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Current location: what seems to be a public library, El Valle, Panama

06.05.07

Price of beer in a bar: Dunno, I haven’t found a bar yet.  I might be
in the elusive “3 beers for a dollar” kind of area, but I’m not sure.
A fifth of decent local rum costs US$5.50 at a grocery store.
Song currently stuck in my head: Surfing on a Rocket (Air)

Panama is a great place to enjoy a cup of coffee.  For me to really,
really enjoy a cup of coffee, whether it’s the morning necessity or
the afternoon respite, there are 3 criteria that need be met.  One is
the setting.  Panama has offered me outdoor diners with a cityscape
backdrop and a maritime foreground, situated amongst a sparse
collection of expats and locals going about their day jobs.  It has
offered me cafes attached to beaneries in front of plantations
surrounded by mountains on all sides.  It gives me 8th floor balconies
splitting the difference between the surrounding high-rise condos,
hotels, office buildings, and shopping, and it includes a sternly
worded suggestion, written on notebook paper in Spanish and English,
to use a coaster.  Two is the quality of the coffee its self, and
Panama grows and brews a nice, dark, flavorful cup of joe, one that
won’t hesitate to shoulder up to Guatemala or Columbia and question
how much of their export is false bravado.  Three is availability.
Clearly a perfect mountain valley table suffers at the nagging
omission of a decent cup, and only more so when you know that the local
product is worth it’s weight in export.  But that’s exactly what
happens over and over elsewhere in Central America.  It’s not that you
can’t get a decent cup, it’s that you have to search for one.
Everywhere else it’s Nescafe as a rule, cruelly passed of as “coffee”
on menus internation-wide.  A good cup of coffee is the exception, and
one rare enough to keep me frequenting a place that delivers it.  In
Panama, Duro is the predominate local choice and it’s been keeping me
happy and maybe a little too edgy ever since I arrived.

As I said, I’m in El Valle, a smallish town just inland by about 26km
from the Pacific coast.  I killing a week until I fly to La Paz (4000
km up in the air and about 60 degrees down the thermometer) to meet up
with Dan and being the South American leg of my trip.  There’s not
much happening in El Valle at the moment.  I’m led to believe it’s a
popular weekend spot for wealthy Panamanians (the guidebook mentions a
lot of those, apparently they’re a very “weekending” people) and I
don’t know whether to believe it.  There are certainly signs of
affluence; nice houses, upscale cafes, restaurants, idyllic
surroundings, cooler temperatures (a mere eightysomething)… but I
can’t find any bars, save one local joint that I only suspect is a
bar.  Unless I’ve been living a pretty serious lie my entire late
juvenile and adult life, people like to drink on the weekends.  This
is especially true when they are getting away for the weekend.  I’m
not sure what to make of it.  Supposedly the town “comes alive” after
Thursday, but I can’t even find the corpse that I’m supposed to
believe endures this weekly reanimation.

Or course even in Utila you could spend 3 days searching for nightlife
and never find a physician in the rafters, so to speak.  Sometimes
you’re only two doors down and oblivious.  I  should ask around here
more.

Tomorrow I think I’ll go to the beach.  I was half on my way today,
but it rained and I abandoned the plan and instead visited a local
waterfall (about 100′).  The fall its self was impressive, but the
trail was guardrailed the entire way with way too much effort put into
making it safe.  A geriatric couple entered before me and had no
trouble navigating the path.  A sign before the bridges alerted us to
the maximum capacity.  Where am I?  This isn’t Central America… this
is a Chuck E Cheese.  I kept waiting for someone to blow a whistle
because I walking too fast or staring too hard.

While this kind of extreme “nerf the turf” attitude is seldom seen
here, Panama is much more regulated than the rest of Central America.
I remarked in Costa Rica that it would be strange going back to
Chicago and having to remember that if I was at home drinking a beer
and needed to walk to the store, I had to finish the beer before
leaving the house.  God knows fi I took it with me some kids might see
it and… um… I’m not even sure what the rational is on that one.

Well it turns out I don’t have to wait.  Panama, at least in the city,
shares this asinine regulation.  There are seatbelt laws here as well.
I was more than a little surprised.  The US is by far the most
regulated country that I’ve ever been.  Nowhere else even comes close.
But Panama places a lesser distance that it’s other Central American
peers.  Perhaps it was our long and sustained influence, clearly
evidenced in a million other ways, that took place during our
involvement with the canal.

The computer I’m using is running Red Hat Linux.  I love open source
in the third world (what is third world, anyway?  The criteria seems
hazy these days.).

The last time that I heard the that’s song stuck in my head was on
Utila. I was aboard a docked boat, waiting in the dark for my first
night dive, while the stereo a few dive centers down at Alton’s lulled
me with a chant of “you’ll never see me again”.  And it couldn’t have
been more perfect.  The song sounds a lot like being on the water at
night and an amazing amount like being under it.  There are a million
reasons that I’ll always remember that dive, not the least of which was
Chris Ryan, looking over his shoulder while bobbing in .5 meter ocean
swells in the near total darkness of a new moon, saying without a hint
of irony “Now this is some James Bond shit right here”.

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