Panama City is a noisy, busy place. Traffic, construction, and music blaring out of cars at ear-splitting decibel levels. Cars and drivers here deserve particular note.
- Cars merge in a way that is almost sensual, like Latin lovers dancing salsa. There is NO space between cars. Where the American driver sees clearly that there is no space to merge, the Panamanian just sticks his nose out in front of you, forcing you to stop, and in he goes.
If you try to be courteous and stop to let someone into traffic, you will often cause more harm than good. The driver you are trying to help, confused by your behavior and possibly sensing a trap, will not budge until you've both stared at each other for awhile. He will then rapidly enter traffic once you give up in frustration and try to move on.
- This, and all other driving, is accomplished with much honking. You honk when you pass. You honk when you see someone on the side of the road. You honk if you are in traffic so bad the street is a parking lot.
Two honks seems to be the standard greeting. One long, unbroken honk generally signals frustration. I've taken gladly to this habit, and try to greet every honk I hear with two friendly honks of my own.
- If you see someone with their hazard lights on, they are telling you they are about to do something crazy. Like pass on the shoulder or weave in and out of traffic.
- Windows here are tinted to a crazy degree. Like many cars here, my CRV came with near black windows. I do not exaggerate in saying I can barely make out headlights from the driver and passenger window at night time. As a result, I drive at night with my windows down.
The scary thing is, I'm the only person I've seen driving with my windows down at night, and some windows are even more tinted than mine.
Despite all this, I've managed to manage. I even drove across the continent to the Caribbean side this Saturday (takes about an hour) without incident. Still, driving here is intense.