Panama City: Passengers could exit the ship as early as 5a today. Where anyone would go at that early hour (in the dark) was a mystery to me. Slow pokes that we are, we didn’t leave until ten. There was some interesting stuff to see on the ship this morning. A fueling station came out to the Norwegian Bliss and topped off our tank. The tanker was there around 8a and was still refueling when we returned to the ship after 3p!
Dave and I did not book a tour of Panama City. It seemed like a lot of bus getting on/off and was laden with many church visits. I overheard women on our cruise ship talking about the wonderful shopping in the downtown area filled with high-rise buildings. Duty Free. Tax Free. (But somehow never free.) I did not want to shop, just wanted to explore. Taxis are not allowed into the pier area at this time as a huge new ship terminal is under construction, which will allow cruise passengers access to shore via an enclosed walkway, like at an airline terminal. So, the Panamanian government provided shuttle buses for us all towards town, where we were all dumped-off to find our own transportation to wherever we wanted to go. Our only instructions were the last shuttle bus leaves at 4:30p, so don’t be late. We found a taxi and headed to the old town, Casco Antiguo, and strolled the pretty and colorful streets.
The streets are narrow and brick-lined, and the houses are painted in beautiful colors. Next to a pristine home, store, or restaurant could be an ancient crumbling structure, like the Convent of Santo Domingo:
Some of the buildings are being held up with braces, or are just slowly crumbling.
Though there were touristy shops, the old town is a vibrant residential neighborhood, with children in school uniforms, moms walking with babies, people on their lunch breaks, deliveries, small grocers, boutiques, hair salons - ya know, the same stuff you have in your neighborhood. We did not see even one dog. So odd. We did see a ton of police officers (men and women seemed to be represented equally) and also so many military. Lots of side arms and a few machine guns (sorry, no idea to their brand or country of origin). By a ton, I mean several on every single street corner and several in front of the banks.
We did go into two Catholic Churches. Iglesias Casio Antiguo church paying homage to Santa Maria la Antigua (the patron saint of Panama) was exquisite with ornately carved pews and a glittery altar made of a multi-ton slap of Italian marble:
We almost missed the Iglesias Nuestra Senora de le Merced church as it was under scaffolding. This church is famous for the gold altar. This church also has something which we assume is due to COVID - a holy water “dispenser” that squirts water into your hand via a motion-detector (like at hand sanitizer stations). Fancy AND modern!
Dave has been coveting a Panama hat, and where else would one buy a Panama hat? But here is a fun fact: Panama hats are made in Ecuador! We found several nice shops, some with hats priced at over $500 US dollars. He found the perfect hat!
It was after 1p, and it started to rain. We found ourselves in front of an Italian restaurant at the same time and popped in for a light lunch (we have reservations at the French restaurant onboard tonight). We saw so many restaurants - Mexican, Peruvian, Japanese, Panamanian, fish, coffee shops, and Italian.
After lunch, we went back to the ship. I hired an Uber and the driver arrived 1 minute later (no kidding), with a shiny clean car. Air conditioned! He did not speak a word of English, but with Uber, there is no need to speak. The fancy Uber was cheaper than the crappy taxi (and both were under $15 for a 30 minute ride). Back towards the port, back on the shuttle, back to the ship. It was a process.
Safely back in our room, the clouds exploded with an epic tropical rain storm! It was so loud, but only lasted 45 minutes.
Interesting Norwegian Bliss fact: The fish on the hallway carpets are swimming towards the front of the ship! Now you know.
Our dining reservations are not until 8p tonight, and we sail at 10p. If anything exciting happens tonight, I will have to add it to my report tomorrow. We are now on east-coast time (New York), by the way.
Until my next update, I remain, your Panamanian correspondent.