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The nerdgasms started before the wheels of the plane even hit the ground.
I frantically scanned the scenery below us, wishing for the first time I’d brought binoculars, trying to find the attraction that brought us to this city. A city that we knew almost nothing about, save for the fact that it held the one thing that made our nerdtastic hearts go pitter patter and our graphing calculators overheat.
An engineering marvel that took 55,000 workers, 17 years, $400 Million USD, 5600 lives and a whole SHITLOAD of dynamite to build:
The Panama Canal.
Ask any engineer what they think about the Panama Canal, and if their eyes don’t immediately light up, you know they’re a fraud.
Because any nerd whose mind isn’t immediately blown by watching a 60,000-ton ship pass through a set of locks created by blasting all the way through the earth and joining two oceans needs to immediately have their nerd-badge revoked.
As soon as we arrived at the visitor center, I practically shoved my credit card in the salesclerk’s face, screaming at them to “TAKE MY MONEY JUST TAKE IT!”
She barely batted an eye, swiped my card and waved us through, and that’s when I noticed the entire line of people were behind us doing the exact same thing.
As luck would have it, as soon as we got in, a massive ship filled with Maersk containers was passing through, and we quickly grabbed front rows seats in the bleachers to watch.
You know this is serious stuff when they build bleacher seating just so you can enjoy your ship-watching experience in comfort.
After freaking out everyone within a 10-meter radius with our high-pitched giggling and gleeful seal clapping, we finally settled down after the ship went through and went inside to check out the museum.
The Panama Canal fan-girling continued as we quickly discovered that when mankind put their minds into something, we will damn well accomplish it. Even if we have to blast through 7.3 metric tons of earth, enough to build a causeway with that displaced dirt to connect the mainland to several islands:
Or invent a whole new ship that can dig through rock under the sea:
Or change an entire city’s infrastructure to eliminate mosquito infested water so they would stop losing workers to yellow fever.
Or built an entire train network just to transport debris and canal-building supplies.
And the reward for all this backbreaking work and human ingenuity?
A canal that has been running for over 100 years, connecting trade between 160 countries, serving as many as 13,000 ships that pass through each year, paying around $300,000 – $400,000 each, and is considered as one of the greatest engineering achievement of the 20th century.
If that doesn’t make you proud to be an engineer, I don’t know what does.
After all this geeking out and feeling proud of the human race, we decided to head to the Fish Market (Mercado de Mariscos) to enjoy fancy pants lobster, octopus, and shrimp ceviche served in a not-so-fancy-pants Styrofoam cup.
Now, if you’re one of those fussy people who can’t enjoy pretentious food unless it’s served on even more pretentious plates, this isn’t for you.
But for us engineers, who couldn’t give a rat’s ass, we got to eat some of the tastiest Lobster ceviche we’ve ever had for the princely sum of $5.95 USD.
After our lobster feast, we walked along the waterfront and headed for Casco Viejo, one of the most historical areas in the city with the prettiest Spanish architecture:
The heat and mugginess of the city reminded me of a lot of Malaysia, so I was happy that after a long day of walking around, we got to back to the Airbnb and take a refreshing dip in the pool:
We also got to enjoyed this view:
I could easily see why so many expats have decided to make Panama city their home. The great weather, the safe location (we didn’t get any weird vibes walking around at night), the political stability, the delicious and affordable seafood, and the reasonable price of living makes it an attractive destination. Especially if you’re a big dork and get your rocks off from watching massive ships squeeze themselves through narrow canals. Okay, that sounded a lot less dirty in my head. Oh well.
Here’s how much we spent in Panama City:
|Category||Cost in USD/couple||Cost in CAD/couple||Notes|
|Accommodations:||$34 USD/night||$45 CAD/night||We stayed in an AirBnb which was a modern condo with a fabulous view and nice swimming pool. We shared the kitchen and bathroom with the host who was really helpful in telling us about the best attractions in the city. It was easy to get to the waterfront in only 25 mins using the subway."|
|Food:||$20 USD/day||$27 CAD /day ($18/day for eating out, $9 for groceries (mostly booze)||Food was pricier than cities in Mexico, but still pretty reasonable, especially since we ate at the Fish Market almost everyday. Groceries were also more expensive than Mexico with less variety.|
|Transportation:||$13.60 USD/day||$18 CAD/day||The flight from Mexico city to Panama was $327 USD for 2 people, averaged over the 27 days we were in Central America, that's $12USD for a couple/day. Transportation around the city was ridiculously cheap at only 0.25 USD per ride on the subway. The downside is that the coverage throughout the city isn't great, but it does cover all the big attractions. It also saved us a ton of money when instead of taking the a cab from the Airport into the city for $50-60USD, we just took the bus. Normally you can't do this unless you have a subway card and you can't get subway card until you're in the city, but the locals were super kind and used their card to let us on. They refused to take the money when I tried to pay them back. Thankfully the cost was only $0.25 per person.|
|Entertainment:||$4.5 USD/day||$6 CAD/day||We spent $15 USD per person to visit the Panama Canal and only $5 USD for an audio guide to see Casco Viejo. Averaged over 8 days that's only $4.5 USD/day|
|Total:||$72 USD/couple/day||$96 CAD/couple/night|
One of the advantages of Panama is that they use the USD here, which makes it super convenient, but also causes the prices to be a bit inflated. In addition to the USD, they also use the local currency, the Balboa (named after Vasco Nunez de Balboa, the first person to envision the Panama Canal), which trades at parity with the USD.
Overall, we really enjoyed Panama for its safety, nice weather, cheap transportation, and fun attractions.