A Chinito Internship

A Chinito Internship


Erika (left) Me (right)

It has been my dream to work at a Chinito. Since I arrived in Panama 5 years ago, I’ve had a hard to explain fascination with these small corner stores. Maybe it’s because Chinitos are owner-operated. We share a small business man’s mindset. Maybe it’s because I’m curious about China and its culture. I’m itching to travel to Asia more. Or maybe it’s because I admire Chinito’s dedication. They are open everyday, and almost all day. Whatever it is, Chinitos fascinate me.

Chen is the owner of my local Chinito. I approached him about the possibility of working for him for a single day, without pay. Panamanian politicians refer to this as, “caminar en los zapatos del pueblo” (walking in the shoes of Joe the Plumber). I just call it an internship.

Chen: “No te voy a pagar, Gringo.” (I am not going to pay you, Evan)
Me: “I know.  That is the beauty of an internship.  Business owners don’t have to pay money.  My compensation is the experience.”
Chen: “Está bien, loco!” (Alrighty then! You crazy man, you)

Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. I got busy with other things.  Things included writing my first book as well as operating our rad colonial apartments. The idea of the Chinito internship was placed on the back-burner. Said another way, I procrastinated.

Ten days ago a sense of urgency came over me. My time in Panama was limited. Soon I would be back on the road. This time backpacking around Europe.  My plan was to travel until my money ran out.  If I was going to intern at the Chinito, it had to be now.

The following morning, I walked into the Chinito. Chen was re-stocking sacks of sliced pineapples. He was dressed casually in a white tank top, Umbro shorts and pair of knock-off Crocs. I made a bee line straight for him. I stood behind him until he felt my presence.  I spoke slowly.

Me: “Listo.” (Ready)

Chen turned around. His head cocked to the side as he looked at me confused. Chen had forgotten about our internship discussion months earlier. Instead of reminding him about it, I stayed silent. I proceeded on as if he remembered. My eyes were focused, and my face was serious.

Me: “Mañana.

Suddenly, Chen remembered. He, too, did not blink his eyes.

Chen: “Dale pues…” (Do it)

My internship was set. Tomorrow would be the day.

There was one small problem. While Chen and I’s stare off made for great T.V. drama, it left my internship clouded with a tremendous amount of ambiguity. What time do I start?  What will be my responsibilities? I asked myself questions like these.

That night I couldn’t sleep. I stared at the ceiling searching for answers. Finally, an answer came to me in the form of a Chinese Proverb, “He who wakes up before dawn 360 days a year will make his family rich.

It became clear. I must rise before the sun.

The next morning, I arrive at the Chinito before dawn. As Chen rolls up his store front steel gate, I’m waiting there on the sidewalk. I have a cup of freshly brewed Boquete coffee in my hand. It’s my second. I’m ready to work.

Chen seems surprised to see me. Nonetheless, he immediately put me to work. My first duty is to be the front door watchman. This person sits on a beer grate at the entrance of the store and looks out for shoplifters. It’s an unglamourous position at the Chinito. However, I keep a good attitude. I’ve no problem starting from the bottom of the Chinito’s company ladder.

I ask Chen to demonstrate some of the tell-tale signs of a shoplifter.

Chen: “Busca el Ciclón. El Ciclón es carro, loco!” (Look out for the Ciclon.  It is expensive! You crazy man, you)

Chen is referring to the energy drink, Ciclon. The price is $2 for a small can. $2 puts the price near the top of Chinito’s product list. Also, the small can makes it’s easy to conceal under a shirt or pair of shorts. Shoplifters take the Ciclon from his store and re-sell it to the Chinito on Calle 8. This is just one of the reasons Chen and Chinito on Calle 8 are not on speaking terms.

Chen asks me to focus my efforts on securing his energy drink section. I run into an unexpected problem. Most of the shoppers in this Chinito know me. They’re fellow Casqueños (residence of Casco Viejo). My attempts to search them are not taken seriously. Everybody thinks that I am being playful.  “Oye, que te pasa, Gringo?!” (Cut it out, Evan!)

Chen realizes my efforts are being counter-productive. So he moves me to the candy section. Specifically, to restocking the Peanut M&Ms. After 30 minutes of restocking items, Chen needs to attend to a situation in the back of the store. He has to accept a beer delivery.

Chen: “Gringo, maneja la caja.” (Evan, take over the cash register)

Just like that I’m operating the cash register. The cash register is the epicenter of the Chinito. Me being summoned to take control of it is like a rookie backup NFL quarterback being thrust into the game after the starting veteran QB goes down with an injury. I had no time to think. Much less time to be nervous. Adrenaline raced through my veins – baptism by fire.

As Chen attends to the situation in the back, I am holding down the cash register just fine. I already know the price of most of the items being ordered. I order them frequently. They include bananas, yogurts and calling cards.

All of a sudden, a rush of 20 MOP construction workers take their mid-morning break. They all jam into the Chinito at once. The cash register is being overcrowded.  (MOP = El Ministro de Obras Públicas aka The Ministry of Public Works)

MOP Construction worker: “Oye, Gringo, cuanto vale eso?” (Evan, how much does this cost?)

He holds up a mini liter of Coke-a-Cola. His bright yellow uniform is filthy. It’s covered with mud and bits of dried concrete from the extensive digging they are doing in Casco Viejo.

Me: “0.65c.”
MOP Construction worker: “Chuleta! Ya el priceo subió!” (Pork Chop! The price has risen!)
Me: “Don’t blame me, papá.  I am just the intern.”

Meanwhile, more and more MOP workers are surrounding the cash register.

#2 MOP Construction worker: “Gringo, dame una hoja.”  (Evan, give me ‘X?’).
Me: “What is a ‘hoja’?”

Through hand motions, #2 mimics the rolling and puffing on a joint.  I learn that “oja” is a slang term for blunt papers.

MOP workers have now engulfed the cash register. From all directions, everyone is demanding that I hurry up. “Muévete, Gringo!”(Move it, Evan)

A nervous sweat begins to drip off my face. My hands are shaky. Anxiety from the demands of impatient MOP construction workers has made me unable to do basic math. The pressure is mounting. I’m falling apart like a cheap suit. Chen is nowhere to be found.

By the grace of God, Carlos comes through the entrance. He is the skinny 20-year-old part-time worker at this Chinito. Carlos is Chinese, but was born in Panama. He is one of the growing number of first generation Chinese born and raised in Panama.

Immediately, Carlos sees me struggling and steps right in. He scoots me to the side as he takes the lead on the cash register. I slowly retreat to the beer crate a few feet away. He has essentially tagged me out.

Carlos is good. His movements are smooth and quick. He charms customers as he multi-tasks. With one hand, he lights a cigarette for a MOP worker. The lighter has been tied to the table to make sure it is not stolen. With the other hand, Carlos returns change to another customer. At the same time, another MOP worker asks the price of the small pack Ritz crackers.

Carlos: “20 centavos, nada má(s)!”  (Only 20 cents. What a deal!)

Multi-tasking at the cash register like this continues. It’s an artform. Carlos has an entrepeneur-type of energy about him. I predict he will operate his own Chinito someday soon.

In the meantime, I’m taking notes on a small notebook I purchased right here from the Chinito. Writing information down helps me absorb it more efficiently. I discovered this during college. Hopefully, there will be another opportunity for me to manejar la caja.

MOP construction workers stay fraternizing in the Chinito during their break. They drink .25c Malta (a carbonated malt beverage) and nibble on .15c pancito (bread). Some of them cat-call girls ranging in age from 14 to 40. Other fight for bragging rights over who has the latest and greatest smartphone. The atmosphere is urban masculine and blue-collar.

Casco’s white-collar workers are also congregating. They hang out at Super G, a few blocks away. They sip on skim-milk cappuccinos as they discuss the advantages of vegan diets and Macintosh computers. The two groups are in relatively close proximity to each other, yet their cultures are worlds apart.

After a couple hours behind the cash register, Carlos is summoned to stock beers. Chen’s wife, Erika, has taken over. She sits next to me as she eats a bowl of sticky rice with chopsticks.

Erika: “Tu eres millonario, verdad?” (You are a millionaire.)
Me: “No, no, no…  I’m just a small time hotelier who moonlights as an indie writer.”
Erika: “Mentira!  Los gringos siempre tiene plata!” (Lie! Gringos always have money!)
Me: “Well, not this one.  I’m still paying off student loan debts!”

We chit chat for a while. Then, she asks me if I want to take over the cash register. This time she will stay near just in case.  I’m back in the game!

Continue reading Part 2: A Chinito Internship – II

The Search For Community In Panama

One of the most comprehensive studies on happiness ever done was recently released. Among its many conclusions, the most interesting deal with the causes of human happiness. The study found that material items such as nice cars, new clothes and luxury homes give off a chemical release in the brain. The release is short-lived and individuals adapt to their new possessions. After a short period of time they are no happier than they were before. Whereas, long-term, sustained, happiness is found in a sense of purpose, close friendships and a sense of community. People who developed a strong sense of community were significantly more happy throughout their life than those who had not.

Foreigners moving to Panama, often overlook the importance of a strong community. They’re drawn to Panama by postcards and Internet advertising claiming that you can “Live in Paradise for dollars a day!” (Highly misleading. “Dollars a day paradises” can be found only if your paradise includes cement walls, dirt floors and inconsistent running water.)

To this group of people, Panama is a pre-defined picture. It’s a search for a secluded bungalow on a white sand beach, a mountain villa with a picturesque view of Panama’s highlands, or a spotless midtown condominium minutes away from a fantastic nightlife. These people believe the sales brochures. Buy this and you buy paradise. The sales agents will not tell you that “paradise” is boring unless you have a connection to other people, unless you belong to a community.

My personal story is a testimate to the need for long term happiness.

My first years in Panama City were spent in a high-rise building.  It was located downtown. I had more than ample space and a great view of the city skyline. I was within walking distance to grocery stores, gyms and the nightlife. I had everything a bachelor could ever ask for.

Approximately 20 other families occupied my high-rise apartment building. Besides brief greetings in the elevator, I personally knew only a couple of them. Below my apartment building, there were many shops. However, I frequented few of them. Nearby my apartment building, I had many friends. Yet, I visited few of them. I thought I had found a perfect high-rise apartment.  But, after a year of living in it, I became bored.

The void in my Panama life was a lack of community. I had been a person who enjoyed social interaction.  Yet, in my bachelor pad, there was practically none amongst my immediate neighbors.

In search of a change, I relocated to Casco Viejo.  It was an up-n-coming neighborhood that was rough around its edges.  At the time, only a handful of my friends lived in the-sometimes-dodgy neighborhood.  Yet, the few that did, were passionate about living there. Intrigued, I decided to give it a shot.

My acclimation to Casco was quick. Within the first few weeks, I was friends with the rich and poor and the young and old around me. I made habit of spending my dollars at local small businesses and attending local meetings. I genuinely care about the welfare and prosperity of the community and its people. My people.

My apartment is a fraction of the size of my former apartment and without any views. I am not centrally located. The nearest gym or proper grocery store is a planned trip away. In spite of what many would consider a drop in my standard of living, I am happier.

Generally, the people who are the most satisfied with Panama have connected with their community.  The ones that leave after a year or two, haven’t.  Strong communities can be found in places that undertake initiative projects.  When people coordinate social events, culturally intermix, start small businesses, and strive to better their neighborhood, real communities and happy people are the result.

What follows is a quick rundown of the places I believe have the strongest/weakest sense of community in Panama:

Casco Viejo – Like previously mentioned.

Pedasi – A throwback to the front porch culture.  Everyone seems to rock in their chairs and say hello to neighbors and strangers alike.

Isla Colon in Bocas del Toro –  One of Panama’s only true beach towns.

Coronado –  Stale high rise apartment towers lining the beach.  Very little limited access to outsiders.

Lotted Communities like Altos Del Maria –  The biggest complaint from residences is “I feel alone living up there.”

New High-Rise Towers in Panama City  –  Most likely half the building is unoccupied.  The other half of the residence are more likely to sit alone by the rooftop pool than have dinner with their neighbor.

Boquete -  Most people would disagree and say that Boquete has a vibrant local and international community.  However, what turns me off to Boquete is the fact that most foreigners burrow themselves in the hills. They’re far away from the town center.  Cultural interaction with the locals is minimal as well.

Moving to Panama is not easy.  It’s a different language and a different pace of life.  If you feel like you are a part of the community, you’ll love Panama.  If you do not, your time here will not be long.

Building The Concrete Jungle Of Yesterday

Building The Concrete Jungle Of Yesterday

Why would you spend hundred of millions of dollars on building the city of yesterday? Good question. Yet, Panama City is currently contemplating doing just that. The government is pushing plans to build a 4 lane highway around its city’s historic colonial district. It’s a terrible idea. Panama is building the future “Hub of the Americas” for the 21st Century in the outdated concrete jungle style of the 1950’s.

Evan Terry Forbes

Worldwide the urban planning movement is to make the city more livable. Pedestrian areas, walkable waterfronts, and preservation of its heritage and historical sites are cornerstones of today’s city environment. These urban amenities make the city a more productive and more attractive place to live.

Some US cities are spending billions of dollars in order to tear down their waterfront highways. For example, The Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle and San Francisco’s Embarcadero Highway were built in the 1950’s. This was at the height of the urban highway-building age.

Today, Seattle and San Francisco view these highways as eyesores. They’ve discovered more efficient ways to address their transportation needs. It’s widely agreed upon that waterfront is too valuable of a city amenity to be occupied by an ugly highway.

Panama’s neighbors, Costa Rica and Colombia, are limiting the access of cars and trucks to their cities. These pico y placa‘ (rush hour & license plate) discourage driving during peak hours. Costa Rica and Colombia have decided that building more urban highways is not the way to handle the transportation needs of a developing city.

European cities are taking the protect-urban-amenities philosophy one step further: They are promoting pedestrians while discouraging cars. In fact, many downtown and historic districts are exclusively for pedestrians. Cars are heavily taxed or prohibited from entering into the city. European cities are giving priority to pedestrians because they have learned that too many cars strangle the life of their cities.

The most compelling urban planning philosophy for Panama to follow is that of Singapore. Panama’s president has publicly stated he wants to emulate Singapore’s model as Asia’s central hub.

To maintain their status, Singapore is pursuing an aggressive 10 year “green road map”. They did not choose this course of action out of some new commitment to the environment. Instead, Singapore sees the green road map as the best way to stay globally competitive. They have recognized that to become even more competitive and productive they have to make their city more friendly to the people who live there. Singapore realizes that a city is not just a place to work. It has to be a place where people want to work, where they want to live, where the want to play, and where they want to raise their children.

Singapore sees itself as more than sweatshops on a citywide scale. In order to attract the world’s best companies and best workforce, it has recognized that you need to improve and enhance the quality of life for these individuals. This requires protecting and developing urban amenities to make the city a more attractive place to live.

Yet, Panama is not following Singapore’s enlightened urban planning philosophy. As we speak, the government is pursuing plans for a waterfront highway that would encircle its historic district, Casco Viejo (aka Relleno de la Cinta Costera 3 - Landfill). It would negatively affect one of Panama City’s most valuable urban amenities. It’s the complete opposite approach that Singapore would take.

Casco Viejo

To those who don’t know, Casco Viejo is one of Panama City’s true public treats. Its narrow cobblestone streets and historic architecture are a pleasure to walk around. Its peaceful waterfront offers terrific views of the Panama City skyline.

Panama should NOT be attempting to ruin one of it’s few urban attractions. Panama should be like Singapore (and other globally competitive cities) and try to protect and even develop more urban attractions for its people.

In fact, there is a better option to the landfill.  El Visitante refers to it as the obvious solution.   It expands existing roadways to handle the growth of Panama City. It increases the amount of waterfront pedestrian areas in low incomes areas. Most importantly, it would preserve Casco Viejo as a UNESCO World Hertiage site (not to mention it would save about $200 million dollars).

The Obvious Solution

If this highway is built, it will one day be remembered as a tragedy. It would be a missed opportunity to save a valuable urban amenity that enhances life in Panama City. So, why not build the city right one time? Build it right the first time.

Action:  Like “No a La Construcción De La Cinta Costera Alrededor De Casco Viejo” on Facebook.

Panama Travel Guide – 2 Weeks

Panama In 2 Weeks – Updated December 2011.

Panama Suggested Travel Itinerary: Only have two weeks in Panama? Here is our action-packed, yet frugal travel suggestions.

Day 1: Fly into Panama City
Day 2: Panama City: See Panama City Sights.
Day 3: Panama City: San Blas for the day.
Day 4: Panama City: Jungle Tour
Day 5: Panama City/El Valle
Day 6: Pedasi
Day 7: Pedasi
Day 8: Boquete
Day 9: Boquete
Day 10: Bocas
Day 11: Bocas
Day 12: Bocas
Day 13: Back to PTY. Pool Crash.
Day 14: Back home. Hasta Luego, Panamá (See ya later, Panama!)

Before the trip tips:  1) Watch this great 1 hour and 30 minute documentary on the building of the Panama Canal. It will make the Canal and Jungle tour sooooo much better.  2) Things to pack. 3) If you plan on driving, watch this video on how not to pay bribes to Panama’s police officers.

How to save money:  1) Don’t take inter-Panama flights.  They look cheap but the added taxes “fuel surcharge” basically double the price.  Better to use your money on nice restaurants or splurge on accommodation.    2) Wait until Day 8 to rent a car because Panama City is a nightmare to drive and car rentals often scam tourists with lower rates and later hit you with hidden fees.  Additionally, cabs in Panama City are fairly easy to find and cheap.    3) Take public buses when traveling outside Panama City.  While intimating at first,  it is a great way to immerse in the local culture and the tickets are DIRT cheap ($15 bus ticket for a $125 flight).  Use your budget on better things like food, accommodation, and activities.

Dry Trips in Panama City:

#1.  Panama City SiteSeeing:

Most people can see the Panama City sights in an organized day. The list includes:

  • Panama Canal Locks at Miraflores. Perhaps one of the most impressive engineering feats of all time and certainly for the most of its time.
  • Cerro Ancon.  The panoramic view from this hill will simply take your breath away.
  • Causeway.  This jutting pennisula was the result of digging the canal and since has become Smithson site describing many of the Panama’s species.
  • Panama Viejo.  The oldest section of the city which is centuries old.  It was actually nearly abandoned because it was too vulnerable to pirate raids.

How To Do It: If you are a history buff, book a guided tour.   Otherwise,  get a cab to tour you around -  $12-$15/hour for a group of two. 4 to 6 hours should be enough.

#2.  Day Tour to San Blas.

These islands are owned by Panama’s indigenous Kuna Indians.  San Blas is culturally intriguing enough for a National Geographic episode. Its white sand beaches and crystal clear white was voted “Best Beach” in Central America.  Even though the roads are rough and the accommodations are rustic, exploring some of San Blas’ 365 tiny island is a Panama must do.  Definitely a highlight on your lifetime travel career!

How to Do It:   The Kunas are very strict about access to their land.  For that reason, we only know one company who does day trips to San Blas.  The 4×4 picks up at 5am and returns you at 5pm.  The price ranges from $100-$120 depending on the activities you choose to do.  Bring small bills, sunscreen, and a smile.

#3.  Barefoot Panama’s Jungle Tour.

Kevin’s Jungle Tour is awesome and authentic!   He combines two great adventures in a single day trip.  The first is cruising Lake Gatun and weaving between the small islands.  Monkey Island will be the most famous island where you get close enough to feed these primates.  Part two of the tour, you’ll will visit an authentic Embera native village located in the jungle along the Chagres River.  Here you will hike a jungle trail.  Kevin is very knowledgeable of the plants and their medicinal uses.   At the village,  you’ll learn about the culture of Embera and see their traditional dances.  An amazing experience.

The tour is $120/per person.  The experience is worth twice that, at least!

How to Do It: Contact Kevin here.

Things NOT to do: Canal transit tour – a cattle car experience and too long.  Train – the route has been overgrown by jungle.  Not much to see.


Manolo Caracol: No thinking is required. Simply sit back and enjoy 10 Latin inspired small tapas sized courses served to you.  Located on Avenida Central and Calle 3. $$$$ ($30 per person)
La Puerta de Tierra:  A steakhouse with great modern spins on local dishes:  Yucca fries as well as pork and steak dishes locally sourced from Chiriqui region – Panama’s farm growing region.  Located Avienda A and Calle 9 – Plaza Hererra $$$$
Mercado del Marisco (Fish Market): This was Anthony Bourdain’s first stop in Panama – so it must be good!  $$
Mama Chefa: If Casco were to have a grandmother, Mama Chefa would be it.  The 40 resident of the neighborhood serves lunch out of her very own kitchen (11am-12:30am).  It’s located on Calle 4 between Plaza Bolivar and the Presidential Plaza.   (Chefa’s has no external sign – so just remember the password, “Donde esta Mama Chefa?”)
Pollo de Papo:  Papo is another Casco character.  The large jolly Casqueno occasionally sings Michael Jackson and steps to Salsa while grilling a mean BBQ chicken!   Papo sets up lunchtime shop in front of his house on Calle 3 and Avienda B.   $


Plaza Bolivar:  One of Casco’s quintessential dining/nightlife experience.  Post dinner head pick one of the five restaurants to have a drink.  Ego is our fav!
Relic: Hands down, the best bar in Central America!  Cleverly tuck under a youth hostel to throw off those without any sense of adventure.  This underground destination attracts a young crowd and those that think young.   Calle 9 and Avienda B.
Habana Panama: Best Salsa venue in Latin America.  If you body doesn’t move that way, go for a drink.  Located next to Relic.

Read:  How to avoid the ambush in Panama City restaurants and Manolo Caracol and Evan’s first meeting.

Accommodation:  Stay in Casco Viejo.  Don’t even think about anywhere else.
Budget:  Lunas Castle — Lively hostel in Casco Viejo.
Mid range: Los Cuatro Tulipanes Casco Viejo Apartment rentals — Centrally located upscale apartments.
Splurge:   Las Clementinas —  Panama standard in upscale, boutique hotels.

San Blas

***Note on San Blas:   There has been a new road cut through the heart of the jungle.  Now, it is only 2 hours from Panama City.  Many guide books have not been updated with the latest information.

Things to Do In San Blas:  Beach bum, snorkel, visit the local town, read, socialize with other travelers,  and simply BE.

There are three options to stay in San Blas:

Budget:  Contact JUDY at: sanblastours@live.com.  They have 4×4 transportation to San Blas ($60 rountrip).  You can choose from accommodations ranging $20/night – $75/night, depending on the options (floor mat or bed, private bathroom, hot water shower, etc).   We recommend 2 full days and only 1 night (unless you have an encyclopedia you are dieing to read).

Splurge:   Yanidup —  Not accessible overland requires airline ticket purchase. The isolation has help preserve the Kuna culture.   One of San Blas’ nicest accommodation (rustic luxury).  Con:  Inter-Panama flights are outrageously expensive. A roundtrip ticket for 2 people cost $272.63. $75 per flight hidden fuel charge – cough – ASSHOLE – cough.

The flight back from Yanidup lands at 8am at Albrook Airport.  Grab a coffee, rent a car and head out to Panama’s countryside.   Either a day in El Valle or head straight to Pedasi.   Otherwise, take a bus to Pedasi.

Recommended – The Day Trip:  See #2 under day trips from Panama City (above).  If you only have two weeks, this might be the best option.

Read:  Panama’s San Blas Problem and Potential.

El Valle – El Valle is a small version of Boquete:   Both have pleasant mountain climates, great native markets, and hidden waterfalls.  To be honest, you can do El Valle in a day – 2 hour hike, eat at la brochetta restaurant by the town square, hit the hot springs, shop the towns native market, and fall asleep after a relaxing massage.  All can be done in a day.

El Valle is almost half way between Panama City and Pedasi.  Spending the night will split up the drive.

****  $6 buses leave from Albrook Mall in Panama City directly to El Valle.  Be sure to get the “El Valle de Anton” bus.

Pedasi: This bastion of traditional Spanish culture is home to the country’s most famous folkloric festivals.  It is a small friendly front porch community where it is easy to meet the locals. Enjoyable dry climate.

**** Buses do NOT go directly to Pedasi. They stop in Las Tablas and another $2 bus to Pedasi or $25 cab.

Things to Do:  Isla Iguana.  Deep Sea fish.  Surf and/or beach bum on Playa Venao.

Places to Stay:
Budget/Mid Range:  Eco Venao – A pebbles throw away from the beach at Playa Venao.
Mid range:  Casita Margarita —  A charming bed and breakfast in town.  Great service.
Splurge:   Villa Lilliana —  Beachfront private villa steps away from the Pacific Ocean with private pool.  (Must bring food if you want to cook or snack)

Boquete – Located in the mountain region of Panama near Volcan Baru.  A charming community that is very popular with ex-pats.

*** Again, buses do NOT go directly to Boquete. The stop in David bus terminal. It’s a 45 minute bus from David to Boquete.

Things to Do:

Coffee Tour.  If you haven’t heard, coffee is the new wine.  And, Boquete produces some of the world’s best.  Tour Rich and Dee’s private finca and learn the process of coffee production.

Mi Jardin Su Jardin – an open to public free private garden. Zip line adventures, hiking, coffee finca tours, river rafting, water falls, tropical rain forests, and bird watching.  Your accommodation will have the latest and greatest info.  Dine out – great and affordable restaurants.

Mi Jardin Su Jardin

Hike Volcan Baru.  Panama’s highest point.  Not for the weak at heart.

Places to Stay:
Budget:  Mamallena — Hostel / budget hotel is located right on the main town plaza.

Mid range:  Manana Madera — A coffee finca with bed and breakfast guest suite. Very private and wonderful host.

Splurge:   Panamonte  –  Boquete’s most historic hotel. *Update:  We agree with this review of the Panamonte. It is a big overpriced and better options in Boquete.

Instead, splurge like this:  Stay at Isla Verde.  Lovely riverside properly with charming roundhouses and suites located in the heart of the town.  Great value from $60-$120/night.  Then, spend the day at Valle Escondido’s spa. Simply amazing.   Non guests at the resort only need to buy one spa treatment to have access to the facilities all day.    Get a massage and relax poolside in a comfy bathrobe.

****  If continuing to Bocas del Toro, take the bus! The flights are WAAYYY overpriced. Buses are very economical and the drive is quiet scenic.

Read: Chiriqui vs The Rest of Panama

Bocas El Toro.  Panama’s true beach town.  Great beaches and hedonistic nightlife!

Places to Stay:  We recommend staying on Isla Colon.  Hotels will often down play how hard it is to find transportation to and from the main island.  It is burdensome to need to arrange for a boat to go anywhere.   Stay on the main island and hit the various beaches and activities during the day, and enjoy a variety of restaurants and entertainment of the main island in the evening.

Budget:  Heike — One of Bocas’ more subdued hostels.  Located right on the main drag.
Mid range:  ????
Splurge:  Tropical Suites – You can practically jump off your balcony into the water.

Things to Do:  Red Frog Beach. Zapitlla. Surf.  Snorkel.  Bar hop on Isla Colon.

Back To Panama City:

Pool Crash.  Yes, we are telling you to sneak into a hotel and crash the pool.  We do so often.  Just order in cash and generously tip early (when the first drink comes).  The two easiest pools to crash are Veneto Hotel – 7th floor, and El Panama Hotel – located on the first floor.  Both hotels are located near Via Veneto.

Only 5 days in Panama? Stay in PTY and take day trips or head straight to a destination (Pedasi, Boquete, Bocas).

3 weeks or big group? Save money and rent a vacation rental.    Also, adding the Pearl Islands, Isla Grande, and more days in your favorite places to the aforementioned 2 week trip.

Additional tips:   Study Panama slang terms, get wise to price discrimination, and buy a $10 local cell phone.  Single travelers check out Panama Dating tip articles (another good/funny dating article).   Last but certainly not least, subscribe to Eye On Panama!

The Do’s and Don’ts of Panama Dating


There are rules to dating in Panama. A different language and cultural norms is often to the novelty of inter-cultural dating, but can also be the source of constant frustration. If you master these rules, you will create lovely and long lasting relationships. If you do not, you’ll be doomed to dating disappointments here in Panama.

eop-evan-big-headshotPanama Dating Rules — Do’s

1. Do learn Spanish. Learning Spanish is a sign of respect. Even if the girl speaks English, learn a couple words and phrases in Spanish. She will love it, and so will her friends and family.

2. Do learn how to dance Latin music. You don’t have to be a Latin dance professional like Marc Anthony, but you need to learn the basic dance steps of Salsa and Merenge. Your Panamanian girlfriend will ALWAYS want to dance when she hears Latin music. You have two options; either you can dance with her, or watch another, rico-suave dude spin her around the floor.

3. Do call her the next day. Unlike Western dating culture, calling a girl the day after a hookup is mandatory. If you do not, you will be considered “frio” (cold) which is no bueno.

4. Do say sweet nothings. Spanish sweet nothing pet names and phrases like; mi amor, mi reinita, mi corazon, should all be incorporated into your daily vocabulary. Try to interject Spanish sweet nothing phrases frequently and use them jokingly. If you feel corny, get over it.

5. Do find bilingual friends. Bilingual friends are assets! Their ability to speak both languages allows them to communicate with everyone in Panama. If you go on group outings be sure to bring one or more of your bilingual friends.

6. Do pay. There is no concept of going dutch in Panama. For the most part, guys always pay, even the female’s taxi cab fare.   *****  This does also depend on the females economic situation.  But, typically guys pay for dating activities.

7. Do manage expectations. Panamanian relationships can get real serious real fast. If you are not looking for a serious relationship, you must be proactive and honest. Tell her your intentions early in the relationship to avoid future headaches.

8. Do hang out with gay guys. Latin gay guys are a straight man’s best friend. They are typically surrounded by packs of beautiful women. If they think you are cool, then they will introduce you to their surplus of hotties. Subtly state that you’re of the heterosexual persuasion by commenting on a nearby pretty girl, or referring to an ex-girlfriend story. This will tastefully clarify your sexual orientation, and will allow to you start mingling with their ladies.

Panama Dating Rules — Don’ts

1. Don’t wear shorts. Always dress-to-impress when going out with a Panamanian female. See article.

2. Don’t be cultural-centric. Statements like “Services in the US are so much better”, or “I like to food in France a lot more”, and “Panamanians are stupid” will never go over well.  This is referred to as “The Grumpy Gringo“.   Don’t expect to rag on Panama in front of a Panamanian and have a positive response. (For the record, we do not believe any of the aforementioned statements)

3. Don’t go on the first date with her friends. You will be a wallflower. Once again, see article.

4. Don’t be surprised by cell phone interruptions. Answering your cell phone and having a long conversation while in a business meeting or on a date is not considered rude in Panamanian culture. I, on the other hand, find it extremely disrespectful. My advise is to politely ask them to let the call go to voice mail and continue on with the date. Destroying her cell phone with the heel of your boot mid-call should only be a last-ditch option.

5. Don’t cheat on her. Infidelity is rampant in Panama. Males cheating on their partners is so deeply ingrained into the culture that some of my Panamanian girlfriends actually expect to be cheated on! Hold yourself to a higher standard — be monogamous with your Latin lover.

6. Don’t piss off the mother. Family relationship are extreme strong in Latin cultures. So, strive to make not just a good, but a GREAT impression with the family and especially the mother.

7. Don’t be a pussy. You cannot beat around the bush. Indicate your sexual interest right away. Panamanian females are accustomed to very sexually direct Latin men. Thus, you must grow a pair of balls and go for it.

8. Don’t have sex on a first date. Be forward but not too forward. Meaning, if you like someone and are interested in getting to know them better (and possibly having a relationship), sex on a first date will likely ruin everything. It’s much too soon, it’s not romantic, and it communicates to the other person that you’re more interested in their physical characteristics than in finding out who they are.


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Panama’s Cost Of Living Comparison

IT seems that many people are promoting to North Americans and Europeans, Panama as a cheap place to live. It’s touted as one of the best “cheap” countries in Latin America, and even the world. It’s created such a buzz, that it’s typically the first question receive from foreigners.

“What’s the cost of living like down there (Panama)?”
Follow by “Is it more affordable than here (US, Canada, Europe, etc)?”


My response is “Well,… kinda”. To clarify, Panama is much more inexpensive to other parts of the world. Even, more inexpensive than many parts of Latin America, like; Chile, Mexico, Costa Rica and Brazil. Yet, in some other ways, Panama is MORE expensive than North America or Europe.

On a recent trip to GringoLandia (United States of America), I’ve documented the pricing of certain items. Rather than oversimplifying Panama as “cheap”, my intention is to give a realistic comparison of real life living items, comforts, and services. Take a look:

Where Panama is cheaper:

Movies at a modern movie theater
States: $10.00
PTY (Panama City) $4.50

Cell phone service
Basic Blackberry plan with data.
States: $45.00 minutes plus $30 unlimited data plan = $75.00 => upwards (Verizon)
PTY: $29.99 plus $10 unlimited data = $45.00 and upwards => (Digicel)

Bus tickets
4 hour roundtrip bus ride from Seattle to Portland: $68.00 (Greyhound)
7 hour roundtrip bus ride from Panama City to David: $30.00 (A nicer bus too)

Labor – In home maid
States: $60-$80 per day
Panama: $15-$25 per day

In-home 1 hour massage
States: $80
Panama: $30

Fresh Fruits and Vegs
Pineapple States: $3.50 – $4.50
Pineapple Panama: $1.00
Melons States: $3.50
Melons Panama: $1.00

Doctor Visit:
States: $150 => upwards
PTY: $60 =>

Inner city taxi:
States: $8-$15
PTY: $2-$5

Where Panama kinda cheaper, kinda not.   Where Panama is NOT cheaper.

Panama: The Good….And The Bad

Panama:  The Good…And The Bad.

The first question I receive from people is “Do you like Panama?”  It seems like a pretty straight forward question.  Yes, you like Panama. Or, No, you don’t like Panama.  Yet, in my years spent here, i’ve yet to develop a quick response.  Here’s my best attempt at one.

Panama:  The Good

eop-evan-headshot1Business Opportunities Everywhere.   In most developed economies, industries are at least 5 companies deep.  It is difficult to compete.  However, Panama is fairly wide open for entrepreneurs to carve out a niche.

International entrepreneurs coming to Panama, often underestimate the hurdles of language and cultural norms.

Yet, with a little creativity and focused hard work, owning and operating a successful business is within reach.

Easy to Practice Spanish.  My Spanish still needs MAJOR work, but it’s easy to practice here.  Panamanians (except YeYe’s) are very patient and even encouraging when you stumble through your Espanol.

The same kindness can’t be said for countries like America and France.

Cosmopolitan.  Panama City (PTY) is very diverse.  Many ethnicities have a population here.  For it’s size, it’s possibly the most diverse metropolitan population in all of Latin America.

Latin Family Values. My Latin Family Values.

Sense of Humor. Depends on the region and your style of humor.  But, I’m constantly laughing.

Cheaper Place to Live.   PTY is expensive compared to the rest of the country.  But, when compared to other international cities, PTY is relatively inexpensive.  The interior of Panama is very cheap.

Weather.  I’ve never been cold in Panama.  Do I need to say more?

Generosity. Some of the financially poorest people I’ve meet,  have been the most generous.   That “Mi casa, tu casa” mentality.

Close to Both Oceans.  It’s kinda cool to have easy access to both the Caribbean and Pacific Ocean.  Also, you are very close to Panama’s mountains regions.   So, fun outdoor activities are readily available.

Casco Viejo.  I’ve learned so many life lessons living in Casco that I could write a book.  Among the topics would be; sense of community, social inequality, appreciation of history, and business development.

Being Gringo (Caucasian foreigners). You’re always given benefit of the doubt.

Read Page 2, “The Bad”

5 Funky Eats in Panama

5 Funky Eats in Panama.

If you eat like me, you like to explore.  You want to try something different.  You are giddy when you are able to tell friends about a new funky place you recently discovered.  When traveling, you want a find a place that offers you a unique experience.  A place that only locals know about.

eop-evan-headshot1Panama City(PTY) is filled with restaurants that are overpriced and under deliver.  My friends and I have frequented all of these places and we left each one bored.  Yet, in PTY exist a handful of funky/quirky/unique and just down right strange places to eat.  Few know of them, and even fewer truly appreciate them.   But, here is where you need to go and what to look for:

Seoul.  Recently, I asked my good friend why do we love this obscure Korean restaurant in Bella Vista.  Here are his answers:

- All ethnic food in Panama is overpriced and overly formal. This is neither. (In reality, it’s only around $15/head for a shitload of food).
-  It’s one of only 2 Korean places in town.
-  It’s the anti-restaurant: Service stinks, decor is drab, no liquor, no smiles. But somehow, that’s what makes it charming!

-  Not many people know about it.

-  Culinary arts in Panama are extremely predictable. Food at Seoul is the opposite.

-  Panama’s only (and small) Korean population fills it every time.

Most people will find this place strange.  But if you are open-minded you will love Seoul”s quirkiness.

2. The Jolly Arepa Man.  Head to the Banking District and look for the collapsible street side food cart.  The jolly Colombian man cooks every night but Sunday.  He is located in an alley between Beriut restaurant and a 3 story grungy apartment building.  He and female helper prepare a traditional Colombian corn tortilla fired arrapas with your choice of chicken, pork, or beef for $2.00-$3.00.

The arrapas are not the main draw (there are several street vendors selling delicious arrapas).  The main draw is the Colombian cook.  He has a bit of an Emeril Lagasse-type energy.  Every time I’ve been to his stand, he is chatting up clients as he simultaneously prepares the food.  Be sure to ask him to tell his story while you are munching on a deep fried arrapa.

3. La Jarana. The Panama Report turned me onto this Peruvian restaurant.  At first glance, it appears to be another generic, mediocre dining option in San Francisco.  However, the ceviche is among the best in the city and the prices are a bargain.

4. Fish Market.  If the first place Anthony Bourdain goes in Panama is the fish market, then enough said.  You will discover the incredible variety of Panama’s Caribbean and Pacific fish.    If you would like a more typical dining option, climb to the second floor restaurant for lunch.  Otherwise, dine amongst the people by heading to the outdoor corner stalls and snagging a $1-$2 cecviche cocktail.

5. Mama Chefa.  Do you wanna have a authentic Panamanian experience?  Screw buying a Panama hat.  Eat lunch at Mama Chefa’s place in Casco.  You sit in her personal dining room and watch blaring Panamanian news ( which seems to be constantly reporting murders and tipped over Diablo Rojos). The whole time you’re rubbing elbows with local Panamanian government officials while eating typical Panamanian food.  All for less than $3.

****  If you go to Mama Chefa’s house remember these things.  1.  Only call her “Mama Chefa”.  2.  Hug her.  3. DO NOT shake her hand. 4. DO NOT give her a customary cheek to cheek kiss.  Hug her, and she will take care of you like one of her own.

If you know of other funky places to eat in PTY, do share by leaving a comment.

Panama’s Beautiful People

One of my favorite activities is people watching. When I travel, I always set aside time just to watch people. People watching is one of the few activities that is both fun and educational.

Urban Dictionary’s definition of “People Watching”: “A Hobby in which you go out and watch people.  They way they act, dress, && talk.  Like bird watching except with people.  Very entertaining.

I went people watching this afternoon.”

eop-evan-headshot1People are complex. They are interesting. Whether you travel internationally or whether you travel to different regions of the same country, if you watch you will learn. You will see how different elements of a community interact with each other. You will see the differing fashion trends. You will think about the differences between what you see and what you previously thought. Most importantly, it just plain fun to do.

People watching is quickly becoming a worldwide phenomenon for both travelers and city dwellers. Whenever I travel to a new metropolitan area, my friends (both guys and girls) and I scope out the best places to people watch.

If you are an international traveler, here are some of my favorite places to watch people:

Seattle (my hometown)

Weekend mornings and afternoons sitting on Victoria Steinbeurk Park next to Pike Place.


Ko Sang Road sitting in plastic chairs in front of a roadside drink vendor.

New York City

Almost any bookstore in lower Manhatten. The best bookstores for people watching have

large windows. First for you to look into and second for you to look out through.

Buenos Aries

Outdoor cafes in the fashion district of Palermo.


The park steps at night in Parque Lleras.

Panama City has some fabulous places to people watch. Here are some of my favorites:

Tequila Bar, located on Avienda Central and Calle 3 in Casco Viejo, has great local and foreign foot traffic. Be sure to snag one of the coveted street side seats between the hours of 4PM to 7:30 PM. In addition to great people watching, you will watch a beautiful sunset and enjoy the cool ocean breeze. Personally, I call Miguel (6615-6930), he speaks both English and Espanol, to reserve prime seats.  They go fast.  Also, you feel kinda cool reserving specific  seats rather than settling for a random table.

Parque Omar, During the week, some of Panama’s most beautiful people exercise at the park. Join in the excercise or just grab a cup of coffee and a seat on a park bench with a friend.

Multi Plaza, The crowd here is a bit pretentious, but quite good looking. Someone on my face book suggested “Saquela in the Fashion Avenue”. I’ll have to check it out. However, I recommend a table at Tony Romas along the rail in front of the Multi- Plaza entrance. I don’t like the restaurant, but the location is unbeatable.

Remember, people watching is a skill as well as an avocation. Groups of males have to avoid gawking.  Be discreet. Only focus on an individual for a few seconds. Female people watchers have more leeway. Generally, they can stare as long as they want without generating any negative reactions.

Retire Panama

Retire Panama

In the past year I have realized that is time to retire. This was a shocking realization since I truly love my profession and have never wonder for a single moment if what I did made a difference. With rare exceptions, I have a mutually appreciative and respectful bond with those that are my associates especially those I supervise. Yet in spite of unrelenting dedication and the glass is half full attitude, I am have become anxious to train my replacement and am looking forward to retiring. It has not been a easy decision. Like many others, my investments have declined in value and if I retire before age 66 I will neither draws dull Social Security or pension. Nonetheless very getting stiff joint and mind wandering moment is telling me that is time to let go, pursue other interests, and take advantage of the miracle good health granted to a two-time aneurysm survivor.

Because I want to retire early on a limited budget, I am considering retiring in Panama. There are many sound reasons for this decision. The first is that the cost of living in Panama will allow me to retire on less than full Social Security and modest pension. It is simply cheaper to live in Panama than anywhere in the United States or Canada, and I suspect most of Europe. It is this fact that has made Panama the one of the most desirable retirement locations in the world. Indeed I can more than comfortably meet most of living expenses on the amount I will receive from Social Security. This will allow me to save a good portion of my pension for travel and the proverbial rainy day. This is possible because Panama’s cost of living is more reasonable and senior citizen discounts in Panama are generous. As a retiree I will be eligible for Pensionado Visa which provides 10% to 50% discounts on just about everything including entertainment, dining, public transportation & air fare, doctors appointments, and prescriptions.

The second reason I am considering Panama, is that the country is beautiful beyond words. As a native of Northwest Washington, I am naturally drawn to the mountain region of Panama and its lush surroundings. It is easy for me to picture living in Boquete’s mild spring like climate. I would enjoy puttering in a garden that even a lack of expertise could prevent its crops of flowers, fruits, and vegetables from thriving. The town of Boquete also has most conveniences westerners expect. There are a cleaners, markets, doctors, dentists, pharmacies, video outlets, electronics, small shops, beauty/spa services, and wonderful variety of restaurants. It is also close to the city of David which is much like mid-size towns across the North America. Boquete is definitely on my A list of retirement locations

Panama’s beautiful scenery is not limited to the lush green mountains near Boquete. Border by both the Caribbean and the Pacific Oceans, there are wonderful options for those longing for an ocean view. There are new condos and housing developments along much of both coast lines. The Colon, once an area to be avoided, has become a homeport for Enchantment of Sea Cruises. Colon is undergoing a transformation of development that will showcase its Caribbean views and likely create a sophisticated destination. Further north than Colon, Bocas Del Torro is becoming a haven for beach loving expats. This area is picture postcard tropical area of islands of white sand beaches, palm trees, mangroves, and aqua sea. Bocas Towne in this area is a charming beach community with hotels, restaurants, markets, shops, banks, and services. It is a perfect retirement destination for those wanting to snorkel, scuba dive, fish, bird watch, or simply lounge. Even the most timid can enjoy this tropical paradise of warm water and shallow coast lines. Those with deeper pockets than mine, can buy a private island in this archipelago.

The other option for tropical living is on Pacific Coast. A mere few degrees cooler, more teal than aqua, and requiring more caution than the Caribbean, there are several options for living along the Panama’s Pacific Coast. There a lovely condos, homes, and estates in the areas near Coronado which is a few hours north of Panama City. There are also less unknown and smaller communities that are beginning to attract retirees. My personal favorite is Pedasi which is delightfully quaint community that is nearly at ground level development. Pedasi is destined to grow but will likely do so at a slower pace than other areas of Panama. There has been little business development in Pedasi that westerners would want close. However, for those wanting to lead a simple life surrounded by rolling hills leading to the ocean, Pedasi is worth considering.

For many retirees, Panama City is the most attractive destination. Panama City is a world class metropolis. Retirement in this city can be as exciting as living in San Francisco, Dublin, Vancouver, or Atlanta. There are international restaurants, trendy nightclubs, high-end shopping malls, thriving business centers, first rate hospitals, luxury hotels, and condos, casinos, and headliner entertainment that can be enjoyed at reasonable prices. Moreover, it is a perfect time to consider this location since a number of condos that were under-construction when the economic crisis hit are now finished and anxious for buyers. Many of these are ultra chic with every possible convenience and panoramic views of the Pacific edged by the city’s skyscrapers. The area of Panama City, however, that beckons me is Casco Viejo. Casco Viejo, is the old section of the city. It is unique with its centuries old French and Spanish inspired architecture and cobbled narrow streets. Ignored and largely in ruin for many years, new life is being breathed into this lovely community. Casco is under-going a face-lift with much care being given to ensure preservation of its architecture. It is an idyllic community for those yearning to embrace history and a must see destination for tourists. Without a doubt, Panama’s best restaurants and clubs will be found in these few blocks. It is home to the President’s administration office, several embassy offices, and the Canal Museum. It also is an intimate community whose members are actively addressing its concerns and working toward common goals to make certain Casco becomes the jewel of the city. Quite frankly, it is wonderful with much more to charm than contemporary residences can offer.

You may wonder which of these areas beckons to me the most. I am asking the same question. I love the lushness of Boquete, the quaintness of Pedasi, the scenery of Boca, the pulse of Panama City, and the charm of Casco Viejo. It is too soon for me to choose a permanent home, especially since the exploration is so much fun. What I encourage other retirees to do, is to visit Panama and travel from coast to coast. Sounds like a long way but in Panama, it is less than a days drive from the Pacific to the Caribbean. Spend time in the city and see its mountains. Eat fresh fruit picked ripe and treat yourself to the best seafood anywhere. Be adventurous by taking a canopy tour through the jungle and snorkel through a coral reef. Stroll along the waterfront when-ever and where-ever you can. Read a book swaying in a hammock. Try to name the many varieties of flowers and birds you can’t help but notice. And then, write me, and let me know your favorite place.

A Facebook Group Phenomena finds its’ way to Panama

When Tiffany Phillapou started the facebook group, “Secret London”, she had no idea that within 2 months she would have created a movement.  A movement that has spread across all continents and has finally made its way to Panama in the form of “Panama Secreto,” a facebook group that within 1 week counts over 3000 members.

But what is “Panama Secreto”?  It is a concept that strives to build a community based around sharing Panama’s hidden gems.  Although many people use the group as a glorified Panama City events page, the real excitement of the site is learning about fun activities and great places to go in Panama City that you didn’t previously know about.   Each person that joins the group brings a different knowledge base, allowing secrets to come out into the open via different forums on the site.

So how does “Panama Secreto” work?  Here is an example from the discussion component of the group.  One person was searching for the best place to grab a bite to eat after a long night of partying.  They posted the question in the discussions tab of “Panama Secreto” and within a few days twenty different people had weighed in.  So where is the best place to get late night food in Panama City?   The nearly unanimous decision was the Executive hotel.  However, in the process of finding out which place was the most recommended, 7 different places were also mentioned, many of which people might not have otherwise heard of. The great part about these forums is that they can be started by anyone.  It is completely user generated content which is why the information is unfiltered and real.

And now the big question.  Why has this concept been so successful?  There are many contributing factors as to why this concept has spread so fast.  The first one is practicality.  The rate of Facebook usage is higher than ever, and since people are on Facebook anyway, seeking out information on facebook becomes an efficient activity.  Another obvious reason for the concept’s success is that people love sharing secrets because sharing a secret is sharing a part of each of our identities.  It is sharing a little bit about who we each are.  Not only do we like to contribute our little tidbits, but more importantly we like to find out secrets that only few others know about.

In the end, a group like this will only be as useful as the number of people that decide to contribute.  So, to get all of the best Panama City information into one place, post it to “Panama Secreto.” If you find out about a new poetry reading café, post it.  Surely there are other Panamanians who would love to check it out.  If you want good date ideas, start a discussion group, and take advantage of others’ creativity and inside knowledge.   Looking for new Thai restaurants?   It is almost guaranteed that one of the over 3000 members will be privy to that information.  So next time you are on facebook check out “Panama  Secreto” if you really want to find those hidden gems of this beautiful city.

Canal House

Canal House is an intimate hotel situated in a restored turn-of-the-century mansion at the heart of Casco Antiguo, Panama City’s historic district. Completely restored in 2005, the house is over four thousand square feet, with three bedrooms, a library and a large living-dining room. We cater to leisure and business travelers who desire the service and comfort of a boutique hotel, but prefer a more private, authentically Panamanian experience. Canal House’s professional, full-time staff provides guests with the highest degree of personalized service, 24-hours per day.

canal-house-roomsHotel Location:
Calle 5ta. Ave. A. Casco Antiguo. Ciudad de Panamá.

Website:  CanalHousePanama.com

Olga Quelquejeu
General Manager
Tel: 507 228-1907

Maria Eugenia Vilanova
Reservations Manager
Tel: 507 228-8683

Calling from the US & Canada dial 1-888-593-5023
View EyeOnPanama.com in a larger map

Children of Panama

The Children of Panama

I have spent most of my professional life developing programs for children which has made me acutely aware of both child and parent behavior. Throughout my travels on the Isthmus, I have been impressed with the behavior of the children of Panama and dismayed that so little investment is being made to enrich these precious lives.

For many reasons, my preferred method of distance traveling has been public transportation. Traveling from Panama City to Boquete, Bocas Del Toro, Pedasi, Coronado, or other areas very often are long trips that can require multiple transfers to range of vehicles that can include large modern bus, old school bus, small bus, or even a van. Since this system is very affordable, many Panamanian families rely on it for transportation.  It is commonplace to have children of varying ages riding a crowded bus. Can you feel the headache coming on caused by the anticipation being confined to hours of listening to crying babies, squabbling siblings, whining toddlers, and adolescent arguments? A pleasant surprise will then be yours.

The children of Panama are amazingly well behaved.  The will sit quietly on a parent’s lap without a whimper. They do not fight with their brothers or sisters.  And they do not have tantrums. I have yet to hear a parent yelling for their children to come back because they have run off and instead witnessed pairs of very young children waiting for their parent as instructed. They seem to be content to talk with their parent or look out the window while on a long trip. Indeed I can recall only one crying toddler whose cough suggested she simply making it known she was not feeling well while traveling from Santiago to David. Nor is this good behavior limited to traveling, it is also seen in other public places including shopping malls.  Indeed the children that I have witnessed that are misbehaving are those that belong to tourists.

Well behaved children are not limited to one ethnic group in Panama. It appears to be a universal expectation and standard achieved by even the very young mothers common to the Ngobe. It is also not limited to one geographical region since it was true of the children from Pedasi, Boquete, Bocas del Toro, and Colon. There seems to be no affect when which parent is present. The mother with the fussing toddler two other children sat quietly nearby while their sister was comforted. Our guide in Bocas was of West Indian descent and had his four year old son with him for the day who either contentedly played in the surf while we explored the beaches or helped his father tie up the boat without a single demand the entire day. A man traveling in the van that runs from Pedasi to Las Tablas with his four children crowded on two seats was able to talk with other passengers without interruption or competition for his attention.  A group of three children pushing the stroller with an infant cousin, were bright and friendly, exchanging translations of greetings with me in Bocas. The children in Pedasi waved as they rode past on their bikes and did not shove or grab when candy and toys were thrown out to the crowd at the Christmas Parade. It is my observation these are not single incidents but rather the norm that as a mother of three children (now grown) I marvel at the accomplishment.

The children of Panama are truly charming, cared for, and beautiful with bright eyes, smiles, and coloring ranging from honey to chocolate. What unfortunately many are not is educated.  Too few of the children in this country will have an education that will not equip them to compete for skilled jobs. There is a great education disparity between the children of families who can afford a private school and those who go to public school. Many public schools send children in shifts of 3 hours per day for each grade and employ teachers without certifications.  It is not uncommon for children to work in Panama at ages and in jobs that would violate any western country’s standards, which is a situation that President Martinelli hopes to end in the next five years. Nor is the exploitation of children limited to labor in Panama. Young girls, as young as 10-14 years old, are traded to become wives in many of the native tribes like the Ngobe and will have 2 or more children before they are even 16 years old,most often fathered by men many years their senior. It is little wonder that Panama’s pregnancy and infant mortality rates are high.

It is clear that the Panamanian children deserve and need help both from their government and from those of us who will make the Isthmus a home. It is the responsibility of the government to improve public education systems to ensure Panamanians can furnish a quality workforce for their expanding economy. The government might also consider implementing incentives for expat retirees to encourage their investment in community and training programs since many of us are coming here after years of honing skills. However, with or without incentive, part of an expat responsibility should be an investment in Panama. We can easily become involved in community efforts and teach needed skills especially those in education, construction, agriculture, health-care, or business. We can pay better wages to those hired to clean houses or maintain yards which will help parents support their children and decrease the need for children to earn instead of going to school or tutor a child while their parents are working for us. And we can also remember to give with the knowledge that a small gift here is still meaningful and that large gifts help enormously.

Jazz Fest After Party

Why not have a party at Club Unión? The famous Casco Viejo landmark sits empty for most of the year. Plus, it’s an open space that has some of the best views of Panama City. People raved about the party and we all hope there are more fiestas to come.


Personally, I have been waiting years to have more events at Club Unión.   Casco Viejo’s nightlife is on the rise, but Panama’s historic district lacks a legitimate club.   Club Unión is the only place in Casco that will fit enough people and the building is isolated enough that blasting electronic music will not piss off the neighbors.   In addition, you can’t help but feel cool partying in the same place James Bond was filmed.

However, people at the party had a couple complaints:

1. Hire more Bartenders. At times, it took over 20 minutes to order a drink.

2. Sell CDs.  People loved the music, but there was little, if any, promotion of the DJ Omar Fierro or Seth Troxler.   Usually, the DJ’s hand out their CD’s during the night, or have a large display of the DJ’s webpage and Facebook/Myspace profiles. But, neither was visible.

3. Girl ONLY bathrooms. The co-ed bathrooms were gross.  Guys pissed all over the toilet sits.  Even, I noticed the disgustingness of the bathroom and I’m a guy.

Overall, the event has a smashing hit.   Seeing more international musicians like Tiesto, Deadmau5, Ministry of Sound, etc would be a real treat.
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Our Fear To Compete

Panama’s fear to compete

Jaime Raúl Molina

We in Panama have a series of artificial barriers created by legislative action, that make it extremely difficult for businesses in the country to hire the services of highly qualified foreign employees. This, instead of benefitting Panamanian workers as is the declared intention, results in a reduced competitiveness for Panamanian businesses in a global marketplace.

A Mistaken Economic View

The view above expressed is a labour policy based on an economic fallacy, that sees job positions as a pie of fixed size, and that the least people there are to share the pie, the greater the specific portions will be for each one. A zero sum game, in sum. However, in a globalized marketplace, it is competitive advantages what makes businesses and economic actors more competitive.

But this in turn requires the company to be able to employ the technology, personnel and resources that are more apt for each of the stages in the value-creating process. Just as a business cannot be competitive in our modern world if its clerks lack computers and appropriate software, and instead have to work with manual files and mechanic typing machines, well, in that same manner no business can become really competitive if it is not permitted to hire the best professionals, technicians and capable people available in their respective areas of competence. This, necessarily, implies the capacity to hire foreigners, for just as the New York Yankees (as well as all good franchises in the Major League Baseball) have understood, the best players some times are foreigners.

But, what about protecting the work of Panamanians?

The argument most commonly put forth in defense of labor protectionism is that if it were permitted to hire, for example, a foreign Architect, there is a Panamanian Architect that has been left unemployed as a consequence. But this is a simplistic zero-sum game calculation that does not apply to the real economic world. It is similar to that businessman who, when evaluating a possible investment in labor-saving equipment, only takes into account the cost of the piece of equipment, and ignores the likely increase in productivity that the machine may bring about. As nothing is free, if every entrepreneur thought in that manner, no one would ever invest in productivity-enhancing technologies.

In Panama we have had experiences in which hiring of foreign employees in a specific economic activity were broadly permitted for a given period. One of the best examples is that of the banking sector, an activity that, when the door was opened to the hiring of foreigners, many sounded the alarm (like today), in the sense that Foreign employees would displace Panamanians and that this would result also in worsened employment conditions for those Panamanians that managed to keep their jobs.

But exactly the opposite happened. The International Banking Centre was thus born, something that would not have happened if international banks had not been permitted to hire foreign executives the way they were. In those times, the rule for the international banks that came to Panama was to hire foreigners for the top executive positions. However, as the years went by, those same banks began to increasingly trust executive roles to Panamanians. Today, the vast majority of the executive positions in the banking sector are occupied by Panamanian nationals. And the banking sector has become one of the most competitive, and with the best salaries in the country.

The same could take place with many more economic activities. If it were permitted that any business, local or foreign, hired freely those persons that it deems the most qualified for the position in question, independent of that person’s nationality, more companies will start to come and set foot in Panama than have done so heretofore.

We don’t want the best

Work of foreign professionals in Panama is extremely restricted. In the first place, an enormous number of professional activities require the person to be a Panamanian national. Professions like Medicine and Law are just two examples. The absurdity is such that, if a Nobel Laureate, say, in Physics or Medicine, wanted to come to Panama to live and take a teaching position at the University of Panama, he could not do so. The reason is that to be a professor in said university, you have to be a Panamanian national. This is equivalent to shoot your own foot, as while the Americans made the atomic bomb with the participation of European scientists that had run away from the nazi, fascist and communist tyrannies, here in Panama we pretend that there is no single area of human knowledge in which anybody is better than us Panamanians. We thus renounce to benefit directly from the best brains in the world in their respective disciplines.

Note that I use the United States of America as the benchmark here. The reason is simple: that country has conquered the economic, scientific and military power of the world, precisely because Americans do not have strategic policies based on professional or economic chauvinisim. Much on the contrary, while Hitler was expelling from Europe everybody who was not from his invented pure Arian race, the United States of America was receiving with open arms all those brilliant brains from Europe that were running away from fanatic nazi persecution. On the questions of which of these policies is more advantageous in the long term, one has only to look at who ended up being the victor in World War II.

The Labor Code

Apart from the prohibitions of practising certain professions to those who are not Panamanian nationals, the other activities that in principle are not prohibited to foreign nationals, are in practice severely restricted by the Labor Code and other related pieces of legislation. The Labor Code allows, in theory, any business to hire specialized foreign personnel in certain circumstances. Nevertheless, it sets a long list of requirements and conditions to be met that end up making this very cumbersome and limited.

The basic restriction is that any in any business enterprise, all foreign employees as a whole cannot constitute more than 10% of its payroll, both in headcount and in salaries. This last piece is the most absurd part of the restriction, as it is evident that the interest from any company in hiring foreigners and bringing them to the country to work is disproportionately directed towards filling positions that require high professional or technical qualifications, which in turn implies that those positions tend to be ones with high salaries relative to the rest in the company. In this context, to require that the total salaries and benefits paid to foreign nationals within the company does not exceed 10% of all salaries and compensations paid to the whole of the company’s employees, ends in the real percentage of foreign employees in any one company allowed by the law, being much lower than ten percent.


Panama wants to be a first world country in terms of economic development, specifically in the areas of commerce and the provision of services, historically our areas of strength. In many aspects, Panama is indeed much closer to first world countries than to other countries in the region. But we will never be able to become one in full right until we abandon our fear to compete in all markets, including the labor market.

“Bocas! Bocas! Bocas!”

Written by Emily from Seattle, Washington.

Old Bank, Isla Bastimentos, [Bocas del Toro, Isla Colon District] Panama

It is 7:00AM in the village of Old Bank, Isla Bastimentos and the water taxi drivers are calling their destinations to the sleepy heads trying to shake off their late night calypso frenzy. The sun is already baking this seashore community and greetings back and forth in the native Gali Gali can be heard when we open our hotel room door to allow in whatever breezes might be blowing.

Two weeks earlier I had retired from Fortune 500 America and now find myself in what I term the ‘outer reaches’ of Panama – and my outer reaches of travel adventure. Any further and I’m turning back!

I got to Old Bank, along with my vagabond husband, via a full day drive/ferry trek that started in beautiful, botanical Boquete, Panama. Our driver for the day, Arcesio Hernandez, picked us up at our hotel, the luxurious Boquete Garden Inn and drove us over a spine of mountains toward the Caribbean Sea and the ‘port town’ of Almirante. Generously, he stayed with us until we were tucked onto the 20-person open canopy water taxi that jetted us from Almirante to Isla Bocas del Toro. Arriving Almirante boys on bikes escorted our driver’s car from the entrance to the town to the ferry dock, currying for tips in exchange for information and luggage handling. We were happy to have had the assistance of Arcesio, who owns the Boquete Visitors Information Center. (If you are in Boquete, Panama he and his Cuban-American wife, Lizbette Rodriguez, will become your instant travel friend. They are both wonderful, generous, open hearted people.)

Because my husband and I had opted for the luxury of a driver, not a series of buses to get to Almirante, we still had the spunk and energy that day to keep going as we hawked for a water taxi to get us from Bocas del Toro across one more hop of water to our hotel on Isla Bastimentos – the Caribbean View Hotel in Old Bank, Isla Bastimentos. Arriving in Bocas del Toro was one thing. Grabbing a final water taxi to take us out to Isla Bastimentos was entirely another thing. No one had heard of the Caribbean View Hotel until Chuck and Wanda, owners of JamPan water excursions caught the attention of one of their experienced taxi pilots who knew of the hotel and was ready to whisk us away from Bocas del Toro to what awaited us.


The internet photo of the Caribbean View Hotel was taken, maybe, five years ago. And the photo depicts a lovely, breezy, Caribbean style hotel floating over serene and comforting waters. Since the photo shoot a rough hewn two-boat dock and open-air kitchen and bar has been added; as well as blue tarps to shield from the sun, fluttering tattered in the breeze. The canopy covered Caribbean View Hotel water taxi is now faded and tattered as well. We were leery when we landed at the hotel’s dock; but sported on.

Up the dock into the back door of the hotel with our luggage we ventured toward the front desk in hopes of a reassuring welcome. No one around; no guests, no management. After five minutes [which is nothing in Latin-time, relax!] a ten-year old boy scooted through the hotel office from the sidewalk out front and called upstairs to alert the housekeeper of our arrival.

The voice floated down to the boy from upstairs, “Number Nine!” The child plucked our hotel key off the peg and motioned that we should follow, taking my luggage into his possession as an incentive.

Although the outside of the Caribbean View Hotel had ‘worn’ since the internet-posted photos were taken, the tiny state room sized sleeping alcove was actually charming (and a deal at $50 a night!). It was adorned with crocheted doilies and lace curtains. Envision a state room on the African Queen, with polished teak paneling and fluted light fixtures. So far our experience was getting mixed reviews.

The room was too small to languish in, so after dropping our bags we ‘headed for town’. The face of Bastimentos that was “changing rapidly” … and would “completely transform the face of the island” that the current issue of Lonely Planet described was nowhere in sight. We did find Lonely Planets’ warning, “Old Bank is very poor and devoid of any real sights…” to be spot on! As we ventured from the confines of our hotel, out from the wrought-iron gated enclave to the wide-sweeping sidewalk that ran parallel to the lapping waters of the Caribbean we were as alarmed at the garbage and poverty as at the vulture infestation. Yes, “vulture infestation”.

The four days we stayed in Old Bank we were strikingly the only European tourists in Old Bank. In fact, for the four days we were there, we were the only guests of the hotel – an unsettling feeling as the owner locked up the hotel each night to return to his home across the sidewalk. During the day the village youths who were “just hanging out”1 were agape as we strolled up the sidewalk from the hotel to the little park at the crest of a hill which provided a territorial view of the Old Bank ‘harbor’.

If there is anything that Old Bank, Isla Bastimentos needs it is not development of boutique eco-hotels, or Red Frog Beach expansions. It is a waste management system and clean faucet water for the huts and homes in Old Bank.

I would estimate that 1/3 of the residents take advantage of the Monday morning garbage barge that picks up bags of garbage collected at the end of some of the docks facing the Old Bank ‘harbor’. However, if one resident practices waste management; but his neighbor throws Clorox bottles, meat scraps and diapers in the water from the dock of their domain that garbage laps at neighboring docks until it sinks into the waters off Old Bank.

One morning I spent twenty minutes watching as a man four houses up from our hotel brought his wife a bucket of water in a large paint bucket and she proceeded to wash and rinse dishes by pouring a cupful of ‘clean’ water onto hand-soaped dishes. By contrast, our hotel had filtered water and after the first day we felt comfortable enough to brush our teeth and drink from the faucet with…err…good results, actually!

There are a number of accommodation choices on Isla Bastimentos that you can throw your money at: The Point, Garden of Eden, and Red Frog Beach among them. Some of these choices are rustic (though expensive) eco-tourism themed hotels; some of the accommodations are rooms in beautifully appointed homes. Stay at these out-of-Old Bank hotels if you are looking for a serenity get-away.

If, however, you are looking to organize an in-service vacation, along the lines of Mercy Corps or Peace Corps. The village of Old Bank is a cauldron of garbage, vultures and non-stop thumping-loud reggae music – only the music should stay.

I’d promote contacting the mayor of Old Bank and assist this village in realizing their potential as a clean, healthy community first – and promote tourism for the village only after this first vision is realized. The owner of the Caribbean View Hotel may be a man ahead of his time.

Panama’s Perfect Date Night

Cartagena, Colombia vs Casco Viejo, Panama Historic Districts

Cartagena, Colombia, and Casco Viejo, Panama, are two of the most impressive colonial districts in Latin America. Both districts have rich histories dating back to Spanish Empire rule and are resplendent with enchanting colonial architecture. Today, these two developing historic districts are drawing attention after years of neglect. As a product of their restoration, Cartagena and Casco Viejo have landed on the international destination map as closely competing travel and investment hubs.eop-evan-headshot

When it comes to restoration of historic architecture, Casco Viejo is still in its infancy. Lining the streets you will encounter more abandoned and unfinished buildings than those that are completely restored. Moreover the pace of building restoration has slowed down due to the economic recession but it still said to be one of the most sustainable districts in the Republic. With a large 5 star hotel restoration project as well as many smaller renovations scheduled to come online at the end of 2010-2011, the rate of restoration seems to be picking up again.

Cartagena is more advanced in this regard. It has a wonderful mixture of architecture – Punic and Roman remains, old military installations and modernist buildings. Restoration projects are imaginative and those involved are remarkably good at preserving old facades and blending them in with newer buildings. This is due in part to strict historical preservation laws watched over by the district’s patrimony. Even the buildings that have not yet undergone complete restoration have been given a facelift with decorative front doors and brightly painted exterior facades. Many people consider Cartagena as the gold standard of restored colonial architecture: in this way, Cartagena acts as a model for restoration in Casco Viejo.

The cost of visiting/living in Cartagena is dependent on current market value of the volatile Colombian Peso. The following are a few of the current compatibles:


Although one of the most sought out places to stay while visiting Panama City, Casco Viejo has a very limited fleet of accommodation options. One mainstay option for travelers is to rent out completely restored luxury apartments with prices ranging from $150 – $350 per day. On the budget side, a dorm bed can be had at one of Casco Viejo’s several hostals for around $12 a night.

Cartagena has a bevy of boutique hotel options. Prices range from the luxury colonial style homes that have their own private pool for starting at $1000/night to $60/night at the mid-range boutique hotels. Cartagena has a abundance of lodging options at all price points and is much more advanced in the tourism industry.

Real Estate

Casco Viejo offers properties at many price points. If you are looking for a turn-key, completed ocean view apartment, the appraisal prices range around $2,600 a square meter. If you are in the mood to roll up your sleeves and breathe some new life into a rundown building, a TLC restoration property towards the outskirts of Casco Viejo can be fetched for around $700 a square meter according to Kent Davis Owner of Panama Equity.

The Cartagena real estate market is more developed because it’s more of an international destination. With this comes the pleasantries of a mature real estate market such as options, information accessibility…etc. A downfall is that prices are more inflated and buyers pay more. For examples, according to Patrick Enste, general manager at La Heroica, homes in the San Diego district, a central neighborhood with primarily single-story Colonial homes, are about $2,000 to $2,800/m2 ($186 to $260 a square foot) unrenovated, and $4,000 to $5,000/m2 ($372 to $465 a square foot) for renovated. New construction in Bocagrande (not included in the historic district) and other beaches north of the city are about $1,700 to $3,000 a square meter ($158 to $279 a square foot).

A beer in a local grocery store:
Cartagena: .75c
Casco Viejo: . 43c


When it comes to security, there is a blatant income discrepancy in Casco Viejo. Almost of its residents can be classified as either extremely wealthy or extremely poor. To deter crime as a result of this disparity, Casco Viejo has developed a very robust police presence in addition to the already-prominent presidential guard. Cartagena’s income gap is less apparent because of the presence of its substantial middle class. To bolster this working-class mentality, Cartagena offers travelers more budget and mid-range accommodation options. These two factors help reduce the income discrepancy between neighbors and the impulse to commit discrepancy related crimes. All in all, both places are safer than commonly believed though recent reports have showed the occasional spurt in crime.

Quality of life

In terms of quality of life, Panama City is widely regarded as one of the best international retirement destinations because it has a low cost of living, quality health care, and political stability. By default, Casco Viejo piggybacks Panama’s aforementioned retirement benefits. Casco Viejo itself has a growing expat community as well as one of the most active community organizations in Panama. For this reason, Casco Viejo residents are passionate about their neighborhood and uniquely aware of its growth.

Colombia does not hold the same reputation for international retirement as Panama, yet Cartagena is one of Carribean’s most dynamic cities to live. Like Casco Viejo, Cartagena has year-round warm temperatures, low costs of living (albeit, Cartagena is the most expensive place in Colombia), and a growing expat community. Since Cartagena’s historic district is larger in sheer size and is more developed, there exist more of life’s comforts such as museums, watering-holes, bookstores, etc, to spend your time.


Panama’s best restaurants are located in Casco Viejo with swanky new bistros popping up all the time. Yet, many of Casco Viejo residents observe that there are more new restaurants than residential projects, making an interesting betting game among locals of which will survive and which will go under. The nightlife, on the other hand, is beginning to brew a collection of trendy bars and cocktail lounges that draws both locals and foreigners due to their affordability and fresh energy.

Cartagena simply offers a greater volume of eateries as well as more ethnically diverse dining options. The polite Colombian formality and servitude caters to guests and makes dining a wonderful experience. It is not a surprise, therefore, that The New York Times put Cartagena on the international food map. As for nightlife, Cartagena’s main nightlife strip is located outside of its historic district city walls along the bay. Inside its gates, nightlife options range from pick-up bars to outdoor patios playing music.

There is little doubt that both of these areas are beginning to develop their potential as desirable destinations for tourism and places to live. Each seem to understand that their uniqueness of preserving their old world charm is key to their success.


Panama’s AMCHAM Tourism Forum Recap

Written by 

With another tourism forum on the horizon (see end of article), I thought it was time for me to review my notes of the annual AMCHAM tourism forum, which was held in September of this year. Nancy Hannah, the chair of the tourism committee at Panama’s AMCHAM, put together another successful and well attended tourism forum in Panama City. The event took place at the Miramar hotel. This was the fourth such event that I have attended and as somebody who has worked in tourism in Costa Rica for over a decade and in Panama for six years, my expectations for the event and perspective on its value are likely different than from other attendees. That being said, here were my impressions of the forum.

A First Look At The New Tourism Minister

I went to get a peek at and hear from the new ATP (formerly IPAT) head, Salome Shamah. He brought along an entourage, including an associate who spoke about the infamous “tourism masterplan” and other goals for the new ATP team. It was more or less the same shtick we’d heard for five years from the previous administration, so nothing huge to report there.

What WAS notable is that Mr. Shamah was gracious and interested enough to stick around the forum for several hours after he spoke. That’s something former Minister Blades only did in his final year in office. I had another encounter with Mr. Shamah a few weeks later in Pedasi which was quite positive and merits a separate article. It is clear that “Salo” is a no-nonsense sort of guy, but perhaps a bit over-confident given that he has zero tourism experience. I am hopeful that he is a step forward from the prior administration. He’s proven to be a very competent marketing/pr guy, as evinced by his winning campaign slogan for President Martinelli, “Los Locos Somos.”

An Array of Guest Speakers

Boquete developer and super-blogger Sam Taliaferro offered his qualified opinion on what President Martinelli can do to achieve his bold goal for Panama to become “The World’s #1 Place to Do Business”. Sam spoke about the need to foster small business growth (YES!) and create an environment that will attract entrepreneurs who can assist the organic growth of Panama’s “interior” provinces. He also hammered on his belief (one that was hotly contested by former Tourism head Ruben Blades) that residential tourism is a necessary part of a sustainable tourism plan.

Glen Jampol, operator of the famed Hotel Finca Rosa Blanca in Costa Rica talked about best practices in sustainable hotel operation. It was highly informative and I hope eye opening to tourism operators in Panama who are not yet keen on “going green”. I really appreciated Glen’s attendance. I suggested him as a speaker to Nancy as my agency in Costa Rica works with his hotel. I admire his efforts as a true pioneer in the green tourism movement.

Adrian Benedetti, the new Director of National Parks for the National Environment Authority (ANAM), cited the abysmal fact that less than 3% of tourists are currently visiting Panama’s ill-maintained national parks. His goal is to increase the appeal of the country’s 82 protected areas. First on that list is Volcán Barú in Chiriqui, home of the country´s highest peak. I was thrilled to hear about this initiative.

KC Hardin, owner of Arco Investments, a company focused on the development of Panama’s historical Casco Antiguo district, gave a passionate plea for protecting Casco Viejo with a sustainable development plan. He stressed the importance of creating a growth model that does not to cordon off nor shut out the “colorful” locals.

Fidel Reyes, a hotel consultant, gave one of the more odd speeches of the day, citing statics that categorically prove that Panama tourism is growing faster than any region on earth, recession be damned! I thought his creative use of stats to prove his beliefs was impressive, but I disagreed with about 98% of his points.

Province Reports

In a change to the usual format, there were then “area reports” from a select group of professionals who operate in each area. Renee Kimball of the Tranquilo Bay resort in Bocas del Toro spoke on the community efforts to clean up some beaches and educate boatmen to be better informed tour guides. Donny Estrada of Crown Land gave an emotion-filled chat about the community building efforts that their group is spear heading in the little known Caribbean coast of the Veraguas province. Pedro Fabrega, owner of the Los Mandarinos hotel in El Valle Anton, spoke about the Cocle tourism cluster, a respectably organized effort among area business owners to co-promote their related businesses. A friend of mine, Ivan Morales, was unfortunately unable to deliver the Azuero Report due to illness. Ivan is a Mexican born architect who works for a New York design firm tasked with building a beach estate near Pedasi for the Prince of Lichtenstein.

Final Observations & Suggestions

New Format, Please! — I am personally worn out by the extremely long and tedious “awards show” format that has changed very little in six years. I think it would be far more valuable to those inside the tourism community if the format were changed to involve more interaction, more Q&A. Rather than having a few tourism “gurus” speak down to the audience, I want to hear what all those who are actually operating in the industry have to say. It would be FANTASTIC if a government official would even have one breakout session that’s simply a town hall Q&A. Imagine that!?
Workshop It — Dividing up the afternoon into multiple workshops would allow for even more speakers, moderators and attendees could then pick and choose which they wish to attend. This would make the day far less tedious and would allow for a lot more interesting and intimate discussions.
Service, Shmervice — New ATP head Solome Shamah seems like a sharp guy, but his comment along the lines of “Panama’s service sector isn’t as bad as you all say, look at how great our banking and Canal services are!” won my “what planet are YOU on?” moment of the day. Fidel Reyes won a close second with his repeated “Recession, what recession?” mantra.
Lots of Back Slapping — The general mood and tone I got from the event was that Panama has already arrived and the war is won. It felt like an awards ceremony where we were all supposed to applaud our 5th place finish. I’m a little frustrated that there wasn’t more honest discussion about how far Panama has to go and the tough decisions we need to make to get there.
Thank You Nancy — I thank Nancy Hannah for slugging out the planning and promotion of this forum every year and her undaunted belief in the future of Panama tourism, even when some of us aren’t so positive.
The AMCHAM forum has been so successful that other tourism forums are springing up. Panama’s local small business chamber is holding one on November 24th. Here is their press release below. I hope that increased interest and discussion regarding the future direction of Panama tourism is trend that continues.

Tourism: the First Force for Development

The Panamanian Association of Business Executives, announced the launch of the XIV annual Tourism Forum -FOTUR 09 “Tourism: the First Force for Development” to be held on November 24 at the Miraflores Visitors Center of the Panama Canal Authority.

Tourism has evolved, its influence remains strong in the income and projection that our country has been receiving internationally through the years, the aim of this forum is to highlight how tourism is an economic activity in the short run which may become the main force for development.

The XIV Forum wishes to provide the tools necessary to make the tourism sector, working together with state, mark a positive difference in the economic reality that our country faces.

Among the topics being discussed in this activity are: Colon from cruise port to an international destination, the first 100 years of success of the Panama Canal, airport infrastructure for tourism development, legal security for investment in tourism, sustainable tourism development and Panama 2014: America’s Tourism Capital.

During the conference the chairman of the Committee on Tourism, Alberto Quiros Jaén, said there will be free transfer from the coastal strip to the Miraflores Visitor Center, courtesy of Adventuras 2000.

CONTACT: Yrisbeth Solano ysolano@apede.org
Coordinadora de Comisiones
Departamento de Relaciones con los Socios
Asociación Panameña de Ejecutivos de Empresa (APEDE)

EyeOnPanama.com 2009 Holiday Gift Guide

Ok people. Listen up. This article may be written by your friends over at EyeOnPanama.com, but it is actually written on behalf of all of your boyfriends, girlfriends, parents, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, friends and relatives. They called us and told us to give you the skinny on what is hot this holiday season. So forget the scarves, the snow globes, and the “My daddy went to Panama and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” t-shirts.

We at EyeOnPanama.com have come up with a list of the things that we would love to get from (or give to) our loved ones this holiday season. The gifts below are sure to rock someone’s world, or at least give you some ideas about how you can break your chain of 7-straight-years-of-coupon-books-or-giftcards. Also, if there is something awesome on your list that we didn’t place here, add it below under the comments section.

Rock Band/Band Hero-
Both of these work on roughly the same premise, and that is that people fantasize about being rock stars. With these games, where the players wield plastic guitars and rock out on rubber drum sets, you can crank up the volume, and jam out with your friends and family to a slew of artists, songs and genres. Recently, Aerosmith, The Beatles and several other massive groups have been released for sale on either one of these competing platforms. This is a great gift that WILL bring the family together, and have you screaming “I WANNA ROCK” into the New Year.

DJ Hero-
Possibly the coolest video game premise that we have ever heard of, DJ Hero works much the same as Guitar Hero, but instead of working with a guitar, you have a DJ turn-table to spin, mix and match your way to points and accolades. This is a sure hit with anyone who likes both video games and dance music.

Panamanian Coffee-
Move over Riddelin, goodbye Xanax, and thanks but no thanks, Lipitor. Coffee is the undisputed favorite drug in the world. Well, I guess technically, caffeine is the most popular drug in the world, but coffee is its carriage. Whether you live in Panama, or in the winter wastelands of the northeastern U.S., you probably look forward to your morning cup o’ joe. Which is why we here at EyeOnPanama.com encourage you to send your loved ones some hi-quality coffee for their stockings. And if you decide to go that extra mile, and find some Boquete Geisha coffee for them, well, they may love your forever. And move to Panama.

Panama Hats-
Even though Panama hats aren’t necessarily from Panama (they’re from Ecuador), they were made famous here by the French and American engineers that worked on the canal. The super-fine construction of a beautiful Panama hat will not only be an authentic gift from Panama, but also be something that they enjoy for years; the classic shape and durability will make sure of it. Oh, yeah, we saw someone with a fedora made from the same material. That would be an awesome accessory to have.

EyeOnPanama.com does not condone or encourage anyone to break the law, but saying that, we think it is utter bullshit that Americans (and by that I mean Estado Unidenses) cannot get Cuban cigars in the U.S. For those out there that know (or themselves are) cigar aficionados, Cuban are just the cats meow. And why are we denied the priviledge of enjoying these delicacies? Because today’s politicians still believe the Cold War relic policies that we have had since the 1960’s work. Wrong. Ok, ill get on with it. Not only can you buy top-notch Cubans here in Panama, but removing the label and placing them in a new box (hint: it says something about Nicaragua on it) will delight your stogie-smoking father-in-law back home. Or, there are a few pretty damn tasty Panamanian cigars out there. Those would do nicely too.

The sensation sweeping the nation. Netbooks, if you’ve been asleep for the past year, are pint-sized laptops made primarily for surfing the web. They don’t have lots of memory, and they don’t have disk drives, but they have 6+ hour battery lives and cost as little as $250. Plus, you can extend the memory in them by buying flash memory cards.

Kindle/Sony Reader-
The hottest gift out there this holiday season, and one of the most benevolent ones as well (I mean, reading golden. Or is that silence. Either works for me). Kindle made reading cool again a couple years ago, with digital, but as-easy-as-real-paper to read screens. Now we have other brands distributing their similar (and some say superior) devices to consumers everywhere. This is a sure hit under the tree (or Menorah).

These things are so cool. Buckyballs; tiny magnetic balls that you can shape and mold to create awesome 3-D designs. They are a must-have for the science-minded, or just those that like cool toys.

Bonsai Tree-
I think that giving a plant can be a great gift. Not just a cactus, or an orchid, but a plant that has an interesting history and meaning to it. Bonsai trees are not only fascinating plants to look at, but they have cool eastern superstitions attached to some of them. A plant is not only a piece of living décor, but teaches responsibility, serenity, and brings us closer to nature.

Wii Fit-
Combine video games with exercise, and you have the Wii Fit. It is a fantastic device that you hook into your Wii console, and with the help of a digital trainer, you can keep track of your strength and stamina progress. Yoga, stretching, aerobics, and more, right from your own living room. Pretty cool.

Vintage Whatever (watches, cufflinks, bracelets, etc.)
Buying a brand-new piece of jewelry is a sure-fire hit for most people. But for that person that already has everything, sometimes it is the story that really makes or breaks it. Find a beautiful, but vintage watch, ring, set of cufflinks, whatever, and either look up the history of the watch (where it was made, by whom, some interesting factoid about that model, etc.), or make up a story about who owned it long ago. The fact that you went the extra inch-or-two will cement the gift as one of the best of the season.

iPod Touch-
Music + Videos + touch screen + wifi connectivity + games = bad-ass present. Get one of these for; the workout freak, the child who you have to share a cross-country car/plane/train/horse ride with, the sullen teenager that doesn’t talk to you anyways.

Electronic/Digital Picture Frame-
Great for moms. These digital “frames” allow your to upload a bunch of digital pictures on to them, and will rotate the pictures every few seconds. It is a great way to show off your most recent trip to Grandma’s, the ski vacation, or that birthday party.
(HINT: if you combine a secret family picture session of the kids at your local professional portrait studio, and then upload the pics on to this device, and then let mom open it and plug it in, you are guaranteed to see some smiles)

Solar-charger for phones/iPods-
We all run out of battery. Solar panels are not only good for the environment, but eco-chic.

iPod Video Projector-
How would you like to project movies and photos from your iPod anywhere? Yeah, me too. No matter where you go, you can take this cell-phone sized projector with you, and put your movies and photo slideshows on the wall for all to see.

Toy Helicopter-
These were all the rage last year, and continue to be hot. Your grandfather’s old toy helicopter has nothing on these, which actually fly around the room, controlled by you. Ultra-light, ultra-fun, and ultra-cheap. Like $40, give or take.

If you would like to leave us feedback on this article, or add something to our list, please do so below. We definitely appreciate your ideas, as do all of our readers.

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