It was just after Paul left, I had a week of being sad. So sad.. I remained on my bed. I was sad, and going mad.. Mad, because penetrating the walls and into my head, were the cried of roosters, babies screaming, and buses honking, and I am going dehydrated just laying here sweating away… “What the hell am I still doing here in Panama??!!”
I asked the ceiling, “What to do next? Where to go? Where is the damn “off button” for this racket?”
After a few days of of total hit-rock-bottom-sadness, and madness, I resisted to stay in the dark. I went to practice meditation. With yoga, I addressed the tightness in my muscles, the pain in my heart and allowed myself to take deeper breaths. It was a first step.
That week, just after Valentines day, we had some new faces at the house. Marta and Bruno arrived from Portugal. Backpackers with hippie vibes and big smiles. They travelled for years in vans and hitchhiked, so they understood where I was coming from as I couldn’t hide my troubles. I shared with them my hopes for continuing to travel South America. They agreed and assured me “If you still want to do it, you got to fight for it. There is always a way.” They shared inspiring stories about other travellers who pursued travelling despite lack of money or failed relationships. I enjoyed the story of the french guy, who they met. He started with no money and made it from Europe to the Arctic and the US (No, not Paul.) It sounded hardcore what guys, like him, do. Nonetheless, it’s inspiring.
I need a dolla’
With more motivation, I went back to address the question, what was next? I am going broke, so I gotta work. Maybe it was the opportunity to go else where, get a visa, and work. There was an idea of New Zealand, finding my friend in Grenada, or just going to Europe with a friend in Costa Rica who suggested to help sell jewelry, it was a bit late to go back to Costa Rica for high season. Staying in Panama to work was the last options. I couldn’t stay here much longer. Its loud, there’s a lot of traffic, another fast driven capitalized wasteland, that’s overwhelming to thrive in. Sure, it’s a wealthier economy that invites the American to stay. But if I have to commit to a 6 moth work visa… then no. It was not want I wanted.
No, I was not ready to give up the tour for staying in Panama, or working on another continent, nor joining someone else.
What I had, was materials to make jewelry. Previously, back Costa Rica, La Fortuna, I met some artisans from Costa Rica, Cuba, and Argentina, selling their crafts. They inspired me, and showed me, how to make knots on thread and twists with metal wire. When I went to Guatemala for New Years, I bough wax thread and gemstones. When I went back to Costa Rica, I ran into one of the artisans, Javier, in the capital, San Jose, by chance. I was looking for a place to stay (after wandering in the sketchy red zone for a place to sleep). Javier helped me find the best deals on tools for wire wrapping. And now, I was in Panama with a bagful of materials with Leslie who owns an online jewelry shop. I had the time to start experimenting. My first piece, was a bracelet with a white stone. It was a pleasure to create things to ease my mind and the results me happy. I would be happy to create and make beautiful things if it’s what will feed me, like gardening.
Other options than clocking in for work, was to make what I do, generate support. Leslie and Seth, my new adopted family in Panama were pumping out ideas. Leslie was suggesting making a Kickstarter promo. This idea of crowd funding cross my mind before. But, since I planned this tour, I declined to be sponsored or take donations. Why? Well I have my reasons. Ok, so I will go with a fundraiser as an option, but would I go with Kickstarter? After consulting with a few friends like marshal, and looking over the guidelines a bit more.. I decided to go with the less pressuring approach to start a fundraiser on my blog. Kickstarter is great, but it’s requirement and commitment could be a sign up for more pressure that I am not ready for. just stick with smaller steps.
I was looking for a solution to keep myself going on the road, without making a big commitment to stay in one place for too long. Making crafty things for sale was a start. Crowd funding is a back up plan.
I took a break from the blackboard, to go with Leslie and Seth to a Couchsurfer community party, although i didn’t think i was in the good state to socialize. Getting acquainted at a gathering was painful, at first. I felt like my story was complicated, and sadness was written all over my face. I had ran off to the other room to cry in the beginning of the evening. After that, I met a few folks who had some patience to listen to the short version of my story, like Zamar, a guy from Deli. He agreed, “That you got to keep going! You cant stop! What do we need to do get you going?” We kept in contact exchanging emails. He gave me ideas and resources from local online classified, to bike shop addresses, and even directions to a port city, Portobello, after I mentioned I was looking for a boat lift to Columbia. Zamar is a incredibly nice guy who stays positive. He says he knew how it felt to feel lost in a new place.
After the Saturday night discussing ideas, I was out on Monday to look for these solutions. I took the help and advice from Leslie and Zamar. I went to a Panama City bike shop for support. I presented an idea to make a fundraiser to the manager, who said he would have to talk with the head manager about contacting the local club. A few ideas were thrown out about making a race. Although, this manager was not quite sure how to help “a touring cyclist“. Here, we have two different breed of cyclist; I am long distance hauler with a heavy rugged bike trying to ask the sleek carbon-fiber Freds if they want to have a go at supporting my voyage. For fun, these guys set up weekend races to cross the finish line. From the impression I got, the manager was a bit confused about why their club should help lil’ ‘ol me. I left the store with a reassuring, “We’ll email you later in the week” .
Zamar’s other idea was to be an Azafata, a dolled up representative passing out flyers. Seemed like a simple gig. But no, I am not comfortable wearing a lot of make up and trying to sell things that I wouldn’t buy. I still gave it a try, by contacting some agents. but after one interview I lost interest.
These options were not promising. At least I was making some efforts to resolve my financial woes.
Writing it out.
Back at the house, I had a draft for my blog. It took weeks to form a summary of all the events, and after writing and rewriting, I was still unsatisfied. The draft was too personal to share with the world, yet I wanted help and I wanted to express. I tried something new- I asked on my social network profile page for a review. A handful of my contacts responded willing to help. I sent a copy to each friend; some who I knew for years in the cities I lived in, some I met once, and others I never met in person. It wasn’t long after clicking the send button, that I received heartfelt responses, all incredibly thoughtful and supportive. What has been a year of sharing online to all was a slip back to me a personal admiration and appreciation. After exchanging emails and connecting I felt complete. What I was looking for was someone to confide to and the solution was not to broadcast the tragic details, but instead a private letter to a few friends was all I needed to share through writing. It brought me back to a place where I am ready to communicate to the world again.
At the end of the week, the outlook on my efforts seem futile, since I didn’t receive call backs, or left with good feelings after interviews. It was the end of the week and Leslie and Seth wanted to get out again, this time to an art show. While we were waiting for a taxi in El Dorado, a busy intersection near upscale shopping centre, I noticed a girl at the traffic light. She was familiar, like my friends back in the states- those with a Burning Man style, dark edgy clothes, and spinning two chains with fireballs at the end. She was spinning them around her head in front of the stopped traffic, with a smile. After she stopped, she walked between the car lane with her hat out to collect tips. I watched her and continued to observe. I was fascinated and thought, “Yea, I could do that.” I had before. I hesitated at the thought of approaching her. I kept waiting, and I really don’t understand why waiting felt much safer than just asking, so I finally did. I used my best Spanish to communicate with her. She is 23 years from Argentina. With a smile she says she has been spinning fire in Central America and learned how to the last couple months, and only two weeks before she first began to preform in public.
I asked if I could hang out with her the following day, to which she replied, “I have an extra pair!” Alright, so I was invited to begin spinning fire. I was so excited to meet her the next day, to have a new friend, and I would go to “busk” for my first time!
That next day I returned to the intersection just an hour after sundown. I was nervous. She kept offering a turn at the red lights, but I let her go until I gathered enough confidence. I practice and counted the time for the light to change. The last time I swung around these toys (which are called poi) was when I lived in Detroit.
For my first time swing the poi in front of traffic.. I didn’t burn myself, and I kept a smile on, so it was a success! I ended with a bow and my hat out, then walked between the stopped cars. It was the first moment magic after the first woman smiled at me and put a dollar in my hat- I had done it! And after that, there were quarters, dollars and even a five dollar bill. Other times, were blank stares and black tinted windows. The second and third night were discouraging because for half of the performances, we didn’t receive anything. Yet, for every one smile and tip, it was more fuel to the fire that encouraged me to keep going. We met another fire performer, a Costa Rican name Daniel. Turns out, he has been on a bike tour from Mexico and is continuing to travel through Central America. He has another toy different from the poi, and i don’t know what it’s called.. He juggles sticks with fire, and he is quite good, after doing it for 7 years..
This idea to play with fire on the streets may not be the full financial security i need for the trip, but it’s a start. If anything, this experience pulled me out of the rut that I felt hopeless. If I can do something fun, that puts money in my hat and makes folks smile… then I am happy!
On the Atlantic side
I took a break from the night fire spinning, the house, and whole city, to take care of other matters, like finding a boat to Columbia. Thanks to a special someone´s tip… I was directed to Winnie, a French sailor Paul and I had met last year in Livingston, Guatemala, a port town off the Atlantic. Paul and Winnie made a French connection, that lead us to an invitation to stay a night on Winie’s sailboat. Jean Wei goes by Winni, like the Pooh Bear. And like Winnie the Bear he has a honey addiction. We saw his stash of gigantic bottles on the boat, hiding behind stuffed Winnie bears.
I met up with Winnie at the behemoth Albrook mall for pizza. We promised to keep in touch about possibly sailing to Cartagena. On Saturday, I got a message from Winni, not for what I hope was a sail to Cartagena. Instead, an invitation to help another french sailor, Alexander, cross his boat through the Canal. I contacted Alex, and he said all expenses like buses and taxi and food would be covered. All I had to do was arrive to the Atlantic in the port town, Colon, at noon, on Saturday. I arrived 10 minutes after noon to Colon. Alexander picked my up on the dingy to the sailboat, Jeanne.
I will save a post about crossing the Panama Canal in a later post, which I hope to include a video.
After the weekend, I went back to the Atlantic, this time in a quieter port town, Portobello. This port town served as a jump off point to sail off to Columbia, as what Paul and Dana did. I met a few guys, three Swedish and a Japanese, who were on the same voyage as me- to find the most economical deal to Columbia. Together, we went to see the captain, at the Captain Jacks hostel. Turns out, at Captain Jacks their pitch is that, for quality, you got to pay $500 at least, to get the whole package of visiting the San Blas and arrive to Cartagena. Anything less is a scam. I knew this could be less… as I read other blogs and knew what deal Paul got… I was determined to find less. this turned out harder than I assumed. To make a long story short, I talked with one captain who was ready to go next day to only the border of Panama. I got some more emails and contacts.. but none of them want to lower their price. I have now rationalized my decision, that I won´t see the San Blas this time, I am not going to miss land for air.. so I´ll take the adventure route and take small boats along the Kuna village villages on the Darien Gap coast.
And back to the grind of the city..
I made a Skype call to my parents for the first time in months, to catch up and inform them of what was going on with my life. It’s great that I have video chat to hear and see the reactions of my parents live. It’s like I never left home… Especially, as I could see the initial reaction of my dad as I told him about my finances, break up, and new gig playing with fire on the street. You bet, Dad was pissed. I think the solution to spin fire on the street is what made him lose his grips.
I did get a laugh at my dad said response.
And I quote,
“This idea of you spinning the fire on the street is a bad idea. They are going to think you are a terrorist because it will seem like to are threatening to throw a fireball at civilians and this will get you arrested. Not to mention, you will burn yourself”
Not just what a typical concern dad would say, but what a true American Dad, stars and stripes, would come up with to draw his conclusion, that he strongly disapproves. Yes, it´s quite hard to picture that I must not look like a crazy person on the street if you are over on that side of the Western border. It´s not unusual. If this was a dad over here, he would probably have sent his daughter out as son as she could walk, whether she wanted to be a fire dancing performer, or not.
Eventually, we did reach to other agreements and returned to a calm state. My family, as always will be there for me.I promised them that I will have this all figured out, so that I can continue the tour until it’s finished, and will keep all my hairs and skin burned free…
Back in El Dorado, Cynthia and I continued to arrive by night to spin the fires. Yet, everyday there seemed to be something hindering a full evenings work. One night, the military asked us to stop, but not permanently, just early enough, “because it’s too dangerous to spin fire past 8pm (I beg to differ). Then another night we had to go to 3 gas stations because we were turned down for not having a proper red gasoline canister. On Saturday, we arrived late, because we went to the beach of Santa Clara. It was a hour and a half bus ride to there. A two hour hitchhike ride back into the city, due to traffic, then trying to find a bus to El Dorado as we walked down the highway at night. We finally got to El Dorado on Saturday night.. my last night to busk in Panama. Friday and Saturdays ended up being the best nights. I got many tips and tried different tricks with the fire. Families, club-goers, and business persons, Panimenias and Gringoes all seemed to love it or be confused by it. I even had some background music, coming from the pimped out buses of Central America, that had the hip hop cranked to 11, and the strobe lights flashing, packed to the windows with people.
It’s still obnoxiously loud here.
Two weeks ago, I was bed ridden and sad. Two weeks later, I am throwing fireballs in the street. How time move quickly and things change. Somewhere in between those last two weeks, there was an additional surprise.. Could you guess what it would be?
It wasn’t a message in a bottle, but an email from Columbia. Across the Atlantic, two persons missed each other very much. Emails were exchanged, “Oh darling! I miss thee!”
Yea, yea, as you may have guessed, Paul and I are going to give it another go, to ride South to the end of the world, together. I can’t promise that the previous post will be the last breakup post… However, you can be sure to catch all the shenanigans, right here, on this blog.
Ciao, Central America!
I am off to Columbia! I have been expecting this time for 14 months. It’s about time!
The past few weeks have been tough, but it’s been an incredible time to realization to know, that I have family and friends like family who are there for me..
Leslie and Seth You guys have welcomed me in and kept me around, to stay until you guys leave in March back for Washington. I am sorry I won’t be there for the goodbye party. Not only have you been my friends, but you both are a family to me, (we say that they adopted me as a niece). and this is a promise that I’ll be in touch with you guys for a long time. Leslie, I enjoyed our hours of sitting around and making jewelry and exchanging ideas. Seth, it was great to have you teach me how to play the mandolin, and I hope I can show off how I can play “Mr Tambourine man” one day! I loved sharing dinners, story times, and laughter everyday with you guys. Thanks for being my family here in Panama, and please, lets meet up again one day, somewhere in the world. I love you guys very much.
Zamar, even though we barely hung out, I’m so glad we met! You lend me great ideas and great resources, and wha I value most, a good friend. I am sorry we didn’t hang out more.
Charles, Marshall, Will, Tess, Fredrick, Mike, John, Daina, my friends through the web that connect us to the past.. it’s a blessing that we still are in contact until we met again. To those of you who read my draft, thank you a million times. I this was a big open look into my heart, that I was scared to share.. because you your words of support, it was a huge step to move on and climb higher. And to those of you i talked with on the phone, it was so wonderful to hear your voice again. I miss you all.
Cynthia, gracias por permitirme ser parte de tu mundo. Me inspiró el momento en que te vi. Al igual que usted, yo tomo el fuego donde quiera que vaya. Te admiro como una mujer fuerte y amable. Echaré de menos nuestras noches en el semáforo. Espero verte en Argentina.
Marta and Bruno I miss you both! It was great to have you both here! I just heard you made it to Norway… awesome! Good luck, and safe travels! Hope to see you both again on the road!
Paul, my love. You are crazy and so am I. So, let’s make up for missing paradise. Thank you for allowing me to be.
Bud, my Step-Grandfather passed away on the 3rd of March. Grandpa Bud, thank you for always being so cheerful and sweet, and being a wonderful grandfather to me growing up, the only one I knew. Thank you for taking care of Grandma, and making her happy. I am glad I had the chance to say “good bye” before I left, but I can’t help but with I could see you after I return. I’ll miss you. Rest in peace.
Off to cross the Gap.
So folks! I am leaving tomorrow.. The plan is to go to Miramir, a small port town near Portobello. From there I will take a boat to the last village of Panama, Puerto Obaldia, cross the border to Columbia and from the touristy one, I’ll catch a boat to Turbo, and from Turbo, to Cartagena by bus, to meet with Paul.
Be sure to check that I sign online by a week from today. I promise I will, we don’t want another media misfire due to a lazy cyclist not updating her blog about important matters, showing up on Good Morning America.
Til next time, from Columbia. Remember folks, if you are going to play with fire- Stop, Drop, and Troll.
Love and Light
– Wildcat Fire-Breathing Terrorist