Monday, April 23, 2007

April 23, 2007 - Colon, Panama

Two gringos go for a walk in Colon . . . it sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, doesn't it? Ignoring the warnings issued by Lonely Planet, our cruising guide, Tito (our agent), and the lady behind the bar at the yacht club, we walked over to the bus station yesterday around noon to catch a ride to the Gatun Locks.

We wandered around looking for buses headed that direction. After striking out, we started asking questions of the folks hanging around the station. For a country founded by Teddy Roosevelt, Sullivan & Cromwell, and JP Morgan, there is surprisingly little English spoken at the Colon bus station. After a while, a guy took pity on two lost gringos and pointed us onto a bus. Just a few minutes prior another guy had told us that this wasn't the right bus, so we were uncertain, but decided that loitering any longer in the bus station, situated on the edge of a slum, wasn't a good idea.

We got on and headed to the back of the bus. As we waited, and waited, and waited a while longer for it to depart, a whole series of touts climbed aboard and worked their way down the rows of seats selling their wares - chips, soda, lottery tickets and eternal salvation. After all the seats were full, the driver climbed aboard and we were on our way.

When we reached the locks there was some confusion about whether we should get off on this side, or the other side, but we were saved from having to make a quick decision by traffic being stopped by a ship going through the locks.

We spent a few hours at the locks watching the ships go through. Once we had enough, we went back to the bench by the bus stop to wait for a ride. After an hour, and being passed by only one bus, which was full, we (ehem, Sten) gave in and hailed a taxi. At this point, the only thing we had eaten since breakfast were 5 cans of full sugar soda (bought from the bar at the yacht club and vending machines at the locks), a bag of doritos and cheetos, and 2 popsicles (purchased from the pushcart at the bus stop). I blame the insulin crash for Sten's impatience with the buses. All was right with the world once we were back at the yacht club with a bacon cheeseburger and a Panama (the local beer) in front of each of us.

This morning we took a taxi to Citibank to pay our fees for transiting the canal. We wandered around a few blocks looking for Immigration, where we would pick up our visas, but once we were in the vicinity of the bus station and the slum, we gave up and walked back to the yacht club. After a restorative orange juice and coke at the bar (during which we both noticed how many people had beers in front of them at 11am) we spent some time online and had lunch before hailing a taxi to try our luck again with Immigration. This time we found it, but they were out of stamps. So we'll try back again tomorrow. As we were leaving, Sten commented, "So I guess civil servants are grumpy everywhere." I responded that the men and women working for the canal were exceptionally cheerful and helpful. Sten pointed out that the canal was more of a quasi public enterprise. I guess the exception proves the rule.

We walked back again to the yacht club. Most of the way was fine, but we needed to cross through a two block section of the slums on our way back. As the only blondes walking around Colon on a Monday afternoon, we rather stick out. Each time we head out our comfort zone expands, but we'll stick to making these excursions in broad daylight for now.

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