Friday, June 25, 2010

Day 211: Water Boys in Panama, the Country

In addition to baby showers, 2009-2010 has been the year of the 30th birthday for my friends and me. Everyone has celebrated their milestone birthday differently, some with big weekend long beach blowouts, others with low key dinners.

In the weeks ahead of Day 211, I asked my friend Maribeth, the next to turn the dreaded 3-0, how she planned to spend her birthday.

She said, in very dramatic fashion, "I cannot be in this country on my 30th birthday!"

While I found her insistence on being away from the USA on her 30th strange (I mean, what's the big deal? 30 is 30 regardless of where you celebrate it), with plenty of vacation to burn, I agreed to tag along with her wherever she chose to go.

"Alright," I told her, "Let's go somewhere."

This conversation, no kidding, happened the weekend before I left for Lake Tahoe, and a mere 48 hours before Psychic Rose told me she predicted that I would be taking a big trip, by the water, in April.

Maribeth's birthday is April 28th.

Weird, right?

Even weirder, Maribeth and I decided almost immediately to go somewhere in Central or South America. We wanted some place warm, and a place on the beach, or on the water. We kicked around several ideas, first considering Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.

In the midst of planning to go to Ecuador, I came to yet another realization about myself: I’m not a planner. And trips like this don't just happen. They have to be thought out in advance. At least a little bit anyway.

I knew Ecuador would be amazing and unforgettable. I really did want to go there, I just wanted someone else to plan it. I poked around on the Internet at possible places for us to stay and routes we could've taken through the country, but I quickly became overwhelmed and soon, Maribeth and I realized Ecuador would require a lot of work to plan, not to mention a whole lot of cash.

Our second choice, thanks to my friend John and Maribeth's friend Chris, was Panama. The destination was a winner on all fronts: warm weather, beach activities, reasonably priced, and, above all, easy to plan. At least I think it was. Maribeth did most of the work.

Plus, every time I told someone I was going to Panama, I got to hear their version of Van Halen’s song, “Panama.” And then I had to break the news to them that I was going to the country of Panama, and not the Spring Break hot spot Panama City Beach, where that song was probably hugely popular in 1984.

Just as Psychic Rose predicted, on Day 211, one of the last days in April, the thing that I'd never done before was to fly to Panama, the country.

Before we left, Chris and John, passed along a wealth of useful Panama information. Where to say, places to avoid, cool things to do.

Of all the advice John gave me, what he stressed the most was cab fare.

"Here's what you need to do," he said, almost as if he was letting me in on some huge secret that no one else knew about. "You need to take out $100 in one dollar bills before you go."

I let him know, that unless Maribeth had big plans for her 30th birthday she had not yet filled me in on, I was not planning on going to any strip clubs in Panama. What gives with the one dollar bills?

He explained that every place in Panama takes American money, and cabs will take you wherever you want to go for very little cash.

"So have small bills and negotiate with the cab driver before you get in the car."

His advice made sense, so on Day 211, before getting on an afternoon flight to Panama, I went to the bank and asked for $100 in ones.

I used to be a waitress, so I know what a lot of cash looks like, but it had been a while, and I don't think I could have anticipated what 100 singles looks like. It looks like a lot of freaking money. I felt like a stripper having that much cash on me at one time. John was right, though, it made getting around the city extremely easy, minus the whole language barrier thing of course.

Maribeth and I arrived at the airport and grabbed our first drink of vacation at the airport bar. I revealed to Maribeth that taking off for two weeks was nerve racking for me, but that I was really going to try and relax. I didn’t promise to go off the grid or disconnect completely, but I promised to behave in a very un-Stephanie-like fashion.

While sitting at the bar, I reminded Maribeth about how Psychic Rose had predicted that I'd take a big trip to a place by the water and here we were taking the big trip! I also told her to be on the look out for dudes because Rose also mentioned that my significant man may or may not have something to do with my big trip, but he definitely has something to do with the water. Again, I'm not sure if Rose wasn't simply referring to someone who drinks water or is a plumber, but here I was, on the trip, and I wanted to be on alert, just in case.

So when an attractive, fratty looking young guy with a Georgia Bulldogs hat boarded our plane to Panama City in Atlanta, I immediately turned my head to look at Maribeth.

"Holy crap, that guy's really good looking," I said with wide eyes. Could this be the water boy?
Maribeth agreed and for a solid five minutes we stared frat boy down as he put his luggage in the overhead compartment and took his seat ten rows ahead of us.

At some point during the stare down, Maribeth announced to me that she thought she knew frat boy.
"He looks exactly like this guy that lived with one of my friends in Jacksonville," she said.

She seemed stumped, though, not recalling the guy's name and not sure why the guy would be wearing a Georgia hat.

I wasn't convinced that it was the same guy, but decided that her thinking he was could provide the perfect reason for us to talk to him. And obviously we needed to talk to him, because he was good looking and what if he was the guy Psychic Rose was talking about? Even if he wasn't the same guy Maribeth thought it was, we could still make him our new friend and someone to hang out with on the trip.

And maybe the love of my life.

We landed in Panama, staying in hot pursuit of frat boy and giddy with excitement that we had arrived at our destination after a super short, relatively easy flight.

On our walk to customs and baggage claim, Maribeth started chickening out on our original plan, after deciding that frat boy was not the guy from Jacksonville that she knew. She also assumed that he was on his way to be reunited with his girlfriend who is in the Peace Corps or volunteering with "Doctors without Borders," and would want nothing to do with us. I assumed he was on his way to a deep-sea fishing bachelor party, and would love the company of two almost-30 year olds.

I liked my assumption better.

We never talked to frat boy, unfortunately, but decided that if we ran into him again on our trip then that would be a sign that he was the water boy Psychic Rose was talking about and girlfriend or not, I would have to talk to him.

Maribeth and I hailed a cab to our hotel in Panama City and I impressed her and the cab driver with my Spanish-speaking skills. I really did. I don’t know where it came from because I rarely ever have the opportunity to ever speak Spanish in my regular life. But I was belting out all sorts of phrases to the cabbie, telling him my name (Me llamo Stephanie), where I was from (soy de Georgia en los Estados Unidos), that I was there to celebrate my friend’s birthday (el cumpleanos de mi amiga). Not exactly advanced conversations, but I was still pleased.

We got to the hotel and stepped out of the cab, to the delight of every bell hop at the hotel. I’ve traveled enough to know that two light-haired, wide-eyed American girls are bound to get some attention, and sure enough, we did. The hotel staff fumbled over each other to help us with our bags and it was sweet. Chivalry may be dead in a lot of places, but it’s alive and well at the Hotel Riande Granada. We checked into our room, which was nothing to write home about, but it was clean and it was cheap, so we decided to stay.

Exhausted from the trip, Maribeth and I laid on our beds and went back and forth about how to spend the evening. There was a lot of, “Do you want to go out? I don’t care, do you want to?” going on. Here, I thought, is where my age is starting to show, because 21-year old Stephanie would’ve dropped her bag in the room and hit the pavement immediately, ready to explore the city. 29-year old Stephanie, however, was tired, hungry and ready to go to bed.

After a good half-hour of trying to figure out what to do, we decided to take advantage of our free drink coupone at the hotel bar, which was nothing more than a shelf with three bottles of cheap liquor and a cooler full of beer in a dark room next to the lobby.

We both ordered a Panama beer, and a grilled cheese sandwich.

About midway through our meal, an older gentleman came over to where we were sitting at the bar. He was very tall, and kind of awkward. He asked us if he could sit down and we said yes. When he took a seat, I noticed he nearly fell off the bar stool, and when he spoke he slurred his words.

“Those women over there said I wouldn’t come over here to talk to you,” he said, motioning to two women sitting on a couch nearby, laughing.

We introduced ourselves and found out his name was Roy. He was from Trinidad, but was in Panama on business. We told him our names and that we were on vacation to celebrate Maribeth’s birthday.

“And how old are you?,” he asked Maribeth.

“Well,” she said, “I’m turning 30 on Wednesday," she said with a smile.

“Ahhh nice,” he said.

“And you’re not married?”

“No, not married.”

“Dating anyone?”


He asked me the same questions. Then he turned to Maribeth again.

“And you’re how old?”

She looked at me and we laughed.

“I’m 29. I’m turning 30 on Wednesday.”

"And you're not married?"


After a few minutes, we were joined by Roy’s friend and colleague, Luis, who was from Panama and in far better shape than his wasted friend. He was nice too, welcomed us to his country and wrote down names of popular restaurants and clubs to go to in the area. He also gave us his number and said if we needed anything, we could call him anytime.

Roy asked us both if we would be his girlfriend, and we both declined. And then he told us he was happily married and had five children ranging in age from 21 down to five years old.

My head was spinning. Roy was like a tornado.

“How old are you?” he asked Maribeth.

This has to be a joke, but she kept on answering.

“Roy, I’m 29.”

“Now do either of you have children?”

“Nope,” I replied.

“How old are you?”

Is this guy serious?


“Are you barren?”

Come again?

First of all, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone actually use the word “barren” in a sentence until that moment. But if I was unable to conceive children, I’m not sure I’d want to talk about it with a drunken stranger in a sad Panama bar.

I chalked it up to too much booze and simply answered his question.

“No,” I replied, “I’m not barren, at least not to my knowledge. The reason we don’t have kids is because we’re not ready for them. We’re not even married yet.”

Telling him we weren’t married confused him greatly. I think he thought there was something wrong with us.

“I know, Roy, we’re awesome. It confuses me too,” I told him.

We talked for a little while longer while trying to pay our tab, which the bartender told us Luis had already taken care of.

After he asked Maribeth a 15th time how old she was, Luis said it was time for Roy to go to bed, and he walked us all to the elevator.

We laughed later in our room that as single girls living in Atlanta, we have both gone months without having anyone we don’t know approach us in bars. And here we'd been in Panama for less than two hours, and already we had two gentlemen buy our drinks and dinner.

Likely not the men by the water that Psychic Rose was talking about, but the trip was off to a pretty good start.

I think I love Panama.