A breakfast buffet is a good barometer of a countries economic outlook. This one, at the Rui Plaza, was a feast of everything you’d ever want for breakfast – and to top it off, they had grapes as part of the extensive fruit selection. Yes, grapes. Life is good in Panama.
A visit to the Panama Canal was the main feature of today’s itinerary, but not before a shisha and a couple of micheladas at café Beirut at one of the sailing clubs, the views of hundreds of expensive pleasure boats yet another indication of the wealth in Panama. I had a head cold so bad it felt as though tissue paper had been stuffed into every orifice in my head, leaving me unable to smell or taste….even my hearing was affected. Still, I was assured that the Balboa beer with lime, salt and plenty of hot sauce was good, and I ordered another.
M was again our excellent host, joined by new beau JR, a friendly, kind and informative chat who brought the day alive with stories of Panama and of the soon-to-be-visited Canal. We drove to the Miraflores lock, and were fortunate that a ship – from Singapore- was passing through coming from the Pacific ocean – albeit very slowly and reluctantly and through the narrowest of gaps – like a giant and stubborn turd in constipated bowels. It was being pulled by little trucks either side that ran along tracks. When it was close enough to the first set of locks, they opened, the water level raised to allow the ship to continue through, then another set of locks was passed and the ship went off towards the Atlantic ocean, crossing below the bridge of the Americas connecting North and South America.
The crew on the ship were all on deck (control of the ship is handed over to a Panamanian captain specially trained to guide the ship through the canal) waving, smiling, and taking photos of the crowd taking photos of them on their iphones and ipads, for this was a memorable event for them too. It’s also quite a long and expensive journey – it costs around $400,000 for a big vessel and it can take many days (due to waiting for clearance), though to go through the whole 51 miles of the canal takes around 10-13 hours. There was an interesting museum too, where you can learn about the history of the canal. An extraordinary construction – no wonder it is dubbed the ‘8th wonder of the world’ by Panamanians. It was a cloudy, moody day now, but this did little to dampen our spirits – and I felt lucky to be here in Panama watching a ship pass through the famous Panama Canal.
We headed back to the hotel for an hour, then M and JR returned to pick us up and take us to M’s house. We were dressed in semi-formal attire, for tonight was the night of M’s sister’s Graduation party. We entered the grand social scene of well-heeled ladies and gentlemen, and it amazed me to see that waiters wearing white shirts and black bow ties had been hired to serve drinks to the assembled. M’s dad proposed a toast, and gave an emotional and proud speech in the garden, as his daughter smiled next to him. It was a lovely speech, and we all toasted with champagne. I was struggling to stay upright – I had popped at least 3 cold and flu pills and had taken some anti-allergy medicine, and had drunk lots of coffee on top of whisky and champagne and was feeling dizzy from it all.
I had a chat with M’s Grandad who comes from Austria, and he invited us to visit his mountain retreat where we could have a dip in his Jacuzzi. He was a real gentleman – a thoroughly nice chap and we got on well. A few more Chivas Regal’s and I was feeling a bit better. The party had died down, and just a few of us were left drinking and talking. We stayed until 2am, probably unwise as we needed to wake up at 5:30am to go to the desert island paradise of San Blas in the morning with M and her brother. It had been a splendid day, and a fine evening, despite my annoying head cold. I was already in love with Panama.