Panama

Panama

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  • Day138

    Due to absurdity this journey deserves its own post :)
    You know I normally prefer public transportation to tourist shuttles as even though they are usually a lot quicker they are also a lot more expensive and what I have is time what I need to save is money. But as I was traveling with Alena and her time was limited we took the shuttle. As I had already bought my ticket for the boat to get of the island when I came we were on 2 different boats but met on the other side and jumped in the airconditioned mini-van with WIFI which was supposed to bring us to Boquete in 3 1/2 hours. All went well till we suddenly stopped without any obvious reason. Our busdriver also didn't know what was happening so he just passed by the other cars waiting till we made it to the front of the line and saw what was going on: some people were blocking the street with 2 cars and some rocks and a big banner. First we thought this was some kind of joke and it couldn't take more than half an hour to move them. But we had to realize that no one was even trying to move this people. So one lady, who seemed to be their head, kept sitting on an old fridge in the middle of the street and nothing happened. After an hour we got out of the van again and explored the area around. There were some little stores along the street but we kept on going till we got to a Chinese supermarket with chicken feet and beer. Probably the real reason we left the car. The beer. Not the chicken feet.
    After another hour Alena started to get really upset. She wanted to get to Boquete and it was hard to accept that we couldn't do anything but wait. We talked to our driver and he tried to explain the situation to us. Apparently there was another road between 2 towns that had been closed ages ago. Now some people wanted to open this road again but the bus companies stopped this as right now the bus from David to Changinola was the only way to get from town to town. So people blocking the street were trying to harm the bus company. Unfortunately the busses were the only ones that weren't really bothered by the blocked street as they just had a bus coming from both sides. They swapped over people and luggage, turned around and made their way back (of course this happens when I'm taking the shuttle). Also it was sunday and no one who could do something was working. So basically the whole blocking didn't really make scene.
    He also said that the people blocking the street were indigos paid by the government to do so. But he kind of lost us at that point. Maybe this degree of corruption is to high for us.
    At some point Alena got really annoyed and decided to go for a run (after 2 beers). I was amazed by how relaxed I was with the whole situation. I guess this is what traveling Central America for 5 month does to you :)
    After Alena was gone for a while people suddenly started to move. We couldn't really figure out what had happened but suddenly they moved the cars and started carrying away the rocks. Our driver didn't wanna let anybody go past us and squeezed back into line. Everybody jumped back in the car. But we were still missing Alena! The cars started moving quite slowly as everybody had to get back in line. But we were like the third car passing the blocking and everybody just wanted to keep moving. But where was Alena. Suddenly one of the guys saw her right in front of us coming down the road. So we opened the door and barely stopped to let her jump in. Once the door was closed our driver started speeding down the road like crazy. He probably tried to make up for the 3 hours we had been standing around not moving at all. Alena opened her last beer and was finally relaxed again. Even though we would make it to Boquete later than planned, we at least had some story to tell!
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  • Day137

    We had thought about spending a night on Bastimentos but as Bocas town was already super quiet due to off season we figured it would probably be a little to quiet on the other islands. So we decided to just go there for the day to Red Frog Beach. We bought some snacks and prepared some guacamole before taking a boat over to the island. The boatride was already quite nice as we got closer looks of the other islands. We also stopped at the main harbour of Bastimentos and got a view of the town. We didn't get of here but drove further down to the entrance to National Park from where it was just a short walk to Red Frog Beach. The beach was again super quiet and with a clear sky today even more beautiful than yesterday. Also the water was a little nicer as the waves weren't breaking right on the shore and you could get in and out of the water a little easier.
    I took a walk to a little viewing plattform at the end of the beach but even though I kept my eyes open I didn't see any red frogs. We relaxed at the beach reading and catching a little to much sun.
    After a while we went over to a little bar for a fresh fruit juice to find out they had fresh piña coladas! We couldn't say no to that.
    So we enjoyed our cocktail at the beach before walking back to catch our boat back to the main island.
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  • Day139

    Even though Alena had told me so much about Boquete I still expected something completely different! Somehow I thought Boquete was this little village along a little road next to a river up a mountain. Boquete is basically just one street. But this one is like a proper road. Also the town is a lot more wealthy than most of the places I've seen in the last month. Lots of international restaurants and fancy shops. Proper houses with nicely cut gardens. Almost everybody seems to have their own car. But maybe this is not special to Boquete but actually just normal in Panama? They do have the canal and are definitely a richer country compared to Nicaragua or El Salvador. Also a lot of international people were living here and lots of western stuff was available all over town.
    Of course this isn't necessarily a bad thing I just had to adjust my expectations that this was not the authentic little village with an old Panamanian Lady selling coffee in a rustic cafe.
    When we arrived to the hostel we were greeted by the owner and his dogs. I understood immediately why Alena felt so much at home here. The hostel was one of the nicest and cleanest I have stayed and the stuff was super friendly and open hearted.
    We had a quick shower and headed out again to the Brewery Factory. On the way we made a quick stop at another restaurant to say hello to some of Alenas friends. At the brewery we got some snacks from a food truck integrated in the bar and some of the good beer. I choose the coconut one. Sounds weirder than it was ;)
    I liked the design and the vibe of the place a lot.
    Usually there is life music at night but we missed it due to our belated journey. We shared a table with some guys from David and after a while Adam joined us. Adam was a guy Alena had met the week before who was playing at the Brewery and other places around town. When the brewery closed we walked over to Taboo Lounge - a bar that belongs to the only night club in town which was unfortunately closed tonight. We were the only people here and actually not really up for another drink but Adam said we should have one more cocktail together. So we went for purple rain - a new creation by one of the bartenders. They came in huge glasses and the bartender switched the music to purple rain immediately. Everybody took pictures of us and our huge cocktails and we figured we gonna show up on a lot of Instagram profiles tomorrow ;)
    The bar filled up more and more and Adam seemed to know everybody. We ended up having another cocktail before we headed over to Mamallenas Hostal to visit Isaac, another of Alenas friends. We hung out for a while but I was super tired so we went home with just a quick stop at the 24h supermarket to buy breakfast for the next day.
    The next morning after breakfast we took a collectivo to get towards the quetzal trail as we wanted to go for a hike around the area. The driver dropped us of at a crossroad but we walked quite a while from here without finding the trail. After a while we got to the turnoff for another trail to 3 waterfalls and as Alena hadn't seen that one as well we decided to take it.
    The hike was partly more a climb but that made it more exciting and fun. When we got to the last waterfall we weren't sure if the guy at the entrance had said "you can climb up to the top of the waterfall" or "you shouldn't climb up to the top of the waterfall". Actually I had just seen him pointing to the top of the waterfall on a picture and assumed he was telling us to go there. So we decided we would just keep on going along the trail and see if it was possible. It was possible. And even though we are still not sure we were supposed to go up there it was definitely worth it.
    When we got back to the street afterwards a collectivo picked us up right there. It started raining shortly after we got into the car so I guess we did everything right.
    Back in town we went to one of Alenas favorite places for quesadillas and smoothies.
    As it was Alenas last night she invited some of her friends for a home cooked dinner at the hostel. She made Spaghetti Bolognese and a salad that could have fed 10 people easily. Unfortunately we were only 5 but it gave us all something to eat the next day.
    The dinner was really nice and it was nice meeting Alenas friends here.
    The next morning I walked around town one last time with Alena and she showed me where the hostel used to be and another new hostel the owner is working on.
    After I walked Alena to her bus I walked around town by myself for a while and found a little market.
    Later I went back to that new hostel with the owner as he wanted some tips for the bathroom (I should start saying I'm a teacher or something). I think I didn't really help him as we talked about different options but kind of figured just the one he didn't like was working but it was nice to see a Panamanian construction side. When we got back to the hostel it started to rain again so I stayed inside on the sofa next to the reception and made some travel plans for the next days. For dinner I had some of the leftovers from the night before and I kind of didn't leave my spot on the sofa talking to other guests and stuff till I went to bed.
    The next morning I left early to catch the bus to head back towards the Pacific Coast again.
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  • Day144

    To get from Santa Catalina to Playa Venao was even more complicated than getting to Santa Catalina. I had to take 5 different busses. The last one from Las Tablas to Playa Venao was only running once a day sometime around midday but no one could tell me when exactly. So I decided to take the first bus leaving Santa Catalina at 6 in the morning (which didn't show up before 6:30) to not miss my chance for that bus to Playa Venao. Wherever I had to change busses there was a direct bus going to Panama City. I really thought about just skipping Playa Venao and go straight to Panama City. Was Playa Venao really worth the hassle and the money I had to spend to get there? So far I still wasn't really impressed by Panama and thought maybe I should just get to Colombia where I knew I liked it.
    But I decided to give it one last chance and made my way to Eco Venao, a hostel Maren had recommended for me. Turned out it was the right decision!
    I had a really nice time there and met a lot of interesting people.
    Natascha is volunteering at Eco Venao. She had just finished her Bachelor in Interior Architecture at my University in Mainz and had so many nice ideas what to change at Eco Venao and we spend some time laying in the hammocks talking with some other girls about creative ideas for the hostel and other girly topics. I hope she's gonna stay motivated and will be able to implement some of her ideas.
    John is running the Venao coffee shop and roastery at the Entrance to Eco Venao. I spend quite some time listening to him talking about coffee and it felt great meeting someone being so passionate about what he is doing.
    Both of them helped me a little on figuring out what I wanna do when I get back. Even though I really enjoy my time traveling of course this is always in the back of my head and talking to the two of them made me realize I wanna keep on doing what I did. I've always been passionate about my job and I think I'm not ready to give that up for a boring job. Even if it would mean more money and less hours.
    One night I went with John to Panga, a really nice restaurant at the end of the beach. It was probably the best food I had on my trip. They were also selling Johns coffee so when he told them who he was we got a free dessert which was absolutely delicious.
    When we walked back along the beach there were tons of fireflies. It was so beautiful. The ocean, the stars and the flushing fireflies everywhere around. The only thing that was disturbing was that we didn't see where we were walking and you always had to be afraid to step on one of the many crabs crashing it.
    I also had my most expensive surfboard rental in Playa Venao. I took a board for a full day which was already $20. When I tried getting out I figured the waves were quite strong and I had to let my board go quite often. And when I thought I finally made it out another big wave came and when I let my board go again the leash ripped. Luckily I could grab my board before it was pushed all the way back to the beach. But I had to take the next wave to get out of the water to get a new leash and that was another $35.
    I went in and out of the water for the rest of the day to make the most of my money but as the waves were actually to big for me I mostly stayed to the front catching some smaller once and playing around in the white water.
    One morning Natascha did a yoga class on the yoga deck at the beach which was really nice. After that I had to figure out where to go next. As I had booked my sail boat to Colombia by now I knew I would be in Panama City till May 28th. So going straight to the City would mean 5 nights there which felt quite a lot. But I also didn't really feel like staying another day in Venao. When I told a few girls I thought about taking the bus early the next morning to Panama City Leila said we could take the bus together then as she was raking that one to get of earlier to go to El Valle. I remembered Simon in Santa Catalina had told me about El Valle and highly recommended it. So I decided to join her.
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  • Day141

    To get to Santa Catalina on public transport I had to take 4 different busses. The first to David where I changed to a bus for Santiago. From here to Zona and from there to Santa Catalina. All busses were running regularly except for the last to Santa Catalina. This one was only running every 2 hours and the last one was at around 5. But I left Boquete early and even made it to the 3 o'clock bus to Santa Catalina.
    In Santa Catalina I was staying at Villa Vento Surf. I had talked to Steven, the guy who runs the hostel, when I was looking for a volunteering position a few weeks back. He had offered me to work for free accommodation but as I ended up at Rapture in Nicaragua I didn't take his offer. But now I still wanted to see the place. It was a nice hostel and Steve and the girls working there were fun. I probably could have had a got time there but it was nothing compared to Rapture.
    I was looking forward to surf again so the first thing I did was heading down to the beach to check where I could rent a board for the next days. There was a point break which I was a little afraid to surf but also a beach break for less advanced surfers at the beach the other end of town. My hostel was kind of "in the center" which was basically one road with a few hostels, restaurants and shops with a small town beach which was nice for watching the sunset. From here a long road let along some more spread out hostels and restaurants towards the main surf beach where it had some more hostels right at the beach.
    I figured I should rent a board at one of the hostels at the beach so I wouldn't have to carry it all the way along the road as It took almost half an hour to get there.
    Walking along the road the place felt kind of deserted. Most restaurants were closed and I met almost nobody on the street. Here you could really feel it was off-season. When I got to the beach I was pretty disappointed to learn that the hostels here were only renting 8' softtops - a kind of board I had outgrown by now. The next morning I went back for high tide (which was the right time to surf this beach) hoping I would meet somebody who would know where to get a proper board. I saw to girls who were using exactly the kind of board I was looking for so I just asked if maybe the rented them somewhere around here. Turned out they were their own boards but they offered me to use them right away! Super nice. So ended up spending the morning with them surfing and chilling at the beach talking about life.
    In the afternoon I went to a nice restaurant overlooking the beach to write for my blogg but I ended up talking to a guy I met. He was from El Salvador but was working in a Hostel in Santa Catalina. We met again that night for dinner and he told me a lot about his country. It was nice because as I had been to El Salvador I could relate to lots of the things he was saying. He confirmed that the guy we met at the soccer game at Sonsonate was most definitely a member or leader of one of the big gangs in El Salvador. He explained a bit about the whole situation with gangs running the country but also confirmed what I had been telling everybody who was shocked I went to El Salvador. Even though there might be a lot of crime it's not dangerous for tourists as it doesn't concern you.
    The next day I took the only board we had at our hostel and carried it all the way to the beach as I didn't wanna trust my luck to meet someone who's willing to give me his board again. After another morning of surfing and chilling at the beach I spend the afternoon in a spot overlooking the pointbreak writing my blogg. Even though no one was surfing it was nice watching the waves from here.
    At night I had dinner at the hostel talking to Simon. We shared his left over rum and exchanged travel experiences.
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  • Day147

    El Valle finally made me accept Panama the way it was. The landscape was absolutely beautiful and even though I don't think it was a lot different to Boquete I got to take the fancy mansions with their well kept big gardens as part of the country. Panama might be more americanized and expensive than Nicaragua and the other countries up north but it is also part of their history with the Panama Canal that they are much more related to America. You shouldn't compare a country to another one you liked but always try to take it as what it is.
    El Valle is a small town set in the crater of an extinguished volcano. It's actually the biggest settlement inside a volcanoe in the world. Being here you see the crater as a chain of mountains surrounding the town. These mountains provide a few nice hikes with amazing views.
    When Leila and I arrived to the Bodhi Hostel the girl at the reception did a really nice check in explaining everything regarding the hostel but also giving us some ideas how to explain the surrounding area without trying to sell a tour. I really like it when the do this. The hostel was also really sweet. Lots of little details and even though the dorm for quite a lot of people it didn't feel crowded as everybody had a big locker, enough room and a curtain in front of the bed.
    The girl at the reception had told us there was a hike to a lookout point we could still do this afternoon. Supposedly you could see the Pacific from there to the one side and the Crater to the other. She kind of made it sound like it's just a quick hike so we didn't really think a lot about it and just started walking. Once we'd left I saw this big mountain ahead of us and thought "Wait a minute. If we gonna be able to see the pacific coast from the lookout point, it must be the highest mountain around, right?". Leila also didn't expect a hike like this but we pushed each other to just keep on walking and about 1 1/2 hours later we were rewarded with amazing views of the town inside the crater. Unfortunately we couldn't see all the way to the pacific as it was starting to get really cloudy.
    After we got back we were super hungry and wanted to grad dinner at this peruvian restaurant Leila had read about. They were supposed to have a daily special for $3,50 including a juice. Everything in town seemed to be located along the main road so we started walking down the road looking for the restaurant. It was supposed to take about 10-15 minutes to get there so we didn't really get suspicious for a while. But when it seemed the town turned more and more into residential areas we checked the map again. Yeah, it's really easy to find something if everything is organized along one road - you just have to walk to the right direction 😅
    So we turned around and walked all the way back till we finally found the place not to far from our hostel. When we sat down it started raining pretty bad. We literally just made it there in time.
    A lady gave us the menu and we were disappointed to see the cheapest meals were around $10-12. The lady saw our confused looks and added "We also have a daily special which is fried fish fillet with french fries and salad including a juice." "How much is that?" "$3,50." "What? How... whatever, we take it!" ☺
    I guess this place makes it's money with a few proper tourist and lots of backpackers.
    Two street dogs who were hanging out outside the hostel had followed us all the way here. Obviously the owner of the restaurant didn't want them on his terrace so he send them off but they waited for us next to it and came back the moment we left and followed us back to the hostel. We did like one of the dogs but the other seemed to be a bit overactive and crazy.
    The next morning we went on the hike to "La India Dormida". A mountain chain was supposed to look like a sleeping woman. The funny thing was that till the end we didn't figure out if we were actually walking on that sleeping woman or if we were supposed to see it somewhere. So we kept on looking at the surrounding mountains and saw sleeping people everywhere. After we got back down we finally saw the sleeping woman like we had seen her on the pictures. The hike was on top of these mountains forming the outline. But they didn't really look more like a sleeping woman like the other ones we had seen before.
    But the hike on the ridge was really nice. I had never done a hike like this but we were literally walking on top of the edge of the mountain chain.
    Back down I only took a short break before catching the bus to Panama City.
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  • Day148

    I hadn't been in a proper city since my two days in Guatemala City in January so I was kind of excited to get to Panama City.
    Panama City is a weird mix of old and new as well as rich and poor. My hostel was in the old town with lots of nice and old buildings. But from here you had a view to the other side of Panama City with it's quite impressive skyline. The area of my hostel was pretty touristy with also a few fancy hotels and restaurants. But to get there from the metro you had to walk down Avenida Central which was a big shopping street that wasn't fancy at all. And if you would leave this maon street into the back alleys you would see how people were actually living in huge rundown buildings.
    Maybe it was just because I hadn't been in a city for so long or because of this differences that made the city quite interesting but I actually really liked Panama City.
    I had to do quite a lot of organizing after not having proper WIFI for a while (and more interesting things to do) so I spend my first day here just ticking off points of my To-Do-list like extending my travel insurance and finding a new person subletting my apartment.
    After I had finished all the necessary things I started exploring the neighborhood. It was nice to just stroll around and I took a lot of pictures of random curiosities.
    The hostel I stayed was kind of a party hostel with a bar attached downstairs which had ridiculous cheap drinks at happy hour. Normally I don't like it when the party mood is kind of forced onto you. But my second night Leila arrived from El Valle and we ended up going out after happy hour with some guys from the hostel. At some point we left the guys to go back to the hostel to sleep as we were really tired. But instead we got hassled into a bar on our way home with the offer of a free drink and ended up dancing to Reggaeton for a while. I guess this is how the best parties happen - unexpected. When we finally got back to the hostel the others were already asleep.
    One other thing I really liked about Panama City was the fish market. There were a ton of simple restaurants serving fresh fish and ceviche. And it was a good mix of locals and tourists. Leila took me there one night and I actually went back twice.
    I learned about the perks of backpacking life when I took advantage of the americanization of this country and bought me a Boston Cream Dunkin Donut and left it in the hostel fridge. I was really looking forward to the donut as even though I pretend to hate American fast food I love Donuts. But when I wanted to get it from the fridge it was gone! I stored it in a bag with lots of other stuff and all that was still there. So someone must have been going through the bags looking for something appealing. I hope he enjoyed my donut!
    After three full days in the City I left for Puerto Lindo from where I would catch the sailboat to Colombia.
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  • Day151

    When I was on the bus from El Valle to Panama City I saw a big bridge ahead of us and suddenly realized that this must be the Panama Canal! When we crossed it I saw a ship passing by under it and got pretty excited. The big ship and the containers reminded me of home. Especially as there were a few "Hamburg Süd" container on that ship.
    Everybody kept telling me that going to see the canal is not that exciting but I still wanted to go. There is a visitor center at one of the locks with a museum and platforms to watch the boats pass through the locks. I read online that boats are not passing between 10:30am and some time later in the afternoon so I went quite early to be there at 9am when the visitor center opens. Unfortunately I had to learn when I got there that on saturdays it's a little different and boats stop running at 9am and there wouldn't be a ship before 3:30pm. Even though I really wanted to see a ship I couldn't be bothered to spend the whole day here. The museum was just partly interesting and a movie they showed you was really proud and cheesy. So in the end I have to say that people were right. It's not really exciting going there. But at least one good thing came out of it. I found another Dunkin Donut on my way back and finally got my Boston Cream Donut!Read more

  • Day130

    Welcome to Miami. Panama City is a mini metropolis with a beautiful skyline, casinos, banks, American food chains - the works.

    When I arrived I was waiting a few days before Izzy got there. Because I didn't want to do too much exploring without her, I decided to take a few days of Spanish lessons in Obarrio (the new town). This was cool as it was a good chance for me to consolidate what I've already learnt over the last few months and for me to learn a bit more basic Spanish to get by.

    The day before Iz was meant to arrive I moved hostels to Casco Viejo which is the old town of Panama. It's really pretty and the hostel itself that I moved to was very social. I met some people and we played cards and then went out to the fish market where you can get ceviche for as little as $2. We drank in the hostel that night and I ended up missing my last Spanish leason but I went to bed at 3am.

    The next day I didn't do much until it was time to go and get Izzy from the airport. It was so nice when she arrived, as I haven't seen her since before I left. We had loads to catch up on and lots of great stuff to look forward to.

    On our first day together we went to the Amador Causeway, which takes you quite far out to be able to look back on the city and see the skyline. We walked along the causeway and then got a taxi to Ancon Hill where you are able to see the canal. In the afternoon we went for coffee in Casco Viejo and then went to Albrook mall to get some stuff before we went to the San Blas Islands the next day.

    Although we had to get up at 5am, we didn't sleep very well because the hostel we were staying in had a bar underneath it and we could hear the bass from our room.
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  • Day138

    One 4x4 jeep, two taxis, two dominos, two buses and two boats later (and 12 hours) we finally arrived in Bocas Del Toro.

    The first place we were staying was Bambuda Lodge on Isla Solarte which has a slide into the sea. It was a really cool place and we spent the first day just chilling by the pool.

    The second and third day it rained for two days straight torrentially and we were stuck at the lodge (ironic because it was the hottest day of the year in London). We just played jenga and scrabble and drank. On the third day when it eventually stopped raining we moved over to Isla Colon which is the main island to Selina's. We went out for food and had the BEST tacos ever and a beer or two.

    That night Iz and I made dinner and just had a few drinks but nothing big because it was filthy Fridays the next day (and also Izzy's last day in Panama 😭).

    Filthy Fridays is a big bar crawl which basically every backpacker in Bocas goes to. You go to three bars which are on different islands. I won't go into too much detail but it was very messy. It was also really sad because half way through Iz and I had to say goodbye to each other because she had to go and get her flight to Panama City.

    I had such a nice time travelling with her, we really did have the holiday of a lifetime in the San Blas islands, and loads of fun in Bocas even despite the weather.

    The next day I was barely human so moved into a private room in an apartment on the other side of the island and watched Netflix and had no human interaction all day (much needed).

    The day after I met Tom and we got the shuttle to across the border into Costa Rica. I did Panama pretty quickly (two weeks in total) but it was time to leave because I had spent a sickening amount of money in 14 days (especially seeing as we did barely anything for a lot of it).

    I had an amazing time in Panama - especially in the San Blas which was a highlight of my life - but I'm going to have to be pretty frugal going forwards to try and balance myself out again financially.
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You might also know this place by the following names:

Republic of Panama, Panama, ፓናማ, パナマ, 파나마, ପାନାମା, ปานามา, ປານາມາ, ប៉ាណាម៉ា, ประเทศปานามา, สาธารณรัฐปานามา, i-Panama, Orílẹ́ède Panama, Pa-na-ma, Panamá, Panamà, Panamā, Panamaa, Panamaja, Panamän, Panama nutome, Panamo, República de Panamá, بنما, پاناما, پنامہ, פנמה, Παναμάς, Панама, པ་ན་མཱ, པ་ནཱ་མ།, Պանամա, პანამა, पनामा, पानामा, પનામા, పనామా, ಪನಾಮಾ, பணாமா, பனாமா, പനാമ, পানামা, ပနားမား, පැනමා, 巴拿马

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