Last week, total quarantine lifted for the first time in about 75 days here in Panama, and the children were allowed outside. Only between 4 and 7pm, but still! How exciting it was going to be! And hot! We went for a family bike ride and I felt about as wobbily as my six year old actually was on her bike.
We have been very lucky. Throughout this strict quarantine, most children have barely been outside in months. We have been able to go out any time we want as we live in a house within a gated community. Most people live in apartments here, some over 60 stories high. Our quiet cul-de-sacs are boring, and my children barely want to go, but it’s safe and we can walk, cycle and run and we know that this a huge luxury. All around us apartment blocks tower into the sky, where children have literally not been allowed into the fresh (hot and humid!) air for months.
Last Monday, the quarantine was to be lifted. From 4 pm -7 pm everyday that week, children would be allowed out. We didn’t know it would only last a week! So on Monday, we packed a picnic, surgically detached my husband from his computer and set off for the park under thunderous intimidating skies. We cycled up the main road which was suprisingly busy with traffic, all a bit hairy with my children wobbling and lurching about on their bikes as relentless buses power on past, to the Felipe Motta Park, our closest little green spot.
The park was shut. Of course it would be. You wouldn’t want kids on their first day of freedom to actually have anywhere to go. The car park was all closed off with yellow police tape and a man stood their shaking his head from the gate saying ‘No’. Two ducks came to see us and said definitely yes, that they would REALLY like to help us with our picnic, but it wasn’t to be. Poor ducks, there’s hundreds living in that park. I’d say they’ve had a lean 3 months. That was literally the only park in this area, so it was pretty disappointing for all of us. I think then it did open the next day, but must be shut again now, as we are back under quarantine.
So, we cycled back down the main road, then past the boarded up Town Center shopping mall. We only just moved to Panama in January and to Costa Del Este in February, so we’d only even been there a handful of times before it was all shut down. We had loved going there with the kids on Friday nights, sitting outside a lovely restaurant called Tomato with all the kids running and scooting around together in the square. Playing football, playing with each others dogs. I’d even seen a cat being walked on a harness! Felt so safe and friendly. Now it’s all deserted, just plyboard everywhere. Looks like a hurricane is coming.
We continued on towards the coastal boulevard and then I began to notice other KIDS! Getting out of cars, emerging from buildings, big ones, small ones, brand new baby ones, some in pushchairs, others on bikes, strapping on helmets and knee pads, and of course, all wearing obligatory ‘mascarilla’s’ like the homemade ones we were all dutifully panting behind. Walking with parents, with nannies, with dogs, really there was a lot, everyone overjoyed to be OUT in the hot muggy air after months of confinement. It made me cry.
We wobbled along on the road and pulled up by the estuary where there is a kind of look out point. Just down the steps to the beach there is the only bench along this stretch which we were relieved to find empty. Then we realized why! It was low tide and smelly anyway, but because of the hundreds of comorants and pelicans roosting in the trees around us, there was bits of fish everywhere! Even just a big half of a fish right next to where we were sitting!
I covered the filthy bench with our picnic blanket and we sheltered, not entirely successfully, from the continuous splatter of pelican poop and fish debris under the corrugated metal roof. The view is fabulous across to one side of Punta Patilla, but beyond depressing to the other side. Months of quarantine have meant the usual troops of rubbish pickers haven’t been out to clean the beach and there was just so much plastic waste strewn across the sand, more than a foot deep in places.
Our little adventure was something. Good crisps make up for a lot. It was so good to get out, to go somewhere as a family, great way to work up a thirst for a well deserved gin and tonic, lovely to see so many littlies stretching their legs, but it wasn’t much. And now, with strict quarantine reimposed on Panama city, we can’t even do it again if we wanted to.