Sunday, August 23, 2009

Getting Around in Panama

I consider it a feat of extreme care, luck, and expertise that Les drove the little Yaris around for 22 days without getting a detectable scrape or a dent on it. (He might have gotten a teeny dent on the front bumper, but it was in exactly the place where dents had already been noted prior to our taking possession, so the careful inspection by a Thrifty agent came out fine. Most of the vehicles we see on the roadways have numerous small dents and scrapes and many have large ones. Vehicle rental companies here go over the car with a fine-toothed comb when you turn it in, and as a renter, it is wise to do the same when you pick it up. Drivers here are very aggressive, and they honk a lot. The type of honk conveys subtle information - I know you!; Hi, let me in.; Don't pull out in front of me!; Don't be an idiot!; You ARE an idiot.; Coming through.; Go ahead.; Take it.; Muchas gracias!; and more.)

Before we rented our first car in Panama, while we were still in Gamboa last month, we ventured out on buses and in taxis. It costs 65 cents to get from Gamboa to the Albrook terminal on the Coop Saca bus line. We took the Saca buses to the terminal a few times, and it takes about 45 minutes. From the Albrook terminal, you can get just about anywhere - buses run to the interior, to Costa Rica, to the Darien, and all over Panama City.

The Diablo Rojos are the city buses, they run all around the city, and the cost is 25 cents each ride - no transfers - we took a few rides on them too, sometimes being surprised when we were dropped off in sketchy neighborhoods. But we maintained our auras and came out unscathed. The Rojos are converted school buses from the U.S.A. The conversion consists of inventive and artistic paint jobs, and often they have fancy neon lights around the license plates and around the windshields. Some of the paint jobs have themes, such as Elvis, the Black Christ, Beyonce, various Latin pop stars, Betty Boop, Hello Kitty, Jimi Hendrix, Sting. Most of the buses belch diesel smoke, referred to as Devil Fumes. Sometimes the wheels fall off them, but we were fortunate not to experience such an event.

Photo © George Griffeth 2009
We also took taxis a few times. It's very inexpensive to get around town in taxis, although it's best to agree on a price with the driver before getting in. Some of them try to foist the gringo rate on visitors. One time in December, we got from our motel to Metropolitan Park for $5 (we now know that rate was probably a dollar or two more than it should have been.) Then, when we left the park, the driver (not the same as the first time) told us it would be $10 to take us back to the motel. I told him "No way - we got here for $5.", then turned on my heel and started to walk away. He promptly said, "OK - $5.", so we got in and went back to the room.

No comments:

Post a Comment