Costa Rica is a nation of hippies compared to Panama. The contrast is hysterical. Where Costa Rica prides itself on literacy, conservation, being a non-military state, and wresting power from the United Fruit Company, Panama boasts mostly about how goddamn awesome the nation is for its Canal. The country backs up its bragging with the Canal pulling in $4 million dollars on a bad day and averaging $7 million a day. And let’s face it. How many people make it their business to lift boats over mountains? Watching a ship move through a lock is remarkable. Even the sight at the port in Colon, Panama was pretty awesome with dozens of vessels waiting in line in order to cut 21 days off their journey to the Pacific.
Panama gets 10 feet of rain annually. The rainy season lasts nine months. And we were there for rainy season. We boarded a bus at the port and entered the bustling city of Colon. THERE ARE NO TRAFFIC LIGHTS IN THIS MAJOR CITY!!! Yes, I was terrified, and my terror was exacerbated by the tour guide explaining the rules of the road:
You have the right of way if you don’t make eye contact with other drivers. You lose the right of way once you make eye contact.”
He wasn’t kidding. It’s exactly how our driver maneuvered through traffic.
The driver and tour guides (all sporting perma-smirk) regarded fear in passenger faces as pretty fucking funny. While we all saw our lives flash before our eyes and tried not to pee ourselves, the guide touted the machismo of Teddy Roosevelt, the genius of the canal, the contentious to cozy relationship between America and Panama, then he mocked imprisoned drug monkey Manuel Noriega, and scoffed at the country’s new interstate which has no exit ramp for 45 miles. There was a familiarity to the cockiness that I couldn’t quite place. As we passed an affluent subdivision one of the guides said, “You can see these beautiful homes on the left. We believe in freedom of religion in Panama; so, the Jews, Arabs, and Hindus make the other half of the money in our country. They live there and own the banks.” Then it hit me! Panamanians are assholes! Like Americans. I say that because I was wishing in retaliation I had a t-shirt that said “Super Jew” with a sparkly Star of David to flash in the guy’s face.
Just to lend more weight to my asshole theory, the guide mentioned the crocodiles, caiman, and snakes we might see while we kayaked…which scared the hell out of the lady sitting next to me. I whispered, “He’s teasing us.” This same lady later asked if the water level was higher on the Pacific side than the Caribbean side. The guide said, “Both bodies of water are called ‘sea level’.”
I took a picture of this ship, the Picton Castle, simply because it’s beautiful. Can you believe I just found the Captain’s log online? This is the vessel’s 5th voyage around the world…small world.
Something was obviously wrong with my camera. My nose is not that big. Alexa got her tiny cheerleader nose from her Scandinavian grandma…thank God! Kayaking was listed as a 3 out of possible 4 for strenuous activity. That’s a dirty lie. It was a total cakewalk.
You can see pictures of the monkey I shot in my Central American Critters story, but I thought I’d show you this: a big nasty bag of termites in the canopy of the Panamanian rain forest. Ewwww.
Funny story. My glasses reside now at the bottom of the Caribbean Sea. They blew off my face while I was leaning on a railing and looking out at the water. (Note to self: eye doctor appointment.) I took a photo of this disgusting sack of grossness thinking it was the howler monkey. But no. It’s a bag of filthy termites. I’m shooting from at least 300 feet away. This is like one of those moments where something stinks, and you’re all, “Ewwww, smell this!” to your friend. So just savor the ickiness with me.
We were returning to dock the kayaks, and the guide claimed he saw a baby crocodile dive under a patch of lily pads. Alexa and I rushed right up behind him to look but the other kayakers stroked furiously toward the dock. So, I’m a little skeptical. I think he was trying to keep us on schedule with Panamanian flare. 🙂