Published: January 18th 2009November 11th 2008
Our taxi arrived at 0400 as arranged and we bid farewell to Gaspar and his wife who’d made the effort to get up and say goodbye. Our flight wasn’t until 0800 but we wanted to check in early so we had plenty of time to talk our way out of any issues we may have had with customs whilst trying to export paintings with no receipt and cigars of questionable origin. Plans were thrown out (again) as we were not allowed to check in until 0530. We bought a few drinks each and waited. By 0600 we’d reached the front of the line and almost checked in without trouble until the lady behind the counter told us that we needed to buy or Panamanian Tourist Cards in Havana. I argued that we’d get them in Panama (as we had done in transit from Peru to Cuba) but she was having none of it. Our main problem was that we’d planned our finances so tightly that we had only CUC50 left and we needed exactly that to pay our departure tax. It was clearly a losing battle - although I was keen to carry on with it despite Jo’s glances telling me to shut up - so we paid up and withdrew more money. We got enough to buy a few bottles of duty free Havana Club and a carton of Cohiba cigarettes on our way out.
We landed in Panama on time at 1015 and caught a collectivo taxi to our hostel (US$24), a good hours drive away in heavy traffic. A Panamanian bloke was with us and gave us a few tips about where to go (and where not to go) - it was nice to have someone offering information just to help rather than angling for financial reward. Aside from being lightly rear-ended at a junction the rest of the cab ride was unspectacular.
Luis, our hostel owner, met us outside the gate and showed us to our room - an apartment he had converted to a double room and a bunk room with a shared bathroom and living area. The highlight for me was cable TV and being able to catch up with world news after an 18 day shut out in Cuba.
We found lunch a few blocks away at Niko’s Cafe, a chain fast(ish) food place offering sandwiches, breakfasts and cooked meals. We both had a lovely steak and cheese sub, fries and a coke (US$8.50 all up).
I nana napped most of the afternoon away before ringing mum and pulling up a seat at The Terrace - the bar conveniently located right next door to our hostel. We were drinking for a good few hours, enjoying the music mix containing mainly Bon Jovi, before we figured it was time for dinner. Luis had recommended Calle Uruguay for restaurants so we walked the four blocks to take a look, ending up at Habibis where Jo had some hot buffalo wings (US$6.50) and I had an excellent seafood risotto (US$11.50). We headed back to the hostel well fed and ready to make the most of the last two days of our holiday before the 24 hour journey home. Panama was a lot more modern and American influenced that I had expected it to be but I was looking forward to exploring more.