It’s been a fast start to the trip filled with many emotions. The stress before leaving was overwhelming. It was difficult leaving family, friends, and a place at home for the unknown. I realize now that I had been in a comfort zone since August or so, and breaking out of that was harder than I could have imagined.
The hours before leaving were extremely stressful. I would not recommend waiting until the day of the trip to pack. Picking up a few items 15 minutes before leaving the airport would not have been necessary had I planned better.
A flight to Ft. Lauderdale and then a connection to Panama City, and I was already there. After making it through immigration, it was already past 2am. I found a good sleeping place and threw my sleeping bag down on the hard floor, sleeping off and on until 7am.
Then the adventure started. My Spanish was shakier than I thought, as I haven’t really talked or listened in Spanish for about a year. Trying to find the bus stop and the right bus was difficult. But people were very friendly in helping me, one older lady even helping me hold my bags up in the bus.
In the bus, I faced one of my biggest fears: a bus full of people and trying to handle 2 bags. Not only is it difficult to try to keep the bags in a decent position, but it’s a perfect spot for pickpocketers. I watched my wallet and passport as closely as possible while hanging out to my bags. I wasn’t willing to lose my wallet or anything else. Luckily, everything was still intact when I left the bus.
Now off the bus, it should be easy to find the hostel. Unfortunately, road signs are few and far between. I asked for help two different times as people tried to figure out where they even were. It honestly might’ve been one of the few times they’ve seen a map of their neighborhood. I also made a mistake that cost me an hour or more. I circled the place of my hostel on my map, but I was a few blocks off. As I frantically searched for the hostel, walking circles, I finally stumbled upon the hostel with a sigh of relief.
The weather is hot. I’ve probably already sweated off my body weight as I drink as much water as possible to keep hydrated. There is no way to avoid sweating, unless you’re sitting in an air conditioned building, but those are rare. By the time I arrived at the hostel, I took a quick shower.
Almost immediately, I got back into what I’ll call a travel groove. I met some cool Canadians at my hostel and then I met up with two Couchsurfers in the Casco Viejo (old town). One Couchsurfer is from Argentina (Sabrina) and the other is from Colombia (Juan, but is living in Panama City). We walked around Casco Viejo which reminded me a lot of Cartagena, Colombia, with its colonial architecture and small streets leading to quaint plazas.
Afterwards, Juan drove us out to the causeway, a manmade road connecting 3 islands. The mile and a half long causeway was filled with people out walking, running, biking, and just enjoying the beautiful Sunday. We decided to eat at a restaurant called El Muelle on Flamenco Island. We ordered a huge seafood platter for 2 people but was big enough for all three of us. Being from Illinois, seafood is a rare occasion. So to eat a meal like this was special. A huge platter of shrimp, calamari (not fried), clams, ceviche, and fried fish. Put simply, it was amazing. Along with the panoramic view of the city, it felt nothing less than a Panamanian vacation.
Panama City is not what you’d think it would be. Even if you look at pictures, it still doesn’t do the city justice. For only having half a million people, the skyline is enormous. From a distance, it seems more like Chicago than a city in Central America. We eventually went up to the 24th floor at the Hard Rock Hotel for the view. From there, it seems more like Las Vegas than anything else (minus the replica statues and monuments). But then just a few miles away is the old town which feels more like colonial times. The difference is vast and impressive.
Needless to say, I was exhausted. The room has a wall air conditioner, so I was actually able to sleep pretty well. If not, I might’ve looked like a prune by the morning from dehydration!