There is something about vacation that makes you less annoyed when people driving in front of you are moving slowly. Maybe you are just generally more relaxed or maybe it’s the different scenery. We were taking this laid back approach as we lingered behind a dump truck, making our way toward Panama City. Suddenly in the rear view mirror, we spotted a taxi that was approaching at a rapid speed.
"It looks clear, I think I can pass this truck," braved Lord Vader. The taxi seemed as though it was about to kiss our bumper. The road was narrow and there was just enough room for us to pass the truck. As we were going around the truck, we heard a noise to our left. When I looked over I saw the taxi, passing us as we were passing the truck. Let me state that again. We were passing the truck on its left and on our left the taxi was passing us! The taxi wasn’t even on the road. It was speeding through the grass and was precariously close to tumbling down into a ditch, and that was just a taste of what driving in Panama City is like.
Driving in Panama City was like Driving in NYC, if everyone driving in NYC had just consumed about ten shots of espresso. There are some very import things to be aware of, if you want to return your rental car in one piece.
1) Beware of the Diablo Rojos ( colorful public transportation buses) and taxis. They show no mercy. They have no time to deal with motorists and feel no sorrow in mowing you down, or causing dents in your car.
2) Do not drive somewhere and assume that you will be able to return to your original destination by retracing your steps. There are numerous one-way streets that may go on for a long time so you really need to have a separate route for getting there and getting back.
3) Go. Don’t slow down, don’t hesitate, and don’t try to read street signs by slowly rolling by. If you are lost, pull over, drivers in Panama City are going somewhere and they need to get there as soon as possible, they don’t care that you are lost and if you are driving too slowly, you will never survive.
4) All traffic signs including lights are mere suggestions. It is one of those rare situations where it is just safer to follow the crowd, if the line of cars you are in cuts across four lanes to make illegal left turns, just do what they do.
5) The areas around Ancon Hill, The Canal and The Amador Causeway are not that bad; you can easily drive around, and enjoy the scenery.
6) We never rode a Diablo Rojo while we were in Panama City, but we reduced our driving anxiety by taking taxis. For five dollars per trip you can take a taxi to anywhere in the city, and the taxis are safe and abundant. The type of ride is sort of luck of the draw. We took one ride in a cushy black SUV and another in a car without seat belts that we feared would fall completely to pieces before we reached our destination. The taxi drivers are aggressive but they can maneuver better than most stunt drivers. You’ll reach your destination quickly and unharmed. Most drivers spoke English so we never had difficulty conveying our destination. For an added bonus, if you have a really good driver, you’ll get the extra feeling that you’ve just taken a ride on Space Mountain.
7) Honk! Honk! Honk! Get used to that sound; you will be hearing it a lot. Don’t take it personally; everyone blows their horns all the time at everything. If you are driving, live it up and throw out the honks yourself. It’s a good way to relieve stress and since everyone is doing it you won’t have to worry about getting dirty looks or obscene gestures.