This was an expensive treat -$25 for a one-way, one hour ride. Being a train freak, not one I could resist. Plus, I didn't know in advance how short in would be - literature on the trip being sparse. (There is a scant website, if memory serves.)
Traveling just twice a day, once at some ridiculously early hour in the a.m., the train traverses from Panama City to Colon and returns as day turns into night. There were as many working folk as tourists, and not too many of either, on the sunset run I took back from Colon to P.C. The passenger car is added to a true working train involved in the enlargement of the canal.
At some point this special car was beautifully renovated in wood with brass details, new carpeting and a dome roof for those who want extra light. I visited the dome, but stayed in the bar car. (Warning: if you really want a drink, you might want to bring your own. They had three airline size bottles for me to choose from and some beers. I don't mean three samples, I mean that was all that was on board, along with coffee.)
Another tour were dubious and nervous for me as they dropped me off at the Colon station since I had about a 45 min wait, but as long as you stay right there - zero facilities - you will be fine. It's a bad part of town to go aroaming, especially on one's own. We left the depot directly on time at 5 p.m.. I was the only English speaker, so the universal language of the smile was my fall back. The two young gals tending bar, though mostly just there to look pretty, spoke enough to get me a rum & coke and that was that.
The journey is a mere 50 miles and in the back of my mind I thought we'd be mirroring the canal, but after leaving risky Colon we headed away towards land, river and lakes, at one point with water on both sides of the train. Most of the way was through jungle and rain forest and it was no surprise when the sky darkened and the rains poured down. I did get chilly, having forgotten a thicker jacket for this section of my day. Amazingly, this is nearly all artificially created, an attempt to make up for the deforestation caused by the impact of the canal and urban sprawl I would guess.
As the train chugs along at exactly the right rhythm and speed with lakes, hillside terrain and occasional construction work increasing as we neared P.C. I was so comfortable I could have easily gone a couple more hours despite the drizzle and at times the misty cover that made visibility impossible. However in that tropical fashion, it was pitch black by the time we were back in the City, so would not have been much point anyway.
I went to the bathroom in the station, which was an error as most of the little stalls were shut up tight by the time I exited a few minutes later. So if you must go, go after you've done any shopping that is train related!
A couple of taxis were waiting outside in the dark as they locked the building up tight. I argued price with one of the drivers and finally found one to take me back for a reasonable sum. Probably not such a good idea when that sort of isolation sets in. Learn from my errors, especially if you're a woman alone!
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