Waking up at 6:45am, Luis is supposed to pick us up at 7:00am to take mom to the airport. The flight is scheduled for 10:20am, and the traffic will get us there around 8:00am. Even though three hours advance is suggested, I’ve never seen a reason for it and two hours should be more than enough. He isn’t there yet, and by 7:30am, we go down to the lobby to wait, and he shows up around 7:50am, the traffic into town was much worse than expected. We get to the airport, using the fancy, newer, more direct route of Corredor Sur, a toll road, with more than an hour before the flight. We drop mom off at the curb so she can get in line as we park. The Tocumen International Airport has a very small parking lot for an international airport, but inside, it appears only four or five major airlines service this location. Before we go inside however, I stage my “Shebanging the World” photo for Triple M’s The Shebang morning radio show outside the airport, as I need something identifiable of the country. Panama doesn’t have many iconic symbols or landmarks, and we probably aren’t going to the Miraflores Locks at the Panama Canal, as I visited that last time.
The lines inside are not that long, and move fast anyway. The security measures are not as complicated as in US airports, so it wouldn’t take as long getting through. As only ticketed passengers can go through security, we leave the airport once mom goes in, and we head back into the city to find breakfast. Niko’s Café (or Nikolandia) is a cafeteria style diner, with a good selection of foods, from hot breakfasts to lunchtime sandwiches and soups. The breakfast items are laid out like a hotel buffet, under warming lamps, so I choose the gyro combo (with “papas fritas” and drink). With so many immigrants and tourists, you would expect someone to be able to do ethnic foods properly, but still, I don’t keep my hopes up. They do have the lamb on a spit, but as it is carved, the exposed layer is very white, implying that the outer surface has been there for quite some time. A layer of sliced white onions and a couple of spoonfuls of yogurt (from a container sitting at room temperature) go on top and it’s finished. Nowhere to be seen are the tomato slices in the picture version. Many people do understand English, but rarely the older, minimum wage earner, so I leave it alone. It’s still good, combined with a “maracuya” juice (passion fruit). I don’t want soda as the first drink of the day, the fruit punch looks loaded with sugar, and the orange juice looks too dark to be orange (mature pumpkin perhaps?).
After breakfast, we head back to the hotel to hang out for a while. Luis didn’t get much sleep after leaving late yesterday and having to get up earlier than usual today, and I only had about 5 hours (which I can handle, as I’ve done it for years), so while he naps, I watch television and go swimming until the early afternoon. The pool is small, shallow, and empty. I do like an empty swimming pool (or at least empty of strangers). I am reminded of my time in Hawai’i after a previous research cruise. I chose that particular hotel because of the free high-speed internet (back in 2003 even) and free continental breakfast (Costco pastries, but still free). That pool was small, but had a waterfall. Both hotels had the pool on a middle floor and were unsupervised. The second hotel I stayed in (at the recommendation of other scientists) sucked in every way – long elevator waits, lame pool, ugly hallways, small rooms, windows that only open 4 inches, crappy shower, poor television channel selection, etc. I am sure they chose it because it had a bar at the pool level.
Anyway, after a nice swim, I find Luis is awake and playing Pro Evolution Soccer 6 on his notebook computer. I rinse off in the shower and leave my swim stuff in there to drip dry. I figure I should swim today, or I would never get a chance, because if I do it tomorrow, they clothes might not be dry enough to travel home the next day. Granted, it will probably dry in this climate (either hot but humid, or air-conditioned with dry air), or I could force dry it with towels, but I like to leave it to natural means.
In the middle of the afternoon, it is time for lunch, and maybe a movie. Luis has coupons for a $2 movie, he wants to see Spider-Man 3, I don’t really want to see it, even for $2 (even for free), but I go along in case he really wants to see it. At the MultiPlaza (another large mall, but not as large or densely packed as Albrook Mall), I see another Cinnabon (I’ve never had one before). I saw one yesterday at the Albrook, but with the $1 pizza and dinner later, I couldn’t get one, so maybe this time, even though it’s not a proper meal. After a good wander, I go to Paneroli in the food court, a place that has multiple bread choices for sandwiches (various rolls or buns or loaves or slices). I choose “peperoni” in a pan pita with combo (more soda and fries), which arrives practically like a calzone, while Luis goes to a grill for a steak, which arrives on a skillet and wood block. I wonder if people steal it, as it certainly looks more expensive than the food on it.
At the Cinépolis, which is on the same floor as the food court, we check the movie times, the next Spider-Man 3 is at 6:25pm, a 40-minute wait. My watch is fogged up on the inside as the battery replacement before I came may have let a leak. I haven’t used the watch since the last major research cruise and Australia trip, as the battery died. Even the replacement battery only lasted for a couple of months, so I figured it was broken. I bought it because it was a cheap, but fancy-looking watch, so that if I was getting mugged, I could toss the watch instead of the wallet (I also travel with a decoy wallet, but that’s another story, maybe even another travel tip). I think the zinc in the inefficient sunscreen I brought on the boat interacted with the metal of the watch, leaving thick powdery deposits in all the joints, as well as discoloration and disintegration (not quite corrosion) on the metal band. This watch has been stopping a lot as well, I have to manually adjust the clock and it starts working again for a short while. I have no idea how to keep it going continuously. Maybe after it the battery finally croaks, I’ll get a “real” watch.
In the arcade room, I see L.A. Machine Guns has 6 credits in it, so Luis and I team up and get to the final level before running out of credit. It was a free play, so there’s no incentive to add more money to finish the game. With 15 minutes before the next showing, I explain that he should probably save the coupons for himself. He can then see Spider-Man 3 and another film for $2, as I don’t have much desire to see any of the films on offer (Ask the Dust, The Marine, The Hills Have Eyes 2, and an unknown Spanish-language film, which admittedly, being unknown, could be good). So we leave the cinemas and walk through a few more stores before stopping at Cinnabon, where I get a Cinnabon Classic to go to take to his house, where he will pick up clothes to hang out at the hotel and I can use his internet access.
On the way there, we take a turn towards downtown, as if we were going to the hotel, so we go there anyway. That way, I can pick up my computer and upload the blogs instead of only checking email. I’ve already missed deadlines for fantasy games and other time-sensitive materials. Also, the dozens of websites that I check multiple times a day have likely been building up entries, such that it would take hours to catch up on just a few at a time. I guess I’ll just count it as lost time, and when I get back home, just start reading the new posts.
We spend a little over 3 hours at his house, where I do as much as I can, but of course, it is impossible to catch up in that short amount of time. While there, the rest of his family comes back from work or the movies. We plan to meet for dinner the next night, but not when or where (or they won’t tell me yet) and they ask what we did today. Tomorrow, we may go to the Gamboa Rainforest, but they can’t tell us much about it, such as what to do there or how long it all takes.
It is nearing dinner (around 11:00pm), so we drop off everything back in the hotel and walk around the block to the Veneto Hotel and Casino. Since they have a casino, which is open 24 hours, they should have food available 24 hours, most other places are closed. The hotel restaurant closes at midnight, even though the website led me to believe it offers international cuisine 24 hours a day (more lies). As expected, the casino is loud and smoky and stalked by prostitutes. We make a couple of laps around the small gaming floor (I really expected more gaming tables) and end up back at the bar to order take out food. We get a quesadilla for me, an order of buffalo wings for him, and two order of fries. While waiting, I see a beer tower refilled, which is a clear cylinder that holds ~3.5 liters of beer (or any liquid) and has three spigots, much like a water cooler, for dispensation. I wanted to take a picture to show you, but casinos don’t like people to use cameras, or any kind of technology, around the game floor. Some of the people in here look younger than 18, the minimum age for admission.
We had an early start and a long day, so after eating, Luis falls asleep fast as I start on this day 4 blog, hoping to be fully caught up. It doesn’t happen, so I end the day watching reruns of The Simpsons and Futurama until 3:00am.