The conversation was a series of last-minute one-liner emails between Eric’s Antarctica satellite connection and my email in NYC. And it started like this:
Eric: “Heidi – Any interest in coming with me to Coiba? I should be back from Antarctica early and am trying to get on this trip with an assistant / friend. They want me to come, and I should know if I can bring someone soon. Only cost is airfare to Panama City!!”
Me: * staring unbelievably at my email, and promptly responding * “YES!!!!”
I’m easy like that. Coiba Island is a UNESCO heritage site off the west coast of Panama – where of course I’ve never been. So YES!!!
Eric: “Wanna stay an extra day and do a “nature tour of the Panama Canal?”
Me: * thinking, “he’s killing me”, but: *“Yeah!”
Continental does fly direct from Newark to Panama City, but not for anything affordable. So I caught an 8:50AM flight out of Newark that connected through Houston, which turned out to be brilliant (and completely accidental) planning since E was also taking Continental and also connecting through Houston. Outside gate E12 in Houston-Bush is the Starbucks where I met a very bleary-eyed Eric, running on fumes as only E can. His commute was like this: Antarctica to Hobart to Melbourne to Sydney to San Francisco to San Diego to San Francisco to Houston. All in about a week’s time. And all the while he’s connected to the internet, running Wet Pixel, coordinating trips, publishing Wet Pixel Quarterly, yada yada yada. I have no idea how he does it, but he does.
Our four-hour flight from Houston to Panama was uneventful save for the post-landing time on the runway. The pilot said that our gate was occupied and might continue to be for the next half-hour, an announcement that elicited a collective groan of dread from the airplane passengers. Welcome to Central America. That 30 minutes was more like 15, and we were all fairly antsy to get off the plane.
Luckily Customs was speedy and our luggage and scuba gear (my 45-pound gear bag and E with his two 56-pound bags) arrived without incident and we quickly found our ride to the hotel – which was almost an hour’s drive. We arrived around 8:45 (that’s a 14-hour commute!) and had time for a quick dinner of pasta at the hotel restaurant. I crashed shortly after dinner while E watched the Food Network and fielded emails.