I've been remiss, yet again. I flew south and forgot my routine when back in the cold. I spent nine glorious days nearer to the equator, nearer to my far-flung family, nearer to a sun that could scorch your core if you weren't careful.
That's one thing Panamanians understand: the strength of that blinding yellow sphere. There's nobody lounging uncovered on a towel on the beach; the sand is empty and the people are either in the water with t-shirts or in the cabanas under the shade of trees. Nobody wins a fight against the sun in that belly of the world, even if you're wielding SPF 90. The sun's much too uncomfortable down there, too. I wanted to sit in a chair, feel the heat on my legs as I drifted into Didion's Salvador--I like to match my vacation reading to the locale--but two minutes, maybe less, and I was moving that chair under a tree again. The sun in Panama burns in the way a stove might sear your dinner or those first few layers of skin; it's the devilish half to its northern personality.
My grandfather (Abuelo) turned 86 while we were there in January. He christened me Popsicle when I was younger, because I always wanted a cool, sugary treat from the corner store when visiting in the summers. He'd escort me and my brother (Abuelo nicknamed him Peluso for his untamable hair), and buy us 'boli' ice pops for five cents each. Popsicle is one of the few English words he knows, and he still holds my cheeks and says it in greeting.
Abuelo's wrinkles were always part of his face in my memory, and his eyes squint out from them when he's smiling, just as mine already do (minus the wrinkles -- but I'm sure I'll get there one day). Last year his health ebbed at times, in a borderline scary fashion, and I worried about him so far away, but my mother at least flew in to help. He's better now and in January he still called me Popsicle and I sat with him on the couch, holding his hand and remaining silent for the most part but still smiling. He's never been a man of many words.
My mother and father were there too in January and we spent a few days on a beach that not many souls know about and I read many books and played cards with cousins and helped gather firewood for the evening bonfires. It's desolate in grand fashion; it's expansive and gorgeous and we're the only people taking up a small bit of it's seemingly infinite space. On the first night there my father told me to come see the stars away from the cabana lights and Jesse and I walked out towards the tide line, which had pulled back into the ocean and we walked where earlier that day we had struggled to stay afloat. We looked up and the entire universe was overhead. The milky way, a cool blue star, something red, all breathtaking. We are but specks and it's always there on that beach that I feel it most, gazing into other worlds.
One day we drove into the mountain area named Volcan for the dormant volcano nearby, and the breeze took the bite out of that sun and we were surrounded by lush greenery and Panama's agricultural center of farms and silos and greenhouses and animals. Everything seems much more vivid in that country of my birth. When we flew between cities the coastline's blues and greens were bordered by jungle and not even near Panama City did I witness too many of the resorts that pepper every beach in the United States like the ones last year we saw descending into Tampa or even San Francisco. Panama's beauty is still vast and there are those who don't venture past its capital -- for now. I visit every other year and there's a fear I'll come back to a ruined nature of things as I knew them. I held my breath this time as we rounded corners--for just a second, though, because everything is still lovely and some things even improved.
Time with my family is always full of laughter, jokes, easy camaraderie, and love. My godmother and mother's twin, Tia Lita, always putting others before herself and making sure Jesse had air conditioning in the room that's usually hers. Always practicing her English with us and making sure we know how happy she is that we are there. My Tia Belly, the young rascal who used to model and wants everyone to think that she's my sister, not twenty years older. My Tio Neco, serious and efficient sometimes, but just the opposite when he decides to let loose. He brought over his two new kittens to the house because he knew how much I wanted to meet them. My Abuelo and Abuela, together forever in that same house since I was a babe. There are many, many others. I think of them and I feel warm again.
On our last night in Panama City, all my cousins took us out for an evening on the town, finding a craft beer bar that Jesse would appreciate. They spoke in English and I practiced my Spanish--we all seemed to speak with more ease once we started imbibing. My cousins are all of my generation and we are most curious about each other's lives in different countries and we talk about pop culture and politics and our family and our differences but our surprising similarities. At the end of the night, it was hard to say goodbye to my Panamanian counterparts, as a few hours seemed too few for all we wanted to say to each other.
My mother is in Panama for another month; it was her birthday yesterday and we're able to text, but I really can't wait to see her again. For now I can only imagine myself next to her and my family out there on that abandoned beach; I've transported there several times in my mind, especially today as I battled the snow into work and on my way home.