We landed in Panama and took a local bus into Panama City, which drove all the way from the airport to the city with the door open! We overlooked the obvious health and safety hazard because we were quite glad of the cool breeze. It was so hot I nearly passed out! This was the closest I had been to the equator, and one day we were wandering around and I noticed that my fingers had swollen up like sausages!
We spent most days wandering through the town, soaking in the atmosphere, and stopping for drinks and ice creams. My love of guidebooks, coupled with my neurosis, had caused me to carefully read the section about crime and safety. The guidebook said “There are occasional reports of robbery near Panama Viejo. Don’t go after sunset… High-crime areas best avoided altogether include… Santa Ana” (amongst others which I won’t list here). “Blimey!” I thought, “we certainly will not be going there!”. So it was a bit unfortunate that the next day we accidentally wandered into that very same neighbourhood! Santa Ana was very poor and everyone stopped and watched the two white tourists walking down the middle of the road. Luckily our cameras were hidden. Not that I want to cast aspersions on the good character of the residents of Santa Ana of course. Just that it’s good sense not to be flashing your cameras around when you’re in a poor neighbourhood in any country, even if your camera is a bit rubbish cos you’re a student. We just kept walking, and then a man approached us and said (in English) “Take care in this place Senor, it’s very dangerous, it’s the hood”. We left safely and looked around Casco Viejo. It was beautiful, with lovely architecture, but we did feel like the only tourists there and I did feel a bit wary after our earlier warning. On our way out we took a different route, but still another man stopped us and said “you cannot go this way, it’s the hood”. He pointed us down another road lined with shops, which felt a lot safer. We left the beautiful old town without any harm done to us. I cannot deny that I felt unsafe at times, however, I think I should also point out that nothing bad happened – we were not attacked or robbed. In fact the only thing that did happen was that we received two pieces of advice from two kind strangers.
One day we went to the Panama Canal. We had been told what a taxi should cost, but funnily enough when we flagged one down, the driver tried to charge us five times that price! We tried a few taxis, and the same thing happened. In the end, we stopped one and my boyfriend told the driver firmly in Spanish where we wanted to go and how much it was. Amazingly, the driver agreed! I tried out my dodgy Spanish and the driver seemed to appreciate the effort and gave us one of the small Panamanian flags from his taxi. What a sweetheart! We went to Miraflores locks, which are the locks closest to Panama City. It was amazing to watch the massive oil tankers going through the locks. At closing time we didn’t want to leave, so we bought dinner at the restaurant overlooking the locks. It was expensive but we were celebrating as it was my boyfriend’s birthday! We stayed there all evening and savoured every minute!
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