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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Dos Chicas in Panama ...

After a couple of loooooong flights and boring layovers (is there any other kind?), we landed in Panama City, breezed through customs, and walked out into a Heat Wave! I had forgotten how hot it gets here! Alfonso, our sweet Panamanian driver, met us at the gates and quickly got us loaded in the car and rushed us through downtown Panama City to Albrook, a smaller airport on the other side of the city, so that we could catch our plane to David (pronounced Duh-veed). There has been a lot of construction on the roads since I was last here, and it would have been difficult for me to have navigated without his help. The city is a mass of old and new - sleek skyscrapers and slums, streets jammed with battered taxis held together with bailing wire and duct tape, the occasional gleaming Jaguar sedan cruising alongside a "devil bus" packed to capacity with everyday people, police and armed guards standing on street corners, and garbage everywhere. Everywhere. As my ex pat friends who live here year-round like to say, T.I.P. - "This Is Panama."

It is always a turbulent, bumpy flight from PC to David, and our plane ride was no exception. We were happy to finally get our feet on the ground. Tori and I were met at the airport by friends and once our luggage passed muster with the drug-sniffing dogs, we loaded up in the car and headed up the mountain to Boquete; we will drive up about 3000 feet above sea level. The road is winding, dirty, and rough, and not one you want to travel in the dark. Finally, we come around a corner and look down into the valley at the familiar sight of Alto Boquete - a mixture of shacks and cinderblock buildings with multi-colored tin roofs, and flat stucco houses with terracotta colored tile roofs. Another mile up the hill and we arrived at our destination, unloaded the car, and promptly crawled into bed.

Our first day was spent loading up on provisions for the week. Lucky for us, it was Tuesday, when the local farmers gather at the community center to sell organically grown produce, freshly baked bread, and goat cheese. There's also a book exchange for the ex pats and Kuna Indians selling colorful molas and intricate beadwork. It seems to be the place where everyone meets and greets and catches up on the previous week's gossip and happenings. It is a hub of intense activity in a small space - I love it! We load up on fresh vegetables and herbs, some rosemary bread, and molas, then head to the tiny little market stalls in town for a REAL SLICE of local life.

I stopped to take a picture of the elderly shoe repairman with no teeth as he worked away, bent over in his tiny closet, the worn and weathered shoes of the villagers stacked up alongside the building waiting for his attention. A week ago I was happily trying on shoes at Nordstrom's in Washington Square, classical piano music playing in the background. I am acutely aware of the stark contrast of where I was a few days ago and where I am now.

The stalls are full of produce and vegetables I'm unfamiliar with, sweet smelling pineapples artfully displayed, happy little Panamanian men bantering back and forth, and bananas and plantains hanging in bundles from the ceiling alongside freshly butchered pigs.

T.I.P. ... This Is Panama, and I am happy to be back.

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