Buenos Dias Panamá!

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Ottawa Airport, 6am

Ottawa Airport, 6am

Eh, backpackers!” said the slightly drunk businessman in the elevator. Yes, that’s us. Even backpackers sometimes miss their flight connection and need to crash somewhere nearby the airport, you know. It’s not like we could find an hostel in Newark anyway.

The trip started fine. We got up at 5:30am and Feng’s parents drove us to the Ottawa airport for our first leg of the trip. The weather was really bad, blizzard and heavy snow. But Canadian airports are used to extreme weather conditions and we took off just fine… after deicing the plane.

We had three hours to spend in Toronto before boarding our Newark flight. We hung out at Pearsons and I even got through the U.S immigration, done in Canada for some reasons, without getting picked on. We were supposed to board the 12:25 flight, except there was definitely no plane at the gate. Apparently, it was stuck somewhere due to “adverse winter conditions”. We finally boarded an hour later, with much relief. Except that this time, we were soon told that the plane couldn’t take off due to “security problems at Newark”. We waited in the plane for an hour, then two. The pilot periodically informed us that he was “negotiating” with Newark, but at 3:30, Feng and I understood we had missed our 5:00pm Newark Panama flight. Crap.

Being grounded on the tarmac in a really small plane isn’t fun. It’s hot, claustrophobic, and frustrating. Not to mention the lack of leg room or basic things, like water. The passengers were very patient but we all sighted with relief when we finally took off… at 4:30.

We finally arrived in Newark at 6:00. Obviously, we had missed our Panama flight but we were also concerned with our bag, which had been checked to Panama directly, and with where we were going to sleep. We rushed to the Air Canada counter. The flight had indeed left without us and Air Canada couldn’t offer us accommodation vouchers because the plane had been delayed due to the weather conditions. “But we were told it was a security problem!”, I argued. The employee went to check. “Yes, actually, you are right. But Air Canada can not be held for responsible for air traffic problems”. Great, thanks for your help.

We then tried to locate our backpacks but apparently, it wasn’t Air Canada’s problem either. An hour later, we finally found them. On the bright side, it was really hot in Newark and we didn’t miss our winter gear (because we hadn’t packed anything warm). We checked in in an hotel nearby the airport and spent the rest of the night relaxing.

Wednesday, take two. The flight was on time and we arrived in Panama at 11:00 pm. The migración started to pick on Feng’s passport: “un Chino con un pasaporte Canadiense” was apparently new to them. I insisted that Feng was indeed born in China, but had been in Canada forever. Didn’t quite work and they took his passport to “make a copy”. Now it’s not that I don’t trust officials, but I really didn’t see why they were picking on us… and I don’t like people who take passports away. We waited anxiously for half an hour and the passport was brought back to us. Phew.

We asked a taxi to take us to Hotel Volcan, where we had stayed in 2002. The place is old and quite run down but since we hadn’t booked a room anywhere and that it was close to 1:00am, we couldn’t afford to be picky. Hotel Volcan was still there, the room tiny and stuffy, but safe. I took a shower and relaxed… Took me a while to get used to the cold water but I found it soothing. I did some quick laundry and lay on the bed. Closed my eyes.

It’s a different world here. Palm trees and coconuts, food stalls in the streets, people hanging out chatting at 3:00am, military and policía with machine guns at every corner, tinted windows and bullet proof doors… We are different people too. Long gone is the teacher and the French in me. We trust no one but ourselves and yet we find the world absolutely beautiful.

It’s 30C and we are in Panama. What’s to complain about?


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. It must be nice to hear the sound of people chatting at 3am, but the sound of machine guns?? Not so nice. At least you have bullet-proof doors.

    Enjoy the beauty of Panama with its palms and coconuts. Stay safe and have fun this season con el Chino Canadience. 🙂

  2. Glad you arrived safely 🙂 Some Immigration officers are pretty ignored…when I went to Cuba they thought Taiwan was China, but I had to tell the lady in Spanish that those are 2 different countries. Keep us posted!

  3. Oh I was so looking forward to this update. Sounds like you had your fair share of adventure already 🙂 So happy you’re there, you’re safe and most importantly: WARM.

    Looking forward to the next post and hopefully some pictures 🙂

  4. Hooray, you made it! What are a few delays? When the whole idea is an adventure, what does it matter? I am really looking forward to your posts. Please take and post lots of photos, they are worth at least a thousand words.

  5. Hi Zhu & Feng ,
    You made it !
    That was crappy for the start but, let’s hope that’s the only problem that you will have. I understand your frustration missing your first flight too. Did you say AC ?? We were dissapointed by their service when we flew with them last September .

    Now, you have arrived safe & sound ! So rest up and begin to enjoy !!

    Bises XX

  6. I’m glad you both finally got there, and now’s the time to enjoy yourself in a completely different environment. I’m sure with a couple of days you’ll be like one of the locals.

    Have fun!

  7. Great guys! So finally in Panama 🙂

    Ya ya I can feel the warmth…….Palm trees, coconuts, warmth of friendly people………….Ahh! Enjoy!

  8. Hey but I cannot buy that Airline people to skipped their responsibility.

    I think they should have taken cared of you. Weather is not in your hands 🙁

  9. Good to see that you finally made it to Panama. Everything you say is exactly like I remember that city, except for the military. I did see them in the Canal area, but not everywhere like I did in Bogota…

    But the two things I remember the most about Panama are: a) the food (of course) and b) how cheap the food was! 🙂

    I saw your picture of the colourful bus and remembered that I had one just outside my hotel window and wasn’t quick enough to take a good picture of it…

  10. Oh the weather difference alone will make a girl jealous! Yes, I also get very nervous when people take my passport away. P.S. I tagged you in a meme on my site. Hope it provides some fun for you.

  11. You made it! A rocky start (that’s shitty for having to shell out for your own accommodation in Newark). I hate connections, but for where you’re going it’s pretty unavoidable from Canada.

    The upside to U.S. pre-border clearance is that it’s supposed to reduce congestion at the U.S. side (which is why they set it up at most Canadian airports) and it’s meant to make it easier to catch connections because you don’t have to put your bags or yourself through, but unfortunately you experienced the downside to pre-border clearance which is not knowing where your bags end up in the event of a delay after pre-border clearance and the next flight.

    This goes into more detail:

    At least you’re free and clear of all that now, and can get on to enjoying your trip!

  12. Hey Zhu!

    Whoah…what a start! I will skip the stressing parts of the trip and go directly to Panamá!

    So, they picked on Feng, huh? I don’t see why they’d do that…but oh well, you know how people are.
    30ºC…what a blessing, girl! Now I see why you went there lol!

    I love going to countries in which people and the culture is different (hey, that is the whole purpose of travelling: to see different things)! I hope globalization doesn’t ruin that for us :D!

    Great post, and it’s good to know that you are all right!


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