November 16, 2007

We woke up early this morning, a bit after 6 am, to go for a walk to the top of Cerro Ancon. The road outside La Estancia went looping up the hill. It took about half an hour to get to the top as we were watching the wildlife on the way. We saw several agoutis, but they went across the road and into the bushes very quickly. We also saw a couple of toucans high in the trees. At the top of the hill, we saw the biggest flag in Panama blowing in the wind. The view from there was great, looking down to the canal and also over the city.

Once back at La Estancia we had a hearty breakfast and watched the birds at the feeders, then decided to take a taxi to the Amador causeway. Our driver took us to the far end and let us off there, next to a whole lot of casual tourist restaurants. It was only 9:30 am so they weren’t open yet, and there didn’t seem to be any potential customers but us anyway. But the sun was shining and the swallows and pelicans were swooping about as we started walking back to town.

The walk along the causeway was very scenic, on one side the city with its tall towers and on the other the start of the Panama Canal. At the next island we went by a lot of buildings belonging to the Smithsonian. The only public one was the aquarium, and today it wouldn’t be open until 1 pm, so we couldn’t go in. So we set off on the long stretch of causeway towards the mainland. Next to the towers downtown there was a big rainstorm, and we hoped we wouldn’t be caught in it. We stopped at a pier where some men were fishing; one had a box of fish with sharp pointed noses, which he said were called “aguja” (the Spanish word for “needle”).

We were about halfway along there when the rain started. At first it was a light mist, but then the torrential part started. We hadn’t bothered with the rain capes—it only rains in the afternoon—so before long we were drenched to the skin. We tried sheltering under a green leafy tree, but the rain was so heavy that only worked for a few minutes. Our original plan was to have taken a taxi to Casco Viejo, but instead of that we hailed a taxi to take us back to La Estancia to put on dry clothing. The driver clearly didn’t know the area, despite a little map we had with directions. He ended up turning up a road with police guarding it, and they gave him the correct directions.

Finally back at La Estancia, we both changed, then took another cab to Casco Viejo, the old town of Panama. The cab dropped us at Plaza Francia, and from there we tried to follow the Lonely Planet’s walking tour. A lot of the buildings were falling down, but many of them had been gutted and were being restored. Art Deco was the main architectural style and the restored buildings were very beautiful. We didn’t quite manage to follow the walking tour in the order laid out, but we did cover most of it.

We did find the Panama Canal Museum and went into it. It had two full floors of everything remotely related to the Canal, and it looked very new. But we soon tired of trying to read walls full of dense Spanish text, and just looked at things. It only cost us a couple of dollars, though, so it was good value for the money. And we stopped to look at the president’s house (Palacio de los Garzas), which was newly painted and had two Blue Cranes pacing the portico along with the security guard.

From there we walked up Avenida Central, which is a pedestrian-only street with shops, very crowded and loud. There were many Kuna people there; they are very distinctive-looking not only because of their traditional clothing but also because of their facial features. We ended up at Plaza Cinco de Mayo. By now it was 3 pm and both of us were hungry. None of the restaurants on Avenida Central looked good, so we checked in the Lonely Planet. The nearest ones it recommended were on Avenida Balboa on the waterfront, which wasn’t far from where we were.

First we went into a seafood restaurant, but neither of us was really interested in fish so we went out again. Continuing along the sea front, the next two restaurants on the map seemed to be gone. Finally we found Café Boulevard Balboa. It was nearly 4 pm so this was our late lunch or early dinner. Rosemary had a hamburger, which she said tasted like meat loaf, and Paul had a steak and cheese sandwich. We also had strawberry fruit drinks which were fantastic. Outside, the traffic going towards the financial district was bumper-to-bumper with cars honking all the time. We were thankful we weren’t driving.

We paid the bill and surveyed the map some more. It looked like not much more than 5 km back to La Estancia, and it didn’t look like we were in the bad part of town. So we decided to walk. Fortunately there was a policeman directing traffic, so we didn’t have to risk our lives crossing Avenida Los Mártires, and then the walk up Cerro Ancon was very pleasant. Before we knew it we were back at La Estancia.

We didn’t need dinner, so we just had a Coke from the refrigerator and a banana from the bowl. Jay, the veterinarian, and his wife were in the lounge so we chatted with them for quite a long time. But we still went to bed early.

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