A Travellerspoint blog

July 2010

Voyage to the Isthmus of Panama Day 3

My mother said there would be cannibals

sunny 40 °C

Day 3. Ah, New York….no wait, that was another blog. Ah, Panama. It seemed the Chinese food from the night before had digested quite nicely, though, as always when eating Chinese food, we were hungry for more. So a quick dash to the restaurant for coffee and cooked meat products was in order. The place had not lost its charm from the night before – the silk wall hangings and lanterns still shouted “You could be in Shanghai”. We shared breakfast with a bus full of tourists who eagerly devoured everything in sight. It seems they were on a “Seniors Tour”, so one had to be of a certain age to be there. Oddly, the people were a mix of elderly caucasian men and equally elderly Oriental women. They chatted and laughed their way through eggs, meat, and flat Panamanian breads as if the day was their last. This brightened our hearts even more with the thought that these old folks were having the time of their lives, and that they might be thinking there would be sex later tonight.

Checking out of the hotel to the gracious thanks of the front desk staff (I think her name was Graciela), we muled our 12 metric tons of baggage back the venerable Nissan. And while loading the car, one of the oddest sights came upon us. Next to the hotel was a little shanty of sorts that catered to not only breakfast for any passersby, but also contained a car wash, complete with hoses, towels, and soap. Talk about the entrepreneurial spirit. This was a gold mine, and the patron saint of car washes was proudly displayed in a large mural on one wall.


The road beckoned, and in short order we were off, well sated by a novel Chinese Panamanian breakfast. Now where the hell was the highway again? Oh right, left, 4 km, then right again. Santa Fe was our destination, a mere 135 km down the road and up the mountain. The highway itself proffered a somewhat bleak landscape…..OK, it was dry-ish season, and not all was green and lush as we had been led to believe by my mother’s talk of cannibal-infested jungles ripe with malaria and bananas. But it was still more scenic than Interstate 90 between Rockford and Chicago. Small towns came and went, all looking remarkably alike. Men in straw hats grouped together chatting and women laden with all sorts of their daily shopping carried on with their lives. Plus there was the occasional mule or small horse, who had such wistful looks on their faces that they no doubt were daydreaming of verdant green pastures and clear-flowing streams. Oh, and it was still hot. Really hot. But as true adventurers, we were not to be swayed by having to use the a/c. The winds whipped through the car, offering a slight reprieve from the humidity that was hanging in the air like a London fog in April.

A mere 90 minutes after our departure from the Guacamaya and we arrived in Santiago, a bustling city of 60,000 or 285,000, depending on which website you choose to believe. Regardless, this was city life again, and we braved the city traffic with little knowledge of where we were or where we were going. What did that road sign say? Dammit, I wish my Spanish was better. Still, I had the opportunity to teach Gretchen a few words of Spanish that would undoubtedly come in handy along the way. “See that? Muebleria. It’s a furniture store. And that? Carniceria. It’s a butcher shop.” These were phrases that all humans needed to know. Furniture and meat, what else would anyone need?

Deftly navigating through the complex of one-way streets, going the right way for a change, we found ourselves very nearly confused. The only thing to do was to follow the creed of the Seasoned Traveler: ask for directions. I pulled over and asked a completely unsuspecting woman where the hell we were and where was the road to Santa Fe. She stood there, half tempted to run for her life and half tempted to laugh uproariously, but her instincts quickly returned and she told me in far too many words that we were in Santiago and all we had to do was drive ggbbbiillngdrrrroopbblllllrrrppps (that’s really what it sounded like) over there and turn left, and we would find our way. She could have been directing us to the church for salvation, or the police station, but she was dead on. We found the road, and a bit of salvation, and turned north. Oh look, a sign for Santa Fe!!!

Over the course of the next fifty kilometers, we found ourselves climbing in altitude. How did we know this? Well, the humidity was certainly dropping, and we hadn’t seen a carnivorous mosquito swoop by for a bit….oh, and our ears were popping. And there were precipitous drop-offs around every bend in the road. This was Gretchen’s favorite thing in the whole world, precipitous drop-offs. But my driving skills and the Nissan were up to the challenge. Just outside Santa Fe, we found the Hotel Santa Fe, the finest hotel in the area. We parked and sauntered stiffly to the front desk, as adventurers are apt to do after a drive. Si, Senor, we have a room for you. Dos noches? Si, we can do this. $13 a night. Were we in hotel heaven? We found our room without the help of the baggage sherpas and checked in. The oscillating fan was a welcome sight.


Splashing a bit of cold water on our faces, we prepared to make forth and explore. Back in the trusty Nissan, we made for town, just 2 minutes further up the road. Gretchen was pleased that the precipitous drop-off on her side was protected by several tired horses and a few brahma cows peacefully munching away at the road signs. This was to be foretelling, as there were very few road signs in Santa Fe. Apparently, road signs are a delicacy among the local livestock. It took 30 seconds to drive right through town. And then, a sign. Not from God, but for the Rio Muluba. Turn right Gringo. And we did. But wait!!! We had to navigate this road?


“Not on your life my dear!!” C’mon, it’s only a dirt road , and the washouts are only two feet deep on either side. The Nissan can handle it. It has 4-wheel drive. “It’s not the car I’m worried about, it’s our lives”. OK, fair enough, and besides, we were down to a quarter tank of gas. If we were to continue exploring, we would need more SUV juice. Backing up and turning around as delicately as I could, we made the return minute trip back to town. “I didn’t see any gas stations here”. Neither did I. (This is one of the great stories of this trip). So we parked at the town square and walked to the Farmers Market, hoping that someone could advise us of a solution to our dilemma. The Farmers Market was a series of stalls in what looked to be something like a large band shell in the center of an old Iowa town, but with less paint. There were only four or five vendors hawking a few items each to virtually no one but us. No one even spoke (the hawking was very quiet). We approached one woman and asked about petrol. No Senor, no hay gasolina aqui. Dammit, someone must know. We forged on, asking another vendor. Oh Senor, no se…..momento, hay una mujer que tiene gasolina. SI? Bueno, donde esta la mujer? The woman directed her 14 year old nephew to get in the car with us and show us where the mujer was. Muchas Gracias senora!! The boy nervously stepped into the back seat of the Nissan and directed us to drive ahead. Alli, y entonces alli, no, a la derecha, y ahorra a la derecha otra vez. We felt rather like Albert Schweitzer navigating the Congo in search of souls to save, guided by a mildly nervous child. We drove through what passed for the suburbs of Santa Fe for what seemed like 30 minutes, until finally the boy exclaimed “AQUI!!”. We pulled into the drive of a modest little home surrounded by chickens, goats, some laundry on the line, and 300 children. A woman came out of the house looking rather puzzled at the sight of two gringos dressed in Hawaiian shirts and shorts and driving a rich car. The boy quickly explained to her that we were in search of gas. Oh, Si, cuanto quieren? Um, uh, tiene cinco gallones? My Spanish was poor. The woman furrowed her brow momentarily, scratched her chin, then signaled to the 300 children to bring fuel for the gringos. At once, children poured from under the porch with 5 one gallon Wesson oil jugs. The woman directed me to open the gas lid, then she pulled out a plastic siphon hose. No, you’re not really going to siphon gas for us? Si Senor. In one massive effort, the woman had the hose tucked into the tank opening and was happily siphoning gas into our tank. One jug, then two, then all five. This woman had talent to say the least. I sheepishly asked this brave woman what she wanted for the gas. Again, she furrowed her brow, calculating what the market price for 5 gallons of gas was for 2 nattily dressed gringos. Gas was $2.50 in town, and I could see this woman calculating like Einstein on a physics problem. “Doce y media”, the woman finally said ($12.50). She was fair, not trying to rip us because I believed that she was an honest, hard working woman. I reached into my pocket and found I had only $20 bills. I gave her one, and she again furrowed her brow and rubbed her chin about how she was going to get me change. She began to signal the 300 children to retrieve cash from the house when I said “momento Senora, el cambio no es necessario (the change isn’t necessary) porque tu eres muy simpatico (because you are very nice).” The woman looked at me with mouth agape, as if I was the savior come down from Heaven. She was shocked, stunned, and very nearly without words. The words returned very quickly, and it took about 15 minutes of hugging and blessings and more hugging until this woman would let us leave. We were certainly grateful, but she would have none of my thanks. She was too well occupied blessing us on our journey, and after the hundredth “Vaya Con Dios y Gracias”, we were allowed to leave her presence. A bit stunned ourselves at our fortune, we drove the boy back to the Farmers Market. We returned our reluctant tour guide to his aunt, thanked them both profusely, and made for the river once again.

“You’re sure we can make that?” Yes dear, we will survive – we have been blessed, and no harm will come to us on this adventure. And down the hill we went, pausing only briefly for a horse and cart to pass before us. The bridge held our weight well, and we drove on. In four-wheel drive, just in case. Where’s the river? It’s got to be here somewhere. Again, as true adventurers do, we had to stop for directions. Several men were waiting at a ramshackle bus stop, so we figured they had our answer. Si Senor, bbbrrhhhgglooopddssiillaeeerpperrssszz, y alli, entonces, al la derecha. Was everything off to the right in this country? Apparently so, because we turned down a road that would barely pass for a farm field road back home, past several small houses, and came upon the river of boulders. The real river was just past the river of boulders. Good thing we had four-wheel drive, because there were some sizable boulders.


Relax dear, it’s a rental. And besides, there’s an old Chevy pickup further on ahead….if he can make it, so can we. We parked as out of the way as we could and strolled to the water, as well as one could stroll over boulders the size of large watermelons. We waded into the waters, soothed by their coolness, and sank below the surface as we water babies tend to do. Fortunately, the girls who were washing their hair in the river were downstream, so we missed the shampoo floating by. We luxuriated in the water for some time, until a small group of school boys came by and decided that they enjoyed the music coming from our car (the Desperado soundtrack) so much that it was time for a bottle of seco (fermented sugar cane - Panamanian rum) and a bit of partying. Not to worry dear, they are children out for some fun. It was time to go anyway, we had survived the river of doom. Braving the river of boulders and the hill of despair, waving to the boys as we left (who waved back), we made it back into town and to the hotel.

It was late in the afternoon when we finally made it to the hotel restaurant. It was a smallish place, with 5 or 6 tables scattered around the room and open to the balcony overlooking the hotel grounds.


We were greeted jovially by the waitress (the owner’s daughter), who eagerly brought us a couple of beers to enjoy. The sun was just setting, and the air was still, yet the atmosphere was golden. The gardens were magnificently in bloom with all manner of flowers which scented the air heavily. We ordered two meals of chicken and something, something being a Panamanian specialty, and were joined by other hotel guests. A medical student from New York and his girlfriend, a doctor named Gary from Oregon, and two doctoral candidates in Botany from the University of Florida who were on a mission to harvest exotic orchids. The New York woman went on about how excited she was that they were going to rent some horses the next day and go riding, while Gary pretty much kept silent, but for the occasional nod of agreement or disparagement. The two students were quite entertaining, telling stories of their research and where they had been. This lasted well into the evening, and our hosts seemed pleased that business was good……we all consumed many beers.

Drowsy from the beers and the days’ adventures (blessings can be draining, let me tell you), we lay down, kissed each other goodnight, and drifted off to sleep, assured that our next adventures would be good – hey, we had been blessed after all. And so endeth day 3 of our voyage.

Stay tuned for Day 4, wherein we find out why high maintenance New York girlfriends shouldn’t ride horses, and how to talk agronomy with the local County Fair Extension Agents…..in Spanish.

Posted by beerman 10:28 Archived in Panama Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Voyage to the Isthmus of Panama Day 2

My mother said there would be cannibals

sunny 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.

Posted by beerman 10:09 Archived in Panama Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Voyage to the Isthmus of Panama Day 1 Again

My mother said there would be cannibals

sunny 35 °C

Day 1 continued with little fanfare. I say this because we were bound to several airplanes for the rest of the day. The first jetted us to the bright lights of lovely Newark New Jersey. I’m not entirely sure why Newark exists, perhaps it’s only due to the overcrowding of the other two nearby airports, JFK and LaGuardia. On the upside, they have a very nice smoking area swathed in grey concrete outside Terminal 2, with a great view of the Statue of Liberty and the Cargill shipping terminal. Honestly, who could ask for more when faced with a 4 hour lay-over. Warmer weather would have been nice, perhaps an outdoor bar, but we were fortunate to have worn our hardiest Arctic expedition gear to face the joy of a January in New Jersey. We were travelers, an expeditionary force with which to be reckoned, and no amount of inclement weather would keep us from our appointed rounds.

Four hours later, we were again birds on the wing. Assuming birds sit in horribly stiff coach seats when they migrate south for the winter. They do not, but we did, because we were intrepid. Panama lay a mere 5 hours down the planet from our current location. Time passed. The movie sucked, but then again, we didn’t buy the headphones so we could actually hear the movie either. It still sucked. We passed the hours playing card games and consuming vast quantities of alcohol, occasionally twitching violently due to a leg or a buttock having fallen fast asleep. This was travel – hours of boredom punctuated by bodily malfunctions. We lived.

The plane touched down at Tocumen International Airport in Panama City shortly after 10 pm local time. The majority of passengers leapt to their feet as soon as the wheels touched the ground, partly out of sheer joy at having survived the flight and partly because they were rude bastards. Please people, don’t get up until the plane has come to a complete stop and the cabin door opens. How hard to understand is this concept? We were more civilized – we stayed in our seats until blood flow returned to our legs. Having survived five hours in an aluminum tube and poor blood circulation, we made for the baggage carrousel. I love waiting for baggage to appear from the plane. Sagas could be written about the temperament of passengers who seem to insist that they are indeed the only people on the planet, and that others only exist to inconvenience them. Fortune would again shine on us, because it was relatively easy to clothesline the elderly and trip up the disabled to get to our bags. The golf jocks were a tad more difficult, but we managed them by asking them inconceivably hard questions like “Do you speak Spanish cabron (cabron meaning something akin to bastard in Spanish)”? “Do you know where the cab stand is Senor Chupacabra?” Golf jocks are such good game. It’s really quite irresistible.

We were able to retrieve our 12 metric tons of baggage in a mere 60 minutes. I was pleased, mostly because we could chalk up 4 elderly, 3 disabled, and 16 golf jocks to our tally of conquests. Now, a more challenging proposal. The sign said, in Spanish and something that might have passed for English in Mississippi, “Do Not Accept Rides From Unlicensed Taxicabs”. Sorry, my Spanish was poor, and my Mississippi even worse. So we strolled out the door into a heat and humidity that can only be described as “OH MY FUCKING GOD”. Yes we had overdressed for the occasion. Upon resuming the all-important task of breathing in and out, and stripping off several layers of winter clothing, we found a car that was more than willing to drive us to our hotel. But first, a smoke. It had been six hours since our last puffs, and now that we were well into our Latin adventure, it was time to light up. There are few things more entertaining in life than watching a desperate smoker take that first puff into winter lungs in a tropical climate. It was, nonetheless, necessary, as we were about to venture into cannibal country (or so my mother told me). Cannibals are notorious for disliking smokers – something about being hard to boil or some such. I read that in our guide book. So we figured better safe than sorry. Plus it was a good rush.

The driver of “the car” that was to ferry us to our hotel was a genial man, though he appeared to be mildly insane. I was taught to drive a stick shift in Mexico on a 1958 Volkswagon Beetle that rattled when the engine was off. I loved that car. You could move the windshield wipers with your hand while driving. This taxi was in somewhat worse shape. The driver, grinning like a cannibal that had just found fresh meat, happily loaded our 12 metric tons of baggage into the trunk. It did not all fit. “No problema”, he happily exclaimed. 10 metric tons went into the trunk, the lid of which was promptly secured with a handy bit of wire conveniently saved for just such an occasion. The other 2 tons sat on our laps in the back seat. Trapped in the back seat, the driver made for town. Our driver…..did I mention that he appeared to be mildly insane?... took great joy in describing the entire route to us in the most curious Spanish-based Mississippi drawl. “Mira aqui, son las ruinas de la Revolution”. “Y aqui, el camino de las touristas qui se mueran por taxi del aeropuerto”. OK, my Spanish wasn’t that good, but I could have sworn he said that this was the spot where tourists died in a taxi from the airport. Panamanian roads, at least from the airport to town, are riddled with potholes that could easily have been created by B-52’s dropping 2000 pound bombs. And our driver took no notice of them whatsoever. They actually appeared to be a challenge for him, much like a brave matador dodging 1500 pounds of angry pot roast. I did manage to keep an eye on the trunk, just in case the wire was insufficient for its task. 45 minutes passed, and just before the car was about to shudder into pieces, we pulled into the hotel. The Continental Hotel Riande stood there, appearing to us as Shangri-La appeared to Ronald Coleman. Our apparently mildly insane driver grinned from ear to ear as he deftly unloaded our goods. This alone was worth a big tip. The Bellman scoffed slightly at our driver while smilingly grandly at us. Bigger tip for the driver. He deserved such, as not only did he appear mildly insane, but he was also an unlicensed cabbie who began our adventure into cannibal land with a flourish. Gracias Senor, y mucho gusto. The Bellman whisked us to the front desk, where we were checked into our room with the utmost kindness. Peeling off the remaining 12 layers of winter clothing, we smiled, mostly because the room was air conditioned. And the bar was still open. It was 1 am when we gladly slipped into an unconscious slumber, ready for the days to come.

And so really endeth Day 1 of our 14 day voyage. Really this time. Stay tuned for more spine tingling adventures as we boldly traverse the Isthmus of Panama in a rented Nissan SUV.

Posted by beerman 17:22 Archived in Panama Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Voyage to the Isthmus of Panama Day 1

My mother said there would be cannibals

snow -12 °C

(As an homage to "24", the following takes place between 28 January 2005 and 10 February 2005. I shall endeavor to make 14 days seem an eternity to you lovely readers - but think of it this way, it will be shorter than reading War And Peace).

The day began innocently enough, though I have always thought innocence to be merely a state of mind. At precisely 4:40 am, the alarm clock crackled to life, abruptly rousing us from a night of twilight sleep. Dreaming had been a luxury this evening, one that was well outside our reach. The alarm stirred other creatures as well, creatures so fearful that the very mention of their names made weak the knees of strong men. As they slowly rose, they began to shake off the remnants of their glorious and luxurious sleep, They were the fortunate ones, they that remained blissfully ignorant of the pedestrian comings and goings of man. A brief tongue bath, perhaps an ear scratch, and the howling began. One by one, in order of dominance, the males began their sonorous serenade. Other lesser creatures became nervous and jittery. Eyes darted, ears perked. The females roamed the living room veldt searching for a morsel, a bite, something to kill. Deep guttural moans filled the still night air, invading our senses like a club across the back of the head. "Will you shut the fuck up", pierced the cacophony with a steel edge. "Now Goddammit!!!". The wails ceased, and the clawed demons skulked back to the couch for a brief nap.


I rubbed my eyes, trying to shake loose the grip of an utterly dissatisfying night of sleep. To no avail, it would seem. The fog in my head was thicker than mayonnaise with a bit of dijon mustard mixed in. From somewhere deep in my subconscious, just past the parietal lobe, next to and above the medulla oblongata, came a voice...the voice of an angel. Was I dead? Was I only dreaming about the clawed demons? The voice chanted softly, repeating a singular phrase over and over, rising in tempo with each repetition: "We're going to Panama, we're going to Panama". The mayonnaise in my head began to thin as the voice grew louder. This was it, the time had arrived. Many a foul day slaving for the man were about to become just another memory. "We're going to Panama, we're going to Panama..."

The day began innocently enough, though I.....I.....I began to feel a strange sense of deja vu. I had been here before, but the memory was fuzzy, thick, like mayonnaise with a little dijon mustard mixed in. And that chanting, somewhere off in the distance. Realization came quickly now, faster and faster. I slowly rose and peered out the window, frosted over like the eyes of a drunk-on-Budweiser West Virginia hillbilly. But I wasn't in West Virginia. Snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even. If this was Hell, it sure was cold. At once, my mind snapped back into action, sharp as a tack. Like the tack that nasty little kid in second grade put on your chair when you weren't looking. And you sat down. That kind of tack. Stuck in your right ass cheek. With utter resolution born of sheer determination, I crawled back under the covers. "We're going to Panama, we're going to Panama" came the angel's voice again. I knew there was no turning back. No drifting off under the womb-like covers and fluffy pillow. It was essential, nay dare I say imperative, that I rise and get a cup of coffee. I knew I should have put that coffee maker next to the bed. Caffeine. Yes, yes, that was the answer. Throwing on my robe and fuzzy slippers, I trudged through the snow, which had overnight delicately blanketed the hallway and stairs. Several furred demons lay in wait at the top of the stairs, hoping that I would not see them so that, upon tripping over them and falling to my death at the bottom of the stairs, they could begin a grand feast on my warm, yet utterly lifeless, body. Little bastards, I'll show you. I scooped up a handful of snow, patting it together in my hands into a near lethal projectile. I pegged the black demon with a nice curve ball just behind the left ear, and as it scurried away to avoid near certain death, I let out a vicious kick, catching the grey one in the hindquarters and propelling him down the stairs. No feasting today vermin!!! Twenty minutes later, I finally reached the coffee pot. Ah, Giver of Life, warm me with your sweet nectar. Battling off four more demons, I poured the coffee. A little sugar, a short dog sled ride to the refrigerator for the milk, and my task was complete. Ah, sweet nectar of life.

The next hour was filled with the type of adventure usually reserved only for the hardiest of Arctic explorers: brush the teeth, comb the hair, feed and water the cats outside, pack the rest of the suitcases, blow the nose, scratch the arm. This was the stuff of legend. Few mere mortals could even conceive of it, much less live it, as we were doing now. We bid a fond adieu to the foul, black-hearted demons, and departed home.


Once outside, we summoned the captain of the icebreaker, ordering him to make all possible haste to the east north-east toward the airport. Alas, there was no crew, and after a simple yet humane execution of the captain, we embarked upon a team of dog sleds and set forth. Arriving at Milwaukee Wisconsin's Mitchell Field some six weeks later, a bit emaciated yet stalwart, we proceeded to the TSA booth, where we were greeted with big smiles and latex gloves. Four days of interrogation sailed by as if they were tea with the Queen. A final application of Preparation H and we were cleared to board the plane for lands unknown. Well, unknown to us anyway.

And so endeth Day 1 of our 14 day voyage, almost. We did actually get to Panama the same day, and that will be covered next. Thank you for your attention, and now if you would please bring your seats back to the upright position, stow your tray tables, and wipe your chin of drool, we can continue.

Posted by beerman 07:44 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

TBEX '10.5

Travel Bloggers and Writers, in a large room, alone, with no coffee.....Saga 5 of 5

sunny 50 °C

Bloggers Disclaimer of Truth - Day Five has really nothing to do with the actual conference - it was over, all over....kaput, finito, done for, in the past, don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out, goodbye

Day 5 of the sage came to a close...we were home.......no wait, I missed something. What was it? Oh, right.....Ah, New York, Gotham, The Big Red Fruit, The City That Never Sleeps.....HA, fooled you, we did sleep. The rum helped, mind you. We awoke to yet another balmy New York summer day. Temperatures were in the high 200s and the humidity was thick enough to swim through. Hot time, summer in the city. Our minds were still racing from the events of the last few days. Blogging, podcasting for alien life, search engine optimization, telling a good story....we were alive dammit, and that's what counted. On came the local television news: several thousand people gathered in Central Park had, or were in the process of, melting. Yellow cabs had overtaken the city and were preparing to overthrow the government and declare their own sovereign nation - Yellow CabLand, where immigrants from every corner of the Earth would be free to drive hybrid Ford Escapes at warp speed to demonstrate their previously unknown might. Ocean bathers in New Jersey were being devoured by an onslaught of killer phytoplankton, which apparently had their own designs on world conquest. Why start in New Jersey, we asked? Still, the local news was intriguing. It was during a story on the most recent excavation attempts at the site of the World Trade Center to find intelligent merchant bankers that we cleaned ourselves and made ready for what was to become, perhaps, the most daunting episode of our 5 day adventure: packing the bags. I hadn't remembered bringing that satchel full of bricks, nor the file cabinet full of breakfast receipts. Fortunately for us, we had brought along our very Tardis-like luggage - much bigger on the inside than on the out. In a mere 30 minutes, we had packed the equivalent of the Library of Congress into 2 carry-ons and one detached garage. Life was good, and so were we.

Craning the last of my shorts into a carry-on, I was suddenly overwhelmed with a scent that made my very essence tingle with anticipation and excitement: cooked meat products. Time for breakkie dear? Indeed, and so we shall descend the tiny staircase and make for the restaurant. The Maitre'd greeted us with a slightly unsettling familiarity, as if he had known us for 4 or 5 days already. Peculiar little man, hunched over in his ill-fitting penguin suit as if waiting for a fish to be thrown his way, but quick with the coffee - had to give him that. The cooked meat products were excellent this morning, and the coffee exquisite. If only we could stay here for the next 8 hours until just before the plane taxis down the runway. But alas, the hotel insisted that we leave at noon, and so it was with heavy heart that we handed back the flat screen and checked out. The hotel was kind enough to store our baggage for a few hours so we could meander the mean streets one last time, to soak up all that the City could throw at us without actually throwing anything. The park was calling once again. Strolling past the chess board tables occupied by men of super-intelligence out to make a quick buck from innocent passersby who knew nothing of the gambling world of park side chess, past the fountain filled with gleeful children and the odd tighty-whitie from the previous day, around the man covered with bird seed and pigeons, by the NYU jazz string trio, and up to the hot dog vendor casually setting up for another day of hawking cooked meat products in a bun, we set ourselves on the shadiest bench we could find. It didn't really matter, it was still 170F in the shade, but who cared? Oh look, a city squirrel. With a gun. And a wad of cash. Why does that pigeon keep giving me the hairy eyeball? I have no seed, be gone little bird. Hours passed like hours in this bucolic setting, and we listened intently to the conversation from the next bench about how the US policy in Afghanistan was short-sighted and we should bring the troops home, right after we solve the issue of how to fill the pockets of virtually every American with cooked meat products. Strange folk, these New Yorkers. Still, worth listening to if for no other reason than they're more informed than Fox News, and somewhat more articulate.

The time to depart had arrived, so to hail a yellow chariot was the order. No, first get the bags from the hotel, then hail. Our driver whisked us at near warp speed toward LaGuardia, pausing only briefly to slam on the brakes to avoid a cataclysmic accident with a runaway Toyota Prius. On the upside, this driver knew where he was going, so the bill was $10 less than the one from the airport to the hotel 4 days earlier. Crazy world, and when apocalypse comes and Yellow CabLand is formed, I want a hybrid Ford Escape.

Following the usual US airport body cavity screenings (just in case we were intent on smart-mouthing the stewardesses or chipping away at the solid cast-iron cockpit door with our nail file), we settled in for a few hours of the finest in people watching. OK, maybe not the finest - it was kind of dull, but we did manage to procure one last cooked meat product wrapped in a bun while we waited. Oh look, all flights to Washington DC are cancelled due to plague. There's a delay to Denver because of some chronic deodorant issue. All flights to Europe are running three hours late because Homeland Security just wants to fuck with people going to Europe. That, and the volcanic ash covering most of London and Paris in a haze thicker than the mustard gas used in WWI. You have to love the unequivocal efficiency of modern airports.

More hours passed, and suddenly, there it was: Lake Michigan, sparkling jewel of the Midwest. We were soon to be home. Landing would, of course, be optimal prior to getting our car from long-term parking. A quick. spine-dislocating three hop landing and we were back on solid ground. Ah Chicago, the City of Big Shoulders, that Toddlin' Town, home of true cooked meat products. We had decided, as we always do, that standing up and unloading the entire overhead bin of our luggage while simultaneously texting God that we were still alive was not the best course. Not that anyone else on the plane took our lead - it was chaos, and I'm certain that God needed to know at that very instant, while the plane was still moving into position at the gate, that Wanda in seat 17C was finally at the gate and would deplane shortly to save the world from cruelty and injustice. Volumes could be written, or possibly tweetered, on such behavior.

Emerging from long-term parking, we found our rear-view mirror tucked gently between the seats. Thanks guys, for taking such good care of our baby while we faced the terrors of New York. What? I can file a claim? Oh, thank you, my mind is now at peace. I am somehow comforted in the fact that I could visit my local WalMart and buy some glue to fix this little issue.

2 more hours to go, 1.5 if traffic is good. As we turned out onto the expressway, I was relieved. We had survived modern flight, modern baggage claim, and no rear-view mirror. Life was beginning to return to some sense of normalcy. As we sped swiftly down the road, I could not get something out of my mind, something that has come to haunt my inner being for some years now....it was all returning, madly and with no change in tempo:

Green acres is the place for me.
Farm livin' is the life for me.
Land spreadin' out so far and wide
Keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside.

The Green Acres song. Egad, I was turning into Eddie Albert, and beside me sat not Eva Gabor, but Mrs. Eddie Albert. She has also embraced country living, though by nature we are neither country folk nor city folk. We blur the line between the two, we can fit into either society. Cocktails on the mezzanine, or cold box wine over a game of euchre. The only thing that changes is attitude.

And so came to a close the 5-day saga. Thank you for reading along, I hope I have entertained. Please send all your loose change to me, and I promise I'll fully disclose it to the government in my next blog.

Posted by beerman 09:49 Archived in USA Tagged business_travel Comments (0)

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