We drove through the jungle twice a day, six days a week, the whole month I was in Panama.
We’d leave the hotel in our packed and uncomfortable vans, and speed along the very narrow and very bumpy and potholed roads, trying to get to the canal before it got too busy. If you got there early enough, maybe you’d only have to wait 15 or 20 minutes to cross, instead of the usual 45 minutes to well over an hour (cruise ships and freighters packed with connex boxes take a really long time to go through the locks).
We’d work for 10 hours, then head back to the hotel, often in the dark. It was fully dark the night my van almost rear-ended the taxi–not in Colon, though. In the middle of the jungle.
Our driver was a very small, very…carefree Panamanian gentlemen who didn’t give a rip for speed limits. So typically, we’d tear through the jungle and hit the potholes at speeds that would rattle your fillings and usually send my sweaty, bald head into the poorly cushioned roof of the van, often prompting various expletives from myself and the other passengers.
On this night, we came around a bend, and the driver suddenly braked, muttering violent sounding curses en Espanol. Stopped in the middle of the road was a Panamanian Yellow Cab, with the driver’s side door hanging open, and no driver inside.
After my heart started beating again, I looked about ten yards ahead of the cab, and in the yellow glare of the cab’s headlights, saw what looked like a flat monkey slowly crawling across the road. And I mean slowly. The driver was standing in front of the cab between the headlights, and I saw him step slowly forward, and pick up the flat monkey by the scruff of its neck and lift it into the air to about chest level.
“That’s a sloth…” someone in the van said.
Of course, I thought.
The sloth was pinwheeling its limbs through the warm evening air like it was made of molasses. The cab driver carried the animal to the side of the road and set it down beneath a couple of trees. I remember wondering what it was going to do with all the extra time it saved.
Then he jumped back into the cab and laid rubber, disappearing into the jungle, headed back to Colon.
“That dude almost got himself–and us–killed for a dirty-ass sloth.” My coworker said, shaking his head.
“Did you see that thing, though?” I asked, slowly pinwheeling my sweaty arms through the air. “I want to bring one home to my kid.”
Then our driver roused himself from his nap, and we tore off, too. Only a couple more weeks, I thought. Then back to sand, saguaro, and coyotes. That was the first time I really missed Yuma. The place–not just my family.
A couple days later, we almost ran over a caiman (like a crocodile) in the same place.