I am overly verbose, both in person and in print. I shall attempt to keep this short, at least relatively so, for me.
Panama City seems like a great capital. The guidebooks say that it’s the most cosmopolitan and European of the Central American capitals, and I have to say that I agree after a brief look-about. A city well worth visiting.
I am writing this in a hostel in the old district in town. A place called Luna’s Castle, which is a great, large hostel full of lots of very friendly travelers, all much younger than me. As I write this, I am looking at a map of the world that is covering one of the walls in one of the community rooms on the main floor. I realize, looking at this map, that I have finally made it as east as Orlando. By the way – the map has lines on it for various sea-crossings: it is either 3,591 miles or kilometers from Buenos Aires to Capetown. That is a pretty good sea-crossing coming up.
One time in the not-so-distant past, I drove from Orlando to Fayetteville in one day, only stopping for gas and horrible fast food. It’s taken me slightly more than a month to make it that far east on this trip.
Funny thing is that everyone on the road thinks I am going way, way to fast. And I have to say that I agree with them. This trip should be more than a year, but more on speed and pace in a later blog.
And while I said I would attempt to be brief in this effort, I still have not yet written a word on my intended topic.
Checked into the Luna Castle about noon today. Met a fellow traveler here who was checking out as I was checking in. One of the very best people I have yet met on the road, so getting a chance to catch up for a couple hours while she waited on her bus was great – it gave the proper beginning to a good day.
I took a cab with her to the main bus station in town – for her to catch her bus and for me to take pictures of the local version of the chicken bus, which here are called red devils, which isn’t exactly the most reassuring nickname for a bus you might be traveling on. Not sure why those particular type of pictures make me happy, but after she caught her bus, I walked around the huge station – it is a massive shopping mall, bus station, and commercial center – for about an hour, just taking pictures of the buses. I have no doubt that the locals lined up for the cheap buses must have been looking at me and muttering to themselves while looking at me, “loco gringo.”
I am not entirely sure they are wrong. Overland travel might have already made me so.
After taking a hundred or so pictures there, I caught a taxi back to the old district and wandered around here for a while. It is apparently a part of town that only recently has started to be salvaged from crime and dilapidation. There are shells of buildings – literally shells; just the exterior walls facing the street, with rubble where the inside used to be – next to refurbished and beautiful buildings housing nice restaurants or hotels. It is an odd combination to see development immediately next to squalor, but you can tell that there is money coming back into this area – and with money comes police patrols, safety, and more money.
Tonight was the last night of the Panama Jazz festival, which was held on a plaza about three blocks from my hostel. I went through the security gates and metal detectors to get inside, walked around for fifteen minutes or so, quickly tired of the crowds and decided to find a place to eat dinner.
And I finally get to the point of my “short” blog. Dinner was a bit of a spurge this evening. I ate alone, my dinner companion being ‘The House for Mr. Bissau’ by V.S. Naipal, a Nobel Prize winner no less. One of my vows on the trip is to see if my brain can actually comprehend good, serious fiction. The jury on that quest of self-realization is still deliberating its final decision.
As I am want to do, side note: as I type right now at 9:00 p.m. in the hostel, there is someone playing a guitar in the other room. Not a bad tune. What is amusing is that there is someone one the kazoo accompanying the guitar and signing. That is less of a good thing.
I sat down to dinner at a place called Ego Y Narcisco (Calle 3a, Plaza Bolivar – if you are in the neighborhood and want to stop by for a bite to eat). It was an upscale Italian-oriented joint. Nice décor. Good lighting, though strange music piped in – instrumental remixes of Elton John songs and the like.
I ordered one of my favorites to start – ceviche. And this was proper ceviche. No shrimp – I hate shrimp ceviche; it doesn’t take enough of the flavor of the lime. Good, solid whitefish. Not sure what type, but it was excellent. Since this was an upscale place, it was served with aplomb – it was brought out in four flat-bottomed spoons sitting on a square plate. With it, I had a glass of dry, tasty pinot grigo.
I read my Naipal, drank my wine, and devoured my spoons of ceviche, while simultaneously people watching.
Dinner was a potato gnocchi with a gorgonzola sauce. The single best dish of pasta I have ever tasted was a gnocchi at a place in Rome, on an island in the middle of the Tiber River. I love Italian food – about 3/4s of all the meals I make at home are Italian. I have never made gnocchi. Don’t know why. Have to rectify that when I get back.
This was not anywhere near the plate I enjoyed in Rome, but it was still quite good. As was the wine.
And as I sat there and ate my food, drank my wine, and watched a young couple at the bar look into each other’s eyes as they talked to each other – with that look that we all want to experience, even in a brief moment – I was content.
Contentment for me is a great feeling. It is not euphoria. It is not passionate. It is not one of the highest of all highs. It is a feeling of being at peace. Of knowing that the world is a good place and you are currently well placed in it.
I like that feeling.
Would I have rather been the guy at the bar, eighteen inches away from his girlfriend’s face, looking into her eyes as if all wisdom and excitement in the world was contained there, while they exchanged whatever thoughts they had on the day??
Probably. But this feeling is one that I uniquely enjoy. When it comes over me, I feel in balance. And I like it. A lot.
I should have bought the couple a glass of champagne as I left, but they didn’t need it. They had each other. And I had the memory of it all.