Well, made it down to Panama in one piece. The drive from Fort Lauderdale to Miami International Airport on what is commonly known as the “River of Death, I-95, was completely without incident at 11:30 a.m. One of the reasons this was so unusual is that it seems that south Florida drivers completely forget how to drive over the weekend and Mondays, especially if it’s after a three-day weekend, make I-95 seem like an auto wrecking yard.
Going up the departure ramp at the airport was almost like I had entered the Twighlight Zone. There were almost no cars and it’s usually a zoo full of very aggressive drivers. But this time just drove up and pulled in right in front of the check in counter.
Inside the airport it, too, was nearly deserted. Here and there were some people wearing masks, panicked by the “swine flu” scare stories. There was only one person ahead of me as I went through the security check and in the waiting area there were only eight other people in the five-gate zone. I counted them. EIGHT! It was almost as if everyone had either flown out on Sunday or were going to leave on Tuesday. Strange. The plane did fill up at flight time, but I had an empty seat beside me so I was able to stretch out and be comfortable. Usually I get assigned to a seat next to the sweating fat guy/lady. And fortunately I hadn’t booked a flight on “Screaming Baby Airlines,” either.
At Tocumen Airport “Swine Flu Fever Panic” was in full swing. At least a third of the people were wearing masks and as we exited the plane we were handed a form in which we had to say whether or not we had been in an country with reported cases of the flu and if we had exhibited any of the symptoms in the previous 48 hours. When we handed the form over to the clerk at Immigration who stamps your passport she simply put the form on top of the hundreds of others she’d received without even giving it a glance. About the best thing that can be said about all the people wearing masks isn’t that it would do anything to protect THEM, because the panic reports on the media seem to say chance are it won’t help you, but if the mask wearers cough and sneeze at least it won’t get all over YOU.
Had a good ride into the city, got my room at Casa Anita (my third visit) and had dinner at an Italian restaurant up the street that I’ve eaten at several times. The special was shrimp over spaghetti in a white cheese sauce and topped off under a broiler so the cheese was nicely browned and crispy. Topped off with two frosty Balboa beers the bill came to just under $10. I could have asked for the “Jubilado” discount which would have knocked 25% off, but I like the owner of the place who recognizes me now and came by and sat at my table for a couple of minutes to chat. If I didn’t know and like him I would have taken the discount.
Totally done in from the day and the two beers so I retired early. Panama doesn’t switch to daylight time, so I was up at a little after 5 a.m. local time. Came upstairs to the common area. Made a pot of coffee and now I sit here writing and waiting to call Lizi, my lawyer. We are supposed to go to Immigration to get my official Pensionado Cedula which will make me an official resident of the Republic of Panama.
Tomorrow I’ll take the six and a half hour bus ride to David (dah-veed), stay there overnight and then head out to Bocas del Toro, a four and a half hour bus ride and a half hour boat ride from the mainland to Isla Colon where Bocas Town is located.