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This morning we ordered scrambled eggs for breakfast, which came with the same white toast and jelly. The breakfast seems to be getting smaller, as yesterday, we each got our own plate of fruit and today, they gave us one to share. This white bread thing is also getting old. Am I complaining already? I’ll try to keep it positive. It really isn’t that bad. Because the restaurant staff doesn’t speak English, the concierge has been taking our orders for breakfast. Even so, lots of mistakes have been made.

During breakfast, a San Antonio couple we met the first day, sat down at the table next to us. They shared with us the exciting adventures that they’ve been on since being here including going to Monkey Island and watching 2 groups of howler monkeys duke it out, visiting an island of indigenous people who still live in stilted huts and live very primitively, and taking a cruise ship up the isthmus. They also informed us that Panama has no mail delivery! What?! They still don’t receive or send mail unless they set up a special system which includes getting a P.O. box in Miami, which then has a courier service that brings it over by boat, and then you have to arrange with the courier to go to a specific destination to pick up your mail! Talk about a hasslehoff! And we thought we’d send postcards…. ha!

At 9am on the button, our taxi driver, Eduardo, arrived in the lobby. We lost track of time and were still eating breakfast, but he said he would wait for us. We wolfed down the rest of our meal and skipped out the door. I was comforted to know that it would be another smooth ride today! He greeted us by name with a huge smile. I love these people!

[As soon as we get good internet access, we’ll insert a video here.]

As we headed toward the Panama Canal, Eduardo pointed out the ghetto. Yikes! He wasn’t kidding. I’ve never seen anything like it and my heart went out to the children I saw walking around within it.

It was a very scenic drive. Once out of the city, it was like everyone just set up their businesses and homes within the jungle. I can’t get enough of these amazing trees, plants, and wild-growing fruit, including bananas, mangoes and coconut. We drove past the Parque Natural Metropolitano: a 232-acre park just outside the city that is home to 227 bird species, 36 species of reptiles and 14 species of amphibians, as well as two and three-toed sloths, and tamarins. I’m making a note to go there as soon as we get back into the city, before our departure.

About halfway to the Canal Zone, we hit a police checkpoint. Good thing we remembered our passports! Turns out, he only wanted to see the driver’s license. It was a short line, about a 10-minute wait to get through, then we were on our way again.

Once we reached our destination, Eduardo found an English-speaking employee inside the visitor’s center and arranged to take us around all day for $40. Seemed like a good deal to us! No hailing a cab, no waiting around, a guaranteed smooth ride, and a full day of not getting lost.

Panama Canal

panama canal family

Miraflores Locks

There are 3 steep flights of stairs from the drop-off area to the visitor’s center. We were out of breath at the top! Our full-ride tickets, which include a 3-D movie about the Panama Canal, museum admission and admission to view the Miraflores Locks, were $8 for adults and $5 for Kole. Karter was free (ages 5 and under.)

The 3-D movie was short, but engaging and informative. The kids enjoyed it because the narrator is an animated Panamanian wearing a hardhat.

Panama Canal Museum

The museum was 4-stories of Panama Canal insect specimens, small aquariums of canal fish, models of the different types of ships that navigate the Panama Canal, and the trains and other machinery that aided in constructing the Panama Canal.

panama canal insects

panama canal ships

It also included some historic artifacts and lots of information to read about the history, instrumental people, etc., all in Spanish and English.

panama canal museum

This was very cool – a simulator of being in a ship going through the canal, using real-life, panoramic footage and radio communication. The boys loved pushing all the buttons that each made a unique beep or blip.

panama canal simulator

The observation deck on the 4th floor is the best place to watch the Panama Canal activity. We ran into our New York friends that we met in Casco Viejo, which was a fun surprise! Funny how you can light up when you see a familiar face in a foreign country. Even if you know very little about them!

balcony panama canal

Though we didn’t get to see any ships come through the locks, the Panama Canal was a sight to behold! Massive, complicated and genius!

panama canal view

Kristian and I are both in awe of the effort it took to dredge it out and the sacrifice, even to death (thousands died of malaria and yellow fever,) that was made to press on and make it happen.

panama canal view 2

Even today, it’s being improved with the greatest achievement made of having the largest ship ever pass through just 3 years ago!
In this photo, you can see the San Miguel Locks way out in the distance.

panama canal view 3

We didn’t hang out for very long and have decided to skip the Guillard Cut and the San Miguel Locks – been there, done that.

Eduardo found us in the gift shop and we’re off again to see the Amador Causeway!

kristin panama canal

Amador Causeway

The Amador Causeway is a 2-lane breakwater that’s popular with runners, walkers and bicyclists. It extends nearly 2 miles out into the Pacific and keeps the waters calm for the ships entering the Panama Canal. It connects 3 islands: Naos, Perico, and Flamenco. It’s a gorgeous view on all sides! Though there are a few things to do there, we just stopped at a restaurant on the side of the causeway for lunch. The road you see at the bottom is the Amador Causeway.

panama canal view of bay

Mi Ranchito Restaurante has a beautiful view of the bay filled with ships and Panama City a a backdrop. From where we sat, you could see an obvious haze over the city. Tonight, we will experience the overwhelming exposure to that haze… (you can see the haze in the picture above.)

panama canal dining

Anyway, we ordered hamburgers and fries for the boys (they were homesick for something familiar) and Kristian and I ordered $12 filet mignon. Kristian ordered his with fries, but I’m digging this cultural experience and ordered the fried plantains. Our filet’s were surprisingly delicious for $12! Not the best we’ve had, but still moist, juicy and great flavor, about twice the size of the ones at home. Oh! How can I forget the fresh banana and canteloupe shakes? YUM! $3.

panama canal food

While in the restaurant, I realize that though nearly everyone speaks only Spanish, there is usually someone within earshot who is bilingual. I find myself often walking around asking, “English? English?” Within seconds, someone will shout out, “English! Yes!” YAY! In the picture below, I’m journaling everything we’ve experienced so when I get back to internet access, I don’t forget what to blog about! On a side note, the earrings I’m wearing are the ones I bought from a street vendor in Casco Viejo.

panama canal journaling

After the causeway, we asked Eduardo to drop us off at the Albrook Mall. I actually hadn’t heard much about it, but Kristian kept bringing it up, so I thought he must know something I didn’t know. It looks like a typical mall with about 50% U.S. stores and 50% local chain stores, including a hardware store IN the mall on the 2nd floor! Imagine buying a ladder and having to carry it to your car from there. It’s larger than any other mall I’ve been to, and being a woman, have seen a fair share of large malls. We never walked by the same stores twice and we walked around quite a bit. It’s 2-stories high, with some of the major stores being 3-stories. At one point, we thought we were leaving the mall, but as soon as crossed the sidewalk, we were in another open-air food court area!

While in the mall, Karter and I went into a discount “everything” chain store called El Costo. It was 3-stories worth of $1.99 clothing, shoes, housewares, etc. It was HUGE and had everything you could imagine. The most expensive thing I saw was $12.99 for a pair of tennis shoes, slacks or a blouse. Kristian wasn’t allowed in because he was wearing a backpack and if you’re carrying any kind of bag, you are required to drop it off at a bag-check counter before entering the store. Theft is a huge problem in Panama. So while Karter and I were ‘sploring, Kristian and Kole went hunting for a prepaid cell phone so we can make calls while we’re here. Kristian found a kiosk where he bought a local companies’ SIM card, 15 days of data, and a month of unlimited calls for $23.

We thought about seeing a movie at the Cinemark in the mall, but could only find one movie in English (with Spanish subtitles.)

panama canal movie

We felt quite a bit out of our element, not seeing any other gringos in the mall, and because the mall was typical, we decided to head back “home.”

We caught a cab back to the hotel for $5. We’re learning to set the price before getting in.

Panama City Traffic

Back at the hotel, I spent a couple of hours catching up on the blog and then we decide to meet up with Mark, an old business friend of Kristian’s who’s lived in Panama now for 5 years.

We take a cab down Via Espana toward Mark’s place. Traffic is horrible – barely moving. We quickly discover that the cab doesn’t have air conditioning. We roll down the windows. It makes no difference. On Via Espana, the car exhaust is so thick, that paired with the humidity, is suffocating. We can feel our lungs burning and we’re sweating like pigs. A drive that should take us 5 minutes, takes 20. Ooh! A sign for an $11 spa manicure and pedicure! A split-second distraction.

I’m noticing a few motorcycles, but I have yet to see someone on a bicycle. I wonder why. The taxis constantly honk here. I’m trying to figure out if it’s their way of making themselves known, if it’s because they’re relieving stress or frustration (I can’t blame them,) or if it’s their way of saying, “I’m here! Don’t hit me!” I’m determined to find out because it doesn’t seem to make any difference either way. It just creates a lot of noise.

A typical rush hour in Panama – fast motion! (VIDEO)

Finally we arrive at Mark’s building and head up 13 floors to his apartment. It has a clear, panoramic view of the Panama Bay. Beautiful! He rents it, fully furnished, for $1300/month. You could never get something near the beach, with that kind of view for that little anywhere in the states! We didn’t hang out long at his place, but walked a few blocks away to a Greek restaurant. All the H’s ordered personal-sized Hawaiian pizza and a traditional Greek salad. Pizzas were $7. It was by far the best Hawaiian pizza we ever had. It was on a crunchy and chewy pita-style crust and along with the canadian bacon and pineapple, it was drizzled with honey! Kristian figured out that it was honey. I thought it was grease and tried sopping it up with a napkin.

panama canal pizza

We ate every last bite, and since the boys were still hungry, Mark ordered another pepperoni and mushroom pizza, which they said was delicious, too. By the time we finished, it was almost 9pm, so Mark graciously called a cab for us and we headed home – 5 min., $3.