Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mysterious Panama - Today

S/V Aspen – January 11, 2010 – Log #24
Position: 9 degrees 22.1’ N 79 degrees 57.0’ W
(Cristobal/Colon, Panama)

After following in the footsteps of the conquistadors and pirates from so long ago, we decided to rent a car and see what present day Panama is like.

It took Balboa several months of hiking and hacking through impenetrable jungle while fighting fierce Indian tribes along the way before he became the first European to see the Pacific Ocean. But for us, we drove from Colon on the Caribbean side of Panama to Panama City on the Pacific side in 1.5 hours! We didn’t have to fight any Indians either! It is only 50 miles on a nice new toll road.

Luckily we had a GPS in the car because it seems that they don’t like street signs here. Now, picture gridlock traffic, streets filled with pedestrians because there are no cross-walks, busses that stop in the middle of the road to pick people up, and drivers who have junker cars who don’t care about who or what they might run into. Ah, driving in Latin countries is always an experience. But we did live to tell about it!

We visited the old part of Panama where the pirate Captain Henry Morgan attacked the Spanish, sacked, pillaged, plundered and stole all the women from the 2nd largest city in the Western Hemisphere at that time with his band of pirates. Well, not much is left of that place!

After that Spanish debacle, Panama City was rebuilt a mile or so north at a much better place. This is where over half of the population lives - nearly 2 million people.
The old part of the 2nd Panama City is still intact with the narrow stone streets and verandas hanging from the dwellings. Small café’s and shops have opened in these old buildings that bring the locals and tourists in to explore them. The presidential palace is located here too. Even General Noriega had many lavish parties along the waterfront next to the Pacific Ocean in Panama Vieja.

But most of Panama City is extremely very poor. There are many no-go areas, some of them right next to these nice areas! We drive with our doors locked and hidden behind our heavily tinted windows.

During our visit to Panama City we got lost – the GPS isn’t always right! We drove through a maze of huge high-rise buildings that we always saw but could not find before. Well, this is where the money is in Panama! We are talking huge money!! It seems that Panama is world renown as the center for money laundering, arms sales, and home to the international drug trade.

There is an enormous new mall in the middle of this maze of wealth. This mall has the most expensive and best stores from throughout the world within its 3 stories. There is even a grocery store called Riba Smith that has every US product you can imagine at cheap prices. We were shocked to say the least. Maria didn’t want to leave!! We even found Taco Bell there, and they had jalapenos!

We managed to find out way back to Colon and the rental car office where we returned out undamaged car, much to the manager’s surprise!

Sail on sail on Aspen…

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