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Ah! College graduation is over. Time to relax for a little bit until the “real world” begins. One of my best friends is from Panama and invites me to stay with her family for two weeks. So I pack my bags and head off to Panama City for the first time.

It’s early June in Central America and all the college students return from various universities. Now, most of the western world is very familiar with Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Carnivale, whatever you call it. But since it happens during February when said college students are away attending classes, they miss the big celebration. So, Panama’s Club Union, puts on a mini Carnivale, or Carnivalitas, in June so that these same college students may celebrate with their families.

My friend’s family, of course, attends Carnivalitas, and they invite me to go. Let’s party. Now, before this point, I have done very little drinking apart from a wine or wine cooler or two at a time. I have never been drunk before this. I bet you can guess where this story is headed.

We take our places at one of the tables. The family explains what’s going on, since everything’s in Spanish and I only speak a smattering of German. German is very useful in Panama, not. The waiter places two clear bottles on the table in front of us. he also gives each of us a glass of lemonade. My friend’s father tells me that one is water and the other is a Panamanian liquor named seco. One of the ways that Panamanians enjoy their seco is to pour it into a glass of lemonade. Mike has nothing on lemonade with seco. The waiter starts you off with just a little seco. After he leaves, my friend’s father says that if it’s too strong, just pour a little water into it to cut it.

Everybody sips their lemonade and starts to party. I hesitantly sip my lemonade, and WOW! THIS STUFF’S STRONG!! So, following the advice given, I reach for the clear bottle, and pour a little water into the lemonade. Stir, stir, sip. Still too strong. Tastes great though. So, I reach for the bottle again, and pour more water into my lemonade. Stir, sip, repeat. Still too strong. More water. Man, this stuff seems to be getting stronger. I’ve now gone through almost half the bottle of water. Oh great, now my head’s starting to get dizzy. Must drink more lemonade. Funny, it doesn’t seem to be helping.

Then, as I reach for the water bottle again, my friend’s father yells out, “No, Erika, no! That’s the seco!” I put down the  seco and look at the two bottles side by side. “The water has the ribbon around it.” Oh no, for the last better part of an hour, I have been smartly watering down my alcoholic lemonade with 70 proof liquor. Way to go! Had only earlier I’d noticed the difference between the two bottles: a thin red line.