MONDAY, OCTOBER 15, 2012
The 11th of Oct was our first morning in Panama City. My companion had plans to see a dentist for a consultation. Dental care is considerably cheaper in Panama so this was one of the reasons for her trip. She was very happy with the dentist, the plans for care, and the cost was quoted as $730 for work that would have cost her over $3000 in the US. Is it any wonder that people come down here for care?
Traffic in Panama City was definitely a challenge though! It has always been busy and gets more so as the city grows. They are building a subway system so the construction sometimes interferes with traffic flow. A fire broke out in one of the largest buildings, and a day later they were still struggling with managing it. From what I heard there were plastics and other substances that could create toxic smoke so surrounding buildings were evacuated and traffic was rerouted. What a nightmare! The traffic was insane, moving at a crawl or worse in many area with impatient drivers honking and hollering and trying to get through in any way they could.
We made it to the appointment in time because thankfully we had left quite early. The dental staff was a bit late though and the dentist herself was at least 30 minutes late. Returning to the hotel was worse though. It took a while to find any available taxis and some refused to go where we wanted to go because it involved the clogged up areas of town. We finally found one and a while later, got stuck in an intersection. Cars were nose to nose in the middle of the intersection and everyone was honking! Someone tried to get around us on the right, misjudged and scraped the back right side of the taxi. So now we had a traffic jam, and upset taxi driver out of the cab yelling at another driver, and we realized we weren’t going anywhere in this taxi and needed to set out to find another. I took the liberty of catching a short video of the situation.
After a bit we found another taxi but it took quite a while to get through all the jams and make it back to the hotel. We arrived past checkout time but the staff was very understanding and told us it was no problem. I was very happy that my Spanish had improved! I could manage pretty much everything we needed to do, which is much better than our last visit. Surprisingly enough, the gal at the hotel remembered my last visit, mostly because it is remarkable for a couple to be traveling with a 92 yr old mother.
I had thought about visiting the canal on the way to the bus depot but as late as our morning went, I thought it would be better to go directly to the bus. We caught a cab with another friendly and helpful driver who let us off at the bus depot with directions on where to find lunch, a phone store, and a bus ticket.
(a Diablo Rojo – red devil, very colorful and interesting buses that used to be old US school buses. They are phasing them out in favor of safe, modern, air conditioned comfortable buses so I was glad to see a few of these still parked at the bus depot. They sure are interesting! Some of the art on them is amazing)
The bus was pretty easy to deal with. There is a long hall like a shopping mall. You look for the sign for your destination, go to the window under the sign, and buy your ticket. Buses leave about every hour and it cost $15.25. We also bought lunch (mainly American style fast food), and I bought a cell phone ($32 for the phone and a pre-paid card, don’t ask me how many minutes). Unfortunately the gal in the store looked like she was about 12, and I couldn’t seem to make her understand that we need to share information a little bit at a time because if she tells me everything all at once, I understand none of it. Eventually I understood enough – at least I thought I did since I was able to make a call. But of course, as soon as I left the store that luck ran out. Every time I would answer the phone it would shut off, and if I tried to make a call it would tell me it didn’t have a SIM card. Now I understand why my friend doesn’t want to use cell phones here. Apparently they are much more temperamental than they are in the US. It doesn’t help that the manual and menus are all in Spanish.
Anyway, we had lunch, I connected by phone with my friends long enough to tell them we were getting on the bus. We were warned that the buses are freezing, but I was very comfortable in jeans and a thick sweater (and I am cold more often than most). It was a great double decker bus, and we found that seats are assigned (after we sat in someone else’s seat and had to be politely instructed). But it must have been beginners luck since our seats were almost to the front of the upper deck with a great view. Seats were comfortable, windows were large for great views, and though the trip was long it was as comfortable as a bus could make it.
(a view of the Panama Canal as the bus crossed the bridge)
The trip from Panama City to David is about 7 hours through the beautiful countryside. The first leg is about 3 ½ hours, and a movie was shown on the on board TV’s. Then there was a break to stretch and eat. We were let off at a cafeteria that looked set up to feed many people quickly with tasty Panamanian style food. Then it was back on the bus for another movie, and unfortunately it was dark by now. Next time I will try and plan a day trip so I can see all the countryside because it felt like we were climbing mountains.
(The Panama countryside is beautiful!)
Shortly after break we came to a police stop. Apparently the police already had their eyes on three men that were sitting not far behind us. The police took them off the bus and though they asked everyone to get out their documents, they didn’t check anyone else. Someone else on the bus said the men were removed because they didn’t have documents. The police took them out beside the bus and yelled at them for a while, and then they were taken in the building and the bus was on its way. I was told later that there are many jobs here and times are much more difficult in other nearby countries, so there are many people who come here illegally to take advantage of the available work. The police are kept very busy tracking down the illegal immigrants in Panama. Who would have thought?
It felt really good to be coming in to David. We had been traveling since noon yesterday and we were pretty tired. Again, there were taxi’s on hand when we needed one and a great, friendly, helpful guy to help us get our baggage and be on our way.