December 8, 2006
I’m writing just to let everyone know that I’m still on for leaving Panama City
December 8, 2006
I’m writing just to let everyone know that I’m still on for leaving Panama City
December 7, 2006
I’m tired so this will be short.
I had a blast tonite. The folk dancing show was really, really fun. And my new
UK/soon to be Spain friends [Janet and Eric] are a lot of fun and very entertaining
[mostly I’m sure due to their accent]. We closed the place down.
Today I hiked in the jungle. The cabbie was going to drop me off in the middle of
the park where there is just a hut. NOTHING and no one else around. I made him
come in with me to make sure I wouldn’t be stranded, and there was a woman working
and said this was the trailhead. There are 5 trails, most interconnect with each
other. I did 3, which lasted about 3 hours. I hiked to the top of the mountain,
which is the 2nd highest place in Panama City. The views were really pretty.
Panama City looks really pretty from a distance. The jungle had beautiful
butterflies, funky insects, lots of birds, huge, huge beautiful trees, I saw [I
think] sloths up in the trees, various small critters, and something that looked
like a deer [I saw his back end as he ran from me]. I didn’t see another person.
The woman at the hut explained the trails, and asked what I wanted to hike. She
then personally walked me to the trailhead. I was ending at a place that had a
building on the map, and she said that is where I would get a cab back into town.
I get to the end, and next to a road is a 3’ x 3’ building. Empty. I then saw a
young man having lunch and reading. I asked him how I get a cab, and I realized
that I need to just stand at the road and wait for a cab to come by and pick me up.
Great. Wonder how long this will take?
Come to find out...10 seconds. A cab stopped. He already had someone in there, but
he picked me up. We [of course] were in a traffic jam and someone got out of a car,
spoke to the cabbie, and then got in. So, he had a full load. He stopped to buy
gas, but only bought $3 worth. Not worth the stop, if you ask me...but he must have
some sort of system he uses.
I ended up being the last one out, and the whole time it was just us, he kept telling
me how beautiful I was. Picture this... me hiking 3 hours in 90’ heat, in the humid,
no air is flowing jungle, with hat and in full clothes. Even that sight doesn’t
discourage the men here. Sheesh.
December 6, 2006
Today went well. I met up with Eduardo after bfast and he was as nice and pleasant
as can be. I couldn’t ask for anything more...except that he know some more English.
He knew as much English as I knew Spanish. Which meant a LOT of gesturing. I
gesture quietly, but since he’s a guy...he added all the appropriate sounds. He
taught me a bunch of Spanish words, I taught him “traffic jam”. He REALLY liked
I paid Eduardo upfront...just in case we got mugged – the mugger would be taking
his money, NOT mine.
When one person rides in a cab here, they sit in the jump seat/passenger seat, and
not in back. When we got in his cab, the first thing he did was turn the radio on,
and seemed relieved that the battery worked. Then he started it up. He also has a
small TV, which sits on the dash below/under the rear view mirror...and kept saying
“black and white”. He gets stations from Miami.
When we were near the Panama Canal, suddenly there were all these nice houses with
fences and burglar bars. He said this is where the Americans lived. Then he pointed
out the American school, and other buildings the Americans used or lived in.
The Panama Canal and locks are as impressive as one would think. The surrounding
landscape is very green and very pretty.
When we went to the Casco Viejo area so I could take some photos, there were several
places where we just parked the car, walked a block or a half so I could take a photo
and then we went to the next place. He walked in the middle of the street every
chance he could - no sidewalks for him.
Get this...he said my purse is safer under my passenger seat in his parked cab than
on my body. His parked cab is unlocked with the windows down! So, we are in this
unbelievably seedy area, with A LOT of men just hanging around, and I’m leaving my
purse IN THE CAR, completely unlocked and windows down, but under the seat.
Granted, I had $2 in my purse and chapstick...so there wasn’t anything of value
to steal, but I am still trying to comprehend the fact that it was safer in his car
than on my body!
The only other interesting tidbit of note is that when we were driving to the “ruins”
of the first settlement here [opposite direction – furthest away from and still be
in Panama City - of Casco Viejo], we went thru an area called San Francisco. LOTS
of high rises being built with a view of the water. LOTS. There are hardly any
billboards in Panama City, but there were several in this area [if there is a
billboard, it is usually on the side of the overpass as you drive by/under] ...
all in English and the models were all Anglo. So, this must be where the Americans
are going to live. Between the hi-rises under construction is Shantytown. Extreme
luxury looking out over extreme poverty.
I had dinner with the couple next door. Tomorrow is when we go to the folk/native
dancing show [no show tonite]. They are retiring to Spain in January. I think
they thought I was “mad” when I got all excited and asked them if they knew “Tony
[the cabbie] from 49 UP”. 49 UP was released in the states in November, and Tony’s
family bought a place in Spain and are retiring there too!!!” So, now I have 2 data
points and can say with confidence...that people in the UK are retiring to Spain!
Ha ha ha.
If you are unfamiliar with the UP series of films...run out right now and rent 49
UP, 42 UP... Netflix has them all [except 28 UP]. If you want more info ...email
me. If you want to discuss after viewing...I would LOVE it.
I’m tired. Tomorrow I plan on hiking in the jungle – the park in the city. I truly
have no idea what to expect with this!
When I started today, I was going to have bfast and then I was going to hike in
the National Park in the city, which is a jungle. A guy I met on the plane told
me his 2 favorite bfast places. So, heeding the advice of locals, I got a cab to
go about a half a mile to the bfast place...but it was closed/out of business.
So, I went to the second place, which is the oldest café in PC [I was the only
woman in the place]. There were all “kinds” of people with varying shades of
dark skin in the place, all intermixed and talking together. I had read this
about panama, so it was nice to see various races/ethnics getting along well
This is in the area called Casco Viejo. The oldest part of Panama City is Panama
Viejo, and what is there is literally “ruins”. Casco Viejo is where they settled
again a century later and that is what grew to be Panama City. This is where
the presidential palace is and this is where I wanted to explore yesterday but was
told not to.
So, I took a cab over this morning for bfast and thought I would people watch in
the café, and watch the people outside, and then go hiking.
After I finished bfast, a hippy-ish woman [around 50] and a young couple [early
20’s] came in and sat at the next table. At first I thought she was a guide, cuz
she spoke English [first time I’ve heard it here] and she immediately was telling
them about the café, and then she pointed outside and was telling them how
dangerous it was to walk around.
Later I realized they some how know each other. As they were leaving, I asked her
what she thought about me walking alone.
* Never walk around here...it is too dangerous
* If you must walk, always be aware of who is around you and who is following you.
Try to walk in the middle of the street, if you can [which is impossible in this
chaotic car/cabbie city]. Keep crossing the street, make 90’ turns, go in and
out of churches and shops, and keep zig zagging so that you are not followed.
She said most muggers are needing $ for a drug fix. Their typical MO is to follow
you and then mug you. The other MO is that they work in teams...the old spill
something on you, ask you something, or newspaper rouse [of which I know them
all]...so, don’t fall for it. I did take some comfort in that...since my main
concern is a guy coming from out of nowhere and mugging me. I can handle the
“team diversion” [which is very popular in Europe], and if someone is following
* NEVER walk after it’s dark. Anywhere. Take a cab even if it’s 2 blocks.
They were on their way over to the presidential palace area, and invited me to
join them. Which I did. They were fun and pleasant. She’s lived here for about
one year. The young man is her son.
I hung out with them for hours [as we zig zagged and watched who was following us]
and we explored all over Casco Viejo. I sure wish I had my camera.
It was rare to see a building that didn’t need to be demolished. There were either
shells of buildings, or the bottom floor was a store/shop and the top was a shell.
And the bottom floor was not pleasant at all. It looked like how one would imagine
Germany or France looked like after WWII. The city has a longgg way to go. And
you should see the wad of electrical wires hanging outside of the buildings. I’ll
get a photo of that. Even my next door neighbor commented on the electrical wires.
The hippy lady said that when the Americans were here, they stayed in a compound-
like area...most of the Americans...and shopped at their stores, went to their
schools... so when the US gave the canal back to Panama, the Americans just up and
left from that area. They did not assimilate. That is why you don’t see any
Americans or hear English.
She said she’s been coming here for years [she lived in Costa Rica for a decade]
and this is sooo much nicer than it was just a few years ago. When I told her
that I had read that there were supposed to be a lot of people who speak English,
she just laughed at me. She’s Canadian.
She said that I would probably be relatively ok if I had a cabbie that would take
me around and I could take photos. Mostly becuz I would be taking a photo, getting
in the cab and moving...so tough to be followed and mugged. She said black cabbies
usually spoke English.
Before dinner I rode down the elevator with the couple next door, and then on my
way back up, they were on the same elevator. They are probably early 50’s and are
from the UK. I know I haven’t put into words my feel/vibe of Panama City [besides
safety and no English], so it’s tough to write about me meeting them without you
knowing all... but I will anyways [more later in this email or next...depending
upon how long this ends up being]. They arrived in mid September and will be here
until January. They HATE IT HERE. Hate it. It’s rainy, thus muddy and cementy
[lots of construction], which are messing up their pants and shoes, there are horns
honking 24/7, traffic jams, “cabbies gone wild”, lots of accidents [including one
of their cabbies which they were in], and the state of the cabs, the state of the
buses, can’t walk around, nothing to “see” – either poverty, construction sites or
what looks to be post WWII Berlin or France...
I am not sure why they don’t leave, but they are sticking around for a few more
I asked her what she does all day long, and in a very proper British accent said
“Well, I go to the Intercontinental [fancy hotel across the street] each day and
work out for 3 hours [as she tugged on the waist of her pants]. I lost so much
weight I need to buy new trousers!” He answered: “I play on the internet all day.”
To which I broke up in hysterics! One...cuz I am not alone in my assessment of this
place, and two, can you imagine them being here for months, literally cooped up in
their apartment and don’t feel as though they can leave?
He mentioned that they read that Trump is building a condo tower here. And they
too had heard all these Americans are moving here...so they thought they would come
and check it out. He got out the magazine that wrote about the Trump tower – very
nice architecture – looks like a sailboat. The type of place is called something
like “city living”. I asked if they knew what that meant and they laughed and
said it must be that EVERYTHING you need is in that tower, so you have no reason
or need to ever leave...cuz you wouldn’t want to.
They were really relieved to meet me, since they thought it was just them that had
the same vibe of this place. We are planning on going to listen to some folk music
either tomorrow or Thursday nite together. They seem like a fun couple [under
At dinner I continued on my search of the best tres leches [a white cake with 3
types of creams/milks poured over it], which is a dessert. My waitress spoke a
little English. I asked her if she knew a cabbie that spoke English. No.
However, there is another waitress whose husband drives a cab. He doesn’t speak
any English, but if I point to places on the map, he would take me around. So,
I have hired him and will be out exploring and taking photos tomorrow morning.
I’m sending out positive vibes and anticipate I will come home with my $ and my
Tonight I went to see a flamenco dance. I doubt this is native to Panama, but
thought it would be fun/interesting to do on a Tuesday nite. They prefer that you
have dinner there, but you know me and food...so, I came after the “dinner time”.
It was fun, but it sure doesn’t seem like the dancers are enjoying themselves.
There was a big group of guys [10 – 12, and my take was that they were more
business colleagues than buddies] who came in right after it started, so I didn’t
hear them speak, but looking at them, they seemed American or from the UK, and
seemed to have imbibed in one too many drinks before they arrived. They started
drinking aplenty once they sat down.
The crowd was pretty dull, and then suddenly out of a half sleep, the bloated guy at
the end of that table [group mentioned above] started clapping with fervor...you
know...that flamenco clapping that they do [along with the man on stage]. The price
of admission alone was worth seeing his colleagues’ heads spin around, eyes wide
open, in what looked like disbelief at him clapping along. Ha! But as we know...it
just takes one person, and slowly another person started clapping, and another...
and soon the crowd wasn’t dull anymore.
Late yesterday I had the apt people give me the key/handle so that I can open up the
windows and have fresh air in my apt, not fake air. I think the reason this isn’t
automatically in the apt is cuz you can open up huge windows and there is nothing
there to keep you from falling out. Most of the apts here seem to have a ledge
outside the window [not too many balconies here], which has an AC, and also space
for plants or something. Not big enough for a chair. However, it is literally a
flat ledge – no edge or railing to keep you or anything from falling over.
So, I opened up all my windows – I’m on the 15th floor, and there are these fantastic
breezes – cool, not humid and just gusting. In my bed, I truly feel as though I am
on the deck of a sailboat cuz it is that nice, cool breeze just whipping around. I
simply can’t imagine why everyone doesn’t just open up their windows and enjoy.
Well...besides all the NOISE. NYC has nothing on this place. VERY loud...but that
is what ear plugs are for.
What’s with all the car horns honking? Cabbies will honk their horn at you if you
are walking on the sidewalk, I suppose trying to find out if you need a ride or not.
Cabbies/regular cars will honk their horn at you if you are walking on the sidewalk,
I suppose so that you know they are there in case you suddenly decide to run into
the street to get hit! All cars will honk their horn at an intersection to let
others know that they are entering the intersection... so don’t hit them!
OH...I changed up my flight and will be coming back on Saturday.
This morning I went to the office of the place that rents the apartments. There
were 4 women in their 20's who work there. I was asking my typical 20 Tourist
Questions. I said I wanted to walk over to the old part of Panama City ...and
what they thought of that. I had read mixed messages online re the walk. The
women responded with: “OH NO!! It’s December". So, should I cab it...and then
walk around? "OH NO! it's December".
Come to find out...December is dangerous because of ... Christmas. Apparently
their bad guys don't have money for Christmas, so they mug people all over Panama
City. Especially the areas one would want to explore. Any other time of year, it
would be relatively ok to walk around ...but NOT December.
And this...is coming from the office that is renting out apartments in town to
tourists [no sugar coating things for them!].
I told them I could easily dress down. Nope, they don't care...they mug everyone.
I mentioned something about looking like I don't live here...and thus a target.
Again, nope...they don't care..."they mug everyone".
What about hiring a "beard"...a big local guy to hang around with me while I
explore. Nope...then they will mug both of you.
You are only "safe" if you are in a group. They recommended that I join a tour
[Spanish speaking] so that I can just hang with others while I walk around.
HOWEVER, if I take any photos, I need to hurry up and get in a cab when the tour
is over... so a mugger doesn’t steal my camera.
According to the ladies of the office, the only "safe" places are the area around
where I am staying [and a one minute walk around here and you have had your fill
of the scenery], and the National Park, which is located in the city. The Park is
a jungle. Seriously. So...being in the jungle is safer than walking the streets
here? Yes...in December.
My "marker" re where I am staying is the fancy Intercontinental Hotel. I decided
to go over there and get a second opinion. I asked open ended questions, and got
the same answers. It’s December!
So...if I can't explore without feeling safe...why am I here? I feel like a caged
tiger. I even mentioned to the office ladies about purposely not carrying much
money on me...so they don't take much. And they told me that that would just make
the mugger angry and he would hurt me. Great.
The other thing is, I have yet to hear English being spoken. One of the reasons I
came here is cuz so many people were supposed to speak English...thus easier to get
around and communicate. When I ask if anyone speaks English, there is usually
someone [out of several] who will say "a little".
So, not feeling safe is a deal killer. But on top of that, not being able to
communicate just puts it over the edge.
It’s not impossible for me to communicate here [I could if I put forth the effort],
but if I am going to have language barriers, I would rather be in France or Italy
or any where in Europe.
I suppose it was pretty aggressive for me to think I would want to hang here for
a month without ever being here before. After all...how bad could it be? I kept
thinking...worst case scenario...I’ll sit at a cafe or coffee shop, watch people,
and read a book. Well...duh...this isn't Europe! That doesn't exist. Or doesn't
exist anywhere near what I have in mind.
There are also some other concerns, but it really doesn't matter, since the above
speaks enough for itself.
I told the apt rental people here that I’m only staying a week. Tomorrow I will
change my flight coming back. I don't think any place else in the "area"
interests me. I suppose, gut feel, there is a reason I have never explored this
part of the world before [when it was so close when I lived in Houston].
All the above said, today I used my 20 some years of street smarts/living in crime
infested Houston and Baltimore and put on my "Don't F With Me" face and walk, and
did explore the area that is "safe". However, it wouldn't have made my top 20 list
of things to do. BUT, I did get honked/whistled at, an unbelievable amount of
times. This place puts Italy to shame. Would have enjoyed it more if I thought
Panamanian men were even remotely attractive. Ha.
December 3, 2006
I had been back in Baltimore for a couple months and decided I would leave the
cold and snow and travel to some place warmer. I decided I should go to some
place in Central America. Years ago when I was at University, a good friend
of mine grew up in Panama City and LOVED it there. I had always remembered
that. I did some research on Panama City and discovered that a lot of
Americans are moving there to retire. Other interesting tidbits:
* One can drink the water
* They use the American dollar
* Safest of all Central American cities [which I learned isn’t saying much]
* uses the same electricity as the US
* More internet available than in the US
* Lots of people speak English [from the days when the US owned the Canal]
So, I rented an apartment in a high rise for the month of December.
I thought I would just hang in the city and also explore other parts
of Panama. I would learn some Spanish, surf, explore...after all,
how bad can it be? Worst case scenario, I will sit in a coffee
shop and people watch.