|We got to our Hotel last night about 9-30 but up early as we have booked Ocean to Ocean, Panama Canal and Jungle tour. We are collected at 7.30am and our group is only 8 people in a small 12 seater van.
We drive out of Panama City and the traffic and head straight to the Chagres River which is part of the Panama Canal. Here we board a small boat to leave the Chagres River and enter the Panama Canal towards Gatun lake. The river was dammed to form Gatun Lake and many of the hilltops became islands. We stop at two islands and see the chapuchin monkeys and the smallest of the monkeys in Panama, the tamarin. We are given banana and grapes to feed these monkeys and that is why they come to the boats. I'm not really in favour of seeing wild animals fed but that is the way of life here. We also see a rather large crocodile and lots of birds. We rejoin the Panama Canal and this time our little boat is alongside large container ships that are making their way up the canal to the locks and then the Atlantic Ocean. It's quite strange to look up and see such a large ship so close! I remember learning about the Panama Canal in school, but little did I know then, that I would get this opportunity to actually be on a boat, on the Panama Canal.
Back to the van and we drive along until our guide Jeremy spots a sloth just chilling out in a tree by the side of the road. We stop and take a photo of it lying on it's back warming itself in the morning sun. Wow, I'd never seen one before so it's a quite exciting find. Next stop is for a coffee and then it's onto the ferry to cross the Panama Canal to San Lorenzo National Park. From the water we can see the three canals, the first canal, a sea level canal built by the French in the late nineteenth century which is really narrow and was not successful, the canal built by the Americans in 1913 with the Gatun locks and the new canal built by Panama in 2016 with the much wider Agua Clara locks. Before we reach the park we pass though an old US military base, Fort Sherman, which was used in WW2 and later became a training centre for jungle survival courses for the troops sent to the Vietnam War. There are even some old WW2 bunkers that are now in the water because this area was dammed. San Lorenzo fort has been on the cliff top overlooking the Caribbean Sea for 400 years, although the remains we see today were built in 1750. It was part of the defensive system for the transatlantic trade of the Spanish Crown and had many attacks by pirates, including Henry Morgan. In fact there are 35 shipwrecks just off this coast.
We have a picnic lunch overlooking the fort and then walk through the rain forest. Lots of dense undergrowth with some beautiful heliconias. Back on the ferry across the canal to see the locks up closely at the Agua Clara Visitor Centre. There is a scenic lookout point where we can see two ships transiting the locks. The new locks are an amazing engineering feat and are much wider and longer to accommodate the newer, larger ships. In fact we see one of the container ships that we saw this morning, the Mol Matrix, finish its transit through the locks towards the Atlantic Ocean.
We hurtle back along the highway to Panama City. Sometimes we reach speeds of 140kmph on the highway that is signposted 110kmph. Crazy drivers here and ours happens to be an American! We get back to our Hotel at 4.30 and after showering and changing we try and get Phil's watch battery changed. No luck with the correct battery, probably because his watch is so old. He buys a cheapie and we shall see how long it lasts.
Jeremy, our guide today, suggested we try the Mexican Restaurant Mordida de burro, in the same street where our Hotel is situated. He also gave us another tip. At the back of this restaurant is an old fashioned push button phone on the wall. He told us to press 6666 and the door would open up to reveal a bar. We did just that and had a drink in the bar and then Mexican food out the front. Quirky and fun!