My mother said there would be cannibals
29.01.2005 - 29.01.2005 36 °C
We awoke on Day 2 to bright sunshine glaring through the window of our room at the lovely Continental Hotel Riande, and we knew that adventure lay before us. It had to, we were adventurers, and here we were. The picture below isn't really our hotel, but rather the one across the street which was not nearly as nice as the Riande. But you get the point. It did have a big sign on top that read "Panama".
Adventure began the day with a quick jaunt to the hotel restaurant, as it generally does for us. A good night's sleep does wonders for the soul, and we immediately settled in to the life that is Panama.....lethargy. True, people go about their daily lives being productive members of society, but the heat and humidity were a tad more than we were accustomed to. It was a good 75 degrees warmer than home. The restaurant provided a delightful repast of strong coffee, cooked meat products, and Panamanian breadstuffs. We could have stayed there all day, but our spirits were in the mood for travel. And so it was off to the front desk to check out and procure our rental chariot. We forayed into the streets of Panama City in search of the Hertz agency......it was only 4 blocks away, and they were waiting for us. Well, sort of. Turns out this particular agency was not the one we had reserved with, and they had no idea why we would come to them. "But you're Hertz, you have our car". Ha, bad computer - this WAS the agency we had reserved with, and they dropped the proverbial ball. "Senor, please accept my sincerest apologies. Please go back to your hotel and we will bring a car from another agent and bring it to you". Fair enough, no harm done. But time was ticking on, and adventure awaited. Mind you, just walking the streets of Panama City is an adventure unto it's own. The buses, colorfully adorned in every color imaginable, plied the streets and sidewalks picking up passengers and re-depositing them at will. Many of them rather looked like home projects for the drivers. They were chopped and shredded and ready for work. The drivers too. The passengers appeared non-plussed by the fumes and the noise. Panama City buses spew the equivalent of several small countries worth of carbon monoxide while plying through the streets. Still, it was sight to see.
Back at the hotel, the Bellman greeted us with bemusement. "Senor, did you not get your car"? "Si, el coche will be here shortly". And so it was. 30 minutes later, a shiny new Nissan XTrail SUV appeared, and it had our names on it. Not literally, figuratively. Though our names were on the rental agreement, so close enough. The Bellman packed our 12 metric tons of baggage into the back and waved, the kind of wave that tells you he thinks you'll never make it back alive. It was pushing noon, so off we drove into the wilds of the city, not having the vaguest idea where we were headed, just a general heading: west. The Bellman had done his best to give us directions to the CA1, the Pan-American Highway. "Is very easy Senor - take Avenida Balboa to the west until you see Avenida Central, then turn right and go until you see my brother Jorge's bus parked at the corner of Avenida Central and Avenida Roosevelt. Stop and ask him where to go from there". Simple enough. And we were off. But we've known that for some time.
A Nissan XTrail is a remarkable vehicle, not unlike a strong mule with bucket seats and cup holders. Apparently, in Panama, only the rich folk drive SUV's, so we were looked at by the locals as two rich gringos. Who were not completely lost. A short drive through the suburbs, past the red light district, bypassing Jorge and his broken down bus, around the canal, and we found the CA1. The open highway. It lay before us, so I laid on the gas. Windows open, flying down the highway at 80 kph, the wind blowing our hair, our nostrils filling with all manner of smells, breathing deeply to absorb all that was to be had, including precious oxygen, we headed west. Sort of northwest actually. But still, the open road was at hand. Damn, a toll booth. No problema, we have change.
About an hour down the road, we began to think that we had been windblown sufficiently, so a stop was in order. Santa Clara, that sounds promising. Besides, there's a nice resort just up the road in Farallon we can check out for the evening. But first, the beach. Santa Clara has a smallish downtown surrounded by mud and plywood. Hey, it was clean. People were out and about shopping and socializing. We found the beach area with little issue....look for the sign that says "playa". My Spanish was as sharp as ever. We parked and stepped out to discover a very nice beach relatively devoid of people. Hmm, was there some occasion or natural disaster keeping people away? No, it was just too hot for reasonable people to be out at this time. We strolled along the beach hand in hand doing what we always do - looking for shells. No shells here, sorry, devoid of sea life too. Half an hour of strolling caused the bottoms of our feet to start melting into the sand, so it was time for a refreshment. A cold beer would be just the thing....OK, 2 beers.....each. The few people around were great fodder for watching - several Europeans setting up a tent for the night, some locals watching us and no doubt curious if the massive quantities of sweat pouring from us would ever cease, and the beer vendor, pleased that I didn't ask for my change back. "Right my muse, it's off to the resort to book accommodation". And so we left Santa Clara, pleased to have seen it at all.
Up the road in Farallon, we found a sizable resort brimming with people. We parked and made our way to the front desk. No reservations? Of course not, we are adventurers. "Lo siento Senor, but we are all booked up....it is Carnival you know - everyone is booked". Drat, confounded by adventure. Notwithstanding this misfortune, and happy to not pay $300 a night to sleep, we pulled out the trusty map and found Penonome. "Just up the road another hour, and we'll be there". Plus, it would be dark soon, and adventurers such as us dislike viewing the scenery when there is nothing to see but headlights. Adventurers yes, but not stupid. And so we drove to Penonome, a lovely town noteworthy for it production of classic Panama hats, woven so tightly that one could carry water in them. There were stalls on almost all the streets with people doing this weaving with hands gnarled from years of labor. Damn that looks hard. Rounding the last corner in town in our rich-mobile, we spotted it: The Hotel Guacamaya (macaw in English). This was to be it, for it fairly called to us. "Si senor, we have a room for you....just for one night"? "Si, solamente una noche, gracias". "That will be USD $25 please". Hot damn, a deal. We coaxed several hundred locals into carrying our baggage up to our room and paid them happily and with a smile. Photo is of the Guacamaya. Oh look, there's our Nissan. No wait, that's someone else's.
"Cocktail dear"? Of course, that was the ticket. The sun was just beginning to set and all around glowed orange. An unexpected treat was the hotel restaurant: Chinese food. It was decorated as if right out of Shanghai, complete with hanging lanterns, silk wall hangings, and red cotton tablecloths. How unusual. We were served well, and ate with abandon. Seemingly a week passed before we crawled back to our room. Right, now to plan for tomorrow. But wait, there's a television, shall we see what's on? One channel, and it was playing an old and rather pathetic Steven Seagal movie, subtitled in English. Keen to improve our Spanish, we watched and read the subtitles, hoping to gather some fresh information about how to speak like Steven Seagal in Panama. It didn't work, as even in Spanish, Steven Seagal is a terrible actor. So on to planning it was. Perhaps a day or two in the mountains. The tiny town of Santa Fe sounded promising, and it was only a few hours away, nestled several thousand feet up in the Cordillera Central, the mountain range that bisects Panama down the middle. Ah, the mountains would be a nice relief from the heat. Probably no mosquitos either, which we learned had the ability to swoop down from above and pick up women or small children in their beaks. Big bugs, let me tell you. And so we drifted off to a deep slumber, content in the fact that we had not disappointed as adventurers.
And so endeth Day 2 of our 14 day voyage. Stay tuned, because Santa Fe holds one of the great stories of this voyage. And please turn off the light when you leave.