Panama: Much More Than Palm Trees
Swaying in the Tropical Breeze
Panama. Warm, tropical, palm trees silhouetted against the
golden sky of a setting sun. Yes, it is all those romantic things.
But it is so much more.
Its capital is the most modern city south of the U.S. If this
is the third world, I missed the first somewhere in my travels.
Panama City is a world-leading financial center with some 120
banks, many with competing glass and steel monuments to commerce.
Panama is shopping, U.S. style. Many of the stores found on
Main Street, U.S.A., are here too. After all, the Panama Canal
was run by Americans for almost 100 years, and the American military
had a major presence here until 1999.
Panama once had a reputation as part of the pipeline for Colombian
drugs. It suffered under the savage dictatorship of Manuel Noriega,
until he was captured and imprisoned by American troops in December,
1989. The country has had a peaceful democracy ever since. Like
Costa Rica, it has no military. Money is spent on education instead,
and its people have a high level of literacy. And if you need
medical attention here, your doctor is likely to have been trained
in the U.S. or Europe.
Panama is silver sand on the Caribbean side and black volcanic
sand on the Pacific side. It has the second-largest volcanic
crater in the world inside which nestles a popular tourist and
retirement town. (The largest is the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania.)
It is dessert and mountaintop. It can be humid all year, or like
spring for all 12 months, depending on where you are in this
Panama is world-class hotels and resorts, the best roads in
Central America by far (many were built by Americans). And Brinks
gives the country a top rating for personal safety.
Panama is tales of pirates, of Spanish treasure and the forts
that tried to protect it; it is jungle and monkeys and parrots.
It has more birds than all of North America put together, some
960 different species. There is even a jungle preserve right
inside the city limits. And Darien National Park on the Colombian
border is a jungle of monstrous size and one of the worlds
richest wildlife habitats.
Panama, that thin strip of land joining the northern and southern
halves of the Americas (yet running east to west) provides a
50-mile wide divide between the worlds two largest oceans. And
its narrowness has provided the ingredients for much of its history.
The Spanish used it as a land bridge to transship Inca treasure
en route to Spain. This attracted pirates whose exploits here
made them household names. The rest, as they say, is history.
The French tried to build a canal, and went broke. The Americans,
who proved the value of the isthmus during the Gold Rush, succeeded
where the French had failed. And today, the Panama Canal, now
run by Panamanians, produces much of the countrys wealth.
More shipping is registered in Panama than in anywhere else on
Panama is a land of diversity. Its people are friendly. If
your car breaks down, runs out of gas, or gets a flat, within
a few minutes someone will stop to help. Try that in Manhattan!
The language is Spanish, but in the major hotels and many places
in the capital, the people who serve you speak English. And if
they dont, theres sure to be a helpful English-speaking
person within earshot who will offer assistance. Currency: the
U.S. dollar since 1904. What could be easier?
About the Author
Sydney Tremayne publishes http://www.yourpanama.com, a leading website
for tourists and for potential ex-pat retirees in Panama. His
team of experts gives regular Q&A teleseminars that can save