Thursday, February 7, 2008

Retirement Travel-Panama

In order to catch our flight to Panama leaving at 6am, we had to get up at 2:45am. We had scouted out a parking lot that was 24 hours and had a monthly rate. For an international flight, the airlines said we had to be at the airport 2 hours in advance. We arrived just before 4, checked in without incident and moved through security. It’s almost worthwhile to take such an early flight- no crowds and the planes leave on time. Announcements for the plane were only in Spanish- no English- quite surprising.

Landing on time three hours later we had to wait almost an hour for our luggage. Of the crowded plane, only two other couples and a single woman were waiting for luggage- the rest, presumably, was “in transit.” Panama is a hub, particularly for Cuban-Americans traveling to Cuba. Points in South America were additional destinations.

After retrieving our bags, we sought a taxi to transport us to the other side of Panama City to the Allbrook Bus Station. The information desk told us the fare would be $30. Having heard that the City was a ‘hole,’ we were pleasantly surprised by the building. Skyscrapers are replacing the barrios, so long neglected. Half of the trip was over a newly constructed toll road that cuts off at least 30 minutes. The renewal reminded us of Singapore and how that hole turned into vital economy.

The bus station is somewhat confusing. We wanted to find the next bus to the second largest city, David. We found a young woman in a line marked “David.” She said that the next bus from this operator was at 3PM. It was now only 11am. In another line, the bus was an express that ran at night.

The third line was long, two or even three busloads. The next bus at 11:30 was closed. The bus after that was scheduled for 12:30, but if we were at the end of this line, we would not have been able to take a bus until 3:30. Seven plus hours would have put us in David after ten with another hour to get to Bocquette and find our house.

A woman in line who spoke English spotted our concern and offered to buy tickets for us. No one behind objected to us cutting in line even though it meant that someone immediately behind us would be forced to take a later bus. We agree that Panamanians are both helpful and used to waiting.

Well, the 11:30 bus did not leave until noon and we figured our bus (that had not arrived and would not until 12:30) would also be delayed. Turned out that we got underway at one o’clock. The first part of the bus trip was the most interesting. We crossed a bridge over the Canal and saw the ships in the wide expanse that makes Panama City a port. The road parallels the Canal for a short distance, and at one spot we were adjacent to one of the many locks. The bus ride is long and, while comfortable, we decided that our return to the City would be with an airline that takes only one hour.

The woman who had helped us in Panama City, led us to the bus to Bocquette. It was just pulling out, but stopped to allow us to board. It was the last one for the night and was supposed to leave at 9, but was pulling out at 8:45. As we moved the sky seemed to open-up and millions of stars were visible in clear, crisp night sky, undiminished by urban light.

We arrived in Bocquette at 9:30. There was no phone at the station, so Murray ventured to the terminal office; “?Donde esta un telefon?”

“Huh?” replied the woman at the desk.


“”Afuera en medio de las puertas”

“Gracias,” I responded, noting that my Spanish needed some work.

We called the residence of our hosts, and Sunshine, who speaks acceptable English, said that Jerry, her husband would pick us up in front of the major Supermarket. Having fifteen minutes before he would arrive, we bought several items we felt essential for the next day.

Jerry found us in the market. While we were both exhausted having traveled for 18 hours, we were delighted with Jerry’s attitude. He spoke English with a Dutch accent, and, while not perfect, was completely understandable. In his Pontiac, we drove up a steep hill to an electronic gate. passing through the gate, we were inside a yet to be discovered treasure of foliage and fauna. Inside the house we rented, we were introduced to the workings of various appliances. The house has three bedrooms, although we only needed one. There is a large living room and an eat-in kitchen. Upstairs, awaits another bedroom. The stairs are more like a ladder. We decided that we would keep that room off-limits.

The most important feature of the evening- wi-fi silently beckoned. Having addressed our emails, we looked forward to a long nights rest.

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