To David and Back (or – Our Descent into Hell)

If you are thinking that our blog posts have been unnaturally upbeat and happy lately, allow me to change things up a little bit.

We have been in town for two weeks. Two weeks is generally long enough to explore your space, meet some people, and get acclimated. Or time enough to get a little bored, as might be the case with me.

As any of my close friends will tell you – I am someone who likes to be “on the go”. I enjoy getting out every day. When I feel like I am stuck at home for one reason or another – I am MISERABLE. The polar vortex in Wisconsin and the resulting endless days trapped inside with two kids this last winter nearly drove me to the brink of insanity. To stay upbeat, I kept reminding myself how nice it would be to spend some time in a place where we could always be outside.

I forgot about the rainy season in Boquete.

But aside from the rain it’s pretty nice here. The rain usually only appears in the afternoons for a few hours and then only a few days a week. Therefore, I can honestly report that things in Boquete have been going pretty well. Afternoons can be a little rough if it is raining hard and I am stuck inside with the kid(s), but this is nothing compared to 40 below and no school for a week because the car is frozen and we all will all suffer frostbite if we dare to walk outside.

My husband and my daughter have been enjoying their classes at the Spanish language school and I’m happy to report that despite my worries, my son has taken to preschool here like a fish to water. After only a couple of days of minor tears at drop off time, he now walks with confidence and excitement into school everyday. He loves to tell me all about the other “little boys” he plays with. He is picking up some Spanish and soccer skills, and that was all we had hoped for at the ripe old age of 2 1/2.

But I am a little bored. I’m not taking language classes yet because it is cost prohibitive for the three of us to take them at the same time. We are on a TIGHT travel budget. Since I’m the one with the best grasp on Spanish so far (I have no doubt the kids will pass me by quickly), I had agreed to sit out the first few weeks while the rest of the family spent time studying intensively early on. I will start group lessons in a couple of weeks when my husband takes a break.

Boquete is a small town, and I feel a little like I am living the quiet life of a retiree already. After getting the kids ready and the littlest one out the door for preschool, we generally head down to town to the bakery and hang out over coffee. Then it’s off the library (the only one in Central America!) to study and use the (faster) WiFi. Then over to Mike’s Global Grill for lunch (picture a gringo “Cheers” in the mountains of Chiriqui). My husband and daughter head over to their language school at 1:00, and I am on my own. I do a little grocery shopping, hit up the fruit stand, and then walk over to the preschool to pick my son up.

He loves taking the bus home – even though it takes the LONG way home. Over the mountain and through the jungle, literally. The bus parks about 3 blocks down from his school, and doesn’t leave until it is FULL – I mean packed to capacity. Often, I have to sit with him on my lap and my bags and shopping crammed under our feet. But it is a fun and cheery, and the bus and has become the highlight of our day.

This week he seemed to have gotten over his shyness around strangers a bit (maybe preschool is helping in that regard). His new favorite thing is to sing at the top of his lungs – “The Wheels on the Bus”- all the way home on the bus. Everyone else on the bus seems very quiet, or maybe it just seems that way to me since I am seated next to a 2 year old who may well be the loudest person in Panama. I tried “shushing” him the first couple of days but have mostly given up since that seems even more annoying than his singing. We are the only gringos in town who I have ever seen on the bus here in Boquete, so I’m guessing the locals are assuming that this is just a crazy gringo thing. Maybe they will be really surprised if they ever journey to the States and find out that not all 2 year old blond kids sing obnoxiously loudly on buses.

Because of my boredom with this routine and my general feeling that we have explored the town of Boquete pretty extensively already, my husband and I decided to take the kids down to David this weekend for a little shopping excursion. We caught the bus at the corner of the central plaza on Sunday morning, not really sure what to expect. We had been told that things were a bit cheaper in David but that it wasn’t an “attractive town”. Online forums are filled with comments like, “The best thing about David are the buses headed out of town”, but it has a mall and we needed to do a little shopping so off we went!
Bus in Boquete

The trip there was SLOOOOOOW. The driver very kindly stopped at any conceivable spot on the highway where someone might want to catch the bus. He would wait, sometimes for several minutes even though no one was anywhere in sight. At one point we stopped at the base of a long dirt road because there was a large group of people walking toward the highway. They were about 1/4 mile away but easy to see because the terrain was flat there. All of us on the bus (and there were a lot of us) looked out the window at the walkers. It appeared to be a large indigenous family, complete with a couple of babies and dogs in tow. Then we all looked at the driver. He craned his neck a bit to see if one of them might be waving at the bus. They weren’t. We all looked back at the family. Was it possible for a group of people to move any slower? We looked back at the driver. He grunted and craned his neck again. We all sat there expectantly for a couple more minutes until the driver finally decided that maybe, just maybe, they weren’t intending to catch this bus. Oh. My. God. We were on Panama time now.
On the bus to David

David is a pretty big city with a population of 145,000. It’s the second biggest city in Panama. About an hour and a half after leaving Boquete we pulled into a giant bus terminal teeming with people. David is close to the border of Costa Rica and is a market town, and most buses crossing the country or crossing through the country will come to David at some point. Anyway, the entire freaking world seemed to be at that bus station, and I don’t mean to sound paranoid, but I felt like every last person there was sizing us up. My husband said rather eloquently, “They are all looking at us like we’re what’s for dinner”. It was slightly disconcerting.

The station had a distinct odor that was not pleasant. My daughter had to pee, so I set about finding the bathroom. I finally located the only one and proceeded to hurry her inside before there might be an accident only to be stopped by a very stern older woman waving her finger in my face. “No!” she scolded in Spanish, “You need to go to the table first”. Hmmmm… Ok. So I stepped outside and found a little table with a man selling lottery tickets or some other thing, and toilet paper. He looked up and said “2 people? 50 cents”. I pulled out the change and he handed me two handfuls of toilet paper. Gross. Apparently these were our “tickets” to use the toilet.

We walked back to the bathroom, a dark dingy affair with the stern woman hovering nearby. I warned my daughter not to touch anything. After finishing up we found my husband and son and exited the station in a hurry.
David bus station

Tripadvisor had informed us that there was exactly 1 (one) thing worth visiting in David – the central park. The pictures didn’t really look too thrilling, mostly just some cement planters and a fountain, but we had decided to give it a look anyway. After some speedy walking (mostly trying to escape the smell from the bus station), I stopped and asked a very nice little old lady where the central park might be. She told me that it was pretty far (“tan lejos”) and that I probably didn’t want to walk there with the kids. She pointed in the general direction though so we would know which side of the street to catch a taxi on. After looking in a few stores and discovering that the prices were actually higher than in Boquete for the items we were looking for, we did just that. I opted to hail a taxi driven by a woman because I was hoping for someone who might not be a conniving crook. A nice looking female taxi driver stopped and quoted me $1.75 to go to the central plaza. Perfect. We all piled in.

About a minute later we found ourselves driving around the central park. Apparently it wasn’t as far as we had been warned. I asked the driver if this wasn’t in fact the park? She acted a little surprised that she was here (Oh! Si! Estamos aqui!) and pulled to the side. That’s when she told my husband that it wasn’t $1.75, but rather $2.00. And no, she didn’t have any change. Classic taxi scam. My husband was pissed, but handled the whole thing with great patience. Well, if you call waving your fist and shouting a string of “f bombs” at the taxi – “great patience”. The experience left a bad taste in our mouths, and it wasn’t just from the smell that we couldn’t seem to shake.

We explored the central plaza in about 3 minutes. 2 of those 3 minutes we spent chasing after our son who was screaming and trying to stomp on the flowers in the cement planters. Oh, and I forgot to mention that it was about 1000 degrees outside. So the four of us, now sweaty and disgusting, took a collective look at one another and decided to prematurely end the sightseeing tour of David and find a taxi to the mall. First, I stopped another kind-looking little old lady and asked her how far the mall was. She told me it was TAAAAAAAN lejos (complete with expansive hand gestures to indicate really, really far), then she waved her finger in my face and sternly told me absolutely not to pay more than $3 for a taxi. Luckily, the first taxi we stopped quoted us exactly that price, so there we went. Our day was looking up!

Until we got there, and the mall was closed.

Of course it was. And just to add to the weirdness of this day, there were camels and elephants grazing in the field next to the mall, because, duh, the circus was in town. I got a picture of the camels, but I steered pretty clear of the elephants because I’m not completely stupid.
camels

Well, the mall being closed wasn’t a huge disappointment because upon gazing into the windows of the approximately 12 stores that were there we quickly realized that the mall had zero things that we had come in search of. Luckily, to my children’s delight it did have some “paseos”, or electronic rides that they immediately jumped onto. This one played “Jingle Bells” in English while shaking excessively because you expect to hear American Christmas tunes about “dashing through the snow” at a mall in Central America when it’s hotter than hell.
Fun at the closed mall

Since we were all starving at this point we were thrilled to find a restaurant in the food court open before the mall was. Unfortunately, we had managed to arrive between breakfast and lunch, and so they didn’t actually have any food, of course. We must have looked desperate because they scrounged up two tiny containers of yogurt, which we shared between the four of us, and sold us coffee that came out of a machine. This province of Panama – Chiriqui – grows some of the best coffee in the world, but it was not in this machine.

Finally, we hit up the grocery store at the mall hoping that here, at least, we could buy a few things and redeem this crappy trip. I won’t say that it was a total bust because we did find two little plastic cars that the kids loved for about 90 cents each. And that was the extent of things we bought on our big shopping trip to David.

We caught the next taxi to the bus station, and from there caught the next slooow bus back to Boquete. I would like to report that we had a nice relaxing evening after that, but the minute we got back home my son wandered into the backyard and almost immediately came screaming back into the house. He had managed to step onto an ant hill and had stinging ants crawling all over his feet inside his sandals. He’s fine, but did have tiny little welts all over his feet for the next few hours.

The perfect ending for an amazing day! It’s a good thing the rum is cheap here!

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