Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Exploring the City; Panama City

Panama City is very crowded, so they keep building up instead of out. They've only got so much room to work with.

Everywhere we looked, there was a building going up.

Eeeep! Hand-pump hoists! What a pain!

Up, Up & Away!

These two pictures above are views of the city as we walked around. We're under some sidewalk protection scaffolding, under yet another building being constructed.

Public transportation consists of school buses, like the colorful one above, that stop every 5 seconds to let someone on, and tons of really cheap cabs! Really cheap. Don't just take the cab at your hotel. Those cab drivers have to pay higher insurance and taxes to the government for the right to park in front of the hotels and serve tourists. They pass these costs on to you.

Case in point: David and I wanted to go to one of the older parts of town, Casco Viejo. While sipping coffee on the bench outside the lobby, we asked the hotel-stationed cab drivers how much it would cost to take us there. Ten dollars, one says. But by this time, we already knew the tricks of the trade (meaning, David got charged a $30 cab ride once when the guy "changed his mind" after quoting him $20.) We politely declined and walked 4 blocks to one of the main roads heading in the direction we wanted to go. We hailed a cab from the street to take us to Casco Viejo. Total trip fee? $2.00.

We saw various funny named shops, for instance this Snob Shop. What the heck do they sell? I have no clue.

There's a lot of honking going on in the streets. Not angry honking. Just "Hey, I'm passing you on your right" honking. Or, "Don't try to come in my lane cause I'm speeding up honking." It was quite bizarre. All the cab drivers we used honked often, yet were never angry or yelling at the person they honked at. And they drive kind of crazy.

Crazy how, you ask? Oh man. You have NO clue how tame we Americans drive compared to Panamanians. There are hardly any traffic lights. People just...go. Including pedestrians! It's a timing thing. Like choreographed madness. I called it a ballet of metal and rust. Cars pass through intersections almost colliding, but not doing so because they're timing their drive through the intersection based on someone else's speed going across their path. No one hesitates, they just know how fast they need to go to clear the person going through the intersection at the same time. The cars also stop for random pedestrians who decide to brave the crossing the streets, and the drivers don't get mad. It's just the way it is. Just crazy, yet in my 6 days there, I saw two accidents. One bus vs. car both merging into the same lane and one motorcycle hitting the tail of a truck that went through an intersection and paused.

The city reminded me, in some places, of Puerto Rico, except with way more high rises and crazier drivers.

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