Sunday, February 02, 2014

A Weak Week in Panama City at the Tail End of Our Trip

We had some concerns about how to spend an additional week in Panama City. We really nailed it at the beginning of the trip. Panama City is not brimming with things to do in the way of culture. When I read in some travel site that there are so many things to do, you could cover a year doing one a day. Really, in what universe are they living in?

We had walked the miles long Malecón walkway with the bay on one side and Avenida Balboa on the other. We had not done the miles long causeway. Attempting to visit the Museum of Biodiversity situated on the causeway was a bust, it was closed for renovation. Of course we didn’t know this ahead of time, so we had walked miles already by the time we reached it. There was no shade during this part of the walk, so we were overheated and dehydrated.

A quarter of a mile later, we reached part of the causeway that runs along with water on either side. It is a giant boulevard with sidewalks on either side. Our timing was perfect as we were walking the causeway; we noticed some kayaks floating by. Then we realized there were hundreds of them following. We thought it may have been a race, so we were concerned when one tipped over. They had to right themselves and were bailing like machines. Fearful for their safety, later we found out that this was a practice session for a great race that was to take place after we were gone from the city. The tipped boat was purposeful as they need to show they can right the boat if they should tip over during the real race.

Farther down the causeway one can find an assortment of restaurants and cafés, which are way overpriced. We paid $5.50 for one regular coffee and a small cafe late that was more like cafe au lait. There are quad bikes and duo bikes for rent, but we just continued walking to the end where there is a "Duty Free" store. It was mobbed when we walked in. There must have been a ship in port. Twenty minutes later, we were the only people around who were not employees.

We tried getting a bus back to the downtown, but after a 30 minute wait and no bus, we were about to follow the locals example and opt for a taxi. Just as we decided to hail one, the bus came. At 25 cents a person, it was much cheaper.

Much of our last days were spent in malls. It was too hot to wander for the most part, but there was not that much to do either. We did return to old town. Ron went to the fish market and had his ceviche fix. I stood far afield; I cannot stand the smell. Really what we craved most was air conditioning.

Another day, we went to the 265-hectare Metropolitan National Park located within Panama City’s Ancon district. It is the only protected area within city boundaries in all of Central America. There are four different trails that are rated easy and moderate. The claim is that “it is home to dozens of species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and trees. With lookout points, four well-marked trails, a scenic road and a Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.” All I saw were trees and two huge fungi. At one point I did spot one hummingbird, but that was the extent of the sightings. I was hot and miserable by the end of the first hour, so I found a place to sit and let Ron wander on his own. Decades of smoking have taken their toll, so going up and down hills is not my thing, especially with sandals.

Leaving Panama we had our flight booked with United Airlines. When I printed out the boarding passes, I had double checked the seating. We had the seats I requested for both flights. We boarded the plane in Panama City. The layout of the plane is completely different than the layout on the United website. Though we had the seats requested it was a 3-3-3 configuration rather than 2-4-2. The flight from PTY (the airport code for Panama City) to EWR (Newark, NJ) was 5 hours and 14 minutes long. During this time, the ONLY thing that United provided was free soft drinks, coffee, or tea. If you wanted any food at all, you had to pay for it, starting at $7.50. Beer and alcohol started at $6.99 and went up from there. To add insult to injury, there were no monitors on the seat backs nor were there any that came down from the ceiling. There were no options for video or audio the entire flight.

Our connection flight was 8 hours and 10 minutes. We were fed a mediocre dinner, but the drink selection was as on the first flight. An hour before landing, we were provided with a simple ‘breakfast’. For someone who has flown for decades, it is difficult to wrap my head around the changes in the airlines.

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