Panama
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Camp and day’s information: Thursday, 4th March 2004

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Panama City to Changuinola Bus Panama 0 0 53475 Hot, humid, with a slight breeze Omelette. Sandwich. Burger King.

We were at the airport at about 08h30.  We paid the hefty $32 airport tax and checked in.  They had no system to cope with the two pen knives we wanted to 'check-in', so we ended up having to check-in one of our day packs with the knives packed inside.  We met Sina from Baru, who was leaving for Bogota and we went and had some breakfast together.  Our flight was thirty minutes late departing which wasn't too bad.

Immigration in Panama was no problem at all.  We caught a bus to the Terminal Nacional which took about half an hour.  The bus terminal has to be one of the best we have ever seen.  They had directories showing which counter was for which destination and considering they had more than 50 counters it was remarkably well organised.  We bought a ticket for a 20h00 bus to the border town on Changuinola for $24 each.  It was only 13h30, so we decided to hire a taxi for $6 an hour to take us to the Panama Canal and other places of interest nearby.

The Panama Canal was most impressive.  We saw a couple of very big ships going through, although we understand in the grand scheme of things they were small as they only paid $71k for the passage, when the average is $300k.  We also saw some yachts and a smaller boat which were dwarfed next to the ships and disappeared from sight when the water level was dropped!  The ships are guided through the canal by six trams which run alongside and are connected to the ship with cables to ensure it floats through without bashing the sides.  The one ship we saw had only a foot clearance on either side!  Also, when any ships pass through carrying hazardous cargo an alarm goes off to tell all people working the in dockside building to evacuate and cross the lock bridge onto the other side until the ship is safely through... (notice the sailing boats next to the tug).

Both channels can operate simultaneously.  As the lock on the left is already emptying rapidly, you can see the ship in the right hand channel is much higher...

Our taxi driver, Gregorio took us up to the next set of locks and then we drove through some lovely jungle forests.  We stopped at a lake and watched the bird life, a very peaceful way to spend the afternoon before our bus ride...

We to back to the terminal with plenty of time to spare and had some Burger King fodder.  I had an interesting incident in the ladies loos when a can of ginger ale came flying over the top of the cubicle and doused me in sticky drink.  I did my best to clan it off, but resigned myself to being a bit sticky.  We were first in the queue for the bus, eager to get the best seat possible with some leg room for Michael.  When the operator whom we had met at the office earlier arrived with his list he told us we were on the later bus.  We stood our ground and said no way, we had to get to Costa Rica to get our car and we were definitely getting on this bus!  He eventually relented and allocated us two midway in the bus - so much for leg room!

The journey wasn't too bad for the first four hours, except for the air conditioning which was freezing.  Then it all got a lot worse with two people (one two seats in front of us and one directly behind) doing synchronized puking!  Need I say more?!