In my hotel room at night, I had been reading about Panama's history which included General Manuel Noriega who did enough bad stuff to earn him residences in several prisons including one in America. Right now he's in a Panama prison which, by golly gosh, just happened to be near Gamoba, the place where our bus was taking us and where our boat would depart. At one point during our drive through dense jungle, I saw an ugly looking building with a high fence and barb wire. I wondered if that could be where Noriega called home now. Then I thought about where the nearest bathroom might be located. Priorities.
I turned to Sandy and said, "Let's find a bathroom." Being middle-aged herself, she agreed. The tour guide said, "When you hear a loud explosion, that will mean return to the bus." He spoke English, not Spanish, and we understood him as we both speak English fairly well. Plus, we can both hear.
Gamboa looked deserted because it is. American personnel departed when we gave ownership of the canal to Panama. Now it is just mostly industrial-looking and empty grey buildings circa 1940s. Not a bathroom possibility in sight. We had just left the bus when a battered white car stopped, and out came a man balancing a stack of books. Being a writer, of course I was interested in what he was selling. "This is the book I wrote," said the man. "I'm the preacher, and the book is all about the nearby prison." Here's what the book's cover looked like.
The man who wrote the book is named Bill Wilbur. He's the man with the monkey on his shoulder.
Bill motioned toward a white building about a block away. "That's my church. Doors open. You can go there." I should have just bought his book then and there in thanks for his generosity, but I needed to go.
Sandy and I went to the church which was plain and sweet and had, and this the most important part of the story, a very clean bathroom.
Feeling much better, and thinking we had plenty of time, we snooped around the church a bit, and I noticed a small stack of Bill's book about Panama prisons. I said to Sandy, "I'm gonna buy one of his books. I'm going to see if he'll take five dollars." (I know I'm cheap.) I took five dollars from my pocket, stuck the book in my purse, and grabbed one of his books. As we walked back toward the buses, both still parked and idling, I noticed Bill's white car there behind our bus. I thought, good, I'll see if he'll take five dollars for his book. Important point here...neither of us had heard any explosion.
We took a small detour to look at a swimming pool that was full of stagnant water. On the side of the defunct pool it said in big black lettering: NO NECKING. As we were laughing at this, we heard a noise.
Not an explosion, or the honking of a horn, but the buses moving away from us. It had been less than 15 minutes since we had the left the bus. I swear.
With a yelp I said, "They're leaving." With Sandy behind me we ran toward the buses which made a left turn through a fenced area. The buses were at least a half mile ahead of us. Shouting for them to stop, Sandy and I ran as fast as we could. I was cursing the tour guide while my heart and feet raced. We had no idea where the docking area was,or how far the buses still needed to take us. It could have been a few more blocks or a few more miles. We just knew we needed to run.
We saw ahead the buses passed through a gate. We raced to catch them, and I reached the gate first, with Sandy close behind me. A guard stood at the gate with a gun. The little house on the right had a turnstile. I waved that five dollar bill I meant to give to the preacher in my hand shouting, "Wait. Wait for us. Let us in." The guard did look somewhat surprised to see a middle aged woman, hair mussed, face red and panicked, shaking money at him, shouting for entrance into the Panama canal.
Thankfully he didn't shoot me. He let both Sandy and myself into the guarded area. The buses were parked a few blocks away and people were heading toward the boat docked nearby. Sandy and I were sweating and angry when we found our tour guide. He shrugged and said, "I told the bus driver to honk for you." Honk! We expected an explosion. Besides, there was no honk, either. Oh well, said the tour guide. All the people on the buses had seen what happened and there were more than a few smiles our direction. Grrrrr......The good thing was the boat had a very nice bathroom, though not as clean as the church bathroom.
I left Bill's book at the hotel's business center in Panama City and who knows maybe an agent will come through town and read it and want to help him market his book. Hoping this makes me feel less guilty. That way he won't have tourists like me use his bathroom and then not even pay for his book. Did I mention it was a very clean bathroom?