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Current Location: Rental room, Panama City, Panama

04.25.11

Price of beer in a bar: US$0.35 at the grocery, US$2 at a nearby restaurant. I haven’t found the happy middle ground yet.
Song currently stuck in my head: Crystal Frontier (widescreen version) (Calexico)

My banks had cut off all my access to cash, as my backup card expired and the bank who issued my primary card decided to change ATM networks (necesitating new cards to be issued to all customers). The fact that my backup card is failing to back me up here has Calexico’s “Even My Sure Things Fall Through” constantly running through my head lately. My pleas fell on the deaf ears at the other end of their 800 numbers, but luckily a) the girlfriend has managed to coax some cash out of these ATMs and b) you can pay for everything here with credit cards and there’s no additional charge on the merchant end. That’s unusual in Central America; thank god for the exception to the rule.

My replacement cards are being fedexed to me (~US$100), here in a city without addresses (no one can even agree on what the name of my road is). The “address” space on the envelope is filled with something like “near that one place, over by that park”, but in Spanish. Wish me luck.

Panama City won’t let you smoke inside. I’m still not sure if this applies to private homes. I’m kind of astounded by the amount of regulation that I’ve run into on this trip. Nicaragua had a helmet law. Say that with me: NI-CA-RA-GUA has a HELMET LAW. WTF? I’m kind of a personal choice guy and usually, back in the states, when someone wants to make my decisions for me they find some “greater good” justification for it; “people shouldn’t be obese because it raises other people’s insurance rates” kind of stuff (ridiculous because the obese pay higher premiums and because you’re free to choose which carrier you want, but you get my point). With helmet laws at least they drop the pretense. They just say “you’re not capable of weighing risk for yourself”. People in need of donor organs hate it when states institute helmet laws; that somewhat bountiful source of young, healthy, intact organs dries up because now people in motorcycle accidents are vegetables rather than dead. “Buy the ticket, take the ride” as someone much cooler than me once said.

So it was a common sight in Nicaragua to see guys with helmets set atop their head like ballcaps, not bothering to pull it down over their heads because the law didn’t require them to and they didn’t want to be wearing the thing to begin with. As far as I could tell it didn’t apply to motorcycle passengers, which greatly outnumber motorcycle drivers as best as I could tell. One quickly gets used to seeing a family of 5 atop a single bicycle/motorcycle/moped.

Don’t get me wrong; I seldom feel over regulated in these parts. As far as I know, we haven’t been anywhere that I can’t walk down the street with a beer in my hands (still legal in some US States).

After years of traveling in this region blissfully cellphone free, we finally broke down and bought a SIM card for the Motofone I ordered from Mexico a couple of years ago. Conducting an apartment search in this city seemed impossible (or, at hostel phone rates, impossibly expensive) so we dropped the US$4 for a SIM and bought US$10 worth of minutes at US$0.08 a minute.

We dropped into a couple of local gyms to price things out. Here’s what we found at one of them: as far as I can tell, it’s costs US$5 to join. Then it’s US$3/visit or US$29.50/month. Couples can get a discount at US$51/month for the two of you. Those prices may or may not include dance classes. It wasn’t a bad gym; very small, but a good selection of weights and equipment and air conditioned. There are also some cardio options.

There’s another small gym in the park with comparable prices; a little cheaper but a little less selection and no AC. We’re weighing our options.

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