Saturday, January 19, 2008

Panama City- The Lure of The Known

The Unknown is generally what draws people toward travel (the embarrassing legions of Australians on drinking tours of the capital cites are an exception), the conquering of the Unknown being exciting, frightening, confusing but, above all, rewarding. But after ten months of dealing with The South American Unknown, to come across the most basic of previously missing familiarities (i.e. the Known) is like discovering a whole new world.

I’m referring to what we found in Panama City. Some of the simplest ingredients of living in Oz are rarities in South America (and many of them simply don’t exist). Panama City was a territory of the United States up until eight years ago, which means many of these fundamentals occur ‘naturally’ in this corner of the world. Drinking water from the tap was something we hadn’t done for a while, and there was a vast, seemingly inexhaustible selection of peanut butters on display in the huge, American style supermarket. Most exciting of all was the discovery of fresh milk. All the milk in South America is super processed to give it a longer shelf-life and a horrible plastic taste, but in Panama it’s packed fresh into cartons and is sold from the fridge! There were other exciting foods as well; a selection of proper cheeses (cheddar, camembert AND cottage), Cadbury chocolate, and the hostel was situated right next door to a New York bagel shop.

Trying to explain the hedonistic significance of eating a bowl of cereal for dinner, or being able to choose between smooth or crunch sounded ridiculous even to my ears as I spoke with people back home- even as I type this I realise most people will just be thinking ‘So?’. But after so long, these little missing pieces of our old lives (which we didn’t even realise were going to be missing in South America- I still clearly remember the shock of discovering that not everyone in the world eats peanut butter) meant a lot. And that’s the reason we stayed in Panama City for almost a week, without doing any tourist stuff or even going out partying. It was the simple pleasures of familiarity that kept us there.

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