Arrived in Panama City last tuesday late late late! Finding it more fun to be disorganised than actually leave the airport I decided to only tell Mackenze of my flight number upon arrival. Still, having waited for over 24 hrs to change flights in Atlanta I could hardly object to an extra half hour. Mackenze arrived and I learnt my first lesson about Panama City.
1. Drivers in Panama could not care less. I won’t use the more choice phrase Mr McAleer employed to describe them although it positively dripped with fury. Basically if you see a line in the road in Panama someone will drift over it into your lane. If there is a one way street you can guarantee a Panamanian in a Toyota will be roaring down it against the flow of traffic, honking his horn and refusing to back up one inch. The traffic jams are something to see – living next to one of the major arteries into Casco Viejo I can appreciate them day and night!
Having arrived at Luna’s Castle (a pretty swish hostel on the outskirts of the old town, overlooking the bay) I had a quick body language class/networking party/jetlag drink with Mackenze and the 8 million interns I had the pleasure to meet. A group of 20 or so invited me over for a chat and started telling me about their eco project in a valley just outside the city. A huge undertaking, it involved tying local communities to their environment and making these benefits into sustainable ecotourism. Also, making a fricking huge zipline. Lesson number 2 is….
2. No one gets paid in Panama. Seriously, how many interns?
3. Never annoy drunk french interns. They will make you suffer.
Due to the jetlag I woke up at the unholy time of 5am and rather than stewing in a hostel room with 11 others I went for a walk. Now Panama has a humid, muggy climate that hasn’t always been my best friend so far but that first morning was wonderful. Strolling along the waterfront towards the city and seeing the skyscrapers to the north wreathed in fog was like an adrenaline shot of excitement. The only thing awry was the smell of the catch at the fish market – even at that time it hung like a cloud of fishy malevolence over the jogging yuppies.
4. Jetlag amplifies the traveller’s general wussiness. The fish market and I have yet to kiss and make up.
5. Ceviche is amazing and even with a rebellious stomach it must be tried. Raw fish marinated and insta-cooked in a citrus juice it is draped with coarse onion and served fresher than a Panamanian urchin’s attitude. A must try.
After this I wandered into historic Casco Viejo and was admiring the fact that half of the buildings have been gutted and propped up by scaffolding, filled with squatters and the displaced. The other half are luxurious flats for the very wealthy. Gazing around this beautiful place and surrounded by the contrasts of two very different worlds clashing I was shaken out of my thoughts by a loud ‘HEY!’ from across the street. A guy who seemed to be bursting with energy waved his arms in a huge circle and rushed towards me. He introduced himself as Danilo, the guy filling the other internship position. Barely stopping to grab something to eat he showed me where work was and I began immediately.
6. Downtime for relaxation is for pansies in Panama. Get out there and start networking son!
7. Only tourists and backpackers have a tan – what is this thing you call the sun? Too busy working. ;D
Running out of time as I need to go on one of the companies tours around the rundown Barrio of El Chorrillo (actually where I live! Brilliant!). I am determined to complement Danilo’s already excellent English with a bucketload of English colloquialisms. Old boy and jolly good seem to be particular favourites so far. Next time; living in the noisy and chaotic El Chorillo, what work I’m doing and the best of Casco Viejo’s bars.
Also…the soundtrack to my neighbourhood.