Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Panama City, Panama (not Florida)

Whenever we do a Google search on 'Panama City', it brings up pages relating to the town in Florida. It must be our use of English rather than Spanish.
A new watch battery for $3. The eye-piece is mounted in a plastic
soda bottle cap. Gotta love the ingenuity.
We met one local who said that Panama City is like Miami. It does have a similar tropical setting, with tall white buildings and urban hustle and bustle. Unlike it's grittier sister city, Colon, most areas seem completely safe at any time of the day or night. And its Old Town adds a charming European flavor to the mix. Generally, the people are friendly and helpful, unlike a lot of other big cities.

A sloth hanging out at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
At times, you would think you were in any large U.S. city (even in Miami you hear just as much Spanish), with the ready availability of all kinds of goods. There are some things that work really well. The public transportation system is excellent and cheap. The streets are clean. Construction is booming. People politely  wait in orderly lines for banks and buses (for the most part--although some will take advantage of 'gringos').
Same sloth (the one in the middle)

But there does seem to be a stronger undercurrent of inefficiency and bureaucracy than other places we have visited. Our dealings with Customs and Immigration as cruisers has been confusing, inconsistent, and at times frustrating.  Anyone that has had a bad experience with the DMV in the U.S. knows that bureaucracy and generally crankiness exists everywhere and maybe we have been able to minimize exposure to it in 'normal life'. But it seems that the rules are applied differently depending on which official you get or which port you check into or out of, to the tune of hundreds of dollars per boat. We spent our last day and a half trying to get our exit papers in order for Immigration, because the office we checked into did not use the proper stamp. Instead of being able to just get the stamp, we had to redo all the paperwork, pay extra fees, and wait around for over 3 hours.
 Our anchorage had a lot of roll from ferries and other working boats speeding through but there was a convenient dinghy dock nearby that could handle the big Pacific tides. It will be nice to get away from the rockiness. We have decided to forego a trip to Peru because of the amount of time we have available and because February is the height of rainy season. Although we might have had Machu Picchu to ourselves, it probably wouldn't be worth it to drag the boys through the cold rain. Instead we will spend some more time in Ecuador and the Galapagos.

The Biomuseo was a big hit with Mark and Conrad. Photo
courtesy of Fabien, a line handler on Ad Hoc, the sailboat
that came through the canal with us.


  1. Your dealings with the customs and immigration bring back memories of dealing with the NYC DMV many years ago. Stand in the wrong line (but which you were told to stand in) and it was back to ground zero

    1. We hear that lately they have been kicking people out for wearing shorts. They are told they have to come back with long pants and closed-toe shoes. I don't think Matt even owns any more closed toed shoes...


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