Diving into Panama City
paralian n. A person who lived near the sea.
Our quick getaway from the horrible carpenter ant infested spaceship city had us getting into Panama City relatively early, which was one positive from the Santiago experience. We had booked a room at a small B&B called the Hotel Carolina Princess and after an excessive amount of time trying to explain to the taxi driver where the hostel was (seriously, does no one understand a simple map down here?), we arrived. The Hotel Carolina Princess was located not far from the central high-rise sector of the city on the quieter residential hills. From all the places we had seen so far in Central America, Panama City was by far the most city-like place we had been. Sure, Guatemala City and San Jose had been big, but they were still relatively low and dilapidated. Panama City’s skyline was filled with modern medal and glass skyscrapers. I’m sure the difference probably had something to do with the wealth of money that poured in through the Canal.
We were glad our hotel was a little removed from this city center and was instead surrounded by expensive looking villas with high-security gates surrounding them. It seemed we were in the rich distract of town, but thankfully our hostel was still relatively cheap by Panamanian standards, at about $30 per night with breakfast included. Granted, five nights at that price would add up, but we were quickly approaching a long stint of free accommodation so we weren’t too fussed.
The room was small, nothing more than a windowless white-walled square, but anything was better than the spaceship. But the best part of the hostel was by far the outdoor swimming pool. Anytime we saw a hostel advertising for a swimming pool, we were skeptical. After being disappointed in San Salvador, we tried to make the inclusion of swimming pools a major part of our decision making criteria. This one, however, was even better than we had hoped. Located on a wide balcony just below the hostel with a terrific view of the city high-rises in the distance, the swimming pool started at about 5 feet in depth and quickly sloped to what we could only assume was at least ten feet. At various points, we tried to dip the skimmer down, but it didn’t reach, and diving that deep only resulted in giving Chris a headache.
Given the depth of the pool, it made for the perfect environment for my latest project: learning how to dive. Every since I was a kid, the concept of diving head first into water terrified me. I could recall squatting on the edge of the dock of Bigfork Bay as my dad tried to convince me to fall face-first into the water. Needless to say, it never worked and never learned. It was inexplicable. It wasn’t as if thinking about the dive terrified me, but if I tried it, my body would involuntarily panic in mid-air, resulting into a pathetic flair and a belly-flop. Chris, being a dive lover, was determined to break me of this, and after two long days of a red stomach and a hurt pride, I finally did it. I dove. Years of wanting to learn had materialized into something. After that, I couldn’t stop diving. I was just lucky that no one else really used the pool since my underwear acting as a bathing suit like to completely shirk away from my butt every time I plunged into the water.
And that was pretty much how we spent out time in Panama City: swimming and working out by the pool. I imagined that it must be what a normal person’s vacation was like. The city itself was large enough that we knew we couldn’t really walk to any of its major destinations, like the Canal. At the same time, none of its destinations were really enticing enough to motivate us to arrange for transportation anywhere. As such, we decided early on that Panama City would be a relaxing reprieve before the chaos of traveling to a different continent.
The few times we ventured out were really only to get groceries at a supermarket in the closest Centro Mercado. Closest, however, was a misleading term. While the grocery store itself was only technically a few blocks away, the street design and he formerly mentioned villa-housing style pretty much cordoned off our hostel by rows of impassable houses. Rather slip between houses, we had to detour all the way around, zigzagging through the streets until finally reaching the store. The walk was so complicated that we spent our last day in the city guiding an elderly Canadian man we had met at breakfast in our hostel there. His pace was painfully slow, but he was very nice and very grateful that we had taken the time to show him the way there and back.