Saturday, 9 February 2008

Done and dusted, but not busted!

Arriving in Panama City was not too tedious, the hoards were off playing at carnival, little traffic and few people. Having a map of the city should have made it easier, and it would have, if I knew where I wanted to go! I had the name of a hostel, as it turned out the wrong one; there was no hostel by that name in the city. It was hit or miss, and eventually I hit; with the help of a couple of friendly locals. It does make you wonder though, when the locals are warning you about the danger in the city. But I would like to know of any city that doesn’t hold any risk of mugging, pick pocketing or petty theft. Get in the wrong area anywhere and you’re asking for trouble, it’s simply a matter of knowing where not to go. But hey, it’s hard to mug a guy while he’s on his bike. And I ain’t stupid enough to stop and sightsee in a dodgy part of town, whatever country you’re in! it shows just how bad things can be here, there are armed guards everywhere; and I don't mean police or military

Once ensconced in a cheap Pension, I had all the time in the world to wander, in which I took great delight. It was easy to find the less desirable sections, the filth and general degradation made it all too clear. For these initial walks I had no possessions and only a little money, give away money I’d call it, a wallet with $20 and a useless credit card. Of course, carnival doesn’t empty the city of the poor and desperate, of these there was plenty of evidence. With the more affluent members of society playing at carnival, there certainly wasn’t a fair representation across the social spectrum on my arrival. An inordinate number of fat people could be seen; dare I mention they were mainly women, and mainly black! No wonder really, all the food I see is the same, fried or starchy! You’d be very lucky to find a bit of healthy fruit or veg on display in the cafes. And I get the impression, eating ready cooked food is the norm! I assume the more affluent fare slightly better; as in many modern cultures, money buys better education and more insight into dietary health. I think you’ll even find that to be the case in the US of A, home of obesity!

No surprises witnessing homelessness, there is plenty in evidence at home, even a small place like Bangor has its fair share of people sleeping on the streets. I hear tell, even some of the Big Issue sellers are homeless! Go to any of the UK’s or USA’s larger cities and the numbers of homeless are undeniably high, even with the so called welfare system in the UK. It used to be common, for many people at home, to rifle through the skips of major supermarkets. They provided good food, still in its packaging; just reached its sell by date, it was by no means restricted to homeless folk, nor necessarily that poor! Here I’ve been amazed at the regularity I see folks digging into rubbish bags for their next meal. Where ever there are bin bags they are been liberally strewn across the streets, any remains of food plucked out to stave off hunger. And I don’t mean stuff thrown out in packaging, guys scooping out handfuls of cooked rice and eating it out the bin bag; picking up crusts from the ground and stuffing them straight into their mouths. A real dichotomy though, so many new luxurious multi-storey housing stood empty, yet so many homeless.

An old guy had been sitting on the same park bench for two days, every time I passed he was there; could easily have been merely appreciating the sun. He was unobtrusive in manner, with an intelligent, bright look about him; I’d even say an air of pride! His dress was shabby, too much so to be carelessly dressed; he had the look of a down and out academic, grimy, not just scruffy. On the second day I’d passed a few times already when, as approaching, I saw him with a cup in hand trying to beg off a couple of passersby. This was the first time I’d seen him doing anything but minding his own business; he hit my soft spot, I dug into my pocket. As I approached he was actually shaking with anticipation, his composure cracked, boy was he desperate! Did I imagine it, was there really a look of shame from him? I’ve no doubt there was, this guy was so hungry, yet so proud it hurt him to have to resort to begging for money; I couldn’t imagine him ripping open the bin bags to score a meal, but where do any of our limits lay when starving? I walked away with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes, not like me with beggars at all; normally I can walk past some of the worst deformities I’ve seen, without giving money.

Bearing this situation in mind it’s easy to see why there are no dogs loose on the streets, which is a weird phenomenon in itself; they would create too much competition for the starving humans. The only reason for the lack of dogs, I assume, is due to an extermination programme. What other reason could there be for a complete absence of them? Once or twice I’ve seen dogs accompanied by their owner, that’s the only time though! Cats are different, whilst not flooding the streets there appears to be a healthy population, it must be so much harder to exterminate cats from the streets. They are also too good at keeping down the rodent population, of which I’ve seen none of either. So no dogs, no rats but plenty of cats and fat people. I was so glad when the population returned to the city from carnival, as well as bringing people more pleasing to the eye, it put things into perspective.

Home of the Panama hat eh? Well I’ll be buggered if I’ve seen a single one, even in the shops! So for requests of me looking cool in a Panama will have to go unfulfilled, sorry folks. Mind you, it’d be real hard for me to look cool here; it is so hot and humid. Coming from a real sun worshipper, that’s saying something. I haven’t let it stop my eternal wanderings, god knows how many miles I’ve traipsed around this place. But hey, I’ve got my laptop sorted. Miraculously I found a universal adapter that fit the damned thing! Such things didn’t exist in US stores, I had to order one specially. Is this the twilight zone, or what? Here I say one store that sold HP laptops, amongst many, and decided to try in there. They only had one universal adapter and I didn’t hold much hope of it fitting, I was hoping I could order a genuine article, as they sold a whole range of lesser HP laptops to mine. BRILLIANT, I didn’t need to! So aren’t I just a happy boy!

Lastly for this entry is the issue of discontinuing my journey, which should come as a surprise for many people; it certainly does for me! Last night, whilst looking at all the pictures of Cai I have on my laptop, it brought on feelings of grief again. Of course it was going to! But it didn’t reduce me to a useless heap, it didn’t see me break down in a flood of tears; I felt and allowed my grief expression. It didn’t last long, it wasn’t a drastic event; but it did make me realise, that will never go away. I slept well last night and awoke refreshed! Something had changed, I had lost the desperate drive to, “complete this trip, no matter what it takes.” There was no feeling of needing to continue or go home, I felt free to decide what I wanted to do, without persecuting myself by insisting I do this for Cai. Cai is not here now; however long I travel, however hard I push myself, he’s not coming back. I’ve stopped putting pressure on myself, it’s profoundly refreshing, I can now look at life and decide how best to proceed with it. There are many things to sort out at home, things I’ve neglected, or left for others to be responsible for. My most important realisation is that I must be responsible for my own life, as must we all! Whether life means to flit around the world endlessly, or be more settled at home; they should be our own choices, our own decisions. Using other people, or bad events to hide behind is no answer in the long run. We must be true to ourselves, our own needs and desires. No longer will I be driven by past events, I must now pay heed to a new life!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i'm sure you will be well supported whatever decisions you make. Enjoy your time in Panama and take care in Columbia. Love Ariane