Besides the usual bout of life-threatening turbulence and seesawing down the runway, we all made it into Panama without a scratch on any of us.
The arrival process was pretty uneventful, apart from the lack of signage, hoards of confused passengers and an epic trek through, what could be definitely be defined as, the world‘s most elongated airport.
Once we found the arrivals gate, there were about three security checks to clear, prior to finding our luggage… and then a few more after that, including customs.
My Panama customs officer kept pushing me to speak French, as I had a Canadian passport. It was nothing I had anticipated, nor prepared for. To this day, I am still unsure if he was joking around… really liked the French language… or was testing my citizenship claim. He remained perfectly stoic and straight-faced throughout the entire exchange. I wasn’t even able to even humour him, slightly, with a few catchy phrases, as my brain was so programmed on Spanish.
I guess I convinced him with my feeble ”oui… un petite peu,” because that seemed to do the trick. Stamp! I was permitted to enter Panama…
One of the biggest irritations i have discovered, flying into most third world countries, is the flood of pestering taxi drivers you encounter coming through the arrivals gate. Honestly. They are ready to pounce as soon as you round that corner, making your way out of the airport. It is near impossible to avoid eye contact with at least one of them, as you push your way through the swarm, and as soon as you do, you’re doomed. Believe me - I‘ve experienced them all… the good, the bad and the ugly. I have now made it my practice not to entertain anyone that follows me, I won’t get in a vehicle with anyone who tries to grab my bag, and I won’t even turn my head to acknowledge anyone who won’t shut up.
I‘ll admit, I’ve made my share of mistakes with taxi drivers… but… I‘m learning. Trying to learn, anyway.
As I mentioned, as soon as you make eye contact, you’re pretty much committed… unless you don’t have cash, or they don’t take credit card… then unfortunately, you’re a deer in the headlights, while they hold your luggage ransom and holler for one of their friends to come drive you.
It‘s survival of the fittest and the fastest… and we are the pawns.
I was really, really looking forward to my hotel.
After reading quite a number of blogs, I realized one of the trendy things to do in Panama City, was to stay at a boutique hotel. I figured I was someone that could get on board with being fashionable, right?
This sounded like a perfect idea to me… until I began to see the price tags attached. Most of the boutique hotels were located in Casco Viejo… the Old Quarter of Panama, and were in the ballpark of $300+ per night. Double gulp!
The search was on for something I could afford and when I found The Tantalo, I immediately booked… thinking I was more than a little deserving of some posh… and I was also of firm belief that some unique and sensational luxury just might turn my luck around.
The Tantalo looked hip, quirky and charasmatic - everything I wanted in a boutique hotel.
… and more… maybe…?
My room did nothing to disappoint. It was colourful and spacious… the walls adored with bright & peculiar pieces of art.
I had a corner room, with three large windowed doors, opening onto the balconies, which overlooked the red brick roads winding their way through the old colonial buildings.
There were many things I absolutely adored about this hotel. The art was vibrant, in-your-face and outlandish… almost to the point of downright bizarre and even borderline controversial…
Pieces such as… naked women with penises depicted inside their bellies… or men snorting ammunition up their noses… not really my style, so to speak… but still, somewhat engaging.
The customer service was brilliant. The location was ideal. The vibe was chill… There was a mini bar stocked with a variety of beer, pop and cartons of water in my room ~ though i didn’t dare go near it, for fear of bankruptcy. The complimentary shampoo and conditioner was made with tea tree oil. The bed was comfortable.
But… always a but…
I was more than a little disappointed with a couple things.
There was no laundry service. Odd.
There was no complementary coffee. For the amount i was pating, i thought i might get a coffee… no?
The room cards continuously malfunctioned. Each time I would make the trek up the stairs, I would have to make the trek back down again, to get front desk to reactivate my card.
… and yes, first world problems… but also, in my defence, first world prices…
There was a rooftop bar… and in normal circumstances… I would think that to be one of the most alluring features of the hotel. I did… as soon as I saw pictures of the bar, I was sold!
Hook, line and sinker…
But… what they failed to mention, or I failed to do my proper research… is that The Tantalo Rooftop bar offers exceptional entertainment and musical performances EVERY night, from sunset until late night.
Late night means 3am.
Boom Boom Boom Boom Boom
All. Night. Long.
This was no longer my boutique hotel.
It was my BOOM-tique hotel.
It really got me wondering why we feel compelled to spend sooooo money on a place, where we, essentially, do nothing but sleep.
It‘s baffling… and has now, hopefully, changed my perspective on expensive accommodation.
I spent the next couple days exploring Casco Viejo… and I loved every second of it. It was slightly out of the main city, but Panama’s hippest neighborhood, seeped in history... and definitely its heart and soul. Funky pubs, cocktail lounges and restaurants lined the cobblestone streets, decorated with elaborate murals.
I wandered aimlessly, taking it all in… periodically popping into the one of the eccentric lounges for a glass of wine and a snack, along the way.
I found rum distilleries, wine bars… and a collection of kooky & quaint hideaways along my stroll.
The day after my arrival in Panama, I decided to walk into the city. I had done a little bit of reading and research into which places were worth exploring… and which places to avoid. It started off as a gorgeous day, and I strolled along the harbour promenade and through the seafood market, admiring this extraordinary entrance to the city.
On my way, I discovered a couple things;
~ Panama has an incredible skyline. It’s almost as if the entire city accepted a challenge in architectural creativity… and won. These skyscrapers are not nearly tall buildings and towers… they are masterpieces in modern design. They twist and turn and sparkle and curve. It’s quite remarkable.
~ Panama is very outdoor recreationally friendly. The entire path from Casco Viejo into the hub of the city, was divided into a path for walkers/joggers and bikers. Along the way were a number of outdoor public gyms…. and people were using them! I noticed street vendors had parked their trollies and the homeless had pulled over their shopping carts, in order to take advantage of these exercise facilities.
It was a lovely walk… and I was really enjoying myself… when suddenly I looked up and saw the black cloud in the distance, just hovering over the city skyline.
I knew the rain was coming… and I was right.
It wasn’t long before the heavens opened and it poured. Torrential downpour here means something different than it does back home. It’s heavy, it’s forceful, it’s hammering and it drenches everything within a matter of seconds. This atmospheric river came through and within moments, each city street flooded and turned into a rushing, and deep, waterway.
My flip flops were hardly appropriate footwear, as they became slippery and unmanageable. I ended up removing them, and merely jumped from grassy patch to asphalt, as fast as I could, in order to get myself to a temporary cover. I eventually found refuge in a small market and remained here until the storm passed
I was in desperate need of 3 things from my jaunt into the city;
One ~ A Panama SIM card… so I could connect to cell coverage for the next two weeks, while I was here. The food mart, where I had taken storm cover, sold them, so of course, I figured I had stumbled onto a pot of gold! Perfect! … not really.
The guy kept rambling on & on & on about the benefits of each company’s card… and I hardly had the Spanish skill set or mobile phone function-ability knowledge to decipher what in the world he was talking about… so he got progressively louder… and faster. I really tried to quash his presentation, by telling him to just pick the one he thought might be best for me but that decision did not suffice.
Our conversation came to an abrupt end when I discovered he was unable to actually change my SIM card out.
My time here is up!
He kept trying to push the sale… even handed me a PIN, so I could do it myself. It was comical, to say the least. The thought of me shoving a pin into my cell phone in order to change the card, was absurd. As I’ve said before, I know my limits. I know my luck.
A random lady even grabbed my phone from me and attempted to shove the pin in the side in order to open the card compartment.
I grabbed back, with selfish force. This phone was my last line of defence in a whole world of social media, email communication, work, directions, online banking & bookings, weather reports, Covid requirements… etc etc…
I was hardly about to allow a stranger to destroy this.
Two ~ Laundry soap.
And yes… I filled up the sink in my boutique hotel room and scrubbed all my dirty, stinky clothes… by hand. I have never been particularly good at this… and on this occasion, I was also quite crap… but desperate times call for desperate measures.
I then laid it out each and every item to dry… and… fast forward two days… everything was still ‘un-packably‘ damp. So damp, in fact, on my final evening, I sat on the edge of chaise, attempting to dry them with a hair dryer. It didn’t work as well as I‘d expected… though I probably didn’t dedicate the necessary time.
Three ~ A Bank.
When you’re looking for one, there are none. When you don’t need one. They are bountiful. Panama works with American currency and my wallet was empty.
The trouble with some of the banks here, is they will only grant you a certain amount per day. The bank I finally found was fixated on $100… which worked to confuse me greatly, as I continually tried to withdraw $500.
It just kept returning my card and shutting down… which can be somewhat terrifying, considering someone just stole your computer with all your online banking passwords on the desktop.
Yes… I’m a beacon of security measures.
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