Riding over the Puente Centenario (Centennial Bridge) over the Panama Canal sent chills down my spine. It was a weird feeling because for the first few moments, I thought I was riding over a river. But remembering the image of the tall towers of this suspension bridge as graphical icons on Panama license plates, it hit me mid stream that I was riding over the Canal. I’m not sure what kind of milestone this is, but to think that just 100 years ago the United States took over where the French left off and endured challenge after challenge to build what is one of mankind’s most amazing feats of engineering.
But rolling into Panama City the tranquil setting of Playa de Las Lajas quickly fades to honking taxi drivers, diesel soot spewing trucks and massive traffic and confusing streets filled with McDonald’s, department stores and banks. And more banks. I’m told that Panama City is the second largest international banking center behind Geneva. I’m riding aimlessly into the city as I had no plans. Just to get to Panama City. After riding around for an hour exploring anything that looked interesting, I pull into a Marriot Hotel and enquire about their rates. Beyond my budget, but I convinced the sweetheart receptionist to make a couple calls to a couple budget hotels I pulled from my Lonely Planet guide book. Most important as usual is parking. And this is not easy in downtown Panama City unless staying at one of the luxury hotels. So I opt for a cozy B&B style hotel just outside the city up on the Cerro Ancón — in the former Panama Canal Zone which until 1999 was managed and governed by the U.S. Government, but today is little known by tourist who visit yet it offers great views of the city, the Bridge of the Americas and the Panama Canal and Miraflores Locks.
Originally from Hong Kong, Gustavo and Tammy have been living in Panama for nearly 30 years. Five years ago they moved to Panama City and just a couple years ago opened La Estancia — a small 11 room B&B away from the hustle and bustle of the city, yet just a couple dollars in a cab will place you on the ocean, canal or in city centre. I wanted to stay there for 2 or 3 nights, but they only had one room available for just tonight, though they went overboard in getting me set up with another even less expensive hotel for the next couple days while I ironed out the logistics on getting my bike to Colombia.
Photos: (1) The view toward the Pacific Ocean from Cerro Ancón above Panama City in the former Canal Zone; (2) The Panama Flag now flies large and high above the city, proud of its management on the Canal after the U.S. handed it over in 1999; (3) A crumbling colonial building, one of many you see cruising the old city Casco Viejo just outside Panama City Centro.