Monday, January 13, 2014

Near Misses In The City And The Jungle.....

When our friends Allison and Ray from Virginia said they were coming to Panama City this week, we jumped at the chance to go have some city adventures and that's just what we did. We headed into the city on Friday for some shopping then checked into a hotel to meet up with them in the afternoon.  After dinner at our favorite restaurant and a tour of one of the malls, we headed back to the hotel to rest up for a long day on Saturday.

After a mundane breakfast we headed up Cerro Ancon, the highest point in Panama City to take in the cityscape, only to find out the hill didn't open until 1pm.  Perhaps the hill sleeps in on Sundays catching up on beauty sleep?  We thought it was strange that an outdoor, hill natural area wasn't opened, but this is Panama.  So we headed over to the famous Albrook Mall to show our friends that carnival of shopping treasures to kill some time giving the "hill" time to wake up and have her coffee. Back to Ancon Hill we went after one only to find a line of cars waiting to make the drive too. The road up the hill is one-way only with a guard at the top and bottom who carefully monitor the flow of traffic. Since there's only so much parking at the top only a certain number of cars are allowed in at one time while the others wait.  As we sat in line waiting our turn cars coming down barely squeezed by us, so close that we had to turn in our side mirrors to avoid having them banged up. Cars inched by us heading down as we pulled over as far as possible trying not to fall off the side of the mountain.  After that all those waiting in line including us decided to make a difficult 10-point turn in very little space to turn around and get out of there.

A borrowed picture of Ancon Hill
That we didn't quite make it to on this trip

Since plan A didn't work out we had to come up with a plan B, which was to head out toward Gamboa and stop at the Summit Zoo.  As we approached the area we noticed hundreds of cars parked along the roadside for miles since the parking lots were full. The tiny zoo after all was not that special, so we gave up on that idea and had to come up with a plan C.

Tug holding a ship in place at the locks

Stopped at the San Pedro Miguel Locks
These are the middle set of locks
viewable from the road


My resourceful hubby thought he'd head out toward the Gamboa Rainforest Resort, an overpriced gringoized resort surrounded by gorgeous vistas of greenery. A rickety, old, one-way bridge had to be crossed to get into the area which always made things interesting. A sign in Spanish sits beside a traffic light near the bridge, and the idea is when the light turns green the traffic goes, a concept we all should understand. The sign says something to the affect of wait your turn, the exact phrase I can't recall at this moment but between the sign and light drivers should get the message. We had the green light and with no other cars in sight Clyde proceeded over the bridge.  About a third of the way across another car headed toward us and refused to stop.  With our headlights just a few feet from each other the other car finally stopped and just sat there holding his ground.  We waited, Clyde signaled the man to back up but he just remained. In the meantime five or six other cars lined up behind us, since our side did have the right of way, or so we thought? Clyde got out of the car and went over to talk to the man who said he was not moving.  In the meantime other drivers behind us started to get out of their cars, but once they realized Clyde had already approached the man on the other side they backed off.  What we seemed to have here was a real live Panamanian Standoff that I feared could get ugly.
After a long wait the last car behind us decided to back up, then the next followed suit until we were able to do the same.  The jerk on the other side won the battle this time and we just had to let it go so it didn't ruin the rest of our day. Eventually we made our way over the bridge and continued our drive through the rain forest.

The wonderful One Lane Gamboa Bridge
that we shared with a train

Bamboo Entryway to the Gamboa Resort

Soon after the bridge we found out the entrance to the resort was blocked by a guard with a clipboard who only allowed paying guests through the gates. So we gave up on that idea and continued our drive just for the purpose of sightseeing. Clyde is good at getting lost on back roads and eventually after driving around our friend Ray looked up and said, "isn't that the hotel?"  Unbeknownst to us there was a back way into the resort with no guard and Clyde found it.  We parked and walked inside like we knew where we were going and looked around.  The place really is beautiful with a balcony overlooking lush, topical rain forest, a lagoon pool area, hiking trails and much more. We snapped a few photos and used the restroom in the lobby before getting back into the car.

Just liked these flowers

Next we followed signs leading to a Rain forest Discovery Center that turned out to be closed but looked like something we'd certainly like to explore another time.wttp:// We strolled along pipeline road on a trail through the woods where we spotted an agouti, a large rodent common to this area and a coatimundi, a mammal in the same family as a raccoon. Allison was in awe over some leaf-cutter ants that were as their names says transporting leaves to their nest.  On the way out we spotted a sloth hanging on a branch in the canopy above us, another photo op for our camera happy friends.

A cute little Coatimundi
welcoming us to the park

By the time we made our way back to Panama City it was time for dinner and Allison had mentioned TGIFridays on the Amador Causeway earlier, so we headed that way.  Although the restaurant is a bit pricey by Panama standards it's situated along the waterfront overlooking the canal.  We dined on coconut-banana chicken fingers accompanied by mixed veggies glazed with rum and Caribbean rice while watching ships go through the canal. As we watched the picturesque sunset over the water we thought there were quite a few people around and knew something was brewing.  After dinner we merely had to turn around to head back to the hotel to drop off our friends, a simple task or so we thought.  One of the reasons we picked this restaurant was because of it's close proximity to the hotel, at least on a normal night.

Finally catch a picture of a sloth in the wild!

Within minutes we found ourselves bumper to bumper in four lanes of traffic going both ways, on a tiny side street designed for only two lanes. Parking attendants were directing people in and out of spots for some unknown reason, and we had more than one near miss of an accident.  Again we pulled in our side mirrors while I hung out of the window trying to help Clyde squeeze by cars that were a mere inch or so away from ours.  The terrifying moments didn't get any better as we seemed eternally stuck in this maze of cars, people and chaos that we longed to escape. Allison kept asking me to ask someone what all the hoopla was about and finally I did.  Seems there was a huge event with many bands going on nearby, something that would explain the thousands of cars and people all around us. The five-minute drive back to the hotel ended up taking us over an hour as we once again were spared being scraped, banged up, or severally hurt and crushed in this horrible mess of cars. I did notice a sign that read, Tala 14 The Day After Event," that I looked up as soon as we got home. One would assume that they'd think about parking before putting in an arena that held over 10,000 people, don't ya think? Apparently not in Panama!

A tranquil sunset from
The TGI Fridays restaurant
This is actually the canal

Turns out this was a MAJOR concert that lasted for three days with over 26 different performers.  Held in the Figali Convention Center which holds over 10,000 people, no wonder the streets were packed with people.  It seems that a three-day pass ran for around $129, big bucks for a Panamanian that only makes $400 a month.  But that didn't seem to keep them from buying tickets by the looks of  things in the streets. It took us a little over a hour to make the 10-minute drive back to the hotel. We said good night to our friends and made the trek back to Chame by 10pm for yet another day of adventures in Panama....along the gringo trail.


  1. What A weekend It was! Loved Going Along The Gringo Trail With The Two Of You!

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