El viaje hogar
Because I had spent the day taking pictures of the neighborhood, I had lost the morning and a good portion of the afternoon. I spent the rest of it on the phone with the bank trying to figure out what happened and with family trying to get some more cash funneled into my account. By the time I was off the phone, it was dark out and banks local and stateside were all but closed.
I still was unsure if my card could work, so I went in search someplace that took credit. Luckily my search was short lived as I found a little café right next to the hostel that took my card and charged the card with no problems. NICE – I’m back in business. I ordered a wrap and a well deserved beer and started to reorganize my plans for the time I had left in Panama. Coincidentally, the stop in Paso Canoas hadn’t actually deterred my plans much. If I got up early, fixed everything with bank and was able to pull out some cash, I could still make a trip out to the Panama Canal and visit the the three book stores I had an eye on. With my bus not leaving till 11 PM the following night, I could still even head out to a little island right off the mainland for a beach day before I headed back to Costa Rica – perfect. As I was finishing up my reorganization, my Kiwi friends and a kid I had yet to meet rolled up and asked to have a seat with me and a beer. I made some room on the table for them and we got to talking about how our day went. It was decided unanimously that I had possibly the worst luck out of anyone they knew. Despite the ill luck that had befallen me, I was determined to turn it all around, so when I was asked if I wanted to go to the hostel happy hour (with 50¢ beers) I accepted without another thought. Surprisingly enough, it was a very calm and relaxing night; the beers were flowing freely but we found ourselves simply talking and comparing travel stories. We definitely goofed around a bit though. I found a container of cinnamon at the bar and introduced the Cinnamon Challenge to Panama. I tried to get the bartenders to get in on the action, but after seeing some of the reactions my new friends had to it, they politely and eagerly declined. After happy hour, we move out to the veranda to continue drinking and talking. The time seemed to fly and before I knew it, it was 2 AM and the bar was closing.
That night, I dreamed of swimming in the Panama Canal. I watched freighters as large as skyscrapers pass me, the waves they created rocking me gently further ad further down the canal. Then the biggest freight ship I had yet to see came my way. It was aptly named the Titan and was obvious to see why. This thing was a behemoth, carrying two freighters side by side on its deck. How it fit in the canal is a wonder to me. It was so big it seemed to create a vortex, displacing so much water that it was sucking water in from further up the canal. As strong a swimmer as I am, I found myself being sucked in closer and closer to the Titan. I swam and swam as hard as I could, but couldn’t seem to escape; and then the Titan was upon me. I looked up and felt like an ant about to be crushed by someone’s unknowing foot. I braced for the impact.
I woke with a start, and even though it was just a dream, it definitely didn’t feel like it. My head felt like it had actually been pounded in by the Titan. I checked my phone and lucky me, it was already 1 PM. How did I sleep so long???I remembered leaving the bar at 2 – wait – how big was my tab? God, I hope I didn’t blow through my meager remains of the cash I had. I fumble through my pants pockets on the ground and find a receipt from last night. I actually laugh out loud - $5. I spent $5 at the bar and had how many beers – that I wasn’t sure of. That still doesn’t explain why I slept so long though, I slept for almost 12 hours. Then I start to remember bits and pieces after the bar; we went out to find food and came across a street vendor a little ways from the hostel. It was me, the kid I had met earlier that night, Josef, and his tall blonde haired, blue eyed Scandanavian friend. Josef ordered food myself and I, while his gargantuan friend declined. Josef and I started eating while chatting up the ladies on how they made their food. About 10 minutes into our convo, I notice that Ivan Drago (Josef’s gargantuan friend) was near us. It takes me all of 2 seconds to find him in the comparably tiny sea of Panamanians. He’s surrounded by about 10 or 12 men and women alike, all speaking loudly to him in Spanish. He’s visibly uncomfortable since he knows little of the language himself and his new entourage was creeping closer and closer to him. I started to notice that we were being eyed hungrily by others in the area and point this out to the oblivious Josef. We exchange a look that says, “yup, time to leave.” I motion to Ivan, and yell, “OYE, IVAN! Diga adios y vaminos!” The crowd seems to understand I’m speaking to him and parts. Ivan looks at me very confused and I remember he can’t understand me, “Dude! Let’s get the hell outta here!” Realization comes across his face and hustles over to catch up with us. We spent another hour and a half wandering Casco Viejo, eating our street food and laughing at what ever close call we had avoided.
I’m on the phone now with the bank and they can’t seem to figure out why my card isn’t working and I’m stuck on hold multiple times trying to find me a “specialist” who can help me. I’m finally connected only to be told that my card should be working just fine and that I should try again. It’s close to closing time now for the banks, again, so I hustle down to the closest one I can find and try the ATM right outside the bank. Nothing. Knowing my bank won’t be very helpful, I go inside this bank to see if they help me with at least a wire transfer, but by the time I’m done waiting, explaining my situation in terrible Spanish, and why I won’t try the ATM again, they are unwilling to help me with a wire transfer because it’s closing time. After waking up that morn – er afternoon, I didn’t thing my headache could get any worse, but it now felt like the Titan was tap dancing on my head.
I was seeing red at this point. I couldn’t believe how terrible this trip had been from the start and it just felt like I couldn’t catch a break. I decided then that I was leaving. The credit adjustments were credited to me and I had enough money now to get the hell out of Panama and back to Costa Rica. Still, I needed to find out how to actually get the money. That’s when it hit me that I should just ask a restaurant to charge my card and give me the money. Again, my search is short lived as I go immediately to the bar that took my card the night before and they would love to charge my card and give me money. And just like that, my terrible mood made room for nirvana and as soon as the cool crisp bills hit my hand, I heard a song I hadn’t played in years. It was Collie Buddz’s “Blind to You” and it was basically a song giving the finger to all the “AY-ta’s.” There wasn’t anyone necessarily hatin’ on me, but I still felt the song was very appropriate.
It was still pretty early and my bus didn’t leave till 11 that night so I decided to go by a nick-nack to commemorate my interesting experience and get some food to blow some time. After a delicious $2 dinner of chicken and tostones, I went back to the hostel packed my things and called a cab for the bus terminal. Even though I tried to blow some time around Casco Viejo, It was still only 8 PM when I go to the terminal. Fortunately, there was a huge mall connected to the terminal, so I walked around there for a bit to kill even more time. I return to my gate at around 9 PM and as I look around for a spot to sit I spy someone who suspiciously looks a lot like Josef, the guy I hung out with the night before; that’s because IT IS Josef. I go over and we reminisce over the prior night, swap some more stories and when it’s time to get on the bus we find out we are actually sitting next to each other. Go figure. It’s midnight before we actually push off but by then, I’m passed out in my chair dreaming sweet sweet dreams of the rainforest and being woken up at 5 AM by howler monkeys.
I really wish I could say this is where the story ends, but it seemed that fate had other plans for my friend Josef and I.
I wake up about 2 hours from Paso Canoas. We are getting off to have a but of “breakfast” and to stretch our legs. I take this time to scarf down as much food as I can possibly fit in my mouth since I hadn’t eaten since 5 the previous evening. Josef tells me all about where he’s from and where he’s headed next, a location I’m not allowed to disclose. Josef keeps talking, and talking and talking. I realize two things about my new friend, Josef is a talker and he’s kind of an asshole. I also came too realize another thing about him later on though, this kid has a heart of gold.
We arrive at the border and we seem to fly through the Panamanian border control. I’m all smiles as we make our way to the Costa Rican immigration office. I’m super confident. I’ve lived here for 3 months, I’m practically a Tico myself. Oh was I so SO wrong. I get up to the office, my passport and my ticket check out, but then I’m asked, “So do you have $300 to spend in the country?” No. NO. NO. Not again. I have all of $100 to my name and nothing in my account thanks to previous troubles. I try to explain that I’m volunteering in the country, that I’m being taken care of and don’t really need the money. The immigration officer is not budging. I give up. I slouch away from the window and start looking for a nice giant pothole to lay myself in and rot. There’s plenty around and I’m sure sooner or later some other poor soul will come join me. Josef comes over to me to find out what happened, I hadn’t joined everyone else at the customs room (which really was just a cage). I tell him what happened and plop down on a curb admitting utter defeat. My butt is an inch from the ground when Josef is already picking me up from my armpits. He’s yelling at me, why is he yelling at me? I start to tune in to what he’s yelling and realize he’s giving me a pep talk to get up off my ass and find a way to get it back home. I realize people are looking at us now and I’m willing to do just about anything to stop them from looking and him from yelling, so I shake my head yes. He pulls me away to our bus driver. I have no clue what his plan is and that’s cleared up really quickly when he asks the driver, in Spanish, if I can borrow $200. No go. He immediately pulls me over to am elderly couple. No go. Another couple. No go. A guy we met and became friendly with in Panama City. “Ya sure, why not?” is his response. What – no way? I wasn’t dreaming, but it definitely felt like one as I walked up with no my $200 to the immigration office. The irony isn’t lost on me. My passport is stamped, I return the money, get past customs and get back on the bus. The nightmare trip from hell is over. I’m in Costa Rica and everything is all right.
The day after I got back from Panama, I was working in the parking lot. It started out as a nice and hot sunny day, but a storm cloud appeared and not long after it was monsooning in the parking lot. Vanessa, the girl that lives with her boyfriend in the parking lot comes out yelling frantically in Spanish. The roof to her home hadn’t been cleaned in a while and because of this, rain was pouring into her home about as heavy as it was outside. She needed help getting up on to the roof to clean it off so water could flow freely from the roof. Being the chivalrous guy I am, I refused to let he go up and potentially fall through the roof. I soon regretted this decision as I was more likely to fall through her roof than she was and it took all of 10 seconds before lightning started raining down around me as well. So lets recap, I’m in an opening 15 ft off the ground, on a hill, on a tin roof in a lighting storm. I’m soaked to the bone almost immediately, trying not to fall through the roof while sweeping leaves off of it. Lightning strikes one after the other around me. I try to work as fast as I can but, I’m so scared, I’m moving like an inchworm. A bolt strikes on the road and I call it quits. The job is just half done but I don’t care. The water is running so bad in her house now, so I half climb-half fall off the roof. I guess I’m just not meant to lead a normal boring life.