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Life in the City

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Teatro Nacional

Life in the city – Waiting to board in Panama City.

We are both city people. When people ask me “Why do you like the city? It is so crowded!”, I always find it hard to answer. It is precisely that crowded hubub that I like, almost like being part of a living organism. I cannot explain the thrill I experience by the sights, sounds and smells of a living city, the feeling of belonging to a huge social entity, the cafes, the bookstores and the history around me. I feel comfortable in the city, in the knowledge that I can walk to Italian class, I can stroll to a theatre, I can enjoy North Beach in the early morning with its colorful residents before the tourists descend. And I derive comfort from the lights flickering in the tall buildings, each window promising a hum of human activity.

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The Panama City skyline

This is what comes to mind as we wait in Panama City to ship the car to Colombia. Panama City doesn’t chalk up a lot of points as a tourist destination. The city itself has few points of interest, the star attraction being Casco Viejo or the old city, which is a World Heritage site. Casco Viejo is on its way to becoming a Destination. Here crumbling and run-down houses mingle with fabulous ruins and restored mansions from the colonial times. Judging by the construction going on, in a few years it will be another Antigua, only better due to its proximity to downtown.

Close to Panama City, of course, is the BIG attraction – the stupendous engineering feat of the Panama Canal joining the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. The canal zone is surrounded by rainforests necessary to maintain the watershed required for the workings of the canal. Around Panama City there are enough nature preserves and lodges to keep you occupied for a week or more.

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Canopy Tower

Collared Arakari

Howler monkey

But I find myself enjoying the city itself. It may not have world class museums or opera theatres, but it has all the hallmarks of a City – services are within walking distance, there’s traffic, people, tall buildings and chinese restaurants around the corner. I am enjoying the break from being a tourist and reverting back to “normal” life for a while. We run errands, find good places to eat on Chowhound or see a movie at night without worrying whether there will be a taxi available to take us back to the hotel (there always is). We find good wines. We walk everywhere.

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Casco Viejo

When we plan a vacation for three weeks, we eschew anything similar to our life in San Francisco. But after having been on the road for a while, we crave the familiar. Panama City is no San Francisco. But for a short period of time, it will suffice.

9 Responses to “Life in the City”

  1. Fred says:

    How long until you catch the boat out? Are you going directly to Columbia, or what?

  2. Neena says:

    Hi Fred,
    The boat sails next Sat the 28th. We put the car in a container and then have to fly. Can’t go with the car.
    We hope to package the car on Wed and book to Cartagena early in preparation to receive the car… Cartagena is a World Heritage site and is supposed to be beautiful.

  3. Neena says:

    An amazing meal! Madame Chang’s in Panama City – a gem that we picked up from Chowhound. A Chinese restaurant that will stand up to those in SF/Bay Area!
    The clams were the tiniest clams I have ever eaten – with black bean sauce they were a lip-smacking delight accompanied by plain rice. The Robalo (brackish water fish) was steamed to perfection with ginger, green onions, oil and a bit of soy sauce. The noodles had the right amount of smokiness, the veggies were perfect.
    Another kudos to Panama City!

  4. Shreesh says:

    Madame Chang’s was a terrific way to reward ourselves on a day full of chores. Here is my review on Chowhound

  5. Ada says:

    I say YES to cities! I too love the hustle and bustle of city life. Fred sometimes talks about moving to a place like his sister’s with land to garden in. I would feel pretty removed from the experiences I love. Also, having to drive everywhere would be a big negative for me. I need to be able to walk to cafe’s (not so near my house) and be able to take public transportation. I admit that if I were to leave SF I would miss the neighborhoods the most.

  6. Barbara Gault says:

    Fri. 10th Do you use your Spanish exclusively…and do accents vary among these co untries? Could you explain in 5000 words or less what a World Heritage Site is? Thanks; love reading your blogs. B.

  7. Neena says:

    Hi Barbara,
    We do use our Spanish quite a bit – except with other travelers, unless they are from from a Spanish speaking country. It takes a while to get used to the accents in various countries, but we get the hang of it.
    A World Heritage Site is designated by UNESCO for various reasons – history, culture, natural beauty etc…I believe the countries get a bunch of money to protect it. The url to the UNESCO website seems to be broken, but here’s a bunch of information from Wikipedia.
    World Heritage Sites

  8. zach says:

    how much did shipping your vehicle/ the flight to Cartegena
    cost appx.? also any wehicle advice you have would be helpful as
    well, as im planning a trip from western canada.
    thanks and great blog

  9. Neena says:

    Hi Zach,
    The cost for shipping a 20 ft container from Colon, Panama to Cartagena, Colombia is approx. $1,200. (From Colon to Guayaquil, Ecuador is about $100 more). We were lucky to find another couple to share a 40ft container and that cost us $850 each. Port costs in both Guayaquil and Cartagena are about $250. In Colon they are $15.

    The plane fare from Panama City to Cartagena cost us about $170 with taxes. A good source for cheap tickets is Aires. (Tickets to Guayaquil were very expensive at this time of the year – about $450-550 if we waited for three weeks!)

    Lastly, you should use Evelyn Batista of Barwil. She is a wonder and will give you all information that is needed. Its best to factor in a week to complete the paperwork and get the car shipped if you don’t want to run around crazy.

    Regarding the vehicle, it really depends on how you want to travel. Most common 4*4’s have been Toyota Land Cruisers. (Ours is a Toyota FJ Cruiser). People who travel in big RV’s seem to use some modified form of Mercedes Unimogs. So far, other than Mexico, Toyota dealerships have been plentiful. More details about our vehicle is here.

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