February 6, 2008
I bought a ticket for a night bus out of the city this morning. Next to the bus station was a massive shopping mall with name brand stores everywhere. Lots of American ex patriots, tourists, and rich Panamanians were busy buying pairs of jeans for hundreds of dollars. But right outside the mall were some nasty looking slums. I began to wonder if Panama's large tourism industry had actually done any good for the regular people who lived there. My thoughts were reflected by a taxi driver, who claimed that three percent of the money generated by the canal could be used to pay for the utilities of every Panamanian. He wondered out loud where all that money was going.
When I returned to the bus terminal for my ride out of town, I was amazed to see dozens of American school buses waiting to take passengers away. They were painted very colorfully, not unlike the chivas of Colombia, and were equipped with obscenely large horns and bumper stickers claiming Jesus as their insurance policy. Unfortunately, my bus was of the normal, boring variety, so I would have to wait a bit longer to experience the Central American "chicken buses" about which I had heard so much.
The highway was better than anything I had seen in South America outside of Chile and Argentina. Not only did it have pavement, but it had four lanes actually painted on the ground, and there were an amazing lack of potholes, llamas, and semis going five miles per hour with which to contend. But the biggest surprise after being in Colombia and Venezuela for so long was the lack of police checkpoints. Not one officer brandishing an assault rifle inspected our bus all night. I could get used to this.