Llegamos el lunes por la noche, muy tarde. Ya en estas tres días cortos que he pasado en este país he observado varias cosas interesantes, y lo disfrutaba mucho. El proceso de analizar una cultura o una sociedad nueva es una compleja, que requiere que pase mucho tiempo dentro de ella, observándola. En tres días ha sido difícil formar una comprensión fija de como funciona la sociedad panameña, pero no obstante, intento recordar lo que ya he experimentado y observado durante mi viaje.

The first thing that hits you upon leaving the airport terminal are the cars. It’s not as if there aren’t cars in the United States of course, but the overwhelming smell of exhaust hanging in the weighty, humid air was incredible. Un aire pesadísimo nos envolvió inmediatamente.

The next morning we walked to campus for our on site orientation. The amount of traffic was staggering really; easily rivaling any major U.S. cities congested motorways. Driving styles are not all that different from those in the United States’ larger metropoles, boasting just as many hurried and apparently self-important drivers. They drive fast and with a purpose. Not even the sudden collection of water at least six inches deep on the main thoroughfares impedes them from reaching their destination (or at least not many of them).

According to los panameños con quienes tenemos clase, the road laws are not necessarily ignored by many drivers, they are simply unknown. The percentage of drivers that bypass driver’s ed and just buy their licenses (along with those who simply drive without a license at all) means that a great many of them don’t even know what the traffic laws are, making them all the easier to ignore. The most distinctive driving behavior displayed by Panamanians is their liberal use of the car horn. A perpetual symphony of honks (in the key of Toyota and Kia) resonates through the streets at all hours. Our Panamanian professor and fellow students can’t explain that one to us, but it’s a fact they all recognize and admit themselves. It’s just the standard for negotiating the road with other drivers. If someone stops on the side of the road, you honk. If they are driving too slowly, you honk. If they cut in front of you, you honk. If they’re in your way at all, you honk. Sometimes it seems like they just honk for the hell of it. Despite that, I haven’t seen a single wreck yet; much more than I could say for Louisville drivers. People obviously like to make it clear that someone is doing something they don’t approve of, but they seem to leave it at that. Everyone knows what to expect from everyone else on the road and are apparently aware enough to keep from constantly rear-ending each other.