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A Week-End in Panama City: Bars, Bevvies and Beaches

by Helen
(Panama City)

San Carlos Beach, preparing for a beach wedding at sunset

San Carlos Beach, preparing for a beach wedding at sunset

Have you ever been in a bar where large cars drove down the middle, missing your bar stool by a hair’s breadth to check out who’s there before parking in the back? No? Well you have obviously never been to Peskito Sports Bar and Restaurant just off Calle Uruguay. It’s like a large car park with flat screen TVs all over the place so every group of fans can scream and shout at its favorite team, all at the same time. Marvelous! Perfect place for a Friday night.

We were invited there by Kent Davies, a young intrepid American who has lived in Panama for a while, who we had first contacted through couch surfers and then through his real estate agency. He introduced us to our hero, Matt Landau, who writes the incredibly funny and informative Panama-Report amongst other things, along with two ladies called Rebecca from Canada who created www.panamatravel.com and lives with her Panamanian dentist boyfriend out in the boonies somewhere, and Emily, who live here in the city and who works for an organization that sells real estate through a magazine and a TV show. Her boss gave them all a week off a while ago so they could all star as extras in the James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace which was filmed here in Panama. They were an interesting, super bright group ready to conquer the world, starting with Panama. It was a pleasure to spend an evening with them.

Who says the most important things about a bar are the people you meet? Well I do of course……Actually the bar was fine. The Balboa beer was cheap and I had a large chewy tasty steak with plantain for $6.

After a day on the computer Saturday night was earmarked as Jimmy’s Padilla night. We live two doors away in San Fransisco and decided we should give it a try as it seems to be something of a landmark round here. We got side-tracked early on by the promise of a reggae band outside the Sheraton Hotel down the street from us but soon gave that up soon enough as it turned out to be mostly a Panamanian lady in a red sweatshirt screaming and yelling and people selling spicy barbeque kebabs. We saw some great fireworks though after figuring out it was all a promotion for a new cell phone company called Digicell.

Jimmy’s was full inside and out with people eating huge filet steaks that they call baseballs and dishes of clams and grilled prawns. We ordered a bottle of wine (an Erazuriz for $13) and sat a while realizing we had eaten too many kebabs to eat anymore. We had a chat with a guy named Glenn (we would like to talk to more locals you know, we just don’t habla the lingua enough yet!), a partially retired estate agent, who is here for the winter escaping the grey skies of Seattle.

Sunday morning was a perfect blue-sky day here, crying out for the beach. So we did. We jumped on our local ‘red devil’ outside our building and went to the main bus station at Albrook Mall and started asking where we should go for the ‘playa’. After a while of wandering up and down hopelessly we were told in Spanglish to get on a bus to San Carlos. Now, we were imagining a 15 min trip to ‘wherever-on-sea’ but one and a half hours later (and most of action movie played on the air conditioned bus for 25 passengers that drove at full pelt all of the time to the point where I thought there must be prize at the end of it all) we wound up on a beach just past Coronado along the Pacific coast. The kind man telling us where to go had obviously wanted to make sure we went to the best beach never mind it was 100km away. It was wonderful. Quite extraordinary with white sand at the front and black sparkling sand behind with just a few private houses set back. It was such a pleasure to see such a gorgeous place with so few people and so little development.

Being a hot day (this is Panama after all) we stripped off and jumped into the smooth warm sea only to be smothered by a huge wave that came out of nowhere a few seconds later. So much for my hair style! Joel’s sun glasses were no more either. Ah well, they were only ‘Ray Bans’ from Kizilagac village market in Turkey and my hair is almost non-existent anyway.

Once I got used to those big waves and to checking my bikini was actually doing its job afterwards, it was fun jumping on them and being thrown forward. We understood why surfers wallowed in the water like sharks just waiting their moment. We forgot the suntan lotion and without a place to buy anymore we got a pretty good tan aka red color! Later in the afternoon a young Panamanian guy came up to practice his English on us and ended up giving us a cold beer each which was kind given there were non on sale for at least a kilometer.

On the food side of the equation, things could have been better. There was only one place in a small resort further up the beach that served us a dry fried chicken dish that I would rather have not eaten but did, as there was no where else to go. We should have done like the 40 or so people on this large beautiful tropical beach did and brought our own picnic and cool box.

We walked back up to the main road just before sundown and flagged down the next minibus which took us back to the city for half the price it cost to get down there ($3 for both of us with our own seat and everything!). The driver forced us to listen to Panamanian punk and garage music at high volume which would explain the bargain price we imagined. Once back in Panama City we got a bus back home which ended up taking another 90 minutes as we hit the rush hour of people leaving the Mall and going out on the town before yet another bank holiday Monday.

Needless to say, holiday or not, we chose to get back to work. All this having fun is tiring.

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