Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What to Pack for Panama

To start, lay down all the clothes and money that you think you need. Take half the clothes and twice the money.

Bring your adult clothes to Panama, you want to experience some of the city’s legendary nightlife and shorts and flip flops scream gringo and the cool clubs won’t let you in. Flip flops are great for the shower though. Photo copy and laminate your passport because you need ID at all times in Panama but your passport is much safer left at your hotel. Oh, and bring a jacket; the coolest place in Panama is a cloud forest eco resort called The Lost and Found, in the Fortuna Forest Reserve and it gets cold up there. Foot powder has often been my favorite companion but you can buy that here. Most things you can pick up here. Which leads to this important question: Should you bring your significant other, pick one up here or travel solo?

Travel with the opposite sex?

The pre-trip poll of polls says…

50% Yes… 50% No

Traveling and women are a lot alike. You will have a terrible time if you think what you do or say can have any influence. You have to just flow.

Let me take you on the ride that is Panama and Maria. Both girls can provide extreme pleasure or can be a pain in the butt. These are the picks and pans of Panama with my girl:

1) Panama City -- Cayucos’s on Causeway – Maria and I traveled out to along a causeway built with the debris from the Panama Canal, to a series of islands with great clubs and restaurants. The problem is that unless you want to go to the subway there, they are expensive. So we found Cayuco’s on the last island a few restaurants down from the Bennegan’s. Here beer and traditional Panamanian bar grub will get you full and drunk for less than $10 each. We had Sangria, fried plantanes and watched the sun set in the Pacific to my left and massive luxury yachts with the Panama City skyline to my right.

Beginning of trip Poll of polls: 60% Bring your significant other. 40% Hmmm I wonder how I would have done at the cool all night clubs on Calle Uruguay solo?

2) The Lost and Found: We found this amazing cloud forest hostel, took a guided tour of an organic coffee farm, went horseback riding and still made it in time to share a bottle of wine and watch the sun set over a sleeping volcano.

Mid trip poll of polls: 80% Wine and volcano sunsets go well with the opposite sex. 20%

Maria passed out after we drank too much wine and couldn’t hike to waterfalls the next day.
But this was only after 3 days in Panama… we had a month to go.

I forgot to mention a few things about my girlfriend. We knew each three weeks before we started traveling and we decided what better way to get to know each other than to travel together. Travel is life on speed with opportunities and conflicts that in real life only happen in slow motion. Why not find out sooner than later?

I found out that my girlfriend is insane. She unapologetically sucks up life. She pees by the side of the road in full view of traffic. She accepts foot rubs from horny strangers with fetishes. She jumps from sail boats just because the water looked nice. Her motto is: Strangers have the best candy. She smokes weed in front of Panamanian cops. She hops the kiosk counter to demonstrate how to make real fried plantains. She searches deserted beaches for quiet locations to be naked. She came overland from Columbia by herself. She adopts strays. She is a stray that accepts adoption.

The day when we were exploring Bocas town we hadn’t even noticed the entrance to the Wreck Deck bar and we had walked past the street several times that day. But after a few drinks at Mondu Taitu, we followed the crowd to a spot where they were selling the mystery meat on a stick and now the gates nightclub opened up to garden paths that led to pool tables and a dance floor covered by a big bamboo rancho. The dance floor was packed with half locals and half backpackers and surfers dancing to 80’s music.

AT the back was a series of wooden decks overlooking the ocean one of which surrounded a sunken ship. Maria took my hand led me to sit around the square deck and we dangled our feet in the water. Fish attracted by underwater lights illuminating the sunken boat checked out our feet to see if they were edible.

Maria was having a Seco con vaca, a kind of 70 proof distilled Panamanian sugarcane she mixed with milk – what the locals use for a cheap drunk. People were already jumping in and it was like a big pool party with rum flowing freely.

I saw an older couple sitting beside some empty chairs behind us and so I decided to try to steer Maria there instead of the two surfer dudes talking about the phat waves while ogling Maria. The couple was in their 40’s, pasty white from Utah but not Mormon at least. They were talking about 80’s T.V. and for some reason between the three of us we couldn’t remember the theme song for Family Ties. What the hell is it… it stuck in my head and for some reason I couldn’t even concentrate on talking until I remembered this stupid song.

This geeky pop culture conversation isolated Maria and I could see her survey the energy around us looking for an opportunity to join others who might provide more fun. She began ogling the ogling surfer dudes. I liked the bar but I did not like the ratio.

3) The Wreck Deck:

End of trip poll of polls:

40% Travel with your significant other to learn if she is insane or not. 60% I hate the ratio of backpacker dudes to girls and them hitting on my girlfriend and her liking it. And hmmm some of the Panamanian girls are pretty hot.

I attempted to rescue the night. To stop her from wandering I tell the couple that Maria traveled overland to Panama through the Darien. This is course was the intro to let Maria tell her shit story.

She always takes the bait on this one and tells the story to anyone who will listen – she came across a village of Woonan Indians in the Darien gap and was invited to stay. She asked where the toilette was and they pointed to a kind of a platform on stilts (only this time when she tells the story it is a tower) She climbed up and squatted in the open on top of this tower. As she peered down between her legs at the ground below she noticed that there was not much in the way of shit piled up below. She was beginning to think this had been some kind of ploy until shortly after her deposits hit the jungle floor there came a rumbling and movement in the banana leaves. Then suddenly two wild boars charged out of the jungle, quickly devoured her feces then disappeared just as quickly.

Like many of her stories I am not sure how much of this one is true but everyone eats her shit up. She is beautiful and animated even when she is squatting to mime herself taking a dump. Although predictable I was happy to engage her into a circle with a male/female ratio where I would get equal attention… this is important when you travel and shirtless surfer dudes outnumber girls. Every 15 minutes or so a boat would pull up to the deck to take people to a neighboring island for a full moon party. The couple was going and we all hopped on a boat together.

We were early for the party – the moon hadn’t yet risen. The tourist couple was sour that it was dark and the party hadn’t even gotten going. They wanted to wake up early the next day for a full itinerary of sightseeing. I didn’t care. It gave me a chance to get Maria alone on a walk along the beach. Low tide stretched the beach out more than 50 meters and we walked in water only a few inches deep to an exposed part of what is usually the bottom of the ocean. We lied there looking up at the stars. We were silent.

Then we notice dark things flying over us. At first I thought they were bats. Bats often come out in Panama at night and flash so quickly near you that your eyes never quite catch them. But these could not be bats so far out. They were fish. And they were jumping over us as we lay looking up at the stars. We just laid there counting flying fish. Then like magic it became brighter. The full moon was rising.

“How many times have you seen the full moon rise?” Maria whispered to me.
“I don’t know…” I didn’t know.

“Right now there are people working at jobs they hate. When they die, even if they are old, they will realize that they have not had many times to see the moon rise like this.”
Sometimes I thought Maria was immature and I lament our age difference. But then she says things like this and I think she is wise. I mean I can’t even remember the theme song for Family Ties. How many important moments in my childhood, moments so important they shaped who I am, that I will only remember a few more times in my life? How many more times will I lie on the ocean floor and see the full moon rise?

Maria surprised me and reached for my hand and I knew this was one of those travel moments… life moments… a moment that tourists miss because their itineraries are filled with sightseeing.

Tourists often don’t know where they have been. Travelers don’t know where the hell they are going. I brought Maria here to Panama to get a lock on what we were to each other. We were travelers.

Women and travel you can’t control. When you travel – when you are in another country you either accept the differences and embrace them, or you become miserable and frustrated and you quit. Today I know--and accept--that one hour might mean two and that a simple meal in Panama with friends can turn into dancing all night around a beach fire. Or a three month backpacking trip can turn into lifelong friendship.

End of trip final poll of polls – 50/50

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