There are times during our stay in Panama when I really identify with the title of that Robert Heinlein science-fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land. I'm visiting a Spanish speaking country and apart from "si", "gracias", "hola", and "dos cervezas por favor" - the essential phrases, of course - I can't speak enough Spanish to get directions to the bathroom. On top of that Mrs D's family is French. Add in her mom's cousin and her husband who hail from Quebec's eastern townships and who visit once and awhile from the nearby Royal Decameron resort I'm totally lost. Sure, my wife, her brother and his son all speak English but when they all get going en francais, they're not gonna stop and translate for the poor old English square head. Of course, I guess I only have myself to blame as after years of french language lessons when I was a public servant - your tax dollars at work - I know about as much French as I do Spanish. So you can understand why sightseeing, grocery shopping and the rest of our activities can be a bit of a challenge for me from time to time.
One day we picked up my mother-in-law's cousin and her husband and the eight of us took off about 30 clicks down the road to Penonome, a small place pretty much at the exact centre of Panama. We found a parking spot, disembarked and decided to split up. My brother-in-law and his son went one way and my wife and I and the french geriatric set - her mom, her aunt, the cousin and her husband - were left to fend for ourselves. None of us speak Spanish, I don't speak much French and after about half an hour of wandering up and down the main street of Penonome I'm beginning to feel a little like I've been adopted by the retired refugees fleeing from the French old folks home. But the day went well. I took a lot of pics. And we had fun passing by the street vendors and going in and out of all the stores, largely populated by the Panamanian locals.
One of the funniest incidents so far involved Tante Poutine. She's a great person and we try very hard to communicate with each other, given the language barrier. One night we're out for supper - just down the road at Los Camisones (the place where "The Specials" are so special they've run out of them) - and the waiter asks us all if we'd care for a beverage to start off. Well up until then Poutine and I were used to enjoying a cerveza or two during the afternoon's "happy hour" at the condo. No better way to bond than over a beer. Our beer of choice has been Balboa - the beer of the masses in Panama. It costs $3.12US a six-pack and is named after some guy who founded Panama or something. He must have been pretty popular. He's got a statue in a park named after him. There's a road that bears his name. He has a tree named after him here and even the condo we're in is named "Balboa II". But for the life of her,Tante Poutine couldn't say "Balboa" to the waiter. Her order kind of went like this: "ball bow, non, ba bowl, uh, non, bow boo, oh non, bill boa…" It was truly a Kodak moment for everyone. And days later I still had the tune "Won't you come home Bill Boa" stuck in my head.