A Panamanian Adventure

After just about a month in Panama, Carrie is fine and I will be hopping on another 30 hour bus ride tomorrow to finally return to Nicaragua. But, and this should come as no surprise by now, our time here was not without at least a few adventures…

The Bus Breaks Down at 5am

Our first visit outside Panama City required a 10-hour overnight bus. First off, the thing stopped every hour or so to let people on/off, turning on the lights and making sleep darn near impossible.

Next, we had to stop at a drug checkpoint where they looked at everyones passports and eventually made two Columbian girls get off the bus…and they never came back….no one knows why.

Finally, the kicker was at 5am when the driver tells us, “the bus is broken, everyone off!” So we get off and find ourselves at a gas station in the middle of God knows where, with nothing in any direction and no idea exactly what to do next.

Fortunately, after an hour or so of waiting, some other busses came and after a good-ole shoving match, I had forced my way into a pair of seats to continue our journey. However, the penalty for my shoving was three hours with elbows sticking in my shoulders and hips sticking in my ribs, as the aisles were jam packed with people.

Later, after a rest stop, I lost my seat and spent the last 30 minutes leaning against the door as we traveled up a mountain on a windy road, my only thing to hold onto was a fold-up seat that was on a hinge and would move along with me at every curve. Needless to say, I was very happy to arrive at Cillico Creek.


Outside the broken down bus
Outside the broken down bus

Celebrating Carnival

We were lucky enough to be here for Carnival, which, while not nearly as big as the one in Rio, was still pretty cool. It was basically like Mardi Gras, if it were a family affair.

panamanian-girl-carnival-AdventuresofaGoodManThere were parades, people on floats throwing out teeshirts, beer and food stands lining the streets, music and people dancing everywhere. And then there was the confetti! For 25 cents you could buy a big bag of little paper dots to throw on the street, on your friends or on complete strangers, depending on your preference.

Everywhere you looked there were kids having confetti wars. So, naturally, being the mature individuals we are, Carrie and I joined in, buying our own confetti and dousing passerby’s and running around with the kids throwing the dots.

The stuff got all down clothing, in our mouths and in every possible place you could imagine. Weeks later we are still finding the occasional confetti dot in a pocket or bag.

Visiting Cillico Creek

After two weeks in the City, we wanted to see some of the country, so we hopped on the bus (the one that would eventually break down at 5am) to visit a Panama Peace Corps volunteers site, Cillico Creek.

It was completely different from little pueblos in Nicaragua, especially the look of it (see the photos). While there, we actually got to do a little volunteer work, sitting in and helping with some school classes that were learning about the environment and why it needs to be protected.

My group actually went out and planted two trees in the town. It was much more rewarding than sitting in a hotel in the City.


Me and Carrie in Cillico Creek
Me and Carrie in Cillico Creek

Bocas del Toro

After Cillico Creek and a few other places, we headed to Bocas Del Toro, a pair of beautiful islands off the Atlantic Coast. In addition to a snorkeling day trip (my first), we witnessed a very odd ritual that could only be described to us by the locals as “a game.”

Basically, people line up on either side of a street with whips and other people take turns running down the street with bells attached to their legs. The folks on the side whip the heck out of them in an effort to knock off the bells.

Some people tried to be macho and slowly walk down the street, others ran and jumped down the street from the start, but no matter what, they were all running by the end.

I don’t really know any more than that, other than it was incredible primal and people were chanting in some indigenous language. Oh, and we also took a really cool speedboat ride through a bayou to get out to the island. It reminded me of Louisiana.

Riding Inside a Chicken Truck

Because nothing is ever simple, a mere two days after the bus-breaking-down incident, Carrie and I found ourselves stuck in a rural community and the bus we needed to start our journey to Bocas Del Toro was not coming.

However, not content to just sit there and wait three hours for the next bus (and miss our boat), we hitched a ride from the first vehicle we saw….which happened to be the local chicken truck making its daily deliveries.

Literally, it was a pickup truck with the bed enclosed with a refrigerated compartment. As there was no room up front for us and our big bags, we put our backpacks in the refrigerated part of the truck…with raw chicken parts, eggs and other assorted chicken-items…and piled into the cab for our ride (see the photos). Along the way to our destination, we passed through large plantations of bananas, which turned out to be the Chiquita Banana fields and processing plants…so that was pretty cool.

Anyway, needless to say, when we got our bags out, they had the slight odor of chicken for a while, but we made our boat, so it was all worth it.


Carrie and the chicken truck driver
Carrie and the chicken truck driver

This & That

  • The national currency is the US Dollar, and its very weird paying for things with dollars in rural indigenous communities.
  • We saw the Panama Canal and a bunch of boats passing through….it was cool.
  • Changuinola-dock-panama-AdventuresofaGoodManThe clothing here is super cheap and I have shopped more in the past month than I would in 2 years back home (for those who care, 5 pairs of jeans, 6 nice shirts, 4 teeshirts and 2 pairs of shoes for like $200…cant beat that).
  • We saw a bunch of ruins including those of the original Panama settlement, as well as beautiful old houses.
  • It is great to go out to nice resturants and clubs again, we have feasted like kings down here.
  • I now have a Panamanian Blockbuster membership, as our room at the hotel had a DVD player.
  • We celebrated Fat Tuesday in a with PC Panama volunteers at one of their sites in the middle of nowhere, but it was a party and was fun!
  • I have spent more money in the month here than I did in like 4 months in Nicaragua.
  • We took a mud bath in a town built in the crater of an extinct volcano.
  • It’s hot and humid here…feels like I’m back home dealing with East Coast weather.
  • There are tons of malls.
  • We saw The Pink Panther in VIP stadium seating in recliner chairs with waitresses bringing us our popcorn and soda….for $6/ticket.
  • After telling some bum begging for money in a bus terminal waiting area that I would not give him any change, he announced to all those waiting that I was the devil! To which I replied “thank you…have a nice day.” To which he replied, again for all to hear, “I walk with God, I will have a nice day. But you sir, are the devil!” Gotta love it!