02 February 2012

A trip to Panama makes me official!

Downtown Panama City
I now have a Colombian work visa stamped in my passport allowing me to work as an English teacher at the Centro Colombo Americano in Cartagena—woo hoo!! Despite all of my travels, I’ve never had a work visa for another country, so it's kind of exciting.

View from the old town to downtown.
Getting the work visa involved leaving the country in order to apply at a Colombian consulate for the “permission” to enter Colombia as a worker. I went to Panama City, Panama, for this as it’s about the closest place I could go, plus it would give me the opportunity to see the canal. It’s less than an hour flight from Cartagena to Panama if going non-stop, although on the return I had to go via Bogota which made it a 5 hour trip.
Went for a jog here along with the Panamanians!
I didn’t see a lot of Panama City, although the area around the Colombian consulate is under a lot of construction as they’re building a new metro. There is a downtown area with lots of modern skyscrapers which I only saw from a distance. Panama City has an old walled town similar to Cartagena’s as well as a nice area for running, walking, biking, roller blading that stretches along the bay front.
The Queen Elizabeth on her way through the canal!
The closest section of the canal, the Miraflores locks, is about a 25 minute cab ride from downtown; there’s also a museum there as well as a restaurant that overlooks the locks. I didn't expect to see signs warning of crocodiles on the sidewalks as we neared the area where the locks are...but didn't see any of the reptiles around! I--unknowingly--timed my visit perfectly to see the Queen Elizabeth cruise ship coming through the locks as I sat down for an early dinner. The 100 year old locks are quite impressive although of course already out of date as there are many boats larger in size than “Panamax” (the maximum size of ship which can use the canal). Panama is building a set of parallel locks to be opened in 2014 which will accommodate the “Post-Panamax” supertankers and larger modern container ships. (For those of you wanting to know more about the canal, click here!)
No, not even tempted :)
Due to our occupying or managing, depending on your viewpoint, the canal, I did note U.S. influence in Panama City. The U.S. dollar is the currency in use—you go to an ATM & withdraw US dollars, prices are in US dollars, your credit card is charged in US dollars, etc. There are “Bolivars”, Panamanian coins (no bills), but they are the shape, size & value of US coins (penny, nickel, dime, quarter) in order to be of equal use in vending machines, stores, etc. U.S. coins are also widely in circulation. In addition, tax is charged on top of purchase prices, which I don’t think I’ve seen that in any other country I’ve been to; in other countries normally the tax is included in the purchase price you see--no charges tacked on at the cash register. In grocery stores you can get a lot of U.S. products which are not as easily found, in my limited experience, in other Latin American countries I’ve visited. Something very different I saw in one Panamanian grocery store was that they were offering free samples of liquor to promote a certain brand -- that’s something that perhaps should be spread more widely?!
Now that I have my work visa, I can officially start my teaching job. The next month-long class cycle starts this coming Monday the 6th. I get my teaching assignment (schedule, number of classes & levels) Friday night, giving me the weekend to prepare. Cross your fingers for me!

All of my Panama photos can be found here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Estoy aquí con un amigo, Lee, quien vivía un tiempo allí en latinoamerica también. Como te ha ido? Que novedades? Pues quería presentarte a mi amigo. Por medio de Facebook te enviare los datos de el. Hasta la próxima vez que hablemos, cuidate amiga!! un abrazo!

- Rita