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Sunday, September 29, 2019

Panama Canal

Night sky from a side window in the BnB

Wow we had a good sleep! The bed is very comfortable and it was hard for us to get up at 8 - but since today is our trip to the Panama Canal we'll have to start early. Looks like its going to be a cloudy day - so walking will be a little easier.

We walked to the subway and took the train to the last station. There we crossed over to the Main Bus Terminal. I had read we could take a bus from here to Miraflores Visitors Center. So we walked around the very HOT terminal looking for the right bus. But found none. So asked at one of the ticket booths and was told to go to the end of the terminal and turn right.

So we did that and didn't see any buses, only a food court. Asked a Transit Policia "Donde el bus a Miraflores?" and he pointed us to an opening at the far end of the food court. So we walked there and were told we had to buy a card and load the fare of $1 each for a one way trip at the kiosk. We walked back to the kiosk and tried to buy a card. I put in a dollar bill and then a $5 dollar bill but the machine would not except it. After awhile the machine gave me a receipt for $1 but no card! From what I could figure out from the on screen message was that I had to use correct change. But it didn't give back my dollar! So went to the ticket booth and explained what happened and was told I had to go to information in the main terminal to get my card.

We walked back to the centre of the main terminal found information and after explaining what I was trying to do and what happened the girl asked for my ID. Strange, but anyways gave it to her. She came back with a photocopy of the receipt AND my ID (drivers license) and told me to go to another booth and I would get a card.

So off we go to another booth. There is a lineup so I went to one on the opposite side where there was no lineup but was told I had to go across the way - what?!? By now I'm getting a little ummm frustrated! I'm ready to throw the photocopy in the garbage and start over with exact change! But since I'm close I continue on and speak with the girl at the correct booth. She took the photocopy plus $1 and gave me a card!!! I Know..... all this to save a buck??? Well we are retired so have lots of time, plus I needed the extra steps! LOL!!!!  The girl also added to the card the $4 I gave her for the fare. In Panama City you dont buy tickets for the bus and subway, you first pay for a card and then you go to the machine and load on the amount of cash you want to have on the card. Then when you get to the turnstile you slide your card over the light, it deducts for the trip and opens the turnstile. Once you run low on credit you put the card in the machine again and add money to it.  Great system I'd say :)

We head back to the original area by the food court, (oh ya I also have a blister on the ball of my left foot from yesterday's walk that is really starting to hurt!)  use our card to get thru the turnstile and sit and wait for the bus. It's suppose to arrive in 25 mins at 12 noon.

As we wait 3 buses arrive in the area just in front of us. They are the crazy "pimped out" buses like they have in Guatemala. From what I had read the bus we are to take should have "Miraflores" across the front like a city bus, none of these buses had that.  At noon I ask the lady by the turnstile is this the bus we are to take? Yes. (Remember I'm doing this all in Spanish - or my best attempt at Spanish since there is little English spoken here!)  OK,  guess we get on the pimped out buses for a fun ride!

Main Bus Terminal with many shops

One of the fancy local buses - love those exhaust pipes!


Even detailed paintings above the windshield




We're on the bus for only about 15 mins when I check my Maps.me and see that the Miraflores bus stop is just ahead. So we get up to walk to the front of the bus. The drive says we need to pay him $1. But I said we paid with the card. Nope we have to pay him. So Dwayne does. Now I know we got on the wrong bus plus we also have to walk 1km to the visitor centre in the heat!! Blah Blah Blah guess I (we) screwed up and maybe should have asked for the bus going to Miraflores VISITOR CENTER?????

Anyways we get to the visitor centre - pay $20 each to get in. We take the elevator to the 4th floor to get out on the viewing platform to watch the ships go in the locks right in front of us. As we get to the railing we see a small boat coming into the lock. Thinking this must be the Tour of the Canal you can take, but turns out to be a private catamaran 2 storey yacht!! Didn't look very big in the lock. And since it is small it can go into the lock with a ship. The ship that was sharing the lock was still coming out of another lock wayyyyyyy out there. The ship was not large - not even a container ship so not very exciting watching it come into the lock. These ships do not move fast since they are being pulled by tugboats from lock system to lock system  and then by a train thru each lock.

It finally arrives and gets into the lock. It is being pulled in place by small electric trains on a track using steel cables. This keeps the ship in the middle of the lock. All ships that go thru are captained by Panama Canal Authority pilots from beginning to end. We watch as the lock closes and water drains into the second lock. Yacht and ship move to second lock and then into the bay before heading towards the Pacific Ocean.  It probably took 1.5-2 hrs to get thru those 2 locks.
First of the Miraflores Lock filled

At the end of the lock you can see the yacht entering. The ship to join it is way back in another lock

Zoomed in to the ship after the tugboats leave to head back to the other lock  for the next ship and the electric trains take over 

To show the ship has a ways to go before being totally inside the lock
Video of the electric trains at work

Here is the yacht out of the lock and into the next one ahead of the ship


Looking towards Panama City and seeing some of the high-rises peeking over the hills 

Cut away picture showing the 3 lock systems from Colon to Panama City

This is a picture of the new locks -never found anything about being able to get to those.


We then went into the museum to learn more about the canal and its beginning. Hear are a few facts:

- 1881 the canal is started by Ferdinand de Lesseps who also developed the Suez Canal. His original idea was to dig out a canal as was done for the Suez Canal and not use any lock system
- Many workers died (20,000) thru accidents and disease like yellow fever and malaria
- the project was dropped in 1889 because of money shortage,  and the project had not progressed very far since digging thru hard rock was much more difficult than sand as in the Suez Canal project.
- US was given approval to continue the construction in 1904 after promising to help Panamanians separate from Colombia in 1903. US bought the canal for $10 million plus a yearly lease and handed it back to the Panamanians in 1999 as agreed in 1977
- 5000 workers died while construction was done by the US
- takes a ship anywhere from 6-8 hrs to travel thru all 3 lock systems . If it were not for the canal it would take 2 weeks for the ships to navigate around Cape Horn in South America
- this also substantiates the fees that are charged to get through the locks - an average of $200,000 paid in CASH 48 hrs prior to entering the canal.
- Average of $12,000,000 earned A DAY! Half is used for expenses - employee pay, maintenance etc and half is straight profit!!
- most expensive toll was for a Norwegian cruise ship at $375,600!
- but that was before the new larger locks expansion was completed in 2016 which now allows ships carrying 10,000 20' containers thru. The toll for that weight is $829,000! and with bigger container ships being built to carry 13,000 containers the toll will easily surpass $1 million!!
- the millionth ship to pass thru the canal was on Sept 4, 2010

Picture from the musuem of the workers

pictures of the butterflies in the area

Beautiful blue ones and.....

ones that look like owls and are called Owl butterflies

After going thru the museum we thought we would have lunch at the restaurant in the building. Being Sunday they were only having a Brunch at $42 each!!! You can bet we just turned around and headed downstairs to a little walkup cafe for a coffee, pop  and 2 sandwiches for $10 :)  And while we were sitting there a huge container ship was in the lock.



Thru the heavy rain you can see a large container ship coming into the lock

And as it goes by while we are having lunch 

As we watch the container ship go thru we can see one of the huge ships going thru in the new bigger canal  behind the berm. It was raining pretty hard so the picture isn't very clear
Forgot to mention that it had really been raining hard for the last hour. And it was now time to head back home. So we walk down to another building where the taxis are because not walking out to the highway to catch a bus! When we get down to where the taxis are I ask if a bus comes by. They pointed to a spot outside. OK so that must be the bus we SHOULD have been on.  I asked the taxi driver the fare to a mall that is near the last stop of the subway - $15. Decided to much. We wait for about 15 mins and its still coming down in buckets. We talk about when we get off the subway we're still going to have to catch a taxi to the BnB since its at least 5 blocks. That will probably cost $5. So I asked another taxi driver how much to our BnB - showed him on Maps.me and he said $15 (the map shows its 15KM)  So we decided WTH lets spend the $15 and get right to the door πŸ˜‚


Glad I wore my flip-flops today :) 
As we drive away in the cab the rain slows down and there comes the metro bus with Miraflores on the front!!! 😫

We get to drive thru the main part of Panama City on the way home. I'm still amazed by all the high-rises :) They all seem so close together.  As we get closer to our place I have to give the driver instructions from my maps.me on which way to turn to get to the building. It was nice to not have to walk up that hill again!!






Thats the bank we deal with in Honduras 

Got a better shot of the F&F Tower- soooo amazing!!
Once back in the room we sit out on the balcony and enjoy the view. The clouds are very dark in the distant and doesn't take too long before they get closer and it really starts to pour. I then went into the bedroom and watched thru the big window as the rain is coming down and worked on the blog :)



Tomorrow is our last day so hoping the weather is good since we want to get to Casco Viejo (Antiguo) Spanish for Old quarter. This was the area that was built after the original Panama City was destroyed in 1671. The original Panama City has a few ruins left after it was burned down by the Spanish. It was originally founded in 1519




We made it to Panama - finally :)


What a skyline!!
I say we made it to Panama finally because since we have travelled as far as Costa Rica from our house in Honduras, its strange we haven't got here sooner! But I have checked for flights from Honduras to Panama City and never found a flight under $600 each return! The cost for our flight from Vancouver to Panama City was $581 for both of us one way - including 2 meals on the second leg. So not sure why I could never find a cheap flight from San Pedro Sula.

Anyways the flight from Vancouver to San Francisco was quick - 2 hrs. The San Francisco to Panama City (6.5 hrs)  was also good - or I guess as good as an all nighter flight can be!! Maybe slept an hour. Dwayne and I were not originally seated together on the second leg but once we got on the plane and moved with other people we were at least across the aisle from each other :) An old guy sitting behind Dwayne was constantly coughing - I'm sure almost coughing up a lung!! Spitting into the puke bag -So gross!! I just put my earphones in and listened to music. Started watching a Johnny Deep movie - Black Mass from 2015 but lost interest in it, other then how great his makeup was done - couldn't tell it was him at all, just like the change of Charlize Theron in Monster! I then tried Aquaman - but other that watching Jason Momoa not much reason to watch it LOL!! So music it was😊
Our Airbnb host Adrian picked us up at the airport. WOW did the humidity ever hit us when we walked out of the airport! It was already 25C at 6:30AM. Adrian is also an uber driver here on weekends and during the week he works for the Panama bus/metro office. Panama City has had one subway line since April 2014 and just this year has a second line running but not quite completed all the way to the airport yet. He charged us only $15US for the ride.

That was another thing that surprised me - the currency here is US dollars. Didn't even think that because every other Central and South American country has its own currency. Panama does have its own coins, one being the Balboa dollar. But all paper money is US only.

So once we got to the Adrian's condo - near downtown and on the 25th floor! he showed us around and then left to go visit his dad who lives about 3 hours inland and he said it was going to be really hot there! He took us up to the rooftop so we could see all around Panama City. We're both amazed by the number of high-rises here!! Adrian will be back late Sunday night. Nice to have the whole place to ourselves for now. Even though there is only a/c in the bedroom so we pretty well hang out there!


Our bedroom just as shown in Airbnb -small but enough room for us. There is a tv but few English stations to watch 

Downtown from the rooftop! So many high-rises

That is a park just outside the BnB that has a 5km walkway around it, and in front of those high-rises are beaches 
This building is known as the F & F Tower - you'd think a building this cool would have a more exciting name! It was originally named Revolution Tower finished in 2011
Around 9 we decided to take the subway to the end of the line towards the Panama Canal. There wasn't enough time this morning to get to the canal to watch the ships go through because Adrian said that from 11AM to 1PM the locks are cleaned so no ships go through.  Have decided to go early tomorrow morning.

After taking the subway back to our stop near the BnB we stopped at a grocery store to pick up a few things for supper - found a rotisserie chicken and figured that would be good for supper along with a salad - so picked up some veggies for that. The chicken was $6.50US so not much cheaper then in Edmonton.

Once we got back with the groceries we put them away and cooled down in the bedroom - I was sweating like crazy coming up the hill where the high-rise is located! Didnt take long before we were both asleep for a couple of hours :)

Later in the afternoon we walked to a nearby shopping mall (2km away) hoping to walk around in nice a/c area. Which it was. From there we found a cab to take us to the fish market which is close to the Old City of Panama known as Casco Antiguo. Decided to take a cab there instead of walking back 2km to the nearest subway station! I asked the driver the price and he said $10 which I bawked at since I'm pretty sure most rides in the downtown area is $5 since they have zone rates. We came to an agreement of $6. On the drive there he was trying to convince me we should book him for a few hours for $70 and he would drive us around to the major sights. But I explained that we don't understand spanish that well so it wouldn't work. His price is pretty good because the hop on hop off bus is $33/ea for the day. Anyways we'll figure out more once we get going tomorrow.

HUGE prawns at the market $8 per kilo -WOW! 


Pulpo! :) 

PULPO! the vendor yells!!

After walking through the fish market we walked beside the harbour where are the fishing boats are and then saw how the main road has been taken out into the sea to get around Casco Antiguo.  On our way back towards the metro station Maps.me took us through what looked like a kinda sketchy area! Had one black guy come up to us smiling and giving us both fist pumps! Is it odd for white folk to walk thru here or wishing us luck???? LOL!! So guess it really wasn't that bad :) Eventually did find the metro station and once we got off at our station we ended up going out a different door and got totally turned around thinking we were leaving by the same door we used earlier today and started walking AWAY from our BnB, but I got us back on the right track - we're never lost (unless both our phones die!!) - we just like to add more steps to our outing!! Ended up walking 10.6kms - that should help get rid of all that food we had on the plane! LOL!!

Outside the fish market where all the fishermen are


The curved building on the right is Trump's building
They took the highway out and around Casco Antiguo (Old City)

Part of Casco Antiguo - we'll visit that area tomorrow


Another odd building - tower surrounded by apartments 

On our way back to the subway we go thru a nice park (just before the sketchy area😁 ) and bought myself a necklace for $5. My coral necklace I bought in Belize broke again while in Abbotsford - couldnt fix it since my "stuff" is in the trailer

Street food - pork, chicken and veggies :) 

This area is also known for all the discos and night entertainment

Hoping we have a little more zip in our step tomorrow after a good nights sleep πŸ’€

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Only a few days left in Canada!



Starting to get Excited!!
Wow our time is going fast! We arrived back in Abbotsford on Sunday after spending a week in Comox where we had dinner with the family to celebrate Dwayne's stepmom's 95th birthday. Then flew to Edmonton for a week. We enjoyed visiting with family and friends before we leave until next June. Had a great Buen Viaje! dinner with friends in Edmonton put on by our friends Sue and Greg - so much fun!  Sue made a delicious lasagna and the other girls brought yummy sides and dessert. A bit of wine and beer (plus grapefruit juice for me- my "pensioner's Radler Beer" LOL!!) and a great evening visiting πŸ˜„

The girlfriends :) Didn't get a pic of the guys or everyone at the table :(

When we flew into Abbotsford we met our daughter in the waiting lounge because she was getting on the plane we just got off of to fly to Calgary to attend business meetings the next 2 days in High River. First time we have been greeted arriving in the secured departures area 😍 Our son in law was waiting for us outside after dropping her off.


We have been tracking Vanna since she left Vancouver's port last week. Our original date of arrival for Vanna in Cartegena, Colombia was Oct 1st. Then when the ship left Oct 17th it showed Oct 2nd. Yesterday I checked again and now the arrival date is Oct 3 at 14:30! Hope it doesnt continue to change!  So guess we are going to be staying at the Airbnb in Cartegena a little longer since I originally booked it until Oct 4th.  So think we will be staying in Cartegena for the weekend since the ship is just arriving on a Thursday and who knows when it will be off loaded from the container ship. Plus I doubt all the paperwork will be done in one day πŸ˜‰ We know how slow paperwork is processed in Central America and don't think it will be any different in South America.  But that's ok we have a month in Colombia -hoping that is enough.

Have been plotting out our route through Colombia and Ecuador

Also through Peru but that's as far as I have planned. Not sure at that point if we go to Bolivia or Chile.

Our plan is to spend a month in each of the 8 countries we are going to travel through. We may not need a month in Ecuador but I'm sure we can spend more then a month in Peru.  I've been looking online for information of getting tickets for Machu Picchu. Seems we should be able to get some once we get to Cusco or Aguas Calientes. Wont need to buy online and hope we are buying from a "real" site. I also review an app called IOverlanders that has lots of good places to boondock plus members give good ideas of what to see or do in areas. So I found some entries as to where to buy tickets in Aguas Calientes. But not hiking the steep 12km walk up from there to get to MP like many of the writers do!! Will be taking a bus πŸ˜‰ Hopefully I'll be able to get more info on that from slowcarfasthouse.com blog since they are in Peru now. Both Geneva and Mike have been helpful in answering a lot of questions I've asked them 😊 Hoping we can meet up with them somewhere in South America :)

That will be so much fun to meet other "overlanders" during our trip. Lots of Europeans ship their RV to South America. I was also following a blog written by a Dutch couple that spent a year in South America travelling in a Toyota 4Runner and staying in BnBs. They just finished this month and returned to their home in New Zealand after selling their car in Chile to a French couple, this is also where they had bought the car. We haven't decided yet if we are bringing Vanna back to Canada to sell or sell in South America, or leave it in Uraguay if we haven't finished touring around and want to return - or MAYBE ship to Europe for our next trip???? LOL!!!!  Lots of options, the only big problem is always being allowed out of the province by our healthcare system for more than the allowed 7 months. I know....geez 7 months should be long enough to travel LOL! But when reading blogs of other people who travel for a year or even more, it seems that 7 months just won't be enough. We originally wanted to go for 9 months but ran short because of the time it would take to ship  Vanna. And we need province healthcare coverage to buy additional travel insurance - something Dwayne does not want to go without, so can't be cut off of provincial healthcare.  This trip is costing us $2300 for the 8 months. Guess that is about the same as we paid when we travelled to Europe and Morocco for 9 months 3 years ago.

I've also been rereading a blog my friend Sue wrote back in 1997 when she was lucky enough to travel with her Dad for 35 days in Greece!!  Wow how things have changed!! Finding internet in hotels was just starting to get setup and not many had it. Guess there were some Internet Cafes where a person could go and send emails home πŸ˜ƒ  I remember having to do that even in 2000 in Mexico!  She also writes "had to go back to my room because I forgot my film"  what is film??? LOL!!! Things have changed ALOT since 1997!! Now if I can't find wifi while travelling I start to have panic attacks!!! No not really, but maybe just a little bit of anxiety until I can find a McDonalds! LOL!!!

Well time to get back to some planning and getting things ready to pack to leave on Friday for Panama City. We're lucky that the owner of the Airbnb is meeting us at the airport and driving us to his place. Should be fun to finally see the Panama Canal.

Our BnB in Panama with a beautiful view of the city - 3 nights for $130C  :) 
And just a reminder -if you don't want to miss any of our exciting ;) trip blogs,  signup for it to be delivered to your email - the best way not to miss any of the crazy things we may encounter!! LOL!!!

I have tried to fix the problem some people are having leaving comments, plus my own problem of trying to reply to comments with no luck.  I have to "go to the blogging community" to resolve my problem. Since "chatting" with a tech from Google couldn't help me 😝



Bucaramanga

Wednesday Oct 16th We had a long drive yesterday to get to Bucaramanga. We left at around 8am and didnt arrive in Bucaramanga until around...