It's that time of year again. The time of year when I don't take my coat off when I come from work (I wear it until bedtime) because I just can't seem to warm up. I wear legwarmers around the house (and sometimes to bed). I run out of bed in the morning and head right for the heat ducts in the floor and stand next to them, hunched over like a guilty raccoon. Today the sky had a quality to it that made me think of my East Coast childhood days. The clouds were high and the rain freezing. I had a thought at about 2 pm or so while I was sitting at a stoplight: somewhere, just beyond those clouds up there, there is a big, burning ball of gas, so hot it will burn my skin. And very, very soon, I will be closer to it than I've ever been in my life. Thank Jeebus.

In a mere 18 days, I am going to Panama. The great comedy of this whole cold-as-hell tragedy is that I can't say the word Panama. I just can't. I have to sing it. As in "Pa-nuh-muh! Pa-nuh-MUH-uh-UNH-uhn-uh-uh!" As in, Eddie Van Halen's scratchy screechy PA-NU-MUH delivered from the depths of his be-mulletted soul. I giggle inside every time everyone asks me where I'm going for two weeks. "Panama", I say. "PA-NU-MUH!" is what it sounds like in my head. I do a little kick-split when I'm saying this.

Panama it is. Beach and mountains. Equatorial, baby. That means HOT. Like minimal clothing hot. Like tropical fruit for breakfast, lunch and dinner hot. Like 90 degrees and 80 percent humidity hot. Aaaaaaah.... I can feel it now. Okay, maybe it's the wool socks and sweater and scarf and hot tea I'm feeling. Still... 90 degrees. Hell yes. I'm gonna get what I've always wanted as an adult for Christmas: a tan.

CLH and I have been loosely planning this for some time now. You know how when the Universe tells you something once, it's interesting, and twice, it's a coincidence, and three times, you pack your bags and don't look back? I'm a big believer in reading the writing on the wall (especially if the writing comes in the form of many, many random people who've never met before all telling you the same thing about a country you've never given two thoughts about before in your life). Well, I had a one-two-three run-in with the Universe dropping hints last year sometime and I came home one day and said, "We need to go to Panama." And here we are, months later, with an itinerary and everything. It's a pretty loose itinerary. It looks like this: Panama City, the canal, beach for five days, mountains for four, and then it's Christmas time with the fam on the East Coast. Then it's back on a plane and we're back home in the cold and the gloom. Sigh. Focus on the beach part. Focus.

I have mixed feelings about it, naturally. On the one hand, I'm all WHOO HOO! HOT SUN AND SAND AND PEACE AND QUIET! And on the other hand, I'm, "Um.... yeah... Panama. About that whole colonization of your country by my peeps... REALLY sorry about that, dude. We really botched that one. Apparently, we haven't really honed our We're-building-infrastructure-in-other-countries-without-killing-a-good-portion-of-the-native-population skills. We're working on that in Iraq right now..." Added to the pile of guilt over my being white and having enough disposable income to go lay on a beach somewhere tropical is my guilt over the carbon footprint (Yeti sized) we're leaving by taking a three legged plane journey. Having a conscience is an exhausting thing.

There is also the information I picked up from reading "Maiden Voyage" not too long ago. I don't remember the author spending as much time describing the land-features of a place as much as she did Panama (it's a book about sailing, for goodness' sake, so for her to talk so much about land... it had a big impact on her). Panama City is not unlike any city where Captain WhiteMan has pushed the indigenous folks off their land and then plundered it for resources or opportunity or both. The disparity between the rich and poor is drastic and obvious. What I remember from the book is this: the zone along the Canal is populated by the descendants of the folks who were in charge of building the canal (read: old money) and the area just outside the zone is populated by the workers who helped built it (read: no money). Having read a few books now about sailing around the world, and specifically around islands whose populations have seen The Conqueror come and go, I am uber-sensitive to the impact my presence has on the local economies of such places.

I will keep all this in the front of my mind as I hand over my credit card. I will be grateful to the people of Panama for letting me lie on their beaches and sleep nestled inside their eco-lodges on their coffee plantations. And I will do air kicks and brush my air-mullet bangs out of my eyes every time I say the name of their gloriously rockin' country.