I was reading a travel blog this morning and was reminded of several adventures of mine as I read of the blogger's travels through Central and South America. Traveling in places where you don't know the local customs and don't speak the national language can result in some interesting and occasionally embarrassing moments.
On my very first trip to Panama, I was approaching Panama City in my rental car, returning after wandering around the country for ten days or so. I had no hotel reservation or even any real idea of where I might wish to spend the night. I knew that I didn't want to drive too far into the city at night, so I decided to pull over into any flea bag hotel that looked like it had a vacancy. I would figure out where to go and what to do in the morning, after a good night's sleep. I noticed a very small Hotel sign from the highway, decided to take a chance and pulled into the parking lot. The parking lot was empty.
I got out of my car, walked to the front desk, and asked, in English, if they had a room available. The woman behind the desk spoke no English at all, so I handed her my passport, a credit card, and made motions as if signing a register. She pulled out a form, I signed my name, and then details concluded, she led me up to the room I had been assigned. She left, and I lifted my suitcase to the bed to unpack clothes for the next day.
I decided to turn on the television. Maybe I might pick up a word or two of Spanish while listening to the news or watching some sitcom. It was an old TV, the kind that had a push-pull button for the off-on switch and a round dial-like knob to change channels. I pulled the switch to turn on the TV and proceeded to unpack.
I have lived a full life and not much surprises me. I heard sounds coming from the TV that sounded like two extremely energetic people having a very good time, so I turned towards the television to watch. Sure enough, there was a hard-core movie playing. I like sex as much as the next guy, but the action in this movie was so improbable, and the actors so far from anyone's embodiments of those vaunted 'beautiful people,' that I moved to change the channel. The next channel offered much of the same fare. The participants weren't any more attractive than those on the previous channel. I turned the knob again and again, but all that was available on the TV was those two channels featuring hard-core porn.
Weird. Panama City is a cosmopolitan, sophisticated place. They have cable and satellite TV available everywhere. So, why only porn on TV?
I looked around the room. The lamps on the nightstands looked like they might have been someone's idea of brothel-chic. I walked into the washroom and noticed that the wrappers on the soap bars had little red hearts on them. It finally dawned on me that I had registered in a tryst hotel, the sort of place where you take your lover or mistress for some carnal exercise and where no-one asks any embarrassing questions or cares what you do.
I figured that if the proprietors of the hotel didn't care what I did, I might as well do something completely atypical for the place, something no-one else had ever done before or was likely to do in the future.
What did I do? I unpacked my stuff, turned out the lights, and had a good night's sleep. Alone.
What did you think I was going to do?