Published: March 7th 2011May 25th 2009
From Los Angeles we ventured south, taking Copa Airlines down to Panama. Unfortunately I was sat next to a fat bloke who dominated the arm rest early, snored and smelt like rotting cheese so it was a long flight. The flight attendants spoke mainly Spanish with a little English, we realised quickly that for the next few months there'd be a lot of pointing and charades in order to communicate. Thankfully I knew "Uno Cerveza Por favor."
At the airport, we were picked up by a local Panamanian named Rafael who spoke perfect English. Fortunately for us, he had attended a local school where almost all of the attendees were Americans. He reckons the principal must have really liked his Mum to let him in there. Rafael was a brilliant guide, who shuttled people to and from the airport, but was also starting up his own tour company. I picked his brain, and learnt loads of info about Panama, it's people, and some of the customs. We also talked about football, unfortunately he was a Manchester United fan, I almost got him to stop the car on hearing of this.
Rafael informed us that Panama has a population similar
to NZ, which is roughly 4 million. Of that, around 1 million are foreigners, with a lot of them being American's that have remained since the building of the Panama Canal. Panama City, the capital, has around 1 million people, and in places looks like Miami with large high rises, 90% of which are accommodation. In other places it is rather third worldly. The currency, (and main brand of beer) is called Balboas, but US Dollars are widely used also.
Rafael let us know that he was 1 number off winning the national lottery the night before. We were amazed until he further explained that the lottery involves just 4 numbers, with first prize receiving about $2000. He collected the whooping total of $50 for winning second division!
Our trusty guide told us that the local cuisine entailed meat with rice, he said that "If it ain't got rice with it, then it ain't a meal." As he told us these tips and facts, we passed two crashes on the highway. One of which involved a huge garbage truck which had half run over a BMW roadster. I'm pretty sure the driver was alright, but he looked pretty
pissed. Apparently the cops stay out of it - they will ask do you need our help, before not listening to the answer and leaving, believing this constitutes their duties. The crashees then sort the problem out themselves, in this case a garbage truck driver is probably 'swimming with the fishes.'
Our hostel that we stayed at was ideal, with friendly staff, an honesty box for cheap food and $1 beers, and comfy beds. It's a shame the floors weren't comfy too, I learnt this when I fell out of bed whilst trying to have a nap to get over jet-lag. I think it's the first time I've ever fell out of bed, it was a strange feeling, fortunately, I awoke as I was falling, and braced for impact. Nic thought it was hilarious. I came round, and eventually did too.
The weather outside was hot and humid, which drains your energy fast. Despite this we decided to take a look at our nearby surroundings, and had a tip from the helpful hostel manager, that a good place to eat was Via Argentina. We did our best to get lost but finally found a restaurant serving local cuisine
called La Trapiche. I ordered a plate of local foods, which was mostly deep fried. i.e. it was tasty, ha ha. I also tried cervichi - a raw onion, seafood and lemon juice dish which I doubt I'll ever willingly order again. Before leaving the restaurant, I went to the toilet and faced a dilemma, Caballeros or Damas? Uh oh, which is the Men's and which is the Women's? I didn't want to get arrested after being in the country for just a couple of hours, so waited for someone else to use them. Five minutes later a guy came through, so I excitedly followed him into the toilets. Then I realised I probably should have waited a bit longer and not have been smiling so much.
As we walked back to the hostel I noticed a few things - the road signs and numbering are awful in Panama (maybe because I was looking in the wrong places?);there are plenty of people trying to sell drivers stuff from the side of the road like pears, roses, or performing devil stick tricks; the drivers are maniacs; there appears to be no road rules for pedestrians; the powerlines are everywhere and
in huge quantities; I could understand one film in the video store - Si (Yesman); a torrential downpour was imminent; It did downpour.
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There are more photos below