My big mistake was arriving in Panama city late on a Saturday during high season with no reservations.
I was exhausted after an eight hour bus ride that had snaked through half the entire length of the country. I got a cab and had the driver drop me off in Casco Viejo, Panama City’s old colonial district and tourist hot spot. A district that, by the way, happens to border a dangerous slum. Casco Viejo itself was undergoing a process of gentrification, with fancy upper class restaurants tucked away in between roofless crumbling colonial facades. It’s an interesting place to walk around and explore, although less interesting when you’re tired and hungry and lugging around a heavy backpack.
My first attempt finding somewhere to stay was Luna’s Castle, a hostel that got rave reviews from the guidebooks, online, and from numerous travelers I’d spoken with. It certainly seemed like a cool enough place from what I could tell from the outside, and the lobby area sure was nice. I never got beyond that. I went up to the reception desk only to find that, of course, they were booked for the night. In fact they were booked solid until a day after my flight left.
With a sigh I asked for any recomendations and was given a little copied map of the area with different hostels marked on it. I trudged off and walked a few blocks to the Panamericana Hostel. No rooms tonight. I crossed that off and walked to the next place… nothing. I worked through everything on the map, and even started looking into some of the fancier high end hotels. Nada. I was starting to worry. Was there really not a single godforsaken room available in this entire city?
There was a godforsaken room available. It was in the White Lion Hostel.
The White Lion was located on a street that felt like an abandoned alleyway where the charmingly dilapidated tourist area began to dissolve into scary slum. The building itself looked like an abandoned hospital or mental institution. Maybe it was. I was given a bunk bed in a dorm room with unpainted sheetrock walls. The place was eerily empty considering how full the rest of Panama City seemed to be. The room next to the one I was in was completely empty, and mine only appeared to have three of the eight beds claimed. I locked my bag to the bed, hid my valuables in my money belt and decided to go out and get some food.
After a couple of hours wandering around I returned to the White Lion, thinking I’d turn in early. It looked like there was some sort of party going on in the bar area, but like I said, I was exhausted. These days I no longer have the energy to head to a rave after a full day of traveling. The receptionist, a different one from the person who checked me in, initially didn’t let me in. Turns out the other guy forgot to give me a wrist band. The fluorescent kind that nightclubs and concerts use to determine who is of legal drinking age and who isn’t.
When I returned to the dorm I met two of my bunkmates. They were young German women, probably in their early twenties. They seemed exceptionally relieved that I was there, and asked me if I had met the other guy who was staying in the dorm. I looked over at the empty bed with the suitcase next to it and said no I hadn’t.
I was glad I hadn’t. The two German’s told me that earlier the guy had been sitting in bed watching pornography with the volume blaring and staring at them. Not saying anything or doing anything, just staring at these two poor girls while playing loud porno.
Of course, the two of them went down to reception to tell someone there about what happened. They requested to switch rooms. To me that seemed beyond reasonable. The receptionist not only refused to let them switch, but laughed at them.
After hearing this story, I walked over to the third bed and took a quick glance at this guy’s stuff. I’m not sure why. Maybe just trying to figure out what kind of pervert we were dealing with. There was a suitcase next to the bed, and a portable DVD player. Not a laptop. This guy wasn’t just looking up porn on his computer (not that that would have been much better), but he was actually traveling around with these porno DVDs. The entire suitcase could have been filled with porno for all anyone knew. I didn’t check.
The two girls asked me to keep an ear out and rescue them if anything happened that night. I promised I would. Eventually more travellers showed up and filled the dorm beds. Thanfully, Creepy Porno Guy didn’t cause any trouble. The next morning the German girls checked out early and hopefully had a much better time on the rest of their trip. I left as well.
As I was checking out of the White Lion, at around 8 or 9 in the morning, the party from the night before was just ending. I handed in my fluorescent wrist band and walked down the alley surrounded by a small crowd of still drunk and high Panamanian club kids.