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Panama: A Test of Endurance   1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 

28 Nov 2001

PANAMA CITY, PANAMA — It was almost 1:00 in the afternoon. We were waiting in front of the Hotel Cocori in San Jose, Costa Rica, preparing to get on the bus that would take us to Panama City. This would be our first test of endurance, a 15 hour journey with plenty of snack food, empty bladders, and low expectations about the quality of the movies we'd see. For a trip this long, I don't suspect we could have asked for much more.

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Bus to Panama

And, of course, just as I thought that, I heard the sound of tinkering and clanging, and tracked it to a pair of hands sticking out from behind the front wheel. Not the steering wheel, the actual tire. I walked around the front of the bus, and saw a guy lying on his back under the front grill, working away at something. Hey, at least they're making an effort to ensure it's a working bus: that can only be a good sign.

At five minutes to 1, we filed on board, and immediately discovered that although we had a good view of the TV, there was no air conditioning. We started to swelter before we left town, but that was probably more due to the sun streaming in our window than anything else. It couldn't stream through the front window, because it was almost entirely blocked off by curtains, so all we could see from the second row of seats was six feet of road in front of the driver. I shrugged it off, figuring there wouldn't be that much to see — given our track record, I'm sure it's raining everywhere else in Costa Rica right now, anyway.

The ride started out fine. We left the city pretty quickly, and found ourselves moving slowly uphill on steep, winding mountain roads. After about three hours, our video technician — and I use the latter term loosely — popped in our first movie: Anaconda. The horror! No, I don't mean it was a horror movie, I mean it was that much of a horror to have to watch it. With the TV only one row ahead of us, and the volume turned up full blast, even the strongest-willed passengers couldn't avert their eyes. In the end, I'm not sure what was worse: watching the movie, or getting up in the middle of it to try and pee in the unlit bathroom, while rounding sharp turns faster than Dale Ernhardt Jr. If I have to call my insurance company, the last thing I hope to ever have to say is "I broke my arm trying to take a whizz."

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Last updated: 08 Jan 2002 08:29:51