Joel is home! I took the bus to Panama City on Saturday to meet him at the airport. We spent the night in a hotel and took the bus home together on Sunday. This was my fourth bus trip this month so I’m beginning to feel familiar with the bus, but it was Joel’s first. Taking pictures from a moving bus does not produce the best results so I apologize in advance for the quality of some of the photos, but I wanted to share a bit of our experience.
A bit of basic info first, for those who might be planning to take the bus. The bus costs $15.25, leaves every 1 – 1 1/2 hour (and may or may not match the posted schedule). It takes about 7 1/2 hours. You need ID (passport) to buy a ticket. There are assigned seats so check your ticket for your seat number (asiento = seat). In Panama City you will also have to buy a card (Rapi Pass, sold at various spots along the corridor) which will allow you to pass through the turnstile to the boarding area. It’s $1.25, $1 for two passes and $.25 recharging fee, if I understood correctly, and they will ask for your ID. It might also get you in the bathroom but I just put a quarter in that turnstile. You can check your luggage at the side of the bus but save your ticket. You will need it to reclaim your baggage at the other end.
Of course, as usual, I was excited to see the canal even if only for a moment!
I enjoy being able to look out and see some of the countryside along the way.
Half way there! The Santiago stop.
The bus is not as fast as the plane but it is certainly much more affordable. If you can work it out with your schedule, I would certainly recommend that you consider it. I think it also reflects life in general in Panama. You will see a variety of people and all of them, even the children and babies, are calm, quiet, and relaxed. There was minimal fussing and noise from even the smallest children and there seemed to be nothing brought along to entertain them. They sat quietly in their seats, on parent’s laps, or looking out of the window.
The terminal in Panama City is a big building with a food court and shops along the corridor, and kiosks in the middle. In Santiago, besides the cafeteria, there is a farmacia which sells all sorts of things including snacks and sweets, and there are also carts selling snacks, sweets, handcrafted items, and other things. I met a guy once who was spending his day encouraging religion while selling candy and gum to passengers getting back on the bus. This weekend there was a beggar that would board every bus as they were getting ready to leave to plead her case and ask for donations.
In David there is also a building full of shops of every sort, and other carts on the sidewalk selling snacks and sweets. I noticed there is a man who greets every taxi and car that pulls up, and if you need help with your luggage he will handle it for you, including taking it to the bus to be checked in. The hardest part for me is getting your luggage back at the end of the trip. They take suitcases and packages out of the bus one at a time, holler out the number on the ticket, and wait for the owner to come forward and present their matching ticket. There is a crowd of people in front of the baggage area all hoping to be able to get close enough to grab their luggage when their number is called. In Panama City you are on your own, but there is space for everyone on the sidewalk. In David the taxi’s are parked close enough that you can enlist a driver, and he will help you with your luggage when you get your hands on it. But, there isn’t as much room for the crowd next to the bus.
In general though, I find that the buses are like most things in Panama. They do their best to take care of their customers. There is a man on the bus in addition to the driver to assist with tickets, movies, and anything else that is needed. And, as people are getting on and off the buses, there is as much assistance as space and circumstances will allow. I definitely plan on using the bus for future trips because it works quite well.