Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Panama City

Hotel Costa Inn 11:30 p.m.

Like New York or Hong Kong, this is one of those "melting pot" cities. People from all over the World are here. Tall thin towers crowd the beachfront vying for ocean views. They're new, and many more are under construction. Crossed the Panama Canal heading into the city. An amazing the number of ships at anchor, in transit or docked.

The geography of Panama City is confusing. You're driving south through Central America to arrive here, but you have to cross the Panama Canal which runs on a northwest-southeast line. And Panama City is east of the canal. The Pacific is south of the city. The Caribbean north. The sunset was behind me, which seemed like north, (since "behind me" meant north most of the day.) This all helped to totally disorient me upon entering the city. Started off with a good idea where I was and where I was going, but it all soon went to hell.

Of course, GPS would have simplified matters, but what fun would that be, always having something to correct you when you make a mistake? Well, in just this one instance, it would have saved me at least an hour of bumbling, and considerable frustration.

It took a while, but I began running into hotels. The "Courtyard by Marriott", next to a large mall was $119, clearly a more up-scale hotel for this city, and too much for me. Then "Hotel Montreal" in a seedier section of town, $24, but the one room they had was a tiny interior space without windows, and an overpowering smell of old perfumes. Then, the "Hotel California" at $45. But their only remaining room was right off a noisy street. Then I found this place for $44 (no breakfast though.)

Out on foot to look for a market, since restaurants (at least any that I'd want to patronize) weren't to be found in this area. I was in a very rough part of the city, and not entirely comfortable walking around at 9:30 p.m. People seem on guard and wary.

Found a grocery, like others I've seen in Mexico, where the storefront is closed and barricaded, except for a small window where you can place your order. Not my idea of shopping.

Walking the neighborhood, I found aging, decrepit buildings and sidewalks, graffiti, and the noise! Buses and taxis honk constantly, warning others to get out of the way, or trying to attract passengers.

Finally settled on eating at the hotel's "cafeteria", sitting down at 10:00, just as the wait staff went from three to one (very slow) server. Ordered the spaghetti with chicken. Can't recall the last time I had spaghetti, but I figured it was something that couldn't be messed up too badly.

After dinner, went up to the roof, where there's a pool. A light rain falling, I took in the view for a short time.

On the news, Hurricane Stan has just hit Guatemala, El Salvador and Mexico. I hope things are all right at "La Casa de Don David"!

***

After scattering some e-mails, I left David at 10:00 this morning. Mild weather compared to the heat and humidity experienced to the north.

I'm struck by Panama's relatively advanced infrastructure so lacking in other Central American countries: chlorinated water and some very good highways. The landscape is well-managed, though it appears the natural forests have long been cleared and largely replaced with agricultural and grazing lands.

The Pan American Highway, here of concrete slab construction, is generally excellent; no potholes (though there are some rough patches where the pavement has cracked.) A relatively high 60 mph speed limit out on the open road.

Had the opportunity to meet a policeman. He waved me over as he watched me pass a truck over a solid yellow line (in a construction zone.) He was very polite, but stern. Then he started asking about my travels. After a short time, he advised me he wasn't going to write a ticket and let me go with a warning.

Before jumping into Panama City, I stopped at "Poppassito's Bar and Grill". For less than $9 (tip included), got a pretty good "Tex-Mex" fajita dinner and a couple beers.

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