Panama – Part II. I flew from Panama City to David and rented a car. The plan was that I could then go where I wanted, when I wanted and not have to get off and on a bus when a tour guide told me to. Also, I might see more of the authentic Panama. Well, good plan anyway. And, of course, I had a Panamanian woman sitting next to me on the plane who wanted to practice her English (thank God) and told me I definitely didn’t want to retire in David – too hot and humid, she said. Boy was she right. I could tell that from the moment I stepped off the plane. Mind you, I’m from Nevada so I’m accustomed to 115 degree heat but humidity? Nope, can’t handle that along with heat. One or the other, thank you – not both.
I picked up my rental car and since I had installed Waze on my phone, the directions to the Gran Nacional Hotel were very good. I was not, however, overwhelmed by the look of the city. Low, squat buildings and scaffolding and cranes surrounding every view. I didn’t know if that was a sign of prosperity and the city was growing or a sign of decay and everything needed propping up. I kept seeing lovely pictures online of manicured parks with modern sculptures and fountains. Damned if I saw any of that anywhere near the Gran Nacional.
I arrived at the hotel, lowered the air conditioning in my room to a comfortable non-sweating-sitting-still temperature and strolled back downstairs to the front desk. I told the girl on duty there that I was interested in a tour of the city. She asked me what I wanted to see. I told her I wanted to get a feel for the city as a possible retirement location and to see the sights. Her response? “Oh there’s nothing much to see here.” Terrific. I had arranged my flight to arrive early so I would have a full day to explore the city. It was suffocatingly hot outside and, driving in, I hadn’t seen anything within walking distance that warranted a second look so I decided I’d get directions to my next stop, Boquete, and make sure I could find the main road the next morning. Surely that would also afford me the opportunity to see some of the city.
I found a young woman in a travel agency on the main floor who spoke English. “Easy” she told me and drew me a map, explaining that I would drive about 12 blocks and turn right onto the road and then just drive straight. “What’s the name of this main street?” I asked. She didn’t know and wasn’t even sure it had a name. Wasn’t this looking promising?
I decided to give it a go and see what happened. The problem was that the directions to my rented casita in Boquete were that I would turn left just past the main bank near the main park once I started downhill into the valley where the city is located. Now how could I possibly miss that? Here’s the problem. Waze wants a better description of the destination when calculating the trip. For some odd reason, it likes street names and house numbers. I tried several ways of finding directions from 1 Calle Central Avenue in David to either a bank in Boquete or a central park in Boquete. Waze gave me two separate sets of directions going in totally different directions.
I drove 12 blocks (many with no name at all that I could find) and ended up at a T intersection. Well, this must be it, I reckoned. I turned right and as I drove out of town and began to climb to a higher altitude, I hoped I was headed in the right direction. I passed very few signposts and of the ones I saw, none mentioned Boquete. After an hour of driving and having reached a point where there was nothing but land and an occasional cow grazing in a field, I decided I must not have found the road and turned around.
About halfway back, I noticed what looked like a huge cloud of yellowish smoke across the road ahead and began to smell smoke in the car. Should I stop? Was this a wildfire? The car in front of me had Panama plates and they weren’t hesitating so I decided to follow their lead. Someone had set a brush fire and it was right by the side of the road. Remember my Panama City driver, Sinar? When I finally got back to Panama City at the end of my visit, I told him about the fire and pulled up the photo I took from the car while approaching the cloud of smoke. He was laughing until he saw the picture and then he became very serious and said, “Oh no, no.” Too late. I had plowed through like the idiots in front of me and was lucky the fire hadn’t decided to jump the road and take me with it in the process.
The next morning, I was trying to get the wait staff in the little dining room to determine which set of directions on my phone would get me to Boquete when two gentlemen, who spoke English and overheard the conversation, said, “We’re going to Boquete if you’d like to follow us.” Why, yes, I would, thank you very much.
My right turn, as it turns out, was not 12 blocks up but the next block up from the hotel at the first stop sign. From there, it really did go straight to Boquete and the entire drive took a half hour. It was lush and green and I got to see how locals lived and the care they took with their tiny but colorful flower gardens. I was encouraged. But then, I hadn’t met the expats in Boquete yet. That’s Part III of my Panama adventure, coming up next post.