Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Ciudad de Panamá


Even though I just went to Panama in October, I had to make another trip home because I found a flight for $260, which is a steal (flights are usually $600+). This go round I stayed in the capital of Panama City.  I am from Colón which is only about an hour away from the capital, but it is a completely different world.  The capital is a megatropolis of tall buildings, amazing architecture, and big business.  
Colón has about 4 tall buildings and I think the tallest is 15 floors.  The majority of Colón can be described as a mal barrio, but it’s my home and I love it dearly. 
I am an eternal tourist, so I decided to be in tourist mode in my homeland.  As mentioned in my 2013 Panama blog, the hotels in the capital are insanely cheap. You can stay at the Waldorf Astoria, Hard Rock, and other fancy hotels for about $160 a night (use some those corporate codes we discussed on the previous blog and that # drops down to around $125/night).
Instead of paying for lodging I cashed in some Hilton points. Most Hilton properties worldwide start at 40,000 points/night, but the Hampton by Hilton was 5,000 points/night.  As much as I like staying in fancy hotels, I couldn’t resist only having to use 20,000 points. Sh*t if you wait until Hilton has a good points sale you can buy 20,000 points for $100.  The Hampton free breakfast was the kicker… I’m on budget, but there was also plenty cheap & delicious restaurants nearby.
I told my dad I was coming to Panama he said, “I have good news and bad news. The good news is that I can pick you up from the airport Thursday, the bad news is… I’m going to Costa Rica Friday morning.” Lololol I definitely inherited my love of travel from my dad. 
Upon arrival in country the Panama immigration once again showed me love. Remember my Oct 2015 trip, they informed me that although I travel with a US passport, I still maintain my dual citizenship so I can indeed check YES to the question, “Are you a Panamanian citizen?”  This go round I stood in the visitors line and the agent told me to come to Panamanians nationals line next time, doesn’t matter that I travel with a US passport.  *hearts hearts*
So dad picked us up from the airport with the usual Kentucky delights (aka KFC), couple bottles of rum & chaser.  Dropped us off at our hotel so we could change & hit Casco Viejo for some nightlife. *side note* Casco Viejo aka Old Panama is where you will find a lot of nightlife, good eats and cheap shopping.  Panama has some HUGE/ GINORMIS malls with all the fancy stores you see at home, but if you want to full a suitcase full of handmade crafts for the low low, Casco Viejo is where you want to go.  So we linked up with some Nomadness Travel peeps at a small discotech in Casco Viejo. Only stayed about an hour because dammit it was a long azz day. I really just wanted to “wet my whistle” with some rum and hear a few chunes. 
*Side Note* Uber is definitely cheaper than taxis, taxis charge you whatever the *BEEP* they feel like, I don’t wanna negotiate a dayym fare. I would not recommend renting a car in the capital unless you are from NY, Trinidad, or some other place where people regularly drive like lunatics.
Friday morning I was in full tourist mode as we hopped onto a sight-seeing double decker bus, the only thing my “tourist mode” was missing was a fanny pack. 

The bus went around the capital giving highlights and stopping at some must see places.  We went to the Miraflores Locks and watched a few ships go through. There is a theatre with a film about the lock construction, a restaurant where you can grub while you watch the ships pass through, a small museum, and lots of canal related art throughout the 4 floor structure.

Next we took the bus to the Bio Museum “The building was designed to tell the story of how the Isthmus of Panama rose from the sea, uniting two continents, separating a vast ocean in two, and changing the planet’s biodiversity forever.” http://biomuseopanama.org/en/meet-biomuseo/building
The bio museum was designed by architect Frank Gehry. He is the mastermind behind works such as the MIT Stata Center, Louis Vuitton Foundation, 8 Spruce Street n NY, New World Center in Miami, and Walt Disney Concert Hall in L.A. Gehry donated his design to the people of Panama because his wife is Panamanian.


The museum is located at the entrance to the Amador Causeway.  After scoping out the museum we took a long strong along Causeway.  The Amador Causeway was constructed using rocks excavated from the Panama Canal and is made up of four islands: Naos Island, Culebra Island, Perico Island and Flamenco Island.


We had lunch at a cozy little restaurant on Naos Island and then being too lazy (blame the heat) to walk any further, we took a taxi to the Flamenco Island (the last island) and then did further exploring.  After that we went back to our hotel from a power nap, that heat kicked our ass.  That evening my cousin Heidy came up with her husband and they hit a discotech with us.  We went to an outdoor compound called Chill Out Zone that very much reminded me of fete’n in Trinidad (they love to party outside).

Saturday I spent the morning and early afternoon shopping in Casco Viejo.  I was in shopping heaven, so much so that I forgot I was supposed to be in tourist mode. 

That area has beautiful, brightly colored buildings but I was on a shopping mission to get tembleques (Panamanian hair ornaments made of pearls and beads), molas (colorful fabrics handmade by the Panamanian Kuna Indians), and lots of other things that I could only find at home. I was so proud of myself because I spent every single dollar I had in my purse. I had to haggle the last purchase because I was a couple dollars short.  I was determined to leave there BROKE. Good thing I didn’t have my debit cause I might have left there Las Vegas broke.
Tembleques
Saturday evening we caught a party boat ride. It was supposed to be 6pm-10pm, but Panamanian people like all other Caribbean people have no concept of time.  The boat ride ended up being 7:30pm-11:30pm and this reminded me of the lesson we learned at Miami carnival a few years ago… NO NITE TIME BOAT RIDES.  The first couple hours were fun, then I went upstairs to take a nap.  All in all, it was a good time. 


Sunday morning we booked a catamaran cruise to Taboga Island, I picked this island because it sounded very close to Tobago Island (located in Trinidad & Tobago) and as you know I earned my honorary Trini badge many years ago.  Being in the warm tropical sun all weekend had me yearning to hit the beach so this cruise was right on point!  It was 9am-5pm and included booze, snacks, lunch, and water activities.  The tour operator gets 2 thumbs up from me! http://www.catamarancharterpanama.com/



Monday we said our goodbyes to Panama and headed back home.  I’m already plotting my next trip back because there is still so much more that I want to see.  I want to ride the Panama Railway from Panama City to Colon. I want to trek the jungle, visit a Kuna Village, go ATV riding in the mountains, hop a super cheap Air Panama flight to the north and to the south, climb Ancon Hill in the capital which has amazing views of all parts of the city, etc, etc, etc.
4 days in Panama for about $500 (flight, hotel, excursions, & Ubers)  #WINNING!!! 

PS: Panama uses USA currency and alot of people in the capital speak a little English. 
Bridge of the Americas: Connects North & South America

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