My brother, Jarrod flew in with me to a housesit in Pedasi, Panama. I was glad as the anxiety I usually have traveling solo, was diminished. We took a flight from Atlanta, Georgia, which was the cheapest direct flight, only 3.5 hours long. The cost we paid was around $270 each one way. It was problematic checking in as we couldn’t use the kiosk, which is my preference. It denied a boarding pass because I had to show my passport and return flight ticket. It is a common theme now to have a return flight. I am very frugal. So, there are ways around this if you are the same as me. You can purchase a cheaper ticket for water taxi, bus, or a flight to a neighboring country, depending on where you are. When I'm staying for months at a time in one country, it is cheaper to purchase a ticket a few weeks prior to the date of departure. I cannot do that in this case, so I have to search for an alternative. Sometimes I lose the money, or I may be given the opportunity for an e-credit, depending on the rules for the airline. I purchased a flight to Fort Lauderdale, Florida for $80, return date of January, 25th. I will cross my fingers to do just that, but it seems I will have to lose that money as they require documentation via military, Covid positive proof from a doctor or another emergency, which I will not qualify for. Oh well, it was worth a try right?
Thankfully with Pre-check, you leave your computer in your bag, your shoes, belt, hat on etc.
So I had the TSA Pre-check, (you may apply on this site), on my boarding pass, but my brother didn’t. Although he has received one. But it wasn’t printed on his boarding pass. As I approached the Pre-check area, I could tell it was a long, long wait. After continuous movement through probably 50 zigzagging lines, I finally was approaching the TSA dreaded conveyer belt. I always get nervous doing this as I’m confused by “what’s new." I always check to see what is allowed, but it is forever changing. Thankfully with Pre-check, you leave your computer in your bag, your shoes on, belt, hat, etc. Yet, you have to take out your liquids. When I do not enter my “Global Entry” number, I am always delayed by the security, by having the magical hand wand scanning my body, even after passing the full body scan. I also had to take out items numerous times as they would go completely through my belonging. I was told by the airline that I was on a “terrorist list” by a match to my name, which I found that difficult to comprehend as my name is unique. It is called “Redress Number," click here to learn more about what a redress number is. However, when I contacted Homeland Security, I was advised I wasn’t on such a list. I was told not to enter my passport number, but to enter the world pass number. Since this, I have had no problems.
Once getting through the TSA checkpoint, I was free to find the terminal of departure. Atlanta is a huge airport, so it takes quite a while to get from point A to point B. I had to go down many escalators to catch a tram. I was thinking the terminal stop would be soon after boarding the tram, however it was the last stop. I was also confused as it didn’t have information about the international flights, which I had expected. It only shown the letter of the last stop, I believe it was “F” and I loaded it at “A." And “F” was showing the area for baggage collection. I was hoping I had the correct information. After exiting at the “F-Stop," I saw the signs for International Terminals. Whew, I was glad I was correct. I didn’t think my brother would beat me to the gate, but he did. So much for the extra money spent to navigate quicker during travel!
NOTE: If you are planning on traveling internationally anytime soon, I would suggest arriving to the airport at least 3 hours early. Especially if you’re hindered by another language and filling out forms that aren’t in your language. If it is to a place you do not frequently travel to, and because the requirements change constantly! Covid, has caused quite a ruckus in smooth traveling. BTW, to enter Panama, we didn’t have to have a Covid test prior to the flight, nor a quarantine. This was because we both had our Covid vaccinations, and they are up to date.
It wasn’t long before we landed in Panama City, Panama. Upon arrival, it was quite confusing trying to figure out how to fill out a Covid QR scan form. We thought we had already filled out the right information prior to leaving Atlanta, which we were told that was what we needed once we landed. However, that wasn’t true. Among the poor ability to communicate with the airport staff, it took several attempts to try to explain we had it, but they quickly stated, “no”,...that I understood. I was shown the QR code to fill out. It was many repetitive questions, and only in Spanish, which really tried our already exhausted brains from filling this form out once before. Somehow, my brother had to pay money on the form he filled out, yet I didn’t. As we were confused to no end, we approached once again in hope to “pass” the ever dreaded threshold that we had been held back from. After taking around 40 minutes extra to fill out the proper QR code, we were bewildered by the then easy breach of the line of “no passage”. Oddly enough upon approach, the personnel holding the line had walked away without even saying a word. Even with others waiting in line. So, we were given a silent green light. To learn what the green and red colors mean via customs in Panama, click here.
Speaking of colors, once we approached the customs agent, he scanned our phones with the QR code on it. My brother received the “verde” (green), which was the all clear, but I on the other had, had “roja” (red), which meant, no passage. Ugh, I was so confused. I had to turn around and go to a table with 3 people who would scan it again and gave me a small piece of paper to take back to customs. With that, we were through that section of entry. We had to get on but we did not. It took about an extra hour to collect our baggage.
Our taxi ride was $30 from the airport into the city to our hotel, the Hilton Panama. The drive was around 30 minutes. Once we arrived, we decided we wanted to eat. The streets seemed very empty of pedestrians, but vehicles in the city were plentiful. We ate at a Lebanese restaurant called Beirut. The setting was very pretty. It maybe had 4 customers when we were there. I had shish kebab, and I do not remember what my brother had, but we both thought it was delicious. There was a man who came up to play guitar and sing. It was great!
After eating a fantastic breakfast that was included in our stay at the hotel, my brother and I were ready to ease the travel tension and go on an adventure. We had no idea this trip to the Panama Canal would be above and beyond our expectations! We had a fabulous taxi driver, Roberto, who picked us up in a clean van at the hotel. It was obvious he enjoyed his job as he was pretty excited to show us around! His English was good enough to understand as we knew limited Spanish. I highly recommend Roberto! If you would like to know his information if you visit, please inquire by sending me a private message. Roberto shown us around for the day for approximately 4-5 hours, and the cost was $170 for two people, but if you had more people, you could split the costs. As for the entertainment value, it was priceless!
As we arrived at the Gamboa Marina for this exciting tour of the Panama Canal and Monkey Island, we observed several boats in the water. Our boat captain was awaiting us, so we immediately loaded up onto the boat which was only occupied by our taxi driver, Roberto, the captain of the boat along with myself and my brother. Our taxi driver, Roberto, came along for the ride. He must love his job when he can take a day to be entertained by the relaxing water verses the insanity of driving the streets of recklessness.
Our captain was only 17 years old, but he knew exactly what he was doing. As we approached the bridge that entered the canal, we were millimeters from scaling the top of the canopy. They are just coming out of the rainy season, so the water is very high. I wasn’t sure we would make it, but he placed us in positions to navigate it smoothly and we were quickly ad safely in the canal. Immediately we were held back by the port authority to await a huge cargo ship cruising through. After it passed, we were off to the much anticipated Monkey Island.
Our first approach to a small island I wasn’t sure what to expect. As we pulled up against the vegetation, our captain lets out a call. This is to pull the monkeys to us. As he did, we were quickly observing the cutest monkeys with a which mohawk upon the top of their heads. They were so tiny and adorable. They held nothing back in shyness as they quickly boarded our boat and were ready to feed on the ripe bananas Roberto provided for us.
We made our way to the Causeway to eat. We had an early diner at Sirena Seafood Restaurant. The food was a little pricey, but we were taken there by our taxi driver and I felt he had a great day and wanted to celebrate.
We then decided to take the bus with the locals, at Allbrook Bus Terminal from Panama City to Las Tablas. The cost was $9 per person, which usually takes 4.5 hours. But due to the traffic, and it being Sunday as well as a holiday the next day we were delayed in the beginning of our trip. That and having a flat tire, which took longer, but we made it in around 6 hours. The problem with that long of a ride, there wasn’t a bathroom on the bus. There were plenty of older people and babies and I’m not sure how they make it without a stop. Thankfully we did stop due to the flat tire. It was a flat on the back with the dual tires and it was the inside tire. I heard the sound of thumping and at first thought it was something to do with gears as it was a manual transmission, but once the smell started, it was obvious. In Panama, there isn’t any room to pull off the side of the roads. They add layers of asphalt and it keeps piling high, which makes it very dangerous should you run off the shoulders. After the driver knew there was a flat, we shockingly drove for about 15 more minutes. I’m not sure they would be allowed to do that in the US. They did change the tire in minutes though which was very surprising! I think they would have a place in the Nascar circuit if they so desired.
We made it to Las Tablas around 12 AM and we stayed in the Presidente Hotel. It was pretty nice actually. It had very high scores on Travelocity which was great. After a good nights sleep, we were given a free breakfast with the accommodations. It wasn’t as great as the Panama Holiday Inn though. We had one piece of bacon, one egg and a small piece of bread. My brother and I left still hungry. This was Mother’s Day in Panama and it is a holiday here. This fell on a Monday and many people were off work. On Sunday as we had traveled around town there were mothers carrying boxes and roses. They received them from their work. I think that is awesome how it is celebrated here. It is just not the same in the US. You’re lucky if your children call or come to see you. One reason why I choose to travel. It is quite depressing not having a home to invite my kids to anymore.
We took a taxi, ($35) from Las Tablas to Pedasi and it was around a 45 minute drive. Beginning our ride in the small town, you could tell this town was a favorite among the locals. The traffic wasn’t as bad as the big city of Panama City, but the driving was all too similar. No turn signals, riding bumper to bumper, people walking out in traffic without checking to see what is coming their way, vehicles pulling right out in front of other vehicles and with all of this, I told my brother, “It is amazing there are so few accidents!” It was similar to Morocco, but in Morocco driving was much, much worse. Here we are the passengers and our will is in the hands of the driver. But there in Morocco, there were no road signs and all of the language was impossible to read. At least here, there are one or two roads that go to the main areas. It would be hard to get lost.
This was the first time we could view the countryside as when we rode the bus it became nighttime quickly, plus we sat in traffic so long that we missed the views. The trees were large in bright green pastureland, that reminded me of Texas a bit as you have shrubs scattered about. One vision that reminded you that this isn’t Texas, the tropical fruits were everywhere! There was papayas, bananas, lemons, limes, and many more in yards and along and just off the highway. I was told people that do not have land plant corn etc. along the roads in order to feed their families and livestock. On the more rural sections you will find melons growing. There were plenty of fields of corn and wheat. During this journey we found people riding horses, pushing carts and not really facing traffic, even as they walk. There wasn’t many homes around, but I’ve found the insulated carts heading toward homes to sell ice cream and it was named on the side, Italian Gelato...interesting! The traffic along the roads were plentiful and the speeds weren’t an issue. It was 60km/h, which I believe is around 40mph. I can understand not wanting to go that speed. It would take forever to get anywhere as along the roads, cities are far and few. However with the slow movements of horses, livestock, people and a slew of dogs in the roads along with the consideration of the dangers or running off the road, it made sense. People would pass you in solid lines and in curves at full speed without knowing what dangers were ahead. Even large tractor trailers were found to be a bit reckless in their pursuit of the destination by passing in curves. We met a few doing that in a matter of days.
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