Once we arrive in Panama City, it is a whirlwind. I don't have the opportunity to record the events and stories from the remainder of our trip each day. But here is what I remember…
It’s early afternoon on Thursday, June 9, 2016. We arrive in Panama City. As we get off the plane and walk into the airport, we are greeted by Jenny, patiently waiting at our gate, snapping an arrival photo (as proof, I suspect, that we actually made it). We are promptly handed a cappuccino each and complimented on how great we look after our crazy day of airports. She is dressed in a geometric print maxi dress that looks amazing on her, and she is as beautiful as ever.
We feel like royalty sipping our cappuccinos as Jenny walks us through customs, flashing her U.S. Diplomat badge, and saying all the things we don’t know how to say. It was easier to enter a foreign land then it was to get there, and we are so grateful. After a rather treacherous drive through the city—Jeff and I gripping the door handles for dear life, wincing at every traffic light, doing our best to listen to Jenny pointing out the city features and laws (fun facts: prostitution is legal and U.S. Diplomats can’t get traffic tickets)—we get front door service to our hotel.
At the hotel we meet up with the rest of the group. It’s a reunion of sorts, not everyone is here but a handful of us. The girls have known each other since we were 14 (or longer in some instances…Erin and I are going on 26 years). There are some new comers, Jeff joined when we were 17, and a few new significant others found themselves navigating the dynamics of this long time group of friends. We are more of a pack, or a clan—a hobbled family of Catholic school girls who have long since ceased following the faith. We don’t always agree and our lives have gone in different directions but we still have a damn good time together. And that’s what we are in Panama to do.
Day one is spent sipping coconuts, slathering on sunscreen and bug spray, and heading out to the Panama Canal and the fish market. The Canal was neat, a little touristy (as to be expected), and a gentle slide into this Central American world, similar yet so different from the U.S. The fish market, as you might imagine, smelled overwhelming of, well, fish, and the hot, humid conditions intensified the reek. We pay to use the non flushing toilets and I’m glad in that moment that I had done so many squats at the gym. The rest of the group enjoy ceviche from little dixie cups and Jeff and I munch on some fried plantains and yuca.
In the evening, we go out for dinner and drinks. Jenny’s fiance, Tim, meets up with us after his concert (he is principal violist in the Panama orchestra). Tim gives us a night tour of Cosca Viejas, a portion of Panama City full of old Spanish ruins. Truly stunning. And although we intend to head back early for our 4:30 a.m. wake up call, we end up swapping stories over authentic Panamian beer.
We crash back at the hotel for another short night of sleep, and about four hours later, we are up, ready, and on our way to Bocas Del Toro—which turns out to be an experience I won’t soon forget…
To be continued. But for now, here is a little of Cosco Viejas at night.