When people talk about Panama City, you will hear the words “international” or “cosmopolitan” and references to the modern high rise architecture. I was prepared for the city view, but when I arrived, after seven weeks exploring Central America, I was a bit awed at the sights before me…beautiful architecture, crowded city streets, and people who looked like they came from many different countries of the world.
For the second time, the AirBNB website provided outstanding accommodations. With AirBNB, homeowners directly rent rooms in their houses or their entire residences as places for travelers to stay. The benefits to using this site are that you can find great geographic locations for much cheaper than hotel rates, places often have access to kitchen facilities, in-house laundry and other comforting and money saving benefits, and you have the added benefit of a local perspective and new friendships.
My first AirBNB experience was two weeks ago when I took a detour weekend to Florida to meet up with Jason. While emailing during my first weeks away, he had the great idea that while I was still close enough to the US, it would be fun to meet in the middle for a weekend adventure. With a bit of research, we discovered that flights to Fort Lauderdale were the cheapest option as long as he took the Megabus and left from Chicago and I flew from San Jose, Costa Rica. Instead of staying at the expensive hotel options, I remembered hearing about AirBnb this summer, so we checked it out and found a perfect spot. For $45 per night, we rented a studio apartment with reviews that said other guests had enjoyed the host and accommodations away from the beach and in a local neighborhood. Jason arrived first and texted to say that Robert, the owner, was a great guy who not only picked him up from the airport, but who offered to do the same for me. We not only had a great weekend together…in spite of all the days being rainy, but we were abundantly blessed by Robert’s kindness from beginning to end. What I liked about the AirBNB experience was that it felt like we were visiting a friend. He not only picked us up, but he gave us great tips on the city, went to dinner with us, took us to the ocean to use his kayak, and woke up at 6:00 am to take us back to the airport. My prediction…I think we’ll see Robert again one day in Chicago.
This second AirBnb experience in Panama City was different, but still satisfying. Monica and David rent a variety of apartments in the city center and rent out some rooms with AirBnb. My original room was upgraded to a better spot because of a broken wifi situation, so my apartment ended up having a beautiful balcony with an amazing city view at the originally quoted price of $25. The location in the center of the city was incredible because it opened doors to walking later into the night and made everything I need easily accessible. I ended up hanging out with one of the other guests for some city wandering, a trip to the old city, shopping for a new outfit for a business meeting he had scheduled, offering my unsolicited life advice, and eating delicious ceviche at the fish market.
For a big city atmosphere, Panama City did not have that much to offer aside from the observation area of the Panama Canal locks, walking around the old city, and comfort food at a bagel shop where I ate two times. There were huge shopping malls, but since I have to carry everything I buy, I didn’t get a thing….not even tempted. I am going to try the same strategy at home…only buy what I am happy to carry…it makes me a very cautious shopper.
I am at the airport now…on the way to Cartagena, Colombia. I am awed that I continue to be blessed by daily abundance and good fortune from strangers. Before I left for my trip, my friend Teresa shared an inspiring CD of a motivational speaker named Chad Hymas. Chad shared his story of becoming a quadriplegic after a tractor accident on his farm and the impact it had on his life. One part I the story that stood out for me was the way he handled planning for each day and the complications of his physical challenges. He talked about specifically about traveling around the country for motivational talks and how he made NO special accommodations for transportation, hotels, or events. Instead, he trusted in the faith and kindness of people and a belief that his needs would be met. He talked about always finding that help…from a guy standing outside of a hotel who lifts him into the door to the maid who helped him when he fell in the shower. He said that he could preplan every detail, but this was his choice and that every day he was blessed with the gift of seeing the kindness in others in the most unexpected places. Google Chad…his story is amazing!
While my circumstances hardly compare to Chad’s display of faith, I find that traveling in foreign places give me a daily opportunity to see the kindness of others on display in endless ways. This morning, was a great example of what this looks like for me….earlier this week, I asked a guy at the coffee shop to look at my map and tell me where I was…it is a funny question, but a map is useless if you don’t know where you are. During our conversation, I asked if there was a bus to take me to the airport. I had heard that the taxi would cost upwards of $30, and I just hate spending money on taxis when there is public transportation available. He showed me an option on the map where I could board a bus about one mile from my apartment. This morning, when I returned the key to David, he showed me a more direct bus route on the map that was a bit further from our place, but said he was running an errand and offered to drop me off. When he stopped the car to let me out, Monica motioned to a girl waiting for the bus to confirm that this bus stopped at the airport while at the same time, a guy jumped up from his bench seat and helped me to take my suitcase off the back of David’s pick up truck. I sat at the stop and waited. When that woman rose to board her bus, she told the guy sitting next to me to make sure I got on the right bus. When the bus arrived, not only did that man let me know, but my friendly luggage helper got up to board the same bus and again helped with my suitcase. Earlier this week, when boarding a bus, the driver informed me that he could not take cash and that I needed to buy a card somewhere…since I didn’t have one, he let me on for free, but yesterday, I bought a card to prepare for my trip to the airport. Unfortunately, when I swiped it, the driver said I did not put enough money on it…I was 25 cents short…so much for preplanning, but the luggage friend jumped in and swiped his card so I could get on. I enjoyed the bus ride and watched for the airport, but appreciated the nod of affirmation that confirmed I was right from the man who must have noticed my suitcase. I walked around the back of the airport with guiding hand gestures from people along the way…to arrive at my destination with warm feelings in my heart and only $1 less in my pocket…it was the only change I could offer my gracious card swiper. Can you believe all of that kindness and all of those people working in unison to get me where I needed to be…. amazing!