Friday, February 20, 2009

Capitalinas VS Chiricanas... David - Panama's other city

This guy is:

A) Neil Young ten years ago
B) A typical Chiricano partier
C) The Sasquatch
D) An ad for a beer called Soberana at a
DRIVE THROUGH LIQUER TUNNEL that serves open beers

Drum roll...... The answer is D!!! D as in…

David, Panama’s other city


V.S. Chiricanas

My Capitalina friend said that Chiricanas are cholitas that wear high heels in dirt.

My Chiricana friend said that Capitalinas are ye ye wanabies that try to trap rabiblancos by wearing high heels in bed.

What? Well just imagine a hot town mouse in a bikini mud wrestling with an even hotter country mouse – the city mouse is pissed they are not wrestling in jello – both are wearing high heals and are ready to use them as weapons.

A Capitalina is a girl from Panama City, sometimes beautiful, liberal and cosmopolitan. In her early 20’s she’s still probably unmarried and not pregnant. She knows who the Beatles and U2 are and knows how old I am when they learn I listen to them. Damn!

A Chiricana is from the resource rich, fiercely independent and beautiful province of Chiriqui. She is always beautiful, proud and sheltered. But with all this parental sheltering they all seem to get pregnant and married (in that order) before 22. She’s in make up and heels to go to the supermarket.

The Capital of Chiriqui is David

At first glance David is a hot, dull grid of streets but a necessary transportation bottleneck. For anyone going to Boquete, The Lost and Found or beyond to Bocas, you first come to David. But David had more than meets the eye – and they have Capitalinas.

For the expats living in their Florida-at-half-the-price gated compounds David is the place to come for the day: 24 hour restaurants, supermarkets and CASINOS, mega mall style department stores like The DO IT CENTER and Price Smart. There is also a major airport and good hospitals and schools. And if you need your comfort food fix there’s FRIDAY'S, KFC, MCDONALD'S and THIS FUNKY LITTLE PLACE McPato which means McDuck. Flippin’ the bird at both Disney and McDonald’s. Here you can get a burger and coke for about a buck.

David is also the place to come to party. Boquete has become a quiet, sleepy town. I know more than a few retired gringos that sneak away from their wives to hit the CASINO to try their luck not only at Blackjack but with the Chiricanas that value stability ($$$) and image over whether or not their man has wrinkles or a sagging waistline. If the retired gringo strikes out it’s off to one of the STRIPPERS where odds are better.

And where do they go if they do get lucky? The Push of course. Ah the push button hotels. I was confused when a gringo once told me how he never took his girl to his house he always took her to the ‘bush’. I thought him quite insensitive until I realized I misunderstood ‘bush’ for push. A push is a love motel where you can drive in, push a button to close the garage door, and push another button to call the reception staff. The plethora of pushes is because almost everyone single lives with their parents.

But for those that have seedy desires to be filled there is a lot as well. La Barqueta is a great beach about an hour away in a cheap taxi. You can tour the Carta Vieja Rum Factory. Rum? Beach? Let’s face it… David is for parties. But you have to know where and when to look for them. The hard part is that Chiricanos don’t go to bars… they go to events… sometimes massive.

The best place to go for information about where and when these events happen is at Bambu – hands down the best hostel in David. Managed by Greg with help from a local, Benny, the team knows where to have a good time. The David International Festival is a huge ten day party of non stop party action. In the summer party season there is a huge festival of salsa rhythms, rum and reggae every other week. And in the down time, the more chilled party at their hostel is the place to be. Not only is Bambu the best hostel… it is the best place to spend the afternoon in David. Internet is free so it ping pong. David is hot… literally and metaphorically so the best way to cool off is with a margarita in a hammock under the Bambu rancho or around the pool. Bambu is the only hostel in Panama with a pool.

What is Eco Anyway?

From time to time I meet a tourist that views me as a neo-conquistador disrupting a culture and spreading upheaval. My crime? Buying land in a developing nation.

This same tourist would charge that the eco-resort I built in The Fortuna Forest Reserve is not a true eco resort at all. It was not built with local materials, it does not have solar power nor does it have composting toilets.

My answer for this charge… My resort is not yet perfectly ‘green’ but is one of the most eco-friendly resorts Panama.

Like many communities in Panama my community has environmentally conscious citizens and others -- not so much. My community, Valle de la Mina, is inside a forest reserve administered by the largest hydro-electric project in Panama, Fortuna, S.A. Right now the environmentally conscious citizens are loosing the battle. The U.S. Peace Corps volunteer and a local businessman tried to organize the cleaning of local streams and the transport of garbage to a landfill sight. They asked for support from the dam administration but there was not much enthusiasm from them or the town. The Peace Corps volunteer left without being replaced. Hunting inside the reserve is widespread, pesticides are overused and our neighbors clear cut their land.

However there is hope. Take for example, Kune, the owner of one of the only certified organic farms in Panama. His coffee is not the quality of the big Boquete plantations. His wine does not compare to Napa Valley. But after a tour of his farm you will taste the pride in his coffee and it may well be the best cup of coffee you have in Panama.

Tourism officials in Panama want to attract wealthy tourists. One rich tourist they believe will spend as much as five budget tourists but leave a smaller carbon footprint. This is naïve. Budget tourists, like our customers, eat Sancocho with local free range chicken, not Australian Black Angus steaks. They stay at local bed and breakfasts not the large international chains. They are providing an alternative industry to many poor Panamanians that could turn to other industries that are not so great for the environment.

Although we have not successfully eliminated hunting in the reserve, hunters no longer use our trails to access the reserve. But the point is not to restrict their actions but to provide them with an alternative. The answer is in the economy not from pedantic moral lessons. One of our customers helped us raise $1500 for a local family that needed a new home. Kune, the organic farmer, gets 100% of his customers from us. Slowly, the community is realizing through our example, that there are dollars to be made in preserving the natural beauty of their environment. The composting toilets are important and will come but toilets alone do not raise the awareness of a community.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Thinking of putting your backpack down and becoming an expat in Panama?

With apologies to guest writer Ezra Paskus

If your reasons are any of these two then STAY HOME!

1. I hate what’s happening in: America, Canada, Somalia, Darfur, Iraq, Barbados.

Granted there is probably nothing terrible happening in Barbados, but the point is that if you disagree with the current political/economic situation in your home country, this is probably not a good reason to leave. You cannot escape the effects of American politics nor its current shitstorm economy. Internet access is available from Rio Douche, Panama to Werthefuckamitenango, Guatemala. Unfortunately, so are CNN and even Fox News, although here it’s called Canal Comedia. And if you think your government is corrupt?

2. I hate: my job, my girlfriend/boyfriend, my drinking problem, black presidents, the fact that I’m a giant douchebag.

The problem is a douchebag in Panama smells much the same as a douchebag back home (unless you are French – quite nice there actually). If you don’t fit in where you live now, you wont fit in here either. You’ll be the raving lunatic that everyone calls “Gringo Loco”, trust me; I am still trying to shrug this off. Your drinking problem? Booze is considerably cheaper here.

Ok, so maybe neither of those apply to you, or you’re willing to overlook them, or that last line made up your mind to come to the land of cheap booze, or you have delusions of being a pirate, or you just want to see some funky Latina ‘gina. Read on.

I wanna be an ExPat and I’m willing to overlook the following in order to get to the funky Latina ‘ginas.

• Crazy ass drivers.

Anyone outside of USA/Canada is a crazy ass driver who uses the car horn like my 5 year old nephew honks his wee wee, and some of these drivers are honking their their wee wees and their horns at the same time. In Panama car horn is used to communicate any of the following, not in this order and sometimes all inclusive: you’re a hot chick, you’re in my way, I’m coming through the middle of your car, do you need a ride, my taxi is empty, my taxi is full, you’re not moving, you are moving, how are you, fuck you, you’re a fat chick, you’re a fat chick but if you get in my car I’ll sympathy hump you.

• Crazy ass Latina ‘ginas.

If you have blue eyes it’s easier to pick up here than taking money from the cup of a one eyed legless beggar. I know, I bought colored contacts.

• The combined smell of piss and campfire. This has apparently been bottled in Panama and is one hell of a hot seller especially for public transport.

• Lazy bastards.

There is a reason bribery is popular in developing countries. If you’ve ever tried to wade through ridiculous bureaucracy then you have wished that bribery was popular in the good ol USA. But it isn’t just bureaucracy, it’s on all levels, it’s a general air of undeserved entitlement, sorta like a country full of Kevin Federlines. As one Panamanian told me while we were looking out at the canal, his ancestors worked so hard on the canal he was born tired. You will run into this “manana” attitude everywhere, and I mean everywhere.

• Personal space.

It no longer exists in Panama. I cannot explain this thoroughly enough. Whether it’s the stinky assed armpit shoved in your face on the bus, or the stinky assed ass shoved in your face on the bus, something stinky assed will be shoved in your face… everyday.

• Cops and the disappearance of your “rights”.

Whereas in Britain cops will say “Stop, stop, dammit or I will have to say stop again,” in Panama they point an AK-47 at your head while you cash a check. If you call a cop and they can’t find someone to arrest they will arrest you. And while, “Hey, I got rights, and I’ll upchuck on your shoes if I wanna” might gain you a pity smile and a hardy chuckle, and possibly a phone call in the USA, here it will probably gain you a pistol whippin and laughter from the other 10 dudes loosening their belts in your 4ft by 4ft cell.

Still ready to come?

So sell all of your worldly possessions, which granted may not net you as much as it would in a bright shiny economy, but you won’t need much because you won’t be spending much. After all, loss of personal hygiene, cup ‘o noodles, and sleeping on the beach doesn’t cost that much and, you will be rich with experience and confident in your knowledge that you are a pioneer who will come back one day and write a best seller about all of your spiritual insights with your fellow man and how the girl with the hairy armpits dumped when you ran out of cash for 50 cent beers and had to sell your hemp necklaces and hardened Playdoh “water-pipes” to the unsuspecting tourists. Wait! What are all of these other trust fund hippies doing selling their “jewelry” (crap) on your street in paradise?

Still want to come? Good… I haven’t regretted a single day.

Panama Backpackers Party Here!

Panama is the best city in Central America to party. But here are a few general rules:

1) Taxis are cheap in Panama. The most expensive taxi ride to get to a bar is Isla Flamenco on the Causeway which should cost around $6 but you could be asked to pay up to $8. Negotiate the cab fare first

2) Keep in mind the most expensive taxi ride is $6. If you meet a lady and the next morning she asks for $40 to take a taxi home then you may be in denial. If she asks for $200 for her sick kid in Cali then you have to admit to yourself that you just spent time with a hooker. If she is wearing a skirt made from a gym sock assume she is a hooker. If in doubt ask her what she does for a living and look for hesitation in her voice.

3) Bring a good copy of your passport with a photocopy of the entry stamp. You will be asked for this as police look for the girls described in #2.

4) Bring the address of the hostel with you. Taxis don’t use addresses and your drunk broken Spanish will just put dollar signs in the taxi driver’s eyes.

There are four general bar areas – more detail about each place after

Calle Uruguay is the famous nightlife area but it is slowing declining in popularity as nightlife branches out. There are a couple of classy lounges here with no cover but $4 beers, a couple of great places with strong Latin flair. Saharah has great live rock and 80’s music and La Bodeguita is super for Salsa and is on fire with action – sadly in both places most of the women are working girls. There are also five or six of the big nightclubs with all night partying but be prepared to pay an average of $15 to get in.

Uruguay Bars in detail:

Prive… Look for the two story building just across the street from Kraze. There is no cover here but that doesn’t stop them from making their money with four dollar beers. Wealthy and wannabe wealthy Panamanians put on their adult clothes and there are some pretty funky tunes spun by the resident D.J. It has the big disco feel but is the size of a pub. Worth a look before you dish out the cover at some of the other places around.

Shahara… An institution in Panama for great live bands playing covers of Classic Rock. There is a large outdoor patio visible from the street with T.V.s playing 80’s music. There are two pool table near the back and another outdoor quiet area out back. Caution with the girls here though, many are working. Cover is $5 but it includes a free drink which goes for around $4 anyway so it is almost negligible. This place is empty until around 11 but picks up around midnight and goes hard till the wee hours of the morning.

Moods and the bar right above Moods…

To the right of Moods is a staircase leading up to a little bar with no cover and economical drinks. This is a great pre-drinking place but the party can get lively with dancing to reggeaton and salsa. Great place. But if you don’t like the ratio of guys to girls then you can shell out the $10 cover to see something very similar with lasers, disco balls $4 highballs but better ratio of dudes to chicks.

La Bodeguita… A Cuban bar on Calle Uruguay, playing Spanish music with Columbian hookers. The last point is really too bad but it can still be worth a look as this bar has the most energetic Latin Flair on the street. Cover can be steep at $15 after midnight but it is lower earlier… try before 10pm and try to negotiate a $5 entrance. The hookers are friendly but not aggressive and if you tell them you are not in the market they will either leave you alone or still flirt until someone with more money than savvy with the ladies comes. La Bodeguita is the last bar on Calle Uruguay before Avenida Balbo (towards the bay)

Guru… Also know as The Clubbing Cult and the elite moniker means that yes it is pretentious but the beautiful girls do come here to spend $15 cover or more for special djs. Mostly techno music but from time to time the dj might put on a couple of salsa songs to change it up.

People… This is a good place to see your average middle class party it up with a mix of music that includes a few salsa songs followed by a couple of marenge, then reggaeton (Daddy Yankie) then 80’s then pop then back again. At $10 it is also average for a cover charge.

The Causeway is an excellent spot for dinner, a stroll between the islands for photos of the bay, city skyline and luxury yachts. There are also a dozen or so clubs. The causeway is busy anytime of the day, the air is fresh and you can rent bikes. There is a brand new bar area planned just before the causeway and one or two place have opened in an attempt to start a formal nightclub area like other cities in Central America.

You hardly realize the causeway is made of three islands. The first is on your right with a couple of small restaurants with outdoor seating and just after it is Perico, the second island. There’s a Subway here and juice stand but other than these there are good but pricey restaurant. If you are there on a Friday check the last restaurant, Rincon de Andaluz for three for one bottles of wine. There is a small sports bar (usually empty) with no cover but better is to go to the opposite end (the way you came) upstairs to Sing City. There is no cover and late at night the crowd gets going with slightly less cheesy than normal karaoke. At the back with great views of Panama City (near the Rincon de Andaluz) is Bambu, the best disco on the Causeway.

The best place for pre-drinking is further down the Causeway on the last island, Flemenco. Skip all the cheesy Disney like bar at the Flemenco Shopping Plaza. Before that, just after the Benegin’s is busy place with no sign. It is called Cayuco’s. Great cheap Panamanian grub and cheap bears.

Casco Viejo is the gentrified old colonial area that should not be missed. The nightlife is more subdued but this is the place to come to learn that life is not a road but a series of alleyways and piazzas. Come to sit near the park, listen to jazz and have a $5 glass of wine. New lounges are opening up and there is one club of particular interest called La Casona popular with students and has laid back dress code.

Details: Many new lounges pop up monthly. Follow the rail lines through Plaza Mayor to the tourist cop shop to Indigo.(no cover) Follow the Jazz music past the cop shop and the derelict building where the Bond was filmed and you will see La Planetea for the swankiest and priciest Jazz in the city. Prices vary depending on the band. For late night partying La Casona is a great disco of laid back students and artists. There is a modest cover and usually there is some kind of modern art installation in the large airy warehouse. This is in a bit of a dangerous area near Parque Herrera. You may want to ask the friendly tourist police for directions or make sure your cab driver found the right place.

Around Multicentro

Near Multicentro shopping mall and the Decapolis hotel are a series of bars. The Decapolis is wear you shine your shoes, wear a collar shirt and pass out real estate business cards to actually pretty groovy music. A pedestrian overpass connects the hotel to the Majestic casino. Sometimes there are cheap Texas Holdem tournaments and of course all the other gambling games but casinos are great for good bar food for under $8 and beers around $1.50. On a Friday or Saturday night more Panamanains come for the free live salsa and party than for gambling. Panama’s Hard Rock café also picks up at night and is in MutliCentro. Next door to the mall along is Extreme Planet a complex with a bunch of movie theaters, a Bennigan’s restaurant on the second floor and on the 12th that is also home to Sky Bowling. This complex also has a huge Bennigan’s Pub with dozens of large screen TV’s to watch the sporting event of the day. Beers are around $2 here.

Behind the Decapolis hotel was a bar area that is now slowly shutting down but there are a few places to note. Rasputin is a tiny Russian bar with foosball and Guitar Hero. Great pre-drinking place with cheap beer. A good chic club is also here called The Galaxy in Plaza New York at the end of this street on Calle 50.

Via Veneto to The Marriott

Via Veneto is hard to miss with the Vegas Style hotel and casino of the same name lighting up the street with flashing lights. On a street running perpendicular is Istmo Pub with a pool table and one of Panama’s few micro breweries. The Veneto itself is big casino and right behind it (you can go through the exit at the back) is the biggest and liveliest casino with big stage shows, Fiesta.

A little ways out down Veneto toward Via España on your right you will see a few signs, Capri, Oaisis… these are brothels. But the last one is a great little place to have a beer and watch the street action roll by. If you stand at the McDonald’s and look across the busy Via España you will see two busy streets with light. Down the street where the Continental Hotel is perched you will find a great expat hang out called The Terrace. Street views and pool upstairs this is a great place to pre-drink. While seated here you will notice the Royal Casino and Marriott hotel attached. Right across the street from the front doors of the Casino is Kappas and Beirut. Right across the doors of the hotel is a little cigar bar frequented by gringo who frequent hookers.

Via Argentina

Is the up and coming nightlife area. Starting at its base on Via España just after the Blockbuster there are new nightclubs worth a look on weekends. Further up keep your eyes open for a big gorilla for the aptly named Rockin’ Gorilla where beers are cheap, there’s lots of pool tables and sometimes live music. (no cover) Three minutes walking further up is Taberna 21 across from a park good for cheap beer, no cover and good Sangria. Just past the park is one of the few English Pubs with live music and pool called El Pavo Real. There is no cover, a pool table and sometimes live bands.

These are just a small sample of places to stir up trouble.