Window in the Weather

Trip Start Aug 17, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Panama  ,
Friday, August 20, 2010

Welcome to Panama! After a four-hour flight from Grand Cayman (which we were sad to see behind our tail, let me tell you), we landed at Tocumen Airport. Our pre-arranged handlers were right there waiting for us, customs was so easy to clear that they didn't even check my passport, and I am now at the lovely Sheraton Hotel right downtown, feeling a bit weary and wondering what's to come next.

The flight from Cayman was a bit tense. Of course, after leaving Cayman behind, there is nothing but the deep blue Caribbean Sea between us and Central America. I had to dodge around a few large building cumulus, but nothing serious. The most nerve-wracking part was not being in radio contact with anyone, as we were too low and hundreds of miles from the nearest transmitter. Al we could was hope that Panama was expecting us, and that our permit for Panamanian airspace is on the level.

Just coming over the north edge of Panama, we hit the worst bit of weather on the trip so far. It was mercifully short (about 5 minutes), but we got updrafts of 300 feet per minute, heavy rain that was so thick, it looked like a sheet of water coating the windshield, and the annoying sound of my stall horn being tripped by the rain pelting the vane on the leading edge. I was mostly afraid of hail, but fortunately there was none. We continued to pass in and out of clouds throughout the descent, but it was clear enough to see the skyscrapers of downtown, and of course the Panama Canal!

After a very late lunch (around 4 pm), I finally communicated with the office. Alex informed me that we were still in the process of negotiating something with our client regarding Ecuador, and we will likely be staying in Panama City for at least 5 days. And while we regretfully wish that 5 days could have been spent back on Grand Cayman, instead of in a huge commercial city that speaks Spanish, we can't exactly complain about being forced to play tourist in Panama, can we?

After dinner, I was working on downloading the photos you see here, when I heard a few loud bangs from outside my window (both our rooms are on the 10th floor overlooking the Pacific Ocean). The Panama Convention Centre is right across from the hotel, and it was coming from a large grass clearing between the ocean and our hotel. In fact, it wasn't so much a bang as a concussion. And if I hadn't seen it (and taken photos of it), I would not have believed what I was seeing.

A fireworks display was under way, not 200 yards from the hotel windows. It was close enough that the glass shook in its frame with each blast. The explosions were practically eye level with the 10th floor. It was absolutely surreal. At least 20 cars alarms were sounding as the display finally ended.

And then, if that wasn't enough, I could then hear music coming from the driveway of the Convention Centre. It got louder. People started to gather along the sides of the driveway. And then, a parade float appeared, complete with an exotic looking dancer in an extravagant Flamenco-style dress. Behind that was another float with more dancers, dressed in large glittery outfits that were spread out above and behind their heads, not unlike the fancy outfits you might see at a stage show in Vegas. Photos couldn't capture it.

The music was coming from a brass band walking in a ragged group behind the floats. They seemed to all be playing a different song and yet also playing the same song at once. Like group improvisation, I suppose. It sounded like a very fast, very energetic salsa, played by the exact type of band you would expect to see at an NFL halftime show. Or Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro. This went on for a little more than half an hour.

Panamanian music is an interesting blend of styles. Old Spanish music, like Flamenco, Latino influences such as salsa and merengue, and African or South American native drumming styles are just a few influences that have fused into several types of music all their own, such as cumbia, congo, and tamborito. They love to play music in the streets, and I believe I just got a first-hand look at this fun tradition. I am beginning to see where Panama City gets its reputation as a "party town".
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buzz_lightyear on

Ha! And I thought I had a good fireworks show from my balcony! Nice to see your flight into Panama. Espero que estas aprendiendo mucho!

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