By Allison Betts
While many trips are dreamed of for years and planned out to the T, this trip was of a different breed. I received a text from a dear friend one rainy afternoon asking what the chances were that I would want to go "somewhere sunny with her". As it turns out, the chances were good. She picked the right day to ask (I had received a speeding ticket that morning and took it as a giant metaphor that I needed to slow down and smell the roses of life). I wondered what she had in mind? A drive to New Mexico, or maybe Moab. I hadn't been to either, but I was up for the adventure. Little did I know, but was soon to find out, this girl was thinking Panama. One thing led to another and before I knew it, I was packing my bag to head to what would become one of my favorite places in Central America.
March 27, 2015
Our trip began with a 1pm flight out of Denver. It was a direct flight that would be landing in Panama City (Tocumen International Airport) at 8pm. This is the first trip I have taken abroad with a friend and I was eager for the adventures we would find. The nerves didn't set in until approximately 7pm when I realized it would be pitch black when we landed in Panama and although I had speculated, I really had no idea of how developed the airport would be and whether or not we would be able to find a taxi that could take us the 30 minutes to Casco Viejo. However, from the moment we landed luck and good fortune was on our side. We found a taxi right from the airport. The system seems to be one of teamwork. One man (all the drivers were men) would recruit for the taxi while the driver was sitting outside in the cab. The man who recruited us spoke minimal english and asked as much as he could about Colorado as he walked us to the cab. I immediately felt welcomed to the country and at ease. However, the cab driver barely gave us a nod and talked on his phone the entire drive to Casco Viejo. I wasn't even sure he had the right information on where we were going, but I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. As the cab began to approach the district of Casco Viejo my heart began to pound. I knew I should have done more research. The driver was still on his phone, but I grabbed Rebekah's hand and made eye contact before looking back out the window at the slums we were driving through. From the map I had viewed from the comfort of my couch back home, I knew our hostel was on the outskirts of Casco Viejo, and I was pretty sure we were just now driving through the outskirts. The vibe of the area was starkly different from that which we had previously been driving through and I was trying to figure out how to tell the cab driver we needed to find another hostel. There was no doubt in my mind I wouldn't be getting out of the cab here. But thanks to the stars above, we turned a corner and as the cab slowed to a stop in from of Luna's Castle Hostel, I felt safe and knew that we were in a good place. A guard out front opened the door for us and pointed us upstairs to the front desk where we were greated by two energetic and adorably friendly girls. We had a arrived!
We spent our first night in Panama sitting on the balcony of the hostel. I sipped a balboa beer (.50) while Rebekah hydrated with water. We met so many friendly travelers and soaked in the humid night air. It felt so freeing to be alone and without a plan in a foreign country I couldn't wait to see what the next day would bring. But before then, we would need to survive a night of miserable sleep. We knew Lunas Castle was considered a "party hostel" but we had no idea that meant dorm mates would be coming in and out of the hostel all night, flipping on the overhead light, playing music and banging on the door. We calculated a solid 1 hour of sleep that first night. We were more than ready to escape the hostel before the rest of the crew awoke.
March 28, 2015
We awoke at 6am and after a quick exploration of the hostel in daylight we grabed a cab that would take us to the ferry terminal to Taboga Island. We opted for the Calypso Ferry that took off from the Amador Causeway, imagining that there would be fun shops and restaurants on the causeway. It turns out there wasn't much in the way of small vendors or shops, but there was an opportunity for coffee and a yogurt while we waited. We were told to get to the terminal an hour early, but as it was on a busy Saturday morning we were too late for the 8:30 ferry. We got tickets for the 10:30 and prepped our skin with sunscreen for the long wait. However, 8:30 rolled around and we were able to squeeze on to the ferry. Few people willingly spoke english, so we did our best to use Spanish and assess the situation. We were allowed on, so either we got lucky or the tickets aren't actually that big of a deal.
After a long day in the sun and a tiring day of exploring we decided to keep it simple for dinner. We spent hours on the balcony reminding ourselves of the beauty and the fortune we have in this world
March 29, 2015
After a nights sleep that was much better than the previous night we awoke rested and ready to explore Casco Viejo. Below is a slideshow of what we found. The city is beautiful and full of hidden treasures. It was nearly impossible to capture it's colors and character in a simple photo. It's uniqueness was more in the feeling and vibes. A walk to find a local grocery store forced us to be aware that with just a couple of steps you could enter a zone that was nowhere near safe and with just a few steps in a another direction, we would be in an area meant only for those with high social status. We explored the local "white house" and made friends with the guards, we spoke as much spanish as we possibly could manage, we ate at the fish market and walked the streets of the city.
We ended our trip with a solid round of ping pong (in the hostel) and about three hours of massage in the relaxation room of the hostel. I will always remember this trip for the insights it gave me to life and the way in which I want to life mine. It is so important to keep perspective through our daily routines and to remember that there is so much more out there beyond our own reality. So many of the people we met were full of kindness, smiles that lit up their faces and a deep love for our planet. I learned that confidence and a smile can get you much farther than shyness and closed arms. Guards and taxi drivers always began by saying hello and we responded with hola and a choppy sentence beginning with "como esta?". This brought smiles to their faces and encouraging nods as we stumbled through words. I cherish every moment of this short trip and can't wait for the next.