David to Puerto Armuelles
Last week I took a bus from my home in David, Panama to another town right on the Panama/Costa Rica border. The trip normally is an hour and a half on these Panamanian collective buses. The first leg, west on the Panamerican hiway was typical. The second leg, from Paso Canoes to Puerto Armuelles was very slow. A political rally, a bike race and what seemed like a hundred stops to let people off and pick up people. At one point, the bus stopped for what seemed no apparent reason. Then I saw this old man, very crippled, across the hiway. A young man (the attendent for the bus) walked across the hiway, held up on coming traffic and along with a youth of about 12, assisted the old man (who was using two broomstick handles for canes), across the hiway and into the bus. The person closesest to the door vacated her seat so the old man could sit close to the door. The driver drove toward our destination for about four miles, dropping off and picking up. He pulled into a Tienda (local grocery store) and stopped the bus. The driver, the attendant, the old man and the youth disembarked and went shopping for the old man's groceries. They were inside the store for perhaps 10 minutes. The grocery cashier made everyone wait while the old man fumbled with his money to pay for his purchases. Back in the bus, no one seemed upset or anxious. Nor did they think it was extraordinary. However, I was really surprised when the driver retraced his route and took the old man back to his house. The driver and attendant, along with the youth, carried the purchases right up to the door of the old man's house. The bus turned around and headed to Puerto Armulles, again. I asked the attendant if the old man was a relative of the driver. The answer was no. It's just how they treat the elderly here in Panama. Kiddingly I asked if they would do that for me, a gringo, when I got that old. The attendant nodded yes. The driver overheard my question and shouted it out to the rest of the 30 some passengers. It was reassuring to hear twenty some voices shout in unison, "Si, gringo." Es verdad! (Yes! That's the truth!).
This is just one of the thousands of reasons I love my adopted country. By the way, the elapsed time was 3 hours...double the norm. My return ride later in the day was a shade under one and a half hours. The price for my round trip? $4.10. The old man paid the minimum for a Jubilado, 30 cents.