One of the reasons I chose Celebrity for the Panama Canal crossing was that it stopped at Colon. I not only wanted to do the canal, I wanted to set my foot on a Panamian city. When I come to a new place, what I want to do is walk around the streets, without knowing where I am going. I just go by my nose. I like getting lost before finding out where I am. That is what I wanted to do here too. -Of course, when you are on a mass travel vehicle, that turns out a bit difficult. The moment you get off, people grab you to take you out on a “tour.” To the places they deem good and fit for you to see. There are up sides to taking a tour: It is comfortable, you don't have to study and learn anything, you are taken to the highlights so you know what people go there to see, you don't miss out on the important things. Still... I have had my share of touristic travels in the world and I am not interested in monuments, traditional village tours, or natural wonders with a crowd anymore.-
So that's what I wanted to do in Colon too. Wander the streets. Apart from very touristic places, which to me can be seen by a tour, if there isn't anything “special” that you need to see, that's what you do.
When we got out this morning with Carlo, we saw that there were no souvenir shops and stands right outside the dock. “Interesting,” we thought. But that was a misleading impression. There they were. Only here, you had to walk a bit to get to them.
There was a small shopping arcade with colorful buildings. At the gate were taxi drivers and men with tour signboards. They are the hawkers. Trying to catch a cruiser in their net, someone who will fall into their clutches. Carlo, as always, wants to know where he will be going, he is after getting hold of a map and getting information. In the end, I told him to ask someone who was approaching us. He asked “Where is the city center?”
“Five blocks,” answered the man.
“So I can go by walking.”
“No, it's dangerous. As it is dangerous in every place in the world. If you try to walk out, the police will stop you and send you back. You stay here, here is fine,” he said showing the compound. Then he went on. “You come with me. I give you an hour tour of the city. I take you to the old town, to the new places, I show you around. My English is good. I believe my English is good, you can understand me.”
As I had scolded Carlo last time for not asking the price and waiting for me to do things for him, he now asked how much it was.
“20 $ per person.”
“Okay, thank you,” said Carlo. Of course it is too much per person. And why should it be per person as it is a taxi? Anyway... We walked away and started discussing what to do. I asked what he wanted to do, told him he could go with the man if he wanted. But I knew I wanted to walk. To hell with their scare.
“Would you go out with a camera?” Carlo asked.
That was a definite “NO.” He had the huge camera bag hanging from his neck.
Carlo said “I can go back to the ship, leave the camera and come.”
It was 11 o'clock. Lara needed to be picked up from the playground at noon/12. The man approached us again. We sort of rebuffed him saying we were discussing. Carlo did actually. The man said “I'm sorry,” and stayed away. He was respectful in that sense. Of course he wants to make money. Probably money for his family. He is trying to make a living. I wanted to help him. But I also wanted and desperately needed to go out to do something on my own on this trip. I missed being out there in the world by myself.
We decided that, or rather Carlo told me to go and I told Carlo to do his own thing and I would do my own. I'd be strolling the streets for an hour, then come back for Lara, have lunch, and then we could go out with him again later on if he wanted. We had the time. So off I set.
It was a strange feeling at first. How long had it been since I did something alone? And especially in a place where they said was dangerous. Carlo too had said that Panama was the murder capital of the world. But it was broad daylight.
We had seen the signs from outside, when I came in front of it, I tried to get into the Free Zone. There seemed to be sort of upscale shops. They signalled me to the gate when I was cutting across the street where cars entered. There was a police. He asked for my passport. I said I didn't have it but showed the seapass and my driving license. He said no and I didn't insist, walked away.
Streets were dirty, all buildings run down. There were children running around, playing. Women giving milk to their babies, women sitting on a stool on the street and chatting. There were people buying tickets on stands that looked like lottery. There were shops selling crappy stuff. There were empty buildings with all garbage inside them.
“Non robes el pan. Trabaja por il tuyo.” Thus said the writing on the wall with huge letters. “Don't rob the bread. Work for yours.” “Dice no al corrupcion,” it went on. “Say no to corruption.”
I was still wondering if what I was doing was smart. I am no longer by myself, responsible only for myself... I have a family, I have a baby. “If anybody attacks me in daylight, humanity must be dead,” I thought. But humanity was almost dead anyway. It was down on the floor, groveling. And it's what the rulers of the world are doing, with their prohibition of people's movements and freedoms. First there was forced movement as in slavery, then they invited people over, opening their doors, as they needed workers like in Germany, now they want to shut down and block people.
My mind was still running on the safety of what I was doing... “There was a reason that I go around with shabby clothes. I am more like my natural self like that.” Now I felt self-conscious of my clothing. I wasn't nowhere luxurious, I had left my wedding ring with Carlo, but I was wearing a nice skirt and a nice t-shirt, my shoes were trendy as well even though not flashy. Whereas if I were in my travel cloths, I would be more like a very simple person. Which I am of course. Carlo said “You do not go around in worn-out clothes in Turkey or in Italy.” Implying I could here, but I should dress up when in the city in daily life. But that's the whole point. There shouldn't be any difference. Because my natural self is not adopted to think differently. I live a simple life and I travel as a simple person. If I am supposed to make a switch every time, that might be lethal. As I am not used to being this “rich” woman, I could go out as if I am my normal everyday self a
nd being dressed nicely could get me into trouble. So that's why you don't travel luxuriously. Of course being on a cruiseship complicates this a bit. If it were up to me, if Carlo had left it up to me, I would have gotten all daily stuff, things I'd wear over and over again, plus a couple of nice things to wear on the ship for special nights. No, I had to get all proper nice stuff. Even the small Kipling bag seemed luxurious to me. Maybe it was just because I knew the price. I looked at other people, the locals. Women carried nice bags. Still... I didn't fit in this place with this clothing.
I also thought how I would feel if Carlo was with me. Would I feel safer with a man? Maybe not so much you know? With a man, it seems you are more like a target. As a woman alone, they might not understand what I am doing there. Because I walk in determined steps. But Carlo is like a tourist. Even when he is not wearing a watch or anything, he looks like a tourist. He stands out, cannot keep a low-profile like me. Maybe when I am on my own people cannot make out what this woman is doing here. It's something they are not used to and do not think is standard. But when they see Carlo and me, we would seem more like two tourists that ventured off the flock, implying good preys.
I also wondered what I would do if we were attacked with Carlo. I don't know what I would do if I was attacked when I was alone either but that was easy, I would just do what came natural to save myself. I would just give them what they wanted and run away, probably. But with someone else beside you, things get more difficult. You have to predict, try to foresee what the other would be doing. If it was with someone you didn't care that much about or was not so close to, you could let everybody take care of themselves. We are humans, and I would probably keep my survival above even Carlo's and any other adult human being, so I would first try to save myself. However Carlo is almost as precious to me as I am to myself. That would create a huge dilemma and could put both of ourselves at risk. If we got into a dangerous situation with Lara, I definitely would have saved Lara, holding her above myself. However there too is another dilemma. My survival is almost as vital to Lara's
survival. If something happened to me, how could she protect herself?
Then I started thinking about people scaring you to go out in the world. People do that everywhere. They instill fear. Then they offer the remedy. To go out with a tour guide, a safe person. I actually understand their scaring. I probably would have done the same. I wouldn't want trouble, a tourist getting into trouble is trouble for them too. Why take the risk? Besides, these are cruisers. So a certain type of profile. I don't hold myself on par with them, that's why I walked out. It feels like I have done a brave job. But I would have done this had I been able to come into Panama seven years ago. I wouldn't have gone out at night, or if I needed to get food as in El Salvador, I would have been a bit tense. Like I was tense today. But people were going about their own business. Not caring about you. What bothered me was now I couldn't speak Spanish so easily like I did back then. Speaking the local language makes you feel more in power and at ease.
I did not take out the watch in my bag to have a look at the time. I can tell how much time has passed automatically if I want to, I have those sensors. I turned around at one point and started walking back. I ran to the Fun Factory to pick Lara.