That’s my first impression. Panama City is a thoroughly cosmopolitan metropolis with all of the good (and bad) that conveys: potable water, new roads, uber-modern architecture, lightning fast Internet, lots of traffic, and more than its share crime and people in too much of a hurry, if not downright rude. It’s easy to get around here, even if you don’t speak Spanish, there’s a plethora of American-style restaurants, hotels, and brand name stores, and there are LOTS of other Americans here, especially in the city center. They even use American Samolians for cash. Easy? You bet.
Cheap? Not so much. It’s about what you’d expect if you were in a large American city. For example, my room at the Courtyard Marriott Pacifica Mall in the city center is $150 a night with tax. It’s an upscale place with fantastic bedding, clean rooms, many amenities, and friendly bi-lingual staff marred only by a funky odor that issues from the air conditioning vents. Dining out? A pretty good deal. I ate some excellent pasta at a casual Italian eatery, Caffe’ Pomodorro, for $21, including tax, tip, and a glass of earthy Malbec. A cab from the airport is $30, and just about anywhere they take you in town is $10 (no subway, and avoid the buses). No surprises. Easy….as long as you have money, just like America.
This is a country basically designed and built by Americans. We installed the government in 1903, we built the Panama Canal cash cow, and when we didn’t like the government of Manuel Noriega, we invaded and installed our own regime. That’s not to take away from the efforts of the indigenous peoples, who have managed to carve out a lucrative niche for themselves in international banking and tourism, but countries, like people, can’t escape their roots, and Panama is like a slice of Americana in many ways, except that it is set in a steamy tropical isthmus and the native language is Spanish. Kind of like Miami, except they are even more Latino and Marxist than south Florida. Hard to believe, I know…:)
Getting here? Yes, easy. It’s less than 3 hours from Fort Lauderdale on Spirit Air, which I wouldn’t recommend as a company, unless your prime objective is to arrive exhausted at 2 in the morning on a redeye staffed by Affirmative Action rejects who resent you for your patronage as well as your foolish assumption that the plane will leave on time, if at all. Yes, I got my round trip ticket for only $260 on Spirit, where there’s no extra charge for the frown, but you pay for everything else, including $30 for a bag and $5 for them to print up your boarding pass. Such a deal! A lot of companies spring for their own office supplies, but these guys want to give you a paper cut. No, they aren’t as bad as “Hell’s Airline”, Santa Barbara Air. But trust me, American has better service, and they leave the departure city before most people have achieved deep REM sleep. That’s a bonus that’s worth the extra dough.
So it’s easy to assimilate in very short order into this country, and that’s part of the appeal, no doubt. The rest is the safe democratic government, which, while corrupt, is satisfied with the occasional bribe rather than bending you over the sink and entering you, “Deliverance” style, while you squeal like a pig, which is the new American way. In fact, corruption in government is just another way that citizens of the good ole USA can relate to this banana republic.
So I like Panama, so far. I spent part of the day tooling around the old town (Casco Antiguo), established in 1671 after the pirate Henry Morgan burned old Panama to the ground. It has a nice blend of architectural styles (ranging from Caribbean to Colonial) as represented by the Catholic churches of St. Philip Neri and La Merced. Take the time to stroll the grounds of the small but charming Plaza Francia and enjoy the old world ambience of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Then ride a bike or just walk down the Amador Causeway, where you can enjoy the skyline of the city to the east while also watching the boats line up to access the Canal on the west. There are plenty of shops and restaurants on the lamp lit and tree-lined walkway. If you’re lucky, you’ll see the bizarre Aqua Bus as it emerges from the bay with a boatload of sightseers and drives down the street on its daily route as if public transportation was supposed to be amphibious. Yes, it’s touristy. So what? Enjoy!
That’s it for today. Tomorrow, I look at real estate, including The Donald’s Trump Ocean Club. See ya’!