At 05.45 pm we need to be back. So we liked to be as early as possible from the ship.
So we were the first from the ship.
One of the buses on the other side of the bridge must be our.
FIrst upwards on the escelators and we were immediately invaded by tour operators even you told that you had a booked tour.
Crossing the bridge.
Finally someone welcomed us.
Rudy from Rudy's Tours expected us. We knew him from egyptnic (Nicole and Harald) but their tour was cancelled as there was a major delay of the ship.
You need to report the names and stateroom number prior to arrival. In no other city you need to do this before. With no other tour it was necessary that you had to arrange a deposit and get the confirmation with the arrival of deposit on the account. US-cruisers will not have any problems as you have your checks. EU-cruisers should already check with their banks to arrange an international remittance to Belgium and should count that you had to cover additional fees. Also it was strange to us that you had to pay at the beginning of the tour. All other tour guides took the money at the end of the tour.
Unfortunately there was no bench facing the rear so it was not so nice like in Cartagena and later in Puerto Limón where none need to turn around. ellbon (Robin) sat in the front although she tended to have "carsickness". But generally I would book a train tour to Panama City under this circumstances.
First we got to Gatun. As we had to bridge longer journeys: next time I would have an additional sitting pillow with me. The roads do not allow any fast rides. The Panama-Canal Zone was until 1993 unter US-administration so everything looked a little like in the US.
We arrived at the Gatun Locks of ACP Canal Administration.
There you can use without concerns the ATM because in Panama the local currency is USD. But pay attention to the change. There are panamese change (Balboa) which are not accepted in the USA.
A little souvenirshop. The admission fee is included in the tour price. While the ship's group were directed through, because there were other billings, Rudy need to pay case by case. That's why there is a need to pay at the beginning at the tour.
Few weeks ago there were on a German TV a nice report on the Panama Canal and the expansion plans. So it was just great to see everything live now.
It was set half mast because it was national holiday who reminded to a revolt against the USA. Most stores and institutions were closed.
There were also some advantages when you arrive with some ship's tours at the observation platform. You get some live-explainations by a guide from the Canal Administration.
Here they introduced the new projects which should be finished by 2014. Then even a CARNIVAL SPLENDOR must not need anymore to go around South America to get positioned to the Pacific Sea.
It was good to know that it was planned to save 60% of the sweet water which was lost currently to the open sea will remain in the canal system.
Everywhere dealers were selling registration plates... did they steal it from our bus??? It was missing in the front???
With the German driving rules you cannot survive in Panana... On the left side of the highway an unsecured truck was parking to load garbage.
We reached the only interstate in Panama, which connected Colón and Panama City. Reminded me to the old concrete-pistes like we had on the trasit roads through East Germany.
If you could have driven so fast. It was been solved. With the maximum speed our car would had a major problem.
Everywhere there were street controls but we were never checked.
Close to Paraiso we drove over the Panama Canal on the Puente de Centenario, which was constructed by the German company Bilfinger and Berger.
Rudy explained that all in the valley will be changed once the canal will be expanded.
The canal was initiated by French who thought it might be as easy as with the Suez-Canal. 22.000 dead men who were honored here on this cementary were the reason to give up the project in Panama.
We went to one of the few stores which were open today.
It was set up like a market hall for tourist staff.
Inside we were not ivaded like in Cartagena - just the opposite style: we need to find someone who liked to sell us something.
For 12 USD each we bought three Panama-Hats (Made in Ecuador). But we negotiated from 15 USD.
In the rear is the Canal Administration. The road was as broad as the canal. Let's see what will happen if the modernize and expand the canal.
We had lunch with Niko's Café which reminded me very much to a typical US-Self-Service-Family-Restaurant. Later we learned that it was located in the former US-zone and since the Americans moved away it was continued to use as family-restaurant.
We had Panamese homemade cooking. But when I saw that they had Empenadas I just stopped to eat.
They had even a drive-in like you had it in the US.
We continued to a former island which was now a marina. Here you have a great view to the modern Panama City.
As cruiser you were allowed to buy here at the Duty Free Shop. For 14 USD per box we purchased some cigarettes for our smoking co-workers. No cruisecard control was made.
Left is North and right is South America: connected by the Puente de las Americas (until 2004 the only road connection between North- and South America).
Here the four ethnic population group were represented of which the Panamese people were consisted.
That was a NO-GO-Zone - even the police refused to come in the night time due to the gang-activities if they were called.
From the car we had a sneak view to the modern Pananma. It went very fast. Due to national holiday there was no traffic congestion. Panama is well popular with retired people as it is much more cheaper than in the US but has an US-oriented infrastructure. Maybe it could be something for us in the future. Was not Colón also homeport???
That was Balboa who discovered Panam on behalf of Columbus.
We continued to the old historical town (Casco Viejo). As there was a Chinese minority in Panama there was of course a China-Town. Later it was easier for me to ask in Mandarin for carbonated mineral water than in Spanish or English just to find out that there was not any available.
Rudy asked us to take pictures without attracting too much attention as some might misunderstand the situation.
Where did he take us??? Rudy explained that Casco Viejo is a UNESCO World Culture Heritage. In ten years we would experience that place like we experienced Cartagena.
It was only surprising to find green oasises which appeared very clean and maintained while around everything appeared so ruinous.
In the sky the vultures flying their circles over us.
One was waiting on the roof.
We were allowed to watch closer the guards of the presidents without attracting any attention.
We were allowed to take pictures of the egret in the inner court.
So we would not see this again with our next visit because the structure with the population will change in the restored quarters.
We returned to Colón. Rudy recommended us not to do anything ourselves as the crime outside the Cruise Terminal is quite high. If we would ever started an RCI- or Cruise-West-cruise from Colón we could stay pre-cruise with their Bed and Breakfast (Pattys Casitas) and it would be also possible for him to arrange transfers for us as well as he can show us further attractions in Panama. As we were not with the United Nations we did not have a simultan interpreter so there were some tensions which you need to accept if you accept a bilingual tour. As none was interested too much for traffic rules a tour bus passed us.
Right on time and safe and sane Rudy drop off our group at the cruise terminal. He checked for me for a place where I can go into the internet before he returned home. It was no comparison to Cartagena because everything was in one city and here we had to bridge long ways. We saw a lot and we hope for the next time that Rudy will show us the new locks and not just the Indians at the ships but in their original natural enviroment. We accept his recommendation for our next visit in Panama.