August 31, 2009
Will you look at this place? If the toothy glass skyline doesn't faze you, then the diablos rojos (painted public buses) might. By sight they're groovy--hand painted with pop icons, devilish cartoons and portraits of the driver's progeny. But in practice they're scary--barely regulated, they've been known to make pedestrians bowling pins when breaks fail. One word: Cuidado!
Your other option are taxis. These too are barely regulated. Yours might be missing a bumper, seatbelt or door handles. The best practice is pricing before playing, as gringo features usually double the fare, which also flexes with the weather and your eminent need.
Few taxis actually want to go where you do--many will refuse the fare. Those who will take you won't know the address and don't read maps. Then there was the driver with the Bin Laden sticker that I hadn't noticed until we were half-way gone...For the traveler, it's a seminar in Advanced Negotiation, Cartography and Blind Faith. For the driver, it's Sucker 101, every day...
My advice? Suck it up and learn the ropes because Panama City is not to be missed. The people are shouters, the traffic ugly, but Panama City pulses. A walk across the city revealed suited businessmen eating snow cones, dudes casually toting twisted rebar and a jelly shoe diving off a balcony (take particular care under these!) Hard to believe that just beyond this cement jungle, and really, I mean just past the mega mall, lies a tremendous tropical forest where your thoughts are drowned out by the chatter of birds and the buzz of giant crickets.
You just have to get there.