Sunday, April 6, 2008

Bill is back in Panama

Bill arrived back in Panama City on Wednesday.  I took the express bus over and we got a hotel room for a couple of nights.  The hotel made a mistake and had the wrong date and was booked full, so we had no room when I arrived.  Good thing I arrived several hours before Bill`s flight was due to arrive, because the hotel shuttle would not have picked him up.  The hotel asked if we would mind having a king-sized room rather than the standard room; well, duh!.  I walked around for an hour and found a McDonalds for lunch while waiting for our room.  When I returned, we were given a large corner room on the top floor.  This hotel is known as a dump (but popular with cruisers), but our room was better than expected.  Actually had new sheets on the king-sized bed, a television with a few channels in English, a small breakfast table with 2 chairs, a sleeper-sofa and a small refrigerator.  What more could be ask for!  Bill returned with one 50-lb bag and one 67-lb bag, loaded with boat spares and a few things that cannot be purchased outside the USA.  He also had 2 heavy carry-ons.

Late on Wednesday afternoon we visited the Halcon photo shop and got photos for Bill to get the 90-day visa for French Polynesia.  While waiting for the photos to be printed we walked around the area near Hotel El Panama and found a wonderful Rey Supermarket -- far superior to the ones in Colon.  We bought two bottles of champagne, brie, a baguette, good crackers, small filet of smoked salmon, orange juice and sweet rolls.  Might as well put that little fridge in our room to good use.  These items were our dinners for the 2 nights we stayed in Panama City.  I do love champagne and smoked salmon and we so rarely have it these days.

Thursday morning we visited the French Embassy/Consulate and submitted the application for Bill`s visa for French Polynesia.  This was exceptionally easy now that we knew exactly what to bring.  Big difference from the stress-filled morning that I experienced last week when trying to obtain everything required and meet the noon deadline.  I also picked up my visa.  My visa indicates dates of June 1, 2008 through November 27, 2008; but supposedly is really only valid for a total of 90 days in French Polynesia within that 6-month period.  Nowhere on the visa does it indicate that it is only valid for 90 days within that 6-month period; but that is what the lady told us.  Doesn`t matter because we will have to move on within 90 days in order to make it to New Zealand before typhoon season starts at end of November.

After our visit to the French Embassy we walked around a couple of hours.  The embassy is located on a point that is called Casco Viejo  This is where the original city was built by the Spanish in the 1500s.  After it was sacked by pirate Henry Morgan, Spain declared that the city should be abandoned and rebuilt in what is now known as the Ancon district, close to the foothills and will more difficult land access than Casco Viejo.  The Casco Viejo area deterioted over the centuries.  As the city grew the Casco Viejo area became a very low-rent residential area.  Now this area is finally being re-discovered.  Restoration is occurring all over the place.  Most of the area is still pretty delapidated but the restored buildings look great.  Lots of neat little restaurants and bars.  We enjoyed sitting beneath a tree canopy at Simon Bolivar Parque and people-watching.  Neither of us was interested in doing any of the tourist stuff that Panama City has to offer. 

After we had our fill of people-watching we grabbed a taxi back to the hotel, then another taxi over to Albrook Mall.  We had the best steak in many months at a place called Lenos.  Then we caught a movie.  Wasn`t very good but was in English and a new release, so what more could we want.  Cost for the matinee was only $2 each.  What a change from USA movie prices.

Friday morning we took the Panama Railway back to Colon.  The Panama Railroad was built in 1863.  It was a financial bonanza.  Stock traded on the New York Stock Exchange for $265 per share -- that was an incredibly high price back in the late 1800s!!!  The railroad was used to transport people from the Atlantic to the Pacific so they could get up to San Francisco and to the Yukon for the gold rush.  The railroad continued to operate but was in deplorable condition.  Finally, it was refurbished and in year 2000 the name changed to Panama Railway Company.  The Panama Canal could not have been built without the Panama Railroad.  The two run basically side-by-side.  The trip from Panama City/Balboa to Colon took a little over an hour.  It cost $22 each and was comfortable.  We sat in the only vista-dome car and were served complimentary coffee.  It was a nice little trip but the only thing interesting to see for us was the tree stumps in Gatun Lake.   Sure hope our advisor knows the route since we will be transversing Gatun Lake in the dark when we do the canal transit soon.  FWIW, the train only saves about one-half hour time over the express bus.  Given that the bus costs $2.50 each and the train costs $22 each and the scenery is basically the same, we would not bother with the train again.  But we are glad we did it just for the experience.

Our canal transit date is still set for April 12, but they said for me to continue to call back because it will probably be changed to the 10th. 

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