The flight from Los Angeles to Panama is six hours long. It’s not so bad, as far as flights go, to get yourself into a completely different climate, culture and state of mind.
We scored a free seat for Sadie using our favorite trick, reserving the window and aisle seats. The young man in the middle seat was only too happy to up and move when he saw stop at his row with our arms full of bags and a squirmy little girl. Copa Airlines gives you free food and booze, and the trip was as pleasant and uneventful as six hours on a plane with a baby can be.
When we pulled up to the Panamericana Hostel, our first home away from home, it was already dark, but the park across the street was bursting with activity. Children of all ages were out running rampant, full of excitement in the days between Christmas and New Years Eve. Our first impressions of Panama were that is was very hot, quite modern and very festive for the holidays. Our neighborhood, called Casco Viejo, is the historic district where Panama was rebuilt after Henry Morgan famously sacked it in the 1500s. Scaffolding reins around the unmistakably Spanish architecture, which is half crumbling and half restored to its former glory.
We squeezed a lot into three days in the city, including a visit to the locks at the canal, a long stroll around the ruins of the ancient city, a hike in the beautiful park north of the city and an evening of dining and drinking with locals on the causeway, a stunning string of small islands with a perfect view of the city skyline.
Sadie had no trouble at all acclimating to the weather and the ever changing scenery. As expected she is a good little travel companion and a star at making friends wherever she goes. One roadblock we ran in to was using her car seat in the local taxis. Many of them didn’t have the proper buckles, and from the start we found that local drivers don’t have the time or patience to wait around while we fumbled getting the seat in and out for our 4 dollar fare. They don’t use car seats down here, and one of the many things about traveling is adjusting to the standards of safety in the place where you are. When in Rome, for better or worse, you must do as the Romans do. So after much deliberation we abandoned our seat and, like our parents before us, jumped into cars (and the local culture) without a seat belt.
Next we returned to the airport for a quick, one hour flight to David (Panamas’s second largest city). This tiny flight was expensive and out of our budget but it saved us a ten hour bus ride. From David a little bus trip up the mountain delivered us to Boquete and the much cooler climate where some amazing coffee is grown, the town many American expats call home. We spent six nights between four different hostels, dined on local cuisine and regular Western fare, and generally relaxed together. Although Boquete is an adventure hub with plenty of rappelling, hiking, zip lining and white water rafting to enjoy, our little one year old isn’t quite ready for extreme sports just yet. We spent our days mostly wandering about, pointing at dogs and playing with local children in the public square. Traveling with a baby means slowing down, smelling the flowers and going to bed early!
Our last day we went to the neatest little garden. Everywhere you looked there were happy faces painted on random things!