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Travel: Panama City - Panama , Nov. 14-16/2017

Date: Tuesday Nov 14th

Place: SFO CA to Panama City

After 8 weeks of touch down, we took off today, departing sunny California.

During this time down, we tremendously enjoyed a 3 weeks visit of our youngest daughter Inbal, her husband Amit and darling baby Leo coinciding also with a brief visit of Amit’s wonderful parents who stopped to see us all, on a lay-over from Mexico on route to Israel.

The rest of the time spent, in between our worldly wanderings, at our familiar Ca neighborhood, was dedicated to taking care of tedious house keeping maintenance, to medical physical check ups, running endless errands, or keeping up with billings and banks.

These unavoidable life clogging , were blissfully  sugar-coated with re-encountering comforting familiar most beautiful environment, and catching up with treasured long-lasting friendships.

The California luke-warm crispy sunny weather which had lasted during our entire stay, and lingering way into mid Nov, was a fantastic special bonus,

I would have taken it along with us, to our next destination would it had been possible.

Meeting our elder daughter - Keren - in Panama City.

The visit to Panama was triggered by Keren’s recent acceptance of an exciting position, with a fast growing company named “Salina” 

Salina was founded by 2 adventurous Israeli entrepreneurs, who became committed to coastal land development in several central American countries..

As we landed, in Panama City’s Tocumen  airport we encountered Jason Rosenthal during the long wait at the Passport Control line.

This compact short, though most engaging Jewish fellow, from Manhattan, shared that he often frequents Panama and other South American countries for his raw material Paper business.

Alas… he was not a helpful resource for recommending Panamanian restaurants about which David was eager inquired about..

Once we finally stepped outside the luggage pick-up hall, a hot humid drizzly tropical weather welcomed us, along with - Jay -another friendly  Panama born Jewish fellow, an owner of 4 Uber cabs , who advised us to always order “ Uber English” in Panama, if we wish to have intelligent English speaking drivers.

So between the Jewish fellows we encountered upon arrival, and the  Israeli developers presence, it seemed to us that Panama City has been taken over by our tribe's mates..

La Meridian Hotel

It was almost 11:00 at night  when we finally checked into the Le Meridien Panama Cityhotel overlooking Panama Bay,  located at the  Cinta Costera - Bela Vista - a coastal strip stretch of land reclaimed from the sea

My dear friend Donna recommended  to stay at the “ Central Hotel” based in the historic touristic old city, which was also more attractive to me, while other acquaintances suggested a stay at the more modern hotel on the bay strip which appealed more to David.

So after a feisty debate, we compromised and spend 2 nights at each..



Date: Wednesday  Nov 15th

Place: Panama City to Colon

City of Colon

Colon is a seaport city on the Carribian sea, near the Atlantic entrance to the Panama Canal. It was founded by the United States in 1850 as the Atlantic terminal of the Panama Railroad, then under construction to meet the demand during the California Gold Rush for a fast route to California

Panama Canal

Frederico Miranda - the nicest most resourceful English Speaking local Panamanian Guide, was summoned by Keren, and arrived exactly at 10:0am to pick us from the hotel for a visit at the Panama Canal.

Federico Miranda - Guide +50766842303

Frederico was once married also to Jewish women who converted to Christianity and who left him with his 2 kids to Canada, seeking a better future for them.

Remarried, he inherited  few more kids, and since has been working very hard as a private guide to afford their private better education.  I full hearty recommend him

A visit to Panama Canal Miraflores Visitor Center

Panama’s Canal connects the Pacific ocean - on the West side of the continent, with the Atlantic Caribbean sea on the East . A short 80 Km ship travel, via a network of few rivers, and the large artificial Gatun Lake, through few locks and over a flooded bulldozed mountainous terrain get you across.

There are locks at each end to lift ships up to Gatun Lake, which was created to reduce the amount of excavation work required for the canal, 26 m (85 ft) above sea level, and then lower the ships at the other end. 

It was one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken. The  Canal shortcut greatly reduced the time for ships to travel between the Oceans, enabling them to avoid the lengthy, hazardous Cape Horn route around the southernmost tip of South America via the Drake Passage or Strait of Magellan, and it has saved in monumental cost and lives.

A daily passage via the locks of an average size ship of about 14,000 containers cargo, cost between $ 200,000 to 400,000 which clearly indicates that these locks have been a cash machine fueling the Panama’s economy since the Canal ownership was relinquished by the US.

“The Path Between the Seas”  is a wonderful book by the American historian David McCullough, published by Simon & Schuster., on the Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870–1914

The book which was recommended by my dear friend Donna, tells  the history of the Canal ordeal which started with the French failed plan in 1881 and completed by the US The US took over the project in 1904 and opened the canal on August 15, 1914.

The U.S. continued to control the canal and surrounding Panama Canal Zone until the 1977 Torrijos–Carter Treaties provided for handover to Panama.

After a period of joint American–Panamanian control, in 1999 the canal was taken over by the Panamanian government and is now managed and operated by the government-owned Panama Canal Authority.

Miraflores Locks

An half an hour drive from the city old center brought us to the famous Panama Canal  Miraflores Lock on the Pacific west side entry.

Miraflores is the name of one of the three locks that form part of the Panama Canal, and the name of the small lake that separates these locks from the Pedro Miguel Locks upstream.


Pedro Miguel Lock

Don’t miss the 5 floors Canal Museum at the Visitor Center which  tell the story and best illustrate the construction of the project.

Gatun Lock by Colon

An hour and a quarter car ride via a mountainous lush tropical rain forest, and a ferry ride across the lake, took us over to the West side for a visit of the Western gate lock.

The Gatún Locks, 10km south of Colón, raise southbound ships 29.5m from Caribbean waters to Lago Gatún

A third, wider lane of locks was constructed between September 2007 and May 2016. The expanded canal began commercial operation on June 26, 2016. The new locks allow transit of larger, Post-Panamax ships, capable of handling more containers cargo ~ 46,000 units

Calzada de Amador Causeway

When back from the Canal’s locks we drove on the Amador Causeway, which is a land-fill road that connects the mainland of Panama City with 4 islands :

(Naos, Perico, Culebra and Flamenco) of the Pacific Ocean , forming a small archipelago .

The road begins in an area near the southern entrance of the Panama Canal , in areas of the Ancón district .

It was built in 1913 , by the United States government with rocks excavated from the Culebra Cut , during the construction of the Panama Canal. The site was originally part of a US military complex known as Fuerte Amador , established to protect the entrance to the canal.

The place was transformed into a thriving tourist attraction, after these areas were reverted under the Torrijos-Carter Treaties . Some vestiges of military installations can still be observed in these islands.

Spectacular views of Panama City high rises sky lines across the bay and ocean views along with few restaurants, bars.

and a Biomuseo Bio-Science museum designed by the known Frank Geary, are some of the area’s attraction (more)

Great dinner at:

Nazca 21 - Peruvian Restaurant in the old city Casco Antiguo

-San Pellipe Calle 8


Date: Thursday Nov 16 -

Place :Monkey Island and Gamboa Rain- Forest

"Monkey island"

We were lucky to have our guide take us on a private tour of Monkey Island, which was so much more reasonable priced and most enjoyable in comparison to the unreasonable pricey organized group tours.

An hour drive from the city center we travel along picturesque roads that once connected the Panama Canal's support buildings to nearby towns and military bases, before David , Keren and I took down to the water - boarding a small Motor boat at Gamboa Landing Marina on lake Gatun.


Gamboa is a small town  on the Chagres River and near the Panama Canal west to Gatun Lake - the largest man-made lake in the world.

It’s surrounded by lush forest and wetlands and contains diverse native birds and wild life. Many of these live in Soberanía National Park, which is also inhabited by sloths and jaguars. 

The  boat cruise we boarded, which lasted 2 hours, passed under a wooden bridge that serves as part of the Trans-Isthmian Railway, and made few stops along the banks of the island.

Located in Lake Gatun, Monkey Island gets its name for the white-faced monkeys that inhabit it..

We saw many of them as well as Tamarin and Howler monkeys swinging playfully off the trees, jumping onto the passing boats, and snacking on the bananas and grapes offered to them by the excited visiting tourists.

One of the White-Face monkey, while ignoring the small feeding bites which Keren bravely offered, had eye-balled a Banana David was saving, for another boat stop.

The monkey managed to out-smart and snatched the entire fruit off the distracted dazed David, in a quick maneuve

In addition to watching for monkeys, we also encountered sloths, toucans, iguanas and various beautiful birds. (see more)

Other Gatun Lake’s attractions

Back to the City

A threatening dark -pregnant clouds started looming on the nearing horizon, toward noon ending a morning which started with most comfortable partly sunny weather.

As we were getting back on land, a  light irritating drizzle swelled into sheets of showers.

By the time we reached the Gamboa rain-forest, the trees disappear from sight behind dense water falls.

We were pre-warned to expect showers, typical to the wet November season. Yet the tropical rain raid, was an extreme dumpy ordeal, which we could not be prepared for, nor a friendly experience for a wondering exploration in the forest.

So we turned around, and drove back to the city in search of a decent dry place to have a meal. We ended again, at Nazaka 21 - the Peruvian restaurant from the the night before, enjoying it for the second time, even more.

"Casco Antiguo"- Historical District -World Heritage Site since 1997

Panama city was founded on August 15/1519 and it lasted 152 years.

The historic district of Panama City was  re-built, completed and settled in 1673 following the near-total destruction in 1671 of the original Panamá city, Panamá Viejo , when the latter was attacked by pirates.

Charming grand colonial  architecture, narrow streets, squares, old hotels, many dinning places and on going face-lift renovation of old crumbling facade, assign its unique characterization.

Free historical Casco Viejo Tours

The official Office of Casco Viejo "La Oficina del Casco Antiguo" (OAC) offers free guided tours through the historical part of Panama-city. Take one on Friday or Saturday, leaving Plaza Catedral at 10, 10:30 or 11 in the morning. For more information

I was so glad to leave the high rise Miami style hotel of the Cinta Costera - Bela Vista strip, and so delighted to move into the historic Central hotel located in front of the beautiful Plaza de la Independencia, in the Old Town

Plaza de la Independencia, Corregimiento de San Felipe, Casco Antiguo, Panama City, Panama

Most of Panama city hotel's windows do not open so I was relieved to get a great room with a balcony which opened to the street and aloud fresh rainy air in.

The “Central Hotel Panama” was built almost 150 years ago in the heart of the city of Panama. It opened its doors in 1874, being the first hotel in the country.

When the 20th century arrived, the hotel was already recognized as the best in Panama for its high level of European and American services. His fame crossed the entire Western Hemisphere.

With its design of French influence, the Central Hotel Panama is one of the many buildings that today enhance the historical and architectural importance of the Casco Antiguo, declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Recently it was renovated, in a very meticulous way, preserving the whole of its original facade and structure.

On these majestic steps of the hotel I had a bad fall and landed luckily on my knee...

Among its past guests were: US President Theodore Roosevelt and

Count Ferdinand de Lesseps -a French diplomat and administrator who was responsible for the construction of the Suez Canal. In his 74th year, de Lesseps began to plan a new canal in Panama.

In 1879, an international congress was held in Paris, which chose the route for the Panama Canal and appointed de Lesseps as leader of the undertaking. Work began in 1881, but the canal proved much more complicated to build than the Suez Canal. After eight years, little progress appeared to have been made . A French court found de Lesseps and his son Charles guilty of mismanagement. Both were heavily fined and sentenced to imprisonment. In the event, de Lesseps did not go to jail, but his son paid for his his elderly father's misjudgments with a year in prison.

More recommended Panama City Restaurants:

El trapiche, el meson del Prado..., Angel. - Spanish  seafood  , La Fragata

La posta.  (near Meridian), La - Papa , El gaucho (meat), El Ranchito, Casablanca

Moctaza, : Os segrados - Steak house: Brazilian

Hotel Sortis: have a 5 restaurants, Marriott Panama : Corvina y caña

Tour Guide Firm

Truly Panama (507) 398-0541; (507) 6674 7547

Jonathan Zalcer is the Jewish guide

+507 6678-1384

Eamuel Lewis & East 57th St., Obarrio.

No. 35. Panama City.



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