Yesterday we set off on our six week adventure to Panama, after about two months of living with parents as the cottage was too cold to live in after November 1st. Our time spent with family both in Vermont and Maryland was rich and meaningful, and while we are so excited about our adventures here, I know we will also miss the comforts of being home with family over the holidays.
After a night spent at Don’s house in Silver Spring, and one return trip to Sandy Spring for a forgotten backpack, we woke up around 4:30 and took a 5:00 am Uber to Dulles International Airport. The trip was smooth, and it surprised me how quickly it went and also how much rush hour traffic there was at such an early hour. Our driver was from Nicaragua, and was very friendly and excited to learn where we were off to. He said that Copa Airlines was wonderful, that the service was very good and attendants friendly. Spoiler: I would argue differently.
At the airport, we quickly checked our bags and went through TSA. Anna was flagged, as the machine detected METAL IN HER GROIN AREA. Who knows what they thought could be there, as of course, she was found completely clean after her frisking. From there we found coffee and breakfast, in the form of Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts’ new Impossible (meat free) breakfast sandwich. Coffee was much needed and quite good, and the sandwiches were ok. The airport was pretty quiet in our corridor, so we sat by our gate A19 until boarding at 8:00.
We were seated toward the rear of the plane, Aaron, Charlotte and I in row 32 and Anna in 27 (her flight is booked separately since she’s leaving in earlier). The plane and flight were just fine. Because it was an older model, there were no seatback screens, the seats were very close together, and we couldn’t access any onboard wifi to even watch something from phones. Aaron, in the middle, was especially crammed in there, as the passenger in front of enthusiastically put her seat back all the way and didn’t raise it until it was time to land! At least this was a daytime flight and no one really needed to sleep. The food served was good – scrambled eggs or french toast, but the onboard coffee was terrible. We later learned that Anna hadn’t even been served a breakfast, and also that they were supposed to give us the family customs form onboard and never did. So there were a few gaps in service, but overall, it was all fine.
I think we may have been some of the only English speaking passengers on the plane – most folks seemed to be headed home to either Panama or another central or south American destination. During the flight, Aaron read his new Rolling Stone magazine, Charlotte played on her phone, and I mostly just dozed and looked out the window. We flew over what seemed to be the length of interior Florida, then over the Keys (I could see the Dry Tortugas if I squinted) then Cuba, then a few islands that seemed occupied but I couldn’t figure them out on my phone’s undetailed map. From the air as we approached landing, we saw he Canal, then flew out past Panama City, across the water, above dozens of ships lined up to go through the canal, and over the beautiful, skyscraper-filled metropolis.
We got off the plane, found our bags, then easily passed through customs. It was very hot, the girls were hungry and hot, and it took a while to meet up with our Uber to take us to the house. At this point, Charlotte was having serious doubts about our family plan to be here. Fatigue, heat, and hunger will do that. The car ride was about an hour, and the driver took us up and around the city to avoid traffic. The living conditions were certainly ones the girls had never seen before, but it was very similar to my experiences in Niger and travelling around Africa. Houses of many colors were crammed together on hillsides right on the highway, and while it was vibrant and interesting, the level of poverty came as a surprise to them. As we drove into the neighborhood (Vacamonte) where we were staying, similar sights continued until we turned left into our gated, newer community of Playa Dorada.
We showed our letter of entry to the guards, who took a while to figure out who we all were. Thankfully, we had Anna and our Uber driver with us, and shortly thereafter we pulled up to the house at A67 Los Olas neighborhood. We thanked our driver and let ourselves in.
First impressions, for me, were pretty good, though because the a/c was off and the curtains were drawn, Charlotte was taken aback and announced immediately she would like to go home. The house is charming! It is small, in a tight development with many similar looking houses, and once we got the air going and opened curtains, she felt much better. We have 3 bedrooms, so each girl claimed a room and we settled in. I poked around the kitchen to see what food and supplied we needed, and Aaron checked out the car we’ll be renting (2010 Mazda cx-9). After a while we changed into hot-weather attire and drove to the find the waterfront and the pool area. The complex has some cool features – a fitness trail, basketball court, giant chess game, playground, and a lovely beach area. The tide was out last night, so I’m sure the beach vibe will be much different when the water is back. The pools look really fun, so we need to figure out how to actually get there more easily and tell the beach club we have a six week membership. Then, we will be beach and pool bound every day, perhaps!
I made a grocery list, tossed some of the old fridge and freezer items left by the previous renters, and we decided to head out to CC Market Plaza, a shopping area about a ten minute drive from here. We were again surprised by the clear line of difference between our neighborhood and the houses and neighborhoods just outside. We drove in rather heavy traffic to the shopping area. Traffic is pretty unruly here – no lights, really, and a system where drivers just go for it if they want to get in the lane. Aaron, driver extraordinaire that he is, was great at all this.
The CC Market Plaza will have everything we need. There is a giant hardware store, the largest grocery store I’ve ever been in, and numerous charming storefronts with restaurants, clothing boutiques, and more. Charlotte was desperate for a slice from Pizza Hut, but we all poo pooed that for the time being, choosing instead to grocery shop without purpose at the very overwhelming Supermarket Ribi Smith. We came away with I don’t even know what, as the four of us meandered exhaustedly through the store, dropping into the cart anything and everything we were in the mood for after our long day. At check out, everything was done for us. Young guys unloaded the cart, filled the bags (we had to buy a few – no plastic here), while we stood around and waited to pay. Easy!
With the car loaded up, we made our way back home. It took some time and effort to get the gas range working, but Aaron figured it out and we heated up our empanadas. Dinner was very simple: Tostitos with salsa and queso, an orange pepper, frozen pasta alfredo for Charlotte, and empanadas for the rest of us. We enjoyed dinner with an episode of Gilmore Girls, then I had to go to bed. Charlotte was sure that her sheets were dirty (they were not) so she came in with me, feeling a little better about her day than she had been earlier.
Now, I’ve been the only one up for an hour and half and everyone else is enjoying a good sleeping in after a long day yesterday. No plans yet for today. Aaron has a call at 11 and I think the girls and I will check out the pool and the beach. From there, we’ll see!