FOR THE MOST PART, I AM AN EASY GUY TO PLEASE. Give me nice warm weather and a box of original Ritz crackers and I'm generally happy. When you bring monkeys into the picture, I'm in heaven. Panama pleasantly surprised me when I first got down here, however long ago. Panama City is pretty modern in that it's got lots of tall buildings and a pretty sturdy banking center, but it is the men on horses and roadside meat shacks just outside the city, that read hilariously out-of-date. In a sense, this contrast, this juxtaposition of old and new, of tradition and contemporariness, is what keeps me on my toes.
Because the US military occupied Panama for so long, we have way more chain restaurants than most countries in Central America. We have Quizno's, Burger King, and my personal favorite, Wendy's, where I can continue my ongoing french-fry study (is there really a difference between the medium and biggie portions?). Most of these fast-food joints will deliver to your house, via small noisy motorbikes. You would think this kind of service would nourish the country's lazy, couch potato demographic, but Panamanians, for the most part, are not fat.
Mistake: Arriving in Panama in September without a rain jacket. The weather here is hard to complain about though: about 80 year-round. The rainy season lasts a good five months, during which you can expect a torrential downpour every few days. It's during this season that I've come to experience new levels of rain, new intensities of rain that before I never knew existed. Just yesterday, for example, it was raining so hard that this gushing rivulet of rainwater lifted some kid's play truck --the kind with an orange body and yellow roof-- and drifted it all the way down to Via Argentina.
During rain storms, I come up with lyrics. If you weren't aware, I am a bit of an underground rap artist, and sometimes, I like to use my articles as marketing vehicles for this talent. Here are a few lines I threw together about Panama:
Yeah I like to go out to beaches
Las Palmas, you know.
Cheaters envy if I wanna get grimey wit' it down in Coronado
Coral Lodge in San Blas
And when I get there, I just sit back and chill.
The safety standard here is pretty high, though it is the occasional murder or robbery that simply reminds me of that all-too-cliche theme of "living in the third world." I've been robbed, and, really, it's not all that bad. In fact, I say if you can't beat em, join em. To a lot of people, living in a big city with petty crime is a bad thing, but to me there could be no better place to practice some stealing of my own. I mostly do pick pocketing and I dabble in dog-napping. In the hierarchy of criminals, pickpockets like me are like at the bottom, one above mailbox burglars and the guys who steal pies from windowsills.
In all seriousness though, the cops are pretty friendly and good to expats like myself. It is a city though, and with city life you get crime. Nothing is too extreme, and to give you an idea, we feel more comfortable here than we do in Washington D.C. Costa Rica has gotten a shameful rap for prostitution and some of that applies to Panama too. Lots of men explore that sphere and though they'll never tell their partner, a fair amount cheat on their spouses. This is kinda like asking a mime who his favorite performer is: you know he has one, but he'll never tell you their name.
There's an old saying that goes something like this: give a man a fish, he eats fish for a day. Give a man a fishing pole and he'll catch tuna fish that same day. The fishing down here is really pretty spectacular, rivaling that of Mexico. We have what is considered to be "the best fishing lodge in the world" down in the Darien jungle. We also have what I consider to be the best shortcut in the world -- the Panama Canal -- which is a little bit more than a tourist trap.
I'm sure there's some way they calculate standard of living and I'm assuming it's on a 100 point scale. If that's the case, I'd give Panama a 94. I love the fact that I can have a beautiful $100 dinner atop a high-rise (the restaurant scene is off the hook) or a $2 mountain of food at a cafe. I love how I can be in meetings in the city in shiny buildings with snappy dressers, then 2 hours later, be sitting in the San Blas Caribbean archipelago with a 500 year-old tribe of Kunas. I love the infrastructure, which makes it easy to get to secluded beaches and mountainous regions in a breezy afternoon. In my opinion, Panamanians take great pleasure in pretending to be tough. I love the people though because I think they are unique: hard on the outside but caring and sincere in the middle -- similar to Junior Mints.
If you're reading this, then you've probably taken the time to read the entire article which I commend you on. I would recommend, however, that you do something more productive with your time: go to night school or something. Oh, and if it's your birthday today, happy birthday.