The entrance to Panama City is very impressive but I almost missed it and not because it is over in a flash. My head was down trying to navigate the frustrating GPS app on my phone and when I looked up we had turned a corner and were starting to ascend the Bridge of the Americas.
I’d like to think it was because it took me off guard that I squealed and assumed the fetal position. Generally I enjoy heights. It’s one of my goals in life to jump from a plane. But at this moment in time, my body and raw emotion, were firmly in the driver’s seat and I felt like a passenger. My husband, calm, cool and collected (but feeling like he’d picked up a random hyperventilating hitch hiker) encouraged me to look at the gorgeous skyline (it was)…
and the beautiful boats in the harbour (they were).
I was having none of it. If he had noticed the skyline and the boats that meant he had taken his eye off this crusty old bridge that no longer sported brightly coloured lines telling us where exactly our lane was. SOMEBODY had to watch the road!
We had three more occasions to cross that d@&% bridge. Each time I got better at it and each time I enjoyed the view a bit more. Each time I focused on breathing and each time my body tensed in a very strange and involuntary way. People who deal with fear regularly know how to handle it. They have skills in their back pocket that they have developed over time and can pull out in order to function in life. When it’s not a regular part of your emotional terrain…you find out you’re lacking in any skills of this sort. Nothing. Nada.
This is the upside and, I suppose downside, of travelling. You don’t just learn things about the people and places you’re visiting but on occasion you find you are a visitor in your own body and you learn new things about yourself. Especially when important things are being challenged like safety and security but also when your understanding of the world around you is shifting, when your sense of propriety is seemingly disregarded and social cues are misunderstood. Journeys of land and sea and soul are the all-inclusive package of the traveller. Sometimes the terrain is rough but you always learn something. You add experiences to your list and you grow. Or cower. It’s your choice. Sometimes you do both.
Once safely over the bridge we quickly learned that Panama City is a great city in many ways and a city like every other city in many ways. The roads are narrower than what we’re accustomed to and in need of repair. There are many one-way streets. No one lost their gizzards when we accidently went the wrong way on one of them. There are honking cab drivers everywhere…same old story everywhere in the world. Everywhere that I’ve ever been anyhow.
What we found quite unique was how friendly the people were. Our first encounter with this strange friendliness happened on our first day there. We pulled up to a road toll, during rush hour, and realized that we’d gotten into the line that required a prepaid swipe card. The 5:00 p.m. traffic filled in behind us like a rushing river…and stopped abruptly at the damn we’d created. We tried to quickly get a card from the booth attendant. Nope. We were in the wrong line. So we slowly and arduously started to back up. The people behind recognizing what happened backed up too, and we pulled over to the side of the road. Four or five cars went through and a car of beautiful Panamanians pulled up in their convertible with their fancy sunglasses and gleaming white smiles. “Are you trying to go through?” they asked. My husband explained what happened. Our new Panamanian friend said “I will go through and we’ll run the card back to you and you can swipe it again.” Wow!! How nice. So we pulled back into line behind him. Small glitch. You can’t use the same card twice within 5 minutes. Now we were back in line with no way out again. Just as we started to back up…again…the security guard came over and said “Give me a dollar, I’ll swipe my card.” Nice. Very friendly. People coming to the rescue. But the most amazing part about this whole story is this; in the time it took to do all of that, only one horn honked. And when they saw what was happening they never honked again. Remarkable. We told the realtor we’re using this story and she beamed with pride and said, “That’s my Panama.”
There were other occasions over the week we spent there for people to honk their horns at us. We constantly overshot turns and hesitated at corners (while the blue ball on the GPS caught up to us) but overall it wasn’t bad. We’ve become a little impervious to horn honking from driving in Qatar. “Are they honking at us?” yawn “I don’t know, I don’t care.”
People were very friendly off the roads as well, no one selling anything was pushy, the traffic was normal city traffic, cabs are very reasonably priced and even without meters no one tried to rip us off. The subway is new and being used. No complaints about the city really. People’s experiences will all be different of course. It’s what you’re used to. We’re used to crazies ruling the roads and constant obsessive checking in the rearview mirror for people going super fast in the city or on the highways, people wandering into your lane because they’re texting or talking on the phone and constant horn honking. So Panama City seemed like a very sweet version of a big city.
Police are everywhere. I read on a discussion forum that this is new since the government change less than two months ago. While this made me feel very safe, it had the opposite effect on my friend who wanted to know why that was necessary. Crime is part of city life. Every city. Where there is disparity between rich and poor there will be crime. I never once felt nervous. Granted…we were in bed pretty early every night (I’m not telling you how early because it makes me old and lame). Likely I would have felt differently walking around late at night. We were three weeks in Panama without incident…and we were obviously tourists which should have made us targets.
Real Estate: This is what we learned. There’s a glut in the rental market in P.C. I didn’t notice that prices have yet reflected that. Maybe if the prices dropped I’d be interested in buying a rental there but for now…it doesn’t make sense. It’ll be a great place to visit when we have a place in xyz though. (That’s not code for somewhere that we know we’ll live…that’s we-don’t-know-where.)
More pictures for your enjoyment…