to the

Panama City

Unique Property Blog

Back to the Blog Index
Back to the Unique HomePage


According to the clock on the screen it's the middle of the afternoon. It's been the middle of the afternoon all day.

I look out the window and see grass that's wet green; just like back home.

I stand on the tarmac. The clouds fleck the sky with a disinterested nonchalance. They're going to hang around to see what's going on down below, and if you don't like it, tough.

The lady at immigration looks at my documents. She's bored. She yawns. She must be tired carrying all that weight around. I'm from Madrid. Ha, that lot. She indicates a light box on the desk and motions for me to spread my fingers across the green screen. Then my thumbs. I feel as if I am being inducted into a prison camp.

Between yawns she waves me in.

Panama is like the old quarter of San Francisco as she was when I first visited all those years ago. There are no trams, but in the old quarter the rails are still there. Along the streets are cables by the million carrying electricity and phones to buildings that look too old to have ever been connected.

Downtown everything is slick and modern, with office blocks and apartment buildings shooting up like giddy elevators through eighty floors and more.

The bank was clearly designed by someone from Finland, or maybe even by Calatrava himself. It looks like a series of chocolate boxes spread out fan-wise, but asymetrically.

The streets are full of potholes. The pavements mirror some distant range of hills, with empty lakes. I avoid another lady, do a hop skip and a jump to avoid the empty lakes, and muse upon the phrases one uses.

The phrase 'bumping into somebody' here takes on a new meaning. Bump into one of these girls, or indeed the guys, and you may well bounce. The one at the cash and carry has a substantial figure. At a guess she weighs in at 74, 74, 84, and that's in inches. She leans over to pick up a receipt that's fallen on the floor, and her shirt rides up. Her skirt stretches till it's fit to bust, then slides down the acreage of her bottom, revealing two inner tunes separated by the Panama Canal.
Folk here are like ships, they carry a lot of ballast. They ride low in the water.

The clouds gang up, turn black, and a rain of sweat dribbles down on us. I stand next to a water spray to keep cool.

The tide is out and the smellometer registers something bad. Sewage mixes with so many other nuances that keep me away from the water's edge.

In the old quarter the houses are a mixture of ruins, old colonial apartments with extensive balconies running the length of every floor, and building sites. Water hydrants sprout along every street, long since disused but standing as reminders of the past.

I walk past fix-it street. The buildings are wrecks, and along the pavement edge are cabins built from concrete blocks, old iron, and timber. Men are mending electrical goods, selling spare parts, or general hardware. There is a strong smell of oil, fish guts, and urine.

Further down the road is a new garden area, with plants trailing over trellises. Beyond this is the old town wall, just a solitary remnant. At every block there is a square, each looking more empty than the previous. A lady shaped like a barrel walks by, dressed in blue skirt and white lacy shirt. She meets a friend and they shake hands formally.

By the fishing port are alleyways filled with men sorting fish to crates, and tiny eateries selling fish soup, and various dishes.

A family spreads itself across the pavement, another family sits in wicker chairs on the veranda. Everywhere are ladies running fingers round bands of elastic, trying to unstick their knickers.

There are so many races intermixing, plus the original Indians, who do not seem to racially mix at all. They are small, thick-set, and wear distinctive clothes.

It's hot, sweaty hot. The place to be is, I suppose, up in the highlands, like Boquete.

Getting about is a bit of a nightmare. There are no trains, and the buses fall into two very distinct categories. There is the ticabus, which is a system run from San Josť, in Costa Rica, hence the term tica, which means someone from that country. The buses are modern, efficient, but fully booked. You want to travel tomorrow? Tough! How about next thursday, or the week after that?

The local buses are ramshackle things that look as if they were built back in the thirties. They carry people like cargo. You jam in, and somehow you get to your destination with much jolting, horn blowing, and level 11 on the radio volume.
(I stood in the town square at Granada last night after coming out of church, and a bus rolled in, blasting out the latest pop tunes. It was like a disco party rolling into town. Hey, this is fiesta time in downtown Granada. Only it isn't. It's just another village bus rumbling to a halt so the passengers can fall off, and drain their ears.)

I wasn't supposed to be in Panama, so I tried to ticabus myself out, but that wasn't easy. I took a local bus instead to David, arriving 4.00 a.m. Four hours later I got another to San Josť, the capital city of Costa Rica.

I didn't really see David. It was hiding amongst the trees. That happens a lot outside Panama City, as everywhere else is low-rise. Anything about two stories is tall. Most places are content with being one story high. Your average house all around here is a bungalow, with a covered area outside. The kitchen can be in or out, the bedrooms are in, and the living area is the covered courtyard outside. It never gets cold, but it does rain, and sometimes rains like hell, thus keeping you awake all night, as the roofs are made from corrugated iron.

My journey out of here to San Josť took the best part of twelve hours with a three hour queue at the frontier. That's just to get out of the place! We lined our luggage up in a room wile a man with a dog came in, and the dog sniffed around. No-one was carrying any dope that day, so we were free to go after the customs guy had called out our names from the bus manifest. It was like being back in school with sir reading the register.

Free to go? What am I saying? We had to queue to get our exit stamps. That's what took the time. Apparently the way to deal with this is to see the official organising the queue and slip him the required wad of notes, and you get to the front.

After queuing for three hours we were all heartily sick of Panama. But, hey, we've got Costa Rica to look forward to.

See you there next week.


Subscribe to our email alerts on the housing markets both in the UK and abroad.

HTML Comment Box is loading comments...

Disclaimer     Privacy Policy