Dia de Jesus: On the corner, halfway up Via Argentina, two taxi drivers playfully banter in the shade of a tall palm. Panama City’s quiet, almost deserted. Shops are closed.
But, I’m still here. If the plague or Jesus comes I’m ready. I’ve got the cure: Glenfiddich over ice.
On my balcony I hear church bells signaling Christ’s resurrection. “Jesus vive,” my girlfriend says with a satisfied smile. She’s happy. A true believer. Last night it was two orgasms. Today it’s Jesus reborn.
For a catholic girl things could hardly get better. On her way to church with the family my girlfriend reminds me to stay alert. Thieves rob vacated apartments. Last Christmas there was a break-in on the third floor.
What is it about religious holidays that brings out the criminal element in Panama? Is everyone a hypocrite? Or is it that hunger trumps belief?
I ponder this, and listen to birds squabble over mangos in the trees across the street. The phone rings, or rather vibrates across my bamboo table. It’s the Momz. When I talk with the Momz (re: not often) there’s always at least one critical remark. Today’s no different.
– Panama’s deserted Ma, I say.
– It’s the heat. Makes people crazy. You know you’re dad almost took a job in Panama, she says. I didn’t want him to take it. It’s too hot. What are you doing down there? I don’t know how you stand it.
I don’t know how I stand it either. But Scotch helps. Dad’s been dead since ’75. Momz at 86 is a font of negative nonsense.
She knows things. She knows its too hot in Panama. She knows there are “kidnappers” preying on gringos in Costa Rica. Just ask her. The irony? She circling the drain in Arizona. Dantes third circle of hell.
They have a saying in Arizona “its not the heat it’s the humidity”. Some of them really believe this, or want you to believe it. But don’t. They’re inside playing bridge with full on central air. While outside its over 100 degrees -hot enough to bake the dog.
On a mid summers day, I don’t see anyone on the streets or fairways of Sun City. Unless its to get to an air conditioned car on the way to an air conditioned mall. In Panama City, there are people on the streets every day.
This city doesn’t become a ghost town when the suns up. I’m not sure if that’s because they just can’t afford an air conditioned auto, or because its really not that hot. Maybe it’s a little of both.
The Momz is not alone. Last summer I’m buying a trunk to haul books to Panama and I had this conversation.
Cashier: Where ya going?
Cashier (making a face): Panama?! ugh, hot. What’s there to do in Panama?
Me: The heat’s not so bad. You can swim, surf, hike, great food, I’m learning Spanish, rain-forest’s just outside the city, you know about the canal, cool mountains …
Cashier (impatient): Yeah – but is there any shopping?
Woop, there it is. America, a fat-ass consumer culture looking for cheap shoes. The average American wants comfort: good food, drink, service, shopping.
But because of what they have read and heard, they conjure up all kinds of foul images when they think of Panama: Noriega’s pock marked face, corrupt cops, Colombian drug smugglers, the loss of the canal, poverty, dengue fever, hellish heat. And here’s the kicker, its mostly true.
Because of this Panama has struggled to promote itself as an attractive destination for tourists. Any enterprise (in this case Panama), needs to promote the good, downplay the bad. For this reason I think purging from the minds of the masses the face of ol’ cara de pina with that of Ruben Blades is a good thing.
Ruben Blades is a trusted brand name in the US. But until recently tourist dollars poured into Panama’s neighbor, Costa Rica. It’s been well promoted. If you’ve read the hype you expect tropical paradise at an affordable price (re: clean beaches and twenty dollar whores).
You almost never hear about the crime, poverty, dirty beaches, high (gringo) prices, and sewage filled rivers. But that’s also the reality of Costa Rica. And the heat?
It depends on where you live, and what you’re doing. I live in Panama City. As I write this, it’s 4pm, 80ish degrees, humid, bright sun, and there’s a light breeze off the water. It feels almost cool on my balcony.
My flat is up high, the building’s built on a small hill. There’s almost always a refreshing breeze. Of course from December – April there are days, weeks, where the heat would be intolerable if you were laboring outside.
But few of us come to Panama to work as landscapers. If you’re able to go slow, or stay out of the sun during the hottest parts of the day its really not a problem. My windows are always open. It’s not Arizona hot, but it is more humid.
If you live in the mountains the temp is cool, spring-like. On the coasts it can be humid but if you get a sea breeze, some elevation, a cold beer, you’re good. In the interior it can be hot, humid. So hot the dog won’t even chase the iguanas ’round the yard.
Seriously, the only thing unusually hot in Panama are the women. They are without a doubt some of the most beautiful women in the world. If you’re looking for something to “do” in Panama, I suggest them. However, if you’re the typical American house frau, whose husband is considering taking work here, by all means, tell him its too hot.
-Cojito @ Panama After Dark.