After two weeks at home, it was time to hit for the skies again and so I found myself in Shannon Airport on a Sunday morning, answering questions about why I was going to the dear old US of A, even though I was only going to be there for a total of two hours.
Jetlagged, exhausted after leaving two emotional parents behind, I found myself in Panama Airport about 16 hours later, waiting for my rucksack to be unleashed from the carousel and still quite anxious about what lay ahead.
My taxi-driver, arranged by the hostal, did not show but, after some gentle negotiations, I found msyelf sharing a ´collectivo´taxi into the city for the start of my new adventure.
I managed to chat for a while, in Spanish, with my two fellow passengers, who were from Venezuela, even if part of me just wanted to go home ... Silly me!
Central America is the final third of my gap year and over the next three and a half months I´m going to explore life in Panama, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua.
My jitters weren´t helped when I found two Tourist Police at the reception of Hostal Marmallena, aparently one of my fellow guests had been relieved of her bag right outside the front door.
I was extremely tired, and slept quite well, and still felt quite anxious in the morning.
Then I got up, got out, and began to explore, and soon I was enraptured by the city and its people.
Yes, there are dodgy areas at night.
Yes, tourists stick out like sore thumbs.
But my room was extremely comfortable, so quiet that I slept for 12 hours on my second night, and day one of the last leg of my trip involved a seven hour walk all around town.
Casco Viejo was stunning ... old colonial houses, which reminded me of Havana, which were abandoned by the rich and the middle class decades ago. Now they are being restored with US dollars and there is a building frenzy in the area. Nobody told the Panamanians, it seems, about the ´crisis´ which has crippled Ireland and so many other countries.
So I walked for hours, checking out the action on Avenida Central, the city´s man hub and the wealth of colour of the indigenous people in the pedestrianised zone.
I found a Chinese restaurant, dark and seedy, which served up a huge scrumptious meal for about US4 and I gazed across at the huge boats readying themselves to enter the world´s most famous canal.
The city´s modern high-rise zone has been called the ´Miami of the South´and there are a host of things to do and see in this city.
After 48 hours, my anxiety has all but vanished. Central America is going to be an adventure, just as it is for virtually every tourist who takes on the challenge and goes out and explores.
The girl in the hostal did nothing wrong, she was just unlucky at 11 p.m. at night in one of the ´safest´ places in town.
Poverty is a fact of life in this region, but the vast majority of Latin Americans are friendly, hospitable souls, who are just trying to survive on poor wages. Already, after 48 hours, I feel that the place is far friendlier than Spain.
Suddenly, I´ve conquered some of my fears. And, as I´ve said in earlier posts, that´s what this gap year has been about for me.
We can go about distrusting strangers and feeling scared, or we can open our eyes to the goodness in the vast majority of people in the world.
I´m not anxious, I´m not scared, I´m looking forward to the next three months with genuine excitement, as I´ve again left the safe harbour that is Galway behind. Once again, it´s time to get out and explore ...!
Why we left the classrooms: by Pauline
3 weeks ago