Monday, December 5, 2011

Holy Balls!



Nestled between Colombia and Costa Rica, lies the port-ly country of Panama. Connecting two oceans and controlling the largest portion of rain forest in the Western Hemisphere, Panama is home to the second most competitive economy in all of Latin America. And how could it not be? When you control transportation between the oceans, you control the international drug trade. Barges of cocaine head hither and thither. This one's going to Cape Town and this one's going to Sydney. As a matter of fact, just 3 days ago, 278 kilos of cocaine headed to Europe were seized at the Port of Balboa. It's going to be a lackluster Boxing Day this year, my friends. Furthermore, on November 9th 261 kilos were found in another shipping container at Port Balboa. It was headed for Belgium and no arrests have been made, but I've got a hunch. A goofy-smiled headband wearing hunch. "Hola policia de Panama. Yo los hombres que estaban tratando de enviar las drogas. Montan en la nieve. De nada." Let's recap, shall we?


After a night of sleeping in the coziness of atoms (or customizing cars if you're an insufferable Bible quoting freak), our grueling race around the world is finally winding down. We've untied knots, we've made waffles, and we've ridden the teacups. How, oh how, can we turn this bitch up to eleven and go balls to the wall? Oh, I know! Let's all dress up as cartoon characters and have late night ne'er-do-wells shooting up in the alley tell us who we are. Sounds like a plan! As Team Snowbunny (Andy & Tommy) was the first team to arrive, they are now the first to depart. Using costumes in a package, teams must now dress up as comic book characters from Tintin (which I totally mentioned in the second sentence of my last blog by the way), figure out who they are, and reveal the answer to the riddle to a grown man in shorty short shorts. Dressed in their finery, the Snowbunnies approach a gang of Belgian street children and ask, "Who are we?" Lars or Hans or Gerte tells them that they look an awful lot like Charlie Chaplin. You know, the famous comic book hero Charlie Chaplin who could shoot lasers out of his cane and waddle away evil. Whatevs.


While the Snowbunnies trot off to google Charlie Chaplin (instead of Belgian comic books), Team Grammer (Camille/Sandy & Kelsey/Jeremy) depart and they're hot to trot! Hot to reenact one of steamiest scenes from 9 1/2 Weeks where Kim Basinger dresses up like a dude and then bangs Mickey Rourke in a leaky stairwell. Kelsey ties Camille's bow tie for her, readjusts her mustache, hands her a snifter of brandy, and whispers ever so gently into her ear how hot she looks. Camille then giggles while choking on a cigar. It's a miracle these two were able to table sexy time and actually complete the challenge. But, complete the challenge they did. A gaggle of street urchin knew the horny duo were from Tintin and they are now instructed to fly to Panama City via Amsterdam.


Team Bert & Ernie (Cindy & Ernie) and Team Armani (Amani & Marcus) quickly decipher the clue as well and we're left with the brainiac Snowbunnies trying to unravel the mystery. They approach Tintin and say, "We're Charlie Chaplin." Wrong! "We're Buster Keaton." Nein! "We're Johnny Depp in Benny & Joon." Non! Befuddled and perplexed, the dimwits skip back to their internet cafe and decide that perhaps they're not a famous silent era actor and director after all. Maybe, just maybe, they were actually in Tintin. Ya think? With a few click of the keys, they finally come up with the right answer and off we go to Panama.

Whoosh! Splat! Kerplunk! Here we are in Panama. Amidst cries of "rapido, rapido!", "andale, andale!", and "We're in the final conference championship now. It's touchdown time!", the teams speed towards the Chagres River for a late night canoe ride up the mosquito ridden inky black waters. Weaving in and out of fallen branches, hungry alligators, and nocturnal drug runs, the teams finally hear the pan pipes of a (head hunting) indigenous tribe. The Snowbunnies arrive and sign up for the first of three appointments the next day to get tattoos. It's special for them to see all of these new (born again) and interesting (as long as they're not Buddhist) cultures of the world (who are god fearing and accept Jesus Christ as their lord and savior). To hear them tell it, you'd think they were of open minds and open hearts. Oh puh-lease. We know better. Remember Thailand? "We know who the one true God is." Well, just wait until you find out that this tribe's one true god is a curved blade made of soft iron to prevent breakage. That gristle gristle you hear in the night sky isn't the gentle hum of maracas. It's your fate being sharpened against a well worn rock. Sweet dreams!



After a night spent in sagging hammocks with malaria buzzing all around, our teams awaken and get in line for their tattoos. I was hoping for a traditional method with a crudely sharpened blade and the ink from the pancreas of a jaguar or something, but it was not to be. Instead the tribe bought a henna kit from Spencer Gifts and sloppily painted the next clue onto the arms of our racers. Teams must now head to the San Francisco Bay Towers where they'll walk a tightrope between two towers 35 stories high. Now we're talking!



The Snowbunnies arrive first and Andy is stoked to tackle the tightrope. Teams not only have to walk across the damn thing, but once they get the clue on the other side, they have to walk all the way back again. With Andy mid-walk, Team Grammer arrives and Camille has to perform this challenge. That challenge-hog Kelsey has been doing all the work up until now and Camille has some catching up to do. The only problem is: Camille is scared of heights! Somersaulting back from his second walk, Andy senses Camille's trepidation and decides that the most Christian to do is to mess with her. Instead of heading back down to the awaiting Tommy, Andy taunts Camille with, "That plane looks awfully low!" and "Don't look down!" Camille stoically tunes him out and focuses on the task at hand. Girlfriend has teetered on 8 inch stilettos on the narrowest of bars while swinging from stripper pole to stripper pole. Not even Andy jostling the tightrope up and down and side to side can deter her. With encouraging words from Kelsey, she even dodges the Bibles hurling past her head like a pro.


Eventually, out of boredom, Andy descends the tower and receives the next clue directing them to the Countess De Lesseps statue. Who knew those stories of the Count's family discovering or inventing or buying the Panama Canal were actually for real?! Money can't buy you class, but it can get you a statue in Panama.



Just as Camille finishes the tightrope challenge, Team Bert & Ernie arrive with Bert preparing to do the challenge. I would have thought that with Ernie's ballet legs and travel tights he'd be a sure thing. Then again, Bert's tiny stump legs means she'd have a shorter distance to fall. Yeah, better let Bert and her low center of gravity tackle this one. With a grimace on her face and a cry of "Holy Balls!", an open-mouthed Bert shakes like a leaf while making the long back and forth trek across the sky. Meanwhile, down below, the Grammer's taxi driver is checking directions to the Countess' statue with the other taxi drivers. The good thing is they're all able to verify the location. The bad thing is that now everyone knows where to go. Initially, I was annoyed Team Grammer didn't stop their cabbie from blabbing. How could I have known that later I'd be sending him a fruit basket?

Team Snowbunny arrive at the Countess and discover a Detour: Filet or Sole. In Filet, teams must travel to the largest fish market in Panama and deliver seafood to various vendors. In Sole, teams must make a pair of sandals while working with a single piece of leather. Since carrying fish is stinky and who knows where the hell the vendors are, all teams (save Team Armani) choose Sole. Is it because the Armani's always choose the wiggedy whack challenges that they've managed to stay in the race? Looking back through their history, they sure make some dumb ass decisions (e.g. cargo ship in Africa). I still maintain they're in this race due to other people's mistakes rather than on their own merits. They don't shine. They don't sparkle. They're the accidental racers. The second chancers. Forrest Gump happening upon Watergate.

Okay so at the Sole place sit a bunch of barefoot men waiting for their custom sandals. Men in sandals... I don't know. I realize it's a tropical nation, but how about some fetching espadrilles instead? No one wants to see man toes. One person not bothered by man toes is Ernie. Furiously cobbling away, Ernie straddles the piece of leather and bends it this way and that. He's used to manipulating footwear to his will. Have you never seen a ballerina preparing her toe shoes? It's a ritual of resin, lambswool, lighters, needles, and thread and it's one our racing Baryshnikov is familiar with. Conversely, we find Camille and Bert sitting in a tangle of laces ripping them out of one another's hands. Get it together ladies!


Speaking of getting it together, Team Armani gets lost on the way to Filet and ends up smack dab in the middle of Sole. Instead of deciding, "Hey, since we're here..." They ignore the Detour they find themselves in the center of and instead race back to their taxi to head to Sole. At the time I thought them idiots. We all thought them idiots. We thought the same of dear Forrest and then he got that scholarship to college and met the President and got a medal. Well, a similar thing happened to Team Armani. They somehow managed to bump into the fish market where the market just happened to be empty that day and the vendors were only about 10 paces away from each other and the fish loads were small and manageable. Another series of lucky accidents. Wasn't it Robert Frost who said, "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I - I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference." Whether accidental or poetic, Team Armani cruises through the fish challenge and is now right behind the Snowbunnies.

Teams must now make their way to Cathedral Square where the clue to the next Pit Stop, Panama Viejo, is written on a dancers skirt as well as symbolized on their necklaces. So with Camille left to cut off the circulation of innocent Panamanian toes and Bert rejecting Ernie's pointe shoes, the Snowbunnies arrive at Cathedral Square where Andy promptly begins looking up the girls dresses. The problem is that in addition to the twirling skirts and necklaces, the dancers are also wearing a number of medallions in the local currency, the Balboa. The Snowbunnies see "Balboa" etched in gold and dash off to tell their driver to head to Balboa. As many things in Panama, including the money, are named Balboa (Balboa Market, Balboa VFW, Balboa Fairgrounds, Balboa Cleaners, Balboa Chinese Take-Out) , the taxi driver takes a wild stab in the dark and decides to head to the cocaine trading ground of Port Balboa.



With the Snowbunnies heading into the center of a DEA investigation, Team Armani arrives at Cathedral Square and wonders where they should change into their dancing clothes. Not finding dressing rooms or ruffled dresses to wear, Marcus takes it upon himself to rub his filthy hanky all over one of the dancers. Horrified, the dancer tries to run, but then remembers she's contractually obligated to stay. With tears streaming down her face she dances the dance she's known since childhood. Chin up, wrists flicked, toes pointed. Dance, little girl, dance! Dance through the pain.

Back at the DSW outlet, Bert and Camille have finally managed to untangle themselves from the yards of laces and are just now passing the challenge. Once in their cabs and headed to the dancing girls, Bert panics as she looks through the rearview mirror and sees Camille smirking and pantomiming a knife across Bert's throat. Bert cries, "We can't let them catch up! We have to be in first!" Settle down Bert. You'll feel much better when you discover that Marcus has completely forgotten there's a race going on and has decided to instead dance with the women as a way of killing time.

Meanwhile, Team Snowbunny pulls into the oddly abandoned Port Balboa and senses that something isn't right. It's eerily quiet and there are an awful lot of masked men with machine guns guarding slabs of parcels. They ask a local where Balboa is. Wouldn't you know it? Balboa is also the name of the infamous Panamanian drug lord...



Back at the dancing girls, Team Bert & Ernie and Team Grammer have arrived. Both are shocked to discover Team Armani are still there whistling into the wind. Camille and Bert take one look at each other and begin to tackle random dancing girls while Ernie asks them where they get their dresses made. Only Kelsey took it upon himself to notice the building emblazoned on the dancers belts. He whips a T-Square out of his back pocket and mocks up a crude drawing of the building to show his cab driver. The Grammers speed off just as the Snowbunnies are about to swallow 200 pellets of tightly packed cocaina. It dawns on them that this probably isn't an official race challenge so back they go to the dancing girls to figure out what they did wrong.

Team Bert & Ernie and Team Armani, not wanting to be left behind, decide that Balboa is probably their best bet. However, once in their cabs, the drivers (clearly on a family plan) begin calling each other wondering where to go. Since Team Grammer's driver has a drawing to go on, he tells the other cabbies to head to the Panama Viejo and not some random Balboa place. Camille screams, "Cállate!" from the backseat while the other cabs pull U-eys and fall into line right behind the Grammers cab. At home, I too was screaming Spanish profanities at the screen and then it dawned on me... the Snowbunnies! Those creepy Snowbunnies are still out there trying to figure out where the Pit Stop is. Yesss, cabbies! Muy bien! Family plans for everyone!

Whether unlikely or super lucky, Team Grammer whips into the Pit Stop in first place and find themselves the winners of a round trip for two to Turks & Caicos. Woohoo! Right behind them we find Bert struggling to smile and be happy for the Grammers. Between clenched teeth she expresses her joy for them when, all of a sudden, a REAL smile spreads across her face. It dawns on her just as it dawned on me. That flash of recognition in her eyes, I recognized it. Bert looks at Camille and together, in silence, they nod to one another before screaming, "Marcus! Amani! We're over here! Hurry, hurry!" And just like that, through the conjoined hatred for those wretched Snowbunnies, Bert and Camille worked together to bring Team Armani into 3rd place which means... *throws glitter in the air* The Snowbunnies have been eliminated from the race!!! Gin fizzies for everyone!

Sometimes, when you work together towards a common goal, happiness is born. Happiness is indeed born today my friends. So, what did you think of last night's episode? Are you happy the Snowbunnies are gone? Who do you want to win The Amazing Race?

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