Panama Trip #2: Day 1 (May 18)

I haven’t had any internet access so far, since the hotel has none (even though I was led to believe it offers it free) and I don’t want to pay for it. I’d rather not take my computer down the street to an internet café, even for free wireless access, partially because of the poor battery life, the high humidity and constant threat of rain, and general crime. Today is the end of day 4, and I finally get back to a relative’s house where I can connect using their wireless connection. Instead of posting many pages at once to catch up to real-time (or at least real-day) blogging, I’ll just post one a day at 5:00pm PDT, such that by the time I get home, I can post the next ones right away to maintain the temporal pattern.

Remember to come back in a week or two to re-read these, as I only have time to post, not upload photos to my Zooomr and link them accordingly, nor create relevant links for references.

As mentioned before, my schedule leading up to this trip got changed with the research cruise, throwing off appointments. My Friday departure was technically Saturday morning, 12:20am, so I would be at the airport by 9:00pm Friday night, meaning I would be at the Marin Airporter by 8:00pm. The flight schedule has me arrive in Houston at 5:56am Houston time, then depart at 9:00am and arrive in Panama City at 1:02pm.

This would lead one to recommend a late morning start, so one has not spent a full day before travel even begins. However, I still had to get a haircut and I was told I would be needed in the lab on Friday morning. So, instead of a late morning, it is an early morning, up at 8:00am to get to the barber at 9:00am when it opens (he actually gets there by 9:15am. As soon as the haircut is finished, I still have to get to the post office and bank before getting into the lab by 10:30am. By the time I leave the lab, I can get breakfast at 2:00pm, which is a Safeway salad and 1 Liter bottle of Sprite.

The next several hours is packing (which takes little time for me), watering the front and back yards, vacuuming the downstairs room, and getting all the computer/internet stuff in order for an extended absence, as I have been told that the hotel does not offer free wireless internet, instead charging $16 a day. The hotel website says that the initial connection fee for wireless internet in both the rooms and in public spaces is $0.00, which means free. Alas, I have been lied to and the defining reason for choosing this hotel is gone.

I leave home around 7:15pm to get lunch at Puentez Taqueria, a favorite small restaurant. I have a full stamp card, so I can get a free regular burrito and a small drink. I know this won’t be enough, as I have been feeling hungry most of the week, primarily because of the two days of cruises (those really mess with your eating schedule). I consider a super burrito, but that would be too much food for one meal. A regular burrito is a possibility, and ponder combining it with an order of fries from the nearby Best Burger, whose fries I deem the best in the county. I haven’t sampled all of them, but over a dozen locations so far.

Since I am a frequent customer at Puentez, sometimes they help me out when I get the free regular burrito and an extra super burrito (for a second meal) and skip the drink: they deduct the price of the drink from the super burrito. Today, I opt for a bean, cheese, and salsa taco to accompany the regular grilled chicken burrito. I notice that the soda fountain is missing (possibly for repair or something else), so hopes that I can get the deduction rise. In fact, I do get the discount, resulting in a regular burrito and a taco for 49 cents. Good deal. I don’t need a drink anyway since I have a good portion of the Sprite leftover.

I skip the fries as time is cutting close if I want to make the 8:00pm Marin Airporter. There was a line at Puentez and I chose to dine in. If I had picked it up, with the fries, as takeaway and headed to the Marin Airporter, I could have eaten there or on the bus (maybe, don’t know the rules on food), or at least at the airport before going through security. Anyway, I get to the Airporter right on time, finding a decent parking spot (I often have good luck getting good parking, others also benefit when I am a passenger), and getting on the bus for the hour-long trip to San Francisco International.

It’s just after 9:00pm, and e-Check in at the Continental counter is redundant, as I have already printed the boarding passes at home and have only carry-on bags. I finish the rest of the Sprite and toss the bottle (in the recycling bin, don’t worry), as we all know you can’t bring liquids greater than 3 ounces through security. Now it is almost 9:30pm, still over two hours from boarding time. A good hike to the correct gate area leads me to a bistro with the Suns-Spurs basketball game on the bar televisions. Spurs win, boo.

Now what? I’m still hungry, but don’t like eating and drinking a whole lot before getting on a plane, in order to lessen the chance for a trip to the lavatory. I do have an aisle seat, but still. Plus, airport whatever is always more expensive than on the outside and I want to save money in my travel budget. The Willow Grille offers a plate of French fries for $3.95, a fair amount for hopefully a fair-sized portion. I take my fries and look for a power point to plug in my laptop and watch downloaded television shows. I’m not pirating anything, these are shows that I either had to miss because of thesis work (I would record them, but can’t carry a VCR or Tivo to the airport) or because they don’t air in my country.

About five banks of four chairs are all equipped with one power outlet, but the outlets are to one side, and since they are all occupied by one person, I would have to take the floor to use the outlet. Smart design would place the seats with the wall outlet in the middle, so at least two people can use them. After walking through two more airline wings looking for a free port, I find one with an outlet in the middle. Then of course, things still go wrong for me. The marble table (dividing the four chairs into two doublets) is placed just high enough to block the bottom outlet from having anything plugged in.

10 minutes later, someone leaves and I am able to get a seat near the power point. It takes 9 minutes for my computer to start up (I really need a new one). So I have a chance to start eating my room temperature fries. They’re still good, yay for me. Two episodes of “24” later, and I’m all caught up for Monday’s two hour season finale. Of course, I’ll still be in Panama and will miss it in HD (same with Heroes and The Simpsons).

I walk back to the gate for the boarding call and while waiting to board, I wonder “Why do people whose seat sections aren’t called, get up and form a line, blocking the path for those whose section is called?” The plane isn’t going to leave without you and you’re just slowing the process down for everyone else. If any of you readers do this, stop it.

It’s now after midnight, I’ve been up for 16 hours, and I haven’t even started traveling yet. Onto day 2.

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