Sunday, July 5, 2009

Arriving in Panama

I left Quito and flew to Panama today, arriving at the Panama City airport about ten at night, and all the travel ease and luck that I had had up to this point disappeared. I waited in line for an hour for a customs paper that they didn’t have, so I tried to push my way through another line (well, it was more like an angry mob) to another customs paper seller, but by the time I got to the front of that line he had run out of the paper. Finally -- three hours later -- I was out of customs and in the hot muggy Panama streets. Except there was one problem -- my friend Natalia Swanson (who was flying in from the States) wasn’t there to pick me up. I walked around the airport for an hour looking for her, and then decided she must have gone to the hotel with out me. So I tried calling Natalia on both my Ecuador cell phone and my US cell phone, but neither of them works in Panama. Then I tried to call her on the pay phone, but that didn’t work because I only have Ecuadorian coins and no Panama coins. So I was pretty stuck. I was frustrated and nervous, but then found an information desk and pleaded to use their phone, and I called the hotel and Natalia was there. Her flight had been messed up too, so she couldn’t pick me up. So then I decided to take a taxi our hotel, Hotel Costa Azul, and when we arrived the taxi driver charged me $38 dollars, just to go from the airport to the hotel. I felt that was a ripoff, and I was already in a bad mood and all stressed, so I got in a fight with the cab driver for about ten minutes. Finally he lowered the fare to $25, which was still a lot but I was too exhausted to fight any more.

I arrived in the hotel room and Natalia was there, and everything changed. I was totally happy and chill being united with my cosmic soul sister Natalia. Natalia is from Colombia, and has a company called Kuna Prints and Mama Shaman, which makes shoes, bags and other accessories out of recycled molas. Molas are hand-sewn cotton panels made by the Kuna indigenous people using a unique technique, sometimes called “reverse quilting.” Molas are extremely colorful, with intricate and detailed designs of images from nature or Kuna history. The Kuna women wear these art pieces on shirts, with a matching patch both front and back. Natalia and her company travel to various fairs and art festivals around California selling their amazing, and colorful shoes. I met Natalia at an environmental gathering, and just bonded with her instantly. Since then, I have worked at fairs with her and contributed to the business. Last March, Natalia told me that she was going to visit the Kuna Indians at the San Blas Islands in Panama, to experience their life and to trade with them, and asked if I wanted to join. What an opportunity! I had to fundraise and plan more, but I did, with help from my parents, and Natalia made it happen.

Here’s a link to some information about molas, from Natalia’s website:

Natalia and I were both exhausted after our crazy days of travel. So we went to sleep -- but after about fifteen minutes there was a three-minute long 5.0 earthquake. We both freaked. I am used to earthquakes being a San Franciscan, but our native earthquakes are usually short and sweet, by the time you figure out it’s an earthquake it’s over. But this was different. It was long and intense, and we both had time to wake up, think and freak. We jumped in the same bed and held each other until the quake was over. Then we tried to sleep again, but we kept getting interrupted by phone calls and the adrenalin running through us, and we didn’t get to sleep until around one a.m.

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