Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Panama City, Day 2

Panama City skyline

Awoke early, 5:30 or so, but fell back to sleep until 8:00. A bit depressed this morning. I've been running on a moving kind of energy, with little emotion. You need the emotional (and intellectual) energy present to connect with people and places. Without it, you merely move through a backdrop, quite insulated from fresh experiences.

I knew I needed to get into motion to pull the energy away from the negative state. There were a number of things I wanted to do today: inquire at the Colombian Embassy about shipping my bike there, get a haircut (no laughing), wash the bike, get some fresher-looking clothes, see some sights.

As usual, it took an hour to find the Embassy, in the "World Trade Center" building, but there I was told the Colombian Consular's office was the appropriate authority to assist. At the Consular's, a young man, on his way out to lunch, told me there was nothing he could do to help, but gave me a phone number to call in Colombia for assistance.

Downstairs from the Consule, I found "Cafe Ruiz" coffee bar, serving the coffee of this Boquete, Panama producer. Apparently, it's Panama's finest coffee-growing region. The shopkeeper, Iris, whipped up a really good double cappuccino. Talked with her for quite a while about the Boquete area, where she has lived. I understood about 10% of what she said. The Spanish here sounds very different than in Mexico, less enunciated, spoken even more rapidly, it seems.

Found a motorcycle shop and picked up a quart of 20W50 oil. Asked about getting my bike washed. At first, the young clerk said I could do it right in back of the shop, then an older gentleman came over and whispered something. It's clear he didn't want me doing it there. So the young fellow told me I'd find a car wash down the street.

The only thing is, I had no idea what a car wash here would look like. Probably not like home. In fact, I drove past, before realizing I had missed it, enclosed by fences and a metal gate.

Drove back along the curb, against the heavy traffic. (Anything goes here.) They let me into the yard, which was a combination detailing-carwash-repair-sound system shop, but it looked like a junkyard as well.

I asked the price to have my bike washed. $3.00. "Okay." Four men proceeded to wash it with buckets of soapy water, old sponges, and low pressure waterlines. With regularity, they "accidentally" squirted one another.

After a while, the team dwindled to two, but they worked nearly half an hour. I went to pay and the cashier said it was $2.10. "Are you sure?" "Yes." I asked if it was all right to tip the workers. She said $1 would be sufficient. I handed out $4 before leaving, and had to actually tell them to stop polishing.

Went to the "Multi Plaza" mall, next to the "Courtyard by Marriott", which I stopped at last night. The upscale mall is owned by El Salvador-based "Grupo Roble", the largest development group in Central America and the Caribbean. Here you see some of the same shops you would find in Beverly Hills. Quite a contrast to the poverty all around in this city.

About 50% of the shops were closed for a two-day religious holiday. I was feeling pretty "grubby" and wanted to get a haircut and get some fresh clothes. The only salon wanted $20, which seems exorbitant for Panama. Instead, I diverted my attention to the "Crepes y Waffles" restaurant, just my kind of place. For $3.50, I enjoyed a Belgian waffle topped with strawberries, two scoops of gelato and whipped cream. ("Let them eat waffles!")

Took a ride into Casco Antiguo, the old city also known as San Felipe, much of it a barrio teaming with people. Riding slowly down the narrow streets, I know this gringo on a new BMW was an odd sight for these people.

Next, a ride out the Amador causeway to the islands of Naos and Perico with their upscale resorts and yacht harbors. The causeway is a park-like setting, popular with joggers, bicyclists and people out for a leisurely drive. Quite a contrast to the nearby barrios.

I had to make another run back and forth across the "Puente de Las Americas" and the Panama Canal one more time before returning to the city. I stumbled onto the "Rey" supermarket and decided to buy some groceries. At their nice deli, picked up some excellent ham, cheese and a baguette to take back to the hotel.

Tonight I indulged in a bit of reminiscence, listening to music online, at least what I was able to track down for free: some Calexico, Neko Case, Sigur Ros, Daniel Lanois, Jason Mraz, My Morning Jacket and others. Up late, working on notes, eating my sandwich, drinking (and spilling) soda, munching Panamanian yucca chips.

Looking south across Panama Bay, ships on the horizon waiting to enter the canal (out of view to the right)

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