Experimental Tropical Marine Ecology

How many people does it take to find the lobby?
by -- March 4th, 2012

Day 1 (March 3, 2012)

Outside of my hotel room

After almost six hours of flight time and missing the amazing tenting-free opportunity to go to the Duke-UNC game we end up in the immigration line behind three UNC guys. Neither of our groups knows the score yet as the excitement proceeded while we were over 10,000 miles in the air. Lexi whips out her laptop and looks up the score online only to present us with a frown of disappointment. The UNC guys celebrate but seemingly as good sports don’t go overboard.

As we exit customs we see the typical scene of families and friends expectantly searching for familiar faces and of taxi drivers and greeters holding signs making movements to catch your attention just in case your dismissal was not just obliviousness. Unfortunately for us our ride was not among the crowd. We wait as Dr. Diaz converses with another taxi driver trying to work something out. Most of us are out of the loop as we speak little to no Spanish and so we trustingly follow Humberto’s wave to exit the building.

My gaze at the yellow minivan taxi is rife with skepticism. I doubt that six of us and our luggage can fit in there. My skepticism turns into full blown disbelief as he tossed our box with equipment and snorkel gear unto the roof of the van. It ebbs a little as he fit Abbie’s bag next to it and then strapped both down. We all pile in and it’s only a bit of a squeeze on my seat (then again I am in the middle and not falling off the edges). Abbie’s pretty tense beside me worrying about her luggage on the roof. A little while later we hear a sound up there and the driver pulls off the road to check on it. Everything’s okay…except the engine won’t restart. He goes to pop the hood and investigate the cause. I’m not sure what he did but the car started and we were on our merry way again.

We excitedly watched the lights of the city move towards us until we were right among and below them. Flashing neon lights of casinos and restaurants besides clubs with enticing sounds of salsa leaking out into the streets. With false hope we almost hop out as the taxi driver pulled into the Crowne Plaza hotel but that was another passenger’s stop. This caused us to lower our expectations which resulted in us receiving a pleasant surprise when we turned right around the corner to an even ritzier looking hotel. The entrance lobby had sky high roof, a wall of glass spanning two floors facing the street and gorgeous marble floors and accents.

Another language barrier pops up as the concierge directs us to our rooms. Once again Humberto acts as translator but with my rusty Spanish I pick up that the numbers he called do not correspond with the keycards we had. Somehow my worry is dismissed as he promises to lead us to our rooms (something may have been lost in translation). Shannon and I end up looking for our rooms ourselves while the others move in. Our cards won’t work no matter which way we turn ‘em. Shannon says she thinks she hears voices inside. I reply, “No way, they’re coming from the elevator…Wait I think you might be right.” As we’re turning away from the door we hear a loud knock come from the other side of it. We apologize profusely and get an “Okay” in reply. Thank God they didn’t treat us like criminals trying to break in. I can’t imagine what I would have done in their position.

Eventually the concierge finds us and leads us to our relocated room (those mystery numbers I heard earlier). And it’s finally time for all of us to go to dinner (at midnight). As we all pile into the elevator there is some debate as to what floor to get off on. By the time we come to an agreement we are being transported up to level 22. We squish some more to let a man in. We descend again and get off on floor E1 to an unfamiliar view. This is just the beginning of an adventure with a stranger in tow to find the right combination of three different elevator trips to make it to the lobby. At one point we end up in an empty room that reminds me of a small CIA hub with the only furniture being a circle of screens and office chairs in its center. Back into the elevator we go. Sometime later, the stranger flashes us a grin as we break out into applause when the doors open to the welcoming cherry wood walls of the lobby. It was time to indulge in some lovely Panamanian food. ¡Platacones!*


*Platacones are deliciously fried plantains

1 Comment

  1. Lila Thornton
    Mar 15, 2012

    Anika, I’m so glad you volunteered for blogging; nice job!

    A small correction: the way to spell the word for crispy fried plantains is patacónes. They are also sometimes called tostones.

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