After the fun and games of Bocas del Toro we got ready for our journey to Panama City. Firstly, we had to take the boat back to the mainland, which was made even more interesting due to the choppy waters, rain and overly eager driver. The boat did come equipped with covers on the sides to keep the sea at bay, however, there was one slight issue. The covers on our side were held up with a monster knot, an unbreakable titan of the rope world. Did the driver care? Not in the slightest. Did Brendan (sitting right at the side of the boat) care? Yes, a little bit. He was absolutely soaked within seconds. The row behind us were taking cover behind him, using him as a fleshy sea wall, in a desperate attempt to stop the speed induced tempest reaching their precious faces.
The night bus wasn’t too bad, it was an air-conditioned coach where we just swapped phones, listened to each other’s music and attempted to sleep in spite of the extremely inconsiderate people who fully recline their seats. I don’t think that it’s too extreme to suggest that whoever these people are, they need to be thrown from the moving bus without hesitation. Or maybe politely ask them to move their seat forward. Either one. For a humanoid beanpole such as myself, it’s a crippling move to make, leaving my legs crushed, alongside any dreams of blood circulation in the next 9 hours.
We arrived at the main bus terminal at the early hours of the morning and grabbed a taxi to the hostel (Luna’s Castle) which was on the edge of Casco Viejo, the old quarter. The hostel was open for us to come in at the ungodly hour at which we arrived, and so we slept on the sofas until someone could check us in. The hostel was great. It had an outside terrace seating area with bar benches and seating, while inside there was plenty of sofas, hammocks and a table tennis table. The dorm was luxury with AC and little curtains to give you some privacy.
An honourable and brief mention has to go to Euan who we met at the hostel. He was a 30-year-old Australian guy who was lovely and very spiritual. That might have something to do with why, he shall now forever be immortalised in this blog, as spiritual Euan. He was writing a book on some self-actualisation and personal journey stuff and he’d lived in a French monastery for a few months because his brother had become a monk. Yes, spiritual Euan got one-upped on the spirituality front by his own brother. It’s a savage world of mediation, self-reflection and deeper understanding of the forces of the universe that drive these men to be the most spiritual they can possibly be. Euan told us that you can meditate in any way that suits you and that he surfs to meditate which is one of the most Australian things he could have said at that very moment.
The Old Quarter
Casco Viejo in Panama City is filled with old colonial buildings built in the 1600s and is the home of the first institutions and buildings of the city. As well as all this interesting old stuff, it is also a hub of amazing restaurants, cafes and packed clubs. We had to decide how to spend our well saved money from the rest of the trip and it all boiled down to either food or clubbing. While at first it was a real dilemma, we did end up eating some of the best food of the entire trip in this area so you may be able to guess which option we chose. Food always wins out.
Aki was lunch on a whim. We went in and it was empty, but a very cool interior meant we weren’t deterred. Saving our money for another food fuelled ventures, we only had a few appetizers but we couldn’t have been happier with what we put in our mouths. I had red snapper ceviche and Brendan had spicy tuna sushi on crunchy rice cakes. Mine was incredibly fresh and tasty while Brendan seemed to be having an out of body experience eating his tuna. After tasting these we couldn’t resist ordering some fishcakes to share which were equally beautiful.
Tántalo Roofbar was the site of a glorious spending spree. It was our last night before heading to Trinidad and Tobago and we wanted a rooftop bar where we could while the night away with beer, food and scintillating conversation. This bar had the first two and we brought the final ingredient for a brilliant evening.
We arrived in the late afternoon for a few beers before dinner and it was already fairly busy on the roof terrace. We didn’t get shown to a table so just sat on one looking over the city, however we were quickly fenced off from the other people, penned in like animals to the slaughter. However, it turned out we accidentally sat ourselves in the VIP area, with plush comfy stools and purple lighting. Feeling a little out of place with our rucksacks and dressed ready for our travels, we decided there was only one thing to do and that was to go with the flow and order some beer.
We sat there in quiet bewilderment. People were being turned away from the VIP area. These people were in dresses and suits, they had tried very hard for this fancy dinner spot. While we in our, hand-washed in the shower using second hand shampoo clothes, sat there enjoying comfort and exclusivity. Deciding to solidify our position in the VIP area we ordered food which came in the form of possibly the most incredible monstrous bacon wrapped prawns you could ever hope for while Brendan got the nicest pulled pork he’d ever consumed. Then I had a brainwave. Why not top it off with a meat platter to share. When it came there were many meats, and many groans of enjoyment that could’ve been mistaken for other, less appropriate groans, to those who are not fully up to date with how much we love food.
After finishing we were still sitting pretty in the VIP area and some of the people from our hostel had come to the bar to drink. They saw us and tried to come and say hello but were turned away. However, after a little word to the surly bouncer they were let in. Who did they think we were? Why did we hold so much power in our grubby hands? We definitely didn’t fit the description of the Panamanian elite, unlike the 60 something year old man, with two young attractive ladies on his arm, a few tables down from us. We looked like people who could hardly afford to be sitting in the restaurant, never mind the exclusive area. We left this roof bar extremely happy and I went searching for another main course and some dessert, while Brendan said goodbye to Panama in the only way he knew how. A final solemn strawberry daiquiri. What better way to spend the rest of your money than on food and alcohol?
The New Panama City
Our first venture into the new high-rise area of the city was much anticipated and also briefly halted by a young man proclaiming to be from a modelling agency. He thought we’d be the perfect men for the job. My mind raced to pictures of Brendan and I pulling off the Blue steel look on the front page of Vogue, or the less well-known Panamanian equivalent. We’d be rock stars of the fashion world. Our ubiquitous unapologetic style would be seen by the masses, transcending what the world knows about fashion, redefining our very existence on this planet.
Then we we had those creeping doubts: “Maybe we aren’t model material or if we are it’s the models that the barber down the road needs. The type where they mess around with your hair and you get paid 20 quid”. The dreams of the jet set model lifestyle slowly faded and we decided after much deliberation to not model as a career.
It wasn’t our time. But who knows what the future will hold. Watch out world.
Anyway, our many walks into the city were very enjoyable. The best way to go is along the picturesque walking and running path adjacent to the seafront on one side, and the skyscrapers on the other. It was very different to anything I had seen before. On a particular amble into the centre of the city we were walking down the path and I spotted some runners coming so turned my body so that a particularly sweaty and hefty man could continue with his intense running. Instead of gratitude or even just absolutely no reaction, the man puffed out his chest got up onto tip toes and glared down at me eyes bulging with rage. Confused with what had just happened I came to the only possible explanation. When I had turned my body towards him to let him through, his exercise crazed brain had made him interpret that as me threatening him as the new big man about town. The heir to the throne of the seafront strip. Unfortunately, it wasn’t my intention to convey this. Everybody already knew I was the big dog. Competition is stiff to be the new Lion King.
Panama City was too big of a place to fit into one post, so lucky for you the next post will be about some of the unmissable activities we got up to in the city. Also, special thanks to Mondi our taxi driver to the airport who drove at frankly terrifying speeds at road toll barriers, timing them perfectly, all while playing classic rock complete with air guitar. What a man and what a city.