Saturday rolled round. Despite being on a bottom bunk now, the sleep got no better. The girls checked out early, leaving me as the only girl in the eight bed dorm. We hadn’t much else planned in the city, and we were taking it easy before heading down to South America, trying to conserve money where we could. Much of Saturday morning was spent cancelling everything on my phone, forwarding emails and whatever else I didn’t get done on Friday. There was still no way of getting in the kitchen during breakfast hours, so we slowly got up to head out for lunch instead. I do like the hostels that have walls filled with fellow backpackers scribbles. It wasn’t too much of a cruddy day weather wise so up we got. We were close to a huge shopping mall which housed a food court, so that was to be our destination. It was about half a mile away from the hostel. Ruby Tuesday was our choice for lunch. Once we’d eaten, we headed outside to a taxi rank and caught one up to Panama Viejo.Now, once we got there, the lady at the desk told us it would be $15 each to enter the ruins. Weighing up our options, and the fact we still had the canal to visit, we decided to save our dollars for that, and walk back along to road, admiring some of the ruins from the outside. Panama Viejo was the first settlement of Europeans across the Pacific Ocean in 1519. By 1670, the city had about 10,000 residents. Sadly, a year later, they were to be attacked by a Welsh pirate called Henry Morgan a huge fire engulfed the city, ultimately destroying it and thousands of lives too, thus resulting in Panama City as we now know it.All that is left now, are ruins. They run for a good couple of miles along the seafront and finishes up at a museum/visitors centre. We walked all the way along and saw what we could but there were more ruins that we couldn’t see. It started to rain so we hailed a cab and paid the extortionate amount of six dollars to ride back to our hostel. More roomies moved in, all individual guys, who snored.
Sunday came around. The worst night sleep in a long time. I think I only got a few hours, and was wide awake by 4am. Why? Because I found myself riddled with bed bug bites all over my legs. I felt absolutely hideous. Itchy. Sore. Gross. Dirty. You name it, I felt it. Luckily, the super99 was already open by 8 so we wandered over there to grab some essentials. Hydrocortisone cream and some aloe vera gel as well as some painkillers. The best news? I found kiwi and strawberry snapple!!! Hadn’t seen that anywhere since the states. That cheered me up a little. We headed back to our hostel and packed up our things. I had found us a nice four star hotel called The Occidental which would be our home for the next two nights. Thanks to hotels.com and the ability to redeem two free nights, it only cost £20. We booked an über to pick us up from the hostel and take us to the hotel. By this time it was just gone ten and check in wasn’t until three, but we wanted out of the hostel.
There was no early check in but we left our bags and headed out to the mall again. I left underwear and my pjs in the bin at the hostel and set out to replace them. I felt hideous. I was grumpy. Not only had Panama City stolen my phone, it had also riddled me with bed bugs. The walk to the mall took us past more interesting architecture.The mall opened just as we got there and we had a few hours to kill so set about aimlessly wandering in and out of the shops there. It was huge and had shops such as Cartier and Gucci and then billabong and such shops, they literally had everything. The whole of the third floor was a food court with little express fast food joints. They had a Taco Bell. My mood lifted even more. I shouldn’t let me expectations get that high. The crunch wrap supreme was majorly disappointing as it was chunks of beef, not mince as per the ones in America. Sunday was not a good day so far. We left the mall around 2pm and it was sunny. We went back inside and booked an über from Chilis to take us to Miraflores Locks on the Panama Canal. It only cost $5 and the guy cancelled the route because he couldn’t see us, so we’re unsure if we got charged.
As he pulled into the car park at the bottom of the visitors centre, we saw a massive queue. As we joined the back of it, a lot of people suddenly were given tickets and went in. Phew. The queue started moving quicker and we got our tickets for $15 each which allowed us entry to the observation decks, the museum and the theatre. We passed through security and headed up to the fourth floor observation deck, hoping to watch the massive ships pass through.The first attempt at building a route that joined the Atlantic and Pacific oceans started in 1880, by the French. This attempt failed and when Panama gained independence in 1903, they worked with the US and the canal was finished in 1914. With this coalition of construction, the US controlled the waterway until 1999. As of then, Panama controlled full operation of it. The canal is an 80 kilometre shortcut for maritime traffic. It uses a system of locks, with two lanes that act as water lifts. They raise ships from sea level to that of the Gatun Lake, which sits 26 meters above sea level. This then lets the ships cross the continental divide, and then lowers the ships of the other side of the Isthmus. I was truly fascinated by the whole operation. The ship we saw was huge! It barely left any room to move either side of the lane. The Panama Canal was expanded in 2016.The ship was huge. It was pulled along by train-like contraptions. It was so crowded on the fourth floor as that’s the best view of the ships passing through. I’ve never seen so many selfie sticks. It was madness. I loved watching the Marvelous Ace pass through this narrow lane. It was encapsulating. Everyone started to leave as it passed through the locks but I wanted to see it go out into the open water and up towards the bridge. Whoever knew boats and ships could be so fascinating? Once it had embarked on the next stage of its journey, we headed inside to the museum. Four floors of fun facts about the canal and its construction.Fun fact, one of the miter gates of the canal weighs 700 tonnes. That’s as much as 300 elephants! Insanely heavy. One can only imagine the dangers of this construction. Still in awe of this fascinating contraption, which had been named as one of the modern seven wonders of the world, we found some wifi, bought a postcard from the gift shop and booked an über back to The Occidental, hoping we could now check in. After all, it was five o’clock. The huge ship had taken about an hour and a half to pass through the locks! Thankfully we could check in and a delightful porter even brought our bags up to our room on the seventh floor. Our room was huge. It had a TV. We’d forgotten what one of those was! The shower was massive. The windows was floor to ceiling and showed a partial city view. I even got a robe. We were thoroughly spoilt.
First things first was a shower. I used pretty much a whole bar of soap and was in there about an hour, desperately trying to make myself feel clean after getting bitten alive. I emerged and felt human. Legs shaved too. It was an epic shower. There was only one English speaking channel on the TV so we were treated to Monster University. I found us, hopefully a decent hostel in Quito and tried to research bus companies through South America. Still failed. Central America has been amazing. It has been hot, sunny, cool, wet, stormy, beautiful, downtrodden, dirty, towering, epic, mesmerising and fascinating. We have loved every minute of it. Now, we embark on the last part of this chapter of our travels. South America.
Until next time…