I’m tempted to give Panama City a pass here as we started off on the wrong foot and things did not get any better from there. Also I was once again on the outskirts of town and had the constant issue with taxis; Had I stayed close to the city center I may have had a very different experience.
I shared a taxi in from the airport with an Italian fellow here to give a training session. When I say “shared a taxi” I mean we agreed to split the tab to his hotel in the city center, after which I would negotiate with the driver to take me the rest of the way to my place.
We had not counted on a somewhat insane and definitely incompetent taxi driver. By the time we had circled the city enough times for him to concede that calling the hotel was a good idea he was frustrated enough that he was pulling multi-G maneuvers one handed with the other clamping the phone to his ear.
I had explained to my companion the Children’s Pictures Theory Of Taxi Drivers, which states that taxi drivers with pictures of their kids mounted on their dashboard usually have something to live for. Every time he did something new we looked at each other and mouthed “No pictures”.
Eventually we did arrive at my companion’s hotel and I decided that I would get a new taxi…. The owner of the Autograph Lodge in Panama City is a remarkably engaging and competent man and if I return to the city I will look him up. His name is Miguel Burgaleta and you can reach him at +1 954 354 7858. He also has a property in Cuzco. In any case he very graciously arranged a taxi for me.
I had picked the Country Home Inn and Suites because it was right on the canal. Sitting on my balcony I could see the ships queued up for he canal as well as see them emerge at full steam from the other side. Unexpectedly, room service was provided by an attached TGI Fridays. The food was exactly the same as you find around the world, but ordering was an adventure; The staff was pretty clearly college age or younger and any time English was required you could hear giggling as the phone was passed around hot potato style. They always got the order right though.
For the first two days the place resembled The Overlook Hotel — huge empty hallways and lots of spooky silence. I wondered how they stayed open. The answer came on the third day when three different tour groups showed up simultaneously. I had been thinking about extending my stay a day and found there were no rooms left in what was a ghost hotel the day before.
The reason I had come to Panama was to get a Brazilian visa so that I could follow the Amazon down from the Peruvian Andes to the Atlantic. I was really torn at this point. I was demoralized in part due to the very poor sleep I got at Lake Titicaca. I had started taking the travel hassles personally instead of treating them as interesting obstacles to be overcome. I had become, to steal the language of a friend, a moaner instead of a trouper.
Further research into the boats on the Amazon — specifically into whether and how often I would be able to power the CPAP machine — gave me the excuse to punt on the whole thing. My cousin Jeanne had suggested Aruba, it was an hour and a half due east, and I had never been. I booked my ticket back to the U.S. at the same time meaning that for once I could show a legitimate itinerary to the border control folks. So relaxing to get on an international flight without committing fraud 🙂
The Bridge Of The Americas, which until 2006 was the only permanent road link between North and South America (there is now a second). It didn’t really hit me until I was standing there looking at it: we dug a fair sized hole between two continents. And we cut a country in half in the process.
Panama knows nothing of water rationing. This made me very happy after water starved Peru.
There are many forms of sheer terror to be experienced in world travel. One is watching your debit card getting sucked into a foreign ATM. Another is watching your cell phone charging cable start to go.
These aren’t actually the people who sold me the replacement. I just like the name.