Friday, January 25, 2008

My First International Trip: First Day in PANAMA!!

I am finally on my way. I received my first passport last summer, and now I'm on my way for my first trip abroad. I have to offer HUGE thanks to my lifelong friend Ang for giving me that initial nudge. If it wasn't for Ang and her suggesting a trip to South America, I would have been more hesitant and slow with getting the ball rolling. I was so luck to have a seasoned traveler in her. Our destination: Panama.

Layover in Houston....tired!

I flew out of Seattle (left Gunner 'N Gomez with Tee & Asia) on Jan 24th on a red eye flight just before midnight. There was a sleepy layover in Houston, and then I was off to Panama City.

So many feelings and thoughts entered my brain when I touched down and then walked around in a new country. The first thing and obvious thing was the different people. No more English-speaking people! I tried to prepare myself for it, but its totally eye-opening to be in a new country with new people, and a new culture. I was in awe.

Ang, being the accomodating and ever-thinking person she is, hooked me up. She had a shuttle waiting for me at the airport (this was the first time I had someone waiting for me with a name placard at the Arrival area of an airport---I felt like a high roller! ;) ). She reserved a room for me at a hostel in Panama City--my first hostel expereince. The hostel Casa De Carmen was nice. It was a small house converted to a hostel. It was fairly small, but most of the beds were taken. Now at this time it was about 3pm and I hadn't slept in over a day with all the traveling. I was pooped and a bit overwhelmed by everything. I grabbed a bed and tried to sleep in the room---wasn't having that. In the backyard of the hostel was a nice garden, and a hammock. I jumped onto the hammock and just chilled. I listed to the city noise, birds, and rested by eyes.

Shuttle Ride To Hostel

After a while, I hung out and met a few people. Found out I happened to be in Panama City during their Annual Jazz Festival---score, and tonight their happened to be a salsa band at a bar in Casco Viejo (old and cool looking area of Panama City)--double score! At this point, I was still a bit wary & a little scared. I totally didn't know the city or language. I was at a crossroads (already, I know!!!!). I could have went to sleep (or cower in a corner), but that's not a good start to a First Day. So, I decided to check out some salsa! :)

I went out on the street, and walked around till I saw a taxi. "Casco Viejo, por favor?", I timidly asked. The driver motioned me in, and we were off--my first foreign taxi ride! This guy zipped through downtown Panama City, and some slum like area (which looked scary), and then we entered Casco Viejo. The place I went to was La Platea, a bar restaurant. I went in and no one new English. This was the place for the show, so I bought a ticket, and then grabbed a seat. The only hitch, I was about 2 hours early for the show! So, I ended up just hanging out and people watching. Every once and a while, a few of the waiters would surround me and ask me stuff, but we didn't know what each other was saying. I would eventually just say, "cerveza?" That was easy. For a snack, that was rougher. I looked at the menu, and I couldn't recognize any of the Spanish words. I ended up picking one whose words looked interesting, and pointed at this item when a waiter came by. Bad move--Ended up I picked an appetizer which consisted of nuts, lettuce, and a sauce. Grrrrr! Oh well.

Platea & Salsa

The hours rolled on by. When I first got their, the place was totally dead. But by about 10-11, the place was hoppin' and it became standing-room only. The band started getting set up on the stage. Then, the music started. The energy was easy to feel. The band was awesome and got the crowd into it. There wasn't much of a dance area, because the bar was sooo packed, but there were a few couples out there movin'. Now this was just instrumental, at one point a guy sprung from the band singing in one of those higher-pitched voices. MAN! It was awesome. He was a great singer. If only I was better at salsa, knew Spanish, and wasn't so shy!! The band played some awesome songs. I wish I took some pictures/video of the band! The name of the band was La Charanga De Andy, and I know this because the woman working at Casa De Carmen knew some of the band. Now, I don't have video from when I saw them, but here's them playing at Platea a few weeks later:

At one point, I noticed this big, dark, and bald-headed woman in a white suit near me. She was very easy to notice--she also had an entourage of very hot looking women around her. I didn't think anything of her, but later in the night one of her women toweled off her head near me and adjusted her coat collar, and then she headed to the stage! Yup, she started singing! When she got on the stage everyone went crazy!

What an expereince.

I didn't stay out for the whole show. I was getting to the point where I needed toothpicks to keep my eyes open! So, I grabbed a cab and headed for my hostel. The room was pitch black and filled with snores. I joined in. My first day abroad...I think I'll remember it.

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