We head to Colombia tomorrow. So, you know what the means…it is time for final thoughts on Panama.
Panama was the first country we visited where the weather really didn’t cooperate. It rained non-stop. In fact, one night in Panama City, it rained so hard the streets were all flooded and our taxi driver was mumbling something about the road being a lake. (He was right — I’m kind of surprised that the cars were making it through the flooded intersections). That said, we still really liked Panama. The people were uniformly nice, they smiled at our butchered Spanish, and they seemed downright impressed that we used public transport instead of taking taxi cabs everywhere. We definitely want to come back and explore the country during better weather.
Every single American fast food chain seems to be represented in Panama City. Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Subway, Burger King, McDonalds, Wendy’s, KFC, Popeye’s, TGI Friday’s, Hooters. You name it, we saw it. Although I was sorely tempted by the Sbarro, we didn’t eat at a single American food chain. (Can’t say the same about Panamanian chains, but we figure that is allowed).
We might have been scammed in Panama City or we might have done a good deed, and we figure we will never know for sure. As we were waiting for the bus to take us out to the visitor center for the Panama Canal, we ran into an American. He claimed to be just back from Afghanistan and planning to surprise his family on a cruise that was stopping in Panama City. However, all of his ID and money had been stolen the day before. He was on his way to the U.S. Embassy (which was on our bus route) to see if they could do anything. Then, we saw him again on the bus ride home. He looked absolutely devastated, because the embassy wouldn’t even see him for three days. We ended up giving him a small amount of money because we felt so bad. It could have been a complete scam…but, if it wasn’t, hopefully we helped just a tiny bit.
Most of Panama is very modern. Panama City is full of modern high rises, the water is safe to drink nearly everywhere, and our hotels all had AC and hot water (quite the luxury after Costa Rica). However, we were shocked by the number of rural homes that still have outhouses. Yes, outhouses.
The pizza here, on average, was the worst we have had on our travels so far. We didn’t have our single worst pizza here (that was in Costa Rica) and we did have one quite good pizza, but, overall, the pizzas here were completely forgettable. Which was kind of surprising given the overwhelming number of Italian restaurants in Panama. (What was also surprising is that we had very good Indian and Thai in Panama City…).
Panamanian driving has to be about the worse we have seen. We know what you are thinking. You are thinking Panamanian driving can’t be as bad as Vietnamese driving, Nicaraguan driving and Costa Rican driving. Au contraire! The driving in Panama is by far the worst we have seen. I lost count of the number of times I nearly got hit. Nobody uses turn signals. Nobody looks before backing out. One person might stop, put on their blinkers, and let you cross the street. But keep in mind that street might have four lanes of traffic. Odds are all four lanes aren’t going to stop for you…At one point we threatened to make Frogger noises… Panamanian traffic left us longing for the ease of the traffic in Saigon (at least there nobody aims for the pedestrians…) and that is saying something.
To compound the issue with the driving, sidewalks here are apparently for parking, not for walking.
The toilets accept toilet paper in most of Panama. Yeah!!!! (You don’t know how happy this makes me…).
We didn’t take many cabs, but apparently the cabs here will stop and pick up additional passengers along the route with the only rule being “first in, first out.” Kind of strange, huh? That said, taxis were pretty cheap so I guess it makes sense.