Marooned on the Interamericana

Something happened that I never could have predicted. I was traveling from El Valle to David, a trip that takes about four and a half hours.

While scrupulously thinking two days in advance, I asked a minibus driver in El Valle about the best way to get to David, Panama’s second largest city.

David acts as an unavoidable hub for anyone traveling through western Panama. The modest man told me that I’d need to take a mini-bus to San Carlos, which lies on the Interamericana. From there, I’d easily flag down a bus bound for David.

I thought:  That was easy, the information I needed took all but a few seconds to acquire. I love it when things go so smoothly.

Because my travels would take less than half a day, I decided to hit El Valle’s comforting hot springs for a third straight morning.

After eating a hearty lunch at an El Valle restaurant, I stepped into the street and wondered when a minibus bound for San Carlos would come by. I figured that the wait would take a half a maximum of a half an hour as the driver from two days earlier told me that they go every half hour. A bus came in less than a minute.

I thought. What an auspicious start to my day of drifting.

Upon waking up from a little snooze on the minibus, I noticed that we’d come to the Interamericana. I quickly asked a passenger in front of me,

Is this San Carlos?”

No, it’s Las Uvas. Where do you need to go?”

I’m going to David.”

It’s better if you get off here and flag down a bus bound for David because San Carlos is in the opposite direction.”

Gracias amiga.”

For about an hour, I stood on the side of the road looking for a bus marked David when a minibus bound for Santiago stopped. I questioned the conductor.

How often do buses for David come by this way?”

David buses don’t stop here, you have to go to San Carlos.”

I crossed the street and got on the first minibus that came by.  Five minutes later I was in San Carlos. San Carlos was bigger than Las Uvas as there were shops. There was a woman at the bus stop selling various junk food. I asked her:

How often do the David buses come by.”

About every hour or so, the bus bound for David is red.”

After waiting at the sizzling hot bus stop with my eyes peeled on the road for around two hours, a blue bus that read David on it, buzzed by. I didn’t notice it in time to flag it down as it was blue and not red as I was expecting.

Señora, a David bus just went by, but it was blue.”

They’re sometimes blue too.”

Feeling that I had no choice, I somehow stayed calm and said,


About the fifth Santiago-bound bus that I saw then came by and stopped. The conductor asked me where I was going.

To David.”

It’s easier if you come with us to Santiago and change there for David.”

More than likely this wasn’t true as the man simply wanted my $5. The lady selling the junk food overheard and looked at us in disagreement. Because I was tired of waiting, I got on anyway. The air-conditioned bus was relaxing.

Upon getting off the bus in Santiago, a man who was waiting outside of the bus brought me over to his minibus bound for David. However, they were still short three people. They couldn’t leave until they filled the minibus.

It then took at least another hour before we finally departed. The trip that was supposed to take around four-and-a-half hours, took nine.

The moral of the story is: while traveling in Panama, or anywhere in Central America, don’t take one person’s advice, always get multiple opinions.


2 responses to this post.

  1. SOMERVILLE: David is merely a necessary hub. It’s a very hot place w/ no attractions. I’ll probably need to go through there again. Anyone who travels through western Panama must go through David. They have a movie theater: I saw Black Swan. It’s an amazing flick that I highly recommend. One hour from David is Boquette, where I am now. It’s a gorgeous mountain town. I was gonna do a 30km RT hike up to the top of Volcan Baru last night but it was raining. It’s best to start at midnight. I had no one to go with so I thought it may have been a bit spooky doing it alone. Tonight I’m too beat.
    It’s not a good idea to lose one’s cool in any situation. The locals don’t, so it would be very bad for a gringo to. The poor lady is stuck in a little tiny stand selling crap food all day in the heat. I guess that I should have just gone to Santiago to begin w/ but I took her erroneous advice. Hindsight is 20/20.


  2. Sounds like a long day – hope David is worth it! Do you think the luxurious, daily hot spring baths played into you keeping your cool?


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