Visiting Panama City

Despite being in the middle of several projects, we decided to take a trip to Panama City. Partly this was to try to track down things we might otherwise have to order, part was to pick up some parts from our Yanmar dealer in Colon, and part was to see our friends on Waterhorse for “one last time” before they took off across the Pacific. And the most important part, a surprise birthday party for Patricia. So we took the bus into Colon, and had a meal at just about the only place we could find, before wandering around trying to find our car rental place. This included taking photos in front of this awkward Colon sign, placed in front of the beautiful… container terminal. We lost a little bit of time when the rental company decided they needed to charge us more than we’d already paid for our “prepaid” rental, and Andrew lost his shit and decided that $21 was the hill he wanted to die on. It had been that kind of week. See also, the state of Andrew’s terrible Colombian haircut when he took off his hat at the Yanmar dealer’s home-shop.

We brought the car and the spare parts back to Villa, and got an early start the next morning with Captain Cat leading the way.

When we got to our hotel, we found this creepy lady doing some business in the bushes outside.

Despite the place being pet friendly, we had apparently erred by not telling them about the cat in advance, and they had to scramble to put us into a pet-friendly (read: not carpeted) room. When we sat down on the bed we found that the mattress had a huge hole in it, so we had a little back-and-forth about maybe changing rooms; in the end, they brought in a new bed and everyone was happy. Especially Captain, since the room came with a big fuzzy blanket, which is his second favorite after hard surfaces.

Patricia, the birthday girl, was coming back to her boat from Portugal, so her party would be both a birthday and a homecoming celebration. So Drew got the crews of Villa and Waterhorse to surprise her at a lovely dinner at Lazotea. We had excellent cocktails and attentive wait staff, plus an unexpected magic show at the table. The food was fine too.

It was really great seeing these guys again, and we celebrated “into the night” by sailor standards, even making it to a second roof-adjacent bar and staying late enough that the locals started to arrive.

The next morning we took our first errand stop at Discovery Center, which is sort of like what you’d get if you put a Home Depot, a Bed Bath & Beyond, and a Target into a shake-n-bake bag, crumbs and all. It is dirty and disorganized, but they have just about everything that it’s possible to buy in Panama, from motor oil to litter boxes to mustache wax to fast cure 5200. (Don’t mix those last two up.) Jazz also spent a worrying amount of time digging through the spray paint aisle trying to find two matching cans in a metal color that might help revive our aging light fixtures.

Driving back to the hotel, we saw a cool looking church, and were offered lots of fruits and veggies. Grocery store trips are apparently optional here.

In the afternoon, we found a walking tour of Casco Viejo, the part of the old city shaped like a helmet. First stop, the Metropolitan Cathedral, which had one of those impressive organs where it’s always sad that nobody’s actively playing it. Also some impressive statues; “please don’t touch” the very pettable animals.

Second stop, the mola museum, where our laconic tour guide passed us off onto an extremely enthusiastic and energetic docent. We got a great deal of history and cultural significance of these labor-intensive pieces of art.

They also had this projection room with infinite mirrors, which had some tenuous connection to the symbolism of a mola, like jumping inside of one, but was mostly a fun kaleidoscope you could stand in the middle of.

We passed back to the laconic tour guide, who rushed us through another pretty downtown plaza.

The next stop was the church of San Jose, famous for having once been the site of a giant gold altar. A wooden replica in gold leaf now stands in its place, the original having been melted down and sent to Spain. The guide was also excited to show off the city’s largest nativity scene, on display year round. Also on display, wooden statues of the apostles that used to stand outside the church until they were moved inside for their protection. (Only Judas showed obvious damage.)

A couple of other scenes walking along the street. This is an interesting place for a walk, you can see how it made the UNESCO list. (You can also see a sharp divide between the protected neighborhood and the borderline-projects on the other side of the line.)

Our last official stop, a museum slash restaurant hosting a fantastic collection of old but supposedly still working cars.

Then we parted from the tour and wandered on our own a bit, looking out on the Pacific, and wandering through the streets looking at the cats and balconies. Some of the reconstruction is very much in progress or not yet begun; this city feels like it’s thirty years behind Cartagena on becoming a restored historical tourist trap. See especially the reinforcement of the balconies.

Back to the hotel, we took the restless cat on a little walk around the hotel’s beergarten.

The following day was also errands, with a lunch break at a La Rana Dorada brewpub. We had tasty nachos and tastier beer, some of which came home with us. Several cases of their beer would later end up in Villa’s holds for the other side of the pacific.

Some other sites from errand day. We were pretty amused by the “Moist accessories” shop, which is somehow not an adult store.

Panama city also has some really interesting architecture, though the view is often spoiled by a thick tangle of wires.

And, of course, there is street art big and small; a giant mural on the left, and someone’s no-parking tree.

Other errands involved filling our sodastream cylinders, and when we discovered that the same shop had a big tap list, we couldn’t resist a stop. We also made it to a beauty supply store and bought a home waxing kit, and have to share the highlighted excerpt from the directions. “Does it hurt? […] pain is beauty.”

And we refilled our hard alcohol reserves, which we hadn’t really done for several years. Re-bottling into our plastic bottles makes the collection much lighter, less fragile, and easier to store under the floorboards. We’re not trying to hide from customs or anything, we’re just short on space.

Dinner that night was a rare Thai meal at apparently-a-chain Avantika, which we remember from Sint Maartin. Followed by a stop at an Italian restaurant where another expat was playing some live jazz. Their tables deserve special mention, as they are clearly custom and this level of shellacking and epoxying is a labor of love.

Back at the hotel, we found that the “private event until 3am” that had been advertised in the elevator was, in fact, a giant raging party that vibrated our bones through the wall of our room. We talked to the front desk and were given access to another room “as long as we don’t bring our *cough* stuff.” I.e., presumably, this room is not pet friendly, but at a glance we figured Captain couldn’t do much more damage than was already there.

The next morning we went out for coffee/breakfast and were handed an impressive piece of latte art.

Then it was time to check out and drive back to Colon, passing yet another gorgeous Colon backdrop. We dropped our stuff off at the same restaurant, where we got a snack and Captain tried to chase pigeons. Jazz returned the car, thinking that the staff would prefer not to see Andrew again, and found a taxi who would cart us and all our gear all the way back to Linton bay.

We made it in plenty of time to load up the boat and come back in for a sundowner with Ddraig.

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