27 Feb
Panama City

Panama City

After 7 years I landed again in Central America. I pondered upon the destination and after eliminating Honduras and El Salvador for their major security issues and Costa Rica, a land too touristy for my taste, I arrived late in the night in the international airport where joyfully I was fingerprinted and photographed by a cheerful immigration agent who was somehow impressed that I was born in Romania. This should had give me a hint by the Americanization of Panama, a thing about I read a lot recently preparing for the trip. Obviously the recent history is shrouded around the fate of the canal, an immense source of revenue that fosters the local economy and its current economic boom. When the French wanted to build the canal at the end of the 19th century Panama did not exist. Its independence, gained from the Spanish in 1821 was sunk in the failed Bolivarian republic, a remarkable dream that succumbed soon after its inception. But In spite that all the other members of the project gained back their independence Panama became a province of Columbia. The French failure of building the canal was perceived as an opportunity by the Americans who not only built the canal in 10 years but made a deal and offered protection to Panama to obtain his independence by blocking the menacing Colombian fleet that came to invade and protect their rights. For many years this good deed was paid with an actual occupation of the canal zone and a lot of influence in the political process of the country. Noriega was a rough guy that made news, but just one in a series of dictators that ruled the country. This sort of influence can be perceived also in the fact that the local currency “balboa” is pegged to the US$, also an official currency, to the point that nobody gave any change in balboa. It;’s just the greenback changing hands here.
Coming out of the airport after the harshest winter New York had in many years I had to start taking out the layers in the sultry heat of the night. I took a taxi from the airport for a flat $25 to central city that brought me on a perpetually unfinished modern highway that make the traffic to be bumper to bumper even at 11:00 pm. I was mesmerized by the extensive number of McDonalds, Burger Kings, and KFC, Office Depot and many other American businesses that feel at home here. One after another but congregating in a landscape way more imperfect that their home kins. The taxi driver wanted to get me in a conversation about the politics of Panama, corruption and baseball and the only thing that I knew for sure of all subjects, to his great pride, was that Mariano Rivera is  a baseball player and is from Panama and is very religious. However after several minutes and 7 years of not speaking the language, my Spanish for heavy subjects collapsed and I switched the conversation to soccer, a dialogue that you know will work with any taxi driver in the world even in my not-as-brushed-off Spanish. I found out way more that I wanted about why Panama did not make the World Cup and I had to explain why Romania did not make it, him knowing way more than me about the US performance.
The hotel was in the center looking gloomy in the night, livened up by a couple from Cuba having a beer on the terrace who wanted to have a conversation. I would have loved to have a chat with them but I still needed 2-3 days to get back my Spanish for this so gave up and went to the hotel to check in.

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Posted by on February 27, 2014 in Blog, Panama


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