From the pictures I’ve posted on social media (i.e. Facebook and Instagram), my recent trip to Panama appeared to be a picturesque vacation filled with relaxation and pure joy. It was that, but it was also so much more. Some of the best memories made on vacation are the ones including language failures, commuting dilemmas, and occasional cultural miscommunications. I am a magnet for moments of awkward, clumsy interactions in my own country. Therefore, Panama did not lack opportunities for Lauren to face plant in social situations. Thankfully my family assisted in making these memories as we do share the same genes. I hope my list of “lol’s” “boo boo’s” and “no, she didn’ts” help you overcome an images of perfection you may have of this week of my life.
1. Immigration and Customs. Those are curse words to the international traveler. The first experience after leaving the plane in an exotic country should not be with immigration officials- personal opinion. I am fluent in Spanglish (meaning I understand half of everything and speak far less), so I led the way through the daunting immigration lines with my fully American husband. I handed my passport to the official and smiled, hoping she would go easy on me. She called Justin’s name first, and he carefully followed instructions as she informed him to place his fingers on the scanning device. I answered some simple questions about our trip and then it was my turn to do fingerprints.
I have weird hands and fingers, okay. I don’t mean they look weird. I just use and hold my hands in a very unique way. Nearly every friend I have has noticed my hand usage and deem it “creepy” “weird” or just laugh as I attempt to do something with my hands. Apparently putting four fingers on a fingerprinting scanner is no exception to my hand’s inability to function. I literally laid my fingers on this darn machine ten to twelve times with the official just staring at me as she repeated the hand motion over and over and over again. My fingers were continually rejected. I tried to place them softly thinking I was “smooshing” the prints, but no.
After extended embarrassment, Justin took my hands and slammed them against the screen and held them there. Voilá. He’s a genius and a little green light popped up. I was able to do my second hand independently. As we walked out of the line the official laughed and shook her head side to side. Silly gringos.
I exited this line only to enter another line of pending doom. I handed the customs official my entrance form. He looked up at me said “Nada!” and crumbled up the customs form. He very abruptly handed me another blank form. I quickly realized my third grade mistake of not turning over to the other side. I secretly fumed to myself because he could have handed me my incomplete form to finish rather than making me start all over. But I wasn’t about to start beef with an international customs man. I hurriedly finished the new form (both sides), and handed it back to him. Justin waited next to me for our judgment. The official briskly explains in Spanish to lay our suitcases flat on the belt for screening. I asked him “Flat?” in English to make sure my Spanglish ears understood what he said, and he looked at me with awe as he answered, “Yes, flat” in perfect English. I think he might have been so hard on me because he thought I understood what I was doing. Nope! I’m just a confused tourist that looks Panamanian!
2. Driving. If you’ve ever traveled in a large international city you may understand when I say “No Road Rules.” We packed into our rental car and braced ourselves for the traffic to come. It’s been ten years since my dad has driven in the city, and we all knew that lanes, lights, stop signs are largely ignored, but simultaneously you could get ticketed at any moment by a police officer for the very thing no one does. The only way I know how to describe the traffic in Panama City is to imagine you are in a video game driving without knowing how to get anywhere, all the while dodging speeding cars and pedestrians. Except it’s real life. Throughout our trip we stopped and asked for directions countless times. When I say “we” I actually mean my dad because he is the only one able to speak Spanish fluently. Locals are not great at giving directions because A. they don’t name streets B. every person gives you different directions C. “oh you won’t miss it” always means we’d miss it. We had a running joke throughout the trip in which we would tell each other, “Oh just look for the ramp!” and all laugh at the ridiculousness of it because there was either no ramp or five ramps. I am honestly shocked we didn’t run into anything or anyone. It was like one big game of bumper cars while spending lots of time being lost but somehow still going in circles.
3. Horses. Once we reached my cousin’s home in El Valle, we were able to relax and focus on enjoying our vacation time. My dad, Justin and I decided to go horseback riding through the mountains as our “town adventure.” My mother was far less excited to go on this adventure than we were, and she basically came because we were all going. After driving in circles (of course) to find this “horseback riding venue” we finally found some local horses tied to a tree. We had to holler at some random people for the owner and operator to come outside and do business. Dad haggled our riding price and requested a guide for the trail. My mom attempted to get on her horse and the hilarity began. With assistance my mom was on the horse and immediately the horse started having his way. This has happened both times my mom has been on a horse and she is convinced she always gets the “dumb horse.” Others beg to differ.
Literally the entire ride my mother struggled with this horse stopping to eat, walking in the wrong direction, and peering over cliffs. We could hear the “WOAH WOAH WOAH WHAT’S THIS HORSE DOING!?” behind us the whole way which kept us entertained. The guide was attached to my mom the entire ride. There is video footage.
After completing our amazing two hour ride through the mountain, over creeks, and up steep inclines, I carefully dismounted my horse. I quickly realized my knee was displaced. There is another thing about my funny body I must disclose. My legs go in starting from my hips to my knees, it’s their natural shape. Some call it being “knobby knee’d”. This is Not good for horseback riding despite my great love for it. I had to walk around for a solid five minutes before my knee started to pivot at the right angle again. I also knew I would have a “scrape” on my leg from where the top of the stirrup continually rubbed my skin. Scrape is an understatement. I had a full on leather burn that will leave a scar to tell this story for the rest of my days. Then, the bruises. I had legit, black and blue, can’t sit down on a pillow bruises on my seat for the entirely of the trip. I would do it all over again though, bruises and all.
I later asked my mom, “Was that the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done?” She responded, “uh, yea.”
4. Food. So many good stories about food: ordering it, eating it, trying to explain what we want. Our family members said next time we need to bring a list because my mom has a shellfish allergy, my dad is lactose intolerant, and I can’t eat gluten. Luckily, Panamanian food largely uses corn, rice, fruit, and fish. And BOY was it delicious!
One thing not to do in a foreign country is to eat buffet chicken at the equivalent of a Wal-Mart. I’ll spare you that story.
My mom ordered red wine on a couple occasions at different restaurants. The server brought out a glass of wine and she immediately gasped as she grabbed the glass. I looked at her as she said, “It’s cold!!” I responded “so.” and that was when I learned that you cannot, I mean absolutely CANNOT drink red wine cold. News to me! My dad then had to ask the server to leave her glass of wine out so it could become room temperature. We became “those” people. This exact situation happened two more times during our trip and my mom via my dad would ask the server to go through steps to make the wine room temp. Finally, Justin created the best line of the trip. While using’s my mother’s voice he announced: “Can you bring me an ice cube, but melted!?”
These are the memories we will laugh at for years to come and there are so many more! The best times during vacation are the fun moments you share, and for my family that means the embarrassing, frustrating, and clumsy moments. Luckily, we are great at making these situations happen. It’s always better when you make a fool of yourself in a beautiful, tropical country because there is a piña colada right around the corner. Back to being jealous 🙂