Visiting Panama (part 2)

Saturday

I apologize — this is not an action-packed day, so it may not be so interesting. I’ll keep it brief.

We woke up late, mostly because our plan was, “do nothing and relax.” It seems this is best started by not greeting the dawn. We decided to try for breakfast at the club lounge; unfortunately, this was less a civilized buffet than we had hoped. I spent maybe ten minutes trying to get two cups of coffee, because coffee was inexplicably not set out for self-service. Virginia had better luck, opting for fried eggs, sausage, and hash browns. As soon as we were done, we got out of there.

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The beach at low tide. We’re far from the waterline at this point.

We decided to walk on the beach, which had gotten much larger due to the extreme changes from high to low tide. We walked out at least one hundred yards into coral, rocks, and mud, climbing over formations along the waterline for maybe an hour total. From there, we hit the pool and our books for the afternoon.

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By high tide, the trees on the left were almost completely submerged.

That evening, we had pre-dinner drinks at the lounge and saw everything we walked on in the morning was completely submerged in the ocean. Dinner at Asiana was surprisingly good (reviews had the resort food as good, not great overall, but we were very happy with the two dinner restaurants). Virginia had prawns in a green Thai curry and I had sea bass in dashi broth. And then to bed.

Sunday

We planned to get up early so we could pack, have breakfast, and relax before our tour guide showed up. He was an hour earlier than expected, but we were ready. It helps that we ordered breakfast in the room to avoid the mob from the previous day.

Our tour guide, Oscar, was immediately friendly and fun, even at 8:00am. We went first to the area around the Panama Canal as Oscar remarked on how the large expanse of territory given over to American military use had become significant commercial space for Panama. We could see docks, boat repair shops, restaurants, hotels, and bars that have popped up over the past decade and a half since the Canal was turned over to Panama.

From there, we drove up to the Canal’s museum at the Miraflores locks, where ships are lifted or lowered eight meters in passing, requiring one hundred million liters of water to be moved in twelve minutes. We watched three ships go up: a large container ship, a cruise liner, and a fuel tanker.

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Two ships passing in the day. The cruise liner is exiting the lock as the fuel tanker is being lifted.
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A beautifully restored church.

We then walked, increasingly briskly, through the crowded museum before joining Oscar to head to Casco Viejo, Panama’s old city. We wandered around for a while, being shown less well-known sights like an restored church meant for nuns only. Lunch was tasty and Panamanian- fried whole sea bass with fried plantains, rice with seafood, and fried plantains with a seafood dip.

We parted with Oscar and checked into our second hotel of the trip. We walked out for a bit for coffee at UNIDO Marbella. We then lounged at the hotel pool (I guess we hadn’t quite had enough already), had a drink at the lounge, and then a wonderful dinner at Market. Steaks were perfect, as was the 2010 El Enemigo Malbec. Plus our server, a woman from Venezuela practicing her English, was super friendly and helped make the experience even better. 

Monday

We decided to start the day at the pool – really large for being in the middle of the city. It was nice to get some real swimming in. It also helps that it doesn’t get cool overnight, so the pool’s temperature hadn’t dipped below comfort level.

We decided it was cloudy enough to venture out at midday on foot. This was important as my phone was suggesting the “real feel” temperature around 1pm would be well over one hundred degrees Fahrenheit. We walked about three kilometers to lunch at the Mercado de Mariscos. We picked Restaurant Las Perlas more or less at random, and we were rewarded with inexpensive, tasty ceviche, fried whole red snapper (Virginia), and camarones al ajillo (me).

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The Panama City skyline from near the Mercado de Mariscos.

After lunch, we meandered around Casco Viejo, going down streets we hadn’t seen the day before. The restorations are amazing and it’s especially great to see it in transition, knowing the renovations started only in the past two decades.

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One of the many winding streets in Casco Viejo.

We marked our travel with lengthy, relaxing stops for coffee at Casa Sucre and Bajareque. Around dusk, we left Bajareque for drinks at Gatto Blanco, the rooftop bar at the Casa Nuratti. Sitting up there at dusk/twilight was an unplanned pleasure. We sat by the roof edge and talked about our goals for the new year while sipping mojitos (and then a gin and tonic for her and Don Julio reposado tequila for me). A visiting family sat down at our table for a little bit, but we could ignore them until they got their own table.

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Our view from the rooftops toward the skyline.

We capped off the night with dinner at Marolo Caracol. Whoa. First of all, the service was excellent — everyone was friendly and inclusive, even though I particularly looked like a tourist who, in a T-shirt and shorts, did not belong in such a fine restaurant. It was relaxed, though — for example, their wine service was, “go pick a bottle from our storage area.” I went with a 2013 Luigi Bosca Malbec, continuing my Argentine theme.

And then the food! In order:

  1. Bone marrow and caramelized sweet onions with baguette
  2. Ceviche de yucca
  3. Clams with salsa verde
  4. The best tacos ever (meat, cheese, beet)
  5. Octopus, egg yolk, gnocchi
  6. Hibiscus tea
  7. Bread pudding – best ever with some sort of cream

A perfect end to the day and the trip. All that was left was a $4 uber ride back to our hotel and sleep before going home early the next day.

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