Moving on from Cartagena was enforced by my 5.30am debacle at Havana airport where I was basically forced to purchase a ticket out of Colombia on a particular date and Copa Airlines wouldn’t change it. I tried to change it, wanting to go to Ecuador and perhaps the Galapagos, but the resulting fees would have added a further four figure sum to my already overpriced ticket. My lack of Spanish is really debilitating, I went out to Cartagena airport four or five times to try and work out a solution but to no avail, nobody at the airline desk spoke English. Fortunately the airport is close to the town but even so the taxi ride price varied wildly. They do not have meters in the taxis in Cartagena. You may have heard that Ecuador was hit with a tragic earthquake some days after I would have been there, so, swings and roundabouts and maybe it was fortunate that I chose not to go. Reluctantly then I went to Panama City by plane, but for the wretched Copa ticket I would have gone by boat, a preferred route because there are no roads between Colombia and Panama. Not even the famed Trans America Highway makes the link across what is known as the Darian Gap, an area famous for blood sucking bats, snakes, bandits and gun and immigrant smugglers. I had to fly.
Panama City prides itself on the remarkable number of skyscrapers it has, both existing and being built. I couldn’t find them particularly attractive, sure some had an element of interesting architecture but for the most part I was looking at a concrete jungle. Not my sort of place and I began to look at ways of moving on. First of course I had to see the Canal, I mean it is quite famous isn’t it. A long shot I wondered if they had Uber and yes they did and not only that but on signing in to the app they offered me a free ride. Ms Yira showed up and off we went to the Miraflores locks and the visitor center. I had hoped to see one of those vast cruise ships passing through but there was only a gigantic car transporter that dwarfed the surrounding area. I have to say that it was all very, very slow and although a feat of engineering on an epic scale I did come away feeling just a little underwhelmed. However the splendid Ms Yira volunteered to wait in the parking lot while I viewed the canal and on the way back agreed to take me on a tour of the old city the next day, her English was considerably better than my Spanish.
It seems the City fathers have caught on to the fact that visitors like the old stuff and there is an enormous amount of construction under way in the old part of the City. Whole city blocks are under construction, new restaurants, hotels, boutiques and tourist shops are springing up everywhere. I bought a hat, well it is Panama, it rolls up into a sausage shape so easy to pack but I am still attached to my hat from Cuba so not wearing the new one. We wandered around, admiring the architecture, the graffiti, the construction sites and our fellow tourists, had some tea over which Yira asked if I liked Salsa music. Sure, I said, why not and we jumped in a taxi riding into ‘a rather rundown area’ where there were crowds of people and the loudest Salsa I have ever heard. A thirty piece band, yes thirty, singers, dancers in National costume, crowds of amicable Panamanians who kept buying me beer and not another tourist in sight. I think it was a fundraiser for something but somebody seemed to have forgotten to raise the funds. Food was served, it seemed to be a type of stew, presented in a transparent plastic bag without utensils, but balancing my beer in one hand and the bag in the other I couldn’t figure out how to eat there being nowhere to sit. The music and dancing were stupendous, quite overwhelming, so many instruments I had never seen before. Darkness fell and it was time to leave as I couldn’t see my way around the mud puddles. It was a true taste of the real Panama.
I can’t find the Salsa photos. I will look and post when I find them.