My last port on the MV was Panama. Out every port visited since January, Panama was the most stressful. My four-month mark on the ship had just hit and my suitcase was packed. Unlike many students who had multiple suitcases, I had one big one, a carry-on and a backpack. As much as I wanted to bring several bags I knew it would be a hassle and even with one it was. I just happened to disembark at a port where we’d tender. It was awful.
The morning we sailed into Fuerte Amador I sat outside and watched us edge closer and closer to the Panama City skyline until the anchor was dropped. It was like I was back in Singapore with all of the skyscrapers. Because I was disembarking my passport would have to be processed separately. I’m not entirely sure why, but the Purser told me that if I wasn’t off the ship by 1600 that I would be fined $50 by the Panamanian Government as a ‘overtime fee’. Because I had not planned this out well I had scheduled myself a trip in the afternoon, which was chaotic.The Field Office kindly let me store my luggage on the coach that would take me to the Panama Canal. While this sounds stress-free, it wasn’t. Here’s what happened:
My flight to Ohio was booked for 13 May in the 0800 hour. In countries like Canada, the UK and the US this wouldn’t be a problem, but in Panama it was. It was insanely difficult to find a flight to America. My Mother found a few options, one of which would have me connect in Amsterdam and another where I’d have an overnight layover in Texas. She phoned one of the few airlines who have flights operating in and out of Panama to see if there was another option and luckily there was. I needed to get back to Ohio so that I could graduate and meet up with Hugh, who would be flying in from England to visit the following day. It was assumed that I could get a taxi in the wee hours of the morning to take me to the airport, but that wasn’t so. According to several travel guides there aren’t 24 hour taxis Panama and because my flight wasn’t during ‘business hours’ and on a Sunday it would be tough to find a ride as well as disembark. Even the Purser said I wouldn’t find a taxi. So, I got a hotel. But before I went to my hotel I went on the Gatun Explorer in the Panama Canal.
I wasn’t sure what to expect with the Gatun Explorer other than I was supposed to wear bug spray. Once on the coach our driver took us to where we’d board our boats that would give us a tour of the Panama Canal. Some people didn’t want to get in (one claimed they didn’t know it would be ‘dirty’). As for me, I had prepared for this and enjoyed every bit of it. It rained quite hard during our tour, but it was fun and I expected to get wet. I was sitting conveniently in a spot where all the waves splashed in my face, but that was okay. I was waiting for some sort of fish to fly in my face and it didn’t. What a pity.
The captain of our boat spotted a monkey and because nobody on our boat had ever seen a monkey before, we pulled along side the tree it was climbing and watched it nearly fall into the water. The boat then veered off and we headed for the next island inhabited by monkeys where we were able to feed them. Everyone went mental and I thought my face was going to be torn off. Several monkeys were now in the boat taking the peanuts out of everyone’s hands and jumping everywhere. I was rather frightened by them, to be honest, because I’m that sort of person who would be that person to be bitten. At least I’d know how to treat my bite thanks to Dr Bill.
During the tour of the Panama Canal I saw a toucan and lots of monkeys as well as ships heading for the locks. I imagined the tour would be longer and so before I knew it, we were on our way back to Fuerte Amador.
On may way back to Fuerte Amador I saw many signs prohibiting texting while driving as well as school buses. There were ones like what they’ve got in America and Canada as well as the colourful ones used in Nicaragua. As I waited for my driver from my hotel to collect me I waited with Servio, one of the crew members, where passengers on the MV Explorer waited to board the tenders. I was asked several times by passengers why I’d bring a large suitcase plus a carry-on for ‘a short cruise.’ I was a bit stressed and upset when this woman asked me and I said in a stern tone, ‘I wasn’t on a cruise.’ She looked perplexed but carried on with security. Once my driver arrived it was time for me to go to my hotel.
As I was being driven to my hotel I looked at all of the billboards advertising shoes, mobiles, properties and insurance. I thought about my friends from Semester at Sea and how much better this leg of the journey would have been if they had been with me. I wondered what they were doing and if they were with me where we would go for dinner. I imagined we’d find a supermarket and do what we did in Japan. Once at my hotel I proceeded to check in and that was when it hit me: I was still covered in Deet and whatever else was in the Canal. I felt disgusting, but I didn’t care; I was used to it. I was in a five-star hotel and I looked like I had just came from the jungle. Well, I did, technically, but I looked out of place as teenage girls came into the lobby with their ball gowns, men in business attire walked straight for the lift and as families dressed for an elegant dinner discussed how to get a cab to a posh restaurant down the street as their kids ran in circles chasing one another. After checking in I went straight to my room to email my parents to say I wasn’t dead. Of course the wifi wasn’t free and so I had to pay $13 for 24 hours worth of internet. Once I emailed them I got a bit distracted. This internet wasn’t the ship’s internet and so I could use YouTube, Skype and all those other delightful sites that I hadn’t accessed since January. It was absolutely overwhelming, that’s all I can say about that. For dinner I ordered a pizza and a pineapple smoothie. It was delicious, but it could’ve been made better with my friends Rosemary, Brittany, Sam, Will, Lauren and Caitlynn.