“You want to couchsurf in Panama?”
Sure, Allison. I don’t know what that is, but I’m in!
We complete our Couchsurfing profiles and set out to find a host, a perfect stranger willing to take us in for a few days in the name of hospitality and cultural exchange. Carlos, a seasoned member and world traveler with over one hundred references and an apparent gift for languages accepts our request. Panama, here we come.
I sit uncomfortably cold in a bus from San Jose, Costa Rica to Panama City, Panama, excited only by our bathroom breaks and the pack of wafers that the man next to me so kindly shares. Fifteen hours later, I want nothing more than to rest and find Allison, who’d arrived earlier than I and would be waiting for me in a hostel whose name I hope I’d written down correctly.
Reunited at last, the two of us pause only for a moment to observe Panama’s Old Town and gritty coast before catching a bus to the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal. Having missed the passing of a ship through the canal, we set off to meet our host. Carlos’s instructions first bring us to a bus terminal, somewhere. Unsure of our next move and wanting not to make much eye contact with anyone, we call Carlos for further instructions. One taxi ride later, we find ourselves standing in the quiet of a less-than-appealing neighborhood, under a mango tree and across from an abandoned apartment building. Where are we and why are we here?
An Asian boy with a U.S. accent appears from the residence behind us, asks if we’re waiting on Carlos, and runs away in an animated, game-like fashion. Moments later, Carlos and his Slovakian friend Daniel show up in a white pick-up truck, equipped with tire cage. Standing in the back of this truck, holding on to the metal bars of this cage above our heads, we pass through the Gatun Locks of the Panama Canal, but not without the curious looks of others. My camera’s shutter speed slows down as night falls over the dense trees on either side of us. Allison and I jokingly question our choice in adventure as it begins to rain heavily. We hope we’re close.
When our ride finally comes to a stop, it’s too dark to see, but I can feel the land’s vastness and hear the ocean’s waves only meters away. A French woman, a fellow Couchsurfer, greets us with the news of a dinner she has prepared for us. We dine on the patio, looking out into what the morning would reveal as a lush, beach-front property – our resting place for the next two days.
Story continues in: Panadventure