Thinking of Manuel
Trip Start Apr 17, 2001
242Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
Pension Topaz or Topas
The invasion was called Operation Just Cause. I remember wondering that Christmas, almost 20 years ago, if it really wasn't a play on words: Operation Just 'Cause We Want To See If We Can Get Away With It - to invade a sovereign nation and kidnap its leader.
It was a daring move; it worked that first time and it still works today.
There are three border crossings between Costa Rica and Panama: one on the Atlantic coast, one on the Pacific and one in the central mountains. Ellen and I chose the slower mountain route for the scenery. When we arrived at the border crossing, it was just after noon. There were no Panamanians entering Costa Rica, no Costa Ricans entering Panama. And the area was gringo-free. There weren't even any border guards. They were out to lunch.
After an hour wait we presented ourselves to a stern Panamanian official who wore a white German soccer jersey. He explained that one of us would have to walk across the border to the local bank and buy $20 worth of stamps that would act as our visas. While Ellen took off in search of the bank, I stayed behind to watch the luggage. No sooner was she gone when the border official whipped out an old English-Spanish lesson book and pointed me towards the lawn in front of the office. Together we sat for close to an hour working through English pronunciation while two border police officers, machine guns hanging from their shoulders, snickered and laughed at the official's earnest but sad attempt.
The town of Boquete, Panama is in a narrow valley in the central highlands (1000 metres). If a perfect climate exists, it's in Boquete. There's always a pleasant breeze.
"If you listen carefully, you can hear the wind blowing in one ear and out the other." Ellen said.
I stopped and studied for a moment. "Yes, yes. I do hear it...and feel it. It tickles on the way out." I replied.
In the heat of the day, Ellen and I hiked the jungles around Boquete without sweating. At night we watched an hour of the lunar eclipse, I wearing only my bathing suit.
Axel, the German owner of the hostal we're staying at in Boquete, says life was different under Noriega.
"There was less corruption." he explained. "Dealing with the government was easier. They didn't rip off the small businessman."
He went on to explain that drugs, at least in Boquete, were non-existent, but today they're everywhere.
While Manuel Noriega sits languishing in a Miami prison, still held in contempt by most of Western society, Axel and I wonder.