Buen día, mis amigos! It feels like forever since I’ve blogged. After a 3-week trip home for Christmas and then coming back to get the flu, well, we’ve been out of commission for a few weeks.
Now that I’m beginning to feel human again, I’m anxious to get blogging again. Our 2013 ended with a bang and 2014 started on the run. Our trip home to the States was super eventful. And so with so much to talk about, this blog is the first of 2 or 3 parts. This first part is our adventurous trip to Ciudad de Panamá.
Boquete to David is about 30 minutes away by car. I think the bus takes close to an hour. Because we had suitcases and the buses are old US school buses with no luggage compartments, we decided to take a cab into David. Then it’s about 8 hours from David to Panamá City by bus. We chose to take the bus, one, because a taxi would be super expensive as would renting a car or flying and, two, the experience.
Our taxi driving friend, Daniel, picked us up at 6 a.m. He dropped us at the bus terminal in David, which is not huge but has loads of people and buses constantly coming and going. It was a relatively easy process to get tickets, but not if you had to ask a question and didn’t know much Spanish. At least we didn’t have any questions. And though I wouldn’t characterize people as super friendly in general (any more than I can say the same for Americans) there seems to always be people who see that you may not get what’s going on and step in voluntarily to help. There was a woman in the terminal waiting, as it turns out, for the same bus as we were getting. She asked to look at our tickets and confirmed what we guessed, that we were in the right place. It was super sweet.
David Terminal and our bus
Various people were selling mostly food items.
The bus was a nice double decker tour bus. The bus ride, though, was anything but nice. It’s not like Greyhound in the USA, with definite stops. Any time someone needed to stop, the bus would stop. We had a few such stops. One time a little girl needed to use the toilet and the bus toilet only allows for going Number 1. Plus they would pick up and drop off passengers along the way at various in-the-middle-of-nowhere places. I don’t understand the system for pick ups at all so am not quite sure how the passengers know when to be at a stop or the drivers when to stop. A bit of a mystery.
About 3 hours into the drive, we started hearing a loud, clanking noise. Sure enough the bus stops and the steward and the driver jump out and start looking underneath the bus near the rear tires. Apparently there was a problem. So we started again but limped our way going about 20 mph to the halfway stop at Santiago. It’s normally a half hour stop. But we were there for what seemed an eternity as they tried to repair the bus.
A couple of old rather icky buses pulled in. Finally we guessed by watching other passengers and the little we could understand, that we were changing buses. Retrieving our luggage was an experience we would rather never have to repeat. Even at the station, as soon as the luggage door opened, people would crowd around, shoving their luggage at the steward. He would tag the bag and hand the owner a receipt. Claiming luggage was a nightmare. People were crowded around the opening, waving their claim tag and yelling. The steward could only pull out the bags at the front of the opening. We stood back and waited. When our number was called, Guy had to push his way to the front as no one moves out of the way. It’s a good thing he is tall and has long arms. He had to carry the suitcases over everyone.
Once we got our luggage we then took it to another bus and got on. People were so anxious to get a seat that they pushed and shoved. One rather old lady pushed to get by me. I almost fell into some guy’s lap.
We couldn’t get seats together, so Guy ended up in the front and me about midway. Thank God it wasn’t the back of the bus. It smelled really bad. I think that the bathroom was overflowing. Halfway through the ride the young man sitting next to me offered to trade seats with Guy. It was very sweet and much more comfortable for Guy.
We finally arrived in Panamá City at the Albrook Bus Terminal about 5 p.m. Our original bus had departed David at 7:40 a.m. It was only about an hour and a half late, but it felt like FOR-EV-ER (anyone remember the movie, The Sandlot!) It was a looooooong drive.
One of the most amazing things about our entire adventure has been how God has stepped in at the most convenient times to bring things to our attention. These things have always worked out for our benefit. This time, just days before we left, an email came through on News Boquete, a news letter/notification service that we receive. It was from a missionary in David. He wanted to let the community know that there was a pastor in Panamá City who would provide transfer service between the bus terminal, the airport or other destinations in town. So for about the same amount of money, we had someone meeting us at the station. We contacted him and he was willing to pick us up at the bus terminal and transport us to the hotel.
True to his word, Edwin met us at Albrook Bus terminal as our luggage was being taken off the bus. He helped us with the luggage and took us, uneventfully, to the Hard Rock Megapolis Hotel. What a comfort and relief it was as we’ve heard stories about some of the iffier taxi drivers in Panama City!
Here are some pics of our first real glimpse of the city of Panamá. Edwin told us that the population of the city and metro area is 1.5 million. On a side note, the statue is of Vasco Núñez de Balboa. Balboa was apparently the first European to reach the Pacific Ocean by crossing the isthmus. He also established the first permanent settlement in the Americas in Panamá. The Panamanian dollar is called the Balboa.
One of our first glimpses of the big city.
Every big city’s commute traffic
The commute lane here is for police, fire, ambulance and taxis only.
Vasco Núñez de Balboa
We stayed 3 nights so we would have a little time to tour the city. The Hard Rock Megapolis Hotel is decent and I would stay here again. The room was $120 a night. Maybe a bit high, but it included a breakfast buffet and a one time $20 credit towards food/drink. So overall, it wasn’t too bad a price. But having a room on the 53rd floor was definitely cool. Guy took these photos with his iPhone.
A view of Panamá Bay from our room
Same bay view during the day
Another shot from our room
We were high enough that we were at the same level as the vultures that circle in the drafts of the city. Also in the background between the dark and light land masses, you can see ships waiting to enter the Canal.
The roof of the 4 story Multicentro Mall, connected to the Hardrock.
Shots of the view from the rear of the hotel on the pool level
The food was pretty good, especially in the Soy Restaurant. The food wasn’t cheap but the $20 credit helped. The breakfast buffet included lots of fruit, cold cuts, pastries and breads and a couple hot dishes which made for very nice breakfast dining.
The Hardrock is connected by a walkway to the Multicentro Mall, a 4 story shopping mall. It was not super busy, which surprised me for Christmas weekend. But then I found out that there is a newer mall with more brand name stores. Apparently the newer mall, Multiplaza, is very busy leaving Multicentro less attended.
We decided to go to the movies at the Multicentro Mall one evening. They were playing The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey. (This was particularly funny because when we got back to the States the second installment of the series was in theaters.) The tickets were $5 each, which is for regular adult admission not the matinee. Another big difference between US theaters and this one was that we got to choose which seats we wanted. Not knowing the theater we picked what we thought would be good seats. As it turned out, there wasn’t a bad seat in the house. The movie was in English with Spanish subtitles. It’s kinda funny when something funny is said, we would laugh and about 5 seconds later, everyone else would laugh. But I have to watch the movie again. When the orcs or elves spoke in their own languages, the subtitles were in Spanish. We’ve learned enough Spanish and could follow the movie enough to get the gist of what was said but couldn’t read most of it. It was a funny experience!
Next time I’ll tell you about our visit to Casco Viejo, an older area in the City.