One time, my wife and I took one of those Caribbean Cruises on Carnival Cruise Lines. I had picked this particular cruise because of the three port calls it made. We would be visiting Panama, Costa Rica, and Belize. All in the span of a week. That sounded like a great idea to me. Better than slogging through amusement park lines, scaring away the indigenous population and children by getting a tan on the beach, and definitely better than watching the “movie” Skyline. Because that is less fun than drowning. Seriously.
We boarded the cruise ship in Fort Lauderdale in the early afternoon, found our rooms, and started getting settled in. We weren’t due to depart until 5pm, and I always get a little restless in a new place. So I left the cabin to go explore the ship. The first thing I noticed about the vast majority of passengers, was that they were the stereotypical American tourist. Old and fat. April and I were one of the rare couples under the age of four hundred. And I’m not exactly a model for a bowflex commercial or anything. I have the inter tube around my waist if you get my meaning. But many of these other passengers made me look like Brad Pitt. I mean…holy fuck! Talk about needing a few Texas ranchers in there. Moo.
I eventually found my way to one of the upper decks. This is where many of the kitchens and buffet areas are. All conveniently located close to each other, and near the pool. Unless my eyes deceived me, I think I even saw a slop trough. One site I will never forget happened as I was leaving this area. I had just approached the exit of the buffet section, and saw a Jabba The Hutt-like man waddling in. His face was sweaty and he looked lost. His eyes shifted around constantly. This dude was obviously on some epic quest. He was a man seeking something. As he walked into the buffet area, he stopped and his eyes stopped moving. They focused straight ahead, no doubt seeing the many food servicing stations and probably the slop trough. Right then, his mouth arched upward in a huge smile and his whole face lit up so much, you could use him to warn passing ships away from deadly reefs. Jabba had found his peace. On to Panama.
We ported in Colon, which if you judge the city just by port itself, it is a Latin paradise. However, it is all just a facade to the real city outside the gates. Kinda like meeting a nearly convincing transvestite. At first glance you think, nice, but there’s something not quite right. That’s when you notice the Adam’s Apple and then the cock. Colon is like that. Outside the port it is a festering, poverty-strewn, crime-ridden hell hole. Basically, Detroit.
My wife and I signed up for the mountain biking excursion. Out of approximately two thousand guests on the ship, we were two of about twenty five people that picked this. Everyone one else went for the choo-choo train ride. Anyway, we all got on a mini-bus to take us to the biking spot, a section of rain forest near the coast and the Chagres River. As we were going through the traffic intersections of Colon, the bus driver pointed out to us why there are no stop signs or lights.
“In Panama, we don’t need such things. We have the ‘eye contact’ system”. He made a head nod towards all fifty of the other motorists, mopedists, pedestrians, chickens, taxi cabs, mini-buses, horse and carriages, and a sloth that were somehow crowding the intersection. Without waiting for any form or recognition from any of them, the driver stamped his foot on the gas and our bus just rammed its way through.
“See. I made eye contact with them so they knew I was going through. Besides, my bus is bigger so if they don’t stay out of they way, they get smashed.”
Driving in Panama is fun. It can be a contact sport. Kinda like driving in the Middle East. But that’s another story.
We left Colon behind and after half an hour we made it to the Panama Canal. There we we had to wait in line with all the other vehicles as there is always ships crossing through the canal. We have to wait for whatever container carrier, cruise ship, or kayaker to pass, and then we could cross. I noticed that the locks, the giant metal gates that hold in all the water to raise and lower the large cruise ship whose bow we were staring up at, were rusted and leaking. Well they are 256,789 years old. Almost as old as Queen Elizabeth. I read somewhere on the internet that Teddy Roosevelt built the canal with the aid of a time machine and the ancient Egyptians, so it must be true.
The rendezvous point for our epic mountain biking adventure and quest for howler monkeys happened to be a series of run down US Army barracks. The jungle was already completely overtaking them. And our guide told us they were only abandoned 20 or so years prior. The only natural phenomenon I’ve seen accumulate this quickly was the trash in my friend’s car. I’m serious. He could leave his car locked up and not go near it for a weekend. But somehow by Sunday, the front seat would be filled with empty cigarette packs, fast food wrappers, Starbucks cups, a sleeping bag, lottery tickets, fishing tackle, and a muppet.
So back to the biking. They gave us your run-of-the-mill mountain bikes you’d find at Target or Wal-mart. Inexpensive and not very good. Didn’t matter. We were going to have fun. At least I was because I enjoy biking. Half of the people also seemed to like biking too. We were the ones that kept wanting to outpace the group and would grow restless when the guide would stop along the path. Our guide was named Alberto, but for some reason the other tourists with us kept calling him Big Al. He was actually pretty scrawny. Scrawny enough to not be eating like a cruise passenger.
Alberto “Big Al” always wanted to stop the group every 30 centimeters to show us some indigenous plant, or some indigenous rock, or some indigenous insect, or some indigenous abandoned check point guard shack. My wife and several others would ooh and aah at the wildlife and plants. April would see some flower, or a beetle napping, and then proceed to snap five million photos of it. She wasn’t the only one clicking away with wanton abandon. Let’s just say the 11 kilometers of the bike ride took a few hours. If we didn’t have a ship to catch, we might still be there. Oh, and there were howler monkeys.
At the end of the bike trail was a 400 year old Spanish fortress. I love history and all things archaeological, so this was especially fun for me. I’ve included pictures down below. All in all, it was a fun day. When it was time to ride back, several us biking enthusiasts said, “Fuck the group”, and left everyone in the dust. That was the fun part of the ride. Blasting down the road at high speed with Panamanian jungle all around you. Fuck yeah.
At the end of the day we returned to the ship where we could again enjoy the tastes and entertainment offered in the buffet area. Next up is our visits to Costa Rica and Belize. To be continued.