It doesn’t matter if we’re flying an hour to Los Angeles for a weekend, or across the International Date Line to Sydney for a month—if there’s a plane involved, Jonathan will be prepared. No matter where we’re going and for how long, at least 72 hours before the trip, Jonathan’s a basketcase. A few days before I’m about to go anywhere, I’m usually on the couch, thinking up some recipe or watching some Real Housewife on Bravo talking shit about her best friend behind her back. But it’s from said couch, in the corner of my eye that I watch Jonathan pace back and forth from the bedroom to the guestroom, to the kitchen, to the bathroom, to the hallway closet, and back again. To and from he stomps his way around the apartment in an off-white Hanes undershirt and his boxer briefs, which helps with the ease of flow and body temp as he frantically searches for everything he needs to pack. It’s during this period that I’ve learned it’s best to stay out of his way, while he builds his piles on our bed, like a tree finch builds a nest with a little bit of this and a little bit of that.
If we’re flying internationally, there’s inevitably at least one mental breakdown where he thinks he’s lost his passport. “Oh my god where is it!” he screams from the other room. But alas, it’s always in the drawer of his bedside table, hidden amongst crinkled pieces of paper, old medical insurance cards, checks that he’s digitally deposited, and received the credit for, but is still too scared to throw out.
“You know what?” I always say, from the couch in the living room, “if you cleaned out that drawer it would be a lot easier to find things in it.” But he doesn’t hear me.
Before we going anywhere on a plane his brain is in hyper-drive, and focused on one thing—his list! A mental checklist that he mumbles through at least eight times before he zips up his suitcase and decides he’s ready to go.
And it’s not like he hasn’t traveled before. He’s been to nearly 76 different countries in his life. He’s been traveling with friends, family, and on his own since he was a baby according to his old passport…which is also in his bedside drawer.
I, on the other hand, look at his clothes neatly rolled up on the bed, and I just make sure to pack everything he’s got and more. He’s a minimalist when it comes to packing, and I have to have more options to choose from and I hate wearing dirty clothes twice. And if that means I pack like a girl, then so be it! The point is, when we’re traveling together, I don’t worry a thing, because I know Jonathan will do it for the both of us.
So on our recent trip to Panama City (in Central America, not the City in Florida) I guess I was a little thrown. We were traveling on the Friday before Christmas, and since we used miles to book the tickets, I was on the 6am flight through Houston to Panama City, and Jonathan was on the red-eye.
So here’s the funny part!
The morning of my flight I woke up at 4am, and made it onto the plane with all the insanity of the airport and TSA the weekend before Christmas with relative ease. I thought that was a miracle in itself, so I pushed my seat back, relaxed, and slept through the first leg of the trip from San Francisco to Houston. Once off the plane in Houston I had just over an hour layover. So I took stock in my surroundings and realized I was in terminal E at gate 5. Having traveled internationally from SFO and LAX before, where the international terminals are completely separate from the domestic terminals, I figured it was best to get to the gate of my next flight before grabbing something to eat. I didn’t know if I’d have to take a tram or go through security again, etc.
I looked down at my boarding pass for the second leg of the trip and rubbed the sleep from my eyes. Oh Shit! GATE 36 TERMINAL D!!! I had no idea how far away that was, but the signs made it seem like it was quite the distance. I walked the length of terminal E, and turned the corner onto a long corridor. Then I picked up the pace, bobbing and weaving through the crowds of travels who all seemed a little panicked; or at least that was my perception. By then I too was a little stressed. I clutched my bag and started running through the terminal. I asked a janitor how best to get to terminal D “A donde terminal deh?” but it turns out he was Filipino and I don’t speak Tagalog. I stopped at the next wall of monitor with departure information and I couldn’t find my flight listed. At this point, I’m freaking out. I don’t know where terminal D is, and I don’t know why my flight isn’t on the screen. And in that moment I wished I was with Jonathan. Because with him, I wouldn’t have to panic—he does it for the both of us. He would have already researched the shortest route from terminal E to D and I would just have to keep up with him while he speed-walked through the airport. I summoned the strength to suck up my pride, and call him. With the time difference I figured he was just getting into work back in SF. And while the phone rang, I took one more look at my boarding pass…..and realized how stupid I’d been. 36D was my seat number on the next flight, not the gate I was supposed to get to. Turns out the entire time I’d been running around the airport, my plane was leaving from the gate next door to where I arrived.
“Hello? Philip?” Jonathan asked over the phone. “You make it to Houston?”
And in that moment I thought it best not to let his head explode with I told you so’s and you do need me’s.
“Yep I made it to Houston,” I said, trying to slow my breathing, “and now I’m just waiting for the next flight to leave.”
Casablanca Restaurant in Casco Viejo
I met up with the rest of our group just outside of customs in Tocumen International Airport, where I’d been sitting and listening to other people’s conversations in Spanish. Which only made me realize how much I’d forgotten from the six years of Spanish I took in high school and college. We took a cab to Casco Viejo, the “old town” of Panama City, where the second capital was moved back in the day. And once we checked in to our hotel, we walked around to find a place to eat.
The evening weather was perfect—humid sure—but perfect still. On one side of Plaza Bolivar is the restaurant Casablanca. Inside there was live music and what looks like Flamenco dancers. Across the street and along the base of the Simon Bolivar monument are tables and chairs for outdoor dinner and drinks. We grabbed and table and ordered our first meal of the trip while gazing up at the star-filled sky and listening to a DJ play dance music on the plaza.
We started with a traditional rum mojito. When in Rome, right? It was one of the best mojitos I’ve had. Not too strong, but not too sweet either. The sugar cane stick was a nice treat too.
We ordered a ceviche sampler, because every guide book said the ceviche in Panama can’t be beat. And they were right. The yellow-colored ceviche is what’s commonly called “ceviche cocktail” and I think that’s just what they call it when there’s some mayo added. The purplish one was more traditional ceviche, with lime juice, red onions, salt and pepper. The octopus (pulpo in Spanish) has some purple coloring to it too, adding to the color. And the orange one was just a mixture of shrimp, lobster meat, octopus, and who knows. It really set the tone for the rest of the trip.
We got the seafood chowder, which was very similar to a New England clam chowder only with more seafood and not just clams. They served it with tostones (or patacones, which is the same thing) which is Panama’s version of a startchy slice of bread or maybe French fries. They’re fried plantains that have been mashed into discs.
The menu at Casablanca is sort of all over the place. Which makes sense since Panama is a country that so many countries have had a stake in since the canal was built. The Italian influence is particularly strong in places, and so we saw a lot of pasta dishes on the menus of more sophisticated restaurants. We got the fettuccini with garlic and white wine sauce. It was good and garlicky. A nice compliment to the mojitos that we were throwing back like water.
The chicken in garlic oil wasn’t much to look at, but the flavors were good. The chicken was pounded a little thin, making it a little dry, but there was enough garlic infused oil on the plate that it didn’t mater.
And the best thing we had that night was the white fish filet with shrimp in a passion fruit sauce. The fish and shrimp were cooked just fine, but the passion fruit glaze, or sauce, was amazing. It was sweet and tangy like a more tropical version of a tamarind sauce. Yum!
Casablanca wasn’t the best meal we had in Panama’s Casco Viejo, but it’s one of the few restaurants that’s lasted over the years (we asked), they have a little bit of everything on the menu (cheeseburgers et al) and you can’t beat the outdoor seating and historical surroundings.