Sunday, May 8, 2011

Panama City and Drug Tests

I know I’ve been absent for a long time, but I recently spent 2 months in Argentina and Chile and benefited greatly from blogs written about the places I wanted to see. So I thought I’d pay it forward and maybe help someone else out who is planning a trip down South.

When I last left this blog, I was in Boquete, Panama. I was in the process of getting a background check down by the government for a federal job. I got a phone call that they wanted to do my drug test and they could Fed Ex a urine collection kit to a hospital in Panama City and I could do the test there.

I took the bus from David (Panama’s 3rd biggest city and pretty much a dump—avoid if possible) to Panama City (traveled the Pan American Highway the whole time. This is the world's longest road but there is a big gap between southern Panama and northern Columbia. I was told this is to prevent drug trafficking) and booked a room at Hotel Santana near the historic center (Casco Viejo which literally means old helmet—not sure why?). All in all, it was ok for me (being about $40 a night or so). But it’s in a pretty rough neighborhood. If it was my first visit to Panama City, I would have been scared. But it was a clean hotel and near the touristy stuff so you have to make that call yourself.

Here are the Trip Advisor reviews:

I will say, my last day there I was sitting on my bed watching TV and a huge black scorpion crawled out from under the dresser and scuttled under my bed. After I jumped off the bed and went screaming to the front desk, they came up and “broomed” it out the door. Pretty par for the course for the tropics I guess since no one seemed bothered.

They also have free Internet access and a decent breakfast.

Also, if you’re a fan of history, it’s very close to the Coca Cola Bar, which I believe was a hang out for Che or Castro…can’t remember which. It looked a little creepy to me so I didn’t go in.

I had 2 days to explore so I walked around the old town, which is ok but I’m not a huge fan of this town. I had done the Panama Canal before which is pretty cool to see once, but unless you’re an engineer, once is enough.

However, I did see something new this trip. San Jose Church has the Altar de Oro (Golden Altar) which was the only thing saved when Welsh pirate Henry Morgan (yes, "the Captain Morgan" of college-age debauchary rum fame) sacked the town in the 17th century. According to legend, the monks painted the altar with mud to make it appear made out of wood or worthless. I had recently read a historical novel about Panama, which was god awful by the way, but it had a description of the event so it was interesting to see the altar in person.

The Panama City airport is nowhere near the city (although it’s not so bad to sleep in as I later discovered), so you will need to catch a taxi. I think it’s about 20 or 30 bucks.

Having gotten the drug test down (I learned a lot of new Spanish words that day), I caught my flight to Buenos Aires. Copa Airline has the monopoly on air travel out of Panama which sucks but what can you do?


  1. wow, the scorpio thing would have put me off, I guess. You are very brave...And the photo of the church altar is magnificent !

  2. I'm glad you are back. I've been traveling all around, too. I hope that you enjoyed South America :)