Today is January 26th, 2019 and I have arrived to Boquete after a 10-hour bus ride from Panama City. Boquete is a small rural town in the inland of the country. It is mostly known for its proximity to Panamas tallest volcano; Volcan Baru.
The last two days have been exhausting for me. Yesterday, I started my morning by running three miles. However, between dodging cars (even at 630 AM) and the 55% humidity, I was as physically exhausted as I have been in a while. I decided to follow up my run, with a three-hour stroll in the city’s famous Casco Viejo neighborhood. Surprisingly, there were few people out and about at 830 AM which made walking around a much more enjoyable experience. Due to the World Youth Fair and the visit from the Catholic Pope, there was a heavy police presence throughout which added an extra layer of security. I was able to visit Panama’s National History Museum for only $1 USD, which was well worth the price of admission. I eventually went back to my hotel where I was able to pay $3 USD for breakfast. I also found out that the U.S. government was finally opening back up after being “shutdown” for 35 days, which also means I officially have to use vacation days for the remainder of the trip.
In the afternoon, I wanted to take the ferry to Tobago Island located in the Panama Bay. However, by the time I made my way down the Amador Causeway, I arrived right before the last boat departed with no return trip until the next day. While disappointed, I did see some pretty nice panoramic views of Panama City on the way back on the bus. As I was making my way back to my hotel, I had to fight my way through (literally) thousands of children and several strategic roadblocks placed throughout the city as preparations were under way for the World Youth Fair. When you add 90-degree heat with high humidity, I barely had enough energy to eat dinner before passing out in my bed.
This morning I wanted to keep my physical fitness effort up, so I took a taxi to a nearby gym. I had to pay $5 USD for a workout session. While the gym wasn’t LA Fitness, it was decent given the circumstances. I didn’t get much cardio in, but I was able to complete my full lifting regiment. After the gym, the traffic going home was brutal as the taxi driver had to drive me halfway across town just to dodge it. What should have been a quick 10-minute ride, turned into half an hour. This also put me behind the curveball regarding catching the bus to David (and subsequently Boquete). Fortunately, I was able to take a quick shower and get to the bus terminal 10 minutes before the 10 AM bus.
I was given the first seat on the top deck of the bus. While this provided great views, it also exposed me to the scorching Panamanian sun. I also had to ration my phones energy to where I could entertain myself for 8 hours and have enough battery to find my hotel once I got to Boquete. While the bus ride wasn’t extremely comfortable, it was tolerable. I arrived in David at 545 PM, about 15 minutes before the buses stopped running to Boquete. About an hour and a half later, I was walking down main street in Boquete trying to hail a cab. Between their only being 6 cabs in the town and the drivers not wanting to drive out of their way to take me to my hotel, the task proved to be more difficult than I expected. I was finally able to highjack a cab from a guy who looked like he was going to eat dinner and by 830 PM, I had made it to my hotel (which happened to be a castle). Now, I am getting ready to go to sleep as I have a long day tomorrow as I attempt to hike Volcan Baru…….
Today is January 24,2019. It also served as a stark reminder of the reasons that I love and hate traveling as I visited the Miraflores Lock of the Panama Canal.
I want to start by saying that I love to travel because it involves discovering new things and cultures one wouldn’t otherwise have access to back in their home country. With that being said, the thing that I hate most about traveling is tourism. Given how much I hate tourists, this was probably the worst week of the year for me to be in Panama City given that it was hosting both the World Youth Fair and the Catholic Pope (am I the only one who finds this to be depressing ironic). Not only were tourists’ services such as the “Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus” unavailable, but regular public services were severely strained given the sudden influx of guests.
As far as my day goes, I woke up at 830 AM, which meant I only got 4 hours of sleep. As much as I tried, I could not go back to sleep. Given the fact that I will only be Panama City for 2 days, I decided just to get the canal knocked out immediately. The Panama Canal is one of the worlds most important landmarks in terms of the world’s commercial trade as it provides easy passage for vessels from the Pacific to Atlantic Oceans. It was controlled by the United States up until the year 2000 when it was handed back to the Panamanian government as a result of the Carter-Torrijos treaty. Today, the canal’s Miraflores Lock serves as the premier tourist destination in Central America.
I left my hotel at 9 AM and headed to the Albrook Mall where the national bus terminal was located. Although I could have easily taken an Uber to Miraflores for $4 USD, I decided to be adventurous. I took a taxi for $2 USD and, when I arrived to Albrook, it was the textbook definition of a zoo as people (mostly groups of children) were everywhere. I went to the information booth and found out that I had to purchase a metro card in order to take the bus or the metro. There was a machine that dispensed them for $2 USD. After getting some water at the market, I headed to the bus stop. It seemed that even the buses were confused, as all of them were parked and several seemed to be boxed in. When I went to ask the attendant about the bus to Miraflores, he said one would be there in an hour. I almost called an Uber on the spot, but then I thought, what else do I have to do today? So, I sat and waited……
The bus did arrive within the hour and there was a sudden scramble to get on. I actually was the second one on the bus, but of course my bus card didn’t work because it had no money on it. It turns out that $2 USD that I paid at the machine……didn’t actually put money on the card. So, after pushing my way back out of the crowd, I ran to the machine and put $5 USD on the card. I was able to make it back to the bus and board. I was the second to last person on, which turned out to be a good thing because people were literally stacked on top of each other. The bus ride consisted of the kids chanting non-stop. While it was cute for the first 5 minutes, it became increasingly annoying over the 30-minute bus ride.
I finally arrived to Miraflores where a guy immediately tried to sell me tickets to an IMAX movie about the canal. After getting rid of him, I was able to find the real ticket booth which charged me $20 USD for a ticket. While definitely a little steep as far as price, I figured this would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The canal had a 4-floor museum and a theatre (separate from the IMAX). The museum was small but informative. I spent about 30 minutes wondering around, and only left because there were so many people. The theatre was like a standard high school auditorium and I ended up having to sit on the floor because of all the kids. The movie itself was 10 minutes in complete Spanish. I understood the concept and about 75% of the words which speaks to how much my Spanish has improved over the years. After the movie, I left and took some tourist pictures of the canal and found out that a boat would actually pass through at 3PM. Unfortunately, it was 1230 and I wasn’t going to hang around for another 2 and a half hours to see a boat.
After taking pictures, I decided it was time to go. I went back out to the bus stop to find out the bus had just passed through and wouldn’t be back for an hour. I looked at the price for an Uber to my hotel, which was now at $5 USD. I decided to ask a taxi driver. Of course, he attempted to rip me off as he wanted to charge me $10 USD to not even take me all the way to my hotel (he wanted to drop me at the corner). He also got angry when I laughed in his face and walked away. I was just about to pull up the Uber app again, when lo and behold, the majestic camioneta rolled up to the curb. Only $1 USD to ride back to Albrook terminal. While the bus was only .75 cents, I thought the comfort of an airconditioned van was well worth an extra quarter. And with that, my trip to the Panama Canal was concluded.
Today is January 23, 2019 and I have just arrived in Panama City to begin my latest adventure in Central America. I initially thought I hit the jackpot when I was able to do a last-minute roundtrip flight change for only $80 out of pocket. However, what I didn’t pay in dollars, I paid in time and comfort. What normally should have been a 5-hour flight turned into a 12 hour one because I opted to travel on the cheap.
My trip started at 12 pm when my Uber picked me up from my apartment in Washington DC. Because I am a “budget” traveler, I opted for the Uber Pool because it was $12 cheaper than the straight shot. Well it must have been my lucky day because I ended up being the only one on the route, so it turned out to be a regular Uber ride regardless. I arrived at Reagan National (DCA) Airport at 1pm even though my flight was not until 330 pm and I had technically checked in online. However, I was a little concerned regarding the security lines given that the TSA Agents at many airports are understaffed due to (still) having to work without receiving a paycheck. However, between having TSA Precheck (due to my enrollment in Global Entry) and the professionalism of the agents that are working, it took me more time to dig my passport out of my bag than to go through the security line. Given DCA’s size, it didn’t take me much longer to find my gate. So, I sat and waited for about 2 hours for my flight to Fort Lauderdale. My flight to Fort Lauderdale started out rocky, as I the flight attendant got mad at me for not paying attention to her exit row brief. After loudly making the point that she should actively try get my attention next time instead of coming over and randomly waiving her arms around, I took the opportunity to move right to the first row as I was in the middle seat anyway and might as well get off the plane first. While I was crammed in the middle of two heavier gentlemen during the 3-hour flight, I was the second person off the plane.
Once I arrived in Fort Lauderdale, I found out I had to leave the terminal and take a shuttle to another terminal because I was taking a different carrier to Panama City. Fortunately for me, I had 5 hours to kill anyway. After making my way back through security (also a fairly quick experience), I was able to find an “authentic” Cuban restaurant aimed at tourists. Surprisingly, despite being in an airport, I only paid $15 (including tip) for a raspberry tea, empanada, and Cuban sandwich. Of course, the coffee machine was broken so I couldn’t get the full Miami experience with the café con leche. Regardless, it was better than Burger King. I spent the rest of my wait time, messing around with my travel site and charging my phone.
I arrived in Panama City at 2 am, or muy temprano. Given how early it was, it was not surprising that there was no one in the customs lines. However, what was surprising was that there were about 12 agents on shift processing paperwork. As a result, it took me less time to pass through immigration than it did to get off the plane and walk there. Tocumen International Airport was about 45 minutes away from the city (and my hotel) and I knew that taking a taxi from the airport would run me about $30 USD. However, what I didn’t know (and was pleasantly surprised to find out) was that an Uber ride (yes, Panama City has Uber) was only $13 USD. I gladly ordered the car through my phone, and 10 minutes later I was heading towards my hotel. The drive itself was about 45 minutes, and the same drive in the United States would have easily been over $50 USD so I already had a good impression of the city. As for the visuals, it was way too dark to see anything substantial, but I could sense that Panama City was easily the most developed in Central America. I was a little worried that because I arrived so early that there would be no one at the front desk, however, my concerns were alleviated as I was greeted by both a security guard and a receptionist when I arrived at 330 AM. I immediately went to my room and was asleep by 4 AM.