First of all, let me introduce you to the new funlovingliving team!
I have known Ellie since 2000 when I was an AFS exchange student in Delaware, USA, for a year in high school. Ellie’s family opened their doors and hearts to me. That year made way for lifelong friendships and they are all like family to me and Kyler. Ellie’s dad is from New Zealand and for the past few years, Ellie has been living there. Todd is Ellie’s awesome boyfriend from New Zealand, who we had the pleasure to meet for the first time three days ago, here in Panama City! We will be traveling together for the next month. Fun times have already been had and more fun times are on their way!
Our first day together in Panama was dedicated to taking care of business. Our vehicle importation permit would run out on January 10th and we wanted to be able to spend more time in Panama. We drove and drove around the city in search of the right office to get the extension. We first went to a police station (marked down as an immigration office on the map). They told us to go to the other side of town to find the immigration office. We drove there, entered, get told I have to wear a top with sleeves, go change, go back, get a number, get told Kyler has to wear pants, not shorts, go change, go back, get a new number, wait in line, get called up and get told that, oh, for the vehicle you have to go to the customs office. Unfortunately, they have no idea where the customs office is… We decide it is time to recharge with some lunch and Internet to find out where the customs office is located. We finally find out and set out with new energy and courage towards the customs office.
The office is a long hallway with a few different windows. We are pointed to the last window where we explain what we need. An older man points for us to enter his office, where he tells us to write a letter addressed to Herman Espino (which turns out to be himself) where we request an extension. The letter had to contain certain information, but he was speaking at the speed of sound and we were struggling to understand. He gave us a blank piece of paper and pointed for us to leave. Out in the hallway we sat down an felt like we were writing a Spanish exam paper in school. What we were able to scribble down was embarrassingly short and poorly written. We only had the one piece of paper, Ellie and Todd were boiling in the car, so we decided to hand it in and give it a shot! About an hour later, the papers had been moved from here to there, stapled together, signed and Herman Espino was finally ready to give it the final stamp. We passed the test! The extension had been given and we are now free to stay in Panama until February 10th.
The next day, with the extension in hand, we were ready to explore the city. We drove across the Panama Canal bridge in daylight and stopped at a viewing platform donated by the Chinese (all due to a missed turn). It gave us a great view of the port and the bridge.
Quite happy about missing the turn, we returned back across the bridge and made the right turn onto the Amador Causeway. The causeway was made from extracted rock from the making of the canal and serves as a breakwater. It connects four islands with mainland and is a beautiful stretch of land.
On the causeway, we visited a Smithsonian Nature Centre located on what used to be a fort protecting the canal. When realizing, after WW2 and Pearl Harbor, that missiles could be fired from long distances, the fort was made obsolete and is now housing aquariums, sloths, birds, six armed sea stars and iguanas instead.
We moved on through the slums to get to Panama City’s old town, Casco Viejo. It is quite obviously very old, with a large part of the buildings in poor condition. Parts had been upgraded to cater to tourists, but in general this part of the city did not seem to house much of local life. However, it was interesting to see it and the old buildings versus the skyscrapers across the water provided an insight into the diversity of Panama City.
Off to the Miraflores locks and museum to inspect the engineering marvel of a canal up close!