FRIENDS! and Best Night Ever

At about the billionth blare of yet another Mitsubishi Lancer, I’d had it.  Often, it was likely a cab driver letting me know he was available, but far too many men had whistled sharply or leered “hola!” out the windows for me to be even remotely comfortable.  I had dark patches of sweat down my t-shirt and my waterproof athletic shorts were baggy and misshapen after the third day in a row.  So I was gross and jumpy, but that weird global siren of “blonde” still held.

I wanted to round up every man in the country and put him on a conveyer belt through an assembly line of angry feminist mama bears.  I got back to my room and vowed I wouldn’t leave it again.

Well, this lasted until hunger hit, so I ventured out to the nearest restaurant- which featured two dollar rum, a friendly waitress, and zero other patrons.  Score.  One of the locals, Rosa, had walked me down the first night and doubled as my first warning.

“You mustn’t be out after nine!” she admonished, and “make sure you bring a friend with you wherever you go.”

“But I don’t have any friends here.”

“Oh.”

Oh.

Okay.

(Sad face.)

But friends, last night I made friends!  And they dispelled all my previous impressions.

Friday night changed the atmosphere of my restaurant, and when Roger got up with his guitar and started playing Jose Feliciano covers of covers, I was filled with childlike delight.

But then all of a sudden he was tableside as I polished off my yucca.

“Want to get up and sing with me?” he asked, as people started to trickle in.

“My middle name is Oke!” I replied.  “Sure!”

I had had at least six dollars of rum at that point and had to back up and explain that my first name is Carrie and the Oke thing is just a joke I like to tell- I don’t actually sing stuff.  Not outside the shower or the Hyundai.

“No karaoke, even?  Haha, your name!”

I thought fleetingly of my Dr. Dre performance at Silver House and decided to keep it in the vault.

“Not like, anything I could actually hear, or that people felt the need to listen to.”  I was referring here to the wholesome family of six who now occupied the table directly in front of his amp.

Roger laughed with satisfying glee and grabbed his guitar and song list. We practiced quietly in the corner until he found my range (limited) and we decided on our set (the same).  I drank two more dollars for courage.  My belly was ready for this!

We went to the front.  Sat down.  I carefully flattened a wrinkle in my running gear as Roger introduced us:

“SpanishSpanishSpanishSpanish CARRIE OKE! SpanishSpanishSpanishSpanishSpanish.”

People clapped and looked at us expectantly.  The two children, eyes like saucers, crept ever closer.  Cell phones came out and switched to video mode.

I took a big ole breath and sang them where the answer was, my friend!  Followed that by asking what would they do if we sang out of tune?  Would they stand up and walk out on us?  And they didn’t!

The cell phones went away and the applause was more polite than raucous, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt more of a rock star then when the 7 year old boy grabbed the mic afterward and shouted “Carrie Oke!” while I beamed.  He even joined me at my table and we happily counted to ten and diez at each other in a nod to my limited linguistics.  Because friends, you know, should always be able to count at each other.

Si, that was your redemption song, Panama, and I thank you.

Adios, gracias, and thank you very much.

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I don’t have any pictures of myself singing so here are some friendly neighborhood cows.

The Highway, the Danger Zone, and Beautiful Boquete

BOQUETE

It’s just before 6 a.m. and the roosters are cockadoodle doin’ it well, which is how LL Cool J would’ve written it if he’d been raised in the rainforest.  Lizards are a-skitter and there’s a chorus of birds singing lush and falsetto.

Boquete is in the northern part of the country, closer to Costa Rica then Colombia.  I hoped to come here post-urban adventure to finish this vacation with utter relaxation: sipping local “the world’s best” coffee, hiking to waterfalls on the volcano on which my room is perched, and snapping sloths in their natural habitat, while pleased, I think about how gross and cool it is that they’re slow enough to grow an entire ecosystem in their fur.

I am just so gosh darn lucky to have gotten here alive.

Within a moment in the cab, I realized that something was amiss.  We wove down the road like the thread on a seamstress’s deadline, and my driver- Josef- kept groping for something while muttering anxiously en Espanol.  “Up,” he demanded, and I eventually understood to hoist my butt as he groped at the seat underneath me, emerging worryingly with keys and an expression of true satisfaction.

We stopped at a gas station and inexplicably switched from a yellow cab to an unmarked SUV.  Josef grinned at my puzzled face, then rev’d the engine through a blast of rap music that assaulted at full volume.  As my shell-shocked brain retreated, he tossed the beer cans into the back and took off, with me in the front clenching every muscle in my body as I noticed the tv set in the dashboard flashed some skin in a thong and then the accompanying soft core pornography.

“You like?” asked Josef.

I just stuttered.  Grunted.  Remembered all the prayers of my youth.  As it turns out, I was not the quick-thinking survivalist when the internal warning bell screeched in time with the hybrid Spanish gangster beats.

On the road, we blew through alto signs like red meant “go” and octagonal meant “faster” and my puppet self jerked at every makeshift, hairpin turn.  The music became a reasonable volume of rhythmic “f” and “n” words, and as I thought of it as Tupac with Tourette’s, I pondered my options.

Ask him to stop, that I’d reached my destination?  There were no streetlights on this rural road: no.

Bail bravely from the bucket seat with a pavement-softening power roll?  All of AC/DC’s thunder struck and the heavens gushed through their opening.

So much for prayer and plan b.

Sooner than anticipated- Josef lurched maniacally at 125 in opposition to the speed limit’s 80- we arrived at the aptly named Haven.  There, he became gentle and shyly offered me his phone number.

I dully checked in, and on each of my trembling body parts.

And in bed I intend to stay until I recover.

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Why You Should Go To a Nude Beach in Classic Five Paragraph Essay Form

Why You Should Go To a Nude Beach in Classic Five Paragraph Essay Form

FIRST PARAGRAPH(S): HOOK/THESIS

In that drawling Southern way that renders even the word “penis” into a charming common noun, Ken’s friend from North Carolina explained how she found out what her son calls his junk.

“But what if my nude gets cold?” he asked her- although maybe not because the use of the word “nude” is more clear to my memory than the situation itself.  Also the word “watermelon” for a girl’s bits, which sent me into equally delighted giggles.  Regardless, “nude” is a funny word, especially when you play with pronouncing it in various accents and mutations (nyuuuuuuuuuuude).  “Nude beach”, however, changes the brain.  A nude beach conjures images of sun, sand, and both northern and southern exposures.  Should you do it?  Could you do it?

Yes.

You should go to a nude beach because it’s the least fatal thing on your bucket list; because preparing for it is stimulating in that shivery “this is a brand new thing” way you don’t get much after, say, college; and because afterward, you will be able to drop lines like “I was naked in public in the land of the blue-footed booby!” into otherwise dreadful conversations, and then proudly but casually walk away.

SECOND PARAGRAPH: FIRST CLAIM/EVIDENCE/REASONING

Bucket lists tend to include things like skydiving, which is flat-out horrifying until you are (worst case) actually flat out.  Legal public nudity, however, is only scary in a mental way, especially considering each of us shares the same parts with approximately 50% of 7 billion people.  This is something you can tell yourself while looking critically in the mirror after buying the ferry ticket to the nude beach island, which is 32 miles off the coast of Panama, which is 4,786.7 miles from your home and everyone you know.  You will not die of body shame in front of isolated island Panamanians and the occasional femur-sized lizard.  Piece of birthday suit cake!

THIRD PARAGRAPH: SECOND CLAIM/EVIDENCE/REASONING

You should also consider the naked sunbathing because it is very, very fun to get ready.  For example during your preparatory shower, you can make up songs like “I Have Confidence In Nude Beaches” to sing in your Maria Von Trapp voice, or “I Can See Clearly Now, My Clothes Are Gone” in your best Johnny Nash.  Your pleased pituitary gland will start churning out oxytocin, while your endorphins will act as bouncers for any stress that wants to come in.  It’s true; science says so!  Or at least the studies referenced in an August 16, 2013, time.com article called “Singing Changes Your Brain” do.  That, and the anecdotal evidence I can provide re: the excitement I felt for doing a new thing- of which there don’t seem to be a ton in the post-college era- should convince you.  I wiggled like a hyperactive earthworm all morning.

FOURTH PARAGRAPH(S): COUNTERCLAIM/REFUTAL

Not all agree that nudity is acceptable behavior.  In fact, Dennis Prager defended the opposite view in 2013 in a National Review article entitled “Why Public Nudity is Wrong”:

“When human beings walk around with their genitals uncovered, they are behaving in a manner indistinguishable from that of animals. A major difference between humans and animals is clothing; clothing separates us from — and in the biblical view, elevates us above — the animal kingdom. Seeing any animal’s genitals is normal. Anyone who demanded that animals’ genitals be covered would be regarded as a nut by the most religious Jew or Christian. But one of our human tasks is to elevate ourselves above the animal. And covering our genitals is one important way to do that.”

I would like to contend that the preceding paragraph is, in academic terms, hooey.  I can agree that there are times I would definitely like my clothing to separate myself from animals, but I mean that in the physical sense of preferring that the aforementioned iguana dig its claws into my sweater instead of my epidermis.  Frankly, Dennis Prager seems one of those people who partake in dreadful conversations.  Go ahead and interrupt him with your go-to exit line.

“I got naked with the boobies!” you can say, and then leave.  He doesn’t have to know that boobies are birds.

CONCLUSION

Nude beaches are perhaps not for everyone, but I do recommend them to those who don’t have a superiority complex over like, every other living creature that exists.  I felt more alive, in fact, in my quest to this Isla Contadora, and I dare even say more connected.  So do it, y’all, show us your nude!

I’m calling it a bare necessity.

***ADDENDUM: WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED

I have never worked as hard to get anywhere as I did to get to that stupid beach yesterday.  I loaded my backpack with a map, SPF, and almost three liters of water for my hike off the ferry, and then set out with giddiness and glee; but alas, it was not to be.

Dang island didn’t have any signs, and all the “roads” looked like this:

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I tramped three miles in the noonday sun in well over 100 degrees, completely alone but with the forest rustling around me like the monster from LOST was on my path and bonus: it smelled suspiciously like the monster was a bulk marijuana farmer armed with machetes and guns.  The situation was not conducive to peace of mind.  When I finally, drenched in tributaries of sweat, located the beach, it was from up here:

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and I couldn’t find any path down!  Walked an hour more approaching from every which way, including an alarming algae rock crawl.

“Forget it,” I thought, and then another “f” word followed by “it”.  “If you can’t find the nude beach, make your own!”

So I peeled off my suit and did just that.

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Panama, Police, and Pelicans

Happy Easter, from the police station in Casco Viejo!

My run ins with the cops here- who are heavily accessorized with terrifying but nevertheless non-nuclear armaments- began when my taxi driver from the airport had the unmitigated gall to attempt to drive to my hotel.

Since my Spanish words are limited to “hello, friend”, “bathroom”, and “ham”, I sat in the backseat politely ignoring the authorities and deciding to be the kind of cool tourist who doesn’t overreact to being pulled over an hour after touching down on Panamanian turf.  I thought this calmly as the cabbie popped the trunk, grabbed my luggage, and walked away.

I stared at him wide-eyed and gape-mouthed from the backseat until he turned around, put my suitcase down, and came back to open my door.

“Wake,” he said.  “Walk.”

I joined the literal funeral procession up the hill to my room and went to bed.  “Whew,” I thought.  “It was only somebody dying.”

The next morning, oh glory!  I woke up to this:

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which is a lovely way to open your eyes, especially when paired with being not in jail.  What’s up, Panama?

I hopped out and found the promenade nearby, which is this gorgeous 4k stretch of oceanside walking path dotted with colorful play stations, palm trees and greens, and enough camouflaged, gun-wielding keepers of the port’s peace to really make a girl feel uncomfortable.

I ran through them without making eye contact and decided to enjoy the pelicans instead.

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Spent the rest my first day here dubbing around the old city and viewing the new one from a rooftop bar.  Made keen observations like, “I can’t believe somebody dug a hole through this entire country” and “wow, look at all the Panama hats.”  Slept the sleep of the pleasantly sunburned, but only on that hard-to-remember décolletage.

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And today?  Spent some more quality time with the local cops.  It was only because a pelican pooped on me, though, and the police force had the closest building and some baby wipes.  They were really nice to me, too, so we’re cool.

*But Nicky: that Nal’s sure got some reach, there, eh?

Ten Essential Rules for Spa-ing in Budapest

If you haven’t had your décolletage massaged while learning that Hungarian girl toddlers aren’t allowed to sit on the floor during the chilly months because they might contract a cold through their gynecological parts- then friends, you haven’t lived.

The following are ten rules for a successful foray into Budapest’s spa life:

#10: It’s rude to stare at the scantily clad masses.  Avoid this by taking in the elaborate, art nouveau decor.  Don’t let it bother you that the naked baby cherubs are often making out with each other; the world is not totally run by ex-Breitbart guys and art doesn’t always have to imitate life.

#9: Definitely, definitely, definitely get a face massage/facial, because she will rub warm scented oils all over your upper parts until your eyeballs roll back in your head and your toes start to wiggle with glee.  Try to figure out why you’ve never done that before while becoming as relaxed as you’ve ever been in your life.  But also,

#8: cough a little bit, and disgustingly like you’ve been doing all week since that stupid flu you had.  This will prompt the facial lady to open up about Hungarian health beliefs, including the spectacular nugget noted above.  Enjoy it immensely when she struggles to find the right English to describe the parts through which babies catch colds before finally settling on “ovaries”.  But don’t enjoy it in a mean way because she is the nicest lady ever and she is giving you one of the top hours of your leisure-time life.

#7: Go back to the baths.  Hop from pool to elaborately tiled pool because they’re all different temperatures and you haven’t yet figured out Celsius stuff.  Settle in to a wall seat and watch couples do more forehead-to-forehead cuddling than you’ve ever seen in your life.

#6: And then make some American friends.  They’ll invite you into the sauna, which is a clearly labeled but ridiculous Fahrenheit of 195º.  Pretend you are the most amazing living creature in the world, which is a tardigrade, and then let that center you in the heat until your hoop earrings get hot enough to burn your neck like a curling iron gone rogue. This will take approximately 45 seconds. Refer to rule 5, which is

#5: never, ever, ever wear earrings into a sauna, dummy.  Just don’t.

#4: Head back outside to the thermal pools because it’s winter and super-fantastic to be comfortably outside in a hot tub, especially one that has jets strategically placed in such a way that if you enter the whirlpool, they vigorously churn you in a large circular pattern like counterclockwise butter.  This one will make your face hurt from all the smiling until the wolf pack of college kids drunkenly takes it over.  One of them will cockily be wearing a Borat onesie, until he isn’t anymore.  Feel free to try to catch a glimpse through the bubbles, but remember:

#3: a frat boy is a frat garçon is a frat Junge no matter where you are in the world, so maybe actually don’t bother with the looking at him.

#2: Because remember, the statues here are incredible!  That one with the woman in the throes of ecstasy as the swan’s beak envelops her naked breast is an interesting specimen, and it’s right there by the side of the pool as if the entire place has been built around your ability to see it!  There’s also this baby riding a fish with some teeth.

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And finally,

#1:  tell your friends, man.  This place is swell.

Whiskey and Bathwater

February 23, 2017

So I sauntered into breakfast today to meet Naomi (actually this was yesterday at this point) all confident because we’d made the executive decision to just suck up the rude waiters and cross the street instead of trekking all over kingdom come for two hours looking for an egg.  Or in my case, a Chinese noodle from the Shang dynasty.  And I’ll have you know I looked that up to make sure I was specifically citing the earliest dynasty I could pronounce so I could be historically accurate in my disdain.

(Side note: I meant “kingdom come” literally, mind you, because we’re staying in the castle district.  This means our hotel is 700 years old, has a coat of armor in the greeting vestibule, and all of our furniture has claw feet.  Also, the wifi password is “dragon”!  The Game of Thrones fangirl in me gave an excited Dothraki war cry when I first laid eyes on it all.  As the knights of the round table sayeth(ed): castles are dope, y’all.

‘Course now that I’m typing this, I really want to know what “kingdom come” means so I’m looking that up for your research pleasure.  Oh!  That makes sense.  It’s the short version of “thy kingdom come, thy will be done” from that “Our Father” prayer.  And definitely not whatever Urban Dictionary says.  End side note.)

Anyway, the waiters here greeted me at the register, lined up six across with the most withering collective look I’ve seen since the Mean Girls movie, and in no uncertain terms told me that my friend was not here and I should go away.  It took some gumption-gathering to walk right back in, but holy moly was it the top decision of the trip so far.  There are eggs here, prepared in a fancy French cheese concoction!  There’s also a Parisian Johnny Cash crooning Folsom Prison songs in an absolutely non-bluesy slow jazz way, and I’m so pleased.  This is how you start your day.

And then: baths.  For this one, I really wanted to have a mud treatment because I jumped in a pit full of the estuary’s decomposing microorganisms during a field trip in Charleston in 2004 and my skin glowed for DAYS.  Lukacz Medicinal Thermals was my choice because they supposedly did the dirty mud stuff.

Fail.  Apparently you need a doctor’s note.

Still a good time, though.  Lonely Planet describes it like this:

“The waters of the Lukács Baths are meant to cure just about everything — from spinal deformation and vertebral dislocation to calcium deficiency. Vibe: For serious spa fans only”

Right?

So as serious spa fans, we hoofed it another three miles to the Szechenyi Baths, which are (say this in your breathiest, most reverential voice) sooooooo mint. We passed this cool stuff on the way and then soaked for hours, nailing it so hard with the detox that we celebrated with retox at the local pub.

This did not go over quite as well as it should have: I vaguely remember a strenuous, grunting tug of war with the castle hook-and-eye locks which were meant to keep medieval doors fastened firmly to the floor (we each had one hook in both hands and were firmly braced with our fingers wrestling determinedly near the ground, feet braced widely for maximum strength, and thigh muscles taut and aquiver) then bolting when we heard an ominous screech and then-whoops- found a doorbell.  Regardless, we tumbled happily into our clawfoot beds and satisfied, slurred it a night.

Budapest, I say to you: cheers!

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Budafesses

Tuesday, February 20, 2017

“Budafess!” texted Chuck last night, and I was pleased because “fess”, of course, is the French-Canadian way of saying “buttocks! eh?” (if you’re mimicking French-Canadians in a stereotypical way that includes always saying “eh”… which is something I haven’t actually heard from them as much as, for example, “nice fesses, there” which brings me back to my point.)

Budafess pleased me because today was the day I was going to the naked baths!  And these baths- let me explain:

So apparently for over a thousand years, thermal springs have busted up all over Hungary with their healing mineral waters.  Budapest is Spa City, and they even have these crazy raves called “sparties” during which the mixed-sex crowd downs drinks in giant, pool-sized natural hot tubs while DJs spin and light shows dazzle.  Though I no longer own a bathing suit with sequins, I was totally up for this experience until I found out they only happen on weekends and we’re leaving Friday morning.  More’s the pity.

Anyway though, Naomi and I checked a local place out last night and it was GREAT!  After, that is, we got over the shock of the coed locker rooms.  It worked out fine what with the initially-hidden changing closets, but my first glance of the goings-on- with the people in all their dripping wet skivvies- reminded me that not all cultures are as wickedly Puritan as ours.

That’s where naked bathing came in, too.  Turns out Tuesdays are women-only, so you can romp around romper-less with n’er the hairy eyeball casting judgments.  I was sort of terrified of this but had talked myself into doing it in the name of life experience, and also in the name of liquid courage, which- and more on this later- is exceedingly easy to come by in Hungary.

(SIDE NOTE: in these baths, there’s an outdoor dome that looks over the Danube on one side and into cliffs on the other.  It’s a fantastic place to hear about the story of St. Gerard, who tried to convert all the locals to Christianity in 1100 AD or some other such nonsensical year.  This went over VERY not well so he got packed into a spiked barrel and shot down said cliffs instead.  Spiked things and shots- and more on this later- are exceedingly easy to come by in Hungary.)

But before all the naked fesses: breakfast.

Breakfast is not as easy to come by here as you might think.  After two miles of passing bistros that wouldn’t open until 11, we finally docked at a vegan place at which Naomi was immediately at home.  This worked for a bit as I worked on a water, but tofu and I haven’t always been besties so I figured I’d hang ’til the next stop.  Sadly, the next stop was Shanghai microwave center, where I’m almost positive an Austro-Hungarian prepared my meal at the height of their empire and put it patiently aside for me in 2017.  It took three minutes of nuking and a lot of good humor to get a portion of that in my gullet.  Luckily next door there was hot breakfast to-go wine.

Seriously.

We only went in for a coffee, but “is coffee common here?” asked Naomi.  She’s been having trouble getting anything not espresso-based.

“No,” replied the woman.

“Okay, so, um… what is?” Naomi followed, and,

“Palinko,” she said.

That’s booze.  Booze!  At breakfast.  Plus we were offered three shots at lunch. No wonder the spas offer hangover packages.

No spas for us yet, though, since Parliament was right across the river and looking like this:

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There was also an expressive whiny statue and the Hungarian History Museum, where I didn’t learn anything because I don’t speak Hungarian.  Cool sabres, though.

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Then we walked around some more looking at things like the Ronald Reagan statue, which why?  WHY?  Bronzed Gipper in Budapest: why?  Okay, I’ll tell you, because for us nerd types it’s actually fascinating and immediately after I wrote that question I looked it up.

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Turns out there’s a big monument in that square to the Soviet occupation, which is at least temporarily over but still commemorated because of some long-standing bilateral treaty and the fact that when Estonia took down a Soviet monument ten years ago, stupid Putin applied sanctions.  So these hardy and left-leaning Hungarian artists (persist, ye mighty!) erected this other cool sculpture of a man standing on a bridge with his back to the Soviet symbolism and his eyes toward the Parliament building, a deliberately democratic (magnificently and purposefully built to face down the palace across the river) piece of work.  (Side note: before I knew this tidbit I thought the guy looked like Colonel Sanders rather than a famous anti-Soviet resistance hero and I climbed what I thought was a real bridge and posed with him, an act of which I am currently ashamed.  You will not, if my druthers are had, ever lay eyes on that photograph.  And to the gods of humanity, I apologize.)

Anyway, Ronald Reagan is apparently also a recent sort of protest addition, and he’s looking at and walking toward the Russian thing like he’s going to blast right through it or throw jelly beans at it or something.  But without historical context, it’s just weird.  At the time, I snapped a photo and ambled toward the other weird statue in the vicinity, which unbeknownst to me would make me cry.

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Hungary, like the Philippines and lots of Europe and some other countries we know, has been fighting a bit of a hateful nationalist virus lately.  It’s depressing and I don’t want to go too much into that side of it, but the tears were actually for the heart shown by people determined to put truth and the goodness of humanity at the front of things- same way I feel when I’m stateside. And when Budapest’s right-wingers tried to commemorate Nazi occupation (and with it, the swift complicity of their own government’s role in the Holocaust) the people came out and said noooooooope.  They put this up, in every imaginable language:  img_4716

And these:

And that’s when I cried a little.

When all was said and done, I didn’t get to do the Budafesses today.

Still feels like I got some naked truth, though.