After we stepped out of the customs holding pen, we made our way slowly through the city to a hostel. Our first impressions of Panama City was that it was a slightly lesser version of Florida, with KFCs, Burger Kings, Papa Johns, Dunkin Donuts, and malls everywhere. We took a taxi to the metro station to Zebulo Hostel, where the very friendly owner-receptionist from France greeted our very sweaty selves. Possibly due to low season, or possibly seeing the puddles of sweat that had accumulated under Laurent, she kindly upgraded us to a room with air conditioning. We dropped our stuff off and began our blitz through the city.
Our first stop was to find some food. Nearby the hostel (located apparently in a business district), there was a parking lot with fancy food trucks which the owner recommended to us. We selected one of them for their lunch specials, and had a very lovely meal for USD $5.50 each including iced tea, soup, delicious pork chops and chicken parmesan, and a piece of cake for dessert. With our bellies sufficiently stuffed, we made our way to the city centre.
Through the apparent China town, we started our little city tour. The Lonely Planet informed us later that 10% of the city’s residents are Chinese immigrants, which we thought was pretty interesting. After munching on one of the prolific snowcones, we proceeded to Casco Viejo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (in)famous by the raid and looting by Welsh pirate Henry Morgan. He apparently drank himself to death by rum, and Caption Morgan’s rum was named after him. Now, his notoriety is not so much remembered for all the awful things he did to Latin America, but instead, college students certainly curse his name for all the things that happened the night before. Walking through Casco Viejo, little of the pirate’s imagery is projected, since the area has become very trendy with many upscale restaurants catering to foreigners and Panama’s extremely wealthy upper class. We settled on a cheaper mojito and took our drinks to the port to watch the sunset, before heading back to the hostel to eat instant noodles for dinner.
The next day, we got up bright and early and took a public bus to the world famous Panama Canal. At the Miraflores locks, tourists were teeming everywhere, eager to crane over each other for a glimpse of a large ship going through the canal. We were lucky, and were able to watch a very large Greek ship travel a small portion of its journey through 2 locks. The process was highly organized, and we were acutely aware that we had become true minions of capitalism. After all, we paid USD $15.00 to stand and watch free trade and global markets in action. We walked briefly through the museum, reading in awe at the engineering feats of the new canal that opened last year that would allow even larger ships through, and then to the movie theatre. By golly, that was truly something else. Bannon would be jealous of this propaganda work in action, and we looked at each other smugly and rolled our eyes as the movie declared that Panama decided to form an alliance with the United States (as if that was really their choice) and celebrated human and engineering achievement in building the canal (while neglecting to mention the human toll of the public works project). 15 minutes later, it was over, and we left.
With the two main tourist attractions checked off our list in Panama City, we were free to begin our hitchhiking journey to Costa Rica. We first took a bus out of town a little past Chame, and not long at all, the first massive truck rolled by and stopped. We were giddy, having never been inside the cabin of a long haul truck before, and marveled at its spacious interior. Without much time in between getting picked up, we had little sense of where we got dropped off each time. After we did by the big truck, we were picked up by a green pickup truck with a man and his daughter, and then by a truck delivering ice, and then by a nice white SUV with a friendly and very energetic great-grandfather and his grandson driving to a wedding, who took us all the way to David. With less than 10 minutes waiting each time, a total of 4 cars took us just under 400km across Panama. We were pretty happy with this accomplishment, and went to sleep at Casa 25, a very Italian decorated comfortable budget hostel located just outside David near the Pan-American highway. It was perfect for our purposes.
The next day, we continued onwards. We first got in small black car that took us a little further. After the car dropped us off in front of a restaurant, a car pulled up, and offered us some unsolicited hitchhiking advice. They seemed eager that we follow it, and did not leave until we walked in their suggested direction. A few moments later, a nice car with two very friendly men picked us up, and during a gas break, even bought us some Gatorade. They brought us right to the border to Costa Rica, and we left Panama 2 days after we arrived.
Panama was a little expensive and a little too “Florida” for us. However, we did see that some other people very much enjoy the little country, and our short fleeting encounters with some Panamanians proved to us just how friendly they are. Hitchhiking in the country was an absolute breeze, and we highly recommend it!