Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Hemingway Experience: Day One

Jesus, what a day. 
  I suppose it’s more than that - 31 hours I think now. I love to travel, it’s the actual act of being in transit I can’t bear. I left Whistler on the latest bus of the day, 6pm. Given that it was a 7.30am flight it was my best and cheapest option to crash in the bench seating at YVR. So I got there around 8.30. It was gonna be a long night. 
As it happened, a group of friends (Damo, Julia K, Krista, Tim, and the McBains) were also flying out early to Mexico so we had a clan of sleepers for the night. 
I never thought to check my carry on for any guns or cocaine (or rather, I did, but I knew I didn't have any of that on me), so I was a little surprised (or maybe not quite thinking straight, with 3 hours sleep all night and it being 5am) when they pulled me aside. “Do you have a bottle opener in here, sir?"
Not just any bottle opener - the wine crank that I have had since my first bartending job. I had even carved an ‘A’ into the handle so if it ever went missing, I would be able to identify it immediately.  I had to say goodbye without making a scene, but a tiny piece of me died in the bag check line. 
So whatever. I head to my boarding lounge, say goodbye to Damo (another solo traveller but he just took a different flight from the rest) and eventually I get on my way to Houston.

I love Houston, and I only saw the airport. I spoke to 3 people, all of whom work at Houston Bush International, and all of them made me feel good about myself. I don’t even know if it was a customer service thing, but man, it was a nice way to break up the flight. I only wish I could have stayed for a beer at an airport bar. I guarantee that would have made for some good stories.

The Houston - Panama flight was apprximately 1/3rd full. I had my own row, as did most other people around me. Score. I slept comfortably, I read comfortably, I even had a drink and a sandwich. Fuck yeah, I’m on holiday!


My bag goes missing.

I’m the last one waiting for my bag. Panama City is muggy as hell (I'm literally sitting in front of a fan as I write this, totally naked). It’s the stuff of travel nightmares. I'm in a city that is 30 degrees C, 86 F, and I’m wearing jeans. No other clothes in my bag except a pair of socks (thank God - trench foot is an unnatural fear I have) and a raincoat (GOOD THING I CHECKED THE WEATHER BEFORE I LEFT).  So it’s supposed to be here tomorrow at 2pm. Cool, nothing I can do about it. Let’s find the Airbnb spot I rented. 
Apparently, my driver doesn’t speak any English (GOOD THING THE TAXI HUSTLER WAS PRACTICALLY PROFICIENT), so my terrible Spanish and his terrible English meant we just rolled around Casco Viejo for an hour trying to work out where I was staying (oh, fun fact: I didn’t have the actual address, just the directions to get there and also how to avoid the nearby slum). No joke: the driver actually said - and I’m paraphrasing - “This part of town is super dangerous, I don’t think this is where you want to be”. 
Keep in mind: the studio I chose explicitly says on its bio that it is on the border of some shady shit. So when the driver, who was incredibly nice after I drove him all over town, stopped to ask questions and/or directions, he was well aware to lock the doors with his Gringo cargo inside. 
It turns out Casco Bikes is home to the most friendly man I could hope to meet, and he lent me his phone so that he could call Stef (whose place I was renting) could call her friend Kandra (who was meeting me and also had broken English) and work out the translation issue between me and the driver.
This is exactly what I need in my house.

I finally get in to the 4th story walkup - "Is exercise", Kandra joked. I have no change of clothes, but I have to wash the airplane off and brush my teeth which I also left in my luggage. There’s a little shop across the street that sells, amongst so many other things, toothbrushes and paste. I might actually be clean soon! Still, putting on the same clothes I’ve been in for 36 hours was not ideal.  I manned up, after leaving everything in front of the fan to… dry off? That’s gross. Freshen up, let’s go with. Headed out to find the place I swore I’d go for my first beer in town - Mojitos (sin mojitos) is a Latin dive bar, just a couple of blocks from my room, and it’s fucking awesome. 

I got there on a quiet night, drank 3 or four. I began to freak out as only a man listening to bar music alone can do - silently - about my luggage situation. Then I noticed what appeared to be a hotel across the square. I enquired from my bartender that put me to shame on his second language vs my second (third?) language, and yep, it’s the famous American Trade Hotel, and delivering my bag there shouldn’t be a problem (see above re: not knowing the address of my studio.) Seeing as I definitely had beer on my breath and probably tequila ($16 for 4 and 2 heavy pours respectively!), I figured I’d deal with my lost clothes tomorrow morning. The bartender at Mojitos, Arturio, told me that, yep, tonight is mellow, but apparently this weekend is Labour Day, so tomorrow night (Thursday) there will be hundreds of people there. 

I won’t lie: I felt a little scared and stupid being out here essentially alone, but as I looked around the bar and thought to myself: Holy shit, I made it. I’m in Panama.

"You can make you happy".

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