Day 4 (Jun. 7):
Panama City, Panama
Waiting for the Sun:
After a smooth, cozy ride to Panama City I find myself sitting in the Albrook bus station at 2a.m. waiting for the sun to peek over the horizon like some lone survivor in a low budget vampire film. As soon as I can see the sun- my savior- I will make the move towards my accommodation, but for now I'll take the bus station floor over wandering through the streets of the city with a beaming red target on my back. Throughout my travels I've come to cherish 24 hour transportation hubs. Constant flows of people, bright lights, food. These are all critical factors when trying to kill a few hours in an unknown city. But the best feature of a good transportation hub is simply the ability to sprawl out on the floor for a brief sleep without looking odd. The Albrook terminal in Panama City is perfect and provides me with the space for a brutally uncomfortable 5 hours until sunrise. The hidden gem of this station is the often overlooked luxury of power outlets to charge my electronics which are all on the verge of death at this point. Without my phone I have no GPS and without GPS my travels are immediately complicated.
As soon as the first rays of the sun glisten over the horizon I gather my things and try to make sense of the local bus system. Here's what I can figure out. The buses that zig zag through the city all arrive at the ground level of the station. If you head to the second floor, you can find all of the wildly decorated buses that venture to the various locations throughout the country. This is pretty much the gist, the way I perceive the system here.
Back on the ground level, the city buses arrive and hordes of people smash themselves into the narrow, single file turnstiles at entrance of each bus. I stand back for a few minutes to watch for the perfect time to lauch myself into the mix like a gradeschool student anxiously waiting to jump into a game of double-dutch. A see my space and I wedge myself into one of the Red Devils hoping that it is destined for a location near my hotel. Luckily, the bus makes a stop about 5 blocks away from the Backpacker Inn; my home for the next couple of days. Getting on the bus was easy, but-like trying to remove a barb- exiting the bus is a fantastic challenge. With about 75 people blocking my way to the side doors, I start my attempted exit with all the manners in the world. Constantly throwing out "Excuse mes" and "Pardon mes" the polite approach gained little ground. With a feeling of desperation growing I throw my bag over my head and make a final violent surge through the immovable crowd leaving me shooting off of the Red Devil and into the streets of Panama City. Without much effort, I am able to find the Backpacker Inn located on the crumbled side street of Avenida Justo Arosemana and Calle 33 Este.
I find myself standing in the doorway of my room just spending a minute taking a few breaths of relaxation. A few days of bus travel. The same clothes for 3 days. Khaki shorts that now look grey from the dirt of Paso Canoas. To top it all off, there is a faint stench coming from my socks and shoes that have been soaked and dried on 3 different occasions during these travels. The small room that stands before me has a bed, a metal chair, a toilet, and a shower. I couldn't be any happier. This joy stems from the simple fact that I can remain in the same location for a couple of days. I drop my bags and strip down for a long awaited date with a cold shower. After washing myself twice I collapse into bed and instantly fall into a deep sleep; possibly in mid-descent. I have a lot to do in the next couple of days in Panama City. A meeting with a professor from the University of Panama, dinner with the family of a close friend from Gainesville, and a little bit of tourism (of course). There is no agenda here and I'm not sure how long I will need to be in the city. It could be a few days. It could be a week. Either way, I look forward to what awaits me.