Okay, so Ciudad de Panama or Panama City, may not be the location of whimsical modern architecture like Singapore, but it is home to an impressive skyscraping skyline that puts, oh, say, Miami, to shame. (See my Panama photo album)
Like Florida, construction cranes and real estate promotions on properties old and new abound here, along with chattel chatter.
“See the second tower over there? The one without any lights?” someone explained to me over poolside drinks. “It’ll never be renter because nothing is finished inside. It’s financed entirely by drug money. New construction here has become the method of choice to launder millions of drug dollars.”
Having notorious, narcotics-riddled Columbia as a neighbour helps lend credence to the speculation. As does the fact that Panama recently established itself as one of the last countries that still supports the anonymity of bank account holders – the Swiss and Cayman Island banks now all disclose account details if required. I suppose James Bond will have to bank here in future sequels.
None of this detracts from Panama’s inherent charm. The country’s natural assets have been over shadowed by neighbouring ecotourism haven, Costa Rica, but just from a few hours on the town, I’m here to tell you there’s lots to see that should put Panama on your agenda, and at great prices! (Try $3 for a delicious chicken lunch, $120 or less for deluxe designer hotel accommodations or $4 for a cab ride from the city centre to its outskirts.)
To me there was always an essential exoticism to Panama. It’s the place where continents meet and you can cross from North to South America over the Bridge of the Americas; the home to one of the testimonies to modern pyramid building in the form of the Panama Canal (knocking 90 percent of transit time in comparison to circumnavigating the continent); and of course, it has the jungle and its proud indigenous peoples.
With only a few hours to myself, I cajoled new acquaintances and made the most of an afternoon to take in as much as possible. How much can you pack into after hours over a four-day business trip? Enough to see some main attractions and create a healthy ‘to do’ list for your return – read my next blog entry for the details.