Visa Run to Panama


Whatever it was I did to piss off the gods, it must have been serious. How else can I explain being on a small plane to Panama with a screaming kid in front of me, one on the side and yet another behind? Insha’Allah it was a short flight of just over an hour.

Once landed I hopped a local bus to the city center. I went to pay the $2 fare with 20USD – the currency of this colonized country. The driver yelled at me that I was making his life difficult. How dare I have such a big bill? Didn’t I know that they only accept small money? Never mind, just go.

Ya' have to love the local buses.
Ya’ have to love the local buses.

So there I was unceremoniously dumped off the bus; it belched black smoke at me as I stood on the curb trying to get my bearings. Not that I had a clue where I was.


I’d booked a room at Dianes (sic) Hostel. A local woman who has been on the bus with me flagged down a taxi and Angel – the driver’s name – agreed to take me there for $3USD.

The address given on did not include a street number. We went up and down and all around the barrio of San Francisco.  Angel asked police officers, door men, people minding their own business walking down the street where the hostel was. Nobody had ever heard of it; no signage anywhere to be seen.

We checked a few places and I eventually ended up at a hotel called Pension Corona. It was downtown, reasonably clean and safe. By this time all I wanted was a shower as Panama is tropical sweaty and sticky.


The next day was Thursday and I didn’t feel like doing much so I didn’t.

I even lowered my standards to watching television as it was in Spanish. The guy at the front desk was surprised that he had to give me a lesson on how to use the remote. Okay, so I don’t do technology. Besides, I’ve never had to use a remote before.


Panama City bills itself as the “seafood capital of the world.”  Actually I think the offerings at Kep are better, but nobody in Central America wants to hear that.

The woman at the hotel gave me direction to the Mercade de Mariscos – literally the seafood market – as it wasn’t far from the hotel. So off I went and proceeded to get lost. Surprise, surprise. Fish_market

I sauntered into a funeral parlor – or I assume that was what it was from the display of coffins – and asked the people there.

The guy sitting behind the desk picked up his car keys and told me to come with him. Soon we are careening down some freeway headed for who-knows where. He told me he was a serious Christian. I didn’t bother to report my atheist status. Hey, if chauffeuring lost women comes under the rubric of doing God’s work so be it.

He dropped me at the waterfront where restaurants went on forever. I wandered around and checked menus – like Medellin they were much of a muchness – and finally picked a place away from the blaring speakers.

Great plan until the ice grinding machine started up. All of a sudden the loud crooning music of Panama started to be more appealing.

No complaints about the food, though.

Photo credit: Gualberto107
Photo credit: Gualberto107

It was a lazy Friday so I ordered a second beer as I was thirsty. A Colombian trader on a bike came by and asked me for it so I gave it to him. He then insisted I take his photo.





My flight was at 09:30 so Angel came to the hotel to collect me at 06:30.

Security in this part of the world is so civilized compared with the absolute paranoia and bedlam of America.

Back in Medellin I noticed a customs official glanced at me a few times. When I left the woman who stamped my New Zealand passport noted that my student visa expired the next day. I told her that was why I was going to Panama.

When it was my turn he swiped my passport, picked up the phone and said “a woman with a passport alert is here.” Goody, goody – just what you want to hear at customs.

For some strange reason tourists can only stay in the country for 180 calendar days. In most countries it is the pattern of 90 days, exit, re-enter.

I explained that I had gone to Panama to change my student status to tourist and that I would get a 90 day extension after the first 90 days. He stamped the passport and handed it to me.


The visa run to Panama served its purpose. Would I go there just to go there again? No.

The last time I was in Panama was in 2000 as part of a jaunt around Central America.

I’m ended up sharing a hotel room with Gladys, a smuggler from the Dominican Republic who lived in America. She was a practical nurse and her legs gave out so she turned to buying clothes, table cloths, socks, whatever and then selling them in the Caribbean. All under the table, of course.

I trolled around the wholesale places with her and then watched the massive rolls of tape go around the boxes as the things were wrapped to be shipped.

Interesting for half an hour, but I prefer the fish restaurant.

My observation is that Panama is ho-hum at best and far too American at worst

Lack of photos:

The reason there aren’t any of my photos or any happy snaps of me is because they all disappeared from Picasa.

Google – in its relentless pursuit of controlling the Internet and, therefore, the world – decided to move everything over to Google Photos. The information said that everything would be transferred automatically.

Wrong. When I signed on there was one photo of me repeated four times.

Of course I had backups. But they were on the computer in My Pictures – also run by Google – so they disappeared as well.

The moral of the story is to back-up to an external drive or USB.