Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Que bueno!

Already at the departure gate in Houston, the preferred language has become Spanish, as though we have already left America. It's too crowded, people have too many bags, and everyone is talking too loudly. It feels like we are there already, except of course until the moment I cross the threshold into the 737 I can still turn around and back out. But I'm no longer nervous about arrivals the way I used to be. My early travel experiences were all in Africa, when deplaning into a foreign customs could be a big, scary deal. Not so any more.


(And here we are, on the Corredor Sur, the city looming.)


I know this flight pattern pretty well now. The plane flies over Galveston Island -- sometimes right over the house my parents used to have on Indian Beach -- and then makes away across the Gulf of Mexico -- sparkling blue from 33,000. We cross the Yucatan near Merida, and cross it again south of Cancun. More ocean, then the Rio Segovia marking the junction of Honduras and Nicaragua, and spilling a huge amount of sediment into the sea. Then ocean again, until I see thunderheads on the horizon and we descend, quickly crossing Colon, the canal, the wing dipping over Puente de las Americas, ocean again, and Panama City, wide and impossibly dense and skyscraper filled. Immigration is a smile and three stamps, customs is cursory, and suddenly we are on the curb, wondering which taxi to take.


(Yes, that is a freeway which now encircles Casco Viejo, a UNESCO World Heritage site. They killed it.)


(Here's a lesson for everyone: learn a few words so you can, uh, chat with the locals.)

Laura and I went to Panama about 10 years ago. Man, has it changed. High end hotels shadow the lumpy streets, and cars are newer and fancier than what you see in most of the U.S. The buses are new and air conditioned and much more more boring than before, and the squares of even small towns have free wi-fi.


(Los Santos)


(Los Santos)


(So we decided to get Cooper's hair cut. The barber used clippers and then told me "Tell him not to move." It's a blurry picture, but yeah, that's a razor.)

Anyway, Panama remains attractive today for many of the same reasons we found it attractive before: it's fun, loose, simple, safe, easy to get around, and the Spanish is spoken with a flat, slow accent.


(Wild beaches on the Azuero Peninsula.)


(Black Friday in Playa Venao.)


(We found these things all over. Boy, is he going to be pissed when he learns that for a simple quarter they shake up and down.)


(Playa Venao)



(Pit stop after hiking near El Valle. This was the next-to-last full day and I was already nostalgic for the trip.)


(I can work the system pretty well. We payed $58 for a four-star hotel in Panama City.)

When you just have a week, and you already live at the end of the line (life in Missoula), where you go on vacation depends to a large extent on where you can get easily. El Salvador is easy, but too dangerous. Same for Honduras. I have mixed feelings about Guatemala after a semi-traumatic trip there years ago, and Belize and Costa Rica are simply too boring. What's next? Colombia?)