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Buenos Dias Panamá!

Ottawa Airport, 6am
Ottawa Airport, 6am
Eh, backpackers!” said the slightly drunk businessman in the elevator. Yes, that’s us. Even backpackers sometimes miss their flight connection and need to crash somewhere nearby the airport, you know. It’s not like we could find an hostel in Newark anyway.

The trip started fine. We got up at 5:30am and Feng’s parents drove us to the Ottawa airport for our first leg of the trip. The weather was really bad, blizzard and heavy snow. But Canadian airports are used to extreme weather conditions and we took off just fine… after deicing the plane.

We had three hours to spend in Toronto before boarding our Newark flight. We hung out at Pearsons and I even got through the U.S immigration, done in Canada for some reasons, without getting picked on. We were supposed to board the 12:25 flight, except there was definitely no plane at the gate. Apparently, it was stuck somewhere due to “adverse winter conditions”. We finally boarded an hour later, with much relief. Except that this time, we were soon told that the plane couldn’t take off due to “security problems at Newark”. We waited in the plane for an hour, then two. The pilot periodically informed us that he was “negotiating” with Newark, but at 3:30, Feng and I understood we had missed our 5:00pm Newark Panama flight. Crap.

Being grounded on the tarmac in a really small plane isn’t fun. It’s hot, claustrophobic, and frustrating. Not to mention the lack of leg room or basic things, like water. The passengers were very patient but we all sighted with relief when we finally took off… at 4:30.

We finally arrived in Newark at 6:00. Obviously, we had missed our Panama flight but we were also concerned with our bag, which had been checked to Panama directly, and with where we were going to sleep. We rushed to the Air Canada counter. The flight had indeed left without us and Air Canada couldn’t offer us accommodation vouchers because the plane had been delayed due to the weather conditions. “But we were told it was a security problem!”, I argued. The employee went to check. “Yes, actually, you are right. But Air Canada can not be held for responsible for air traffic problems”. Great, thanks for your help.

We then tried to locate our backpacks but apparently, it wasn’t Air Canada’s problem either. An hour later, we finally found them. On the bright side, it was really hot in Newark and we didn’t miss our winter gear (because we hadn’t packed anything warm). We checked in in an hotel nearby the airport and spent the rest of the night relaxing.

Wednesday, take two. The flight was on time and we arrived in Panama at 11:00 pm. The migración started to pick on Feng’s passport: “un Chino con un pasaporte Canadiense” was apparently new to them. I insisted that Feng was indeed born in China, but had been in Canada forever. Didn’t quite work and they took his passport to “make a copy”. Now it’s not that I don’t trust officials, but I really didn’t see why they were picking on us… and I don’t like people who take passports away. We waited anxiously for half an hour and the passport was brought back to us. Phew.

We asked a taxi to take us to Hotel Volcan, where we had stayed in 2002. The place is old and quite run down but since we hadn’t booked a room anywhere and that it was close to 1:00am, we couldn’t afford to be picky. Hotel Volcan was still there, the room tiny and stuffy, but safe. I took a shower and relaxed… Took me a while to get used to the cold water but I found it soothing. I did some quick laundry and lay on the bed. Closed my eyes.

It’s a different world here. Palm trees and coconuts, food stalls in the streets, people hanging out chatting at 3:00am, military and policía with machine guns at every corner, tinted windows and bullet proof doors… We are different people too. Long gone is the teacher and the French in me. We trust no one but ourselves and yet we find the world absolutely beautiful.

It’s 30C and we are in Panama. What’s to complain about?

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