Board games.

Just in case we got lost.

19th February 2023

Linton Bay, Central Panama, Panama

The 1980’s were a golden age for board games. Children grew wild with excitement at the thought of the spinning arrow in ‘Twister’ or who would be given the sports car in ‘Monopoly’. Things would then be taken to a whole new level at the thought of the extending necks of the ‘Hungry Hippos’ or the k-plunk sound of the popping dice in ‘Frustration’. Bizarrely, as we defied the odds by taking public transport to Panama City and back, we’ve spent the day playing these games and more.

With the sun a long way away under the horizon our board game players from ‘Ruffian’, ‘Skyfall’ and ‘Zen Again’ all lined up at the bus stop for the start of the epic journey. As soon as we boarded the bus a game of Twister began. Cramming ourselves around all the other passengers the arrow spun and left hands found tenuous hand holds and right feet were placed on the step edges. Every time a new passenger boarded the arrow was spun again, everyone shifted and disaster threatened as the bus hurtled along.

In a normal game of Twister disaster would entail everyone ending up in a heap, with fits of giggles and the task of untangling arms, legs and torsos. In this game of Twister disaster would result in us either falling out of the wide-open door and tumbling under the wheels of the bus, or into the lap of the driver who’d then be forced to stop his text message conversation and wrestle with an out-of-control vehicle!

After what felt like an eternity the skyscrapers of Panama City started to appear over the horizon and we all bailed out. All the other participants were given a little more room and we could celebrate completing our game of ‘death twister’.

Embarking on our new game we found ourselves in a real world game of ‘Monopoly’. Those who had been lucky with the rolls of the dice found themselves in the gleaming skyscrapers that towered high above us while those less fortunate were scraping a living in shacks whose windows were boarded up and tattered rags hung on lines drying.

The contrast was as stark as game pieces in ‘Monopoly’. Ferraris and Porches sped along the roads delivering their well attired occupants (who in an older age would have been wearing top hats) into air conditioned comfort while on the side-lines we found men shining shoes (the old boot in the) and ladies offering laundering services (akin to the iron and thimble) for mere pennies. We didn’t pass go, and we didn’t collect £200, but we saw all the participants playing their role in this cut throat game.

Romping around Panama city we were picking up points in interest like the wedges from ‘Trivial Pursuit’. We found sculptures on roundabouts, bronze busts in parks and every street corner housed a church of literally biblical proportions. The modern catholic cathedral was adorned with gold and looked like a wedding cake, the old catholic cathedral imposed its dominance on all who entered and the ancient one preached poverty and obedience from an alter of opulence and excess.

We quickly filled our counters as we covered history, sport, entertainment, food and art though the new and old towns, through parks and urban landscapes and built our knowledge of this town that is the gateway to two great oceans.

Time was against us in the City but we still had to eat if we were to have the energy to complete our big day out. Making a beeline for the fishmarket, where exotic pacific catches were being landed by the ton, we knew we could get full of something fresh. All around us prawns were piled high, lobsters chilled on ice and fish of every size and colour gaped.

In quick time grilled fish adorned with garlic flew out, prawns in pints waited to be devoured and soup laced with every sort of fishy entrail bubbled in front of us. The final dish landing on the table marked the start of our ‘Hungry Hippo’ experience and we all gobbled down a lunch that until that very morning had been happily swimming in the sea.

We were now entering a race against the clock as we had to retrace our steps across the whole width of Panama. To get back to Ruffian we had a metro connection to a coach to make and then a coach connection to a bus. Everything was running seamlessly and we could almost smell victory when our plan was thwarted. Just like waiting for the magical 6 at the end of ‘Frustration’ our frustration grew as time and again busses to the wrong destinations passed us and those going the right way had passengers filling every nook and cranny, both inside and out.

Taking the same approach as all those around us we elbowed our way onto a bus heading in roughly the right direction and our ‘Frustration’ at not moving was replaced by the fear of moving. The bus we’d got ourselves onto needed surgery in the same way as the poor body in ‘Operation’. Brakes squealed every time the driver tried to slow and the clutch erupted in plumes of pungent smoke every time a gear change was attempted. Without a clutch stopping meant stalling and starting again was only achieved with liberal use of the starter motor pulling us along.

With a big day behind us and a mission accomplished Ruffian was still bobbing in the waters in Linton Bay. In this short space of time not only had we taken in both coasts of this country we had also taken a trip through time to the 1980’s and the golden age of board games.

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Author: Iain & Fiona Lewis

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