Panama is undoubtedly most famous for its Canal. While I was there I knew I would have to go see it. I love an excursion, and I managed to pull myself away from my suite long enough to book a tour at the Hard Rock Hotel Concierge Desk. I didn’t think I was going to have the most exciting day of my life … and I was right! But at least I can say I have been to the Panama Canal now, great dinner table fodder.
I hopped on the tour bus and the guide started to give the tour in Spanish. Not a problem to me, I could follow some of what was being said and, to be honest, I wasn’t massively interested. The guide quickly noticed that I was a bit fairer than all of the other passenger onboard. “You?” she pointed at me,”You speak English?”. “Yes I do … but I am fine..” I started to say as the whole bus looked at me. “OK so I will have to say everything twice”. Great …. way to ruin the trip for all the other Latino passengers. When I told her I was from Scotland she exclaimed on the microphone “You must be so hot”. “Well no … I live in the Caribbean” I started to say, but then she kept saying it again and again in English and in Spanish. “Um yeah OK I am really hot” I said eventually and mimed wiping sweat off my face. She laughed, the bus laughed. We did this skit maybe 15 times throughout the day. Truth be told, I was a little chilly. Little Cayman in the summer is exceptionally hotter than Panama was. But everyone liked to laugh at the pale hot girl and who am I to deny a bus filled with tourists of a little comedy. The guide would point at a building and talk for 3 minutes about it in Spanish, as all the other passengers looked out the window riveted. Long after we had driven past, she would point at me, “You. Scotland. Museum.” It was not the most educational tour I have ever been on.
This years marks the 100 year anniversary of the Panama Canal. The Panama Canal connects the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans making it crucial to trading and making Panama a lot of money. About 13,000 ships a year use the canal every year. They each pay a toll, the largest of which was almost half a million dollars. The canal knocks about 8000 miles off the journey between New York and California. We visited the visitors centre which leads on to the viewing deck where you can watch the ships go through the locks. Really really slowly go through the locks. If you are into watching boats moving really slowly you will love the Panama Canal Viewing Deck. Kudos to the English speaking announcer. “WHAT’S UP PANAMA??!! In just 12 minutes time we are going to see a ship go through the lock. ARE Y’ALL READY?”. I felt like I was waiting for Jay-Z not Laid Back, a 50 foot yacht, to come past.
It takes a long time to go through the locks, about 8 hours in total. This is not just because it obviously takes a while to raise a massive ship 85 foot, but a specially trained ship captain has to come on board and navigate through the canal. For a big boat it can be a tight journey. I held my breath while one massive tanker went through and it looked like there was an inch of space between the side of the boat and the canal walls. I have to admit, that was a little exciting! For economical reasons, they have several boats go through the lock at the same time. The biggest ones go first, so we seen a massive tanker, followed by two medium sized ships and then a cute little fishing dinghy at the end. About 52 million gallons of fresh water is used each time a ship goes through the canal. So basically, I will never feel guilty about leaving the tap running when I brush my teeth ever again.
The visitors centre is great. Lots of movies and interactive exhibits, some unnecessary creepy wax models. Clearly a lot of money and love has gone into it. I managed to fill in all the information about Panama that I had missed from my “bilingual” tour.
The whole experience had a very School- Trip feel about it. I love a bit of sight-seeing and it is important to me to experience all different facets of a country. Panama is very proud of their canal, as they should be. I could not go to Panama and not see what they are most famous for, one of the greatest engineering feats of all time.
This summer I headed off to Panama for a vacation. Why did I pick Panama? To be honest the day before I booked my flight I didn’t even know Panama was a country. I knew of the Panama Canal, but that was it. Every year, I like to go to one new country, Panama was going to be my 5th new country of 2014. Cayman Airways runs a direct flight from Grand Cayman to Panama City in the summer. I did my research out found out Panama City is a really up and coming metropolis. I was getting little bored of island life and I wanted to go to a city. With people. And no sand. Panama also has its very own Hard Rock Hotel which to me, seems like the coolest hotel ever to stay in. I was sold! I was going to Panama!
The Hard Rock Hotel is in the heart of Panama’s Financial District surrounded by other skyscrapers. After, months of beach life I could have sworn I was in Manhattan. The lobby was how I pictured it would be, filled with cool looking staff, music memorabilia (squeal it’s Ricky Martin’s belt!) and banging tunes. I had booked a basic room and was determined to get upgraded to a suite. At the front desk there was two receptionists, a woman and a young guy. Now, please don’t judge me from this moment on … the woman was free and was trying to get my attention. I pretended I couldn’t see her and busied myself “finding something in my bag” until the guy was free. I flashed him my biggest smile and walked over. His name badge said he was a big fan of a World Famous DJ who I have never seen. “Oh my gosh, I love him too. I seen him live in Ibiza. He was awesome”. With that … the upgrade was mine.
Not only was I upgraded to a gorgeous suite, with a bathroom the size of my apartment, a jacuzzi bath and two balconies overlooking the city, I was given the Blondie themed suite. One of my idols Debbie Harry was all over the walls keeping me company and bringing up my cool points.
On my first night, I was in the elevator heading to the bar, when a Madonna impersonator walked in. I was in the Hard Rock Hotel, in Panama City, with Aerosmith playing, standing next to a Desperately Seeking Susan era Madonna. Probably one of the most Rock and Roll moments of my life.
I really loved the Hard Rock Hotel. Every night I went to the live music bar and drank cocktails. I got free drinks credit when I booked so it would have been rude not to. Breakfast was included too and the buffet was awesome. There is a great mall just next door. I went to Panama mid-week and the hotel was pretty quiet. When I went to the pool during the day it was empty. The hotel clientele was almost exclusively Latin Businessmen which I had no complaints about!
I wanted to stay in my suite in the Hard Rock forever. Next time I get the chance I would stay in another Hard Rock Hotel for sure.
Keep on Rocking!
It had been a great summer on Little Cayman. I was enjoying chilling out everyday on the beach and playing with the iguanas but I was ready for a new adventure and some international travel. It was Vacation Time!
Before my vacation I had one glorious Sunday Funday in Grand Cayman. I am blessed to have great friends to show me around the island. It was my first time on Grand and I fell in love instantly. Gorgeous beaches, perfect weather, great friends … what more could I possibly ever want?
I whole heartedly agreed to a Mudslide Challenge with my friends Frank and Kat. Going to various places sampling the local tipple seemed like a good way to spend my day. A mudslide is essentially a chocolate milkshake with a lot of alcohol. It is a little cup of heaven. The best part is the alcohol which is poured down the straw. SO good. I want one now .. what time is it? Is it after noon? I am going to have one …
Where was I? Yes, so we had Mudslide at 3 locations. Frank’s house. Excellent mudslide, exclusive location, good dogs. We then went to Rumpoint, a great beach bar where people come and hang out on their boats. That was a lot of fun. Sadly, I had mislaid my yacht that day but it was was still lots of fun on the beach. Rumpoint has gained infamy to me as the place where I narrowly avoided being hit in the face by a bird, while “subtly” checking out an attractive man behind me. Screaming in a public place during the day is a great way to get attention. Thirdly, we went to Over the Edge. We drank our mudslides while gazing at a perfect sunset. There is nothing like a Cayman Island’s sunset. A breathtakingly beautiful and slightly tipsy way to end the day.
After my challenge, I can now say with some certainty the best place to get a mudslide on Grand Cayman is … drumroll … Frank’s House! See you there.
Finally, a day trip! Hooray!!!
The Cayman Islands are made up of 3 islands. Grand Cayman is the big sister, Little Cayman is the baby and Cayman Brac is the middle child. I wasn’t quite yet for the Grand-ness of the big island so hopped over to the Brac for a day.
It is a little surprising that there is no ferry service between the islands. To leave Little Cayman involves having to take a little plane. Little Cayman airport is smaller than my apartment. It consists of 3 staff, a desk, a waiting room and a bench outside. If only all airports were like that (looking at you Giant Size of a City Miami airport). The flight to the Brac runs a few times a day, and on the little 14 seater Island Hopper plane takes about 15 minutes. Mid flight I am always tempted to tap on the pilot’s shoulder, point to the in-flight magazine beverage list and ask him for a Bloody Mary. Obviously, I would never do that. I hate Bloody Marys.
I wanted to see as much of the island as I could in one day so I rented a car. I can’t remember the last time I was even in a car, let alone drove one. As I pulled out of the car park I realised I had no idea which side of the road to drive on. I guessed and luckily, as I am still here to tell the tale, I was right! I also had no clue what the speed limit was so I went at a safe and steady 20 kilometres an hour all day. It may have been 20 miles. I wasn’t sure how to read the speedometer.
The scenery in the Brac is very dramatic. I marvelled at The Bluff, which I think means big, steep hill. Little did I know that I would be standing at the top of it by the end of the day…. In general I am not so good with the nature, but I took a little walk through some bushes and watched the waves crash against the rocks for a while. There were no people around. It was nice, beautiful even. I visited the Heritage Centre where a really enthusiastic guy showed me around and told me all about the history of the place. I seen a machine which was used to make rope in the past. That was pretty interesting, I always just presumed rope came from trees. He told me a bit about leather and how leather goods were made. He was really nice! Keep up the good work.
If anyone tells me I can’t do something, I have to prove them wrong. I would even climb up The Bluff in a summer dress, in the scorching heat of the day with no supplies, with a complete stranger. Someone …let’s call him John …. no wait that is maybe actually his name. Someone … let’s call him Raymond (name is changed to protect the innocent who might get in trouble for the massive health and safety breaches that followed) .. was standing with me looking up the bluff. “Yeah, I love climbing up there. I don’t think you could do it though”. I could practically see the word Barbie forming on his lips at the end of the sentence. “Little do you know … I am actually half mountain goat. Let’s go”. He protested for a while but then caved in, took off his shoes and led the way. I was hoping he would restrain me and say “NO … you are brave but it is simply too dangerous”. That did not happen and I ended up climbing to the top of the bloody thing. So …. the bluff is pretty steep. I am not afraid of heights. I am afraid of falling off high things and dying a slow painful death. It is a straight climb up stairs and rickety ladders with just twigs and foilage to pull myself up. There was a pretty gruesome fall to certain death. Half way up I did have a little angry talk to myself about making bad choices. Clearly it was too late to give up at this point. We finally reached the top and were greeted with gorgeous views of absolutely nothing. I could not see a thing past the trees. I did however get to walk across some dirty old cow troughs which was totally worth risking my life for. Five minutes of walking through mud and being scratched by nettles it was time to go back down. The climb down was horrendous. Going down you have no way of not looking at the death-drop. My guide was below me and I was very aware that he could see right up my dress the whole way. A little distracting for both of us. I made it to the end. Sweaty, dehydrated and covered in mud. But it was an adventure and I did it. “Oh wow … I loved it!” I said, flashed him a smile and limped away.
I got into my car, had a little pity cry and went grocery shopping. On the Brac there is so much more choice than we have in Little. Buying good cheese was worth the flight alone. I went a little mad buying dry goods and homeware. I drove around trying to find a very highly recommended smoothie shop, got there, perved over the menu, only to find they were closed. Sad face. I had to satisfy myself with a beer instead. That gave me a chance to chat to some locals. I like the Braccers. They are so proud of where they are from and that is a quality I really admire.
The Brac is well loved for its diving and its rock climbing, neither of which I did. I always love to explore new places and I had a very pleasant day out in Cayman Brac. I’ll be Brac!
Fancy a trip to Cayman Brac? Visit the official Department of Tourism site