Although a visitor to Panama City might notice its resemblance to a US City such as Miami with a huge modern skyline, plethora of fast food restaurants and American style Malls, this city is far from it. Never in all my travels have I experienced the unreal phenomenon that occurs in Panama where the water is just completely shut off to an entire capital city for days in a row. The reason for this is that a metro is being constructed and apparently there is no way to build this subterranean train system without depriving the 1.5 million people of water for the entirety of their weekends? The longest of these “dry spells” was last weekend where the water was shut down for a full 3 days and nights, let me share my experience with you….
The tale starts on a Thursday evening before a David Guetta concert in Panama City. The anticipation to see the currently #1 DJ on earth was high and my Panamanian concert crew purchased the necessary libations to truly experience this crazy party. After mixing nearly every type of alcohol known to man like, a 17 year old on Prom night, my crew (-1 who partied a little too hard and fell asleep before the concert even started) cruised over to the Figali Convention Center which more resembles a giant warehouse than a concert venue. After an incredible night of thumping house music, dancing robots and lasers I stumbled my way to a cheeseburger stand for a 5am snack before I made my way to work educating the children of Panama only an hour later with no sleep and not even having enough time to jump in the shower. After 8 hours of kids screaming at me and running around while I try to keep my eyes all the way open, one of the hardest days of work I’d ever had finally ended and I collapsed on my horribly uncomfortable mattress in my un-air-conditioned, dirty little apartment. I woke up briefly for a cereal dinner and although I was warned that there would be no water the next day I was too depleted to care or even take a shower so I laid back down next to my fan and went back to dreamland. When I woke up the next morning finally feeling like a human being again I placed my head in the sink to rehydrate myself only to hear a slight hiss and not even a drop to cure my desert like tongue. Kind of wanting to cry a little bit, but knowing it’s not worth it because my body needs the water I realize that I will be unable to have a lengthy “Gentlemans Moment” on my bathroom throne as there is no possibility of flushing the toilet which won’t make the bathroom a great place to hang out for me or the two pretty girls I share it with. Trumping out into pouring rain thinking about the irony that the outside world has far too much water and the inside has none yet no one has tried to capitalize on this idea I bought some bottled water and used a casino bathroom. Eventually I realized I must exit this loud, crowded, waterless city so two friends and I jetted off to the nearest beach in hopes of showers, beaches and a little tranquility. After an hour speeding through the rain we arrived in the late afternoon on a grey gloomy beach, but the cheap hotel room we found had HOT water so it was such a vast upgrade it was utter paradise.
The following day we were blessed with a gorgeous sunny day (rare in the Panamanian rainy season) and I decided to try my hand at surfing for the first time in my life. Determined to pick up the sport as quickly as possible and with a Mohammed Ali like mentality I rented a foam top long board recommended to me by the surf chick and took off into the sea. Although being warned that a tricky rock break was the only place available to surf in the morning I did my best Baywatch style run into the choppy ocean and pretended like I knew what I was doing. Now it needs to be noted here that I grew up in the mountains of Colorado and know virtually nothing about waves, surf etiquette or the ocean. As I paddled my way out to where the other surfers were, trying to look as tubular as possible, I repeatedly embarrassed myself getting tossed around by the waves and onto a jagged rock bottom cutting up my feet. Eventually I managed to fumble myself onto the board and catch a wave only to ride it way too far in and smash into some rocks, breaking the tail fin and costing me $20 with a look of shame from the other surfers. Spending a solid 5 hours or so in the ocean, not really improving a whole lot but giving it all I had, I eventually found myself cruising back to the city, horribly sunburned as usual with sand in every orifice of my body. Whispering silent prayers to myself that the good lord would please provide my apartment with just enough water to wash my body, I finally returned to my apartment. Mortified to hear that not only is there no water on Sunday, but the following day would also be waterless the only redeeming event that occurred was that all schools in the city were forced to close so I would not have to work the following day. To top it off a massive plumbing problem in my apartment has rendered my washer useless, so the first weekend I entrusted the entirety of my sheets and clothing to some trusty Chinos to wash for me upon my return from the surfing adventure, turned into an epic failure. The washing place was closed so I was stuck in the same smelly, sandy clothes for yet another day. Borrowing some raggedy old sheets from a roommate and attempting to lay in my bed in pain due to sunburns encompassing the entirety of my back and torso combined with a large “surfer’s rash” on my stomach from the surfboard, I laid on the only side that didn’t cause pain and thought to myself “Why the hell am I in Panama again?”
To answer this question is to get to the root of my philosophy and reason for why I choose to live a life of adventure rather than comfort. My intentions abroad are not to simply see as many beautiful places as I can, take a lot of pictures and return to a normal life back in the United States. I want to experience what life is like for someone living in a different country all the good and all the bad. Whether that be enduring days without water or spending a weekend on the most gorgeous desert island imaginable I do this just to try something new. I’m not trying to bring all the comforts of home to a new country and stay in nice hotels, have air-conditioning and regular running water. I’m going to live just like the average Panamanian guy you see walking down the street for better or for worse. Only then can you truly understand and appreciate a different way of life and be thankful for how awesome you really have it back home. I already know that when my time calls to return to the comfortable living of the United States it will take less to make me happy than it did before. Simple things like a hot shower and comfortable bed will be far better than they were before and never again will I take any of the small luxuries we have in the States for granted.