 705,144 people living in Panama (approximately 0.00044% of the world population) have massively affected world ocean trade and it's facilities

Miraflores locks after the ships had left
The swell caused as the cargo vessel starts its engines to exit the lock after the far lock gates were opened

This cheeky bird stood on our table while we had lunch at the Miraflores locks grabbing any food it could
Panama City from the Mirador in the Metropolitan Park. No real iconic buildings to identify the skyline as Panama, it could by many other cities around the world. There is a spiral shaped building (almost hidden in this view), but that's about it
The ruins of the cathederal in Panama Viejo, the original and oldest Spanish town on the American continent
One of the better preserved buildings on the site
Looking out over the old town from the tower towards the city After pirate Welshman Henry Morgan sacked and burned the town in 1671 it was left abandoned, the Spanish building thie new town down the coast at Casco Viejo. On our visits through Central and South America we have visited countless sights that were destroyed by the Spanish as they conquered, seeing a Spanish town destroyed in the Americas somehow seems like Poetic Justice!
This is what they think the town may have looked like from the same viewpoint prior to 1671
Here' sone of the many Neque's in and around the Airbnb house we are in. It's apparently related to the guinea pig. It does look like a very big rat with no tale, but they pick up their food in their front paws and manipulate it to eat. It's very cute!
A few photos of Garfunkel, here he is in our bedroom keeping cool under the air conditioner
Asleep in the sink,
Propping his head up under a chair,
And having a drink from a running tap (Sooty please note!)
Final thought for the day

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