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Current location: Poolside, Annonymous Guesthouse, Panama City, Panama

05.02.11

Price of beer in a bar: still unsure, though US$0.35 in the grocery for a 12 ounce bottle.
Song currently stuck in my head: The Sea (Morcheeba)

Time, an abysmal publication, has a confusing piece up about white lobster, which are bricks of cocaine ditched by smugglers because of police pressure or boating accidents. We were told repeatedly by people in a position to know that nearly all of the hotels and restaurants on Little Corn Island were built on white lobster windfalls. Since the tourists starting coming in substantial numbers the drug runners have pushed further out to the nearby Colombian Islands so the Corn Islanders don’t see many “white Christmases” anymore. Mixed blessing, I guess. One day a helicopter flew overhead; later we were told the only helicopters around were DEA and the sound of those blades was a call to action for all of the local fishermen. They take their boats out to the far side of the island and toss out their nets hoping to become millionaires.

The Economist is similarly enamored with this part of the world these days (SPOILER: Guatemala is a lawless shithole, Honduras is heading that way). I don’t really mind the bad press, aside from having to point out repeatedly to friends, family and strangers that assuming the whole region is a narco war torn hellscape is akin to assuming everywhere in the US has a murder rate like New Orleans (which is twice that of Honduras, by the way).

My replacement ATM cards arrived without issue or delay. I was a little amazed, given that there aren’t addresses here and no one can agree what the name of this road is. Chalk up a point for Federal Express.

Panama City instituted a new bus system, which they’re still phasing in. They’re transitioning from brightly painted US school buses with throbbing disco lights and thick clouds of soot coming off the back (“Red Devils“, as they’re known around here) to new, modern, air conditioned commuter buses known as The Metro. We have yet to ride a Metro bus, but only because there aren’t that many of them. Transportation in general can be difficult in this town; as I said there are no addresses. Many of the major roads are one way or occasionally one way without a corresponding road going the opposite direction, making it easy to take a bus somewhere and then impossible to get a bus back. Taxi drivers are constantly trying to rip you off, as always, and their efforts are aided by an incomprehensible zone system for fares (no meters, just this handy guide that you can use in combination with this simple table… I dare you to find a given location, say an address-less mall, on that map) and a list of additions for everything from extra people to holidays (of which there are many). The typical approach is to look for a cab (I haven’t figured out how to signal interest, waving yields mixed results) and wait for a driver to stop or, often, just slow down as he passes you. You tell him where you want to go and he tells you if he’s interested in going there. If he is (about 1 out of 7, I’d say, in our experience), then you ask how much and he either says something ludicrous or he says two dollars. Mostly I just try not to pay more than US$3 for the majority of our trips. I’ll pay the extra 50 cents just so I don’t have to look at that chart.

I know I’m harping on the “no-addresses” thing a lot and I don’t mean to be, but between the fedex and just normal daily getting around it’s a constant irritation. I wonder if they’ll skip over addresses altogether and just go right to GPS coordinates; the equipment is cheap enough that it seems like the way to go. If I had given fedex my two coordinates that’s all they’d need and I’d know there wouldn’t be any confusion. Delivery operations (like Fedex) already rely on GPS, so this would not be a difficult transition. Assigning every residence two coordinates (the location of their front door, for instance) wouldn’t be any harder than imposing any other scheme.

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