We should have known that our last week in Central America, where we planned to see a canal and finally visit some islands on the east coast of Central America, would not be easy. Boy, were we right. Traveling in Panama was another example of Central America strikes back.
Our goal was to spend a few nights in Panama City to see the canal, and then head out to the San Blas Islands. After giving up on the Bay Islands in Honduras, and having to cancel our trip to the Corn Islands in Nicaragua, this was our last shot to experience some island bliss in this part of the world. But, we should have known that traveling in Panama would not be as expected.
Things Are Not As Expected
Things went wrong as soon as we left immigration at the airport. Our hostel was supposed to send someone to pick us up. They forgot. We called them and an hour later someone arrived. When we got to the hostel, the owner did not even apologize for the delay. Instead, she rushed through our questions about booking something for the San Blas and having laundry done. She gave us the key and abruptly left. Welcome to traveling in Panama.
When we emerged from our room to find lunch, we realized the owner had locked us into the property – us and a few other tourists. There was a padlock on the gate to the outside world and someone accidentally closed it. The owner was the only one with a key, so we waited for her to return just to get lunch. Again, no apologies as we waited outside for almost 45 minutes.
Things Get Worse
Later that night, when waiting once again for the owner to return to help us with accommodation in the San Blas, we were sitting in our bedroom, with the air conditioning on, watching a little TV. I suddenly felt like I had been bitten by a swarm of mosquitos – a bunch all at once. My back was on fire instantly.
I went to the nasty, not too clean, shared bathroom and took off my shirt – I realized I had some sort of mean looking rash all over the top of my back, shoulders, arms, and waist. I was not sure what caused it – bed bugs or an irritation of some sort. I had just put on a new, bright yellow t-shirt I bought in Cuba. It might have been from the material, the dye, or something the shirt was washed in. The rash kept to the parts of my body that touched the t-shirt, and the side of my face which touched the shirt when I pulled it over my head. This was a new infliction, even for Central America.
I downed a bunch of water, took a cold shower, covered my body in hydrocortisone, and tried to get some sleep.
Giving Up On Traveling in Panama
The next morning, the rash continued to rage (although luckily it did not expand over night), and my annoyance with the hostel owner continued to grow. We immediately considered our options, which irrationally included changing our flight to get the hell out of there, at least to get us to Miami and clean accommodations with friends.
Being as frustrated as we were, with traveling in Panama, and in Central America in general, we hoped that the Panama Canal better be damned worth it.
In the end, we scratched our plans for the San Blas Islands – mostly due to my skin. The islands have little electricity, limited water, and some of the cabanas have sand floors – and because we could not get a straight answer from our hostel owner on where we could stay, we bailed. It meant we were 0 for 3 on island excursions from Central America.
We cashed in some Starwood points, and checked into the Sheraton. We heard there were places nearby to eat so we would not be stuck with hotel food. We wanted air conditioning, a clean bed, a clean bathroom, and the ability to control our environment.
And, that is how we experienced Panama City – AXN, the Sony Channel, and Warner Brothers – Grey’s Anatomy, Friends, and lots of CSI and Criminal Minds. Clean water and air conditioning. Lots of bottled water and a fresh tube of Panamanian Hydrocortosina.
Panama was a comfortable place to be sick – they use the USD, you can get almost everything you can in the US at the eerily American style supermarket, but the prices are the same as in the US. We went to the mall, I bought underwear, we ate at a TGI Friday’s.
We traveled to Casco Viejo – or Old Town, I ate some fresh ceviche at the seafood market, and we saw the Canal. We visited with a new friend, Panama Guy, from the blogging community, and watched Beyonce’s half time show for the Super Bowl. We counted the days until we left Central America behind. I analyzed why our final country, and traveling in Panama, was so damn hard.
The Canal was cool. We hired a car to bring us out to make it easy on my recuperating skin. We got to see two boats meander slowly through the Canal.
Then, we got the hell out of Central America. It was not for us. If we never make it back to that part of the world, I would be okay.