Back in 1958 Marshall “Mike” Dodge and Bob Bryan recorded their first collection of “Bert and I” records. Sort of an early Down East version of Lake Wobegon immortalized by Garrison Keillor. Bert and I depicted Maine fishermen and woodsmen with dry, classic humor and spot-on Mainer accents.
One of the stories that always stuck with me was the one in which Bert won a raffle for an all-expense-paid week-long trip to Boston. When he returned everyone in town came to greet him and were hungry for details of his trip and the delights he had experienced in the big city. “Well,” he said, “there was so much going on at the depot I never did get to see the village.”
That story sprang to mind the first time I stepped off the bus at the bus terminal in David, Panama. If you want to get a true slice of Panamanian life there’s no better place than at the terminal. I just love it there and enjoy waiting for my bus to arrive to take me back up the hill. It’s a people-watcher’s paradise.
The terminal is filled with dozens of little kiosks where you can buy an eclectic assortment of snacks, ice cream and shoddy goods. There is a good sized cafeteria and a couple of small “fondas.” Street vendors walk up and down hawking belts and pirated audio CDs. Students in their pressed uniforms walk together in groups and the Ngobe Indian women and their children in their traditional mumus add color to the parade. Over it all are the “puerteros,” young men who are sort of like conductors opening the bus doors and collecting the fares from the departing passengers, sing out the destinations of their bus routes which are plainly visible in huge lettering on the windshields of the buses.
I’ve never understood why some people say that the transportation system in Panama is so poor. I find it to be excellent. Buses run throughout the country. True, they aren’t all luxurious motor coaches and I’ve noticed that as you get away from the more metropolitan areas the buses get smaller and smaller. In my early explorations of the country I went from Panama City to Pedasí on four different kinds of bus. A large coach from PC to Santiago, then on a smaller Toyota seating about 30 people from there to Chitré. A slightly smaller Toyota from Chitré to Las Tablas and then a 12 seat rattle trap from there to Pedasí. And then there are the ubiquitous yellow taxis everywhere. Check them as they come out of the terminal exit and passing by on the street.
A word of advice…NEVER get in a cab until you have established how much it’s going to cost to get to your destination and if it sounds unreasonable to you move on. I’ve been quoted prices I KNOW aren’t right and I always ask, “and how much is it for a Panamanian?” before going elsewhere.