Observations on Panama

Tomorrow morning (at 5am!) I am off to the San Blas Islands, home to the Kuna Indians and their famous Mola textiles. I’m really looking forward to this trip – it’s meant to be the highlight of Panama, and not yet overrun with tourists. The Kuna live a very simple life on hundreds of tiny islands, many of which are available for rent (your own island to yourself!). I was given a contact there by some fellow travelers who had a great time. I’ll be paying $45/night which is a bit pricey for me, but that includes three meals a day, including fresh lobster, etc. During the days I’ll be snorkeling and chilling. I’m sure there’s no internet out there, although there probably is cell reception if you want to call me. I still can’t text to Twitter which kind of defeats the purpose, so don’t expect any updates from me for the next 3 – 5 days.

I’ll leave you with some random tidbits I’ve noticed about Panama:

  • You can drink the water! All over Panama (except Bocas), the water is safe to drink.
  • They don’t really eat beans, unlike the rest of Central America. But fried green plantains (patacones) are often served with meals, which I love.
  • Japan and South Korea have provided a lot of infrastructure support. There are signs indicating so at facilities. Actually, I noticed some of this in previous countries as well – some European nations too, like France.
  • They overdub reality shows! Overdubbing is bad enough, but doesn’t that finally take the reality out of reality shows?
  • Even in the boonies, I am JDrive (tech fix-it man). A twenty-something stopped me on the street for help with the PIN code on his phone.
  • I’m getting tired of the spitting. Men do it all the time, accompanied by gross loud noises.
  • They don’t refridgerate their eggs. This is true throughout Central America, as in Europe. I’m convinced the U.S. is the only country to refridgerate eggs.
  • Like Costa Rica, Panama has no military. Which is great, since historically the militaries in Latin America have been used against their own people.
  • I actually like the Mexican pop music that is blasted everywhere. It’s catchy, but not insidious like some U.S. pop. And they use real instruments. I wouldn’t even call it pop (more like modern folk music), except that is so popular everywhere down here.
  • The country is fairly diverse. There are class distinctions, but not outright racism. Having said that, although the populace is medium-dark skinned, all the politicians (and upper-class) are light-skinned. It’s the same ladder that exists elsewhere in the world – the lighter your skin, the higher your rank, and the better off your lot in life. I believe this extends to sexual attraction – gringos are liked not only because they’re perceived as rich, but also because of some ingrained belief that they’re smarter or have a higher social standing, whether they do in their home country or not. Which is convenient, since so many white people find people of color attractive (including me).
  • There is bad censorship of the press. Government officials can (and do) imprison journalists for “disrespect”. Surprising, given how otherwise democratic it feels here.
  • Women hold political power – the last President was female, and the female Governor’s mug is plastered all over town on billboards.
  • Panama banned public smoking last year. Amazing from a country that produces and sells a lot of cigars. No other Central American country has followed suit.
  • I have an app on the iPhone that scans for open WiFi networks. Usually walking around a city for half an hour will net me something I can connect to. However, here I have walked the entire city passing hundreds of networks, every one of them closed or locked down. I feel this says something about a society.
  • Panamanian Spanish is difficult for me to understand. The final consonants of words are always dropped. For a simple word like “gracias”, that’s not too difficult. But “doscientos siete” (my room number) becomes “doiento iet(e)”. Aiyeee!
  • Liquor is extremely cheap, as it is in the rest of Central America. I don’t usually shop for hard liquor, but I was told to bring some rum as a present for the Kuna – and laughed when I saw the prices. Even name brands like Cuervo Gold is 1/4 the price it is in the States. I suppose this means they don’t have luxury taxes. That’s too bad – heavily taxing things we don’t need to live is a fair way to raise capital for the state.
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