My mother said there would be cannibals
08.02.2005 - 08.02.2005 30 °C
Day 12 began with an alarming silence. The crowds all seemed to be unconscious, which was a refreshing change from the night before. I opened my eyes at the same moment as my Love, and we lay there facing each other, each thinking that it was good to be alive. No one armed with thermonuclear weapons had fallen through our door. We decided in unison, without actually speaking, that it was time to get out of town. Funny thing about shared fear.....verbal communication is altogether unnecessary. We dressed and brushed our teeth in short order, quickly packing our bags, which was simple as we hadn't really unpacked. Muling our metric ton of baggage down to the lobby nee bar, it took a few minutes to find anyone who was still alive. Empty bottles of beer and other spirits littered the landscape. Even the garbage pile vultures were still in repose, though no doubt they would feast that day on the hapless victims of the previous nights' festivities. But not on us, as we were now armed with a keen sense of departure. Walking back through the kitchen area, we found several employees nursing large cups of coffee and managed to convince one of them to take our room key and summon a boat. Down on cash, I knew that we would have to play this escape well, so we briskly walked down to the boat landing and bravely waved for one of the boats. I handed the first boatman $3 in hopes that the extra dollar would assuage his vision of American cheapness. It worked. Apparently, $2 is insufficient, but $3 made all the difference. 5 minutes later, we were back on shore and quickly found the Nissan. Oh little girl, you're still here, and undamaged. Thank you Adventure Gods. We were off, and breathing a sigh of relief, we made for Panama City. The last sign out of town we encountered was nigh comical:
Yes, good traveling, but no, we would not return soon. Perhaps we would, but not during Carnival, and not to the Hotel of Doom on Isla Grande. As we sped down the road, we hoped that the extortion children were still asleep. And they were. Nice. This left us with $1.50 in our pockets, and $500 in travelers checks. Though I bet the kids would have taken travelers checks.
Back on the southbound highway to Panama City (it could have been westbound, still not sure), we popped a nice Jimmy Buffett CD into the player and sang with abandon: "Changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes, nothing remains quite the same, through all of my running, and all of my cunning, if we couldn't laugh, we would all go insane". And so we laughed, pleasantly overjoyed at the fact that we had survived a harrowing night of Carnival in Hell.
Along the highway, magnificent views of the canal came to us. Wow, how in the hell did people survive in this heat and brave the vulture mosquitoes and actually create this thing? Granted, many didn't survive....malaria was not well understood at the time. Doctors would still prescribe bleeding to cure ills. They didn't have to worry about using leeches, there were plenty about. The jungle was thick at the roadside, and the air hung still and heavy. Good thing we were driving at some speed, the breeze was refreshing. A mere 2 hours passed and we were back in the thick of Panama City, and by this time we didn't even have to stop for directions. Driving in Panama City was not unlike driving in many major cities....one had to understand the concept of city driving. Chicago had prepared me well for this, and I weaved through traffic much to the chagrin (though grateful chagrin) of my Dearest, whilst breaking very few traffic laws. My keen sense of desperation led us straight to the hotel we had stayed at the first night of our adventure. The hotel was indeed a sight for sore eyes, and our eyes were sore. Antonio the doorman greeted us with extraordinary pleasure. Senores, you have returned (translated poorly - subjunctive tense). Si Antonio, regresamos con felicidades (we return with happiness - I think). Antonio summoned a bellman and, with aplomb, unloaded the Nissan of our two metric tons of baggage. The gracious lady at the front desk was happy to see us again, though that quickly faded when we asked if she could exchange some travelers checks for cash. Pues si senor, pero no tengo mas de cien dollares (yes sir, but I have no more than $100). No problema senora, esta es perfecto....we cleaned them out of cash. It was Carnival, after all, and all the banks were closed, as we would soon find. Not to worry, and shortly we were escorted to a lovely room, complete with a bed that was not made of sandpaper and a real working bathroom. And the door was solid wood. Nice again. Freshly armed with cash, I tipped the 14 bellmen generously, as 2 metric tons of baggage can get heavy. We fell onto the plush bed, as if it were the clouds of Heaven. Mmmmmm, this was good, but I believe a cocktail is in order Love of my life. Indeed, we must partake of the bounty of the bar. At the bar, Ramon spoke: Bienvenidos senores, que quieren? Dos secos con limon por favor. Ah bueno, es lo mejor bebida en Panama, he beamed. Yes indeed, it is the best drink in Panama. Some hours, and many secos later, we stumbled down to the restaurant, shuffling past hundreds of Guatemalan football fans. Seems the Guatemalan football team was in town to play the Panamanians. Talk about a rivalry, especially at Carnival. Would have been nice to have had tickets for the game, but they were sold out weeks prior. So we settled for fine dining. We ordered several more cocktails before dinner, and settled in to the lovely view of the pool. Shortly, two of the most exquisite and tender four inch thick filet mignon appeared before us. Were we in heaven? Yes, we were. Considering that Panama beef consisted of brahma cattle, which tends to be a bit tough as they are grass fed, these were without question the two finest steaks we had ever consumed. I wish I had taken a photo of them, though in retrospect, I'd have eaten the photos. With remembrances of the previous night, we ate with what can only be described as total and abject abandon. The service was as impeccable as the food. We both could have died happy that night, even though the night was not over.
The waitress finally decided that four hours was enough time for us to enjoy our meal. She brought us our bill, and I signed it off on the room, adding a particularly generous tip for her. She beamed, and wished us well for the evening. Carnival was just beginning on Avenida Central, and it was time to see what the celebration was all about. It was about 10 pm, and already there were numerous people that had consumed far too much seco laying about. We passed through a Police checkpoint, one that was there to ensure that people were not bringing in weapons....I had never seen a metal detector at a public event before, so this was a novelty. We were allowed to pass as we were not carrying guns or knives or thermonuclear weapons. Standing on the sidewalk of Avenida Central, we watched the parade of people and floats pass by.
People were out in force, and all were in the mood for a party. Yet not with the same amount of abandon as the people on Isla Grande - these folks were better mannered and not in the mood for fighting. Fathers were hoisting their children onto their shoulders to get a better view of the parade. Mothers were busy keeping the remaining children in check. And everywhere young girls would throw confetti at men while young men would throw confetti at women. We were covered in confetti in no time at all. Good thing we hadn't found beers yet, or they would have been filled with confetti as well.
So many floats went by, and the crowd continued to cheer each one. The National Police were out in force too.....perhaps this kept the party-goers in check. We managed to find a beer vendor and settled in to watch the rest of the parade. Panamanian beer is not unlike Budweiser, but with notes of grass and cow manure. It was good, mind you, but light in body and aroma. Still, the sheer joy of the people around us was a sight to behold. Catholic dogma had its interesting points.
Late into the night, the parade ended and people were making their way off the street. We sauntered back the two blocks to the hotel, past another metal detector, and ended our evening. There was a fairly sizable pile of Guatemalan football fans piled in front of the hotel lobby, but as they were passed out, it was relatively easy to hike over them and make for the elevator. Back in the room, we settled in for a good nights sleep. Ah, the comfort of a good hotel bed. Made one want to stay there. And so we drifted off to a well deserved sleep, making up for so little the previous night.
Stay tuned for Day 13, wherein we attempt to figure out the Panamanian banking system, tour the famous canal, and drink more (like that was unexpected).