The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
~Saint Augustine ~
The last couple of weeks I’ve been preoccupied hosting my cousin for her first ever visit in her memory outside of Canada. After her departure back to Canada I spent and an extra week in Panama City enjoying all the splendorific things that the campo does not have and visiting with my friend whilst conducting as SU calls it “cosas de chicas”. This post is a first in a series of my adventures over these last weeks.
Today I share with you my first ride on the Metro Bus in Panama City to the airport after arriving by cruiser bus from Chitre. I’ve gotten used to traveling by the cruisers to PTY, it’s relatively cheap at $9.05 from Chitre or $9.69 from Las Tablas. This day the bus was clean, fresh smelling and crowded. Crowded means less stops so I wasn’t too put out by having someone sitting beside me for most of the trip.
I arrived in plenty of time at Albrook Terminal to cross to the mall for a late lunch and called SU to let him know that I had arrived. He was just walking in the door himself as he had stayed on in Chitre to get groceries and do errands and then take the hour-long drive back to the campo. The bus terminal in PTY is at Albrook Mall, which is one of the largest malls in Panama. I also discovered the mall now has free internet service which I connected to my Windows phone and Kindle and took advantage of while I was hanging about.
My cousin was flying in later in the day and I’d read Joey Bonura’s post on pty life about riding the Metro Bus to the airport. I decided to give it a try but because I was traveling alone, I wanted to travel while it was still light out. As night falls rapidly in Panama, anywhere between 6:00 pm and 7:00 pm, and my cousin was arriving at 7:15, I thought that a departure time of 4:00 would get me to the airport in plenty of time before it got dark.
As I was already at Albrook Terminal my first order of business was to buy a Tri Metro Pass as I’d never had to use one before. Although there seemed to be several booths selling them, only a few were actually open and the first one I found had a long line up. I did find one tucked away by one of the food courts and purchased my pass for two dollars and asked for an extra five dollars to be loaded onto the card. This card can be used to pay for use of the washroom in the Terminal, the Metro (LRT), Metro Bus and to pay the fee to get through the turnstile to get on the cruisers that go to the interior.
My next chore was to find the stop for the Tocumen-Corredor Sur Bus. The signage at the bus stops and around the terminal is amazingly good for Panama. I found it with no problem at station “E” across from the Tiger Entrance of the Mall where a bus was waiting.
As it was my first time using my new pass I wasn’t sure how to sweep my card on the reader and after a couple of attempts an attendant sitting at the front (or another bus driver, I couldn’t quite figure that out) took my card and beeped me through. (The trick is to hold the card for a second on the reader until it beeps.) The bus was surprisingly empty and I chose a seat beside a window and close to the rear door. The seats are high enough that I could put my suitcase underneath and put my bulky purse/carry on on my lap.
The driver only stopped at one other stop along Balboa much to the frustration of people standing and waving at a couple of other stops. At the one stop the driver did make, a woman in a wheelchair got on and it took a couple of minutes to get her in and secured in the wheelchair area.
The driver may have been behind schedule and decided to skip the other two stops. It seemed that there wasn’t any formal stops for people to get off and the bus dropped one person off around Via Israel on a street corner.
Once we were on Corredor Sur there was no stopping until after we made the turn towards the airport where there were a couple of covered stops along the road.
Unlike Joey’s experience there was no announcements about where we were at any given time. Luckily, I’m pretty familiar with Tocumen Airport and recognized that we were getting to the end of the road where it loops back to go in the opposite direction and pushed the button to get off in time.
Once I was off the bus I kept to the left through the covered walkways until I reached a small parking lot and an area that looked like it was for employees only. Going from Joey’s pictures and noticing that a few employees seemed to be walking from an area underneath an off ramp I took a chance that it was the dark corridor in his article. Once I walked through I was at the downstairs arrival area.
The trip, including walking from the bus stop, took a total of one hour almost exactly. Earlier in the morning after first rush hour I think the trip would probably be a bit quicker but anything after 12:00 is likely to take the full hour from Albrook Terminal as traffic in PTY is a monster most days. Sundays are the exception but I expect that there would be a reduced bus schedule, perhaps resulting in longer waits for the bus.
All in all, it was a good experience and I would definitely do it again. As Joey states in his post, it wouldn’t be a good idea to carry too much luggage; my medium-sized suitcase and carry on worked out fine but I wouldn’t have been comfortable struggling with any more than that. I liked that I didn’t have to fork out $30.00 or more to get to Tocumen Airport, the swipe of my Tri Metro Card was a mere $1.25. Which is good value for the money and the little adventure was fun. I’d like to try the trip in reverse one day while I’m on may way back…to the campo.