Panama City, Panama
Buildings greater than five stories; lots of them. Massive shopping malls. Hooters. Casinos. Fashion boutiques and electronic stores. A truly western world city.
Yet, at the same time there are loud, painted school buses with neon lights pouring out diesel exhaust. Street vendors. Walls and barbed wire protecting squat, concrete houses. A truly westernized city…within the Latin American world.
|From Panama 2011-01
Panama City and Mexico City are two cities that mix Western and Latin American culture together to create bustling cities that are enjoyable to be in if you like cities. I can’t say the same for Guatemala City, San Salvador, Tegucigalpa, or Managua. These two large cities that have created the bookends to my travels in Central America and before I depart I can’t help but reflect on where I’ve been, what I’ve done and who I’ve met along the way.
Moving through Mexico knowing almost no Spanish had it’s frustrations but added a sense of adventure as well. Arriving in cities at 5:00 am and repeating a hotel location over and over again until a taxi driver goes where I want. Followed by getting ripped off by said taxi driver. Not having a conversation for four days that lasted longer than thirty seconds. This is what made my first days in Mexico memorable. Of course, there was also great food, a visit by Kate, surfing in Puerto Escondido and lots of beach lounging and the Mexican bicentennial. If it ever comes to pass that I’m able to speak Spanish conversationally Mexico is a country that must be revisited; especially Mexico City.
This country takes the prize for my favorite Central American country. The only country with a largely indigenous population makes it culturally the most unique and it has an amazing landscape. The infrastructure is made for backpackers. Traveling and learning Spanish here is cheap, cheap, cheap.
The time I spent here meeting others paid off in spades during my travels throughout the rest of Central America. For the next few months after I left Guatemala I would constantly be meeting travelers that I had befriended in Guatemala. Rules in Guatemala are non-existent. “Go where you want and do what what you want,” should be Guatemala’s motto. Of course, with this freedom there is also a greater sense of danger as I found out in Lake Atitlan.
Take a time out from Latin America and find your way to Belize. The change from Guatemala to Belize was instantaneous. Spanish to English. Indigenous Mayan to Caribbean vibes. Can’t say I did too much unless laying on a beach for three days and drinking counts.
After diving in Utila I was hooked and spent lots of time gravitating back to various islands for more. If your not volunteering than I’m not sure what else keeps a traveler engaged other than the Bay Islands, Copan and possibly a trip through Mosquitia. I tried but came up empty handed in Gracias and Santa Rosa de Copan.
I first met Tez in Guatemala and met him again in Suchitoto. From here we kicked off five weeks of travel through El Salvador, Nicaragua and a little bit of Costa Rica. In the short amount of time I spent in this country I picked up on a definite dark side. Before heading to El Salvador I received an e-mail from a fellow traveler that started with, “We had quite a rude awakening in El Tunco when I woke up just after 3 on Friday morning to find three guys wearing masks and holding machetes in our room.” I will also remember San Salvador for the guy lying in the street with a bullet hole in his chest.
While off putting neither of these experiences had any direct impact on me or left a bad taste in my mouth. What left a great taste were the papusas (think tortilla stuffed with cheese, beans and rice). Easily my favorite food so far. El Salvador gave me a couple weeks of hiking, camping, beach lounging, yoga and ocean-side sunsets so while there is a dark side I had a great time.
After Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador Nicaragua was offering up more of the same. I was tired of Spanish colonial towns, volcanoes and hiking. Diving? Nicaragua has diving? Goodbye Spanish colonial towns and hello Corn Islands. Goodbye roads, ATM’s, and civilization. It was time to get off the gringo trail in Nicaragua. Riding on various boats for a couple weeks left me with a whole other perception of the country and one that felt a little more real.
I touched Costa Rican soil and have a stamp in my passport that says I was there. That’s about all I can say about this country. Oh, there are lots of American tourists here too.
Like Costa Rica I can’t say much. My experience here is comprised of diving in Bocas del Toro and hanging out in Panama City. Bocas del Toro is touristy and anyone could feel comfortable here. Snorkling trips, diving, surfing island hopping and, of course, lots of beaches. Panama City is a city in it’s truest form. Oh yeah, Panama also has a canal that you might of heard of. I went there too. It was ok. There were boats…in water… moving real slow in a narrow loch. What else can I say?