That’s pretty much all I could tell about the country in the day or two I had to explore Changuinola.  There wasn’t very far to go, so there wasn’t much I got to see or learn while there, other than that it was hot, dirty, loud, crowded, and cheap.  Costa Rica, on the other hand, is expensive.  I pay twice as much here as in the states for a lot of the every day things I need (contact solution, gin, allergy meds, gas, etc.)

 


Downtown Changuinola from the balcony of Hotel Carol, early in the morning.

 

Changuinola is smack in the middle of more of that non-stop banana plantation we rode thorough getting there, but it’s a fairly big town.  There are quite a few hotels, some nicer than others, stores and stores and stores full of cheap clothes, electronics, shoes, and just about everything else you can fathom all crammed together into not enough space, and a gazillion people.  When we got there we learned there was a fair in town for the week.  It was basically like every other country fair I’ve ever been to- canvas booths full of stuff to buy, information booths with displays and pamphlets from various organizations promoting what they do, pony rides, bouncy houses, and other fun things for the kiddos, fair food (the Central American version, not the fried-everything-under-the-sun-on-a-stick that you find in the states), a stage for music, and aisle after aisle of dusty pathways filled with milling people.  It was fun and familiar in a slightly foreign way.  We didn’t stay long, though, because it was HOT.  Just like this side of Costa Rica, the Caribbean side of Panama is much hotter than the Pacific side.

I was happy to realize there was space on the balcony at the front of our hotel for me to do yoga Friday evening, and Saturday and Sunday mornings. Saturday we did some shopping, ate, chatted a bunch, and reveled in the chilled A/C air of our hotel rooms.  In the afternoon Ivey started reading my novel so I could get his help with some of the details.  I read a bit, watched a little Spanish TV, and got bored so I went walking/window shopping.

Shopping is quite an experience in Panama.  Every fifth store had huge stacks of speakers out on the sidewalk alternately blaring music and announcing the specials to be found inside.  Inside, every store has a dozen or so ‘sales associates’ who work mostly on commission and who essentially stalk you as you’re shopping.  They want to help, because they get paid to and credit for what you buy, but I’m not a ‘help me shop’ kind of girl.  I want to be left alone to browse in peace and leave without feeling guilty for not buying something.  I tried saying, “I don’t need help.  I’m only looking,” and for some it worked.  For others, well, I just had to ignore them and look at my leisure, contenting myself that I had at least warned them that I wasn’t going to be profitable for them.

 

Marching bands are everywhere, even in Central America. Here, the only instruments they play are percussion and horns. They don't do a bad job, but they don't have the near-military precision of high school marching bands in the States. They make up for it in volume and enthusiasm though.

 

 

A group of Caballeros (cowboys, in Spanish) get ready to parade through town. They're mostly all drinking, and the horses are incredibly nervous with the crowds and the ungodly noise.

 

In the end, I ran into a parade full of high school band members, caballeros, and balloon covered cars playing music, throwing candy, etc. With the exception of the ancient state ofthe instruments and the language the kids were speaking, those band members could easily have been my students at Thomasville.  It was good to see them playing and showing off.  I took pictures (of course) and rather enjoyed myself.  It was, without a doubt, the highlight of a rather boring trip.  I’m not good at sitting around in hotels without any contact with nature.  And there was no ‘nature’ to be found in Changuinola, situated in the middle of a hundred miles of banana plants.

The bus ride back was direct from Changuinola to Jimenez on Monday and it went a heck of a lot faster than the trip down.  Crossing the border was even easier than the first time around.  One stamp in Panama, one in Costa Rica, and we were done.  I was stunned at how easy it was.  There were probably two dozen tourists and expatriates like Ivey and I on the bus with us and we spent most of the trip chatting with a couple from Holland.  Well, Ivey chatted.  I slept most of it away.

When we got off the bus in Jimenez, Alex and the boys (Ivey’s wife and sons) were waiting on us, happy that we’d made it safely.  I spent the afternoon playing soccer with the boys- who are adorable and sweet and everything good that little boys should be- and then was on the road again Tuesday morning, more than eager to see home.

All in all, the trip was not bad, but I missed my house, my bed, my stuff, my routine.  When I finally dragged home late Tuesday night I was more than thrilled to be back.  My house, though I’ve only lived in it 3 months, definitely feels like ‘home’ to me.  It so much quieter here than in Panama, so much more peaceful.  It was good to visit with semi-family, but it’s good to be home, too.  Time to get back to writing!

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