Going into this trip, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I had been heavily warned about the heat and humidity of Panama, and yet I should still wear long sleeves and pants because ticks were a problem on the hikes. These two facts seemed counterintuitive to me, but I was confident that people who had already been on this trip clearly knew better than me.
Somewhere between packing every piece of clothing I own and half a drugstore worth of bug spray, sunscreen and Pepto-Bismol, I stayed up way too late for it be of any use going to sleep, so I was still very much awake when my alarm went off at 3 am. Armed with my suitcase, my passport, and a “Dora the Explorer” level knowledge of Spanish, I set off for the trip of a lifetime. Panama or bust!
During the flight, I tried to imagine what type of situation I was flying into. I’ve never flown internationally before, so I was a little nervous about customs, but everything went smoothly. Once everyone had gathered their things, we set out in our vans for the hotel. Riding on Panama roads was definitely an interesting experience and drivers here use their car horns quite generously, although not how people use horns in America. I equate an American car horn to someone angrily shouting “What are you doing?” or “What’s the matter with you!” In Panama, it seems the car horn is used more to alert drivers near you that “I’m going to be narrowly avoiding hitting your car as I pass you and just wanted to make you aware of my presence.”
Once at the hotel, the first priority was to grab lunch. Most of us had already been awake for close to 10 hours at that point and were quite hungry. Food was another big question mark for me before arriving in Panama. I wasn’t sure if I would be eating burritos every night for the next two weeks, but we found a delicious pizza place, La Nostra Pizza, that coincidentally was themed around famous American gangsters. From there, we decided to visit the local Albrook Mall, where we got to see the Panamanian equivalents of some of our American stores. We ended our outing playing bowling at the attached bowling alley.
Once back at the hotel, we met up with several other members of the group and ventured down the street a ways in search of dim sum. Since our hotel is situated in the “Chinatown” area of Panama, we figured we couldn’t go wrong with Chinese food. Once we arrived at the restaurant, the owners decided to put us in a “VIP Room” due to our large party of 10. He then convinced us to order a few of their specials family-style so that we could all try a sampling of what the restaurant had to offer. What arrived is by far the largest meal of food I’ve ever seen in my life. The waiters kept bringing plates of food like clowns exiting a clown car at the circus. We all had a great time meeting new friends, catching up with old ones, and left with enough leftovers to feed a football team.
I’m so excited for the remainder of our trip. While I didn’t have the first clue what to expect from my time in Panama, I certainly would never have guessed the first day to involve pizza, bowling and Chinese food!