Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Panama City, Panama

El Diablo
As I put in my backpacks, I realized how a pack mule feels. This bag felt heavy today. We had a downhill walk through the jungle to the bus stop. We had been lucky and got our bags driven up to our casita. We were not so lucky for our departure from Eco Venao. As we hiked through the jungle to the bus stop, we both realized we were ready for the city. I wanted to go to a movie and have popcorn while Chantal wanted to go to a bookstore and drink 3-4 cups of coffee a day. We both wanted fresh fruits and veggies. Mmmm. We sat at the bus stop talking about all the things we wanted to do when we arrived in Panama City.

Chantal waiting for a bus....again.
We got on the early bus from Eco Venao to Las Tablas. It was full. Then it stopped over and again as more people climbed aboard. At one point I counted 35 people, 2 chickens, 14 air fresheners, no air conditioner and no back brakes on board.
Panamanian bus
The brakes squealed as we went around corners and downhill. I saw the bus driver make the sign of the cross. That was not good! Two hours later, we arrived safely in Las Tablas and a bus to Panama City was waiting. That never happens! We got in line to buy tickets then gave our bags to the conductor. We asked of we had time to buy some foods and he said yes. So we ran to the market next door and bought orange juice, apples and chips. It would have to do. We got back 5 minutes later and he would not let is board the bus. I showed him my ticket and he asked if I had a seat. Yes, I bought a ticket and gave it back to him. Then he said "No that is a ticket not a seat." Huh? I asked "Where do I buy a seat?" He explains to me that I was suppose to leave my backpack on the ground, get in the bus and find a seat with no belongings, leave my daypack and then get off and go buy a ticket. I couldn't help but laugh when I heard this. Wow! Logic is not a strength in Panama. This was stupid and again support of my motto "Panama puts the F-U in FUN!" We had our bags taken off the bus and waited for the next bus. It arrived and Chantal jumped on and got us seats while I gave our backpacks to the conductor. I was tired of Panama buses and ready to get to Colombia. Panama has some beautiful places but the bus system was awful, the worst in all my travels. 

We arrived in Panama City at Allbrook Transit Terminaljust after noon. We were starving. We lucked out, this was also a mall! We saw a Pizza Hut sign and decided a vegetarian pizza sounded delicious before heading to the hostel. It was better than I had expected. We devoured it and then headed to the city.

Panama City Skyline
A quick taxi ride and we arrived at the Panamericana Hostel. We had decided we wanted our own private rooms since we would be on a boat with 8 other people for 5 days. It was time to start preparing for the sailing trip and stock up on sea sickness medicine. But first a little relaxation. I sat on my patio watching the boys playing street hockey and soccer in the basketball court. 
Chantal and I decided to take it easy an get beer, tortilla chips and salsa for dinner. We walked to the nearby market and then went to the sunroof of the hostel to relax and watch the sun go down. It was just what I needed.
Plaza Herrara view from Panamericana Hostel
We met Rick, a guy that just moved to Panama City for 6 months. He told us to just enjoy Casco Viejo neighborhood and relax. We decided that was a great suggestion and exactly what we did! Casco Viejo is the old section of Panama City which is going through a revitalization. Rick compared it to Havana, Cuba. There are many old dilapidated buildings with refurbished buildings next door. In 5 years, it will all be refurbished and beautiful. I loved the vibe of the old city, it has a nice mixture of locals and tourists.
Life in Cusco Viejo
As we walked around the area, we saw typical life.
Laundry day

And some beautiful street art mixed in with the old buildings and newly remolded hotels and apartments.
Street Art in Casco Viejo Panama City
The city comes to life with the art, music from clubs and bars and food trucks that pull up at diner time.  
The neighborhood was fun to walk and explore. Policemen were on every corner for protection. It took a little getting use to but I always felt safe. The president of Panama lives in this area and many tourists spend time here. We only had one time a police officer that told us to take a taxi instead of the local bus. As we walked Casco Viejo, we stumbled upon delicious cafes, restaurants and bars mixed in with the churches and government buildings. We definitely had our fill of coffee in Casco Viejo.

A Kuna woman walking in Panama City
As we walked the neighborhood, I saw the beautiful Kuna Indians that were now living in Casco Viejo and selling their handmade molas and beaded bracelets. These were the indigenous Indians of the San Blas Islands. Many have moved from the islands and work in the tourist areas. I was careful taking pictures as they typically ask for a dollar for each photo. I read this started because the Kuna's came to Panama City and saw a postcard with tem for sale for a dollar. So, they decided to charge a dollar for their photos. Clever, huh?
Kuna women selling handmade items
One afternoon we went to the mall to see a movie. I had not done this for over a year. I was excited! I did not know any of the movies. We decided on Las Vegas because it was in English and a comedy. I was more excited to get popcorn. This was pure heaven! The movie was funny and I left felling spoiled and happy! A small pleasure from home.

On our last day in Panama City, we went shopping for sea sickness medication. Chantal and I bought drowsy and non-drowsy formula and decided we had plenty to get us through the 5 day sailing. We stopped at a department store to buy me some flip flops. I ended us with a sailing hat, cover up  and flip flops ($12) and a brush to clean my water bottle. I was happy to find all of it in a nearby market. I was ready for the sailing trip to Colombia and excited to see the San Blas Islands. The next morning we were leaving Panama City for Portobelo. It was a good couple of days but I was excited for the next adventure.  

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