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Mark Moxon's Travel Writing

Panama: Just Passing Through

Peta sitting by the road in Boquete as we waited for the bus to David and on to Santiago
Peta sitting by the road in Boquete as we waited for the bus to David and on to Santiago

Junction towns rarely get a mention in travelogues, and if they do, they're generally just footnotes. Even in the guidebooks, towns without obvious tourist attractions get short shrift, and it's pretty clear that the authors don't spend much time hanging round there... like everyone else on the trail, it seems.

Looking east along the Pan-American Highway
Looking east along the Pan-American Highway

Santiago to the Rescue

Looking west along the Pan-American Highway
Looking west along the Pan-American Highway

Our choice of junction town in Panama was Santiago. Panama is a famously long and thin country that's broadly in the shape of an elongated S rotated anticlockwise through 90°, and the Pan-American Highway, which passes all the way through Central America like the brown intestinal line in a prawn, follows the southern edge of that S from Costa Rica in the west to Darien in the east. (Here it grinds to a halt and doesn't start up again until Turbo in Colombia, which is the only break in the journey from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego; the Panama-Colombia border is no longer open, unless you're a member of a drug cartel.) If you're travelling through Panama then you can't avoid the Pan-American, but while there are plenty of attractions on the coast of Panama and up in the northern hills, there are precious few on the Pan-American itself, particularly in the western half.

The Hotel Gran David in Santiago
The Hotel Gran David in Santiago
La Candela Viva
La Candela Viva
The tranquil back garden at the Gran David
The tranquil back garden at the Gran David
The entrance to the Gran David
The entrance to the Gran David