So I know that I can be very disorganized an all over the place at times. I Have been talking as if I am already back in the states. (which I am technically) but for the sake of the story there are a lot more situations that we lived through in Panama that merit highlighting. So we have been living in this lovely nation for about 6 months now. Panama Law states that a foreigner has 180 days to stay in the country and after that the individual must leave for about 3 full days and then re enter the country so that the visa could be reset for another 180 days. We lived a lot closer to the border with Colombia, but that area is surrounded by some of the most dense and impenetrable jungles on the face of the Planet: The Darien. It is an area filled with dangerous animals and Colombian para military groups that could kill us or cause serious bodily harm or discomfort. We decided to travel to the Costa Rican border of Paso Canoas. This was a very damp and dreary town. There was a lot of border crossing confusion and many hustling and bustling shops with alley ways to get lost in. This is the story of that experience.
So I requested off from work for a couple of days, kissed my woman goodbye and gave my teenage stepson a pound as I headed towards the bus terminal with my belongings. I packed a bag with 2 shirts, a pair of jeans- shorts and a change of shoes, In the other hand I brought an umbrella. Now I will say that in my previous life in the states I was one that loved to stay dry. Wetness on my clothes or touching my skin usually makes me feel itchy and uncomfortable so naturally I used an umbrella whenever it rained. In Panama, however using an umbrella was something that made me look soft and laughable even though this is a country with a high level of precipitation. The Machismo in Panama City made it almost unsafe and target-like to walk around using an umbrella. Most of those “real men” would just let the water drip off their skin and hair, and I soon learned to follow suit. But one day something just told me to take your umbrella on this short trip, it is going to be one of those days where it comes down heavy. Thank God I decided to bring it, as I saw an elderly man being attacked by a group of wolf-like stray dogs. With the umbrella I was given a chance to defend myself.
When we first arrived in Panama I noticed the dogs in the street. They were everywhere, and usually had scales or puss oozing tumors or some type of weird abnormalities. There was even a dog around my neighborhood that was so tumor infested that he would lay in the middle of the street, seemingly begging for a car to run over him and put him out of his misery. Needless to say the border town of Paso Canoas was no different. There were so many different kind of dogs in that town, there was one occurrence where a man was getting attacked, as the dogs were ganging up and forming packs, making them more dangerous. Because I had an umbrella I was able to jump in and defend this poor soul against the onslaught, of course putting myself at risk in the process. Getting bit by one of those potentially rabies-infested suckers was absolutely out of the question! So I faught relentlessly, and eventually the dogs tired and left us alone.
One of the thing that I noticed very quickly when we got to the town was that we were the only black faces around. I know that because this is a border town, the residents have seen their fair share of black folk, but it was almost as if it was all eyes on us for a while. The people there spoke a strange spanish that was much different from the spanish I was learning in Panama City. I also noticed a lot of the residents were more white than what most Panamanians looked like, they could have been Italian or Greek, but they were Costa Rican. The thing that worried me the most was the amount of vultures in this small town. There were plenty vultures back in Panama City too, but they never got so close to us, as a matter of fact either I was paranoid, or those vultures were following us.
A Night on the town
We wouldn’t be Negros Americanos if we didn’t decide to take a night stroll on the town. At first arrival we felt that it may be a dangerous place. We arrived at night and from the looks of the place, we decided to go straight to the hotel, but then, hours later we got hungry. So you know we had to go out and get some food! We were so surprised when we realized the money exchange from the US Dollar, which they use in Panama to Costa Rican Colon. Panama had been so cheap as far as food was concerned. I often filled my stomach for a dollar in Panama, but in Costa Rica it was going to take about 3 or 4 of those.
Nevertheless we were able to get a meal at a local restaurant. I remember it being plenty run-down, but the food was marvelous and the presentation was next level. For about 9 dollars after the money exchange we received a meal that I was pretty proud of. It began to ease my paranoia about being followed by vultures and becoming dog food for some foamy mouth disease infested street canine.
After filling our bellies we decided to keep walking and exploring the area. With each turn we found ourselves in a different dark alley way filled with mystery. This wasn’t the idea that I once had about Costa Rica! I always thought that it was this green place with beautiful turquoise waters and smiling faces, as tourist zip-line past howler monkeys in the local rainforest. I didn’t think that I would be in this dingy wet place where the faces were smiling, but I couldn’t quite make out what they were thinking. The locals looked at us as if they never saw black people before. The stares and laughs were a tad condescending but there were some cool people that came up to us, asking us where we were from and trying to have conversations about reggae and Jamaica. At first I began to think that this town was just a little shabby, but still relatively safe until I started seeing spray paint on the wall that says (KILLA) that usually correlates with danger and mischief.
One of the things that we made sure we did in Panama was take a lot of pictures and video. Most of which has never been put out, there are so many experiences that the world has not yet been privy to. During the time we went to reset our visa, mc enigma had just received a lot of downloads on the S.A.R.A.H project (that journey will be told by enigma in the next post), which is an album he made to get back with his ex. People were really in awe of the true story of an international quest of love, all documented in an album. He quickly got started recording another album with the studio equipment that he had in his apartment in Ciudad Radial. When we went to Paso Canoas we passed some of the most picturesque areas on the bus and we knew that we had to go back to those places to take pictures. One of which was used on the album cover of mc enigma’s Rainy Season album. This album was key because it introduced the spanish aspect to the world. He was able to create a very captivating album that played front to back and takes you on a cultural journey-I was very happy to be a part of it.
Boquete is a very quaint town in the Chiriquí province of Panama, right across the border from Costa Rica. This is the town that mc enigma used to take the rainy season photo. The colors on the Chiriqui flag are green and red and out of respect for this area he used the colors in the font for the Album cover. There is a strange mixture of local and foreign people in this town. Many of the foreigners own businesses, I saw bagel shops (something I never saw in Panama City) Gothic bars, Yoga studios and other types of enterprises that just screamed of American expat. This is not your typical tropical climate in this part of central america. the Costa Rican/Panama border area, as well as the mountainous areas of Costa Rica (including the capital city of San Jose) can be cold. Hence the Jacket you see enigma wearing in one of the photos, and the long black dress shirt that I am am wearing. That was so strange to me because if you just were to go 40 miles either east or west, you will once again encounter the tropical climate.
Time to head Back to Panama City
Well that was a much needed break from the monotonous city life. But its time to head to Panama City and get back to work! we learned a lot, our intermediate spanish skills were really put to the test. I began to gain a certain confidence because it was the first time I could navigate by talking to spanish speakers that were not Panamanian. We did have a slight problem getting back onto the Panama side. There was an irate (White) American tourist, he was a motorcycle guy -looked like he could have fit right in with the Hell’s Angles. “Learn how to speak english! You got Americans and Canadians coming through here everyday spending money feeding you damn people! Can some one point me to another Jackass that might actually know how to communicate,” the man screamed at the border workers. Great! Now we were next in line with American passports. We were seen in the same light, and treated hostly. Our tickets to get back were at risen prices and we really could afford it. In a desperate last ditch effort to lower the prices I flirted with the bland looking ticket dispense lady and told her in my limited spanish how beautiful I thought her eyes were. IT WORKED!!! She took 5 dollars off of both of our tickets, and then a last act of luck, we walked down the street (hungry as hell) about to hop on the bus when we were invited into a struggling restaurant. The owner thought we were Jamaican immigrants that looked so broke he offered us a free meal. To this day I don’t know why he did that, but I definitely left Paso Canoas, Costa Rica with a feeling of appreciation and new found respect and admiration for that town and country. Until the next tale I bid you all adieu!!!