The Woman Who Gave Me Her Bracelet…

Yadira

It was my first night in Panama City and I was tired after my flight from Ecuador earlier in the day. It was hot and humid outside, too, meaning that I easily could have stayed in my air-conditioned room and not gone out.

Wine Run

But my friend Michelle and I wanted some more wine (we’d done a bottle of champagne earlier) and snacks. Also, we were in one of the most interesting sections of Panama City–Casco Viejo–so it made no sense to stay in.

With no plan in mind, we began to wander around. We bypassed the clubs and the upscale bars, which seem to be springing up everywhere, and headed for the local “Chino,” a Chinese-owned convenience store.

Following the Music

And despite the sauna-like heat, we quickly discovered something rather cool–the vibrancy of the neighborhood itself. We heard music. Salsa. And it was the kind that makes you want to dance wherever you are. I had a feeling it wasn’t coming from a club.

We followed it and heard voices and laughter and soon saw…a family hanging out on the street. It looked like a party. There was food, liquor and a boom box, playing Latin music. Songs I knew from salsa clubs back home.

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“Hola,” I said to the familiy, smiling. And the group of 12 or so people smiled back. “Uds. van a bailar esta noche?” Hi, are you going to dance tonight?

“Si, claro!” Yes, of course, they said.

They looked friendly and I wanted to hang out, but they hadn’t officially invited us. I wasn’t sure. Neither was Michelle. Perhaps on our way back, I thought. If they invite us.

And sure enough, when we passed by later, they were still there. And the music was even better.

This time, they gestured to us to join them. So we stopped. And stayed.

Meeting the Family, Seeing Their Home

And we were soon part of the family and the party. I danced with several men in the group (salsa and merengue) and had conversations with the women; I found everyone to be warm and friendly. And then one of them, one whose smile was the brightest of all, invited me and Michelle into their home.

Her name: Yadira.

“Come in….let me show you around,” she said in Spanish. She lived on the other side of town, but this was her extended family’s house–the one she had once lived in, I believe.

She led us into what appeared to be a long alley-like hallway, with rooms on either side. Each room had an adjoining room upstairs, which was used for sleeping or as an extra closet.

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We entered nearly every room, but not the upstairs, and chatted with her about life–hers mostly and ours to some extent. She was thrilled to meet us and vice versa. It became obvious rather quickly that she was a happy person. I’ve seen many smiles over the years, but never one quite like hers.

“You look so happy,” I said to her.

“I am happy,” she replied. “I have my husband and son and my family. I have everything I need.” She smiled and looked at her extended family with love in her eyes.

Part of the Family

And for a moment, I was part of it. And so was Michelle.

We walked back outside and danced for a while and then family members grabbed their phones and cameras and started taking photos of us. We did the same, of course.
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And then Yadira gestured to us to join her off to the side of the street.

“I want to give you something,” she said. In my mind, she already had. She’d opened her heart to us. And her home. She’d welcomed us into the family.

A Gift

But she wanted to give more. Something that would remind us of her, or her country, in the future perhaps.

She took off her necklace and gave it to Michelle. And then gave her bracelet to me. She helped us put them on, too.

“Are you sure?” I asked, knowing that I would, of course, accept the gift.

“Please,” she said. “Take it.” And I did. I put on the bracelet. Michelle put on the necklace and then we resumed dancing. And she smiled. And we smiled back. Perhaps that was our gift to her? Our enjoyment of her family and her gifts?

It got late and we got tired and got ready to leave. Before we said our goodbyes, we had our second photo shoot. Perhaps just as I’m showing you their photos, they showed ours to people they know.

More important than photos, of course, is that we got to share the real moment with them. And for that, I am grateful.

When I look at my bracelet, I’ll always remember that night. And Yadira, the woman who gave it to me. And of course, the unique neighborhood of Casco Viejo and Panama itself.

Your Thoughts/Experiences?

Have you ever been in this type of situation where you connected with a local family? Did they invite you into their home? What sort of cultural experience did you have with them? What country were you in?

Perhaps you’ve been to Panama. Did you get to visit or stay in Casco Viejo? Did you meet the locals while there? What did you think of the very unique neighborhood?

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Yadira's son--one of the many reasons for that smile on her face!

55 Responses to The Woman Who Gave Me Her Bracelet…
  1. Scott
    July 19, 2011 | 4:32 am

    DING DING DING … you just won the “authentic experience” award, lol. What an awesome adventure. If concentrating more on getting out and less on blogging while traveling results in this kind of stuff happening, you are totally on the right track!
    Scott recently posted..An Ode to Road TripsMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      July 19, 2011 | 10:30 am

      Hi, Scott…love the Ding Thing! :) It was awesome and I think you’ve got a good point there. I could have been in the room, writing a post about Quito and tweeting, etc. But I wasn’t and so I did get out there. And it was wonderful. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. Michael Hodson
    July 19, 2011 | 6:50 am

    what a really fun experience — totally nice to get to know locals in this way anywhere on the planet.
    Michael Hodson recently posted..Venice at Night: Photo of the DayMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      July 19, 2011 | 10:31 am

      Thanks, Michael. I really had a blast and it was the perfect ‘welcome’ to Panama, a country I’ve now added to my ‘highly recommended’ list!

  3. Edelito Sangco
    July 19, 2011 | 7:45 am

    What an awesome experience indeed.How I wish I can also experience the same. I’ve been to Spain, Thailand and Singapore but I found no time to hangout with the locals. Next time that I travel abroad, I shall find time to mingle and learn from the people of the locality.
    Edelito Sangco recently posted..Seaside Waterfall – A Visit To Magkahuyog Falls in Bucas Grande Island, PhilippinesMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      July 19, 2011 | 10:32 am

      Hi, Edelito. It was great! I hope that you do find the time on your next trip. These types of memories are the ones that stay with you! Thanks for your visit here.

  4. flipnomad
    July 19, 2011 | 8:27 am

    fun post and also moving at the same time… seldom do we get that moment when we connect to other people… :-) one of the greatest rewards of travelling 😉 i initially thought that you just went to ecuador :-)

    • CB Driver
      July 19, 2011 | 10:34 am

      Hi, Flip. Glad you felt that as you read it. It really is one of the greatest rewards of traveling. I felt honored that the family welcomed us as they did. What was really cool, too, was that I knew they hadn’t been turned off to an overabundance of tourists.

      As for the trip itself…I ended up spending 2.5 weeks in Ecuador and 3 in Panama. It was cool (although the weather in Panama was sucky at times)!

  5. janet
    July 19, 2011 | 10:19 am

    I LOVE this post. What a great story of really letting yourself experience the local culture. And how lucky to be invited into their world so graciously. It must say something about how you are as a traveler (I hate to use the word “tourist”).
    janet recently posted..near the waterfrontMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      July 19, 2011 | 10:36 am

      Hola, Janet. So glad you enjoyed the post! It was a really special experience and what’s interesting is that I found that there were plenty of amazing moments in Panama. Originally, I thought it might be too Americanized. Glad to see that it wasn’t (outside of the big cities.) Thanks for making that distinction, by the way, between traveler and tourist. I do think my curiosity and openness put me into the former category.

      Thanks for reading and for commenting–always appreciated!

  6. Tom
    July 19, 2011 | 10:23 am

    Aww, I loved this post! Goes to show that speaking a bit of the local language and having a smile on your face goes a long way into having these unique kinds of experiences. Thanks for sharing it! :)
    Tom recently posted..My 7 LinksMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      July 19, 2011 | 10:37 am

      Hi, Tom…glad you liked it! Yes, it’s true–knowing the language helps a lot. I’m quite fluent, which made it really wonderful since the conversation had substance. Anyway, thanks for reading!

  7. Terri Belford
    July 19, 2011 | 12:43 pm

    What a shame that most people who travel spend their time as tourists and seldom connect with the locals and get to know the “real” culture. What a gift to be welcomed in as part of the family for a night. You photographs are stunning-they capture the essence of the people. Thank you for sharing this experince
    Terri Belford recently posted..How your current job can help you in starting your own businessMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      July 20, 2011 | 12:48 am

      Terri–I hear you…many people miss out on the locals and the real culture. It was a gift to be welcomed into the home that night; very heart-warming! Thanks for the wonderful feedback–I really appreciate it. Thank you!

  8. Gray
    July 19, 2011 | 12:48 pm

    I have not had that experience, but it sounds wonderful.
    Gray recently posted..Hotel Europa: Hotel at the Gate of the SunMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      July 20, 2011 | 12:48 am

      Thanks, Gray. It was really cool–on such a hot night. Like a breath of fresh air!

  9. Jodi
    July 19, 2011 | 2:07 pm

    I think it’s great that you received should an unexpected welcome into Panama. I enjoyed reading this :)
    Jodi recently posted..5 Things I’m Looking Forward ToMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      July 20, 2011 | 12:48 am

      Thanks, Jodi…it was a pleasant surprise!

  10. Jodi
    July 19, 2011 | 2:12 pm

    I’m really glad to see that you had such a good time. I find most locals in Latin America to be very accommodating once you make a conscious effort to blur the line between traveler and tourist. Where did you learn to Salsa?
    Jodi recently posted..5 Things I’m Looking Forward ToMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      July 20, 2011 | 12:50 am

      Hi and thanks. I learned to dance right here in NJ, believe it or not–not in Ecuador when I lived there. I had some students about 10 years ago from Colombia and sometimes we went out to clubs. I bought a video and between that and my students, I finally got the hang of it. Have enjoyed it ever since!

  11. Rohrerbot
    July 19, 2011 | 11:12 pm

    That sounds like one of those spontaneous moments that can’t be planned out….they just happen. It’s rare when they happen, but something you never forget. I had that in Mexico in the small state of Tlaxcala. 20 some years later we are still in touch and they are considered my second family. As for Casco Viejo, just did the photographer thing. I snapped lots of pics.:)
    Rohrerbot recently posted..Year of the Solar SystemMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      July 20, 2011 | 12:51 am

      Hey…hi! Yes, that’s exactly what it was–very spontaneous. That is so cool that you’re still in touch with your Mexican friends–how wonderful! Re: photos in CV….it’s so easy, isn’t it, to be a photographer there? I had a hard time putting my camera down sometimes. Fascinating place!

  12. Dyanne@TravelnLass
    July 19, 2011 | 11:46 pm

    Such a touching travel memory – that bracelet no doubt a most treasured token (it’s also very kewl!)

    I’ve been to Panama City (back in ’99 – interestingly, given that I’m an American – on the 10th anniversary of “Operation Just Cause”), but not to Casco Viejo.

    Question: Did you make it out to the San Blas Islands? To this day, they remain the most idyllic isles in all travels!
    Dyanne@TravelnLass recently posted..SpotColor – a Purely Magical Photo AppMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      July 20, 2011 | 12:53 am

      Hi, Lass. Thanks for the visit! I like the bracelet…it’s definitely a treasured token. You’ve been to PC? V Cool.

      I did make it out to San Blas and hope to be posting about it soon. San Blas: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly? Or maybe San Blas–Curse of the Eclipse? Which one do you like more? I thought the place was amazing–beautiful and fascinating. Unique!

      • Dyanne@TravelnLass
        July 20, 2011 | 1:16 am

        Definitely the Eclipse. Since my “La Dia de Dos Noches” in Costa Rica, I am ALL over eclipses (my ultimate dream is to travel the globe following eclipses.) But “Curse”? THIS I have to hear.
        Dyanne@TravelnLass recently posted..SpotColor – a Purely Magical Photo AppMy Profile

        • CB Driver
          July 20, 2011 | 12:05 pm

          Very interesting re: wanting to follow the eclipses! Perhaps you should be in San Blas for one–or maybe not. When I was there, some of them were covering their eyes because it was a full moon and an eclipse. They were freaked. Believe it or not! Will get working on that post–soon. I hope. :)

  13. Andrea
    July 20, 2011 | 1:00 pm

    What a sweet story! We haven’t had too many experiences to connect with the locals, aside from staying in hospedajes in Chile where families rent out part of their house. John’s chatting with a local Irishman he met at the pub at the moment while I sit here working – does that count? 😉
    Andrea recently posted..Exploring The Burren and Cliffs of MoherMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      July 20, 2011 | 7:59 pm

      Thanks, Andrea! Nice that you got to stay with the locals in Chile; wish I ‘d done that when I was there. I didn’t meet anyone really at the time. Re: the local Irishman…yes, that counts! he, he, he :)

  14. Stephanie - The Travel Chica
    July 20, 2011 | 2:11 pm

    I spent a few days with 2 families I met in El Salvador. They were celebrating the New Year at the beach. They were so welcoming and warm, and it was an amazing experience.

    I visited Casco Viejo when I was in Panama and loved the area. Unfortunately, the gentrification in the neighborhood will soon push out the locals. I am sure you noticed the contrast between the trendy restored areas next to the dilapidated buildings. It is good to restore, but unfortunately, it will mean kicking people out.
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..Feliz Día del AmigoMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      July 20, 2011 | 8:02 pm

      Hanging with the families in El Salvador sounds great, Stephanie. Cool that they celebrated on the beach! I met some nice locals there at a park and they told me their life story. Really cool.

      Re: Casco Viejo…I totally agree with you. I’m very concerned about the woman I wrote about and her family. I wonder if they’ll be there in a few years. I saw others, too. So many upscale hotels and restaurants popping up–very concerning. I may post about CV and tell people to get there ASAP!

      Thanks for joining the chat!

  15. Christy @ Ordinary Traveler
    July 20, 2011 | 6:03 pm

    I love this story and your photos! It always amazes me how giving some people can be. In the States, it’s not common for a rich family to meet some people and give them a gift, but the people with little money and possessions in other countries are happy to give gifts to strangers. Truly amazing. I did have an experience like this in Spain. I ended up staying with a family who I met on a plane from Sicily to Madrid. I still keep in touch with the daughters.
    Christy @ Ordinary Traveler recently posted..Weekly Travel Shot: Serendipity in SicilyMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      July 20, 2011 | 8:05 pm

      Thanks for the positive feedback on the photos, Christy…I’m honored since you’re a wonderful photographer! I hear you re: the difference between people here and elsewhere, socioeconomically and in terms of giving. I love the fact that you stayed with that family in Spain. How cool! And you’re still in contact? Better yet!

  16. Laurel
    July 20, 2011 | 6:12 pm

    What an amazing story and the people look so happy! I’m so glad that you have a memento to help always remember this special night.
    Laurel recently posted..Driving in Germany: Are You Ready?My Profile

    • CB Driver
      July 20, 2011 | 8:06 pm

      Thank you, Laurel! Glad you enjoyed it. Nice to have the bracelet….it’s a sweet reminder, for sure!

  17. Erica
    July 20, 2011 | 9:17 pm

    EEEEEE! I love this post! Like, I go a little teary eyed reading it. I really hope that one day I can have an experience like this.
    Erica recently posted..Zimbabwean GoldMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      July 20, 2011 | 9:52 pm

      Hi, Erica…so nice to know that you felt something from reading the post…cool! There was something unique/special about this family that I wish I could convey even more. I really think they were somewhat sheltered from tourists (despite the growth/tourism in the area) and that gave them a sort of innocence/sweetness that is rare to find (I think I experienced it in Nicaragua, too). Anyway, I hope you get to connect with the locals in such a way, too!

  18. charu
    July 21, 2011 | 10:26 am

    I see this all the time in India…once I stopped at a village where farmers where working on their fields and they just glowed when we wanted to take a picture of them. That’s all they wanted– a picture. Loved your story and narrative. I’m sure you are treasuring the bracelet.
    charu recently posted..Hosting My First Travel Event: Travel Scents with Sue PhillipsMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      July 21, 2011 | 12:55 pm

      Hi, Charu. Very interesting about India. Cool to know–I hope to make it there someday! Glad you liked the story…thanks for reading!

  19. Steve
    July 21, 2011 | 4:47 pm

    Great story. I badly wanted to make my way down to Panama City when I went to Costa Rica last year, but I didn’t have the chance. I ended up going north into Nicaragua.

    I did have a good connection with a family in Vietnam though. In order to get out of the rain, I stepped into a small restaurant. Apparently I was the first foreigner ever to go there. All the other people eating there and the owners had to come over and say hi. They told me what it was like to own the place and made me a special meal. It was a great experience.

    • CB Driver
      July 21, 2011 | 5:27 pm

      Hi, Steve. Thanks for the feedback–glad you liked the story! Nicaragua is really cool, too.

      I love the fact that you were the first foreigner to eat in that restaurant in Vietnam–that is SO cool! And they made you a special meal? That is great–the real deal. And why it’s so nice to get off the beaten path if you can.

  20. Randy
    July 21, 2011 | 9:47 pm

    Great story! I love connections like this; it’s what makes traveling so fun.

    • CB Driver
      July 21, 2011 | 11:32 pm

      Thanks, Randy. I agree–that’s what it’s all about!

  21. Hogga
    July 22, 2011 | 10:16 am

    I’m so excited for this new post and I LOVE IT! Making me proud going on treks for vino and partying with locals! That’a girl! I can’t WAIT to hear more :)
    Hogga recently posted..Berlin Party AnimalsMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      July 22, 2011 | 11:52 am

      Thanks, Lindsay! You should be proud of partying with the locals….it’s fun and cool to do! Just noticed your comment luv link….wonder what that’s about–LOL. :)

  22. Elle
    July 22, 2011 | 3:01 pm

    What a charming post! How awesome is it that you got to hang out with the family like that? I bet that is something you will never forget!
    Elle recently posted..The Hills Have Eyes (#390 Scope out Montezuma’s Castle)My Profile

    • CB Driver
      July 23, 2011 | 12:57 am

      Hi, Elle! It was a special experience and you’re right–I won’t forget it. They were so sweet, warm and open…very real. Thank you!

  23. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures
    July 29, 2011 | 9:00 am

    Such a GORGEOUS post about how incredibly humans can be and why I choose to travel…it’s because of encounters like these! She has such a beautiful smile!!!!

    • CB Driver
      July 30, 2011 | 12:15 pm

      Hi, Andi. Thank you! People can really be wonderful and I’m with you re: traveling for that reason. Her smile was amazing and I still think of it now and how it felt to be with her and the family!

  24. The Twitter 10: August 2011 | The Working Traveller
    August 2, 2011 | 8:02 pm

    […] The Woman Who Gave me Her Bracelet… Why it is the people you meet that makes travelling so rewarding. […]

  25. Bret @ Green Global Travel
    December 11, 2011 | 9:57 am

    Beautiful story! I’ve had a few experiences where I felt that sort of connection, including one I did a guest post for The Planet D about recently in which I spontaneously jammed with a Zulu musician in KawZulu Natal, South africa, and the next morning they gave me a Zulu name. It’s amazing when we connect with people on that level, especially when we don’t even speak the same language!
    Bret @ Green Global Travel recently posted..GALAPAGOS ISLANDS Day 4- Photo GalleryMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      December 11, 2011 | 9:29 pm

      Thanks, Bret. Glad you liked it! You spontaneously jammed with a Zulu musician? That is SO cool. And you got a Zulu name? I love that. It must have been an amazing experience. Connecting through music is very special, isn’t it? I played drums with some Garifuna kids in Belize and was really honored that they allowed it. Here’s the post if you’d like to check it out.

  26. Linda
    December 11, 2011 | 10:54 am

    So glad you tweeted this today, because I missed it the first time! I just love it. This is the biggest reason to travel, in fact, experiences like this, where people from different cultures connect. If only everyone had the chance to do this, maybe we there would be less wars and disagreements.

    I had a wonderful experience with an Italian family in Venice years ago. A friend had asked me to deliver a package to them, and they invited us into their home which was one of those faded, elegant villas on one of the main canals – the sort of place you only dream of seeing! A couple of days later they took us to a restaurant on Burano owned by another family member, and I think it was probably the most memorable meal of my life!
    Linda recently posted..How My World Rocked : Rappelling and Rage against Ageism.My Profile

    • CB Driver
      December 11, 2011 | 9:32 pm

      Hi, Linda. So glad you saw the story and appreciated it! I agree that cultural connection is the main reason to travel. I love it. I also agree that if more people did it, we wouldn’t have those conflicts–or at least, we have fewer of them.

      I love your story about the family in Venice….sounds awesome! I’m sure the villa was magical and the meal, divine. I was only in Italy for a week, a while back (Rome and Vernazza), and loved the food so much. But you got to go to a family-owned place, which I can imagine was beyond amazing! :)

  27. […] was that I’d love it. There are many reasons, including warm, friendly people (including a woman who gave me her bracelet) and how easy it is to get off the beaten path. One of the highlights of my trip was my […]

  28. […] been dancing in the street). It was touching and I’ll never forget it. Here’s the story if you’d like to check it […]

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