I am a native in this world And think in it as a native thinks

Monday, November 4, 2013

A man a plan a canal Panama

This is an Envisat radar image of the isthmus of Panama from space, courtesy of the European Space Agency. The canal is just to the left of the center of the picture; you can locate the two ends of the canal by looking for the clusters of green dots above and below the land mass. Those are ships entering and leaving the canal, and the large lake in the middle is part of the waterway.

What I had never realized is that because of the way the isthmus curves, the canal is at an angle from northwest to southeast, and the Atlantic is on the northern, western end. So to go from the Atlantic to the Pacific, you travel to the southeast, which is completely counterintuitive. In parts of Panama, the sun actually rises over the Pacific.

I didn't see the actual canal when I was flying in from Guayaquil yesterday evening, just a few ships that seemed to be headed in that general direction as we approached the coastline. And for an unpleasant half hour or so I thought I might not get to see the canal at all.

Because I didn't have a pen.

One had broken early on in the trip, and another ran out of ink when I was trying to give someone my email address on the way back to Guayaquil. And I think the room service waiter at the hotel kept another one, because that's gone too. So although I usually have at least half a dozen pens in my various bags, and I always fill out any necessary forms on the plane to get it over with, yesterday I arrived at Panamanian immigration with nothing but a blank form and a hopeful smile.

Fortunately the very kind agent lent me her pen, and I filled out the form there. (The other passengers on my flight had long since vanished, so at least no one was waiting behind me.) Unfortunately, there was another hurdle -- Customs had its own form to fill out, and the bored woman behind the counter had no interest in helping me. She waved me off in the direction of a nearby counter, which had pads of custom declaration forms and nothing to fill them out with.

And while there had been dozens of airport shops before the immigration check, there was nothing between Immigration and Customs but linoleum. The only other passengers, a couple from Buenos Aires who were clearly very confused because they asked me -- a woman who was about to fill out the form in eyeliner -- for help answering some of the questions, didn't understand my very bad Spanish-plus-pantomime request to borrow one of their pens.

Finally, I noticed airport workers taking a break nearby and one of them, a man who will forever be one of my heroes, lent me his leaky Bic, and I was finally allowed into Panama.

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