Panama Diary Chapter 2...cont'd.

Well, my time here is once again drawing to a close, and it's been just as quirky and wonderful as I expected.  

The growth continues to astound.  The skyscrapers in the neighborhood have begun putting out new shoots just since I was here last. To give you a sense of the rate of growth, imagine Panama backing herself up against the doorframe and let's see where she hits and mark it with a pencil: 

The round building crouched behind the tree in this photo used to be the tallest building in Panama, when the kids Russ works with were growing up (that would be in the late 1980's and 90's...yeah, I said kids).

Now it's been swallowed whole. I wouldn't begin to know where to find it in this shot. It's probably a speck in there somewhere though.

That's an impressive number of marks on the wall in 25-or-so years, isn't it? 

It shows no sign of slowing, but seems only to want to get everywhere faster, pulled along by the excitement of its own expanding reach.

Last weekend, we decided to venture out of our insulated Panama experience a bit and took a 2 hour drive up to El Valle de Anton, a beautiful valley nestled in the second largest volcanic crater in the world. 

Jungle meets pine trees meets ocean, making the scenery a bit like something tossed up hastily in Mother Nature's salad bowl using all the ingredients she could find in the fridge...with the endangered and radiant Panamanian Golden Frog sprinkled on for protein. 

The rich volcanic soil turns the whole darn place into a spectacular garden. We didn't see any golden frogs, but at the market we saw some swell plants I wished I could slip into my carry-on. 

The whole twisty 40 minutes on the mountain road getting to El Valle are spectacular too, and make the drive worthwhile in itself. If you ever visit, I promise we'll make the trip. If you are prone to carsickness, we'll swing by Arrocha for some Panamanian Dramamine first. (Word nerd moment...look at that! Don't you love how those words look together?! That's a word marriage made in heaven! But I digress.) 

We were fortunate to be in very good company on part of the descent. Jesus is a common theme on the Red Devil buses, although pin-up girls make the scene with equal frequency.

Getting between here and the highway to the mountain road, you get a taste of what I think of as real Panama City. It seems a world away from the 40th floor of the Riverside Apartments. Some of the guys in the office call it "New Delhi" and though I've never been there, I imagine that the nickname is an apt description. (Although I have a hunch that either Panama City or New Delhi may probably have a right to take offense...I'm not qualified to say which.)

None of the people who make our area of the city run can afford to live anywhere near our area of the city, so when I see neighborhoods like this it truly gives me pause. Panama City runs on cheap, plentiful labor. Instead of one parking or security attendant in a booth, there will be two or three. There's a maid for every apartment, and often a driver too. We walked into a drugstore the other day and I counted 7 clerks standing around chatting and not doing a single thing. Those were just the ones I could see. In front of our apartment building runs a wide tiled driveway with steps and a ramp...they are mopped every day. 

Mopped. With a mop. Every day. 

They don't just hose them off, there is an actual guy whose job it is to mop them. I'm never sure whether to feel bad each time I go down those steps or happy that he is employed. I guess I feel some of both.

My Spanish hasn't improved a bit, although Russ's has and since he's the one who has to live here, I'm happy to let him win that race as long as he's around to order me lunch. I did feel a little cranky with one waiter who pretended not to understand Pellegrino (although he himself said Pellegrino) and Penne al Vodka (although he said Penne al Vodka too) just because they came out of my mouth.

In case anyone wonders, no, I still haven't drunk the banged-up Caffeine Free Diet Pepsi that was found spookily lurking in my 12 pack of Diet Coke. The store must have heard my complaints however, because there hasn't been a real Diet Coke to be had since. So I'm going to need to learn to keep my smart aleck Facebook remarks to myself and know that I don't need to, and probably more importantly don't want to, understand everything that goes on here. 

That's okay. By and large they've all been enormously welcoming and patient, and I feel privileged to get to escape the AZ heat with a little time spent in their jungle paradise now and then. Just when you don't know what inconceivable tidbit Ms. Fate is going to throw your way next, she reaches in her tricky hat and pulls out Panama. 

And it turns out it's quite a place they've got here.

I'll be back.