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Cuidado En Panama

View From Plaza De Francia

Cuidado en el barrio
Cuidado en la frontera
Cuidado ese
Que te anda buscando [Peligroso]

Alright. We made it to David, and to Boquete. Lucky us.

We were very careful in Panama, especially given our experience in 2002. But it wasn’t just us. I swear it, even though Panama city is often marketed as the safest city in Central America, I trust my guts and my guts kept on telling me otherwise. I mean, I have always mentioned that all windows have bars, and that doors are bulletproof. But did I tell you that there are security guards everywhere, in front of every business, and that many people seem to carry weapons? Indeed, the barrios are very different. You can be walking in a perfectly fine neighborhood one minute, and head to the slums as soon as you turn at the corner. That’s what happened to us in 2002.

On Friday, we had to go to the bank. We were also planning to stop by the internet cafe, so we had the camera and our Ipod that needed to be plugged. Well, trust me, we didn’t wander too much in the streets.

Another problem in Panama city is the traffic. In fact, we have only seen one red light in the whole city. The streets are just a mess of cars stopping, cars trying to turn, to reverse, to park, all at the same time and at full speed. “Diablos Rojos” (city buses), cars, motocycles, trucks… just ram into each other constantly and never ever give way. No seat belts, of course. Cars are just inches apart and drivers seem to be clinically insane. Or, at the very least, deaf. Gotta be, after honking non-stop all day.

When we arrived at the airport, we took an official taxi to get to downtown. But frankly, in Panama, just about any driver can be a taxi. All you need is a car and a sticker that says “taxi”. And of course, be prepared to be stopped by the police. Most cars have tinted windows, but still.

The other day, for example, our taxi was carrying us plus another guy in the front seat that he had picked up on the way. We were stopped by the police nearby the hospital.

— “Who is this guy?“, asked the policeman, pointing at the passenger in the front seat.

–“A friend“, replied the driver, not the least bothered.

–“Oh, I see“, said the policeman, “and what about them?

–“Friends as well“.

–“Alright, go ahead”.

And we were free to go. As simple as that. After all, a guy can drive his friends around the city, right?

Taxis are still the best way to get around. Walking is not really an option for long distances given the safety problem, unless you know where you are going. And besides, rides are only between $1 and $3, unless you look like a total gringo.

The main problem was that so many roads were closed. On Thursday, the building behind our hotel, which was the national lottery building, was bombed. Oooops. And a whole C.S.I looking team of policemen and military people was investigating (translation: 50 uniforms were staring a broken windows and glass on the ground). On Friday, it was a demonstration. “they are retired people“, said our taxi driver, “so no much can be done. They would have been younger, the army would have been sent, for sure“. I see.

But anyway, we are in David, after an 8 hours bus ride. We had considered flying to San Blas, on the Atlantic Coast, but it was too expensive. And all the South of Panama is basically a no-go. The City of Colon is arguably the most dangerous place on the continent, and the province of Darien, linking Panama and Colombia… well, let’s just say that few have made it, not including the drug-traffickers and their poor hostages. So up in the North we go!

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