So Panama City is a little gem on the Pacific coast, with its ancient sites, lovely walks, impressive skyline and modern engineering marvels. It's an easy place to recommend, but there is one thing I've got to mention, and that's the taxi drivers.
Panama City's taxi drivers don't use meters, which isn't much of a surprise, as they don't really go in for metered travel in this part of the world (even in San José in Costa Rica, where they are supposed to use meters by law, you'll be hard-pressed to find a taxi driver who's happy to do so). This means you have to do what you have to do everywhere, and that's to negotiate your fare, preferably before you get into the cab. It's a bit difficult to know how much you should be paying, of course, and asking the taxi driver to come up with a figure is like sticking a 'kick me' sign on your backside and inviting him to take aim, but eventually you get a feeling for how much taxis cost, and generally you end up paying a reasonable fare.
This is true for most of the taxis in Panama City, but not all of them. Sometimes I would suggest a fare to a taxi driver, and they would look at me with genuine irritation as if I was completely wasting their time, shout 'Pah!' and drive off with a violently dismissive wave of the hand; I would then try exactly the same price on the next cabbie, and he'd happily accept my suggested price – perhaps negotiating a tiny bit more, but not a lot – and would drive us there with a smile. I have no idea what I was doing wrong with the first taxi, and I still don't have a clue why some of the taxi drivers treated me so rudely. It was disconcerting, to say the least, but perhaps this is normal behaviour round here; if so, it's a bit of a shock after the friendliness in the rest of the country.
And then at popular tourist sights, outside the bigger hotels, and in the taxi rank at the main bus station, there are taxi drivers who will only take you if you pay them four or five times the going rate, and they will laugh in your face – often quite violently – when you suggest the correct fare to them. So you simply wander round the corner or wait for a taxi to drive up from the street, and they'll take you for the correct fare and without all this unnecessary attitude.
I've been finding this two-tier system astonishingly wearing, not least because these are the first arseholes that we've met on our entire Panamanian trip, and here they are, right in the heart of the capital, and right in the places where visitors to this country are most vulnerable. I don't really mind taxi drivers trying to charge tourists more – it happens the world over, and you get used to it, even expect it – but to treat customers with such a lack of respect simply because they open negotiations with a reasonable price for a taxi ride... well, that's not acceptable behaviour anywhere, full stop.
Luckily, Panama City is such an amazing place that even these greedy fuckwits can't spoil it. One day the city will mature to the point where they also realise that this behaviour is unacceptable, and they will stamp it out; until then, don't let these idiots take your money, because they don't deserve it. They certainly didn't get any of mine.