Panama City, Panama
After leaving my cheap but nice hotel in Costa Rica, (I`m fairly certian I forgot several pairs of underwear there, which sucks because I didn`t have many to begin with) (2012 Edit: I haven’t worn underwear since 2010) I made my way to the border of Panamà. There, I encountered my very first border crossing (other than Mèxico-USA) with absolutely no problems whatsoever. I even came prepared, with about five dollars on me in case immigration tried to spring a suprise tariff on me. However, both the Costa Rican and Panameñan authorities allowed me to pass, free of charge. About time, too.
Once I reached Panamà, I, of course, began hitch hiking. After about ten minutes, I was picked up by a nice fellow who drove me about thirty k`s and gave me some much-needed water. After that, I walked out of the town and tried for about an hour to grab another ride, my destination being Panama City. Finally, someone stopped in a nice little white Nissan with rims.
Inside were Agustìn and his wife. They turned out to be superbly nice people, probably some of the coolest people I`ve met all trip. They told me that they were going to drive me to David, which is a medium-sized city in western Panamà.
As we were driving, they asked if I was hungary. I, of course, was, so they gave me some delicious rice and meat wrapped tastefully in a banana leaf. The food smelled and tasted so good, I forgot my manners for a moment and was scarfing it down like it was my first proper meal in days (which it technically was.) Unfortunately, I was eating so fast that I neglected to chew my food throughly, and attempted to swallow a chunk of meat roughly the size of a computer mouse in one go.
So I choked on it.
All of a sudden, I couldn`t breathe, and I started frantically waving my arms about and making alarming noises. Agustìn pulled over as I frantically tried to wash the cursed chunk down with cascades of water. Of course, the water had nowhere to go, so it just came right back up…all over the window of the car. How embarassing!
So finally the hunk of meat slithered a bit farther down my throat past the entrance of my lungs and allowed me to breathe again, which was good because I was beginning to turn shades of blue and Agustìn was preparing to do the Heimlich manuver on me. However, the meat still hadn`t made it`s way to my stomach and had again become stuck, this time at the entry of my stomach. But at least I could breathe now.
After frantically apologizing over and over to Agustìn for spewing water and bits of rice all over his window, I assured him that I was okay. My new friends, God bless them, were totally cool about it, and said it could have happened to anyone, really. Phewph.
There was still the matter of the chunk of meat lodged firmly in the entrance of my stomach. I tried several times to wash it down with a bit of water, but to no avail. It just came back up, every time. Finally, I simply swallowed a huge mouthful of water very quickly, and I finally felt the damned chunk slip into my stomach. What a relief.
Agustìn suggested that I come to his house and use the shower and get cleaned up a bit. I heartily agreed, as my pants were covered with water and nasty bits of ropy saliva. So we went to his house, located in the quaint little town of David. I had a nice shower, and then slowly ate some soup and crutons.
Agustìn then graciously offered his home for me to sleep in for the night, as it was nearly four o`clock now and I probably wouldn`t make it to Panama City today anyways. So I accepted.
Agustìn has a delightful young son named Daniel-Enrique, who is about one and one half years of age. He is the happiest child I`ve ever met in my life. He always seems to be smiling, and is very curious. As soon as he met me, he wobbled right up to me, looked directly into my eyes, and said “Bah!” in a matter-of-factly sort of way. Then, he proceeded to drool on my boots.
Later that evening, me, Agustìn, his wife, and Daniel-Enrique went to the centro of David. It`s a very nice little town, with a clean city square that has a beautiful fountian in the middle of it. We walked for a bit, and then stopped to use the Internet for awhile. After that, we went and ate at Panameñan Dominos, which is pretty much the same as American Dominos, except for all the delivery drivers ride motorcycles. We ordered a pizza, and watched Daniel-Enrique bother a couple of slightly older girls by repetedly throwing pepperonis at them.
After Dominos, we stopped at the supermarket to buy diapers for Daniel-Enrique, who, whilst we were waiting in line, started a fight with a stuffed Garfield. Both partons fought well, but I think I have to give the match to Garfield, since while Daniel Enrique was throwing a punch with his tiny fist, he slipped on a bit of water and banged his head on the candy rack, causing him to burst into tears and cling to his Daddy`s leg.
Later that evening, after Daniel-Enrique was put to bed (much to his displeasure…he wanted to keep chasing geckos with me) Agustìn and I sat on the porch and drank a delicious rum drink and talked about cars and beer for a few hours. Then, around ten, we went to bed.
The next day, I awoke around ten in the morning, after a very refreshing sleep. I went outside and watched Daniel-Enrique run as fast as he could around the yard dragging a large stick behind him. Every once in awhile, he would stop, look at me, and then do a hilarious little dance. I would laugh and laugh, and then he would shriek loudly and hide behind a grove of banana trees, as if he decided that he didn`t want me to watch, after all.
Later, me and the whole family went to go and eat some lunch at a place that served delightful Panameñan food. As we dined, Daniel-Enrique sat on the ground and smeared dirt all over his face, much to his mother`s annoyance as he apparently just had a bath.
After lunch, Agustìn and his wonderful little family dropped me off outside the southern city limits of David, and we said our goodbyes. I promised to call once I arrived in Panama City, and the white car pulled slowly away, with Daniel-Enrique looking somberly at me out the window and waving his tiny hand.
So I tried for a bit to get a ride, with a pair of Americans stopping and then deciding that they didn`t want to give me a ride, after all. I decided to keep walking south until I could find a bit of shade to stand and hitch hike under.
On my walk, I saw several interesting bits of roadkill, witch included iguanas (they are everywhere here in Panamà) parrots, and an anteater. Anteaters are much smaller than I imagined, only about the size of a raccoon. The one I saw had only recently been hit, and he lay on the side of the road with his impossibly long tongue lying wetly on the asphalt. Poor fellow. I moved him into the rainforest where he could rest in relative peace.
Finally, a few hours later, I got a ride. He was a large fellow named Carlos wearing a dirty straw hat with the words “Big Daddy” enscribed on the headband. He drove me about a hundred and fifty k`s to Santiago. Carlos honked at every single woman that we passed, both young and old. We stopped for a bit of water at the supermarket, and he spent five minutes trying to convince a girl form Arizona with a large backpack like me to ride with him to Panama City. She apparently wasn`t stupid, and shot him down four or five different times.
The car I was riding in had some faulty shocks, I think. Every time we went over a bump, the car would sway alarmingly in all directions, and Carlos would struggle to keep her on the road. Frightening…
We arrived in Santiago about two hours later, and I said goodbye to Carlos, thanked him for the ride, and continued walking south. I stopped to buy a pack of smokes, and noticed with amusement that there was a picture of a dead rat and cockroach twisted into nasty positions on the front of the pack, above the words “El humo de tobaco contiene arsenico y naftalina, tambien usados contra ratas y cucarachas.” Which, translated, means, “Tobacco smoke contains arsenic and naftalina, which is used to kill rats and cockraockes.” That`s a new one, I thought, as I lit one up.
I love Panamà. It`s probably on of my favorite countries I`ve visited so far…everybody and everything here is upstandingly nice and polite. Even the road signs! I saw one that said “Disculpe, dismensya su velocidad, por favor,” Which translated, means, “Excuse me, can you please slow down?” Then, a hundred meters farther down, a sign that simply said, “¡Gracias!”
After nearly two more hours of hitching, I finally got a ride with a nice guy named Ralph, who drove me all the way here to Panama City. We stopped for a bit for some food, and he bummed about half my smokes (apparently, he doesn`t care about a couple of dead rats, either.) He let me use his phone to access Facebook, which was nice of him. We arrived in Panama City just an hour ago, and Roger offered to share his super nice hotel room with me. So tonight, I sleep in style…
One more note before I wrap up…an alarming inconsistancy in the Pan American Highway has only recently been brought to my attention: Apparently, there are absolutely no roads between Panamà and Colombia. The Highway comes to an abrupt end, turns into a footpath, and dissaperes into the jungle somewhere in Yaviza, Panamà. There`s this pesky little thing known as the Darièn Gap there, which is a 10,000 square mile swath of undeveloped mountinus jungle and swampland that seperates the two countries, filled with jaguares and Colombian rebel forces. While foot crossings have been made, few who attempt it have survived, having been killed either by the jungle or by rebel forces. While it has become my new goal to one day sucessfully navigate the Gap on foot, I have decided to save it for when I`m a bit older and have lived my wonderful life for a bit longer. Plus, I have absolutely no expirience in jungle survival (though I do have the U.S. Army Survival Manuel) and absolutely no expirience in jungle warfare. Perhaps I should contact a Vietnam Veteran before I attempt a crossing…
South America has never been so close, yet so far away…
This means I will either have to take a boat or a plane to Colombia. I will, of course, take a boat. However, that costs money, which I have next to none of, so my new plan is as follows:
1) Tomorrow, find work in one of the local hostels or any place that will take me
2) Work until I have enough money to hire a boat. Shouldn’t be more than a few hundred dollars
3) Go to Colombia and continue my Adventure
Quite simple, really.
The Modern Nomad
EDIT SEPT 2011: Ha! I am actually still happy about the New Orleans Saints winning their first Superbowl. All those years rooting for them, and they win it when I’m in Panama.
Also, I actually learned about the Danién Gap in Nicaragua, after someone asked me how I planned on getting past it. My answer was, “What’s the Darién Gap?” After initally planning on walking it, I came to my senses and decided to do the following…
Well, click “next” already!