Flights to and from Bocas Del Toro, Panama, can be delayed by home runs. I know because I was on a flight traveling there from Panama City and our flight was delayed, and the reason, as best as I could tell, was that somebody turned on a fastball.
Jason and I were riding a Panamanian Airlines twin propeller plane to Panama’s best tourist destination, the Bocas Del Toro archipelago off the Atlantic coast, when the Captain announced (in English and Spanish) that we couldn’t land. We would have to circle around the main island and re-approach the runway because there were kids playing on it.
I was already concentrating on my breath with my eyes closed, trying (and failing) to ignore the effects of the lurching and jerky descent on my stomach. I wanted the flight to be over, and I was especially resentful of everyone on board because during the three minutes of the two hour flight that I closed my eyes and listened to Weezer’s “Surf Wax America” on my head phones (I told myself I would get up on a wave during this trip) the flight attendant had passed me by during the distribution of snacks.
So when I opened my eyes (I hadn’t even fallen asleep) I was horrified to see everyone on board the tiny plane munching happily on Fun Yuns. Hungry, resentful, and nauseous all at once, I became angry at the damn kids who were playing on a god damn working airport runway, sentencing me to
another extra twenty minutes of bouncing around in the turbulent sky.
As we made our final approach and my stomach started its usual falling from the sky paroxysms (maybe best without the Fun Yuns, actually) I found myself imagining what kind of kids would hop a fence, probably multiple fences, probably garnished with spools of barbwire, to jump on a runway.
There must have been a bet, or maybe a rapidly escalating game of truth or dare that got out of hand. In spite of how awful my stomach felt, I was hoping the kids wouldn’t get put in jail or something. Hell, in the U.S. they would probably just shoot you on site for sneaking onto a runway.
When the plane landed and we walked onto the grass-cracked strip of tar that we had landed on, I saw that the runway sat next to an overgrown and under-maintained baseball diamond. There was no fence in between the field and the runway, not even a real warning
track. I felt like an idiot, as I often do when traveling and realize that as much as I try to not be, I am still the kind of American traveler who silently pouts about not getting Fun Yuns and assumes every airport has things like security and fences.
The runway was closest to the diamond in right-center, and it would’ve only taken a big lefty to open his hips and get the head of the bat out in front of him to bounce one on the tarmac, delaying traffic. It only would’ve taken took one sweet swing to keep people stuck on this island for a few minutes more.
Having spent close to two weeks in Bocas Del Toro I can tell you that seemed to happen to a lot of travelers. They got one sweet moment, got into a nice groove, and all of a sudden they couldn’t take off again. Bocas was one of those places where local and tourist are not discrete categories, but ends of a spectrum that travelers slide along as they stay in the tropical paradise for years, and that locals move toward the middle of as they get the travel bug themselves and backpack across the world, only to return and set up hostels, a Hotel Panama and Panama restaurants with a new understanding of the backpacker lifestyle.