You want to take the bus?

September 19, 2005

We have just arrived back from San Blas and have a few hours of Internet access in Panama City, so I wanted to write briefly about our visit to the Panama Canal from last week.

Panama City — After consulting our trusty Lonely Planet we decided that it shouldn’t be that hard to take the bus to the Miraflores Locks. I could actually see the bus stop from our hotel window. To get to the locks, we’d need to take the bus first to the Plaza Cinco de Mayo and then get the connection to the locks.

We were staying at the Marriott Courtyard and we went to the front desk to inquire about the details of the bus. The cheerful receptionist explained that there was no need to take the bus, she could arrange a Taxi. When I told her that I’d like to take the bus she looked confused, but eventually understood that we were looking for “una Adventura”. We would not be disappointed.

We caught the first bus almost immediately and after a brief confusion about the fact that there seemed to be no place to pay (they collected the fare from us when we got off) we were taken quickly and comfortably to the Plaza. We disembarked paying $0.25 each and feeling pretty smug. We asked around about where to catch our connection and quickly found the stop. As each bus approached, we asked anxiously if it was the right one because there was a heavy mist threatening to become a light rain. Eventually, we found a bus, where the driver that said he was headed our way. Five minutes later we pulled in to the main bus terminal and the driver motioned for us to get off and pointed to a waiting taxi.

For the second time that day I explained that I wanted to take the bus. He told me we’d have to walk from where the bus left us. Our guidebook had alerted us that it was a 15 minute walk from the Miraflores entrance, where the bus dropped us, to the locks themselves, so I confidently told him it wasn’t a problem.

5 minutes later we were leaving the bus with directions of “walk 15 minutes, that way,” with a corresponding vague sweep of the driver’s hand. He followed up with a helpful “toward the water.” As we jumped out and the bus roared away, the rain began as a slight drizzle, waiting less than a minute before converting itself to a pounding torrent. We took shelter under the overhang of what looked like a government building where a security guard instantly appeared and eyed us with caution, but said nothing. After 20 minutes the rain had calmed to a manageable level and we set out “that way toward the water”. As we walked down a narrow street we quickly saw piles of shipping containers and workers behind a chain link fence on once side of the street. The other side of the street seemed to be a dense jungle. There was little else to be seen. Soyan commented presciently, “This seems a little sketchy, even for lonely planet.” Our arrival at a lone sign warning us not to enter without authorization from the Panama Canal Authority, confirmed her suspicion. A brief conversation with some friendly dockworkers on their break and we realized we were in Balboa, miles from Miraflores.

As we began to walk back in the rain, as if in answer to our deep seated but unspoken desire, a rental car pulled up and an earnest looking young man and 2 women asked if we knew where the Miraflores locks were. We explained that we didn’t, but that we too were looking for them. We added how the bus had left us at the wrong spot and we had been caught in the rain. Eventually we looked sufficiently pathetic that he told us to get in. We piled in the back seat with his cousin and all of their luggage. With Soyan on my lap we all looked for the locks together.

Carlos the driver, his long time girlfriend Nancy and his cousin Mirasol were from el Salvador on vacation, but headed on to the Zona Libre (the free trade zone) in Colon to shop for his business, selling home electronics in El Salvador. We all toured the museum together and looked at the very impressive locks. Later we treated them to a round of drinks to say thanks. Having filled our adventure quotient for the day we took a cab to see the causeway and then went back to the hotel before going to Libby’s birthday Party.

Read Soyan´s account of the same events.


  1. Wow, that sounds suitably terrifying. Nothing quite like being in the wrong place in a foreign country!

    Comment by John — September 19, 2005 @ 5:45 pm

  2. It is well known that public transportation right now it is NOT a must in Panama. Buses are horrible. Taxis are so inexpensive here, just $1.25 - $1.50 US per ride…, so that is what people do.

    Comment by Melissa — September 29, 2005 @ 5:21 pm

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