After, what, five days in the company of Owe, I find it implausible, at best, that Irishmen were even the small fraction that they were in the small army that built the canal. If the English are half as adapted to heat, I think there’s a better explanation for the loss of their colonies than the political aftermath of the World Wars.
I do not say that unkindly, merely as a preface to the first thing I noticed about Panama: it’s hot, and muggy as fuck. We’re at the beginning of the rainy season now, which seems to mean it’s sunny all morning, just to get the air good and hot boxey, and then clouds roll in on a sinus scrunching low pressure system and loom and make everything gloomy, then it sprinkles. Next month, apparently, torrential downpours.
Now, being a good Baltimore girl, I am pretty good with heat. I even have all the commiserative platitudes- “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity…” “If only there were a breeze…” reflexively ingrained in me. Heat isn’t that hard to deal with, really. Here are the rules:
1. Learn, practice, live by the laws of Economy of Motion. Very important. Motion makes you hot. Don’t do too much of it.
2. Stay out of the air conditioning as much as possible. Going from hot to cold to hot to cold is just uncomfortable. Embrace the heat. Learn to live with it.
3. Likewise embrace the fact that you’re covered in sweat, and take comfort in the fact that everyone else is, too. Fresh sweat really doesn’t smell, but this IS a two shower a day climate.
And tips and tricks:
1. Keep a couple wet dishtowels in the fridge or (better) the freezer. As needed, wrap them around the back of your neck.
2. At night, take a (counterintuitively) hot shower and get into your jammies while you’re still wet. When you walk out of the bathroom you’ll be positively chilly.
3. Hair product turns to glue on your head. Use sparingly, even if the humidity is doing terrible things to your coif.
4. Cotton, cotton, cotton. Leave anything with a synthetic lining for evening wear, when it’s a little cooler.
Okay, so it’s hot. What else, Agent L?
Well, the food is actually kind of terrible. I’ve been told Panamanian food is better in the countryside, but pretty much everything I’ve had here is deep fried and bland. I was expecting food stuffs more like the South American and Mexican cuisines I’m familiar with, but no. Arapas are big- they’re basically papusas, but without anything in them, so… no fun, really. When we got them at a restaurant Owe got his smothered with what was basically chicken stew. I ordered pork belly, cause pork belly is super yum, but when it came it was crackling, dry, on a dry corn cake. Ta-da! I asked Owe to negotiate perhaps a sauce? Thinking there might be a nice salsa or something to add, whaddaya call it, MOISTURE. The waitress looked confused and brought ketchup. Since there was no water for sale in the restaurant, only tiny bottles of super sugary soda, I literally could not finish it. Plantains are also big, and after getting over the “MAN! I haven’t had plantains in YEARS!” thrill, I kinda went, “yeah. Plantains are super bland. And these don’t have nearly enough salt on them.” So- I’ll embark on a quest for food that tastes good. Stay tuned.
The third thing I noticed- Panama is actually expensive. I wasn’t expecting that. It’s Latin America- aren’t I supposed to be able to get a house for like, five dollars? As the days tick by without a firm job offer, and as Owe’s stay in this country, and thus my tenure in his apartment draws ever nearer to a close, I am getting really nervous. A room in a shared apartment looks like it’ll cost me about 300-500 US, which are US prices for Christ’s sake. At least in Baltimore. Food is reasonable- we left the super market with two meals’ worth of groceries for 16 US yesterday, restaurants are on par with American prices- dinner’s anywhere from 10-20, or 5-10 in one of the arapa places, beers run around 4 and a half to 9 for a pint… Jesus. I was NOT expecting that.
Rum, however. Rum is cheap.
Fourth- Panama, is, bless it, not a very pretty city. And why should it, be, really? It’s a port, with industry, and tourism is an afterthought. There are nice parks and lovely tropical flowers, and then blocky latinified soviet style apartment buildings, high rises, garish casinos, and strip malls.
Fifth, or perhaps actually first, Panama is really, really noisy. There’s construction, of course, with all its attendant fuss and clatter, but the traffic is SO LOUD. The whole time I’ve been writing this the longest I’ve gone without hearing a car horn is about eight and a half seconds. Drivers in Panama, sidenote, make drivers in Istanbul look fucking GERMAN. A fun game here is to try to find a car without body damage.
So- that’s Panama. I’m already kinda going, okay, what next?