Last week one evening I was at the hut that sells falafel and I got talking to a mum (Juli, 28) and her daughter (Analia, 10) who were on holiday in Bocas and live in a town called Colon, an hour from Panama City. The time passed and before we knew it, it was Analia’s bedtime, but we got on well and Juli gave me her number and said I should come and visit some time so I can see a different part of Panama etc. I thought it would be fun so we messaged a few days later and planned that I’d get the bus to Panama City the following Monday morning and she’d pick me up from the bus terminal, and I’d come back to Bocas on Thursday.
Obviously my mum was a bit shocked when I said I was going to stay in someone’s house who I’d only ever met for an hour etc, but I didn’t feel like I would be in any danger and you can’t just live your life being ridiculously suspicious of everyone.
I went to Bocas Marine Tours on the Main Street a few days before because I’d heard that they’re the best people to buy the bus ticket from. The woman told me there’s a morning bus at 8am and an evening bus, so I bought a morning ticket for Monday for $27.80. I had to give my full name and passport number and then she just handed me the ticket and expected me to know everything else. I knew nothing else, so asked her what time I should come to BMT on Monday morning to get the boat to the mainland, and what happens when I get off the boat in Almirante etc, and she explained in about 2 seconds that I should be at BMT at 6 and have to get a $1 taxi once I get off the boat in Almirante. I think in England they would have given clear, detailed instructions and repeated them or written them down to make sure!
On Sunday evening I was planning on going to bed early to wake up at 5.15am, but sometimes when me and my flatmate Hellen get talking, we just don’t stop, and this was the case on Sunday evening so I only got about 2 hours sleep. I was the first person at BMT in the morning, with my skateboard and rucksack, and I bought the boat ticket for $6 (Panamanians pay $5). The sun was coming up as we were riding to Almirante, and it was absolutely freezing because of the wind the boat was creating because of its speed. If you’re going to do this journey definitely bring a warm hoodie!
In Almirante I walked towards the main road (turn left once you get out of the boat-house) and told the taxi man I needed the bus station for Panama City. He didn’t try to rip me off (I paid $1) and the ride was about 10 minutes. I sat and waited for my bus for about half an hour and a young local boy came over asking if he could use my skateboard in the station so I gave it to him, and then we chatted for a while. When the bus came, I don’t know why, but I was surprised to see that it was just the same as coaches in England:
Everyone put their luggage in the compartment under the bus and we were given a ticket with the same number as the ticket that the man stuck to our luggage, which I thought was a good idea. I remember when I went on Megabus to Paris they just put it all under there and you could have really easily claimed someone else’s luggage at the end.
They didn’t tell us anything before they started driving, but I noticed this instruction stuck to the toilet door:
I don’t know why I found it funny but I did.
The air conditioning was on and I then understood why some Panamanians had brought blankets with them. I think I’ll do that next time because my hoodie was definitely not enough. For most of the journey we were just driving past trees, so I’m a bit confused about where people actually live, because there really weren’t many houses:
There were also some little bus stops (some were a lot more basic than this) where minibuses dropped people off:
One thing I commented to myself about was that the roads we went on were all completely fine (no pot-holes) and there weren’t really any crazy drivers either, so it was a lot more peaceful than in Jamaica.
At one point we passed some mountains, which was quite cool:
No one was actually taking pictures except me until we went over the Panama Canal:
Along the way we stopped twice – First in Chiriqui Grande at a service station with a restaurant serving chicken, rice and patacones etc. I got a bag of patacones (fried then squashed green plantains) for 50 cents. The driver didn’t tell us how long we had there so I just copied everyone else when they started walking back to the bus. The next stop was at Santiago with a bigger restaurant that had more vegetarian stuff (vegetable fried rice, salad, fruit, hash browns etc). There they had free drinkable tap-water which surprised me because in Bocas you can’t drink it and it’s yellow.
Anyway, once we crossed the canal, I saw a lot of these brightly painted buses driving around:
The Panama City bus terminal is HUGE. Victoria Coach Station (London) is about 8x smaller! I couldn’t believe it, I’d never seen so many buses in my life. It’s enormous inside as well – Once I was off the bus with my stuff I was walking around the inside part trying to find the ticket desk to buy my return ticket for Thursday but there were like 50 different kiosks each with a different destination so it took a while. Juli found me and we went to the Bocas kiosk together but they said you can’t buy the ticket until 1 day before you travel, so in the end we got her friend who lives there to buy it for me on Wednesday and he met us on Thursday to give it to me.
We arrived in Colon after about an hour and it wasn’t as “ghetto” as people make it out to be (in Bocas they say it’s the most “hood” area of Panama etc). Of course it didn’t look like Kensington (London), and the blocks of flats were dirty with some of the letters missing from their names, and there was a bit of rubbish on the road, but I don’t see why that really matters. It wasn’t as if there were people running round stabbing each other.
Juli’s block of flats also didn’t look nice from the outside, and it still didn’t look nice when we were walking up the stairs inside, but once she opened her door I was shocked! Their living/dining room was bright and spacious, with all matching chairs and sofas, big candles on the long dining table, a giant LG television etc. The outside was really deceiving!
Juli’s sister was there looking after her other daughter, Isabella who’s 9 months old, so I had dinner with Juli, her sister Lisbeth, Analia and Isabella. After watching some TV everyone was tired and I was then told I’d be sharing Analia’s double bed with her, which I had absolutely no problem with but I was just a bit surprised because that would never happen in England when you don’t really know the person.