Day 3 – Cross Country Drive Begins


Today was my first day to make a move out of Panama City. The plan was to head to Bocas Del Toro. While this entire trip is relatively unplanned and spontaneous, I was told on Reddit by numerous travelers that Bocas Del Toro is the hotspot to visit if visiting Panama. As a side note, if you’re a traveler, definitely start using Reddit. It will save you so much time and increase your online social network.

  • I tried booking booking a plane, and there were no spots. Apparently this is a common trip and since I was unknowingly trying to do it on a popular weekend, everything was sold out.
  • No busses today, have to wait until tomorrow.
  • Rental car option came to mind.
  • Spoke with front desk and they confirmed it’s a reasonable option.
  • They said it would take 8 hours to drive…nope…it took 12 and I was moving fast.
  • Holy shit feeling – the idea of unexpectedly renting a car abroad is crazy.
  • I remember Lilly from Quebec is spontaneous (from the previous stories she told me) and asked her if she wanted to come with me and she said yes. I almost died from excitement. She seemed excited too. Her Spanish speaking skills were invaluable later on.

Lilly and I just about ready to go before leaving Luna’s Castle in Panama City:

  • We showered, packed our bags and head out to find a taxi.
  • We found a taxi with another guy that was going to the airport.
  • The taxi driver kicked us out because our fare wasn’t worth his time compared to the other guy who was paying $25 vs our $4.
  • We got another cab.
  • Cab driver said there were no rental car stores at the Allbrook Airport and suggested one nearby instead.
  • Rented a car $191 for 4 days, utilities included, $300 cash deposit. I hoped I wasn’t going to get scammed from this money. I trust Lilly as a translator to confirm everything.

Car I rented: (Doing an inspection of the whole car which I took tons of pictures/videos of since I was afraid of being scammed)

  • Learned to drive in Panama very quickly.
  • Got gas. Lilly told gas station attendant what we wanted.
  • Got lost in traffic trying to find the main highway. I think we drove around 3 times trying to find the correct entrance to the main/only highway across Panama. But once we found it, we were all set for most of the drive.
  • Drove over Panama Canal – on the Puente de las Americas highway.
  • Drove for a loooong time, definitely longer than 8 hours (that the front desk told us).
  • Had long open conversations about relationships. She has a boyfriend. We essentially became each others therapists for 8 hours. We joked that we were each others therapists. We laughed a lot.
  • Got throat lozenges since my throat was constantly dry. I lost my voice for 3 days. It was like impossible to communicate for a little while. I sounded like I had lung cancer, was in puberty and had just screemed at a concert for the entire day. But I felt fine, it was just the climate change.
  • Got a dog leash for belt because finding goods was a challenge at times. Cut it to fit me and tied a knot.
    We both bought backpack locks at a hardware store. The cashier wants our passport numbers to which we rejected her request and she got pissed off. We laughed. WTF…our passport numbers?
  • Got coffee at a random TGI Fridays in the middle of nowhere. There aren’t many American restaurants in small town Latin America.
  • Had Piopio chicken (like KFC) but lower quality. Not the healthiest but we needed food and our snacks ran our.
  • Crazy long winding roads after getting off the main highway.
  • Banana trucks were everywhere and occasionally dropped bananas on the road. Usually they stopped to pick them up.
  • Talked about our relationships, dating, etc.
  • Cows crossing randomly where we had to stop on the highway.
  • Learned that Bambuda is on an island. Shit. Now we’re stuck because it’s late at night and no boats are running. Lilly thought it was hilarious that I booked at a hostel that I didn’t know was on an island.

Had to sleep in a gas station parking lot in the car with Lilly. A couple armed military men were watching the gas station for some reason, so I felt safer than if they weren’t. We bought some small snacks in the convenience store and used the bathroom. Lilly working her Spanish skills to with an officer to ensure staying there was the best option for us for the evening:

My rental car in the well-lit gas station parking lot. The water under the car was from the A/C running:

We talked for a bit longer and finally fell asleep in the car. I wrote tons of notes in my phone about what happened that day to keep it fresh in my memory. At one point I woke up because about 10 motorcycles came into the gas station parking lot. I paid attention closely but they were legitimately just fueling up. Plus the police were still there which was good, but could always be an issue.

Through-out the night I woke up 3-4 times to turn the A/C on. We only had the windows cracked in order to avoid attracting attention. After letting the A/C run for 10-15 mins, I turned the car off and fell back asleep. It wasn’t the best sleep, but it did the job.

Tomorrow we have more driving to get to the port and catch a boat to the main island of Bocas Del Toro.