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Mom, Dad, and the Panama Canal railroad.

It feels weird to be posting during a pandemic. But, blogging is keeping me from going crazy while stuck inside. I hope everyone is staying healthy both physically and mentally during this crazy time.

We were extremely lucky that my parents were able to visit in early March and get back home to Georgia before things got really bad. They were here from March 1 – March 7 so the things we did in this post are from a few weeks ago. It seems so long ago. Just a few weeks ago the world was a very different place.

In my last post, I talked about seeing the Panama Canal from the Pacific side.

https://soundsgoodonpaper.com/panama-canal-miraflores-locks/

After seeing the Miraflores locks we went out to happy hour and dinner. Immediately several things became abundantly clear:

  1. You can’t actually swim in Panama City’s highest pool bar. The pool is just ornamental. But the views and drink specials at Panaviera make up for it.
Shoot I was going to get really drunk then dive in. What could go wrong?

2. Two for one happy hour drink special takes the sting out of not swimming in a pool on the 66th floor.

Drinking is more fun that swimming any day.

3. Everything tastes better when your table glows green.

Do I look like a Lepracon?

4. Personal coat racks at your restaurant table are an amazing invention.

Who needs to hang up their cooling tie?

5. But most importantly, we needed more canal! The Pacific side was nice and all, but we needed to see the Caribbean side too.

We can’t rest until we see the ENTIRE canal.
map from Wikipedia

We found a guide and scheduled a tour for the following day. The only catch, we would start super early in the morning.

Dad: I can’t wait to see more canal.
Sheryl: We have to leave the hotel at 6:00 am.
Mom: Wait, what?

Getting picked up before the sun rose was difficult.

Jeff: Whose idea was this?
Mom: Don’t look at me.
Dad: Not mine
Sheryl: I had three cups of coffee! I’m going to swim the canal!

Our guide Estaban picked us up at the hotel, and drove us to the Panama Railway station. The train was built in 1855 which was even before the canal . It was first used to take people across Panama from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

Once the Americans took over building the canal they used it to move workers, equipment, and dirt across the isthmus.

Sheryl: This is the original train car.
Mom: I sure hope they updated the bathrooms since this was built in the 1800’s.
Dad: I hope they cleaned out the dirt.

At the station where we bought our tickets, I found this one bag of coffee on a lonely shelf all by itself.

I appreciate the marketing, but really? This coffee was grown 700 miles away, nowhere near the canal or the railroad.

The train only makes the trip once a day. It leaves Panama City at 7:15 am which is why we had to get there so early.

You couldn’t run this train a little later in the day?

The really cool car that was all windows was full. But the car we ended up in was still really nice and mostly empty.

We rule this train car!
Photo credit to my Tom Cutilletta (my dad)

We were still pretty tired even as the train got on its way.

If we smile Sheryl won’t notice that we’re sleeping..

The great thing about the train is that you have jungle on side , and the actual canal on the other.

This is nice and all, but it’s 7:25am I could go for some potato chips.

It was at this point in the train ride that even though I had snarfed down half a loaf of banana bread , I was hungry. Lucky for me, they passed out coffee and little snack boxes.

I knew I had a fever for the flavor of something.

Crackers, nuts,, raisins, a piece candy, and best of all Pringles! And it was all housed in a commemorative box with a really helpful map on the bottom. As soon as I saw the potato chips I knew what I had to do.

Train Attendant: I am going to pretend I don’t see that.
Mom: Oh, that was cute.
Dad: Are you sure she’s our kid?

After about an hour, the train pulled up to the station in the town of Colon.

Sheryl: There already? I didn’t even have time to take fifty selfies.
photo credit: Tom Cutilletta (my Dad)

It was a small station with many tour guides waiting to do tours. We looked through the crowd and found our guide, Estaban. While we were eating snacks on the train, he was driving to the other side of Panama to meet us at the station.

Hope you relaxed while I raced over to meet you.

From the train, Estaban drove us to the Agua Clara locks on the Atlantic side of Panama. I’ll talk about them in my next post.

Parents in Panama: The Canal Part 1

Panama Canal – Miraflores Locks

Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
Wait, THAT’S the Panama Canal? It looks like the Ballard Locks in Seattle.

My parents came to Panama City this last week for a visit. I’m pretty sure they came to see the Panama Canal, but we just happened to be here too.

Toucamen airport - Panama City
Sheryl: Don’t look, but the guy behind you is doing the YMCA dance. He’s on the letter C.

Our building has both apartments and a hotel. Since our bathroom doesn’t’ have walls, and sometimes smells weird, they stayed on the hotel side. We did have them up to our balcony for appetizers and to see the boats waiting to enter the Panama Canal.

Boats waiting to transit the Panama Canal
The Panama Canal version of the cell phone waiting lot at the airport.

Mom: If I knew about the bathroom, I wouldn’t have drunk all this water?
Dad: Maybe there is a gas station nearby.

On the first day of their visit, we went to Casco Viejo which is the old part of town with lots of doors.

Iglesia de Merdec
Mom: Why do we have to stand here?
Jeff in the background: Just ignore Sheryl, she’ll make you stand there all day to take photos.

Since I didn’t read the guidebook first, every church we went into I thought was the cathedral. This statue was particularly interesting.

Statue of St. Hedwig
From the sign in front of the statue: “St. Hedwig founded monasteries along with her husband. On his death, Hedwig became a nun and continued to serve the poor and sick. Panamanian devotees come to her to request the grace of a home; for this, they offer houses at her feet.

After walking around town, two things happened.

  1. My hair became extremely crazy.
  2. I became a cooling tie user
Maybe the tangled hair on top of my hair will distract from this jaunty little scarf I’m wearing.

The cooling tie is a product (I bought mine from REI) that you soak in cold water and wear around your neck. It stays cool for hours, and so do you. At least this is what our friend Brian and my parents have told us. I have mocked them for years for their cooling tie usage. But when it’s 101 heat index, it was time to don the cooling tie. And I have to say, it really did work. Jeff still had some dignity and refused to wear his.

It was around this time, that Jeff may have become nervous about the upcoming week.

Are they going to laugh like this for seven days straight.? Also, should I lend them a comb?

The next day we got up early and took an Uber to the Miraflores locks. This is the locks on the Pacific side of the Panama Canal.

Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
Bet those people are hot without cooling ties.

The viewing platform was crowded but we found a spot to watch a ship filled with windmill blades transit the Miraflores Lock.

Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
Here we are, ready to be amazed at the Panama Canal.

Ships take a LONG time to get through the locks.

Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
Can’t they speed this up?

Like a really long time.

Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
Don’t tell Dad, but I’m only watching this for his sake.
Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
Don’t tell my parents but we’re only watching this for their sake.
Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
Don’t tell Mom but I’m only watching this for her sake.

The boat was still in the locks when we realized we would all have heat stroke if we had to watch it go through completely. Inside the visitor center, they had a great museum that explained the history and workings of the canal.

Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
Mom: I’m about to pass out from heatstroke.
Dad: I’m so hot, I’m taking a short nap standing up.

But the best part was where we could pretend to actually drive a ship through the Panama Canal.

Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
I can’t believe how good I am at this. This is going to be my new profession.
Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
Sheryl: Go left go left! I better give him more instructions on this walkie talkie.
Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
Hello, welcome to the Panama Canal. Press one if you would like to transit.
Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks
Listen, buddy, this is 2020, you answer your own damn phones.
I really like what you’ve done with your hair.

This is what this guy’s hair looked like six years ago when Jeff and I visited.

Next, we went to the IMAX theater for a really good movie about the canal that was in 3D. Morgan Freeman was the narrator. Between his soothing voice, heatstroke and comfy chairs it was hard to stay awake.

I’ll sleep through the beginning, Mom, you sleep during the middle and Dad, you sleep during the end.

And then we were all canaled out and headed back to Panama City via Uber and went out to dinner.

Let’s get up even earlier tomorrow and see the Atlantic side.

Other interesting things:

There is a really fun website that shows the boats going through the canal, and ports around the world.

https://www.marinetraffic.com/

Here’s a webcam to watch boats go through the Panama Canal in realtime.

https://multimedia.panama-canal.com/Webcams/miraflores.html

This book is excellent. My Dad and I both read it and learned a ton about the history of the canal.

The Path Between the Seas by David McCullough

If you are going to visit the locks this site has all the info you need:

I can’t believe I’m doing this, but I am recommending cooling ties. This is the one I bought and really liked.

https://www.rei.com/product/691097/kafkas-kool-tie

Mystery trip 2019 wrap up.

Sheryl, Mike, Amy, Jeff, Jan

The mystery trip is over for 2019. We had a great time and saw interesting things. We had great family time.

Jeff won at bingo

I got to hold Gregg’s hand.

We got to spend time with Jan’s dear friend Sharon and her daughters Wendy and Christine.

We met super interesting and nice people.

We meet a lot more people but I didn’t get photos of them all.

The best party of the trip was sharing this special trip with Jan. This was her seventh mystery trip. It was my first one but I don’t think my last.

Mystery trip blog winner #3

The 3rd winner in the contest is Robin. She guessed we would visit the largest ball of twine. The largest walnut rocking chair in Iowa is pretty close to a large ball of twine. And I wanted an excuse to buy more souvenirs.

She will receive these wonderful prizes

Cat fashion wallet.
Decorative boot shot glass

Her awards ceremony will be held via video conference in a few days.