In the morning, the girl in the top bunk who’d replaced the refugee from Ukraine, got up and went into the bathroom, flushing the toilet at least six times before finally reemerging to collect her things and leave. The bird man above me had also mysteriously vanished sometime during the night.
It was the first time I’d had the room to myself. What luxury. I walked around in my underwear. Shaved. Showered until all the hot water was gone. Just as I was getting ready to retrieve my things from the locker beneath the bed, a new guy showed up and inserted himself right into the space I needed to pack. He started to do an inventory of all of his possessions, laying them out one by one. It was hard to keep from throwing my hands in the air. Or around his neck.
My flight didn’t leave until 2:30. One of the reasons it had been so cheap was the fifteen-hour layover in Panama City. After that it was just a few more hours to Medellin. At eleven I checked out and walked across the street to wait for the express bus to the airport. It took a long time to arrive, but once it did, only took a half hour to get there.
The airport was spacious and futuristic. I had to take a tram to get to the terminal and it felt like my true destination might be the Kennedy Space Center. After arriving at the terminal there were miles of moving walkways to traverse.
Copa Airlines is a Panamanian carrier. Part of their old school service included a complimentary meal, which I wished I would’ve known about before coughing up twelve dollars for a tuna sandwich right before we boarded, and a movie on a big screen, which was Doctor Doolittle. I tried to remember if I’d seen a review that had accused it of being Doctor Do-nothing. If not, it was a strange memory to invent. At that point I kept falling in and out of sleep. I was in that beautiful pocket between leaving and arriving where nothing can touch you, as long as you don’t land.
When we arrived in Panama my flight was leaving from the same terminal, only fifteen hours later. I found a coffee shop where I could plug in my laptop and nursed an empanada and small coffee until they were finally closing and had to sweep around me. Then I returned to the gate I’d arrived from and found the area mostly deserted. One woman was sleeping on top of three benches. Another one was stretching on the floor. I went to a gate on the opposite side of where they were and laid down on the floor with my head on my backpack.
That went on for the next eight hours, just lying there, not sleeping, on a tailbone that had recently been diagnosed as fractured and a hip that gone arthritic, for some reason needing to get up and use the bathroom almost every twenty minutes. At one point I saw my reflection in one of the windows, and it appeared to be that of an old man on his death bed. I had to get up then and do a lap around the terminal, just to fight back the fear.
Right before dawn, voices began to fill the hall. The gates began to open, one by one. My flight was one of the first to board. There was no need to check in with anyone. I already had my boarding pass in my pocket. The flight was short, but dramatic. We flew over high mountains and rivers. It looked like remote wilderness below us, rebel territory. Medellin had once held the distinction of being the most dangerous city in the world. I’d been told that it was peaceful now, however, a good place to chill if you get tired of the bustle of Bogota.
It took a long time to get through immigration. It seemed there were only two agents for over three hundred passengers. One old woman played the age card to go waltzing to the front of the line, only to not have her paperwork in order and tie up both agents for the next half hour. All the sympathy she’d garnered turned to cries of exasperation.
I’d read that the airport was a long way from the city center, and was tired enough to be paranoid of the taxi drivers who approached me out front, not looking official and giving me quotes that seemed outlandish. There was a bus that someone said went to the Centro, so I went over and hopped on it. I’d lost my phone service after leaving the States, and just had some directions to the hostel scribbled in a notebook. My hope was that the bus would drop me off close enough to walk to it. As we reached the outskirts of Medellin, however, I saw that it was no quiet little hamlet in the hills, rather, it was an intimidating metropolis in its own right. We came around a bend and a nearly naked homeless man was fanning a fire ten feet high beside the road. Going through an underpass, another one was squatting there taking a dump.
I asked the kid sitting next to me to help make sense of my directions, but when he began to explain my Spanish failed me. I understood something about the north terminal, but that was it. It was obvious I was not going to find the hostel on foot. Once the bus stopped by the side of the road, I got out and threw myself at the mercy of a taxi driver. It took him about fifteen minutes, passing through a series of curves, like a sketchy Monte Carlo Grand Prix, to reach the hostel. The neighborhood looked like a bit of a slum, but was actually the historic district. Either way, I’d arrived.