After living in a hut in the jungle for a year, you’d probably be fiending for some cheese, too.
MY LONG TIME FRIEND, Hallie, and I had just emerged from her site in the Panamanian jungle as a peace corps volunteer and survived a grueling 12-hour overnight bus ride. Let me pause for a moment to tell you about this bus ride and explain why I didn’t sleep a wink:
1) The Panamanians insist on blasting the air conditioner all night long and maintaining an icy temperature that could freeze a polar bear. But the thing is, they all know about this and come prepared with sweat pants, three pairs of wooly socks, and big puffy snow jackets. Why on earth would a person in Panama even own a snow jacket?! There is no snow in Panama! It is hot, humid, tropical, and filled with giant man-eating spiders that couldn’t survive in cold temperatures. I’m convinced the bus companies get a cut from cold-weather clothing companies because otherwise there is no reasonable explanation for this phenomenon. And if you try to ask the bus driver to turn it down, he will just grunt at you and turn the music up louder.
2) Which brings me to the god-awful, ear piercing noise that is the Panamanian “tipico” music. It is their folkloric music that is comprised of drums, an accordion, and a “singer”; the singer does not so much sing as he yodels, wails, hiccups, and generally sounds like he’s giving birth to a shrieking dinosaur. I was convinced that the bus driver had a three-track CD on repeat, but Hallie assured me that they were all different songs, but every single one sounded the same. The driver insisted on blasting said music all night long and by the end of our journey I was afraid that I, myself, would open my mouth to speak and would suddenly sound like a yodeling chimpanzee.
3) Over the course of our drive the bus had to stop for not one, not two, but three checkpoints, during which the police board the bus and check everyone’s documents. The first one around 10pm was no big deal, I’d been through this before; the second one at midnight was annoying and I wondered why we had to be stopped again; on the third checkpoint, I had just started nodding off when we stopped. Those who know me well know never to mess with me when I am on the verge of sleep–it is the one time that I take literally no responsibility for my actions as I basically become a werewolf and cannot control myself from ripping your throat out. I started awake to the policia checking Hallie’s passport next to me, and as he moved on to me I shot him the most evil “I hate you and I am going to claw you into a million pieces” look and, with a surprised expression, he turned and moved on. Werewolf for the win.
But I digress…
The bus eventually dumped us off in the Panama City bus terminal at 5am and after catching a cab and wandering around the neighborhood during twilight hours until we found our hostel, we took a nap until late morning. By that point, Hallie was dying for some bread and cheese and all the wonders of the first world, so we took a trip all the way across the city to the largest grocery store. Hallie, looking like a kid in a candy store (instead of just a second-world Albertsons), proceeded to create a puddle of drool in the cheese section and in the frozen food aisle I had to tell her sternly, “No, Hallie, you cannot climb in the freezers and eat all the ice cream. Get out of there. Bad Hallie!”
Back at the hostel, we had just set up our feast of cheese, bread, and wine when we started hearing popping noises outside. They almost sounded like gunfire, or a car back-firing, but they were growing louder and more frequent. We dashed outside to find out what was going on, and low and behold, it was a surprise parade!
SOME OF YOU MAY REMEMBER how much I love parades. I adore them, and I can’t fully explain why. This parade seemed to be a bit impromptu and celebrating some kind of saint. I noticed that only women were carrying the “float” and many people wore red and green. At one point a strange looking man in a robe stood stoically next to me taking photos. Old women perched on the balconies on the buildings above and smiled, waved their arms, and danced around in celebration.
I feel a bit like a bad person because I didn’t go to much effort to find out what the parade was really about. I simply marveled at the spontaneity and beauty of it all and smiled along with the throngs of joyous people. Then we went back to our cheese and wine and decided it was a wonderful day.