Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Day 213: A Panama Triathlon

Day 213 was Maribeth's 30th birthday, so I told her to choose what we did on that day. Really, like I said before, that had nothing to do with her birthday. I hate making decisions, so I was happy to leave all of the plans (all of them) up to her. And as it usually goes with travel blogs, Day 213 was a day full of things I'd never done before.

I did ask Maribeth to consider choosing something that required some sort of physical activity. It was only the start of our second full day, but I already felt gross from all of the eating and (sorry, Mom) drinking we did the day before. Maribeth was in agreement with that plan, so we opted to hike Parque Natural Metropolitano, a park in Panama City.

On the map we stole from the front desk, the park didn't appear to be very far from our hotel, so in the spirit of fitness, we decided we would walk to get there. The walk, while getting us to our desired destination, would've given us an opportunity to see the city and get the exercise that I so desperately needed. Plus, I've been lost enough times in foreign cities to know that the best way to get to know a place is to get lost in it. If that really is true, then Maribeth and I were getting to know Panama City really well.

We took off from the hotel, map in hand and after making a couple of wrong turns, ended up on the exact street we needed to be on. We looked like complete losers, cargo pants, running tank tops and running shoes for me, Chaco sandals for Maribeth. I am embarrassed to admit I had anxiety about my outfit that day. I always try to dress cool on vacation because I know that there will be pictures taken, but because of the nature of the day's activities, there was no way that was possible on Day 213. So one of the things I'd never done before was to purposely dress like a dork.

For a while on our walk we were fine, walking by businesses and restaurants and bars. After taking a right at a busy intersection, the road widened significantly and soon we were walking down what is probably like the Panamanian equivalent of Peachtree Street in Atlanta. Heavy traffic, several stop lights, noisy, and full of smog. Not an ideal place to be walking, but we were fine because there was still a sidewalk.

I realize I've been somewhat coy about the numerous cat calls we had already received during the less than 48 hours we'd been in Panama, but I'm sure you can imagine that once we voluntarily put ourselves on this street, the sight of two American girls in workout gear was almost too much. I may have felt like a dork, but it was hard to feel too bad about my outfit considering all of the honks, yells and stares we illicited during our walk. Maribeth and I were a hit in Panama. There, I said it.

At some point, perhaps after darting across the street to walk under an interstate overpass, we wondered aloud if maybe we should've taken a cab. I shrugged my shoulders and admitted that yeah, this isn't the best street to pound the pavement on, but we're doing it, and we're closing in our destination. Plus, when I make a mistake, I like to commit to it. "Go big or go home," I always say. "I'm getting to this park on foot dammit, I refuse to take a cab." But there was no denying that while this map may have been accurate in showing us how to get where we wanted to go, it wasn't exactly forthcoming with the fact that these streets are not pedestrian friendly.

After making one of the last turns that would take us into the park and get us off Panama's Peachtree, we ran out of sidewalk completely. We kept going, though, and soon, Maribeth and I were straddling a drainage ditch, walking like morons one behind the other, completely unable to hear each other speak because cars were whizzing past us going at least 50 mph. We had to cross over this busy four-lane highway to keep going, and then we came to another overpass. Here, not only was there not a sidewalk, but there was no more grass for us to walk on either. We would've had to walk on the narrow shoulder of the road. And that is where we realized that our dream of making it to the park on foot was over.

Sweaty, dirty, and defeated, we hailed a cab and arrived at our destination, the park entrance, within five minutes.

We stumbled out, already exhausted from the walk over there. This is before any hiking had actually taken place. Maribeth and I milled about the park's welcome center, which showed little to no signs of human life. We stared at the maps on the wall and a model designed to look like the park when a small young woman came out of the back room.

We (I mean, I) tried to tell her what we wanted to do and she pointed out several trails on the map. The park asks for a $1 donation, which we paid, and then we signed our names on a sign-in sheet. I couldn't resist filling out our information and reminding Maribeth, and anyone else who signed into the park after us that Maribeth is now 30, while I am still a young 29. And then I took a picture of it. So mature.

The woman walked us to the back of the building, showed us our options as far as where we could go, and then the hike began.

I've admitted before that I feel like hiking is merely walking with gear purchased at REI, but if I was ever going to make the distinction between just walking and hiking, I would definitely make it here. The terrain wasn't necessarily challenging, but under the Central American heat, back in the rain forest, I wouldn't be giving myself and Maribeth enough credit if I said we just walked. We hiked.

There wasn't anything of particular significance that occurred on the hike, except our repeated run-ins with some of the hardest-working ants I've ever seen. I alerted Maribeth to the ants while we were hiking because she had sandals on and what a way to ruin your birthday but with a foot full of ant bites. But when I told her to look out for the ants, I had no idea that I'd be talking about thousands of them, all in a line, carrying leaves to their farm. Panamanian ants are efficient.
The hike was uphill to a lookout area where we could see the canal from one direction and the city from another. We agreed that the scenery we got to enjoy from so high up made all the pain we endured to get there worth it.

We snapped a few pictures of the view, quickly realizing that scenery shots were probably our best bet, considering we both looked like we were melting and, as I mentioned before, the super dorky outfits we were wearing.

We walked back down the hill/mountain, stopping briefly in an area where monkeys are often spotted, hoping that in honor of Maribeth's birthday, one would make an appearance. We even shouted "Monos!" but no monkeys came out to play.

Despite having already exercised more than we normally do, after reaching the base of the park, we opted to continue Maribeth's fitness birthday by renting bikes and riding them down the Panama City causeway.

The decision was a great one, with more great views of the ocean and the Panama City skyline. There isn't much to do along the causeway, so we just rode our bikes and enjoyed the nice breeze and another beautiful day. I'm not sure where the desire to get some exercise turned into "workout day," but we pushed ourselves on the bike ride and pedaled to the very end of the causeway, until the pathway ran out and we couldn't go any further.

Towards the end of the ride, I was both horrified and amused to find that among the local waterfront Panamanian eating establishments, Panama also has a Bennigan's. Of all the restaurants the United States has to offer, I do not understand why this one decided to make a home for itself in Panama, but I hoped to myself that their presence there hadn't paved the way for Chili's and Applebee's to follow suit. I can't understand why anyone would, when given the choice, would choose Bennigan's over the local cuisine, but maybe that's me. Maybe I'm a food snob.

We stopped for lunch (more ceviche, which is fish cooked in lemon and/or lime juice. The acidity cooks it. Pretty cool, right?) and a couple of drinks at one of the local establishments before heading back to the hotel to take a dip in the pool.

I didn't think of it then, but since I've been back I realized that we literally participated in our own Panamanian triathlon that day. We hiked, we biked, we swam. Maribeth was going to be participating in the Iron Girl mini triathalon, so this was good practice for her, I suppose. I had no doubt she would be fine in her event, because she treaded water for what seemed to be an eternity to me. I was impressed.

In the midst of our primping for dinner, the Panamanian sky fell out and it started to monsoon. Hard, sideways style rain that showed no signs of letting up. Hopeful that the rain wasn't an omen for Maribeth's thirties, we hailed a cab and headed to another restaurant recommended by Lonely Planet, Limoncillo's Pony Club. I don't know why this is the name of the place and every time I think about it, I think about the popular Atlanta strip club the Pink Pony. Regardless, the place garnered great reviews, so we went.

And once again, we got into the cab and got lost. Not because the place didn't exist, though. And not because Lonely Planet put the address from 2007 (I'd already made sure I got the right address from their website). More because the restaurant is situated on a small, less populated street in between two busier roads.

After almost giving up and trying to find something else, we found it. The restaurant was lovely and the food was delicious, but once again, we were the only ones in there for most of the time we were there. I don't necessarily need lots of people or a super happening place, but some more patrons for the staff to attend to would have been nice. I felt as though every sip of wine I took they were right there to fill me back up. Not their fault, and I'm sure they were just trying to be attentive, but I wished they had others to wait on.

After dinner, and singing Maribeth Happy Birthday and eating her surprise birthday dessert, we were full. But we were also ready to hit the town and show Panama that we (I mean, Maribeth) may be old, but we can still have a good time. Unfortunately, the rain was still coming down pretty hard, which put a slight damper on things. We pushed through, though. The restaurant called us a cab and we asked the cab driver to take us to a dance club Luis recommended.

When we arrived in the area of town, we saw that several clubs were open, but not the one that Luis told us about. I love that Latin American business owners choose when and if they will open based on the weather, or if they feel like it. I suspect the rain, or the fact that it was Wednesday, made this club owner decide to stay at home.

We asked the cab driver for a suggestion, and he drove us to a nearby Hookah lounge. Despite knowing that what happened next will completely disappoint my parents, what does a girl attempting 365 things she's never done before do in a Hookah lounge? She smokes hookah.

I've seen hookah bars before, but hadn't ever been in one. They're definitely not in high supply in Atlanta, and I haven't had any real desire to go to one.

We told the waiter that we were first-timers and had no idea what to do. He told us the pipe is pretty easy to use, just suck in like you're inhaling a cigarette and blow out.

Then he told us to choose a flavor. We chose grape.


How completely redneck of us.

"We'll take the grape-flavored hookah."

Oh, and by the way, what is hookah? I didn't ask that, but I should have.

I truly don’t know what I was smoking, which is not something I should be proud of, I realize. What exactly does it say about me that I was so willing to smoke whatever was put in front of me? But this stuff is legal, I'll have you know, so though I'm sure the fact that I was smoking at all will raise quite a few eyebrows, mostly from my own parents, I wasn't breaking any Panamanian or American laws.

Though fun to watch them carry what is essentially an enormous bong over to our table and set what looked like pieces of charcoal on top, I don't understand what the fuss is about hookah. It's fun to say (hoooooookah), but that's about it. Am I missing something? Should we not have chosen the grape?

After we left the Hookah lounge, we went in search of a dance club, which is completely uncharacteristic of both us despite both Maribeth and I both loving to dance. We're not exactly "club" type people. At all. I mean, I've lived in Atlanta for five years and I can count on one hand how many times I've been to a dance club and most of those times I went for a bachelorette party. Maribeth would likely say the same. She and I are more music venue, hole in the wall types of people. But still, we felt like a Latin dance club is something we had to see. Here was our chance to experience this culture. Plus it was Maribeth's birthday, so we refused to let one club being closed keep us from stepping out of our comfort zone. We walked down the street to an area that seemed a little bit more populated and walked into a club.

Instantly, I noticed that the place felt like a meat locker it was so cold. Plus the bouncer wanted to charge us $10 to stay. And everyone in the place was staring at us. The entire trip so far had been a playing out of the song, "Which one of these is not like the other?" for Maribeth and me, so I expected the stares. The temperature and the cover charge made this place less than appealing, though.

We moved on to another club, much like the last one, without the charge and without the freezing temperatures.

Maribeth and I walked in and again, endured more stares for several minutes. Following the stares, though, we were ignored for a good 20 minutes, so we stood talking to each other and taking turns going to the bathroom.

Finally, once we had returned from the bathroom, a short guy, whose name
I cannot remember, came up to talk to us. He admitted right away that his English wasn't that good, to which I responded, "Neither is our Spanish." I told him my name, and where we were from and what we were doing in Panama.

In this time, another guy, Carlos, had approached Maribeth and I could hear her tell him that it was her birthday and that tomorrow we were leaving for five days on the beach in Bocas del Toro.

The next thing we know, Carlos leaves to go to the bar and returns with an unopened bottle of Grey Goose vodka that he hands to Maribeth.

The next few minutes were a blur of Maribeth refusing the gift, then accepting the gift, then thanking Carlos profusely for the gift, then looking at me and then raising her eyebrows as if to say, "Score!"

I love Grey Goose, but was immediately concerned about the gift for several reasons: I was probably a little jealous that he gave it to her, and not me, but it was her birthday, so that's stupid. But I also wondered if there was something that Carlos was looking for in exchange for this generous gift.

I was right. Carlos wanted to dance.

I'm pretty sure he wanted to dance with Maribeth, and I think she obliged for a little bit.

And then she turned him over to me so he could take me for a spin out on the floor. Now, admittedly, and I realize this completely makes me a 29-year old woman, one of the first things that I noticed about Carlos was that he was wearing a wedding band.

I pointed at it and asked him, "Estas casado?" Are you married?

The next 10 minutes consisted of me trying to overcome our language barrier so that I could get to the bottom of Carlos' marital status. I had been impressed with my ability to communicate in Spanish up to that point, but understanding divorce, separation, and custody of two small girls in a language that is not my own is tricky and definitely not something that I was going to comprehend in a Panama City nightclub. I have trouble sorting through my own friends' divorce/custody troubles, So I tried to ignore the mental image of Carlos' possible wife that he claims to be separated from storming into the place and dragging me out by my hair to kick my ass and just live out the "Dancing with the Stars" fantasy.

I admit, dancing with Carlos was fun, at first. Carlos knew what he was doing and he was a good leader, so I felt comfortable. I felt like a good dancer too. But because of the nature of the dancing, and Carlos' strangely tight pants, it soon became very apparent how excited Carlos was to be dancing with me. Very apparent.

He kept spinning me around and every time I had an opportunity to look, I'd scan the crowd for Maribeth, despearate for her to come save me. I know that I had started the dance with a smile on my face, so she probably assumed I was having a good time, and for a while, I was. But I was ready for the dance to be over, and Maribeth was now nowhere to be found.

Is this what friends do for each other? I mean, it was her birthday, so I'm happy to take one for the team (as long as it's just dancing). But how, I wonder, did she get the bottle of liquor and I'm stuck dancing with this guy who may or may not be married, divorced, separated or a combination of all three, but seemed pretty willing to drag me into his Panamanian Soap Opera of a life the minute I said the word.

I escaped from Carlos' dance grip long enough to head to the bathroom, and eventually found Maribeth. We thanked Carlos for the Grey Goose and walked out to find a cab.

I emailed Mo and Justin the next day from Panama and said, "I danced the merengue with some dude named Carlos last night and he gave Maribeth and me a bottle of Grey Goose. Does that make me a hooker?"

"No," Mo said, "But it does qualify you for another entry in the 'Work Quotebook.'"

Awesome. I'm sure my mother will be proud.

Hiking, biking, swimming, and dancing. Quite an active Day 213.

1 comment:

  1. I don't get the big deal with hookah either... must just be getting to say hookah! Hookah! Hookah! HOOKAH!! yeah, that's fun.