Today is January 24,2019. It also served as a stark reminder of the reasons that I love and hate traveling as I visited the Miraflores Lock of the Panama Canal.
I want to start by saying that I love to travel because it involves discovering new things and cultures one wouldn’t otherwise have access to back in their home country. With that being said, the thing that I hate most about traveling is tourism. Given how much I hate tourists, this was probably the worst week of the year for me to be in Panama City given that it was hosting both the World Youth Fair and the Catholic Pope (am I the only one who finds this to be depressing ironic). Not only were tourists’ services such as the “Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus” unavailable, but regular public services were severely strained given the sudden influx of guests.
As far as my day goes, I woke up at 830 AM, which meant I only got 4 hours of sleep. As much as I tried, I could not go back to sleep. Given the fact that I will only be Panama City for 2 days, I decided just to get the canal knocked out immediately. The Panama Canal is one of the worlds most important landmarks in terms of the world’s commercial trade as it provides easy passage for vessels from the Pacific to Atlantic Oceans. It was controlled by the United States up until the year 2000 when it was handed back to the Panamanian government as a result of the Carter-Torrijos treaty. Today, the canal’s Miraflores Lock serves as the premier tourist destination in Central America.
I left my hotel at 9 AM and headed to the Albrook Mall where the national bus terminal was located. Although I could have easily taken an Uber to Miraflores for $4 USD, I decided to be adventurous. I took a taxi for $2 USD and, when I arrived to Albrook, it was the textbook definition of a zoo as people (mostly groups of children) were everywhere. I went to the information booth and found out that I had to purchase a metro card in order to take the bus or the metro. There was a machine that dispensed them for $2 USD. After getting some water at the market, I headed to the bus stop. It seemed that even the buses were confused, as all of them were parked and several seemed to be boxed in. When I went to ask the attendant about the bus to Miraflores, he said one would be there in an hour. I almost called an Uber on the spot, but then I thought, what else do I have to do today? So, I sat and waited……
The bus did arrive within the hour and there was a sudden scramble to get on. I actually was the second one on the bus, but of course my bus card didn’t work because it had no money on it. It turns out that $2 USD that I paid at the machine……didn’t actually put money on the card. So, after pushing my way back out of the crowd, I ran to the machine and put $5 USD on the card. I was able to make it back to the bus and board. I was the second to last person on, which turned out to be a good thing because people were literally stacked on top of each other. The bus ride consisted of the kids chanting non-stop. While it was cute for the first 5 minutes, it became increasingly annoying over the 30-minute bus ride.
I finally arrived to Miraflores where a guy immediately tried to sell me tickets to an IMAX movie about the canal. After getting rid of him, I was able to find the real ticket booth which charged me $20 USD for a ticket. While definitely a little steep as far as price, I figured this would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The canal had a 4-floor museum and a theatre (separate from the IMAX). The museum was small but informative. I spent about 30 minutes wondering around, and only left because there were so many people. The theatre was like a standard high school auditorium and I ended up having to sit on the floor because of all the kids. The movie itself was 10 minutes in complete Spanish. I understood the concept and about 75% of the words which speaks to how much my Spanish has improved over the years. After the movie, I left and took some tourist pictures of the canal and found out that a boat would actually pass through at 3PM. Unfortunately, it was 1230 and I wasn’t going to hang around for another 2 and a half hours to see a boat.
After taking pictures, I decided it was time to go. I went back out to the bus stop to find out the bus had just passed through and wouldn’t be back for an hour. I looked at the price for an Uber to my hotel, which was now at $5 USD. I decided to ask a taxi driver. Of course, he attempted to rip me off as he wanted to charge me $10 USD to not even take me all the way to my hotel (he wanted to drop me at the corner). He also got angry when I laughed in his face and walked away. I was just about to pull up the Uber app again, when lo and behold, the majestic camioneta rolled up to the curb. Only $1 USD to ride back to Albrook terminal. While the bus was only .75 cents, I thought the comfort of an airconditioned van was well worth an extra quarter. And with that, my trip to the Panama Canal was concluded.