3 Days With NO WATER!??

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….

Perhaps one too many of everything!

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.

Everybodys going surfing...

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?”

Sometimes you're up sometimes you're down!

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.

Advertisements

This Bus is Hot, Cramped and Terrible, but it’s Better Than Being Sold By my Dad in Afghanistan!!!

Hungover and discombobulated with my heart still bumping to the beat of a DJ Tiesto concert the night before, I threw a book and some clothes in a small pack and walked under the oppressive tropical sun to my friend’s house.  We had a four day weekend from work so we decided to get out of Panama City for an adventure.  Since there is pretty much only one main road that spans the length of Panama it’s not too tricky to travel, you just pick a way and go.  I’d heard from some locals the Azuero Peninsula had some nice little towns and the World Surf Championships were held there a few months prior so we dragged our half alive bodies to the bus station and bought a ticket to a random city in the area.  On such a cramped bus seat I was literally pressed up against the bus window trying to suppress feelings of carsickness amplified by a hangover.  As I tried unsuccessfully to squirm my body into a comfortable position I generated a new strategy of coping with uncomfortable travel that genuinely works better than anything else I’ve ever tried. I’m currently reading “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini the dude who wrote Kite Runner.  While being an incredibly well written and awesome book this story is not a happy one.  Reading about the unreal difficulty and sadness of the Afghani women in the book made me realize that my current situation of simply being hot, cramped and hungover on a small, bumpy bus is really not bad at all.  The next time I considered leaning over to my buddy and exclaiming “Dude, this bus sucks sooo bad” I simply thought about the girl in Afghanistan being sold off by her dad at age 15 to an old, sweaty, fat man and suddenly felt stupid for complaining….  So next time you’ve got a 12 hour bus ride or a long flight ahead of you simply chose a story about someone whose life is much worse than your own and whenever you are feeling annoyed or uncomfortable, read their story to remind yourself that life isn’t so bad after all!

Eventually the “not-so-terrible after all” bus journey ended in a small city called Las Tablas.  A cooler, slow paced city where foreigners just came up to us on the street to ask where we were from, this town was a completely different world than the hot, loud urban sprawl of Panama City.  With dinner less than $2 and $0.60 beers in a bar, the price alone made this place worth a visit.  We met a local dude at a bar and I found his slower Spanish much easier to understand than the people of Panama City.  We jokingly told him we wanted to drink one beer in every bar of Las Tablas, but sarcasm is something that is easily lost in translation so we were literally taken on a hilarious, local pub crawl of the entire city! For a small town on a Thursday it seemed that everyone was out and about well into the night and we filled our bellies with beer for a laughably cheap price discussing Panamanian baseball. The kindness of strangers, ease of conversing with locals and overall good vibes of the city were tremendous, so much so that I’m considering moving to this town after my time in Panama City.  My job ends in late December so a move like this could be a lonely one as I would be spending Christmas, New Years and possibly my Birthday in a town where I know not a soul, but I’ve seen apartments for rent around $100 a month and I would be forced to practice my Spanish to do virtually anything so maybe it’s worth it?  At least it’s probably better than Afghanistan…

I’m Confused… What Did You Say!?

When you move to a new country with no prior knowledge of the language, confusion is part of your daily life.  As common as a trip to the bathroom or a glass of water, slightly shaking your head and thinking “what are they saying to me?” happens every single day.  As I near the 4 month point of my time in Central America its hard for me to judge how much Spanish I know.  Sometimes I have complete conversations and understand whats going on, but other times a simple conversation of pleasantries perplexes my brain to the point of no return and I just stare at this person like they are speaking some strange aboriginal language.  What adds to this confusion is that in the school I’m currently working for all my coworkers are from a range of different Latin Countries.  Uruguay, Colombia, Chile, Venezuela, Peru and Panama, the differences within the Spanish language are far greater than I would have ever expected.  Some of the teacher’s in my school speak slow, enunciate and make me think that I’m actually learning to hablo espanol.  Other teachers speak at me with their tongue moving like it’s on fire, dropping the ends of words and blending everything into something that sounds like maybe it could be Arabic.  When I’m completely lost in a group of people speaking Spanish and unable to contribute anything for uncomfortable lengths of time, I find it easy for my mind to wander or often just shut off completely.  Sometimes I play a little game in my head where I just completely make up the meaning of conversations taking them on crazy tangents that more than likely have absolutely nothing to do with what’s going on in real life.

As Spanish is a passionate language people often speak with a lot of emotion that I often find hard to decipher.  Sometimes I can’t tell if people are fighting and yelling at each other or if that’s just the way they speak normally.  This often creates awkward situations where I’m not sure how to act or what facial expression to display.  For example, the other day I found myself in a parent-teacher conference in my usual cloudy haze of confusion.  As I desperately racked my brain to follow an Argentinian, Peruvian, Panamanian and Colombian speak with each other I noticed that the conversation began to increase in intensity.  Not sure whether the volume and pace of the meeting was normal, people were angry or they were all friends joking around with each other I maintained a big smile throughout the meeting and tried to act like I had somewhat of a clue as to what was going on.  When the meeting adjourned, I gave the parent a warm “goodbye and nice to meet you” and went on with my day.  Later that afternoon I overheard some other teachers talking about a furious parent who came in this morning and went off on a rant about the “stupid” teachers at the school.  As I inquired more I realized that I had been present throughout this rant and a shade of red took over my face as the embarrassment began to creep up my spine.  This confused Gringo teacher sat there like an idiot for the better part of an hour while a parent talked negatively about me and the other teachers and all I did was smile and exclaim how much of a pleasure it was to meet him.  The only positive thing that can come out of this is that the parent must have been slightly mind blown of how little his words affected me!?

I Don’t Need Any Drugs, Hookers or a Taxi Right Now, I’m Just On My Way to Work…

Being a blond haired blue eyed gringo living in Panama has its advantages and disadvantages.  No matter where I go I draw attention which can be for the better or worse.  On the positive side I find people are often interested in starting conversations with me, girls stare at me and it’s easier to find work teaching English because I’m clearly a native speaker.  Now these are all pretty swell advantages, but what about the negative aspects of being a Panamanian gringo?

The first and most annoying thing is the fact that many Panamanians think all young Gringos are only in Panama for a short time looking to spend as much money as possible on drink, drugs, hookers, casinos and taxis.  As evidence of this let me briefly describe to you my morning walk to a friend’s house who drives me to school everyday.  Every morning around 6:30am I force my body on a bleary eyed, half-awake walk down a street containing one of the most popular casinos in the city which is known to be a beacon for prostitute activity in Panama.  As I am a strong advocate for a law being passed that nothing happens before 8am so I never have to be awake during the hellish hours containing the numbers 6am or 7am in them, I am not usually in the most cheerful mood on these morning walks of necessity.  The only thing that keeps me going is the Colombian food vendors who sell coffee and Arepa out of a van across from the casino.  Now I’m not saying I’m the only gringo on this street during these terrible hours of the day as there are often drunk gringos just leaving the casino amazed that the sun has already risen, but I am certainly the only gringo on his way to work.  As these vendors are used to serving the drunk and hungry tourists they automatically charge over 3 times the price for their simple cart food, and not knowing what the prices should be, gringos almost never complain.  Now paying 3 dollars for breakfast seemed like a great deal to me, until I started noticing the locals forking over small handfuls of change for the exact same meal.  Even funnier is the fact that these vendors seemed to be slowly lowering the price for me as they realized I wasn’t just your typical tourist gringo, in fact after a month of eating out of the same van everyday my price eventually went from $3 to $1.  A couple seconds after putting some coffee in my body so I can function like a normal human being I am usually hollered at by a group of taxi drivers asking me “Where you go man, you want lady?”  Mystified by their sales tactics at such an early hour I keep walking and down the street I see a scantily dressed prostitute desperately trying to make eye contact with me.  As she approaches she finds it necessary to grope me and ask if I like her.   When I try to explain in broken Spanglish that I’m just on my way to work, but thanks anyway she gives me a sad and confused look and releases me from her grasp so I can continue on my way to work.  This funny, yet routine situation was quite comical for the first few weeks, but you can imagine that over time it begins to become annoying.  You start to get sick of everyone automatically charging you extra and having to take the time to explain every time that you actually live in the city and know what the actual price should be.  Being from a rich country this is always going to be standard when visiting countries with less money, but the treatment of foreigner still confuses me. In the United States if you decided to charge someone extra money, point and laugh at them on the streets, or refuse them a taxi fare because of their skin color you would most likely be looking at a pricey lawsuit and be labeled a racist.  For some reason this concept doesn’t apply in Panama as being charged extra for everything is a daily occurrence for me and I often find myself wondering why random people on the street are staring, pointing  and whispering about me to their friends.

Sometimes these situations can make an expat very annoyed and angry at the locals, but to live happily in a foreign country one MUST not let these minor annoyances get to them.  In comparison to most Panamanians we are much richer than they are, so it’s not a surprise that they are looking to take an extra buck off of us.  The best strategy is not to act hostile and demand the fair price exclaiming that this person is being unfair.  Instead, just smile explain that you live in that country and know the fair price.  Next tell him how much you are willing to pay and just offer that amount.  Don’t haggle down, just stare them in the eyes with a genuine smile and let them know that this gringo isn’t down for any nonsense and they can take the money or you’re out of there.  Among friends I’m considered to be an expert in the art of the haggle, but the funny thing is that the reason I am so successful with it is that I don’t even bother.  I hold out the money I’m willing to pay and allow one minute for the vendor to take it or leave it….  The secrets out!

I’m the Worst Salsa Dancer in Latin America

3 Months this will be me??

People often claim to be the best at something, but not often do you hear the exact opposite.  You rarely meet someone at a bar who exclaims, “Hi. My name is Joe and I’m the worst swimmer in this whole country!”  Well unfortunately I can literally make a claim of this nature after participating in a Salsa Dance lesson in Panama.  Now I would have probably been in the bottom 1% of a Salsa Lesson anywhere in the world, but in a Latin American country where people are born with natural rhythm, my skills were comparable to Danny DeVito in a slam dunk contest!

Don't let my ability to adopt Panamanian fashion fool you into thinking my dance skills are on the same level!

 

In the beginning of the class you dance without a partner, which allowed me to maintain a sliver of dignity as most people were paying close attention to the instructors and not on the hilariously awkward and unbalanced gringo attempting something he will never be able to do.  After desperately trying to follow the suave footwork of the dude in front of me for an hour or so I realized in horror the ungodly amount I was sweating.  While most people were wearing athletic shorts and a tank top, this gringo thought he should dress up for salsa dance classes in pants and a button down.  With a river of sweat pouring down my brow and inhibiting my vision it was time to finally choose a partner to dance with.  Smelling like a used jock strap and sweatier than Chris Farley during a Yoga Class I couldn’t imagine any of these Latin women would choose the one guy in the group whose lack of dance skills were matched only by an even worse understanding of the Spanish language.

Sometimes God or whatever force causes random events looks positively upon this gringo as two of the cutest girls in my immediate vicinity approached me.  Amazed by what had just happened, I found myself dancing with a beautiful Latin girl, unable to communicate, but she was genuinely trying to make some rhythm occur in my body.  You know that feeling when you are watching someone do something so embarrassing you literally have to look away because you start feeling embarrassed?  Well I’m pretty sure I caused that feeling for a bunch of people because eventually some locals realized that this gringo needed some advice.  Now those of you who’ve had the pleasure (or misfortune) of meeting me have probably realized that I have a somewhat strange and bouncy walk.  Now Salsa is all about small steps and sliding back and forth, definitely not bouncing up and down in any way shape or form.  To my dismay a group of the better dancers in the group formed a semi-circle around me and began grabbing at my hips and trying to help move them for me.  My partner was noticeably embarrassed with a look of “Why did I pick the gringo…” in her eyes and one person finally spoke some English and said “maybe you could have some rhythm if you stopped jumping and bouncing so much!”  Wishing I had consumed some more liquid courage before the lesson I just refused to care and tried my best to make it work.  Eventually we got to switch partners and I never saw my original partner again.  Everyone was extremely nice and helpful, but my efforts were hopeless to say the least.  At this point in time I do have the intention of trying this sensual Latin art again, but I definitely need something more than a group lesson.  If I have any beautiful Latin Chica readers who are seasoned in the art of Salsa dancing and looking to teach a hopeless gringo, please feel free to contact me below!

Exotic Islands, Extreme Rain and Getting Sunburned Through my Hair

Menacing Rain Cloud

As I’ve mentioned before, Panama is in the rainy season, so the images I had in my head of endless white sand beaches with a view of nothing but palm trees and water are far from my reality.  A constant gray sky with a humid mist is what I experience most of the time, along with sporadic downpours of rain.  Actually, even though “downpour” seems to be the most intense classification of rain, it doesn’t even come close to describing the daily tropical storms in Panama.  Calling the water I like to refer to as “Floods from Above” simply as rain is rather like saying “It was a little windy yesterday” if a Tornado ripped through your neighborhood consuming everything in its path.  Not only is the sheer volume and speed of the rain the most intense I’ve ever seen, but there is little if any warning that everything you own will look as if you dove into a pool within seconds.  Another Panamanian fun fact that I failed to take into account was that there are no beaches in Panama City, despite being right on the water.  A combination of poorly planned sewage disposal directly into the ocean combined with an enormous volume of massive ships passing next to the city to the canal on an endless basis, the water is far too polluted for anyone besides the blindly intoxicated.  The closest beach to the city is actually on an island which is one hour from the city by ferry called Isla Taboga.  I’d heard the beach was only “okay” from some locals, but coming from the landlocked mountain state of Colorado any beach to me is pretty awesome!

Panamanian Navy Fleet!?

Clearly it was my destiny to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and go to the beach because the morning I intended to go the clouds had disappeared and been replaced with a beautiful, blue sunny day.  So excited to swim in the Pacific for my first time in Panama I neglected to bring a towel and grabbed a taxi to the port.  As people began to line up for the ship I hung out underneath a tree to avoid the intense rays of tropical sunshine.  Eventually I made my way onto the ship, lathered up in some protective lotion as I have pathetic sun resistance due to my English heritage, and found a place to stand on the front deck.  As we approached the island the scenery was absolutely unreal due to the enormous number of huge tankers dotting the horizon, awaiting entrance into the canal.  I imagined this is what it would look like during a massive naval invasion if all the cargo and tankers were battleships!  With the sea breeze masking the intensity of the sun the boat eventually made it to a picturesque little island civilization.  One look at the island made me realize the potential awesomeness of beaches here in Panama.  If the locals think this island is only mediocre then I can’t even imagine what they consider a great beach because this place was perfect.  A quaint little colorful island town, it’s one of those spots that make you think “do people really live here!”  It seems like Hammock Chillin’ and Fishin’ make up 95% of the activities on the island and after a brief walk around that made me feel like I went swimming due to the crazy amount of sweat being excreted from my body I decided it was ocean time.

Paradise just an hour from the city

With sunscreen infused sweat dripping into my eyes I did a brief walkabout along the beach in search of a hot Latin babe to help lather some sunscreen on my back and watch my backpack while I went swimming.  Not really seeing any babes who looked like they spoke much English and already feeling burns starting on my back I proceeded to put sunscreen on the front of my hands and do my little “Sunscreen Dance” desperately trying to contort my arms into unreasonable positions to effectively lather my entire back.  This is especially hard when I was so unbelievably sweaty the sunscreen had zero chance of absorbing and did I mention I forgot a towel?  Eventually satisfied by my efforts I found some other Americans on the beach to hangout with and drink some cheap cervezas in the sun.  They agreed to watch my bag and I immediately jogged to the water and just swam straight towards another island with the excitement of an 8-year old the eve of their first trip to Disneyland.  Having been in the unbelievably humid city for about a week you can imagine I had been building up this moment in my head for some time, and it was everything I could imagine for the first 2 minutes, then my dreams were shattered….  An intense burning and stinging feeling started around my elbows and raced all up and down my arms and back.  For a split second I thought I had been stung by some crazy tropical jellyfish so I immediately started frantically swimming back to the shore in hope that I could reach a depth I could stand before I went into shock!!  Thinking more rationally and having experienced something similar to this before in the oceans of Thailand I realized it was merely a case of sea lice, which wasn’t a huge deal, but completely ruined my moment and caused little bite marks all over my body.  Being super angry with the ocean I decided to purchase some more ice cold cervezas and hang with my newfound American pals until the journey home.

I could live here...

When I got back to my apartment in the city I realized that the entirety of my body was pretty horribly sunburned.  My back was a splotchy red mess because of areas I had missed in the “Sunscreen Dance” and even the tops of my hands, fingers and feet were sunburned which was a new one for me.  Before I took a cold shower to lower the intense temperature of my body I ran my hand over my head and to my horror I realized that my scalp had been maliciously sunburned THROUGH MY HAIR!  Now I do have extremely blond hair and shaved my head before I left for this journey, but I intentionally left it longer than normal in fear that this could occur.  The initial burn is pretty terrible, but the stage I’m in now is far worse.  The burn has turned into a peel and now every time I even touch my extremely itchy head a cloud of dead skin resembling a snowstorm falls upon me.  This is not awesome to say the least, but what makes things worse is that I have to meet my 5th grade student’s parents in the morning tomorrow.  I’m already under qualified, confused and lack the Spanish skills to effectively communicate, but combine this with an embarrassingly red face, a propensity to itch my peeling body every 30 seconds and a snowstorm of “dandruff looking dead skin” falling from my head, it might be difficult to make a good first impression.  Let the adventure begin…

Enjoying the Finer Things in Life with a Venezuelan Gambler

My Latin Makeshift "Family"

I already described my hilarious hostel family of Latin American misfits in the last post, but today I would like to introduce a new character.  Another Venezuelan named Tomas, this one calling himself my father but in a vastly different situation than my Venezuelan brothers who fled Chavez without a penny to their name.  Tomas looks to be in his mid 60’s, has half his teeth and a monumental beer belly that should be photographed and put in a museum due to its greatness.   Up until today he was just the strange old guy who was always sleeping on the hostel couch snoring with such magnitude his belly would jiggle like Jello on a trampoline.  But after I got to know this man, everything has changed.  Late in the morning Tomas told me he was going to cook a big lunch for the other Venezuelans and my Panamanian mother.  He asked if I would like to join and proceeded to teach me the spanish names of every ingredient in his “Chinese style rice with ham, turkey, peppers and potato salad.”  I obliged and sat down with my self-appointed spanish tutors to expand my vocabulary before lunch.  After a stellar meal and some surprisingly good spanish coming out of my mouth the Venezuelan’s invited me to go watch the Panama vs El Salvador soccer match in the casino nearby.

El Cangrejo, my soon to be permanent neighborhood of Panama City

Tomas was a lifelong military man in Venezuela and having recently retired from a life of combat he was spending his pension in the casinos of Panama!  He had literally been gambling day and night for months so the casino was no doubt quite fond of this charasmatic fat man.  They offered him and his amigos the VIP lounge of the casino to watch the game with free drinks and gorgeous cocktail waitresses to entertain the eyes.  Sipping free, fine Latin Rum, watching a thrilling soccer match where Panama beat Salvador in penalties I was really enjoying the finer things in life after 2 dirty weeks as a backpacker on a budget!  Tomas seemed to literally know everyone in the casino and important looking men were a constant stream to our table with beautiful women kissing us all on the cheek and saying hola.  My Spanish is not good enough to understand this legendary man’s banter, but he asked each and every cocktail waitress over to our table and seemed to be telling them they were the most beautiful in the casino.  Feeling on top of the world Tomas proceded to strut around the casino, approach each and every attractive girl tap them on the shoulder push me in front of them and introduce me.  My blond hair and blue eyes already get me a lot of attention in Latin America, but with Tomas’s shameless approach to picking up women it was pretty hilarious and awesome.  After literally feeling like some sort of Latin royalty I left the casino with my Venezuelan family after which they insisted on tutoring me in more Spanish until the wee hours of the morning.

The Center of all Colombian Prostitute Activity, The Legendary Venetto Casino

I often get asked how I manage to get into these random social/cultural adventures when traveling.  The answer is that when I travel my MO is literally “I’m down for whatever and I’ll always have a smile.”  I’ve discussed this ideology in previous posts, but I can’t stress enough its importance when traveling internationally.   With differences in languages and cultures it’s easy to become confused and misunderstandings are inevitable.  However, with a laid back approach to everything, no preconceptions and a conflict diffusing smile anything is possible.  So many people are seeking the “perfect vacation” when they travel and they don’t allow for anything sporadic.  They create an itinerary with all the places they want to see and things they want to do while in a certain location.  Their schedule doesn’t allow the time to accept random invitations and I promise you these are often much more valuable experiences than merely seeing a monument you could have just looked at in a picture.  In fact this mentality could also be applied to life as a whole.  So often we get trapped in our life’s schedule we forget to take a random detour or two, just a thought…..    When I travel there is a quote that I live by from “The Beach” my favorite book (and movie) of all time.

“So never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar, never fail to be polite and never outstay the welcome. Just keep your mind open and suck in the experience. And if it hurts, you know what? It’s probably worth it. “