“You’re staying here for 30 days?” Daniel, our personal transport driver asked. Then, he said, “That’s a month. Why? What are you doing here for a month?”
That’s when I knew Panamá was a little odd. What kind of citizen of a country, state, or city doesn’t think their country or city is fabulous? If you told me you were living in Florida or Jacksonville for a month, I’d start rattling off things you’d better do before you left. If you told me you’d be in my home city, Chicago for 30 days, I’d have a list of things to eat and see.
But this guy? Nah, he was like wtf are you gonna do in Panamá for a whole-ass month?
And after being here for less than a week, I can see why.
Daniel told us we should see the Panama Canal and as we passed by a colorful Panamá sign, he suggested we see that, too.
Then, guess what? Our tour guide, Dennis took us by the Panama Canal, and he stopped by a different colorful Panamá sign, because “You haven’t visited Panamá if you haven’t taken a picture next to this sign.”
So, that’s it good people. We’ve done all of the things Panamá has to offer. However, I’ve learned some other things, like when you colonize an area, you colonize the soul of a people:
Because of its history with the United States and the whole canal building situation, Panamá is almost a mirror of the States. The mall has everything you’d notice from home (e.g., Nike, Puma, Mrs. Fields, Aéropostale, etc.). There’s even a Florida State University campus. The grocery store has many of the comforts of the States, such as Tide detergent, Kellogg’s cereal, and a variety of organic teas.
Because of its history with the United States and the whole canal building situation, some Panamanians have dual citizenship. Apparently, the United States came over here, ganked some land from the people, called it “America,” and then offered dual citizenship to Panamanians who worked on the canal. Isn’t that nice?
According to a Google search, only 14% of Panamanians speak English. I find this hard to believe. Almost every person I’ve met speaks some level of English, from partial fluency to fully bilingual. Hablame en Español, I asked the waiter. “No,” he insisted. “I’ll speak English.” I acquiesced, and patiently waited as he cobbled some words together.
I named this article “Panamerica” to make a point, but I could’ve also called it Paneuropa. All Spanish-speaking countries have a history with Spain, and Panamá is no different. But how they’ve handled it is. For example, I wrote extensively about how Costa Rica’s citizens are so proud of their heritage; they even fought not to have a park in honor of a Spanish conqueror. Well, Panamá is the opposite. In this country, you’ll find a million things named Balboa, after Vasco Núñez de Balboa, even though there’s a sketchy history. And if Balboa’s name being plastered over everything doesn’t remind you of the colonization, then Panamá’s beautiful Spanish terraces will. Sometimes, I feel as if I’m in Madrid.
Panamá is a beautiful place, but I guess what I’m saying is if you have a choice between Costa Rica and Panamá, choose Costa Rica. If you want to just get out of the country for a few days to say you’ve been to another country, then choose Panamá.
Addendum: I was going to end this with the above comment, but then Dwight and I took our nightly walk around the neighborhood. I’d noticed an older Panamanian man selling something under a tent. I’d watched for a few days to see if I could tell what kind of food it was. The little neighborhood boys stopped there on Saturday afternoon and he fed them. That night, people from nearby bars lined up close to midnight to have what he was serving. Today, I had to stop and see what it was.
“¿Habla Ingles?” I asked.
“No,” he replied.
I couldn’t think of the phrase for what are you selling, so I just pointed to his stand.
“Hot dogs and hamburgers,” he said.
I’m done ya’ll lol This is the perfect way to prove my point.