Saturday, 21 February 2009
Upon my arrival to Panama City, I wasn't quite sure what to expect, as I had heard mixed reviews. Some people said it was amazing, and there had been a boost in the rate of Americans retiring there, so I thought I would give it a try. But, I had also read reviews on the dangers found in the city, and that the Panamanians were often not too welcoming to visitors. We decided to go anyway, and see for ourselves.
Once we got into the airport, all we could see was a sea of people bartering with us in what I found to be indiscernible Spanish. I had no idea what they were talking about, making the situation that much more intimidating. So, once we finally found someone to take us to our hotel, we were a little unsure about whether or not we were actually going to the right place. The cab driver kept stopping to cat call to girls on the street or to ask directions at bus stops. He would pull over, and the people on the street would bend down to look into the cab at us, and I have to be honest, it was a little less than comfortable.
Once we found our hotel, we set down our things in our room, and went to explore a little bit. After a couple of minutes of walking down the street, I could tell that this wasn't going to be a comfortable couple of days for me. I stood out like a sore thumb, and as hard as I tried to keep a low profile where we went, I could not help but notice the evil stares that people would throw my way. With my very blond hair and very light skin, I was definitely a target for scrutiny.
One of the days, we were walking around in the older area of the city, where all of the tourists are told to go. It is really interesting, with little shops lining the small streets, and guards on every corner. We thought we were in a pretty safe area, given that this was where the president and all of the country's officials were meant to live. As we were walking, we crossed a very small bridge, and started to notice a distinct difference in environment. Sitting on rotting boxes outside run down shops were some very scary looking characters, staring at us in a very uninviting way. I knew that I was a painted target, as I definitely did not look like I knew what I was doing.
One of the men started walking towards us with a pretty menacing look in his eyes. My heart started racing. What could I do if he decided he wanted to teach me a lesson for walking through his area of the city? I put my eyes down, took a deep breath, and just tried to do whatever I could to draw less attention to myself. As the man walked closer, he kind of smiled, knowing that he was making me feel uncomfortable. He brushed my shoulder, and then kept walking. Thank goodness, I thought. We walked as fast as possible out of that area....you wouldn't find a cab driving through there if you waited all day.
Once we got back into the safer area of the city, I was in a much less adventurous mood. We started noticing the different fares that cab drivers would give to us, and would have to fight with them to get a fair price. I know that anywhere you go as a tourist, you are bound to get a different price than the locals. I accepted that before heading to South America, but in Panama City, I felt much more swindled everywhere we went. No matter how hard I tried to not notice the stares and side glances as I walked by, I couldn't. I was constantly uncomfortable, and I hated that feeling.
Looking back, I do not regret my visit to Panama City. I would definitely not go back for a visit, but I am definitely glad that I was able to see it and get a feel for how different it is than your average tourist destination. My blond hair definitely made me stand out in a very negative way, that I partly expected, but not to that degree. I don't think I have ever felt so uncomfortable just walking down the street.
Have you ever felt that the way you look made you stand out more than you wanted it to? How did you react if you felt this way? Where were you?