Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Tourist Weekend

I've been a bad blogger and haven't written in over two weeks, shame on me. The positive side is that I have been out living up Panama to the max. I have 4-5 entries I need to catch up on and am feeling a bit overwhelmed, but here we go.

The weekend of February 24th I am calling tourist weekend although it would probably be more appropriately named AIESEC intern/ tourist weekend since it was filled with AIESEC gatherings and mashed up with sightseeing. 
Mostly UTP people : ) Love you all!
Friday was a fun yet slightly sobering taste of reality. The fun part was a birthday party for Diego- one of the interns- that brought the two powerhouse Local Committees together for one big shebang. The sad part was that it was also his going away party. He was the first intern that I have had to say good-bye to here and it was a cold reminder that (at that point) I had at most a month and a half left. 

The party itself was great. I rolled in with Ernesto, Carlos and Vinicius after stopping to fulfill the BYOB part of the party. Panama and Soberana beer in hand, we got there when it was already well under way. Ernesto, Vinicius and I started with the Soberana, which Vini absolutely loved because it has a similar flavor to Brahma, a Brazilian beer. While it is light and ok cold, as it gets warmer, at least for me, it was rather… unbearable. Note to self: stick to Panama. 

New friends from Sanofi, Roberto, Puerto Rican
My first half of the night was spent in the comfort zone talking with everyone from AIESEC UTP, my host LC. As the night progressed, I got to know a lot of the people here through AIESEC USMA who work with my roommates at Sanofi (pharmaceutical) and several other businesses. At its peak there were probably 30 or 40 of us in an apartment which really got rocking after the lights were turned off and the music turned up. I believe the building security was called once or twice but we just kept on celebrating the birthday boy. Side note: I completely missed out on the cake. 

My boys dancing in the street.
Having the two LCs there intermingling was definitely my favorite part of the night and it kept me there later than it should have since I had to work Saturday morning. I definitely anticipate that being a problem as my time here winds down; wanting to stay and take advantage of “lasts” and sacrificing sleep to make the most of my experience. I can sleep with I’m back in Ohio. We left around two and flagged down a taxi back to our apartment. There in the deserted street another one of my favorite memories happened. Trying to flag down a taxi, Vinicius and Carlos started to dance in the street, Vini singing I don’t even know what with his booming voice. (man I miss him!)

Thank goodness I had plenty to work on Saturday wrapping up the interview guides or else I would have been half asleep. The morning flew by and before I knew it I was out to the next adventure. Saturday Ernesto, Vinicius, Carlos and I planned a tourist day to see as much of the Canal as possible since Vinicius only had a couple weeks left in Panama. Our departure was a bit delayed because Ernesto was having his car worked on and I had to go cash my first paycheck and pay for my apartment. On the way from work to the small mall nearby where there is a bank branch- mind you it is only about 5 blocks- I was honked, whistled, or hollered at… wait for it… 27 times. That’s a new (and absurd) record. 

Panama Hat!
After taking care of business and getting a fat wad of twenties, the 4 of us met up to start our adventure. The first destination was the old YMCA by the entrance to the canal which has been turned into an artisan market. This first destination was originally chosen so Vini could stock up on gifts for friends back home. Ironically, I was the only one who ended up buying anything; a mola and magnets for my dad’s new fridge back in Wisco. I love going to the YMCA because they have everything you can imagine as far as Panamanian artisan crafts-woven baskets, molas, carvings, Panama hats, the list goes on- and there are so many different vendors that you can pick and choose and haggle. The vendors are generally friendly too so I asked a couple to explain the crafts, their tradition and how they are made to the guys. Keep a look out for a post completely about crafts : ) 

Since that was only our first stop we tried to keep the time there short. On our way back to the car we sidetracked to the plaza right in front of the YMCA to take pictures with a monument to the canal and Panama. 

From there we hopped in the car and drove through the canal zone getting sidetracked once again at the administration building for the canal where there was a salsa concert just a few weeks earlier. Pictures were taken with another fountain monument to the canal and we were even photographed by a tour bus full of Asians that was passing by. 

Refocusing, we set our sights on Colon and the other side of the canal but got distracted by food on the way. We stopped at McDonalds to grab something for the road but unfortunately Panamanian McDonalds is not convenient or fast. With only 3 people in front of us I knew it would take about 30 minutes to get our order so we bailed and hit the road. Fortunately there was another McDonalds in Colon so we stopped and ate there which took a bit longer than expected but because we were taking our time and not them. 

We got a bit turned around in Colon but ended up making it to our destination, the Gatun locks, at about 3:50. Unfortunately they stop letting tourists in at 3:45 because they close at 4. Yeah, 5 minutes late. I felt so bad for Vini because this was supposed to be his canal visit and we didn’t even get there in time. We begged, I batted my eyes, but nothing worked. We tried to make the best of it and walked around the outside of the fence and were able to see a couple boats go by but its just not the same from a distance as if you are right above it watching the water go in and out of the lock. I felt terrible. We walked to the end of the locks by the lake to see as much as we could and I told them about how the lake was formed and the source of the water but there was not too much to see there. So we headed back to the car with our tails between our legs. 

As we were passing by the gate the guard hollered over that, since there was a boat passing through, we could drive on a little bridge that went in front of the first lock, as long as the doors were closed. Once on the other side we could take the ferry back, which was free. It sounded like a decent plan B so we ran to the car and scurried down to cross. Driving right in front of the lock doors was pretty cool and there was a great view down the canal way to the Atlantic. There was not much to speak of on the other side of the canal but we wandered our way to where the ferry waited. We ended up being the only car on the boat, which was very similar to the Miller Ferry to Put-In-Bay. We got out and walked up to the upper deck for the view. 

While up there appreciating the view and watching some smaller vessels go by, the guys in the control room invited us in to take a peek from their perspective. They must have been bored never having passengers because they were very friendly and explained all the controls to us and even let us sit in the captain´s chair. While I am sad that we missed the locks that day it worked out really well because we actually got to be on the canal and see down both sides of it, toward the Atlantic, and up toward the locks and lake. The ferry ride was probably 10 to 15 minutes at most so we shuffled back into the car and headed back to Panama City and our final destination. 
allllll byyyyy myyyyseeeelllfffff
I will note that I was a bad navigator in shotgun and slept on the ride back but come on, I was up way too late then had to work on a Saturday. I woke up back in the canal zone where Ernesto had stopped to show me where they have women’s flag football there, another popular sport that many people are starting to play.

Our last destination of the tourist day was the Causeway. That way we saw both ends of the Canal in one day, Atlantic and Pacific. After arriving, we strolled a bit, enjoying the sunset and evening. Carlos, an intern from Proctor, met up with us and we decided on a restaurant. We had dinner where we could see the water and enjoy the sea breeze. It was a great end  to the tourist part of the day. 

But the day was not even close to done. For some reason or another, Carlos and I decided to have a party at our apartment that evening. So on the way home we stopped by the grocery store to stock up and ran home to get ready. I made jello shots which I figured would be ready to eat at about midnight and ran through the shower before people started to show up. The night started with kings, which is different with each group that comes to play and we always seem to end up dying laughing. As more people showed up, we moved away from the table and all became more social. At about 12 a group of 20+ arrived from an intern’s birthday party a few blocks away. With that many people the music from my pathetic little speakers was pretty much drown out. The large group stayed about an hour before deciding to hit the bars. At that point in the night I didn’t feel like paying a cover to go anywhere so most of us stayed. I think at some point the night ended up winding down but there weren’t enough beds to go around so people were sprinkled on chairs in the living room. I believe I saw the sun come up.

After probably 2 or 3 hours of sleep my alarm went off to head to the beach. The plan for Sunday was to get up and get to the ferry to go to the island of Taboga and spend the whole day on the beach. Well, the original plan was for Ernesto to drive us but we didn’t wake up in time. We threw our things together super fast, even though we were all dead, hung over, and maybe even still drunk, and ran downstairs to grab a cab. Luckily Mauricio and Cecilia were already at the ferry and could buy our tickets before we got there. For being the weekend right after Carnaval, there were a lot of people trying to get to Taboga and Victor almost didn’t make it on the ferry. While trying to haggle a ticket for him I met a couple from the Netherlands who were very nice and I spent most of the trip there talking to them. Luckily there were so many people there that day that they ended up sending two ferries at the time we wanted to go, so everyone was able to get on. 

Once on the island we strolled toward the west end where the beach was best and you had a view of everything; the city, the canal, and all the boats waiting to go through. Although the clarity of the water does not compare with that of the Caribbean, it is cool and extremely refreshing. Each person more or less did their own thing, relaxing in the sand, water or off exploring. 

The day went by quickly just lounging in the water and walking the length of the beach and unfortunately we had to catch an earlier ferry back to the mainland. Once there, Ernesto was nice enough to pick us up and drive us home. Although only a 15 minute drive, if that, everyone was dead and sleeping. Until we go caught in a mini traffic jam because of an accident near the highway. While we couldn’t tell exactly what had happened, we got a close view of the aftermath of a large cement tube that had fallen off a semi. It looked like it didn’t quite fit under the bridge, but that was as far as we could tell. Whoops.

The rest of the evening was spent cleaning and later cooking. Big props to my boys Carlos and Ale for helping to leave the house spotless for when Mica got back from Costa Rica! After cooking them a great dinner, I went to bed at about 9 and felt like new for work on Monday. Such a great weekend!