Viajero (Traveller) In Panama

by | Mar 13, 2020

I am to arrive in Panama City in about an hour. But as I am thinking about this trip, this adventure, I find myself with mixed feelings about the last eight days exploring Panama, a place where Commander Thomas O. Selfridge, back in 1870, was appointed by Secretary of the Navy George M. Robeson to command an expedition to ascertain where to cut a canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. Now, a century and a half later, there is a canal that cuts across the land and connects the two oceans together.
The flight I’m on is calm enough, but I can’t help, however, to feel a slight undertow of turbulence. Perhaps, I’m more at the mercy of my mind than of the airplane. As I gaze out the window, I realise that the most striking aspect that brings a great sense of disappointment with regards to what I have seen on the tour is the colossal amount of rubbish seen everywhere. The amount of rubbish on the side of the Pan-American Highway, on the side of the city roads, on the footpaths, on the front yards, on the overflowing bins, on the landscape, just about everywhere… is disheartening to the idea of relocating to Panama.

I attempt to studiously avoid the subject by focusing on the clouds, but I can’t. All I can do is to continue to ask questions that I know don’t have answers.

I am back in Panama City, in my new accommodation, which is clean and tidy. Modern. Small. But out the floor to ceiling window I see a mostly empty car park below with heaps of rubbish strewn about its potholed asphalt pavement. There is just no getting away from the environmental tragedy.
While once I had a favourable outlook of Panama, after a week of touring from Panama City to Coronado to Las Tablas to Santiago to Las Lajas to David to Boquete and then back to Panama City, I now have a dismal view. I am in this country to surf. If there is rubbish everywhere, then what is the quality of the sea water? Indeed, as I peer out the window, from the seventh floor, and see the car park below packed with rubbish the precipice is now giving me vertigo.

So I walk away from the window.

Back in New Zealand, before setting off on this adventure, in the course of reviewing visa applications, studying statistical figures of living costs, making maps of touring sequences (collected across multiple surf-report websites), reading lengthy government documents about immigration and health care, preparing incomes vs. expenses spreadsheets, and so much more, I confirmed that the adventure to Panama would be, well, a great adventure.

The matter of the quality of living in Panama, measured by my time living in New Zealand for the last nineteen years, is the most important to me. So I am surprised that I missed any such reference to the rubbish problem. Or did the problem end up, well, in the rubbish heap of neglect for nowhere during my research did I find any articles or videos referencing this massive problem.

So here I am with the adverse side effect of the tour I have just finished, which has sent me off in two directions: Don’t unpack the luggage and return to New Zealand? Or unpack the luggage and see where this adventure takes me?

In the end, after much deliberation, I decide in the second direction due to fact that not all of Panama is littered with rubbish. That there are areas, albeit small, where I noticed the land was free of any litter.

No matter how I look at the littering problem, the obvious next step is to let go of the feelings of disappointment I compiled during these last few days. To clear my mind of these in order to no longer let them hold me back from thinking about the next steps for this adventure. Otherwise, my cynicism will drive me into inaction.

To clear my mind, which is an issue I routinely cross, I turn to photography. Over the years I repeatedly have discovered that photography shapes both my attention and reflection. As a result, I review the photographs I took during the tour, looking at the distinctive attributes of the images and in particular for the places where I saw that the landscape and cityscape were free of any litter.

Most of the photographs don’t meet the criteria. I am not surprised. I am deleting one after another, so that by the time all of the negative images are trashed, of which I am happy to do, I hold on to only a few photographs.

(Click on photograph to enlarge.)
The selected photographs focus on a small yet colourful range of social, cultural, and nature oriented subjects. Overall, the images show places where beaches, streets, front yards, shops, public areas and nature were found to be free of litter. While these images are positively encouraging, I still remain skeptical for the time being about the prospects of moving to Panama.