Monday, December 12, 2011

MY FIRST TIME: Episode Four: You can't get there from here

Synopsis: The author and his Beloved, as part of their first-ever, short-term, cross-cultural missions experience, arrived in Panama City, Panama, a day later than the rest of their group.

The first thing to hit me when the sliding glass doors opened -- the doors that separated the stiff, official, will-they-let-me-in-the-country-or-not customs area of the airport from the throng of brown faces looking for someone other than me -- the first thing to hit me was the smell. Not that it was an unpleasant odor, just...different. Certainly pungent. Decidedly piercing. Altogether unavoidable.

The second aspect of Panama to impress itself on me was the heat. This was February. I had left 26 degree Indiana and now walked into 95 degree Panama. Again...not unpleasant, except for the whole tennis-shoes-melting-into-the-concrete phenomenon.

The gringo missionary we would be working with knew the representative of the sponsoring organization that had organized the trip and who was with us (because he stayed behind in Miami, remember?), so we had no difficulty being found. Frankly, even though we had never seen the missionary before, it wasn't hard to pick out the only six foot, four inch, redheaded Irishman that side of the Rio Grande.

We wended our way through the crowds to a large taxi/small cargo truck, which took us to the bus terminal in town, where we booked passage for our six hour bus ride to a town named David (pronounced, Dah-VEED).

Methinks the actual distance from Panama City to David is about 120 miles, but we spent the first three-and-a-half hours of our trip zig-zagging through the narrow, congested, always-in-a-state-of-disrepair streets of Panama City...stopping for every souvenir cart (no doubt owned by a cousin of the bus-driver's wife's shoe salesman's nephew) and stray dog (the other white meat).

To give you an idea of just how exciting it was riding in this fairly-full, vintage bus with an assortment of animals, produce, cranky kids, and large, belching hombres, let me pass on three words: No...Air...Conditioning.

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