Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Panama City

Early in the morning of June 11, I caught the red eye to Panama City, a six hour flight from LAX.  They would not let me on the plane with a one way ticket.  Panama apparently might not let me stay if I didn't have a way back.  So I had to go to the United Airlines counter in the next terminal to buy a return ticket on their partner airline, Copa, which is based in Colombia.  

I arrived at the airport at around 10:30 a.m.  I waited around for the WorldTeach field director, Kari, who had told me she would be there by 11.  She didn't show, so I took a taxi to the hostel.  Luckily she had given me directions.  So I was already out almost $500 I had not counted on spending.

The rest of the volunteers were supposed to get in on a flight from Miami around 1:30 p.m.  They were late, but still Kari did not show up at the airport until they were already at the hostel.  I took them across the street to Super 99, which is like a Wal Mart and is a chain owned by the current president of Panama.  We seem to go there at least once a day.  They had not eaten all day so were happy to get some snacks.  When Kari finally arrived at the hostel, we walked to a nearby mall, Multiplaza, for dinner.  She said our food allowance for dinner was $5.  We went to the food court at the mall, which had a lot of American chains like Wendy's, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Burger King, KFC, Subway, etc.  It was hard to find something under $5, unless you just got rice and beans.  The mall was shocking.  I thought I was coming to a third world country, but the mall stores must have included every brand you would see in Vogue magazine ads.  Cartier, Tommy Hilfiger, Tiffany, Louis Vuitton, etc.  Panama is apparently the big drug money laundering center of the West.  One of the teachers at the University here said they start up dummy companies here just for that purpose.

Multiplaza mall

Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo street
View from Casco Viejo

We are staying at Casa Areka, a hostel in Paitilla, near Punta Pacifica.  This is apparently a very nice area of the city, full of skyscrapers.  The six women are in a room with three bunk beds, which is a little crowded since we all brought luggage for six months.  The sole guy, Matthew, has his own room.  We do have air conditioning, but the bathroom is down the hall and has cold water only.  There is a kitchen we can use to cook in, which will help with our $11 a day food allowance.

Oswaldo, owner of Casa Areka hostel
Michaela and Halima at Casa Areka

The first full day here, Kari met us and we walked to the Multicentro mall, which is the opposite direction of Multiplaza but about the same distance, maybe a mile.  This is where we will catch the bus to the University every day for orientation classes.  Today we are just walking to Casco Viejo, an old part of the city with old churches, cobblestone streets, the presidential palace, etc.  There is a nice walkway and bikeway along the waterfront most of the way there.  Unfortunately, it started raining soon after we started out, so everyone got soaked.  I was the only one with an umbrella, but I still got soaked from the waist down.  We ate lunch at a typical Panamanian hole in the wall restaurant, run by a Chinese man.  Lunch was under $3.  We walked around a little before heading back.  We caught a Diablo Rojo (Red Devil) bus, which are independent, wildly colored, and go where they want to go.  For 40 cents each he took us to Multiplaza mall and we walked back to the hostel from there.

Near Mulicentro mall

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