Welcome to Panama
Gatun Travel Blog› entry 1 of 37 › view all entries
May 29th, 2007 – by: gopackjo
Here I am again on the road. My dad was kind enough to wake up at 3am to drive me to the airport in Milwaukee, and we were wheels up by 5:30am. I had a very short connect time in Houston. By the time I got off of the plane I had about 30 minutes to get three terminals away. I didn't run, but I did some brisk walking. When I arrived at the gate there was already a long line. But membership has it's privileges. I jumped into the "Elite" line, and not only was given immediate attention, but was pleasantly surprised to get my first ever First Class upgrade!
I know hard to believe that I had made it to 40 without ever sitting in First Class, but it is true. My impressions... not bad. The biggest deal is that the seats are much more comfy with more room all around.
Arriving in Panama City was pretty simple. Customs was easy enough after I got my $5 tourist card, and the US Dollar is legal tender here. The rental car took a while, but I think I just have to adjust to the Latin American pace again. I've now got a Nissan Sentra with 41,000 kilometers on it. It's got nothing under the hood, but the A/C did eventually start to kick in.
I had emailed a hotel for a reservation, but they did not reply. So I was not to surprised when they were
not expecting me. I tried a few other hotels in the El Cangrejo district of Panama City, but could not find
one in the price range I set for myself. So I drove to another area to check some other places.
On the way I decided to do some sight-seeing. I had just arrived on the Amador Causeway, which connects four Pacific side islands in a boardwalk type setting, when a motorcycle cop motioned to me to pull over. I was being a dumb-ass and not wearing my seat belt, and I was being pulled over for it. Now, I'd only been here a few hours, but I knew exactly where this was going. It was shakedown time.
I put myself into my best "apologetic, but stupid gringo tourist" mode for the bargaining. The very nice officer explained to me that I was in for a $75 dollar ticket in Panama, and that they took such things very seriously. The nearly unintelligible two-language exchange continued for about 30 minutes, during which time the officer recommended two more hotels to try, and we were passed by the President of Equador's motorcade. I will claim victory in this one, because at the end he seemed quite embarrassed to be taking only $10 off my hands. Oh well, I was actually breaking the law, and he gave me some advice as well.
Well, the hotel search came up empty in Panama City, so I took the opportunity to embark on my first drive across the isthmus. It's only about 80 kilometers from ocean to ocean, but the only road was very
well used and crowded. Panamanian drivers are actually a little more mellow then some places I've driven,
and it starts to feel like a video game after a while. After about two and a half hours I arrived at the Melia Panama Canal Hotel in Gatun. The price and features checked out for me, and you get much more for your money than in Panama City.
Tomorrow I plan on checking out the Canal, and driving to Portobelo, a nice stretch of beaches on the Caribbean side about an hour from here.
Also tomorrow, I will start taking some pictures. I know you all can't wait!
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