August 8, 2015: Exploring Colón and the Canal

We were ever so thankful this morning that we had already taken all of the time and effort to have gotten the car situation sorted out so that we did not have to do hours of extra driving this morning.  That would have been awful.  And far, far better than the original plan of having to have driven out to Playa Blanca from Panama City this morning!

Most of us were up before eight but it still took until at least nine before we had everyone into the car and on to the road heading to Panama City.  This time it was me driving everyone.  Bob riding up front and Dominica and the girls in the back.

The drive went pretty quickly this morning.  I made good time and we did not have to stop anywhere the whole way and traffic was not bad.  We took the Bridge of the Americas and the Southern Corridor, back tracking the way that we went yesterday to leave the city.

I was super impressed with myself for being able to drive the entire way from our condo in Playa Blanca, several hours to Panama City, across the city and through the neighbourhoods to get all of the way back to Bob’s family’s house in Brisas de Golf without any maps or directions!  We did run into some insane traffic near Bob’s family’s neaighbourhood and had to get off of the path and reroute a little and Bob did verify some of that with a map, but even there we knew what we were doing and got right back onto the right path.

We got to the house and Paul was waiting for us.  We had through that Maria was going to be there too but she was running behind and was far away.  After about fifteen minutes we decided to run out and meet her somewhere on the way to Colón once Bob had decided that he was not going to be going with us.

We followed the directions that we were given to meet Maria and that took us completely in the wrong direction and we had no idea where we were supposed to be.  That turned from being a simple thing into a rather big ordeal for no reason.

We took the North Corridor and finally found where we were supposed to be, met up with Maria, Paul rode with her and we convoyed up route 9 to Colón.  The original plan for today was to take the train that goes from Panama City to Colón but the train does not run on weekends (and we discovered that it is super expensive and the schedule for it is just crazy.)  So instead we are driving up.

The drive went quickly and we ended up (since Paul was directing things) going to a surprise location not in the city.  First we went to see the new canal construction where the Panama Canal is being expanded to accommodate more traffic.  We stopped and took a few pictures.  Then we drove up to the Gaton Lock and got to see some huge cargo ships going through.  That was really neat.

We actually waited for one of the ships to pass and got to drive THROUGH the lock!  There is a tiny bridge that goes along the bottom of it and we were inside where the ship had just been.  So cool.

On the other side of the lock we drove way, way out on this little country road in the middle of nowhere.  At one point Paul and Maria had a howler monkey run across the road in front of them!  We were far out in the wilderness to the west of Colón.  We ended up going through the old U.S. military base that was abandoned out there, which was pretty neat to see.  The remnant of American colonization abroad.

There was a marina there, hidden in amongst the old base, where we stopped and had a very nice late lunch.  We were right on the water amongst a lot of smaller ships.  The place was not very busy but there were one or two people there who had arrived by ship and a handful of tables that drove in like we did.

It was a nice location and we enjoyed the food.  They had calamari which made Luciana very happy.  Everyone got either fish and chips or fish tacos.

Returning from the old military base we stopped first in the base so that Paul could find a bit of Caribbean water and get his feet in it and take a picture there.  Then on the drive back in the mangroves we found a better place for him to get into the water so we took more pictures there.

When we returned to the lock we ended up in a rather long line of cars waiting to get back over.  We had to wait for one ship and we might have been so far back in the line that we got stuck and had to wait for a second.  Just before we were going to go through the lock a taxi that was about a dozen cars in front of us broke down in the middle of the locks and had to be pushed through manually!  We were pretty sure that we were going to be trapped for a while on the western side of the canal!

Once we were back through we ran through the outskirts of Colón, got gas and drove back down to Panama City.  There was a light rain on the way down, which Panama really needs right now.

We got back to where we had met Maria and we parted ways there.  We squeezed Paul back in to our car and drove him back to Bob’s in laws where they are spending the rest of the weekend.  This is the last that we will see of them until SpiceWorld in late September.

We got on the road and did the long drive back to Playa Blanca.  Actually it was not that bad of a drive at this time of night.  It was late enough and being Saturday night there was really no traffic and we made great time.  It was really dark.

Sadly after two weeks of everyone saying “it’s a miracle that no one gets hit out here with all of these people walking along and running across the highway”, we saw a guy who apparently had run across the highway to get to a bus stop and did not make it.  He was still partially in the road right in front of the bus stop but was nearly all covered by the sheet.  That made for a somber drive home.

It was very late when we pulled back into the condo.  Everyone was right off to bed.  It was a very long day.  And tomorrow we are going to be setting off to explore Panama for the first time without extra people since we have gotten here.  So it is going to be a rather busy day.  We only have a car from time to time so we have to be rather judicious with it when we have the access.