Danger on the Streets of Panama
Day 1: Our First Day in Central America
Elaine: I never realized I could feel so tense for such an excruciatingly painful length of time. As Joe noted, we did rent a car and the trip through Panama city was a fearsome study in contrasts. We first marveled at the huge Megopolis with skyscrapers that rivaled those I grew up with in New York city. Punctuating these buildings were “dots” of small burnt out slum-type edifices. I could not imagine anyone living there and initially thought they were condemned buildings until I saw faces in the windows and laundry hanging out to dry. We came during the rainy season and there was a downpour in the afternoon. Well, of course being the adventurers we are, we all decided to go scout out the racetrack known as the “hippodromo” and braved the weather. BIG MISTAKE! We passed a bunch of what should have been condemned buildings thriving with people and pulsating with activity due to the rain. The strange thing was, people were walking through the streets as if it were just a slight drizzle. No standing in enclosed spaces, no umbrellas, no running. Just walking through it as if it were a sunny, uneventful day. Joe was masterful in his manipulation of this car (standard shift) with cars dashing out in front of him, people crossing–and worst yet, rain pools that made me think we would be flash flooded. Joe said, “even if we were swept away by a sudden channel of water, how far could it take us?” I thought about this and realized he was right–the furthest we’d go is some building wall we would just slam into and likely stop right then and there. You see, that is the difference between Joe and me. I picture us getting flooded into oblivion, and he thinks of how uneventful that occurrence would actually be even if it did happen. Well, the streets were so flooded with water that there was no crossing them without a paddle and an Army SEAL team for support. So even the intrepid Joseph Foster decided to reverse course and try another route. We went down some streets (more like alleys) that made my shoulder muscles spasm in a lock-step march that left me feeling breathless. I felt like every twist and turn sucked an hour off my life. So many times we came within a hair’s breadth of ramming into another car. I knew I had to keep my mouth shut because otherwise I would just add to Joe’s burden. Even now I am finding it difficult to get my adrenalin back to a normal level. Ok, I admit it–I am the quintissential ugly american. In fact, with the added cringing, grotesque facial contortions, and lip biting, I’m sure I’m even uglier today than I ever was. All the advertisements I read about Panama have noted how it has beat its neighbors since it is NOT a third-world country. NEWS FLASH–the reason its not third world country is because it is still slowly climbing up to find the fourth world.Ok, so its my first day and there is still so much more to see. It is my responsibility, my duty to start tomorrow fresh and open to finding beauty. I believe we are going to try for a more “naturalist” experience tomorrow. Going to the Chagres National Park or to the Panama Canal. We have to be mindful about my parent’s physical limitations so no big hikes or uneven terrain. Tall order, but I am resolved to discover the biodiversity which I know can make up for the squalor I’ve witnessed today. I must say, it did give me a new-found respect for Joe’s abilities and this was an unexpected pearl. Also, my father is laughing liberally and seems to be open to the experience. Better get some rest now.
Day 3: Miraflores Locks
Day 5: Gamboa Rainforest
Day 6: The Hipodroma
I know I spent an inordinate time describing the traffic and I will stop now, but I think you get the picture of how great an impact it had on this trip. So, now let’s talk about the hipodromo. I have to laugh as I think about it because I went dressed as if I was going to be sitting in the club house at Yonkers raceway. In reality, this place was a cross between a really loud discotheque with music you would hear on separate floors playing side-by-side in an ear-splitting cocophany and a county fair–but with horses in the middle. There was no club house. I was so over-dressed it was laughable. Who knew? I will say that the drinks were stiff and cheap. I paid one dollar for a rum and Coke that I couldn’t even drink because it was so strong I couldn’t find the Coke in it. Joe said that rum is less expensive here than Coke. Personally, I think it has to do with lowering inhibitions so people will bet more money. We left after the 5 race. None of us could stand the noise. Thankfully, we were able to stay on the highway back to the hotel and made it “home” in no time. We are back in our room now. Safe and sound. One more day, then we’ll be back in the states and in our own bed again. Funny how important the little things one takes for granted on a daily basis can seem when they are missing. I don’t see myself retiring in Panama. But I do see myself retiring to bed right now. All the adrenalin has poured out of me and now I am left with pure exhaustion. Tomorrow, we will take our last tour. Pray for us.