Boy, what an exciting title!
We've been here for almost two weeks. Living in a new place makes you notice all of the little things. Things that would never be written in a guidebook, because they're too insignificant, but together create the atmosphere you live in.
We haven't had much of a chance to go out and see the sights. We spend most of the day in the living room working. We eat almonds and drink water, and listen to the traffic below us.
People love using their horns here.
Just a few minutes ago there was an extended horn honking session. It sounded as if two cars were competing to see whose horn had more honks left in it, and they were both winning.
We ran to the balcony to see what was going on.
It was the most low budget parade you could imagine existing. A dozen or so cars, ranging from beat up hondas to a weird miniature truck cab had Panamanian flags attached to them. Some had balloons, some had streamers. Several had pictures of some guy taped to the windows.
There was another mystery festival yesterday. In front of a bank were two elaborately dressed dancers and a small band. Surrounding them were a bunch of people dressed in blue, casually dancing to the music.
I have no idea what these things were for, but I'll tell you this - people here LOVE their country.
And they should. They have a beautiful city that reaches from a bay to the rainforest. The canals are off to the side. It's safe - far safer than any guidebook would have you believe.
There's that tendency to assume other countries are dangerous because they're unknown. We've wandered around through quite a few areas, and haven't seen the first sign of crime. The locals here tell us that there are things to watch out for, but that it's actually safer than most US cities. I believe that.
The police are few and far between. They're not overweight control freaks, but seem like friendly human beings. They remind me of off duty military in the US. They might wear their uniform and look official, but they'd only jump into action if it were for someone's good - not to hassle people.
Labor is cheap here, so stores hire private security. I like that a lot. The guards are armed and are very friendly. The guard for our building gave us an hour long Spanish lesson the other night and is writing down some vocab words for us now. I think I've talked about these guys before.
We made our way to the bus terminal yesterday. The buses here are out of control - they're called Diablos Rojos (red devils). They're painted in a graffiti style with bright colors and random slogans and portraits. At night they light up with all sorts of weird aftermarket flashing lights. I saw one that had a disco ball in it with beams of light shooting out of the windows.
These are the buses that everyone uses, from students to business people to families, to get around the city. I love that they have fun with it... it's not the sanitized corporate front that we demand in the US. It has personality.
We got lost in the bus terminal. It's easy to find a bus that goes there (they all do eventually), but harder to figure out how to get back, especially since there are no addresses here and no maps of the routes. One girl saw that we were lost and walked around with us to find us the right bus.
There aren't lines or terminals like you'd expect. The buses drive around the terminal and stop once in a while due to the congestion. You take that as an opportunity to jump on.
Once we got on a guy suggested that we be careful because there are camera thieves at the terminal. He asked where we lived and told us to always take the "Cinco De Mayo" buses in the future since they go right there. He told us that it's better to sit at the front of the bus so that you can let the driver know when you want to get off.
He was really happy to hear that we liked Panama and were spending a lot of time here, not just breezing through to see the canal. He probably could have guessed that anyway, though... we were the only white people at the terminal.
The service in restaurants here is totally out of control. At the place we go to for lunch everyday (Mireya's Vegetariana), one of the workers (I think he may own it) insists on carrying our trays for us to the table. As we finish a dish, he takes it away. At Casa Vegetariana, our usual dinner spot, the owners already know which items we like, that we prefer not to have straws with our orange juices, and they usually spend a few minutes speaking in Chinese with me (side note : man do I have a lot to work on in Chinese!).
Casa Vegetariana is the first restaurant I've ever been to where I feel guilty when I pay. It's not nearly enough. An expensive dinner there is $4.50. Many days I pay $3 or less.
The other night they didn't have any change, so I overpayed by $.50. I was overjoyed.
In short - we both love Panama to death. We've only been here for 12 days, but it feels as though we've lived here for months. It's such an easy and comfortable place to be.