January 17th, 2016
Our first day in Panama. We arrived after the sun had set last night — and the drive from the airport was mostly pitch-black. The only clues of the terrain were in the lights from the highway; glimpses of tree shadows and marinas passing by.
We drove immediately to the beach house — up north? south? east? west? We had no concept of where we were then or are now; but we finally arrived in Playa Chumico, to Javi's place overlooking the ocean—and we opened a bottle of champagne (or two!) to celebrate Natalia's birthday. And then we slept...
I woke up this morning to the same smell we wake up to in summers in Tel Aviv. The smell of fresh laundry and humid heat together. That's one clue as to where we are, I suppose, and what type of culture we're in.
The second clue is the weather. Stepping outside onto what was the pitch black patio we sat on last night, now in the morning, it is completely illuminated with sunlight. There is a very big hawk circling the sky about a mile away. (Later, with more days and orientation, I realize that this is not a hawk but a vulture; they fill the Panama skies almost everywhere.) The neighboring beach house has a very large palapa-bar that looks like it throws a great party. The ocean view is in the distance.
And as more time passes and as we wake up, I realize that I am disorientated. I realize that perhaps this just might be what travel has in store. Or, maybe it's what happens when you drive in the dark and settle in a dark place; then wake up in the morning to that same place covered in sunlight. It's as if someone put us under a magician's cloth, and then lifted the veil hours later to a completely different place. How did we get here? What season is it? Did we really go from winter to summer in five hours?
The sun is hotter than most places here; closer to the equator—it pierces through the humid atmosphere like an arrow.
As I make my way back inside the house from the patio, I find a new smell. The smell of sweet frying corn. I make friends with the housekeepers in the kitchen preparing breakfast, and they pour me coffee—very bitter coffee with almond milk. Leche de almendras, they teach me. And then they cut up a plate of watermelon and pineapple as Aviv walks out from the bedroom and into the kitchen. They teach us these words too—which I have trouble recalling over and over again. Pipa? Piña? Sandía? And which one is which?
It's clear, very early in this first day, that I will need to learn this language. That I want to learn this language.