Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Panama So Far

A year and a half in and Panama still manages to bemuse, frustrate, confound and entertain me.

We started year two by moving to Casco Viejo, the one historic neighborhood left in the city that is gentrifying at light speed. We got a beautiful old colonial apartment building a stone's throw from the president's palace.

In Casco you find Porches and poverty in equal measure. Next to remodeled colonial buildings that charge $3,000 in rent, you find old tenements filled with squatters. Restaurants serving $10 cocktails are adjacent to families selling Panamanian staples for $3.50. It pretty much exemplifies Panama. All the recent money and investment paints a first world sheen over a still developing country.

Case in point, in our beautiful colonial apartment (not remodeled and not paying $3,000 a month), the water stopped working, sometimes for days at a time. If I showed you pictures of the place, the interior pillars and french doors, you'd be jealous. If I showed you pictures of the day I had to speak to audience of hundreds without showering, you'd probably laugh.

We moved out in a hurry, and have since used Airbnb to stay in two of Panama City's nicer neighborhoods. The juxtapositions are odd. Porches swerve to miss enormous pot holes and missing man covers. Immaculately manicured lawns lay next to the ubiquitous Panamanian litter.

This morning I saw a woman, decked out in fancy biking gear, riding a thousand dollar mountain bike, doing figure 8's in a park, weaving around styrofoam containers. All dressed up and nowhere to go.

No doubt this country is booming. Venezuelans and Cubans are flocking here in droves, while Americans and Canadians keep heading south. Construction is everywhere, malls are everywhere, glittering skyscrapers dot the landscape and mar the Pacific coastline for miles 60 plus miles to west. 

I just don't know that it's that good for Panama. Rent in the city is skyrocketing. Every inch of beach is being developed and bought up by foreigners. Huge infrastructure problems with water and waste collection still exist. Panama Bay literally smells like a sewer. But still, towers go up, developers get rich, and foreigners come in droves.

I went to a beach last weekend, passed the gated communities, the giant piles of trash those same communities dump on the side of the road, passed the mansions and the villas, before arriving at a nice little beach where a Panamanian woman charged me $5 to park. I pay that gladly. That's her slice of the action. The rest of it seems to be going to everyone else.