Down At The Depot

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Living Abroad, panama, Retirement Abroad

One response to “Down At The Depot

  1. I’ve been bouncing all over following links – got distraction? 😉

    I’m a huge fan of Keillor, so of course I had to check out “Bert and I”. I suppose everyone in Maine knows about them, but they were completely new to me, and I’m anxious to share the link. Even a couple of the folks I know from Maine may enjoy it.

    I’m struck by the vast difference between your bus terminal and the one in Houston. In the first place, you may not take your life in your hands to go down there, but it’s as close to that kind of experience as I’d like to get. The Houston terminal has a kind a sad, end-of-the-line feel to it, instead of the journey-anticipation we used to get when we’d take a bus or train.

    I did most of my traveling in West Africa by the vaunted Mammy Lorry. Actually, that name was more common in Nigeria and Ghana. “Money Bus” was the Liberian name. They all had inspirational names, too, like “We Try” or “Maybe Yes, Maybe No”. 😉

    Fun videos, too. I take it the “fondas” are restaurants?

    The bus terminal in David is a vibrant place. I haven’t been there at night, though, so I don’t know if it has a scary feel to it after dark. The road right outside the terminal is also filled with stands and sidewalk vendors selling everything you can imagine from fruits and veggies to saddles for you horse. Horses are still a transportation system here. There’s a gentleman just a few houses away who rides to work on his horse every day with his tools in makeshift saddle bags.

    Yes, the “fondas” are small restaurants usually with counter service and two or three small tables. They sell “tipica” meals…local food most often chicken, some kind of beans and rice dish, “sancocho” which is a Panamanian soup, and sometimes fried fish. You can usually get a decent lunch with something to drink for under $2.”

    I know you lived in Africa for quite some time, but that’s a place that has held absolutely NO interest for me at all as far as a destination. Though I have read and enjoyed all of Wilbur Smith’s novels about South Africa and ancient Egypt. One regret I have about my time in Spain was I never made it over to Africa which was actually only a short ferry boat ride away from Algeciras to Ceuta, Spanish Morocco. I had intended on doing it just to say I’d been to Africa, but preparing the boat to make a transAtlantic crossing always got in the way, somehow. Come to think of it, there are quite a few places on this earth I have no desire to visit. After spending a couple of months in Hawaii I have zero desire to see any more of the Pacific islands. Granted, Hawaii was a beautiful place, but filled with the most miserable assortment of the nastiest people it has ever been my misfortune to encounter.