The fridges are looking rather empty. A few rotten carrots. Two eggs and some stale bread. The top-loading fridge is a deep cavernous hole. The beer & wine situation is dismal. What was once an entire guest cabin reasonably filled with beer & wine is now a vacuum.
Today we provision; An entire day devoted to collecting groceries. Long gone are the days where we pile everything into our cart at Costco, transfer it into the car and pull into the garage. It’s different now. There is no car. No garage. No Costco. It takes all day. It’s an experience.
We drop the dinghy into the water. Find a dock to tie up to. This time the front yard of someone’s house. We poke our head inside where we find a Panamanian family sitting around a sparse living room eating breakfast. “Is it ok to tie up?” We point at our dinghy and make a questioning gesture. Throw in a few Spanish words to get the point across. “Si Si, no problemo.”
Backpacks fully laden with empty blue Ikea bags we walk up a couple back alleys to the main road. We stand on the dirt shoulder and within minutes, what looks like a circus bus, comes rattling down the road. Brakes squealing. A simple wave of the arm and it pulls over.
The buses here have intricate paintings on the outside. Murals of God, Jesus and various other forms topped with a glossy finish. Now, I’m not the religious type but if anything might ever convince me to go to church, this might be it. It’s looks really damn cool!
We hop on. No fare paid until we arrive. As we plop down on the tattered bench seat I stumble over something on the ground. What the heck is that? I look down and see PVC pipes. Twenty foot long pipes shoved under the seats. It dawns on me. Just some local transporting building materials. Eventually he gets off, opens the rear emergency door and extracts his pipes from under the seats.
I gaze out the open window as we bounce along the Panamanian country side. Homesteaders are going about their daily tasks. Some are burning rubbish. Kids running around. Vollyball is popular here. An occasional fat pig tied to a tree. Often the bus comes to a screeching halt. More passengers standing on the side of the road waiting for a ride. I nod off into a half sleep. It’s somehow comfortable out here.
An hour later we arrive at our destination. A small town on the outskirts of Panama. A town with a big grocery store where we load up our cart with wine and vegatables. The two things that are hard to find while cruising. Two full backpacks and five blue Ikea bags later we’re ready to take our haul home. Now to the logistics of getting back to the boat. There’s a $40 cab ride or a local bus. We opt for the bus.
Outside, a swarm of people mulling about. Spanish voices swirl through the air. We’re the outsiders here. People look. People stare. I suppose white people with a whack load of groceries is not an everyday occurrence.
At 5pm and everyone is going home. The first bus rolls past. It’s too capacity. A few minutes later another bus pulls up. This one is mostly empty. Ashley guards the groceries while I run up and blurt out our destination to the driver. No. Not this one. We will not be that lucky today. The guy points to the bus that’s now behind him. It’s full. Stuffed to the gills. With humans.
Organized chaos ensues. The locals swarm the bus in an orderly fashion. We get the attention of the doorman. He sees our grocery haul, jumps down, ushers us around the back where he opens the emergency door. Within seconds our bags are tossed behind the last row of seats. One on top of the other. Tossed. Thrown. Stuffed. I mutter to Ashley in protest. “Are you sure? Let’s just grab a taxi.” Nope. She’s not having it. If the locals can do this, so can we.
We’re at the back of the lineup by the time we get back to the front door and, for all intents and purposes, it looks full. With each passing minute, everyone shuffles a little bit further down the aisle. With each second the human meat sandwich gets a little denser. We shove. We push and eventually the standing human meat sandwich is complete. No one is going anywhere except the end pieces.
My thoughts go quickly to the logistics of letting people off. I have the lucky position at the front of the human meat sandwich. A bookend of sorts. Very quickly I discover it’s possibly the worst place to be. Top heavy with a dozen bottles of wine strapped to my back. A driver who is in a hurry. It takes every ounce of energy to not go flying through the front windshield. I’m too far forward to have access to the overhead handles. I claw my fingernails into the top of a seat. Legs spread as if I’m in the starting blocks for the 100m.
Everytime we stop I must get off. Out comes another human from the meat sandwich and quickly I get ushered back in.
The bus shudders and complains. The brakes smell like they’re on fire. At some point the driver slams on the brakes extra hard in an attempt to slow down for a speed bump. I lurch forward and hit his rear view mirror with my backpack. A slurry of foreign words come at me. I don’t understand much Spanish but it’s not hard to get the gist of this one.
Eventually I squeeze myself a little deeper into the meat sandwich. Ashley has scored a seat by now and I pass her my backpack. That’s about forty pounds off my pack!
Quickly I learn that being at the center of the meat sandwich has other challenges. Some ladies down here have beautiful big bums. The center aisle is as wide as a big bum and one of these gorgeous ladies makes her way to the front of the bus. I quietly observe. What some might see as a road block is quickly overcome with a special technique. She turns sideways while the opposing passenger attempts to squeeze past. Rather than one fluid full-contact slide, the opposing passenger uses a series of jerk and lurch motions. With each successive jerk, the opposing passenger makes a bit further. His groin in full contact with her bum. Awkward? Perhaps. But it is only with this sudden lurch that one can overcome the inertia created by the friction between the bum and groin.
We finally arrive after a long hour. Extract our compressed groceries from the rear of the bus and look at each other. “That was an absolutely awesome experience!”
The local way is the best way. All this for $0.25 per person.