What Is Life Really Like In Panama City?
Lief and I saw the movie “Contraband” here in Panama last weekend. It was fun identifying the different spots filmed in Panama City, at the Miraflores locks of the Panama Canal, and in the very local neighborhood known as Chorrillo, where some of the more off-color action of the film takes place.
If you haven’t seen the movie, I’d recommend it if you have any interest in Panama. The story takes you back and forth between New Orleans and Panama City. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference between the two locations. The more unsavory neighborhoods of the Big Easy could easily be mistaken for the more unsavory neighborhoods of Panama’s capital.
That’s one observation.
Another is that, if the movie is to be believed, a whole world exists in Panama City that Lief and I know nothing about. Could a world-class counterfeiting and smuggling ring be operating out of Chorrillo? I guess so. I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, which, indeed, is home to an underground drug world (have you seen the TV series “The Wire”?). Living there for my first 35 years, reading the local papers each day, I knew this other reality existed. I’m happy to be able to say, though, that I never came face-to-face with it. Never saw a drug land shoot-out, never witnessed a buy or a bust.
I was entertained watching the drug dealers, counterfeiters, armed robbers, and all-around bad guys in “Contraband’s” depiction of Chorrillo and the docks at Miraflores and, mostly, struck by how sedate our lives here in Panama City are by comparison. You might even say dull. Certainly they’re ordinary.
If you’re considering or preparing for a new life in Panama but haven’t yet spent an extended time in Panama City, you might be wondering. The greasy guy with the wolf and giant albino boa in cages in his warehouse? Is he typical? The shoot-out between the robbers and the Panama City police on the highway…is that common?
Not in my experience.
My experience of Panama City is more to do with dragging 12-year-old Jackson on weekly visits to the Riba-Smith grocery store so he can help me carry and load…trying to keep my garden alive three months into the dry season…remembering parent-teacher meetings at Jack’s school…taking Jack and his friends for Pizza Hut lunches and, now that it’s opened in Albrook Mall, Gap shopping sprees…
Sometimes things get more interesting. A few weeks ago, Jackson was invited to spend a weekend on the San Blas islands with a friend’s family. They camped out, slept in tents, cooked over an open fire, swam and snorkeled in the beautiful waters off this quintessentially Caribbean archipelago.
A week later, the same friend’s family invited Jackson to travel the Panama Canal with them on another friend’s sailboat. The group sailed, overnight, from Colon back to the Amador Causeway in Panama City, navigating the three locks along the way. Jack’s report on this once-in-a-lifetime experience (for which he was allowed to miss two days of school): “It was awesome!”
And, a couple of weekends ago, we took Jack, his friend Valerian, and two friends of ours to Santa Fe, one of our favorite mountain towns in this country (because it’s still almost completely undiscovered and undisturbed), to visit the riverfront property we own there. Jack and Valerian swam in the river while we adults dangled our naked feet over the edge of a big rock on the river’s bank. The cold water flowing over our toes helped to mitigate the effects of the bright midday sun overhead…
Jack’s school bus collects him at 6:45 each morning. Lief and I depart for the office about 7:30. We all return home, from work and after-school activities, by 6:30. Family dinner is at 7 p.m. Followed by homework. Some Friday nights we go to Happy Hour (my favorite spots are in Casco Viejo). Saturdays are errands, chores, visits from friends. Sundays we bar-b-que on the back patio.
That wouldn’t be your life, of course. But it’s ours.
My point is that life in Panama City, like life any place, can be what you make it. We could seek out the drug dealers and other unsavories in Chorrillo, if we wanted, and connect our lives to theirs…just as I could have sought out the drug dealers and other knuckleheads in West Baltimore years ago.
But I have all I can handle getting Jack to school on time each day and keeping my business in business.
I do, though, appreciate Mark Wahlberg and company showing me a more exciting side of life in my adopted home town.