This is the owner of the house I decided to rent for the next several months, a Swedish locksmith named Tommy. On my first night, we got together around 5 and drank through an entire bottle of the local aguardiente for the next 7 hours.
This was probably the closest I have ever been to blacking out, but it was well worth the conversation. At least that’s what I remember thinking at the time. I still can’t recall what we talked about for so long, except for one thing…at one point after several drinks we began talking about women. Women in Sweden vs. Panama vs. Colombia vs. Thailand vs. Cuba. He looks at me with a secretive glance, leans in, lowers his voice to a nearly inaudible whisper and tells me that the best country in the world to find the most beautiful girlfriend – and the easiest to pick up – is in Cuba. Cuban woman, at least the ones found in local bars, will hang out around the outskirts and make eyes at you…all you have to do is look at one you like – then point at her and suggest she come to you. This description was beginning to sound a bit more like prostitution than girlfriendliness, so i asked him what you have to do to court a girl before she becomes committed. Ten dollars, he says. What? Well! That’s the cheapest darn girlfriend I have ever heard of!
In Panama the women are very strictly Catholic. If you want to date one it may take several months of semi-meetups, talking in plazas, and meandering the rivers. The good ones don’t hang out in bars or nightclubs – they are elusive. Apparently if you want to meet one here, you need to put your senses on extremely high alert. Walk the streets, do your errands and take special notice of any girl who gives you the slightest, tiniest, faintest idea of a smile in your direction…that lasts less than two milliseconds. This, my friends, means she is extremely interested in meeting you. But beware, unlike American women who foreigners understand as being some of the most easy in the entire world, Panamanians are likely to wait until after marriage for anything more intimate than a kiss.
Tommy, a locksmith, Swedish Aiforce pilot, mechanic, electrician, welder, fruit salesman, property investor and family man, among twenty other things, returns each summer to his homeland to visit family and do odd jobs. For the next three to for months I will be taking care of a small section of his home blocked off as an apartment. It’s a beautiful place, just a five minute walk into town. The air is fresh and cool here, I am surrounded by mountains and jungly forest. Only an hour and a half from the Pacific beaches and about four hours from the Caribbean.
The mother and one of four puppies living in the laundry area out back.
The view from my yard. These hills stretch up into the clouds until around 10,000 feet – the top of the extinct Volcano Baru.
A grapefruit tree in the yard.
The next step is to figure out what to do for the next few months. Traveling is weird like that, nobody really knows what travelers do all day apart from sightseeing. I’m planning on hiking to the top of the volcano, buying a bike and exploring the surrounding hills and local towns, figuring out the soccer schedule, re-strengthening my back, meeting a lot of travelers and locals, and volunteering my time to a local organization. Maybe some weekend surf trips to the Pacific, and a week on the Caribbean to mix things up.