Sunday, November 19, 2017

A man, a plan, a canal


Today was the day to accomplish the whole purpose for making a stopover in Panama City:  an all-day cruise through the Panama Canal, Pacific to Atlantic.

We queued up for a 7:30 a.m. departure.

And this was our boat, the Pacific Queen:

Not long after our scheduled departure time, we are on our way.  This one was taken one minute into the 10-hour journey:

This is a view of Flamenco Marina, our point of embarcation, which is a word despite the fact that software has flagged it as a spelling error:

The Panama City skyline is somewhat visible in that picture, although it is largely obscured by ominous stormclouds, it being the rainy season after all.  Foreshadow!

We were now motoring up the canal side of the Amador Causeway.  That ugly multi-colored monstrosity is a Frank Gehry.  It is the only building in Latin America designed by "star-chitect" Frank Gehry, whose claim-to-fame is designed these horribly ugly monstrosities that clash with their surroundings.  See, e.g., the Brain Building in downtown Las Vegas.

This building I recognized because we were about to go under the Bridge of the Americas.  It is the Country Inn, which is where I stayed my first two times in PTY.  ("PTY" because all the cool kids refer to every city by its three-letter airport code.  Except "LAS."  No one calls Las Vegas that.)

And here we go under the Bridge of the Americas.

Which means we soon come upon the Port of Balboa, which is where ships unload and load if they have only a partial load that needs to go through the Panama Canal.  Think of it as the "Atlanta-Hartsfield" hub of the Panama Canal.

The top deck immediately filled up with the cruisers.

There was even a band up there, playing what I believe was Colombian cumbia music.  Cumbia serves the same purpose in Colombian culture as polka used to in Pennsylvania of the 1970s.  It's the lively, fun dance music that only old people and the rurals will admit listening to,  In the cities of Colombia, if you want to dance, it's salsa salsa and more salsa.  I don't know if the band was part of the ticket price or just a bonus, seeing as the band disembarked at the midpoint of the trip.

And then ...

The skies opened up and it was pouring buckets.  I hid in the lower forward deck, which gave me a nice view of this:

A giant Celebrity cruise ship, the Infinity if you keep track of these things, going through the Miraflores locks, next lock over, at the same time as us.

I had a decent view of the work being done tying us down for the trip through the lock.  The boat has to be tied to the sides, or another vessel that is tied to the sides, when the water comes in because there will be whirlpools and otherwise your boat will spin which is not good for so many reasons.

This is the giant Infinity, pulled up next to us.  It is big enough that it got a lock to itself.  We shared this lock with two other smaller vessels.

We're all tied down so there's nothing to do but wait to float to the top:

And the wait is over.  Back to work.

You can see the little train cars in this picture:

They are called "mules."  They don't pull the massive ships through the lock.  They just steady them in there so they don't bang up against the walls.

The Miraflores locks are a series of two locks.  We got through one, so it was time to tie us down for the second one.  Rain stopped for a bit at this point.

And, again, nothing to do but wait to float to the top of the lock.

And then we and the cruise ship with whom we shared a moment together were off into the heart of the canal.

And we start putting some distance between us and the Celebrity.

And then the cruise shippers were left in our wake.  Or were they?

This is looking back at the Centennial Bridge, Puente Centenario:

With the sun out, it was time to try to enjoy the view from the forward upper deck.  But it was mighty crowded.

We were now arriving at the third and final lock on the Pacific side, the Pedro Miguel lock, the only single lock on the canal.  Here you can see those train-car-like mules:

We are locked and loaded:

This is a tugboat that we were tied to, sharing a lock together:

And in the lock:

And now the lock is filled:

Time to untie, this time being the view from the back of the boat:

At this point, we were now at maximum water level inside the canal.

And the band played on.

Emerging from the lock:

Crossing under the Puente Centenario:

And this is the Continental Divide, Panama style.

We are now in the Atlantic.  And at this point, we will pause in our journey through the Panama Canal and resume with a second post.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Black Week in Panama

Santa Claus is coming to ... the Multicentro Mall in Downtown Panama City
It's Thanksgiving week.  (Well, it's the Friday Before, which in American vacation-language makes it part of Thanksgiving week.)  I wanted to take a trip to decompress from my rather successful jury trial in October.  And we all want to go someplace homey for a traditional Thanksgiving.

I'm now in Panama City, Panama, for my take on the traditional start to the Thanksgiving.  By Monday, I'll be in Colombia for more Giving of the Thanks, but for now I'm in rain-soaked Panama City.  The one in the Republic of Panama.  Not the one is Far Southern Alabama.

It is a rainy day in Panama.  Which makes sense, seeing that the rainy season here starts in early January and continues until the end of December.  Panama City is a gleaming modern city packed with skyscrapers (which it can be, since it is both geologically stable and out of the hurricane zone, despite its tropical setting).  I am staying at the Hotel Plaza Paitilla Inn:

Retro chic!  Which, as you know, is the only kind of "chic" that I'm into it.  Well, other than the band that did "Le Freak."  I'm into that kind of Chic, too.

From my room on the 14th Floor, which is really the 13th Floor but I'm not supposed to do the math, the view to the right is awesome.  To the left ...

Not as awesome.  More buildings from the same era.  Less chic, however.

It's right near the humongous Hard Rock Hotel, which is by far the biggest hotel in Panama City:

It's so close, that's where I went for dinner.

Well, more specifically to the mall attached to it.  Glad to see that grafting mega-malls onto mega-casinos is not merely a Las Vegas thing.  It's in Panama, too.

And the mall was, as one would expect for mid-November, decked to the rafters in Christmas tidings:

Ho ho ho, indeed.

The above display is supposed to convey the wonders of finding a BMW under your Christmas tree.

Apparently it is now "Black Week" at the mall.  In Panama, "Black Friday" cannot be constrained to a single day.  It bleeds over into a whole week.  And the weekend before the whole week.

I really did dig this "little Christmas village" display.  It was genuinely nice:

And even though they do have penguins in Latin America (Chile, Argentina, the Galapagos), I still don't approve of this:

Penguins are creatures of the South Pole.  Santa is from the North Pole.  Never the 'twain shall meet.

Dinner tonight was mall food court fast-food Argentine food.

Because I'm on vacation and on vacation I try new things.  And mall food court fast-food Argentine was a new thing for me.

Now that I'm filled up on unphotographed milanesa and an empanada de queso (both delicioso), it was time to walk through the light rain back, over the pedestrian overpass, and back to the hotel.