Puttering About Panama


Glasswing butterfly

I think Panamanian people are born with an umbrella attached to their hand. The few times we ventured off without our umbrella, we’ve been forced to pay the price. Most recently when we went shopping at a massive shopping complex called Albrook Mall, we found ourselves stranded inside for a couple of hours due to a monsoon complete with deafening thunder and tons of lightning. This is typical of a day in the rainy season here. Storms seem to come out of nowhere. All of a sudden, the horizon is dark and the temperature drops.  And then, it rains. It rains hard! Being stranded in the mall wasn’t all bad. To kill some time, we ate lunch at Taco Bell. Yes, Taco Bell. We were pretty excited about this. It’s been ages since we ate at Taco Bell. Of all the fast-food joints in the USA, Taco Bell tops my list. It’s the little things, isn’t it?

Speaking of little things, check out these really cool little flowers:


This flower is about an inch tall


I have no idea. If you know what type of flower this is, please drop us a note.

Albrook Mall is the largest mall in the Americas (bigger than the famed Mall of America in Minnesota) and is the fourteenth largest mall in the world. It boasts three McDonald’s restaurants inside. It even has a car dealership.  We are not really mall people but we needed something we knew would be sold there. We also used the rain shower time to take a long walk and get some exercise in air-conditioning. Air conditioning is a good thing.


One of the food courts at Albrook Mall (pic courtesy of Albrook)

The other reasons Panamanians carry an umbrella is because of the brutal sun. If it’s not raining and the sun is out, it’s darn hot. On cloudy days, the temperatures here are very tolerable. Not so much on the clear days. We often see people walking down the street using the umbrella as a parasol. If it’s hot for the Panamanians, you know it’s hot! Yep, an umbrella in Panama is an absolute must during May – December for the rain. And, an absolute must for the sun the rest of the time.

For the past couple of weeks, we had a guest aboard the Puffster. Our dear friend Mona, yes the same one who bakes us cookies, came to see us. She is sweet and packed cookies to bring all the way to Panama. We love Mona cookies! We have filled her time doing touristy stuff. Touristy stuff is fun.

We spent a couple of days in the city of Panama. Seeing the locks as a tourist was really different for us. Since we already transited the canal, we could offer a perspective to Mona as she watched the ships go through. At the Miraflores locks visitor center, there are enough things to do to pass almost an entire day. We purchased our tickets mid-morning and were told the first ships would not be arriving until about 3pm. This gave us about 4 hours to kill. The center has a museum. It is not as complete or informative as the Panama Canal Museum located in Casco Viejo, Panama City. However, the Miraflores museum has a couple of really cool exhibits. My favorite is the mock bridge. The windows are monitors and standing at the wheel gives a person a sense of what it is like to be in the canal on a big tanker. The area kids loved this exhibit. I think we might have hit the center on a designated field trip day. Little kids were everywhere.


Cindy tries her hand at driving a cargo ship through the canal


Seeing ships moving above trees is not unusual in Panama

An IMAX 3D theatre is also located in the tourism center. The 45-minute movie (in English with Spanish subtitles) was excellent. It was narrated by Morgan Freeman and I have to say that hearing him made me miss having access to good quality entertainment. Isn’t it funny how a flavor, smell or an event can trigger a craving?  I am now craving movies. Even though we have transited the canal, visited the Aquaclara locks tourist center, and have now gone through both canal museums, we still learned a few new things from the movie. During our show, the theatre was a little bit under the maximum capacity with a total audience of about 10 people, including the three of us. Why does IMAX insist on a deafening audio level?  I don’t mind the volume a little bit loud but IMAX seems to think a heart-stopping bass is an absolute requirement to have a fulfilling movie experience. Maybe I’m just getting old.

Atlantic – Pacific Company is a restaurant located in the Miraflores visitors center. Cindy made us a reservation a couple of weeks before Mona’s arrival. She reserved us a table inside (air-conditioning) next to the window overlooking the locks. The buffet food was a little expensive by Panama standards so I felt the need to do some serious damage to their pantry and stretch my stomach muscles to levels they haven’t seen for quite a while. I am not a buffet food person, at all. I’m not a fan of lukewarm mass-produced food. But, this was actually pretty good. After my fifth trip to the food bar, my waistline decided I needed either bigger pants or it is time to stop eating. Not having my Thanksgiving/Christmas pants with me, I decided it would be best to stop eating. I am proud to say, I ate one of every dessert offered on the buffet. The best part about being in the restaurant was their observation deck. Rather than join the masses and the exponentially growing number of children on field trips on the public observation decks, we could observe the locks from the patio of the restaurant. This made the $45 each buffet tab a much better value.


Mark shows Mona the ins and outs of the locks

One of the most recent pleasant surprises was a day at the Bio-Museum. Some other cruisers had told us this museum wasn’t so great but as usual, we seem to enjoy things other cruisers don’t. Cindy likes museums and history more so than me. However, I do enjoy the science and natural history so this was my cup of tea. One of the fun exhibits was an area where the visitor stands surrounded by eight movie screens including one on the ceiling and one under a glass floor. The short movie showed nature scenes about Panama. I had to giggle a bit at the end because it simulated rain. I don’t need the simulations, I can just go outside. A couple of interesting tidbits: Panama rose from the ocean and united the landmass to the north and south. By doing so, the flow of the world’s oceans changed and this caused the ice-age. It also changed the salinity of the Pacific and Caribbean oceans. I also learned how in 1698 Scotland tried to make a passage from the Pacific to the Caribbean and failed due to geo extremities of the Darien region. This “Darien Scheme” effort just about bankrupted the entire country of Scotland and was the main reason Scotland had to join the United Kingdom. Either my British public school education skipped this detail of our history or perhaps I just nodded off in that lesson. Either way, it is always pleasurable to learn something new.


The Bio Museum is a very cool building designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry


The screen exhibit gives an overview of Panama – very cool


A five-million year old fossil of mollusk and coral found in the central Panama mountains


The Bio Museum deck has a great view of the Panama City skyline

Mona is an avid birder so we wanted to make sure time was spent at one of the world’s most premier birding sites, Pipeline Road. The Pipeline road is a trail running through the rainforest and is accessible in the town of Gamboa. It is a road built to maintain an oil pipe built by the USA during wartime when there was fear the canal might be attacked. The pipe was never needed and the road has fallen into disrepair and the rainforest has reclaimed the turf. It is walkable at first but in some of the further in areas, a machete is required. We stayed away from these overgrown areas.


The famous Pipeline Road in Gamboa – This is the good part of the road

Cindy and I were hoping to see a Toucan. However, I think we picked a day in Panama when all the birds were on vacation somewhere else. We really didn’t spot very much on our walk. We did see lots of big blue butterflies and Mona saw a sloth. We knew we were in the right place since we met a couple of professional birding guides giving walks to tourists.

A few days later, we walked another trail known by birders as a good site. Cindy and I both spotted toucans. It might have been the same one we spotted twice. We were so excited. Seeing a toucan in the wild was one of the things we wanted before setting sail from here. I felt a little sorry for Mona as she didn’t get to see a toucan, but she did say she spotted a ton of birds she’d never seen before. She said she enjoyed the birdwatching even without seeing a toucan. Perhaps next time she should take some Fruit Loops to get Toucan Sam out from his hiding place.


At a shopping center near our marina, I love the idea of being able to get a shave, haircut, and a beer all at once. Very clever business name!


I catch a Kuna lady napping in her kiosk at an outdoor market


We purchased some of this lady’s handcrafted ornaments – she is very talented

How can you not eat at a restaurant called “Heavens” – the couple sitting outside didn’t mind me taking the picture – they are perfectly framed


I remember the days when I could pick up a local paper and read it. I wonder where our next English speaking country will be.


Categories: Panama, Panama Canal, Sailing Blog

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