I’ve been in Panama City, Panama for a total of two days now. I wish that I would have known some things about the country before getting here. So, if you plan on visiting this country, please read the following carefully!
1. Stay as close to where you want to be as possible – I’m staying at a hostel called Hostel Aleman. It’s a nice place to stay. Free breakfast cooked fresh with farm fresh eggs, freshly made juice, fresh cut pineapple and watermelon, and toast have all been on the menu every day. It’s only about 4 or 5 miles from the host hotel (the Trump Towers), but it takes a good 30 minutes to go that far by car if traffic is bad… which is most of the time. To avoid as many headaches as possible, avoid renting a car and get a taxi ride from the airport to your lodging location while here. The roads are very confusing and they resemble a drawing that a 2 year old made.
2. Rules of the road (or lack thereof) – Panamanians drive on the right side of the road… and that’s about the only thing you can count on. The number of lanes in the road has nothing to do with the number of rows of cars on the road. I was driving down the corridor today and people started passing me on the shoulder and then nosing their way back into the flow of traffic when the shoulder stopped at the bridge. No… it wasn’t nosing their way back in… it was “get out of my way or you’ll be responsible for me going over the barrier to the street below” back into the flow of traffic. Police officers put their flashers on just to get around you. They aren’t chasing anyone… they would rather not get caught for drafting, I guess. Stop signs are going out of style here. They can only be found at a few street corners. You may be on the main road in the intersection… but that doesn’t give you the right of way. Always be cautious. On the other hand, if you’re trying to get on the main road or cross the main road, eventually you’re going to have to just gun it and go for it. Otherwise not only will you be stuck at the intersection for the unforeseeable future, but you’ll make all the cars behind you angry and a chorus of honking will start after about 5 seconds of being stationary.
Honking doesn’t exactly mean “move.” If a taxi is empty of a passenger, they communicate with walkers to let them know they don’t have a customer by honking their horn and staring at the pedestrian. Buses honk their horn almost non-stop to let you know that something much bigger than you is coming up behind. Most of these buses are easily noticeable with their graffiti purposely painted on them and things that look like pom-poms on the wheels that stream along when the bus is moving.
If there is an empty spot, you must take it… no hesitation. If you think about things like, “is there someone in blind spot,” or “put blinker on first then move,” you’ve waited to long and now that spot you needed to get to is gone. Just move and be sure to be aggressive. Only stop if the other person doesn’t and hope that they see you!
I don’t even want to confess about how many traffic violations I did just today. I just hope that I can shake these bad habits when I return to Louisville.
3. Always wear your clothes – It’s a bit warm in Panama… mid 90’s most days. I went for a walk today and decided I’d work on my tan at the same time. I didn’t make it but 5 minutes down the road and a cop stopped me and sent me back to put a shirt on. I guess I’ll be coming home with a nice farmers tan that will probably last the entire summer.
4. GPS status – If you’re lucky enough to own a smart phone… or maybe not stuck in the stone age of phones, like me, don’t bother renting a GPS unit if you do decide to get a car. I’ve resorted to finding the GPS coordinates of places on the internet and then searching for it that way. My GPS couldn’t even find the Host Hotel (the Trump Towers), or the park where transition is staged at. I usually don’t even take the roads it asks me to take and try to run parallel to the route on a side street because the main roads are so congested with traffic. Lesson learned here… either get a smart phone (which isn’t going to happen) or take a taxi everywhere. But, I’m stubborn and figured if I rented a car I better use it. So I’m stuck being frustrated.
Once this race is done, I’m going to get as far from the city as possible and find a nice beach and/or mountain area to hang out in. I’ll wake up early to get out of town and get back late at night hopefully after the traffic is manageable. Playa La Angosta looks to be nice…