Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Panama City - First Impressions

We're here!
I went to bed on Tuesday at about 8:30 p.m. and actually got almost, solid four hours of sleep. I had the alarm set for 12:30, but woke a few minutes early. We were already packed. I had everything stowed in a backpack, since we were headed for the tropics, and it was only for a week. We pulled out of the driveway right on time at 1:00 a.m.

It rained the whole 120 miles from Richmond to the Dulles Airport west of Washington, D.C. The Copa Airlines ticket counter was open when we entered the terminal, but we had to wait until 4:00 a.m. for the security inspection, so we got bagels at the only food concession open.
The sky was still pitch dark as we cleared the runway at 5:38, and the city lights disappeared immediately in the low, wet overcast. With the cabin lights out it was easy to drift off into the uneasy dozing that masquerades as sleep on an airplane. Somewhere, sometime later, breakfast was announced in Spanish, and we practiced the preying-mantis contortions necessary to cut pieces of food on a miniscule tray without knocking the bite of egg omlette off the fork of the person beside you. High rise buildings admired their own reflections in the waters of Miami Beach as we flew by.
More dozing.....half-watching the featured movie Julia and Julie, and playing with the channels to see how well the audio wizards were able to synchronize English lip movements with Spanish dubbing. Down through the hidden bumps and dips of low-hanging clouds, and onto the runway in Panama City 45 minutes early.

The cab Lynne arranged was waiting for us, and it was about a 20 minute drive into the city. What a big city it is! There are literally hundreds of very tall, very narrow high rise buildings, with construction cranes all over the place putting up more. We are on the 33rd floor of a high-rise condo with spectacular vistas sloping up gently to the hills behind the city a few kilometers away, and the shoreline of Bahia de Panama. The bay is really nothing more than a slight curved indentation on the Pacific shoreline, and the mud-flat bottom slopes out at such a shallow angle that at low tide the water recedes a quarter to a half mile!
After getting settled we walked about three quarters of a mile to a shopping mall that makes any large mall that I've seen previously look puny by comparison! This mall was easily twice the surface area of any I've seen before, and three stories high. We found the food court and had lunch, then wandered several levels before we found the supermercado (Super Market), where we picked up bread, milk, bananas, and a half papaya. Half a papaya may seem silly until I mention that half of this fruit was a good five inches from center-slice to rind, and about 20 inches long, by far the largest I have ever seen. It will let us eat papaya with lime juice every morning for several days!

The contrasts here are interesting. It is as if some mischief-maker took a giant stick and stirred and swirled opulent high rise buildings, abandoned factories, modest homes, small old apartment buildings, empty blocks where buildings have been or are being demolished, and tiny one-room tin-roofed houses until they were thoroughly mixed, then sprinkled all with various open-windowed schools throughout for a garnish, the drone of student recitation competing with the constant roar of traffic, horns blaring long blasts to express driver frustration at the congestion.
I need a nap! More later!

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