Posts Tagged ‘Panama’

Later that day (on Saturday), Ty and I went for a taco — not a particularly common item here.  The hole-in-the-wall taco place wasn’t serving tacos that day, though, so we settled for the only thing they offered us — roasted chicken with rice, beans and salad, a bit of a staple meal.  The hot sauce was really good and served in unlabeled flasks — homemade, but she wouldn’t sell me any (argh!).  There was a TV on in this particular hole-in-the-wall, and we caught glimpses of other Carnivalés going on in Panama — one in Panama City, one in a place called Las Tablas that even had a huge gay pride parade going on, etc.  They were, in a word, huge… much more like what you’d see from Rio, just thousands and thousands of people… traffic backed up for miles, big parade-like floats, things like that.  We determined that we were at more of a block party than a Carnivalé, at least compared to what we were seeing.  Screw you, television.

Still, it was a great night.  We grabbed a bottle of Flor de Caña and some limes

and got in the spirit.  Later on, there was a sort of parade of drum troupes, very Caribbean, not a djembe in sight, with dancers up front doing choreographed marches down the street.  Most of the drums were mounted to these awesome home-made contraptions of bamboo and twine that were impressively well constructed, so that the whole troupe’s rig could be dragged down the street by people in front of the drummers.  The guy next to me explained that the last troupe to roll through was from Bastimentos, the island next door to us, where we had hit up a beach earlier (Red Frog beach — probably the most pristine beach I’ve ever seen) but had not yet spent much time exploring.  The troupe was great, with a lot more of an afro-beat vibe than the previous ones.  We wandered around for a few hours, seein’ the sights and dancing about in the street…

The next morning, though, as we woke to the same blaring, 130bpm auto-tuned dancehall (auto-tune needs to die.  Seriously.), we were pretty ready to find someplace different, somewhere nice and quiet.  Bastimentos?  Sure.  Whatever.  We hopped in a water taxi around noon, and started wandering around a village (I am, as I write this, still rather ignorant on the specifics of this island).  I was in kind of a bitchy mood that morning due to several failures I suffered before we left Isla Colón — I was behind on correspondence and writing, struggling over whether to buy a ticket back to Asia for the near future or go home and get a job, I still hadn’t bought any damn hot sauce, and I was on an empty stomach filled mostly with whatever is left over after a night of rum, dancing and meat-on-a-stick (let’s be fair – my diet here has been – ahem – somewhat atrocious).  Ever travel with someone in a bitchy mood?  Someone who is on-edge and not good with dealing with curve-balls?  It totally sucks, and I hate them.  I was that dude today.
The vibe here was just completely opposite; there are no roads, just a pathway a bit larger than 2 bike lanes.  No motors except for the boats.  They don’t speak Spanish here either; it’s a Caribbean tongue I think was called ‘wally wally” (I am certain I’m not spelling or even pronouncing this right but can’t find any info online about it).  Overall it was totally soothing and awesome, but I was too busy bein’ a dick.  We found a restaurant, sat down and ordered — one mixed seafood plate and a large pizza.  She wouldn’t make me eggs, bacon and toast, despite the fact that there was a “Bacon Egg Lettuce Tomato Sandwich” on the menu, and for a moment I thought about going all Five Easy Pieces on her ass, but hey, veggie pizza sounds good too.  I inexplicably get a beer (stuff is pretty much water here anyway).  45 minutes pass. “Soon”, says the waitress at our perturbed expressions as she asks if we’d like another drink.  We start joking around, “Maybe they have to go catch the fish first!”  “Perhaps they’re getting the pizza from another island?”  Good humored, we are, my mood is improving with the promise of sustenance, despite the delay.  Another 45 minutes pass, during which several tables that arrived after us had come and gone.  It’s no longer funny.  Near the 2 hour mark we get up to leave.
“Where you going?  Pizza is in the oven…”
Oh well shit, if it only took 2 hours to get to the oven I guess I’ll stay!
“How much longer?”
“20 minutes.” (ever work in a pizza kitchen?)

“Umm, no.  Wrong answer.  Bye.”

She comped our drinks (which was honestly pretty nice of her) and we walked.

I was that dude.  Me.  Asshole with a broken stomach and nerves of glass, no semblance of a relationship with the peaceful surroundings, undeserved aire of urgency.  I hate this me.

We walked into the next restaurant we saw, also on the water, a one-man place called Roots. Ty asked how long to get food (generally not a good introduction) and he shrugged with a half-puzzled, half-pissed look on his face: “quick.”  Good enough.  We ordered; in 2 minutes we had drinks, in 3 minutes we had silver and hot sauce, in 4 minutes we had food.  You can probably guess what it was: chicken, rice, beans and salad.  I considered getting seconds.  Oh yeah, the hot sauce was GREAT!  “Where can I buy this!?”, I ask, after we give him cliff notes on our 2-hour wait (“2 hours?  Shit man…”)

“I make it sometimes.  You here a couple days?”
“Nah, just tonight I think…”
He makes a gesture, not even a gesture really, just a mild, squinting facial expression, whilst looking away, with this little click to his lips, that says all it needs to.  I start scheming for a way to get him to sell me a bottle, even half a bottle.  I walk up to pay.
“Can I buy a bottle of this?”  There are maybe 6-8 mostly full bottles behind him, they’re so close, I can almost reach them…
“I no have no more.”
“I’ll give you $5.  Even for a half bottle.”  (the meal was $4)
“I say I no have no more” is what his mouth said, but his eyes said “What the fuck is wrong with you?  It’s hot sauce.  Get over it.”
a swing and a miss… I’m batting .000 on this whole hot-sauce thing, and while it’s not like it’s, ya know, important… well, I don’t like admitting defeat.  When I’m working on a bike or a car or a computer or a faucet or whatever, defeat is unacceptable.  Not gonna happen.  I will wrestle your bike for a day to get that fucking bottom bracket out.  I’ll fight your computer for 15 hours, after quoting you $20, out of principle.  I have spent literally days working out the 6 corroded, half-stripped reverse-torx headed bolts that connect an E36’s drive shaft to it’s differential (it was worth it).  I once owned a ’68 Rambler, and that shit will teach you the limits of not giving up — it was a good hour or so a day to keep that god-awful 232 running.  I ain’t about to lose to a damn thing.  I think it might be a matter of principle seeping into desire…  oh, the agony of not getting any hot sauce!
We found a place to stay, on the water, in a guesthouse run by a man named “the Jaguar” — a totally great character with a smile seemingly permanently mounted to his jaw.  He was alot of fun — a little while after arriving, he said “I’ll play you a song!” and went and fetched his keyboard and amp.  After warming up for a bit, he disappeared for a second, returned with a nail and a rock, and pounded it in to the deck below his table so that it protruded about 5 inches.  This puzzled me, until he grabbed some PVC piping and a 90 degree elbow, and fashioned himself a mic stand through a hole in the table, ‘anchoring’ itself on the nail, with a gateway for the mic cable crudely cut into the top section.  Such ingenuity!  I guess I would have been more impressed with bamboo and bike spokes (you can do ANYTHING with a spoke) but it was pretty nifty nonetheless…
He started to play.  The song was an original Jaguar, and as far as I can tell, it was about finding a woman to bear his mother a grandchild.  I can’t explain why — maybe it was just the contrast to the music on Bocas — but it was just fuckin’ great.  At least, until the power went out on the whole island, cutting the song a bit short.  “A Capella!  A Capella!” yelled Ellie… but he wasn’t going for it.  He explained that he wrote it for his brother.  “He no have no wife”, he said.  So, it’s a first-person narrative written third-person then convincingly sung first-person.  Makes sense I guess.
We spent the rest of the day chilling.  Played some rummy 500, drank some Old Milwaukee out of ironic novelty (hey look, I’m a hipster! LOOKATMEDAMNIT!) and smoked too many cigs.  Then crashed early for the next day of traversing the region: the goal was Bastimentos -> water taxi to Isla Colón -> water taxi to Almirante -> taxi to Changuinola -> bus to the boarder -> hop back on bus in Sixola -> 6 hour bus to San Jose… and that was day one of two…

keep on keepin’ on, and don’t be a dick about it….

dip, dip, dive
so-so-cialize
clean out ya ears 
open ya eyes
~MC Quincy, as transcribed by the RZA

Hola de Bocas del Toros,

Things I see as I sit on this terrace, overlooking Carnivale on Isla Colon in Bocas:  smiles.   bikes of various styles, mostly with flashy rattle-can paint jobs and home-made racks or surfboard carriers hanging off the back or side. bald tires.  street food that is unconditionally delicious, sold by cart or bicycle: meat on a stick.  empanadas.  milensa pollo sandwiches.  2 year old kids who can dance better than most white people.  skateboards.  lots of beautiful, happy people.  braids, dreads, naps, fades.  speakers and PAs cranked so loud that the amps fade and crackle on the peaks (this is the normal volume setting here, no matter the crowd or music played).  a big-rig tanker, with ‘INFLAMABLE’ painted on every side of the tank, spraying a crowd of 70 or so dancing people with (what I hope is) water.  hips, ohgodlookatallthehips!  talking, laughing, dancing, drinking, eating.  the occasional cat-call, sometimes though the PA.  convenience stores with stacks, huge stacks as tall as me, of cases of beer, and Red Bull, and fifths of booze vac-sealed with quarts of juice, half-obstructing every single aisle.  whole families, little kids wrastlin’ on the grass, lots of kids overall.  smiles.
From what I’ve gathered from the locals (so friendly, and patient with communication), there’s a Carnivale in four or five cities in Panama (the biggest being Panama City, of course) but this one is a destination for alot of the Northern Panamanians  because… well, it’s on an island (a bit of a party island anyway), and it’s pretty cheap to get to.  I guess in East Madison we’re quite spoiled; we get a block party pretty much every two weeks for the whole summer… you can tell it’s pretty condensed into Carnivale; it lasts 5 days or so, and hoy es Sabado — the main event…. the music on the street went till 2am or so last night (try THAT shit in Madison) and started back up around 10am… but the clubs rocked till 6am.  I got up with the music (our hotel is about 110 yards from the main stage — guess which way the speakers are pointed?) and right now it’s 4:03pm, and the crowd is really getting going.  The stage mixes back and forth, from live Mambo, Caribbean and Roots bands, to these DJs who must have either ADD or good drugs, ’cause there’s a cut every minute or two, and nothing is under 120bpm.  It’s pretty fun.  It’s nowhere near Rio, or even other cities in Panama, but it’s got a good vibe….
Maybe the most foreign thing about being down in all this is that it’s not really foreign at all…

heads bumpin’ back, thinkin’ bout shit; yeah I like it…..
Every place on the water here (bars, clubs, hotels, everything) in literally ON the water — constructed on stilts, or maybe even just floating there.  You’ll look down while taking a shower in your hostel and realize that you can see the damn ocean though the drain… which is a hell of a lot more ocean than I’m used to seeing through my shower’s drain, so maybe the novelty just hasn’t worn off yet.  There’s a bar we were at last night till 3am or so called Barco Hundido (a bit of a play on words) where as you walk in, you cross a series of bridges and paths to the main bar area, which is built on a solid platform over the water.  That then opens up to a little ‘lagoon’ in the water where there’s a sunken ship.  More pier-like structures and raft-type platforms link around the ship and a ways past it to make a seating area.  I dunno if this is even legal in the US, but it is SO frickin’ cool…. by the end of the platforms, you’re a good 40 or so feet off the shore, and it’s lit thoughtfully enough that you can see alot of fish and such (a sweet sign in the lagoon part reads: “SWIM at your OWN RISK!  everything CUT you!”)
The zoning laws are probably pretty great here… we were chatting with a bar/restaurant owner yesterday who said he got the lot we were standing on “because no one wanted it; they thought it was too small.  I could only build to here,” and he slaps his hand on the bar in front of me (I’m sitting on the front porch, which is about as big as the bar itself) “but I figured I could build a porch to the street, and shit, most people sit on the porch anyway.”  I gave him a somewhat puzzled look; like, isn’t the porch technically “building”?  Or part of the building?  He smiled and nodded with a sort of half-shake to his head… George has a PhD and worked for years for the Smithsonian, doing archeological research around Central America (born in Calgary, did his post-doctorate at KU Lawrence).  He was wearing a dirty apron and a GnR bandanna, and during our chat he was re-summoned to the kitchen to cook hamburgers and falafel.  He seemed really happy.  A few minutes later he ran back to where I was sitting and reached under the bar in front of me.  “Forgot my beer!”  Then he ran back to the kitchen, cerveza en mano.  
I could write whole essays on how what I’ve seen in other countries makes me laugh and cry with the kind of regulation and bullshit small business owners go though in the states… although it probably belongs nowhere near this particular transmission.  You know what that meat-on-a-stick guy does with my $1.50?  He feeds his family.  Maybe puts some of it away.  Or to put it even less eloquently than I would, as Ray Smuckles once said, People want to eat some fuckin’ dinner and have some fuckin’ money! What the fuck do you THINK gettin’ up in the morning is all about?
Oh yeah, George made a really good plate of falafel.
hasta luego…