Lots of folks come to Las Tablas without cars. While it is possible to get around by walking and taking the bus, the bus routes and schedules are not always easily obtained or convenient. The obvious answer? Call a taxi. But first you should be aware of a few details.
Call a Taxi
There are essentially two ways to summon a taxi. You can call the company dispatcher, or you can call the taxista (taxi driver) directly. Either way you need two things: a phone number and enough Spanish to make yourself understood. Good luck understanding what they say back – there is a heavy regional accent here, and most newcomers are at as much of a loss to understand it as a Brit dropped off in Arkansas.
What to Say
If you’re wearing a tux and want to be formal, you can say “Quiero solicitor un taxi, por favor.” (I wish to request a taxi, please.) Not so formal? “Quiero un taxi, por favor.” (I want a taxi, please.) Or, “Necesito un taxi, por favor.” (I need a taxi, please.)
The dispatcher will then ask you where you are. Listen very hard to the response and you will hear the word “donde” (where). That’s your clue to identify your location. There are no addresses here in the way you are probably used to giving them. If you are at some recognizable place of business – hotel, restaurant, grocery store, hardware store, etc., give the dispatcher that. If you aren’t, consider moving yourself to one. Otherwise, find someone who can tell you where you are and say: Me disculpe. Solicito un taxi. Donde estoy? (Excuse me. I’m calling a taxi. Where am I?) If either minimalism or drama is your thing and you want to sound more like something from a bad novel, just say, Donde estoy?
Tell the dispatcher, or better yet, hand the phone to your new friend and let him tell the dispatcher, since you probably won’t understand what he said, anyway.
What to Expect
Let’s suppose you calling from the Bulebar subdivision. The dispatcher will assume a sing-song voice and say something like, “Proximo. Cinquenta y seis. Bulebar. Proximo. Cinquenta y seis. Bulebar.” She will be speaking to a taxista asking if he’s close enough to pick you up. She might say a few more things, but they’ll be in the local Greek, not Spanish.
And then very likely she will tell you, “No hay disponible.” (There are none available.)
There is no use arguing about this. There is no use asking if she could just send the next one that comes along. They don’t work that way. No hay disponible and that’s that. Get out the list I am providing you below and call the next company on the list. You may have to go through the entire list as many as four times before you find a cab that IS disponible. That’s just how it is here. There aren’t nearly enough cabs to service the number of people who want them.
If she does have one for you, she will give you the number of it. If you can manage to understand your assigned number, you are way ahead of the game. You will watch what seems to be about fifty empty cabs whiz past you before yours gets there, but if they aren’t the one with your number on them, the likelihood that they will pick you up is between slim and none. All those cabs are off to pick up assigned passengers in other locations. That’s why you call one instead of hailing it.
If you want to take the 6:00 am bus to Panamá and need a cab at 5:30, don’t call a dispatcher. They’ll just tell you to call back in the morning, but of course no one will be there at 5:15. For this, you need the number of an individual taxista. Whenever you get a ride from a driver who doesn’t run into things, drive the wrong way up one-way streets or run lights, get his phone number and name so you can call him directly. Note that cell phone numbers all begin with 6 and have eight digits.
If you think you might need a truck at some point, make a point of getting the cell numbers of the taxi camion (taxi truck) guys. It’s tough to order one from a dispatcher.
The price of your cab ride is set by law. From one end of Las Tablas to the other, it’s pretty much $1.25. However, you need to know that there are a few outlying areas that are priced higher, and the border between Las Tablas and Guarare is one of them, seeming at certain points to go right through the middle of Las Tablas, even though it’s miles before you are actually IN Guarare. The trick here is, if you think you will be taking the ride more than once, to find out exactly where the border is. If you go one inch past it, your ride is the higher price. Find out where to stop and walk the other ten feet.
There Can Be Only One
The first cab company in Panama was founded by The Highlander. He it was who laid down the rule that only one passenger or passenger group shall travel in any given cab at a time. In La Ciudad de Panamá do observe this, for your own safety. If you are a woman traveling alone, observe this everywhere. But if you are at the grocery store trying to get a cab to take your ice cream home in the blistering heat, find a friendly old lady in the crowd standing around with their stacks of plastic bags, smile sweetly and ask if she would like to share a cab. Often she will, but the Spanish involved is tricky. On second thought, it might be better for international relations to just let your ice cream melt.
Cab Companies and Numbers
Here is a list of numbers for taxi companies in Las Tablas.
Taxi near Banco Naciónal 994-6557
Taxi Castro 994-0966
Taxi Mensabe 994-8244
Taxi Santa Librada 994-9493
Taxi Super Carnes 994-6311
Taxi Super Central 994-8533
Taxi Tableno 994-6215
If you need a TRUCK TAXI, here are two numbers. Note that both are mobile phone numbers and you will be calling the driver directly.
Taxi Camion 6939-4073
Taxi Camion Benigno 6683-6739