It hasn't even been half a day since we boarded the plane in Atlanta, but the adventure has already begun. And by adventure, I mean peculiar circumstances that have blindsided us and knocked us out of what little comfort we had.
The plane ride was pleasant, a 4-hour walk in the park compared to the 20-plus hour sojourn to China that Brad and I are used to. There was a surprising amount of college students on the plane, a few of which down an entire bottle of Jack in the four hours we were on board. I was impressed that they could still walk after we landed. I sat next to a guy named Jason, a lonely adventurer drawn to the surfing environment in Santa Catalina, Panama. From what I gathered, he liked the solitude just as much as the "big pipes" he plans to catch tomorrow. He had been on a surfing excursion to Panama before--for five months--and apparently he couldn´t get enough.
After the landing, we were able to get through customs relatively quickly. The lady at the window asked me if I could speak Spanish.
"A little bit," I replied. She then proceeded to ask me some questions in Spanish, none of which I could answer. So much for a little bit.
Baggage claim was a breeze too. This was shaping up to be a nice travel experience. To me, a missed connection is more of an opportunity than a mishap, but there are times I enjoy having things actually work out like I plan them. All we needed was for Chuck to be waiting on the other side of the painted black automatic doors that separated the baggage area from the arrivals terminal.
We walked through and were greeted with hoards of people lined up behind those temporary barriers you see in restaurants and Six Flags lines. My eyes sifted through the sea of tan faces. Chuck´s was nowhere to be found.
"Maybe he´s outside waiting with the car," one of us (I´m not sure which) reasoned. So out into the heavy air we went, and we were welcomed by Panama´s distinct aroma. Still no sign of Chuck. Back inside, we regrouped. Brad noticed some payphones, and I tried to use them to call Chuck´s Panamanian cell phone. No luck there, so I tried out my Spanish on two ladies sitting next to me.
I asked them if they could help me dial the number. We had a difficult time communicating about whether the number was Panamanian or American. One of them took me to the phone and tried her best, but to no avail. I´d tell you the woman´s name, but Í've already forgotten it.
So here we were, stranded at the Panama airport with weak language skills and no idea where Chuck was. We waited a few more minutes, hoping he´d arrive in his rental van to rescue us. He didn´t come. A cab driver had been eyeing us since we walked through the door. By this time, it was past eleven, and business was getting slim. With no other options, I asked the guy if he could give us a ride to the hotel where Chuck is staying. He responded by leading us out to his taxi.
"How much to Hotel Europa?" I asked.
"25 dolares," he said, as if he was giving us a steal of a deal.
I shook my head and told him I thought it was too expensive.
"18 and no less," he said. I still thought we were getting ripped off. The look on my face told him that I wasn´t pleased.
"10," I said.
"15," he countered. I agreed.
The ride was interesting. I did my best to converse with the driver, whose English was limited to numbers and words like "brother." I´m still terrible at Spanish, but it at least started to come back to me a little bit. After 25 minutes or so, we pulled up at the hotel. The girl at the front desk said they had no vacancy, and she couldn´t find a Chuck Holton in the database. Still no sign of him.
Our driver, who was waiting outside with Brad, said he would take us to a "more economical" hotel where we could get a room, internet and free breakfast for $20. We decided we´d find Chuck in the morning.
After settling in and saying goodbye to our friend, we sat down in the internet area. Having exhausted all other means of communication, I sent an email to Chuck telling him where we were and what had happened. We fully expected it to take him till tomorrow to find us. Less than 30 minutes later, we heard a light rap on the door. We looked up, and sure enough, it was him. Chucky boy to the rescue.
"C´mon guys. You can come stay with me," he said after our initial greetings.
Sadly, we´d already paid for the room, and we couldn´t get a refund. We counted it as a sunk cost, a really expensive 20 minutes on the internet, and we grabbed our packs and headed out of the tiny rat hole that was our room. We piled in the van and in a few minutes, we were staring at a very modern and spacious Country Inn and Suites, where I now sit writing this narrative.
I came seeking adventure, and today´s strange events promise nothing less. And just think; it´s only just begun.