Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Pure Happiness

I'm asked on a daily basis, "How did your trip go?" This question always stumps me as I choke up with the most bland and boring response, "It was great."

You see, it really was great, and there were so many poignant and interesting moments during the trip, when I thought, "Ahh - here's the story." However, now that we are back, the whole trip, every minute, has blended and blurred, only made distinct by 3 parts - Panama, Buenos Aires and Florida. I don't know where to begin when it comes to extracting one story from my muddled brain that encapsulates the whole experience. With Herculean effort, I have finally retrieved a memory of pure happiness:

Our last night in Panama was spent in the capital, Panama City. We used our travel agent status to our advantage and booked a discounted night at the very nice Marriott Hotel. This is so unlike our usual travel history, as we have held our noses up in disdain and backpacker snobbery toward the people who regularly hole themselves up in a big chain hotel. These types of accommodation are generally far removed from the local character of a place. You can transplant yourself to a Hilton hotel anywhere in the world and still feel like you never left your home city. Doesn't this kind of defeat the purpose of traveling? I can only rationalize our reason for caving in to the Heavenly-like beds, and antiseptic bathrooms, to the over-used and pathetic excuse that we are now parents. It seems we no longer have the patience for traipsing thru the 'red light' neighborhoods, seeking out the perfect (perfectly bearable) guesthouse, haggling about price, brushing away random hairs in the bed with one hand, and putting in earplugs with the other. Now, we rely on carpeting and thick walls to muffle the night wakings of Stella and the morning anonymity of a big hotel. It is also great to have a crib waiting in your room, as opposed to a makeshift mattress on the floor.

Anyhow, I am getting away from the heart of the story. After checking in to our luxury digs, we all were hungry and asked the concierge if he had a recommendation for a nearby, affordable restaurant that served Panamanian food. To our initial disappointment, we learned that the only places in our neighborhood where we could savor the local cuisine, we're also going to be frequented by large tour groups. Apparently, Thursday night is Panama night, and the only two restaurants where we could feast on sancocho and tamales were featuring traditional music and dance shows. These pre-packaged forms of tourist entertainment are REALLY not our style. What to do? Our stomachs were grumbling and it was getting late. Taking a cab to somewhere else, far and 'authentic', sounded like more pain than pleasure, and eating Italian or Japanese food in Panama would be such a shame. "Let's do it. At the very least, Stella will enjoy the music," I convinced an exasperated Dan.

We strolled off to Trapiche, where we were seated at the far back of the room. The tables closest to the entertainment were already reserved with large parties. We were actually happily surprised to see that gringos were the minority, and that almost everyone around us was speaking spanish and in a festive mood. The place didn't seem to be as much of a tourist trap as we initially suspected and more of a special occasion restaurant. Our meal began with $2 beer and rum and cokes - a great start, and continued uphill from there. With perfect timing, the performance began toward the end of our dinner. The minute the dancers appeared on the stage in their beautiful and exquisite costumes (big flowing skirts with rich embroidery and floral headpieces), I was entranced, but it was the beating of the drums that snapped Stella to attention. She was in a high chair with her back to the stage, and she whipped her head around so fast I thought she'd flip out of her chair. We quickly faced her toward the stage and saw that she was completely mesmerized by the spectacle. We have NEVER, EVER seen her as excited and as unabashedly happy as she was as that moment. Stella was truly ecstatic, and little sounds of glee kept shrieking from her enormous smile. She was bouncing to the beat, eyes wide open, and clapped her tiny hands harder than anyone else in the audience. I was riveted by her expressions of joy, and found my own eyes wet with happiness. After a thrilling show, Daniel and I were so proud of our little baby, and so very happy that she had gotten such immense pleasure from all the singing and dancing. In a state of bliss, surely accentuated by the alcohol, we floated out of the restaurant, in a warm and fuzzy glow of satisfaction. Pure happiness indeed.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pure happiness, indeed. Your blog and the shot of Stella happy as can be is wonderful. I'm smiling right along with you.

I really miss you guys. Thank you so much for sharing your adventures with us all through your entertaining writing, beautiful photos, and hilarious videos.

Sister/Auntie Paloma

11:32 AM  
Blogger Rein Morgen said...

Aww, a quiet baby is bliss, a very happy and entertained one is a blessing! Keep enjoying and savoring all those moments mom and dad. They go by way too fast. Everyone tells you that, I am sure, but it is the truth.

8:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a fabulous picture! Your story makes me want to hit the road. We came close to booking a trip to london last week, but we couldn't see paying that much and only staying a week.
How did stella do on the plane? i figure this age would be the hardest because you can't reason with them but they want to keep moving.

8:16 PM  

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