10/2/17. We have been in Panama City for three days now and leave tomorrow (Saturday) for Nicaragua. The trip from Bocas del Toro took all day – a boat trip back to the mainland at 7.00 am followed a short taxi ride to the bus station where, to our surprise, a large coach awaited us. We had been expecting a small minibus for, say, 15 people similar to those on the previous trip from San Jose to Bocas. This was much “classier” – it even had a toilet which was the cause of some merriment when the driver explained it was only for “nombre unos”, not “nombre dos’!
We were scheduled to arrive at 6.00 pm but roadworks on the highway meant that it was gone 7, and dark, by the time we got there. We had read that a taxi journey in the city should be $3-5 but the first three we approached all said $15 so we gritted our teeth and paid up.
What have we done since we arrived? Well, the main attraction has undoubtedly been the canal. We went to the nearest set of locks on Wednesday and spent all day at the visitor centre looking round the museum (mildly diverting, as Bill Bryson would say) and then waiting. to see some ships pass through. They seem to start their passage first thing in the morning, so as we arrived late, we missed those which started from the Pacific and had to wait until about 3 o’clock for the first ones to arrive from the Atlantic/Caribbean. But it was worth the wait! It was really interesting.
On Thursday we indulged the train buff in each of us by taking the transcontinental railway which follows the canal to Colon on the Caribbean. It was a wonderful ride in a glass roofed observation carriage. The only problem was that it was not long enough. The journey only took about 1.5 hours even though the train goes quite slowly, the Americas being only about 50 miles wide here.
Colon has a reputation for being so dangerous that walking about, even during the day, is not recommended. As a result we took a taxi, with another couple from London, to the bus station at $2 each even though the walk would have only taken 5 minutes (assuming we had known where the bus station was). We contemplated taking a taxi for a tour round the town (would have cost $20 for an hour) or going to the locks on the Atlantic side but in the end decided to jump on the bus back to Panama (cost $3.30 each v. $25 for the train!).
Back at the main bus station we reserved our journey to Nicaragua for Saturday but while doing so Christine noticed a sign (in Spanish) which said that, since 18 January, a yellow fever vaccination was required for entry into Nicaragua (and other Central American countries, with the exception of Costa Rica). We both had the vaccination many, many years ago but no longer have the certificates.
Worried, we returned to the hotel and did some investigating on the web. We couldn’t find much and the FCO website did not mention this requirement. However, we did find a helpful blog which described how and where to get the vaccination in Panama City for $5 (it costs £65 in London). The slight fly in the ointment was that it takes 10 days for the immunity to build up – and we would be trying to get into Nicaragua only 2 days after the jab.
Today, we returned to the bus station and explained the situation. They said it was only a requirement for Panamanian and South American citizens so, providing we had not been to Colombia, we would be OK. We are slightly reassured – but, being cautious accountants, harbour some reservations that we may be denied entry!
We decided to get the vaccination done anyway, in case we go on to other countries where the rules apply to us as well. Also the cost is so reasonable, compared to the UK, and immunity is, apparently, lifelong. The instructions in the blog (the website is www.tofutraveller.com for anyone in the same boat!) worked really well and we are now “anti-yellow fevered”!
Call back here to see whether we are allowed entry into the country or have to return to San Jose (in which case we will probably return to the States as soon as we can get a reasonably priced flight – unless we develop another plan, of course.)