The day after we arrived in Panama City we had to get our car inspected, which involved arriving in a customs complex at 6am and queuing for a ticket. They only give out 25 a day… Then when you have the ticket you wait until 8am for someone to come round, check the VIN on the vehicle and tick a bit of paper. Then, at 2pm, you have to return to a different office to get another bit of paper which authorises you to leave the country in a container ship. We at least broke up the day with a bit of absolutely incredible sushi (who knew!) in a nice air conditioned shopping mall.
Having found a place where we felt both safe sleeping and also leaving the van in the city, we had a free day to explore. It’s a large city, with a big strip of resort type hotels by the sea (although no beach worth visiting as far as we could tell). One area we discovered worth visiting was Casco Viejo – an old part of town by the port.
Once a pretty dodgy area to visit by all counts, the area had been uplifted by tourism thanks to the beautiful colonial style buildings there. It’s quite a stark contrast from the edge of the ‘old town’ to the neighbouring part of town where there’s a virtual line which separates the new investment and the remaining run down state. We grabbed a £2 uber into the old town to start exploring!
While we were there we enjoyed just wandering around, were tempted by the $9.50 geisha coffee but were too full after lunch to justify it! Also we visited the Panama Canal museum, which gave a very interesting history on the workings of how the canal failed its first attempt at being built by the French, and was finally completed by the USA. Whilst a very interesting museum, it was also incredibly thorough and we felt a little word sickened by the end of it – time for a pint! In British style we thought the brewery near to our van would be open for an afternoon pint but it didn’t open until 5pm. Surely a missed opportunity in our books…
Next we headed to the locks themselves to get a look at the canal in action. The Miraflores Locks were a great place to visit, but in hindsight probably not worth the $20 entrance fee each. We had a bit of a ‘when will we ever see this again’ approach, and also they’d sneakily closed off the free locks. That said, we spent the morning there and watched some very fascinating ships rise and fall by several metres. Having spent all the time we could there we headed to Colon, the port city where we would load Betty onto a ship!
The day of the loading we were due to meet our agent at 7am, and we ended up dutifully waiting for almost an hour as he was predictably late. Arriving in his souped up Toyota truck it was clear that being a shipping agent pays well! We drove to the port with our container buddies and suddenly we were loading the van into a container. At that point they decided to tell us we couldn’t bring propane tanks into the container, so we frantically tried to drain our tank but knew it would take hours to do! With this in mind we did what we could and hoped for the best.
After the container was loaded we went to an office to do some paperwork which we have to say was greatly sped up by having an agent with us. Then that was it, we were at the mercy of public transport! So, on the bus back to Panama City we booked a hotel and booked a flight to Colombia the next day. We treated ourselves to an absolutely gorgeous airport hotel with a pool and air conditioning and everything you could ever want and even ate dinner right there in the hotel. Time to be true tourists! The next day it was off to Colombia, and our first port at South America on this trip.