When I last left off, my friend G and I were flagging down a cab in the Santa Ana neighborhood of Panama City after having our passports, credit cards, camera, and money stolen by some teenage punks. Yes, it was stupid to be wandering around the hood in PC at night (especially when you are a group of two or more women, which attracts unwanted attention no matter where you are). However we’d been sketched out by our previous cab ride, and we were staying in an area that was not our first choice, due to every other cheap hostel and hotel being booked that night. I consider myself a savvy traveler and an unusually cautious person, so the fact that we fell prey to this hurts my pride a bit. I get over that feeling quickly when I realize that this kind of thing happens to everyone, and I’m just glad we made it out of there alive.
After telling off our creepy cab driver and stumbling out back into the night but into familiar territory, we wandered back to Mamallena, the first hostel we’d stayed at, aka home sweet home. The Australian dude who runs the place, Stuart, has got a dry sense of humor and has undoubtedly seen his fair share of American and European backpacker douches, even during his short tenure as a hostel owner. However he couldn’t have been nicer to us in our hour of need. We had no cash, no ID, and no means of making a phone call. G was scraped up from her scuffle with the three punks whom it took to steal her bag. We would have been royally screwed if we’d have had to have gone back to our hotel in Santa Ana.
Stuart let us make a long series of phone calls to banks to cancel bank cards, and to family to have some money sent to us. He insisted we have a drink. He let us sleep on the couches, and even offered to lend us money. The kindness we experienced that night seemed miraculous to me, and makes me rethink my preference for staying in locally-owned, off-the-beaten-path establishments. Sometimes being plugged in and having the resources of a trendy hostel is a godsend. In short, if you’re a budget traveler going to Panama City, do yourself a favor and stay at Mamallena. In addition to being awesome, they can also hook you up with an amazing trip to the San Blas Islands, which is nearly impossible to do yourself.
After a short night of sleep on the couch cushions of Mamallena’s patio, G and I embarked for the police station once more, to finish filing our report. As stupid as filing a police report seems, it was totally necessary in our case, especially since we were to get emergency passports that lacked an entrance stamp. Our police report answered the quizzical looks of more than one airport security professional.
We had a fairly good experience with the interpreter at the police station, and were soon on our way to the US Embassy. We had a flight booked to Bocas del Toro (western Panamanian archipelago) the next day, but neither of us had high hopes for getting documents immediately. We didn’t have any sort of ID on us. We took a number, sat in the waiting area, and hoped for the best.
It turns out that losing your passport in Panama City as an American ain’t that big of a deal. Two hours and $100 later, I had a brand-new emergency passport, complete with the worst-ever passport photo (taken in a passport photo truck outside the embassy the morning after being mugged, on about 3 hours’ sleep). Our trip to Bocas would actually happen!
From here on out, it was remarkably smooth sailing. With passports we could get money wired to us, and instead of stressing about the money we had lost, we just tried to keep a strict budget. We’d already bought our tickets to Bocas, and we had another week to enjoy being in the tropics.
Up next: actual photos of our trip, taken by us.