Current location: Studio apartment, Bocas Town, Colon Island, Panama
Price of beer in a bar: US$1.50 is the norm, though specials at US$1 are common.
Song currently stuck in my head: Amor Fat (Washed Out)
I’m starting to get into the island vibe. I spent yesterday afternoon lounging under the front awning of our building smoking a cigar of embargoed pedigree while discussing island gossip with my neighbor, decked out in linen pants and a shirt that I’ve relegated to beachwear. It just felt right.
I expected a Caribbean El Rey, the mythical mecca of crooks and thieves from The Getaway and From Dusk Til Dawn, and from my neighbors stories we’re not far off. The local business and real estate scene is fraught with more peril than even the average gentrifying Central American town, right down to serial killing land grabs and more. But like the decomposition of the bodies Wild Bill buried, this all happens under the surface and doesn’t interfere much with the daily flow of vacationers, backpackers and local life.
Our first direct experience of the back-handedness that you’ll encounter was getting ripped of on an early grocery run. We’ve grown somewhat complacent since arriving in Panama; our totals are seldom incorrect here. This time it seemed off to me, but I couldn’t keep up with the counter girls fingers as she banged out the prices on her calculator. The girlfriend assured me that it was correct so we paid and came home, but when I verified the receipt a few entries had slipped by her. So we were overcharged by a few dollars for non-existent “items” in a way that’s hard to chalk up as accidental. We got off easy. I’m running into more of this overcharging here than anywhere else; in Nicaragua they were often (usually?) wrong, but it was usually in my favor so I don’t think they were doing it intentionally. I just think the local education system was awful. Here it’s consistently been in one direction and it’s the one that lightens my wallet. When visiting, watch your totals and understand every item listed on all of your receipts.
While lounging under the front overhang another day a local who was doing business with the building struck up some conversation and was letting me know which bars were popular on which nights, pointing out where I could find roomfulls of “cray-say poosay, mon”, emphasized by a hands-in-an-inverted-triangle-over-the-crotch move (with accompanying gyrations) that I think I’d only previously seen in 80s teen sex comedies. Born spokesmodel, this one. If you were here you might forgive his enthusiasm though; I’m perpetually surrounded by barely dressed nubile twentysomethings in a Benetton like array of features and accents. It’s getting to where I can’t run errands without forgetting what I was trying to accomplish.