So 2000 and Late
I started this website in 2015 and have done a pretty good job at chronicling my journeys in near real-time. But creating entries for trips I’d taken before this website was born has proven to be quite a task – mostly because memory fades over time. That’s one of the reasons I created this website in the first place: to journal every detail of my international trips; to create a sort of “time capsule;” to bottle up and preserve all of the photos and stories and feelings of these amazing experiences before the memories evaporate. But what about all those trips pre-ramblinrandy.com? Like Panama? I’m going to do my best to search through the cobwebs of my brain to access the memories…I’d have to do an email search to even find the first date that I traveled into Panama. I’ve been at least three times, so let’s see what we can find.
So it looks like I’ve been to Panama City at least four times. I only know this because I was able to find receipts for my three stays at the Intercontinental Miramar in my email. I also popped into the city for a quick stop during a long layover once and have uncovered some video evidence of this.
PTY Airport is known as the “Hub of the Americas,” as it offers a gazillion connections to Central, South and even North America. There was a while–in the late 2000s when I was living in Los Angeles–when I was taking frequent trips down to Brasil. The quickest route from LAX was through PTY, so I’d pass through Panama often. I was always amazed at the stunning women working at the duty free shops at Tocumen Airport – really, some of the most beautiful ladies I’d ever seen in my entire life. I wanted to experience some real time in the country, outside of the airport, solely based on the hotties I spotted at PTY…wow! PTY? More like PYT! That’s a Michael Jackson song reference, if you didn’t catch it.
4th of July
I’m pretty sure my first trip into Panama was 4th of July weekend, 2008. I took one of my best friends with me for three nights in Panama City. We had an amazing time! While the details are a bit blurry, I do remember we saw some cultural and city stuff, like The Panama Canal. We did some walking around town. We even met some ladies and went our separate ways for at least one of the nights. I’ll save that story for my upcoming book. All in all, we had a great time. The weather cooperated and I remember enjoying the pool at the hotel at least once. It was a fun weekend, and the direct flight to and from made it an easy trip.
2008 was a little before (good) camera phones existed, so I actually took my huge digital camera with me, along with a little Flip video camera to document some of the experience. This was so long before I’d ever developed my grand dreams of traveling to every country in the world. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was having fun!
Well, I’ll be Damned!
I did a quick YouTube search to see if I’d posted any video of my 4th of July trip to Panama City, and low and behold, I had! Apparently, I produced a whole little montage of clips. So yeah, check it out and enjoy!
The Taco Inspector
So before I took on world travel as “Ramblin’ Randy,” I held a position in office as “The Taco Inspector.” No, really, it was a thing. I’d travel all over town, all across America–even to other countries–in search of the world’s greatest taco. This would include Panama.
I was on the way from LAX to Brasil yet again. It was January 2009 and I’d been laid off from my radio job in Los Angeles, literally, just hours earlier. Coincidentally I had a flight booked to Brasil that night, with a stop in good ‘ol Panama. This time, my layover was long enough to head into town to review tacos. And there’s a video for this, too!
According to my email records, there were also overnight stops in Panama City in both 2012 and 2013, both on the way to Brasil. Sadly, no photographic evidence of these trips exist.
But here I am, updating this blog in 2020 and getting ready for another trip to Panama City – it’s been a long time! This time, to begin my application for residency. I’m not moving to Panama, but I am applying for residency so I can hopefully, eventually hold a second, Panamanian passport one day. I’ve wanted to have dual citizenship for some time, and I’m finally pulling the trigger. I’ll be back soon, with more pictures and hopefully more fun stories! And no karaoke, I promise.
Find a great hotel in Panama City
Guess Who’s Back…Back Again!?
Panama, we meet again! Hace siete años que estaba aqui…it’s been seven years since I’ve been here! At this very moment, I’m coming to you from the 35th floor of the JW Marriott (former Trump Tower) Panama City! And you’ll never guess what brought me back. Go ahead and take a minute to write down your answer for Final Jeopardy as you take in the view that I’m enjoying at this very moment.
The Answer Is…
If you said, “a woman,” good guess, but you’re wrong! (Really good guess, though!) The correct answer: I’m getting a Panama residency. Jeeze, where do I start? None of my friends nor family understand what the heck I’m doing getting a second residency (which will lead to a dual citizenship), so I don’t expect you to…but here’s the short story:
Over the past couple years, I’ve had trouble getting into a handful of countries on an American passport. For example, my visa application for Iran was straight up rejected. I haven’t been able to get into Syria yet. My denials were strictly due to that fact I hold an American passport: because of the poor relations between the USA and the aforementioned countries. I was lucky enough to slip into Venezuela before the country simply stopped issuing visas to Americans. Same for North Korea, except that one is our own law: Our government has since made it illegal to visit the DPRK using your American passport. So that’s four countries right there that I can’t get into with an American passport – and that I absolutely could get into with a passport from almost anywhere else. Having a passport from a second country automatically gives you more freedom to move about. Make no mistake about it, the American passport is one of the most powerful (although maybe not during Corona Virus season), but as you can see, it won’t get you everywhere.
The second reason I wanted an American passport is for security. I’d rather be traveling on, say, a Panamanian passport, when I visit countries at high risk for terrorism. I know it’s a really small chance, but say I’m snatched up by some extremist banditos while traveling abroad – my head is worth considerably less as a Panamanian, vs. an American, which would probably command the biggest bounty. I’m not overly paranoid about a kidnapping or terrorist situation, but still, I’d feel more at ease without the “Look at me, I’m American!” brochure (a.k.a. my U.S. passport).
And the third reason, which is even more of a stretch than the number two: Say the worst were to happen, and for some reason I had to vacate the USA (nuclear bomb, China takes us over, the mafia puts a hit out on me, etc.)…it’s nice to always have a backup plan; another “home;” somewhere to “escape” to.
Those are all the reasons why I’ve wanted another passport (and nationality) for some time. And I guess you can add reason number four: It’s just kinda cool. I like being an international man of mystery. This is some Jason Bourne stuff right here.
So yeah, those are my reasons. I’ve been researching second citizenships for a few years now, and it’s actually really, really hard to get a passport from another country. Getting a passport from most countries who’ll even allow it involves marrying someone from there and/or having a child in that country, and most importantly, living there. And I’m not ready to leave the USA yet, for many reasons (nor get married!) There are a few countries that allow you to buy citizenship, but the price tag is obscene: ranging from $100,000 to millions. Yes, I said millions. People willing to pay that much money are the ultra-rich, using their second nationality for tax purposes (to shelter money, etc.)
Luckily, for me, and others like me, there are a few countries that offer easier paths. I won’t go into detail, but you can GO HERE to learn more about the easiest countries to earn citizenship in. Panama is dubbed as the absolute easiest, because the investment is minute, and most importantly–and this is a big one–you don’t have to actually stay in Panama to earn your residency and passport. Almost all of the other countries offering citizenship require that you actually stay put there and don’t leave for a long period of time. If I wasn’t gainfully employed and taking care of my dear mother in the US, I’d consider packing up and calling Argentina or Brasil my home for a while, but for the time being, I need to be stateside.
So here I go, on the way to Panama to apply for residency. I’d done a bunch of work ahead of time, and I’d make this initial trip to take my first steps to register for residency. It was a flight I was no stranger to: the LAX – PTY red-eye on Copa. I’d start from San Diego by train to Union Station in Los Angeles, where I’d Door Dashed my dinner from my favorite L.A. Sonoran taco joint – tacos delivered right to the station! Then it was a bus ride over to LAX and an on-time takeoff at 11:37PM. I was Panama-bound!
I managed to work in nearly four hours of sleep on the six-hour flight, which would have to hold me over until I could get to a bed. That wouldn’t be for a while. My first stop was to meet my attorney, directly from the airport. After arriving at the office, located atop a high rise in the city’s Costa Del Este business district, I met my lawyer for the first time in person and signed some paperwork. We then visited the bank where I opened my business account – a requirement to apply for residency. I was happy to unload the $6,000 I had strapped to my thighs – I hate traveling with cash! After the bank, we were done for the day. I took an Uber over to my hotel: This time I’d stay at the former Trump Towers – the JW Marriott in the Punta Pacifica district of the city. I scored a sweet suite on the 35th floor with a big balcony and ocean views. I wanted to sleep so badly, but first, food!
Just to Get (A)Rep(a)
I grabbed an Uber and headed down the street to the Venezuelan Viarepa for an arepa and one of my all-time favorite drinks: papelón con limón. It was just what the doctor ordered, and I swear that papelón was the best I’ve ever had! Then, it was back to the hotel where I’d pack in a nice three-hour nap before waking up for dinner. I waited a little too long to venture out for din-din, and most of the restaurants in the neighborhood were already closing. I settled for a little Arab joint – I was the only customer. I enjoyed a beef wrap, then it was back to bed – I needed to get back on schedule so I could enjoy the rest of the trip.
Day Two Baby Boo
I slept like a king, waking at 9AM. Ahhhh, so nice to have a great night’s snooze! I ate breakfast at the hotel (included with the room) before heading over to the immigration office to register for residency. I met my attorney’s assistant there, Karl, who helped me submit all my paperwork, including photos for my Panamanian ID. We finished with a special stamp in my passport. I was off to the races!
Now that the work was done, let the play commence! It was only Thursday midday, and I’d have ’til Sunday to stomp around Panama. I’d heard about a cool train that travels from Panama City to Colón, a town located on the country’s eastern (Caribbean) coast. How cool to travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific in less than an hour. The train travels through the rainforest with glimpses of the canal. Sadly, I arrived to a closed train station. The sign on the door read, “Closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.” Que lastima, there would be no train trip for me! At least I was able to see the train, even though I couldn’t ride it. Next time, hopefully!
After being dropped off at the hotel, I took a walk to the nearby grocery store to stock up on supplies. It’s always fun seeing what kind of different items are sold in foreign supermarkets. If you’ve seen some of my other articles, you know this is one of my favorite free activities when I’m abroad. Super 99 was a great store, super clean and offered a large variety of products.
Oh yeah, did I mention that today was Thanksgiving? Luckily I didn’t have to eat alone. I belong to a Facebook group of extreme travelers, and we make it a habit of meeting up when we find ourselves in the same foreign country. I Ubered it over to Bolivar Plaza to meet my buddy Adam for an awesome Thanksgiving dinner at a tourist joint called Panama Hat. Adam’s from the UK and was on a layover from Dubai to Jamaica. The food was good and the conversation was awesome, as we traded travel stories in between bites and sips.
Day number three, a Friday in Panama. I slept til 9, enjoyed breakfast at the hotel, and then had to head back to meet my attorney and sign one last document at the bank. That was the very last of my “business” here in Panama – now, two days to have some fun! I had an Uber take me back to Simon Bolivar Plaza in Casco Viejo (the old town) and enjoyed getting lost in the old neighborhood. I’d cover a lot of ground today. Here were some of my favorite scenes:
I could’ve spent days wandering every nook and cranny of Casco Viejo – there was truly so much to see and a story around every corner. There were so many neat little bars restaurants and shops. I especially enjoyed seeing some of the old buildings that hadn’t yet been refurbished. I imagined how much fun it would be to buy one of these crumbling old beauties and restore it to perfection myself, as I created my own hotel or B&B. That would be so cool! Of course, then I remember the movie The Money Pit. It always seems like a good idea in the beginning!
The Other Side of the Tracks
I think the neighborhood started to really change at Plaza de Santa Ana. That seemed to be just about the place that old Panama City transitioned from the near-immaculate touristy section, to a grittier and more “real” locals’ area, with a thriving market and commerce section, as I eventually wandered onto the bustling Avenida Central. This was just the kind of place I absolutely adore – the type of real, local life that you won’t find in the guidebooks or any “Top 20 Things to Do” list on the internet. There wasn’t another tourist in sight – just people, produce, noise, music, smells…Ahhhhhh, this was everyday Panama and I was so happy to be suddenly swept up in it all.
I took the video below, more for the “audio.” I was enamored by the recording of the man hawking fruit. Wish I could get ahold of the original recording…would be great to play (and quiz students) in a Spanish class.
–Robin Williams as Adrian Cronauer in Good Morning Vietnam
Oooh, it was a hot one. Probably not even one of the hottest days here, but the humidity multiplied the uncomfortableness exponentially. It wasn’t long before I was sopping wet. Wearing jeans wasn’t helping the situation. Against my better judgment, I decided to foot the .7 mile trip to the “Panama” sign. On the way, I ventured down into the subway at the Cinco De Mayo station just to take a look, but didn’t take a ride – maybe tomorrow. I finally approached the water, crossing over on a pedestrian bridge to reach the famous Instagram spot aka the parador fotografico. I took a few shots, then surrendered to an Uber ride back to the hotel. It would have been a nice two-mile walk if it weren’t for the heat.
For dinner I decided to foot the mile trip back over to Viarepa, only to arrive to a shuttered building. ¡Qué lástima, closed! Luckily, Talulú was open, and was just a five-minute Uber ride away. This time it was an arepa and two papelónes! 15,000 steps today – I’d earned it! A tasty ending to a fabulous day!
Day number four was by far the most relaxing and leisurely of them all, with a late breakfast at the hotel before I eventually stumbled outside and over to the seafood market to take a look – I always love a good a good fish market. Sadly, it must’ve been bad timing: They’d already just about closed up shop. Maybe I read the times wrong; maybe it was because it was a Saturday. ¿Quién sabe? But by the time I arrived, there were only a few stalls open at Mercado De Marisco Cinta Costera, and even those vendors were hosing it off and shutting it down. I’d have to come back one day, much earlier maybe? Oh, it was Panama’s Día de Independencia, so that was probably the reason for the early shutdown. It was time to party!
Two to Tango
I decided to wander back into the old town and have a drink at a restaurant I’d admired the day before. Marzola Parrilla Argentina was an Argentinian steakhouse and bar stuffed to the brim with cool, vintage doo-dads and knick-knacks. From old telephones and sewing machines, to antique clocks and cash registers, Marzola reminded me of the many antique stores of Buenos Aires. My eyes stayed busy surveying the million details from the floor to the ceiling while enjoying a couple daiquiris to cool me down. I loved everything about this place, especially the sign that said, “We don’t have Wi-Fi…Talk to each other!” I saw a couple plates come out from kitchen and was disappointed that I still had a very full belly from breakfast. I have to come back for dinner next time!
I’d noticed the neatest looking “corkscrew” shaped, glass skyscraper a few times since arriving three days ago. After a Google search and reading its description, I knew I had to take a closer look. I had nothing else on the agenda, so I Ubered over to F&F Tower in the Obarrio district. I sure wish they offered tours, and I didn’t think I’d get past security if I tried wandering in on a weekend, so instead, I just walked the perimeter, snapping away as I tried to capture every angle through the trees and telephone wires. It sure was a work of art!
Pokin’ Around in Panamá
With nothing else on the agenda, and still a few hours of sunlight, I Googled “Venezuelan restaurants” and found a bakery a half-mile away. I wasn’t that hungry, but sure could go for another Papelón con Limón. I really enjoyed traversing the neighborhood, as the path led me directly into a really nice residential district. It wasn’t luxurious or “fancy” by any means, but it sure was tidy and very charming. I passed by lots of nice low-rise apartments and little shops, finally arriving at Los Venezolanos. Sadly, they were already closed, but the neighborhood I’d arrived in was just so neat, the trip was not made in vain. I finished my visit by taking a seat on the wooden bleachers of Andres Bello Park and people watching for a bit. The people were friendly and a lady with a face mask donning the Venezuelan flag greeted me with a Buenas tardes and como esta? I thought about chatting her up about her homeland (I assumed she was a Venezolana), but I was just about out of energy.
About Venezuela: I’m going to assume by now, you may have caught a whiff of my fascination with the country. It’s one of my favorite countries in the entire world and sort of a “forbidden fruit” for foreigners these days – especially non-native Spanish speakers like me – due to the extreme crime and unrest. As most know, Venezuela was once one of the world’s richest countries and only over the last few years, sadly, has fell into an enormous depression, leading to extreme poverty and rampant crime. It’s the wild, wild west over there these days, and for me, part of my attraction to Venezuela is the fact that I shouldn’t go there! You always want things you can’t have, right? I ended up going 2018, and although I was a nervous wreck, it turned out to be one of my favorite trips of all time, even though I only lasted 36 hours. You can see my full Venezuela report HERE. So yeah, I’m always excited to eat Venezuelan food and meet Venezuelans…and there isn’t much of either where I live in California.
Getting to Know You…Getting to Know All About You…
I had such a great time in Panamá this trip. It’s true, I always have a nice time here – but this time I stayed longer, saw things I’d never seen, explored areas I’ve never explored, and even ate new things. It was like a whole new Panamá City, and I can’t believe I’d been so many times and hadn’t explored Casco Viejo or La Central. I had such a great time.
It didn’t take long to remember how many beautiful shades of skin color exist in Panama. Truly a “melting pot” in every sense of the word, Panama is home to some of the prettiest caramel skin I’d ever seen. The people are oh so friendly, and I’d forgotten about all that Salsa music! Most Uber drivers had the local radio stations on, with DJs who’d sing along on the microphone right over the lyrics – sometimes through the whole song! That would never fly in America!
Finally, the city is very safe and super clean. The modern, glass high rises along the water offer so many great hotel options, while the old city with its classic architecture remains available to peruse. It’d been so long, I’d almost forgotten how much I loved Panama. I will be proud to call it my second nationality.
This entry was posted in Extreme Layovers, North America