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Fuerte Amador (Panama City), Panama Trip Journal

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January 22, 2010, Fuerte Amador (Panama City), Panama

We arrived in Fuerte Amador yesterday evening.

Fuerte Amador is an artificial peninsula connecting three small islands to the mainland of Panama and separated from Panama City by Ancón Hill. Many cruise lines visit here.

We left the ship around 10am with our friends, Patsy and Ed. This was a port where the tenders are required, but the ride was short – maybe 10 minutes. After arrival at the dock, we negotiated a rate with a taxi driver to take us to Casco Antiguo (Old Quarter). Casco Antiguo is officially known as San Felipe but is also referred to as Antiguo and sometimes Casco Viejo.

Our taxi driver told us there are a lot of Americans living just outside Panama City, as it’s relatively inexpensive. Once the home is purchased, the average cost of living is about $800. per month. He wanted to show us where the areas are, but we declined this trip – we told him we would visit there next time.

Mario was our taxi driver’s name and he is quite a character. John sat in the front seat as he wanted to take pictures. Mario is very proud of his country and his city, so he pulled over a few times to point out important sites – and each time, he told John to hold onto one side of a map. John told Mario he wanted to take photos, but Mario didn’t care what John wanted to do – so John held onto the map!

Enroute to Casco Antiguo, we drove through the ghetto, Mario informed us this area was not safe. Okay, the question would be: isn’t there another route to follow? It’s very sad to see the deplorable conditions some people must contend with every day.

We wandered around through the streets enjoying the local scenery. Casco Antiguo is home to the Presidential Palace and the government buildings – along with many shops featuring the works of local artisans, restaurants and beautiful plazas. It is also easy access to the city’s financial center, the canal area and the coastal beltway on the bay.

There is a lot of construction going on – many buildings which had badly deteriorated are being restored as residences. It reminded us a bit of New Orleans with many balconies with flowers, narrow streets and its overall ambience.

The Reprosa factory is located here in Panama City. The gold and silver treasures of Panama are made with nearly the same techniques as the ancient goldsmiths.

Panama City’s nickname is “Crossroads of the World” as so many people pass through here each year. Panama is an Indian word meaning “an abundance of fish”.

There were a couple highlights of the day: The first, of course, was shopping. And, Worldatlasman was quick to purchase an essential item when one is visiting the tropics: the famed Panama hat. I think he looked quite spiffy.

The second highlight: Lunch! One of the shops we visited recommended a restaurant, Manolo Caracol, a cocina con amor. We found it quite easily and promptly at Noon, the four of us walked in and requested a table.

When our waiter came over, he said there is no menu – it’s the chef’s choice of what will be offered each day. The cost per person was $25.00, which included multiple tapas courses. Well, we weren’t sure if we wanted to take part in that, but it was either try it or leave. So, we stayed. Wow! Was it fabulous. They started us off with plantains, followed by watermelon with crushed cashews on top, then sashimi, red peppers stuffed with rice, sautéed mushrooms, shrimp and pineapple, chicken with a green sauce, beef on a skewer, asparagus, fish and dessert, which was three items: chocolate ice cream, flan and a fig. Even though tapas are small portions, we were completely full (in fact, couldn’t even eat all the food).

Lunch of course, took nearly two hours and we enjoyed every single minute and every delicious bite. I would certainly eat here again.

Since Panama uses the U.S. dollar, we didn’t have to worry about currency conversion today.

Panama is definitely a country that is worth visiting and staying for a while. We found the people to be exceptionally friendly and outgoing. There are rain forests, hills, valleys formed by volcanoes, hundreds of islands and plenty of beaches. Panama is between 50 and 120 miles wide. There are 477 miles of coastline fronting the Caribbean and 767 miles on the Pacific. The sun shines here nearly every day – even in the so-called rainy season.

Tonight, we begin our journey to Manta, Ecuador. We will arrive there Sunday, the 24th, so tomorrow is a day at sea – and we will cross the equator on our way.

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