The flight to Panama was uneventful, other than listening to the 20-something Paris Hilton wannabe in the seat across the aisle from me worry aloud about her doggie in the baggage compartment. There was a very long line at Immigration, and when we got to the desk, the officer asked us for a tourist form that we didn’t realize we had to complete. As we were contemplating a return to the back of the line, he noticed my wife’s place of birth on her passport, smiled broadly and waved us through. In Panama, people born in the former U.S. Territory known as the Canal Zone are referred to as "Zonians," but they are considered Panamanians. We were told later that my wife can go to any passport office and obtain a Panamanian passport in two hours, if she wants one.
Don't be misled by the photo above. My wife can hobble around just fine. We brought the wheelchair in case it was necessary. Airlines are very accomodating to passengers with disabilities.
We picked up our rental car and were informed by the desk agent that maps of the city were “finished,” meaning they were all out. I’ve been to Panama several times, and for some reason, there are never any maps. Not even Mapquest has maps of the city. It seems like some giant secret, similar to Area 51.
The desk agent gave us directions, so we drove a fairly simple route into the city. But the hotel was not clearly marked, and difficult to find in the dark. Once we arrived, we were delighted with the quality of the room. This had been of some concern, because the online reviews were mixed. It offered a broad panoramic view of Avenida Balboa along the wall, and the room was clean, modern and comfortable. The only problem was the fact that the hotel is round, which means the rooms are pie-slice shaped. The bedroom area is very large, but it tapers toward the bathroom, so that area is a little cramped.
My wife called her cousin, who lives in Panama City, but spends weekends at a beach house in Coronado on the Pacific ocean. I’ve been there before, and it’s incredibly beautiful, situated on a cliff overlooking a black sand beach. My wife made arrangements to go there and meet her cousin, but he was worried about us driving and arranged for his chauffeur to pick us up at the hotel the next morning. In Panama, if you have an American middle class income, you’re a member of the upper class. Everybody has servants.
We had dinner at the Hard Rock Café in the mall across from the hotel. It was Saturday night, and a live band was playing (American rock), but the place was mostly empty. We finished eating around 10:30, so I assume that in Panama, things don’t start rocking until 11 or later, which is true about most of Latin America.
Later, I tried to get online using our laptop, which has a wireless network adapter. I found lots of networks, but none that I could use. So I went down to the “business center” in the hotel to find out what I needed to do. They handed me a DSL modem and a power supply and told me it was $15 a day for Internet access in the room. Or, I could bring my laptop down to the business center and have Internet access for $1.50 per half hour. Guess which option I chose.
The next morning, I tried to recreate our experience in Argentina by going out for coffee. However, in Panama, nobody goes out for coffee, you have it delivered to you. I went to the hotel café, which does not make authentic café con leche. It’s just American-style coffee with lots of milk. My wife claims that the coffee here is fantastic, but as far as I’m concerned, the jury is still out.
They didn’t have lids for the cups, and I had to borrow a tray from the bar area to carry them. When I got back to the room, I had to use the handle of my razor to stir
it. I’m telling you, there’s a fortune to be made here selling cup lids, cardboard cup carriers and plastic stirrers.