For three weeks we traveled around Panama. Panama City, being the capital and the only real city of consequence in Panama, provided the bookends of our trip. We flew in, and we flew out. But while we were there we drank, explored, were covered in foam, suds, and Latinas at an outdoor nightclub, shared a hostel room with more than one crazy person, watched boats moving slowly at the Panama Canal, saw public outdoor concert on a Sunday night with a Spanish rapper openly propositioning what seemed to be eighty-year-old women, stumbled upon an unspeakable mess of digestive and reproductive waste in the middle of the street, drank coconut water straight from coconuts, and received first world dental work for third world prices.
All in all, it was a solid trip. Definitely not a shitty time.
“Pistons popping, ain’t no stopping now! Panama, Panama!” – Van Halen
With that said, let’s get this started.
Our Panama City Story:
I am going to start this story with my ride back from the Panama Canal. It is as good a place as any to begin my narrative because it’s the most visited tourist destination in Panama City, and if Panama City is anything it’s a tourist city.
We tried to wave down a cab outside the Panama Canal (not as boring as it sounds) and the taxi stopped even though it already had two men in it already. Naturally, we jumped in. Inside was a Peruvian guy who uncomfortably hung his arm around me while also creepily snapping photos of Josh and I when we were not looking. The driver asked if we call black people negro or moreno in America and then listed every sport that he thinks black people are better at (and yes, it was every sport but hockey). The Canadian told us that he missed his flight home the day before because he was short on money for the taxi. Then he guessed the reason why Panama has so much construction is for the World Cup. In Brazil. He apparently thinks that a lot of travelers are going to see some of the games in Panama. Or that the crowds that attend the World Cup are nomads who are going to come out of Asia through the Bering Strait to Alaska, and then walk south to Brazil, traveling down the funnel that is Central America before taking a break in the new high rises being constructed all over Panama City. When it came time to pay, the driver wanted the full fare from each person. Why would we have endured the awkward ride home if it would cost the same price as a private taxi?
This did start the increasingly annoying trend of Josh asking every native Panamanian why there was so much construction. The fact that he never received a straight answer did not dissuade him in his fact finding mission.
We are going to be chopped up and sent back to Philly
Interested yet? I’m going to take you back to the start of the trip so that my random anecdotes begin to make more sense. On the ride from the airport to our first night’s hotel at around 3 AM the taxi driver made a peculiar stop in a parking garage. He got out and left the van for a few minutes. It made no sense. My instincts told me to trust that our driver was honest. Most are. But I did fear that a gang of bandits were coming around the corner to force us to withdraw money from an ATM.
Follow your instinct.
All the driver did was buy a phone card to add credit to his cell phone so that he could call the hotel for directions. In hindsight, I should have just asked him why we were stopping. That’s when I said to Josh that most Travel Bloggers would consider this situation a topic to focus an entire article about. But in reality it was all in our heads. Most Travel Bloggers are silly that way, myself included. (Make sure to check back for a more in-depth look at this incident later this week.)
Hostel Character #1 – Slightly Oddballish
After the phone card incident we pulled up to a quiet neighborhood that housed Hostel Aleman, which translates to German Hostel. I chose this hostel because we had a really really late night arrival and Germans are organized. They would be ready for us at God knows what hour. In Germanic fashion they were. A very polite but slightly edgy and tattooed German even came outside as soon as the taxi pulled up to the house. He was very pleasant, and seemed to be chipper and wide awake at three in the morning. As he showed as the hostel (just a house , really, but comfortable) the 60 year old owner came out of the kitchen in panties and a t-shirt. She nodded politely. They promised breakfast in the morning between 7 -10. Since it was so late when we flew in we didn’t get up until 11. They held breakfast for us, and gave us a full spread of boiled eggs, toast, deli meats, sliced pineapple, peanut butter, and of course, nutella. My only complaint was that the hard boiled eggs were runny. Come on Germans. They were incredibly hospitable. On the other hand, our private room featured just a king sized bed so we shared one bed at the ages 24 and 27 respectively. It was fine.
Under Construction Forever
By the next afternoon we shuffled down the street with our baggage in tow to transfer ourselves to the more hipster area of Panama City, Casco Viejo. Casco Viejo is the old city, and looks sort of like Cartagena Colombia, if Cartagena was bombed a decade before but was back on its feet. We booked ourselves into a non-air conditioned private room at the most famous hostel in all of Central America, Luna’s Castle. I say without air-conditioning because they never mentioned we could get a room with it. Ugh. This was the kind of hostel where guests were Twitter hash tagging their experience that #Panamarocks. Luna’s Castle also assigns yellow wristbands so every thug in Casco Viejo can quickly identify who to rip off. This never actually happened but you can mark my words that it will in ten years when Casco Viejo completes even a quarter of it’s new construction and renovations.
Josh was super annoying with his observation about the construction going on in Panama City. He was totally right and in fact I would advise against visiting Panama City until it is complete. Walking around the city takes effort to avoid closed streets with roads and building under construction. I would estimate that 75% of the Casco Viejo neighborhood alone is closed off to construction.
Driving is no picnic either. We stayed at Luna’s for a few days before we took a plane to Bocas del Toro.
You Know You’re in a Developing Country
On the way back from reserving flights to Bocas del Toro at the Albrook airport I witnessed a quarter of a car sink into the road. A manhole cover was missing from a busy highway and the car’s front right tire fell straight through the earth. Other drivers blared their horns for seconds until they understood that the car had literally sunk like a shipwreck. Some drivers stepped out from their cars and together as the Panamanian auto champs that they are, they picked up the car out of the hole only to drop it back in causing even more damage. On the second try they pulled an incredible hulk to remove it, and then pushed it to the side of the road’s lane.
Hostel Character #2 – So Crazy, He Didn’t Give a F***!
(Except about making it very clear to everyone that he did not, in fact, give a F***)
While exploring the rotting fish market not far from Luna’s and downing some sea bass ceviche by the pier, we were identified by another backpacker due to our yellow wristbands (or maybe it was that we were speaking English and obviously sunburned). “Do you want to get drinks with us?” he asked out of nowhere.
It was still the early afternoon but on a mission to create the kind of stories you remember, I said yes. We then followed a shirtless Canadian and a dark haired Swede away from the pier and toward beer.
The Canadian was weird. What I mean by that is that he rode his skateboard shirtless (being shirtless is illegal in Panama). Not that being shirtless matters at all, or is really an act of defiance, but the cops repeatedly asked him to cover himself, which he would do, with his unbuttoned cut off shirt, which was a shirt only in the strictest legal sense. At one point a cop, who apparently had seen him twice before and told him to put a damn shirt one, said, politely and exasperated, to put the damn shirt on and keep it on. The Canadian put it on, walked three feet, and ripped it off saying “fucking cop,” to which a much larger Panamanian who heard said, “Hey man. Not fucking cop.”
He was nice enough, but he was pretty much the worst Gringo stereotype you could imagine. I know what you’re thinking. He’s just some kid. No. He was 27. Just wear a shirt.
He also had a thing for leading us down the working class streets. Not that there is much wrong with that either. We had done so ourselves earlier that day. But the way he lead us through the streets made me believe he wanted us to think he was hardcore or something. One excuse for a bar we entered was pitch black. I couldn’t see the bartender and it smelled like Moby Dick himself was decomposing in the back. The second bar we entered had the neighborhood drunks who enjoyed heckling and sloppily yelling at us for money. “No tengo dinero Pablo”, yelled back at him. We shared a Balboa beer there while making plans to go out later that night. I am far from a beer aficionado but even the best beer you can find from a major brewery in Latin America, sans Mexico, tastes like cat bile or is no better than a Budweiser. The Canadian smartly told us that he went to a whore house but didn’t want to go with the hottest girl there because all the men would choose her. It was better to go with the fat ones. Because, you know, when you’re at a whore house you don’t want to hook up with a girl that sleeps around.
Back at the hostel the Canadian picked up one of the guitars conveniently sitting on a wall hook. Luna’s Castle is really that kind of hostel that tries to make it seem like a drum and guitar circle might spontaneously emerge at any moment. In reality they placed some instruments on the wall and they were only touched when Dispatch wannabe’s wanted to impress the blonde Scandinavian women backpackers.
I’m complaining too much. The hostel was really above average. The only thing is, it was HUGE. It was college dorm sized. It turns out I prefer smaller hostels, but objectively speaking if you’re on a budget and want to meet big groups of travelers it’s a cool place to stay.
Don Lee Will Always Hold a Special Place in My Tummy
Sometime the next evening we took a food trek from Casco Viejo along Avenida Balboa until we reached Calle Uruguay. In search of dinner we walked a good hour to find anything. Avenida Balboa is Panama City’s answer to a boardwalk which contains a pedestrian only walkway along Panama’s Pacific coast. It’s a nice place to go jogging or for a stroll, and you can see the city skyline (which is impressive) very well, but it’s basically boardwalk without restaurants, vendors, or stores.There are a few basketball courts, free Wifi, and grown up rollerbladers who think its 1995.
And for a awhile there’s a random wall on the ocean side so you can’t actually look out onto the ocean, which probably had something to do with construction. Avenida Balboa lead us to the Calle Uruguay, a popular street with lots of upscale nightlife and chain restaurants, including TGI Friday’s, Hooters, and a place called Fire and Ice that Josh had seen in Boston. I chose to eat at Don Lee which serves up the best Panamanian-Chinese fast food. With a name like that you know the lo-mein will taste as special.
En La Discoteca…con Don Lee
After Bocas del Toro we came back to Panama City and we went out to club Insomnia on Calle Uruguay. Out on the balcony I spotted a girl smoking alone. I walked over to Maria Estella Sanchez Romero (Latinos love their long names) and commented on the beautiful view of Panama City’s skyline. She looked at me like I was an idiot. So I decided if I was going to go down, I would go down as ridiculous as possible. That’s when I told her that the Don Lee neon billboard advertisement was my favorite part of the skyline. “Have you ever tried their pollo en salsa agridulce”, I asked? I told her it was delicious. In fact, she should visit Don Lee instead of McDonalds to finish her night out. I explained that my favorite fake Chinese meal is the General Tsao Chicken. She had never heard of it. What?!
That’s when I told her to sit down and stay for awhile. I was going to lecture her on General Tsao Chicken. It’s the kind of deep fried chicken with sweet sauce dish that made Chinese food famous with Gringos like myself. I was going to explain why but she walked away. Te quiero General Tsao.
This eventually started a trend of trying to say nonsense to girls in Spanish that sounded like a significant, deep, or spiritual aphorism. Josh went with this nearly every time, since he speaks very basic Spanish. Some the best from our arsenal, translated into English:
“In the winter, the cats become dogs.”
“The table is hard, but the wood is harder.”
“The sky is blue only when there is a sun to see it.”
“Don Lee is a professor of taste.” (This actually rhymes in Spanish.)
“Table run: is good by shot,” (Okay these got pretty ridiculous as our blood alcohol content rose.)
These are best said after a simple “hola, como estas”. You wait for the girl’s response and then quickly mumble your wisdom.
Back to my experience actually eating at Don Lee on our second day of the trip. The bathroom was stocked with a jug of mouthwash promoting Crest. Cool.
After eating we went to The Londoner Pub. I don’t like London even though I lived there half a year, but I digress. I went to The Londoner Pub because it was a Tuesday and no other joint would have people inside I thought. You see, unlike Britain or America, many developing countries only have nightlife on the weekends because most people don’t have enough disposable income to go out during the week. That’s my theory anyway. The Londoner Pub was also dead but we did manage to meet a group of Panamanians out celebrating a birthday. We met them because we invaded their table and made them talk to us. (“In the winter, the cats….”) Gotta practice our Spanish somehow.
Oh, the Panama Canal
Okay, fine. Let’s talk about the canal, which is about as Panamanian as anything designed, planned, and built by foreigners could possibly be. When we went there it was raining a monsoon and we were huddled underneath the ticket awning with a group of fifty Colombians on a tour who were buying their tickets, which meant waiting in line in the middle of fifty people smothered in front, behind, and to all sides of us, all of us getting soaked while trying to stay under a slim awning. I am not claustrophobic, but if I were I may have pooped myself messing up my new Under Armour boxer briefs.
By the way, those boxer briefs are the best if you’re going to be walking around a humid city, or walking any place for that matter. Even in the mall.
We finally got inside and there was a small movie theater, which we skipped. We walked out the back and we were directed to some bleachers and told that there was a ship about to come through. The bleachers were packed, but we could see them there in front of us, all three of the Miraflores locks. A ship did come through, and there was a man narrating the “action” in Spanish and English..
I should have asked the Panama Tourism Board for a media pass like I did for Dublin and Philadelphia. I was never as jealous as when I saw a handful of media with SLR cameras the size of Shawn Bradley’s feet walk on top of the locks to the middle of the Panama Canal. That would have been cool. Instead I used my technique for seeing the Mona Lisa in France by standing on the top of my toes while jockeying for position.
I could see the canal’s water level dropping along with the ship hundreds of feet. It was pretty amazing. It’s just that heart surgery is pretty amazing too, but that doesn’t mean it’s that exciting to watch.
Did I mention we went to Hooters? Count it. Medellin, Panama City, King of Prussia, Fort Lauderdale: three countries and four cities that I gawked at the Hooters waitresses. We watched the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Boston Celtics. Josh is from New England so we had a rivalry going on. Oh, and the waitresses were really cute. The chicken tenders not so great.
Remember when I mentioned riding back from the Albrook airport in Panama City? Well the reason I went was because Air Panama is inept. As one of the last remaining airlines to not sell tickets online I had to book them over the phone. I called each of their ten numbers listed on their website only to never reach an operator, nor an answering machine. In case you don’t believe me, you can try calling Air Panama yourself. Dial 507- 316 plus any of the following numbers as the last four digits: 9000 – 9019 – 9025 – 9026 – 9027 – 9028 – 9031 – 9052 – 9060 – 9061. I just had to buy tickets the old fashion way, in person. At the airport I went up the to check-in counter and said, “Quiero comprar dos boletas a Bocas del Toro”. I handed the Agent our passports and he did the rest. But he wouldn’t let me pay.
He told me to come back to the airport the next morning at 9AM and handed me a reservation code on a scrap of paper. I told him no and asked when the latest I could come to pay the next day (our flight was the next day). We settled on 2PM since the flight was at 4PM anyways. It wouldn’t take much time check-in to the flight as Albrook airport is Panama City’s second one. In fact the airport used to be one of the two U.S. Air Force Bases located in Panama.
We are Flashpackers, Dammit!
On our last evening in Panama City before busing flying (we are Flashpackers, afterall, not Backpackers) to the islands we reconnected with Ron Abuelo, a really fantastic cheap Rum in our private room in Luna’s. Still unsure what a Flashpacker is? No worries because I wrote an example here, here, and even a third one here to clear up the confusion.
Old Abuelo was good to us and prepared us well for the first farewell night out in Panama City. We finished the bottle of Ron Abuelo rum as we let loose. Keep in mind as much as we are friends we are also co-workers. It is not always easy to share your true feelings when it comes to how we get along working together but Ron Viejo helped. More work meeting should be done while drinking excessively. We both had those stupid grins on our faces while sharing our thoughts for the business and how it should be run. When I eventually grow my company into more than two full-time employees I will try to remember that all work meetings should involve alcohol.
Luna’s Castle hostel has an excellent bar downstairs called Relic Bar.
We stumbled a little as we made the transition from drinking in a hot smelly bedroom to the tropical garden cave that is Relic Bar. Relic Bar is one of the top five bars in the city hands down. Even on a weekday there was at least forty people there, many of whom were locals and not just backpackers. We posted up a spot at the musky cave bar. This is the only indoor portion of the bar and it has A/C. The other part is an outdoor garden plaza with overpowering heat and annoying backpackers with flip flops and disgusting legs full of sand fly bites. They should really wear pants.
Rural Costa Rica
We found a pair of Latin looking women and I guessed that they must be from Costa Rica. Boomshakalaka. When they asked how I knew I stumbled. I had actually hoped they would say they were from somewhere else so I could tease them about looking Costa Rican, or something. I did not want to say the logical reason. It’s just a bordering country and the only reason I guessed it was to make conversation about why they seemed like they must be from there. I told them that they carried themselves like Tikas. Then I proceeded to explain how when I was around 14 years old I went on a voluntourism teen tour through Costa Rica. The tour was a great experience but I for three of the six weeks they put me in a rural wooden hut complete with a hole in the ground toilet and a spigot for a shower on the grass outside.
Meanwhile, I shared a bed of planks and no mattress with a New Yorker named Jacob right next to another bed with two teenage twin Costa Rican brothers. On the other side of the adjoining wall slept the mother, father, and their 8 year old son in one bed. The father was a bad-ass at 75 years old that fathered more than 20 children in the town of less than 500 people. Outside were a few dozen chickens and a variety of other animals. It turns out that a few years later my host family in Bolivia would make this family look like Ri¢hie Ri¢h‘s parents.
That is, I was going to say all of this, and then I realized nobody wants to hear how about how poor their country is. I forget what I said exactly, but I think it was probably something about how awesome Don Lee was, not just as a restaurant innovator, but as a man and a father.
Later on while huddled back at the bar I made conversation with a Panamanian guy my age. Within a minute he loudly offered up his single friend telling me that “she is really horny.” She was cute no doubt, so I said hello to her. But what else could I say that would not make me appear as if I wanted to talk to her only because I heard she was horny? His intentions were good but that’s just not the best way to start a conversation with a cute girl. Or maybe he was preemptively cock blocking me. Hmm….
Cue Ten Days
The next day we flew to Bocas. Then about ten days passed while we were lazing away on the beaches of Bocas del Toro, which blow away the Atlantic City beaches near my hometown . We decided that we had enough sand-fly bites and gorgeous tropical beaches to last us until September (that’s when I fly to Mexico City).
Since Josh was flying home on Tuesday, we figured we’d head back to Panama City to catch the weekend. There is not much going on in the country of Panama outside of Bocas and Panama City so the plan was easy to fly back to Panama City for the weekend. I remember Josh telling me that he found a new hostel called Hospedaje Casco Viejo for us to stay in there. Being the planner that I am, I asked if him where it was and he said he would write it down the next time he opened his computer. As we rolled into Panama City I just knew that Josh never wrote the address down but I didn’t complain. Well, my irritated expression probably gave away my frustration but I chalked it up to the consequences of traveling with a friend. The friend won’t always do things the same way. In this case he figured he would find it just by driving around since Casco Viejo is pretty small. But since the hotel had the most plain sounding name that translated to the name of the neighborhood plus the word hotel our taxi driver had no clue where it was.
After driving in a few circles Josh settled on returning to Luna’s Castle to ask for direction. We did find the hostel shortly after and booked ourselves into a giant dorm room with a dozen beds. Not very Flashpacker-like I know.
Party of the Year
We flew all the way into Panama City for the weekend so we were honest with ourselves when declared that we would make this a weekend to remember. Two local friends of friends told me to grab a drink at a bar called Tantalo. This bar gave off a privileged aura at its ritzy rooftop bar in Casco Viejo. We started talking to a pair of women who we found out were both the chef and owner’s wives after I asked them about the bar’s micheladas, which I was of course, really, really interested in.
That was meant as sarcasm, which after years of experience traveling and living in Latin America I have determined may not exist in the western hemisphere south of the Rio Grande. The kind of sarcasm common to us in America or Britain is mostly lost on people in Panama, Colombia, or most other Latin American countries. That being said, the wives were friendly and easy to talk to and the cocktails were delicious and as sophisticated as anything you would find upscale New York City bars.
I could tell that if we stayed at Tantalos we would have an enjoyable night but nothing out of the ordinary would happen. But the cocktails were so tasty that we stayed for just one more each. Then we walked a few blocks to Relic Bar for a quick look. Moderately busy with lots of gringos, and a few groups of Panamanians with unfavorable gender rations. We did not even stick around for one drink.
“Zona Viva or bust”, I declared to Josh.
Again, I am the bigger researcher out of the two of us so I had heard that Zona Viva was another area with some nightclubs. Below is the anecdote that I wrote for my other travel website.
The night ended in a drunken haze, with both of us peeling off our completely soaked clothes and passing out in the hostel dorm room with all of the other beds filled with passed out backpackers.
And that’s why Panama sucks
The next day the water was out at the hostel. Hung over, we both wanted to take showers. Thank god we had danced in suds up to our waste the night before. Still, one night sleeping in the Panamanian humidity without AC will leave you a sweaty mess by the time you wake up.
I peeked in the bathroom every half hour to find water but instead returned to my bed disappointed. I could no longer take it and while wandering outside I saw a man spraying a hose right next door. I grabbed my belongings and told the receptionist I was leaving to find a hostel with water. Two blocks down I settled for the Magnolia Inn, which bills itself as a luxury hostel. It was a fantastic hostel, and we would be back later, but no matter how nice the hostel is, it is still dependent on the Panama City water lines, which were disabled for the entire Casco Viejo neighborhood due to construction.
So instead I managed to find a hostel by Calle Uruguay, closer to downtown. This hostel was clearly someone’s house, and it was cheap, clean, and quiet in a nice area close to bars and clubs.
I agreed to meet Josh there by Skype. So I rolled in by myself. In the room I was assigned, which had three beds, there was an American sleeping in the middle of the day.
Hostel Character #3 – Pretty Clearly, Actually, Legitimately, Bat-Shit Crazy
I put down my things as quietly as I could and went into the attached bathroom to take a shower. Finally.
When I got out, the American was up. I smiled and introduced myself. He sat up in bed. I could see that he had been laying on change. Not laying on change as if he had had change in the pockets of shorts he hadn’t taken off before falling asleep. It was pretty clear that he had spread change, both Panamanian and American coins, all over his bed before falling asleep. Several dollars worth. Some stuck to his arms. Pennies even.
“Hey! Somebody else! No one else ever comes in here. Ever. I got the whole place to myself. No one knows about this place.”
His eyes darted around the room in a slightly paranoid way that at first seemed incongruous with his genuine smile, but as I listened to him I realized that the darting eyes and the big smile were perfectly matched if you started analyzing them from the presupposition that he was a little nuts.
I asked him what he was doing in Panama.
“I’m a refugee. From America.”
What did he mean?
“I’m a refugee, man. I figured some shit out, you know what I’m saying? I got family in the government and I figured some shit out. Can’t go back there now. I know things I’m not supposed to know? See?”
Okay, maybe a lot nuts.
All in all, I have to say he was perfectly nice. He just would sing Kanye songs loudly while playing with his gun lighter. Occasionally he would mutter something about needing the money from his parents come through already. He assured us that he had been in every hostel in Panama City. He would yell for the quiet Panamanian at the front desk from time to time, in English of course, even though the guy didn’t seem to speak any. It was pretty clear the staff had accepted the fact they had a gringo loco staying with them and they didn’t seem to mind. They also ignored pretty much everything he said.
Josh relayed later that while he was falling asleep, he heard the Gringo Loco declare in a half-dream state that he
“needed a kingdom. Get me a fucking kingdom already.”
I was glad to be gone when I did, because the kid did have a really disturbing energy that made me uncomfortable. And his c0nstantly darting eyes and endless non sequiturs gave him away as pretty nuts. Still, I wonder what happened to him, why he was there, and why his family seemed to be sending him money so he could live in Panamanian hostels when he clearly needed help.
Calle Uruguay, The Club Scene, and the Catwalk
That night we headed for Calle Uruguay with a bottle of coke mixed with Ron Abuelo. That’s the two block by two block area of Panama City where the clubs are. There aren’t that many clubs, but they do get pretty bumping. We paid ten bucks each to get into one. We posted up at the bar and drank ridiculously overpriced rum and cokes. As always, the coke was flat and from a two liter bottle.
There were definitely some good looking girls around. This was the night we tried our Spanish aphorisms. While we were doing that a very Gringo looking guy came up to us.
“You guys American?!” he shouted.
The three of us comprised 3/4 of the caucasian population of the club. The other quarter was a gorgeous blonde probably close to forty who was dancing all over a very polished and suave looking latino guy who seemed happy that she was having such a great time.
We told him that we were. He asked where in the states we were from. After some quick introductions he took us toward the back of the club where there were coaches. I was hoping he was there with a bunch of Panamanian girls, since it is infinitely easier to talk to girls at Latin American clubs when you have an in to a social circle. You can’t just walk up to girls and start talking the same way you can in Europe and the states. (Although admittedly there is nowhere in which pontificating on Chinese fast food is really going to serve you well.)
We sat on a couch where a pretty Panamanian girl was already sitting. She wrapped her arms around our new buddy, Steve. Steve was working in Panama City on construction, and tragically because I was sitting next to him and Josh was on the other side, Josh did not get to ask him what the deal with all the construction was.
Steve poured us whiskey from a Jack Daniels bottle he seemed to have snuck in the place. His girl was all over him.
“Dude,” he said (he was probably 30). “I got a wife at home. How great is this?”
Later his girlfriend leaned over to me and very sweetly tried to speak to me in English. She asked where I was from, and then, clearly running up against the end of her English ability, declared that Steve was her boyfriend. “I love him! He is my boyfriend!” she repeated a few times. She was hammered. We thanked them at some point and moved on. When I turned back to see them they were making out in the corner.
Later we tried a different, much classier club. It was indoors, but barely wide open, with high ceilings, giant fans, and strips of white cloth attached to the walls by both end. The place was half full and well lit. There were couches, and there were beautiful, model looking girls on the couches. In fact there were beautiful women everywhere, along with some intimidatingly good looking men. Naturally, none of the women would talk to us beyond polite, but curt, monosyllabic responses.
Then we realized there was a catwalk setup in the middle of the room. We gathered that some sort of fashion event had just ended. Drunk, and becoming pretty accustomed to making fools of ourselves by this point of the night, we decided we would take a walk on the catwalk.
But no, there was a bouncer standing on the edge of the catwalk, shooing anyone away who tried to walk on it. Keep in mind, this is a catwalk not being used in a half-full club. The catwalk started right by the bar. So naturally we waited for the bounce to get distracted, and then took quick turns strutting our stuff down the catwalk. We swung our hips and posed at the end. No one even looked up. I guess neither of us have that “it” factor.
Killing Time in Panama
After the weekend was over we ended up going back to the Magnolia Inn, the luxury hostel, for a few days. Josh’s flight headed home early Wednesday morning. Early as in 2AM. So we had time to kill. On Monday we went to Panama City’s giant mall, which is as nice a mall as you could hope for, with what seemed like fifteen food courts. It was still, however, a mall. We went to see the Avengers for $3.50 a ticket.
Don’t judge us. It was raining.
We met a few people at the hostel, and it seemed like that’s what everybody was doing: killing time. One American had ridden his motorcycle to Panama from the states. Now he was doing what many people do who dream of riding their motorcycles through the Americas: waiting for a boat to Colombia.
For those of you who don’t know, the Darien Gap is a piece of jungle that is home to the FARC guerrilla army, and it lies between in the Northwest corner of Colombia where Panama connects with South America. There’s really no roads that go through it, so you have to take a boat from Panama to Colombia. The problem for our friend was that it is difficult to find somebody to take a motorcycle on a boat. There were a pair of American brothers who legitimately looked like pirates staying at the hostel, and apparently they had just bought a boat and were going to sail to Colombia. Our friend was debating going with them, but was naturally wary of the fact they were seemed to be brand new at this whole sailing thing.
We also caught a live reggaeton concert in the park with booty dancers. He was no J. Balvin but he did have a knack for propositioning the old women in the audience.
There was also an American girl who was killing time until her flight back to the states. She had been on a Panamanian island as part of some vaguely defined anthropological or non-profit program. She said cocaine from Colombia washed up on the beach there all the time. She was going back to San Francisco. On Tuesday she convinced Josh to go to the Dentist with her. Josh got a teeth cleaning for $45. Not bad.
There was a lot of talk about Colombia at the hostel, since most of the travelers were headed south. Josh answered most of their questions since he lived there for a few months, but he was guessing mostly, (and mostly wrong) and I didn’t have the energy or the inclination to set him or them straight. Just the usual questions:
“Is it dangerous?”
“Do they hate Americans?”
“Are the women hot?”
No, no, and yes. Enough said.
I was supposed to stay for another week. I had been forced to buy a return ticket at the Laguardia airport to enter the country, and I had bought a trip home from Costa Rica to Miami because I thought I would head north after Josh headed home. At the airport I had seen cheap flights to Key West, but wanted to visit a friend in Miami instead. I found somewhat cheap flights to Florida, Miami specifically.
But I ended up switching my ticket to an earlier date, and changed it to leave from Panama City. Panama City is fun, on the weekends, but it’s not a place that takes any more than a weekend or so to see.
Just go when all of the construction is over. You know, when there will be even more Americans there.