Monday, May 30, 2011

Panama - Day 10

Well it was a SHORT night.  I slept okay, but I had to get up at 4am for a 4:30 taxi ride back to the international airport, clear across the city.  Miel, a 30 year old guy from China, decided to take me on a "shortcut" way to the airport.   Thinking I did NOT need a repeat of my experience in Cairo, I began questioning him when we turned down a dark one-way street, which was definitely NOT how I came to Casco Viejo from the airport.  It turns out his 'shortcut' was basically just down side roads the entire way - for 30 minutes.  It's not any shorter, but it is cheaper, avoiding the tolls on the hiway.  It only cost me $17 to get there, so I think I got ripped off coming in from the airport...  Miel spoke decent English, and thought it was super cool that I spent some time in China.  I was pretty tired and really just wanted to hang my head out the window and ignore him on the ride there, but he wouldn't quit talking and asking me questions...

I got to the airport right at 5am and had already checked in and made it through security by 5:15.  Siigghh...  Why do I still come to airports so early?!  I listened to music on my iPod and tried not to freeze to death for over an hour before we finally boarded the plane.  I sat on the opposite side of plane I did coming in, but we were flying the opposite direction, so I still didn't get any good pics of the city from the air.

Notice the time:  5:18am and I'm already sitting at my gate...

Half asleep - waiting to board the plane

It was a 1 hour, 45 minute flight to San Salvador, El Salvador.  First stop in El Salvador was the bathroom in the airport,and it was gross!  No seat on the toilet (not that I probably would have sat down anyways), and water (I hope it was just water) all over the floor. I walked around and looked at a couple stores in the airport...and saw these little figureines made out of clay and when you pick them up - like take the top off, underneath there was a black headed man and woman doing it, haha! All sorts of crazy positions and doing nasty things - I couldn't believe it!!  I have no idea what in the world they are or what the story is behind them, but they were hilarious! I stood there forever and looked under a ton of them, cracking up each time I saw a new position!!  So weird...  I got out my camera to take a picture but the girl working in the store told me no photographs. :(  So these are my only pics from El Salvador:

Down the way in the airport I saw some cool looking crosses and other items made out of a weird material. Turns out they were made out of gourd fruit - by local women - so I got a cool black one :) Didn't have long to wait after that to board my flight to Managua. Its only 8am here and I've already been in two countries. Not bad! ;)

I got the first row behind first class again - and a window seat! I've got some good luck with these airplane seats on this trip!  It was only a 1 hour flight from San Salvador back to Managua. There was literally ONE person in front of me in the immigration line in Nicaragua, TWO people in customs, and ZERO back out front to check in for my Continental flight back to the US.  By 10:30am, I'd already been in three countries! Two airports and one more country to go today before I'm home!

I walked around the airport awhile, called my mom (UPDATE:  that 30 minute phone call on a pay phone cost me NINETY TWO DOLLARS!!), ordered a ham and cheese sandwhich and carrot cake in Spanish for lunch...and am offically out of money! Good timing.  Just waiting for my 3 hour flight back to the US now...

The security guards went through every single persons carry on baggage before we could board the plane in Nicaragua.  It took forever, but its probably a good thing because the "security" check to get to the actual gates is a total joke. You can bring anything in - literally. I got a young cute guy to check my bag - who I don't think spoke very much English at all - but I kinda tried to flirt with him and smile real big anyways becauseI did NOT want him to start pulling everything single thing out of my backpack!! That would have been a disaster (and a smelly one at that)! Its already so full I had to sit on it to get it zipped and just prayed the zippers would all hold up! So he really looked it all over and felt it up and down for awhile - while I'm talking and smiling at him. He finally unzipped the top and kinda looked inside, took out the ziplock baggy on top full of my shower stuff, looked at it, put it back in and I helped him zip it back up. That was IT! I couldv'e easily got a knife or anything else dangerous in there I bet!

Anyways, the flight was pretty uneventful. I fell asleep for a little bit and missed the beginning of the $7 movie I paid for, which really made me mad.  Not necessarily because I really wanted to see the movie, but because I paid SEVEN DOLLARS for it!  We flew over Jamaica or Dominican Republic I think...and it looked amazing!

Landed in Houston around 4:30 and whizzed through immigration.  There is a shorter line for US Citizens who don't have checked baggage.  The entry card you have to fill out asked what the value was of things I purchased abroad and was bringing in to the US.  I put $50...I bought some jewelry and stuff and probably spent around that.  So the immigration guy saw that and asked what I bought - I said jewelry, and he said, "What kind of jewelry? Like diamonds?"  HA! I laughed and asked him if I look like the kind of girl who just bought diamonds?! I mean I look like a total trashy backpacker! I smell and I ran out of clean clothes days ago, so I've been wearing the same pair of pants for like 3 days now! He laughed and said he didn't know, so I showed him the cheap little bracelet I had on my wrist and said, "Ummm, no diamonds, just strings like this!"  He smiled and let me in. :)

I swear I walked for like 3 miles through Houston airport.  I was on the phone and must of missed the little tram thing that goes to the different terminals...and just kept walking and walking and walking...with my 50 pound backpack rubbing my sun burnt shoulders raw with every step.  Awesome. ;)

I haven't had much beef since I've ben gone, lots of chicken and fish and who knows what else, so I tried to get a chicken fried steak at Chile's - and they didn't have it!  You know how you get your heart set on one thing and are really craving it, and then get shot down!?  Yea, it sucked...  So I found a little bbq joint and got some bbq beef and potato salad and bread pudding - for FIFTEEN DOLLARS! Airport food is such a rip off!

I got some ice cream (and paid an extra like 50 cents or something for three shakes of rainbow sprinkles - another rip off) and didn't really have too much time to wait at my gate.  I boarded another teeny tiny plane for KC.  I mean it was so small we had to walk out on the runway and board the plane through little stairs pushed up against the side of the plane!

Pretty smooth almost 2 hour flight from Houston to KC.  Mom was waiting for me at the airpot, and cried and hugged me until I couldn't breathe, just like she always does when I get back from a foreign country. :)

So all in all, it was another successful, great trip.  I'm not really terribly excited to be going home - back to my materialistic world and all my "stuff" and job...but I AM looking forward to my big bed and some AIR CONDITIONING, which I informed mom to crank up before I got home! :)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Panama - Day 9

So, it turns out it is  REALLY LOUD in the city on Saturday nights - especially since there is no ac and the windows were open all night.  There were sirens and dogs barking and cats fighting and people yelling and loud music...  I kept my little bag (with my passport and money in it) on my bed right next to my pillow all night, and my other big backpack was on the floor but leaning right up against the bed on the other side of my pillow - just to be safe, in case any drunken partiers came in and decided to be ornery...   The "mattress" is super hard, like a thick piece of super hard foam or something.   Needless to say, I woke up lots last night (people coming in at all hours of the night) but I really slept okay and feel pretty rested, oddly enough.  Maybe it's just the adrenaline because I'm so excited for today!  I got up at when we alarm went off at 7am and went down to the kitchen to make two pancakes and sliced up a banana on them.  Best free breakfast ever. 

After I ate and checked my email again real quick to make sure there weren't any changes, I went downstairs and waited for Ayla to pick me up at 8am.  She pulled up in a big nice white van right on time and we were off!  Ayla is 26 yrs old, tall and thin with long blonde hair - from Louisiana, went to college at UCSB, came to Panama for the Peace Corps right after college and never left!  She is the absolute perfect guide, and it's just she and I - not a big touristy kind of thing at all (I try to avoid those...).  Ayla has been dating an Emberra man for 2.5 years, so she is like one of them!  She lived in the village off of iguana and rice for two years, and even conditioned her body to drink the river water! She's crazy - and basically dating Tarzan - and I love her! 

We drove for about an hour and stopped at super market to buy water, snacks, and fruit for lunch.  It was just like any other big supermarket, really.  Pretty nice and clean with normal stuff.  There were people all over out front, buying lottery tickets I guess.  Weird.  Ayla is practically famous down here (I'm only kind of kidding).  She wears the traditional Emberra skirt that the women wear, and people actually recognize her - they know she is "that American girl that married the Emberra man."  It's so fun to just walk behind her and watch all the people look and whisper about her.  One guy even came up to her and asked her if she was "that girl."  She said that is the one thing about living in Panama that she doesn't like - all the stares she gets, especially when she wears the Emberra skirt (which just looks like a colorful beach towel to me).

We were in the car for another 30 minutes or so and drove in to water shed for the canal (Chagres National Park).  There was an Emberra man waiting for us at the 'port', and we hopped in to a dug out canoe (like seriously, a big tree just dug out) with a motor attached to the back of it for our trip up river. 

The 'port' - not what I expected...

Like I said, it was about a 30 minute boat ride up the river to one of the Emberra villages.  It was a nice ride - beauitulf scenery, even though the water is WAY down because it is the end of the dry season here..  Along the way we saw two big crocodiles on the sand bars.  Ayla says they are the biggest ones she's ever seen out here! 

Crocodile #1

Crocodile #2

We pulled up to the village and hiked up the hill to walk around and check it out.  Neat little 'huts' built on stilts with thatch roofs - that all kind of looked alike.  It's so cool to see that people really still live like the always have.  And there were these crazy ants - BIG ants - carrying big leafs all over!  I mean BIG and I seriously ALL OVER! 

I really wanted to see the school in the village, so a nice lady (without a shirt on - yea, the women don't normally wear anything on top) showed us up to it:  a tiny two-room building with some desks in it, but unlike the other houses in the village.

 We walked around the village some more (there were probably 20 or 30 huts/families there) and saw a chocolate tree and lots of other plants.  We got back on the boat (I had a nice view of a guy's butt during the ride) for another 20 minute boat ride further up river.  We docked (or really just drove the boat up on to the shore) in sinking sand and took off for a 20 minute hike to a waterfall and swimming hole.  It was so peacful and beautiful, and we crossed the river sevearl times, as well as walked aross a ridiculously put together 'bridge.' 

Of course I had to climb up the rocks and jump in to the waterhole - even though Ayla said she technically couldn't let me do that (or take pictures).  That's probably the craziest thing I've done on this whole trip, and it wasn't even crazy!  I guess it could have been because I really had no idea how deep the water was, but it looked deep enough so I went for it, and my feet never hit bottom!  The water was COLD.  A lot colder than I thought it would be, but it was hot out and I was sweaty from the hike, so it felt pretty good.  Ayla and I swam for awhile, and I tried to climb up the waterfall, to no avail.  We eventually layed out to dry off some and then hiked back to the boat. 

Getting ready to jump!

the "bridge" we had to cross
As we were trying to get in the boat (while holding my camera and shoes and bag and walking through the quick sand!) I dropped my t-shirt in the river, but got it before it floated off.  Since I had originally jumped in the river in my tanktop, I now had TWO wet tops and couldn't wear either one of them.  Oh well, didn't matter, because my swim suit top covered me up more than what the women in the village had on (they've learned that when white people come to the village, they need to cover up)!


 When we got back to the village, lunch was a leaf!  Just some chicken ad plantains, I think.  But yea, they had the coolest little leaf thing for us to eat out of!  Ingenious!  

The Emberra's put on a little performance for us, so as we ate, we listened to their local music as they did traditional dance.   Then they showed us  how they weave baskets and where the dye comes from - I wish I remembered all of it - but it was SO cool, so of course I bought one!  I also bought a boat carved out of cocobolo wood to remember my trip in the wooden canoe up the river!  I forgot to get a picture of it with the guy who made it... :(

The one I bought is the third one from the left.

While we were sitting there listening, the cutest little boy came up and sat underneath me basically.  I was sitting up on a wooden bench, eating my Pringles, and I think he came up because he wanted some.  So of course I started feeding him!  First I just gave him one, and he LOVED it, so I started giving him three or four at a time.  I sure hope he didn't get sick off all those!  We weren't really there all that long after that, and it was time to say good bye!  After a couple pictures with the short little women (who had put tops on for us - although I saw plenty that didn't have anything on), we took the boat back to the port/van.

On the drive back to the city, I really wanted my wet tank-top and shirt to dry out so i could wear them, so rolled down the window a little ways, hung my t-shirt out there and rulled it up in window.  No problem - it would be dry in the couple hours it was going to take us to get back to the city.  A little later on, I noticed a bug with a stinger on it flying around me and by my window.  Ayla said to roll down the window to get it out, because it she didn't want it to sting me (or her).  So...yea, my shirt was GONE.  I rolled the window down and got the bug out, but forgot about my t-shirt hanging there!  We were driving down the hiway at that point, so it was long gone - fast.  (UPDATE:  Ayla emailed me a week later and said she saw my t-shirt on the side of the hiway!)   

When we got back to Panama City, Ayla and I went to Albrook Mall to meet her Emberra boyfriend, Celiano.   Since I was still shirtless, we went in to the first store we could and I bought an Ed Hardy tshirt for $5.  I don't even know who Ed Hardy is??  Albrook Mall is a fancy HUGE mall.  I'm dirty and wet and look like crap... Good thing I don't have to worry about seeing anyone I know!  

We got super good ice cream with Celiano - who hardly spoke any English - and talked/walked around the mall for a little while.  it really is a BIG mall, probably the biggest one I've been to outside  The Mall of America, and there ar some really fancy stores here!  Ayla and Celiano eventually left, and I stayed there and shopped for a long time - and only ended up with an "I Love Panama" sleep tanktop for $1.99.  I tried lots of clothes on, but I'm too big for the clothes down here, seriously!  These people are tiny! 

I got a subway sandwhich at the mall and caught a decied to catch a taxi back to the hostel.  The big bus stop for Panama City is right next to the mall (not very safe I guess), and it was dark out, so I was proud of myself for getting a taxi rigth away AND doing it all in Spanish!  The taxi driver didn't speak ANY English, but he had good latino dance music playing, so I hopped in the front seat and rolled my window down - cruising through the city lights was AWESOME - AND he only charged me $2 - which we agreed upon before I got in, but still, that's a GOOD deal for a white girl! It was a great ending to a great day!

I checked my email back at the hostel and decided I should probably take a shower after that day.  It was ice cold, and I'm glad its the only shower I'll be taking in Panama!  The tops of my knees and my shoulders/back are kinda burnt, but not too bad really.   I'm all packed up for travel home tomorrow!