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.

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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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