Panama City, Panama
I left Bocas Del Toro by water taxi to Almirante (mainland), then I took a bus to Panama City (PC). It was about a 12 hour ride. The bus stopped every 2 hours, therefore the trip was not too bad. A few of the stop we were able to leave the bus for an extended period of time and take fotos and have meals at a local restaurant. The one thing I did not like about the bus trip was the fact that they did not want us to use the bathroom on the bus. They kept it locked almost the entire trip. I assume they did not want people to mess up the bathroom and probably save them money in not having to clean it and pump it out at the end of the trip. I know they stopped every 2 hours but I prefer the freedom of having to go to the bathroom whenever I choose. As a result of the bathroom being closed I had to limit my intake of liquids just in case I had to go real bad and we were still 30 minutes or an hour from the next bathroom stop. Before I bought my ticket for the trip the day before I specifically asked the bus company if they had a bathroom on the bus. The assured me they did. They forgot to leave out the fact the they do not want you to actually use the bathroom on the bus. Very cute.
My trip was almost ruined when I left my Nikon digital camera on the bus at the terminal in Panama City (PC). I had put the camera in the mesh pocket in front of the seat. When the bus arrived in PC I searched to make sure I had all my belongings and departed the bus. I waited and retrieved my 2 other bags from the luggage area under the bus. It was not until 5 minutes after the bus left the station that it hit me that my camera was still on the bus.
Thank God I was at the final station. Obviously I freaked out and ran into the station to find someone who spoke English so I could ask for assistance. I began to ask strangers if they speak English. I finally found a young man who said he was a student at the university and he spoke English. I explained that I needed assistance to locate the bus and driver before the bus left for the return trip. After running around the large station to numerous offices we finally were able to locate the bus company and they called the driver. The driver said he had the camera and would bring it to the ticket office in 30 minutes. The young man actually waited with me at the ticket office until the driver arrived with the camera. I gave the young man a $20 bill and thanked him a few more times for his assistance. The driver made a point to make me aware of how lucky I was because the camera could have easily been taken by someone else or even another drive. I was basically lucky I had him as the drive. It was obvious he also wanted a tip therefore I gave him all the change I had in my wallet. It was about $16 in bills. I was more than happy to pay the $36 to get my camera back. The camera could have been replaced but not all my pictures and videos from Bocas Del Toro.
I stayed in PC for 4 days but it kept raining almost every day. Therefore I decided to leave early and go to Medellin a week earlier than I planned. Panama City was very nice. It reminded me of South Florida. I went downtown and saw the crazy looking office building which is pictured above. I am not sure I would want to work in that building. It did not look very safe, but I am sure it is.
My hotel was on the outskirts of the City. I took the subway system to downtown and I got lost a few times but I never panic. As long as I have money in my pocket and a cell phone I have no problems getting lost. One day I took the subway to the center of the City but I ended up at the bus terminal where I arrived a few days earlier. I had no idea I could have taken the subway from the terminal to my hotel. I asked a policeman which stop to take to get back to the center of the city and he gave me the incorrect information. I ended up in another part of the city which was very commercial but it was not a good area. It was a little seedy and looked unsafe. I walked around for about 30 minutes looking confident like I knew where I was going, then I left the area before it got too dark.
One day I visited a very beautiful but expensive mall close to downtown. I watched the world cup game in the food court as I had lunch. I walked around downtown and it seemed very safe. Another day I visited the famous fish market and Old Town. Old Town reminded me of a similar section of Cartagena, Colombia. A lot of the buildings were under renovation. The ones which were already renovated looked beautiful. I was walking through a section of Old Town and I stopped to take a lot of photos and I noticed a few policemen staring at me. One finally asked me to keep moving. I had no idea why I was getting all this attention until later that afternoon. I was walking through a small park with a big statue and I nice hotel when I saw this nice lady sitting having lunch. I stopped to have a conversation and found out she worked in the presidential building, which was just around the corner where I stopped to take all those pictures earlier. Now it made sense. I was by the presidential building.
The fish market by the wharf is something you have to see if you visit Panama City. I believe they call it the Japanese fish market. Behind the fish market is the area where the boats come in to dock and drop off the catch. I wanted to go on the dock and watch them off load the fish but the entrance had a few military guards. They said I was not allowed to enter the docks. They were also doing random checks of people going in and out. My guess is that they are there to check for drugs entering the Country. Remember Panama is adjacent to Colombia.
There is the main building where they sell fish and other seafood inside (see video on my youtube channel (Carlton’s Travel Adventures). I was amazed at the assortment of fish available in the building and the quantity of fish and other seafood being delivered. There were a lot of large Snook (Robalo) for sale. I was under the impression these size Snooks were being wiped out worldwide, but it appears I am mistaken. There is section outside the main building where they are also selling an assortment of seafood, but the quality does not appear to be that great as the seafood inside the building. I can only assume it is probably cheaper outside.
The one issue I personally have always had with seafood outside the US, is the way they take care of the fish. I have seen them put fish on a piece of board and carry them around the City in the hot sun selling the fish in 90 degree temperature. I have seen this in the beach towns of Colombia and especially the Dominican Republic. They might splash some warm water on the fish every now and then. I am a seasoned fisherman and the meat will definitely get soft and the quality will diminish after as little as 15 minutes without being on ice. I always put my fish directly on ice after I catch them and keep them on ice until they go in my freezer. I have seen guys selling lobster in the hot 90+ degree sun in the Dominican Republic by the side of the road on the way to the airport and the lobsters look dead and the color is gone. I would never eat those lobsters. However, I guess once you are born and live in that environment I guess it does not bother you. I made the mistake of eating fish twice from a restaurant on the beach on Santa Marta, Colombia and in the Dominican Republic and I paid for it within 30 minutes. Both times I had to go to the Pharmacy for something to stop the runs. I guess I have a super sensitive stomach.
I had a pretty good time in Panama City but it rained so much I decided to leave earlier than I planned. I discovered that there were a lot of Venezuelans in PC and they were not being fully accepted by the Panamanians. A few taxi drivers told me they were not welcomed because they “ruined their country and now they are in Panama to ruin Panama”. Additionally, the prostitutes from Venezuela were taking business from the local girls even though they usually charged more.
I do plan on returning to PC to visit some of the smaller towns like Colon, Boquete and David. I keep reading how cheap it is to retire and live in Panama but I found it was quite expensive in the City therefore I must assume they are referring to the smaller towns.
Here are some videos of Old Town Panama City.