I woke up bright and early in Casco Viejo to rain tapping on the roof. I had originally planned to explore Casco Viejo today, but since I saw most of it the night before, I got itchy to move on to a beach. In the lobby I mulled over my options and worried about some logistics when Eli gave me a fist bump and said ¨be a traveller!¨. I caught a taxi driven by a woman. She was as nice as could be, and at one point asked me how old I was. Well actually I turned 38 yesterday. Turns out that is her exact birthday as well, year and all! I thought that was an auspicious and promising sign to my day. I went to the main bus terminal which was attached to a shopping mall. I tried 4 different ATM machines with no success, then saw that the internet was closed as well. The ATM problem worries me, but this happened in Brazil as well. I have got to get a damn debit card and not rely on my normal ATM. Have I not learned my lesson before? I have travellers checks and my credit card and enough to get me through a week of normal spending. I may have to charge all of my hotels and hostels, and pay myself back later to get though two weeks. I will make it happen regardless. Mai pen rai. whatever.
I sat in the bus terminal to eat my Mc Donalds desayuno deluxe, and noticed that everyone´s favorite place at the bus terminal is a chicken chain called ¨pio pio¨, with a baby chick as the logo. They must have named it that because baby chicks sort of make that noise, don´t they? pio! pio pio! haha.. love it.
Once again I found myself to be the only gringo on the bus. It was nice and airconditioned, and we listened to salsa. Think about how loud you might listen to music in a car, then turn it up about 5 notches. That´s how loud music is on the busses. I do like salsa though, so I enjoyed the ride though lush scenery, and in two hours I was in Santa Clara.
I got off and walked the 2KM to the beach, to my planned hotel, cabañas veraneras. Sweat poured out of my face and my backpack is a little heavy. Though I´ve noticed the whole marathon thing this year has made the backpack easier to carry and walk around with. I´ve always been able to manage it, but I can tell a difference from last year. Which is nice. After walking down the road in 95 degree temperatures, I checked into a cute treehouse looking room overlooking a restarant at the beach. The beach was lovely, and I was the only gringo there that I could see. Hundreds and thousands of Panamanians were hanging at the beach and had pointed their car sound systems at the water, fighting with the speakers coming out of every restaurant on the small stretch of beach. The day started fairly quietly, but by 4PM the salsa was deafening. Even I was annoyed and couldn´t hide from the music. I read my Barack Obama book on the beach (dreams of my father - which is very good) and tried to not let the rhythm get me, but as Gloria Estefan warns us, the rhythm is gonna get you. The eight count beat and swelling horn sections and backup singers held me hostage until about 6PM, when miraculously everyone went packed up and home. EVERYONE, and the beach was beautiful and peaceful, where I enjoyed the sunset (above).
I had a fabulous dinner of cevice and an Atlas beer (which I have decided is my favorite), and listened to salsa music at a softer volume, which is still louder than what you might consider normal in a restaurant. Between the bus and the day at the beach, I had listened to salsa for over 12 hours straight. What I´ve concluded is where other Central American places such as Guatemala and Costa Rica play salsa SOME of the time, Panama must play salsa ALL of the time. And that´s OK. I could not, for example go to a place that played heavy metal ALL of the time, country or emo rock ALL of the time. So whatever those countries are, I need to find them and probably avoid them. The salsa though, it´s OK. Though we are only on day 3.
Suddenly the salsa was interrupted by the unmistakable sounds of KC and the sunshine band. It was enough to cause me to put my book down and look around in shock. I knew there was another table of loud american tourists, and now they were drunkenly dancing. A pot bellied man in his early 70s, his young panamanian girlfriend, and the man´s daughter. I introduced myself to them (when you are the only people in a restaurant and someone causes a scene, that´s what you do I suppose) and they invited me over to their table. ¨Hey, Chicago - GIT OVER HERE!!!¨The daughter (in her 40s) was visiting her dad (who had retired in Panama) and brought along her young boyfriend, 30 at most. They were quite a family. Loud and brash, and kinda trashy and a lot of fun. The staff of the restaurant played the KC and the sunshine CD that they had brought in to be played. Which mortified me on some level, but was hillarious at the same time. The daughter and boyfriend were into NASCAR and the father proudly told me he wasn´t divorced yet to his former wife. His Panamanian girlfriend was very sweet and friendly. We sat for a few hours and for once it was nice to not be the most obnoxious person at the table for once. I got birthday drinks again. (why not?) The father was giving me deja vu for some reason, I couldn´t figure it out... did I know him? How could I know him? Then I realized it was becuase he sounded EXACTLY like Dr Phil. I excused myself to go to the bathroom and Dr Phil said ¨YOU GOTTA GO NUMBER ONE OR NUMBER TWO?¨ haha.. I told them number one, but everyone who knows me knows that poop stories are the way to my heart, and when I come back, I´ve got a good one for you. Boyfriend pointed to the daugher and yelled after me ¨She LOVES POOP STORIES!!¨
I returned to the table and told them my famous story about the comcast guy and what he did to my bathroom, which pleased them. They were confused about how I got there, how I found this place and I explained the whole backpacking thing to them, and how we all read the same guidebook, stay in the same places, blah blah.. They admired it and kind of shook their heads, but Dr Phil lectured me about safety, which I thought was nice in a fatherly way. I went to bed at around 11 and slept well to the sound of the Pacific ocean.
Some random observations about panama, other than the mandatory salsa at all times law:
*people here drive new, clean cars. Waaay newer and cleaner than the other CA countries. And they favor Toyota over all others
*Ocean Pacific is alive and well. I saw an Op billboard and people wearing new Op clothing.
*I always, always see foreign lookalikes to people I know from home. At Santa Clara beach was the Panamanian Dan Hansen and a Panamanian Logan Rosenthal! AKAP, you´ll have to tell him!
above: my lunch of chimichurri steak and the sunset at Santa Clara