In 1988, while I was busy making my hair big and listening to Guns n Roses, the U.S. imposed sanctions against Panama for Noriega's shenannegans. Little did I know that just 20 years later, Panama would impose sanctions against me personally.
I left El Valle on a rainy morning, and took the bus with some uniformed schoolkids through the woods to the Panamerican Highway, where I caught a bus to what I thought was David, but actually went 2 hours in the other direction to Panama City. I was tipped off by the huge skyline... When I said "necissito voy a David" the person told me that there was no direct bus there, but I had missed that little detail. I got on a giant megabus to David with two stories, and had a great seat in front in the top row. 3 peacefull, blissful hours went by until we stopped at a truck stop for a meal (I had some sketchy pasta), and to pick up more passengers at the halfway point.
I could hear them before I saw them, two older, overeager americans in their 60s. The woman plopped down next to me and her husband sat across the aisle. I smelled something foul and rotten, and thought maybe it was the bus, but it was them. The smell of stale cigarette smoke, smoke that was coming out of their pores after a good 45 year smoking habit. When the woman asked if she could sit there, her teeth were brown and grey. Everything about them was grey. They were nice enough, and you can't exactly tell someone to move because they smell so bad, so I tried to stare out the window and angle the fan at them, to blow away the smell. Every time they chuckled at the stupid movie, I had to breathe through my mouth. I tried to chew some really strong gum and thought about offering them some. I was angry. Why was I the one chewing gum? Why are some people so naieve - clueless that they STINK??!!!
heh.. hegh hegh.. achachack ack. hech hech.. that's the sound of the smokers cough I heard all the way to David.
When we disembarked, I was happy to be rid of them, and laughed that they had both lit up a cigarette before we could even get our bags out of the lower compartment. When one of them dies, is the other one going to stop smoking, I wondered? I took a taxi to a hostel I read about, and had booked a private room. When I arrived, who pulls up at the same time. Mr and Mrs Smoky!
I just resigned myself to the fact that I would have to see them again and again... and went to buy some groceries for dinner. David is a pretty crappy city so there was really no place to hang out at night besides the hostel. So I grabbed an atlas and sat out on the porch with the Smokeskis, the funny hostel owner Greg, his cute Lenny Kravitz lookalike employee Benny, and a random French Canadian. Greg and Benny took turns playing the guitar, The smokeskis smoked, and we all talked about travelling. Greg used to live in chinatown, NYC and we talked about my favorite dumpling shop. I learned one of life's great mysteries - how they make soup dumplings! (they freeze the soup first, then put in the dumplings and steam). The smokeskis were on a long, extended trip through central america, which I thought was cool for people their age. I asked them if they met over a love of cigarettes, and they looked at me funny and said they met because the Mrs was Mr's dispatcher at an old job. We discussed smoking laws, their love of smoking and how they differ in Central America vs North America (CA is cracking down, which is nice!) The Smokeskis even buy special cigarettes by the carton from the Native Americans back home, because they are cheap. I even suspect they moved from Oregon to Nevada for the more liberal smoking laws. Greg and Benny took me across the street to the uber authentic ceviche restaurant, which served three dishes: ceviche, fried fish and some other kind of fish. I had some ceviche and Greg and Benny laughed with the regulars (all older men) and told dirty jokes. It was the type of place that I would have been really intimidated to go on my own, but in their company it was OK. I went back to the hostel, bid the Smokeskis goodnight, and went to sleep to dogs barking.
The next morning (my designated "banking" day) I went into David to try every cash machine in town (still did not work!) and try to cash my traveller's checks (no bank in town took them). This is the first country I've ever been to where neither worked - sometimes my ATM gives me trouble but I can always get cash from my Am Ex checks. This is just one of those things you have to deal with when travelling - every country has a quirk, but it was still frustrating, and I was beginning to feel like Panama did not want me to take out any money! I called Am Ex in a panic, and they agreed to western union me the money. Whew! The only western Union place in David was offline (of course) so I just went to the lost and found hostel way out in the jungle as planned.
Andrew, the owner, picked me up and brought me wayyy out into the jungle, where we had to hike up a steep muddy hill. A huge "backpackers resort" was up there, with a huge uptdoor sitting area, a kitchen (you have to make your own dinner), some cabins and a dorm. I had the dorm with Steve the kiwi and Andrew the Aussie. Really, really nice guys. It rained the entire time, but I was happy for the peace, the hammock, the sounds of the tropical birds, the kinkajous that came to eat bananas (they are so cute, look them up!), the hummingbirds, the sound of rain falling on the roof at night. I made some spaghetti with red peppers and chicken. Three dutch people were also at the lodge - three flight attendants, two guys and a girl. They were really funny, kind of demanding and a little flamboyant. I was amazed, though, when they whipped up an impressive dinner of fondue in about 15 minutes flat. They brought in their own cheese and bread. It was amazing! They didn't share (boo!) but I took a photo. I didn't get to do the night hike due to the rain, but I went to bed early and slept better than I have the whole trip.
More coming tomorrow, and I'm sorry but the internet cafe doesn't read my camera memory card.