Last night as the fireworks boomed over Bajo Boquete we were at the house of a friend who loaded his suitcase and took a walk out of the house, a traditional Panamanian way of wishing for a trip in 2013. Starting at the early hours tomorrow we are taking a trip. Two couples from Boquete beginning a four week exploration of a small slice of Argentina and Chile.
We need to leave Boquete at a ridiculous hour in the morning to catch a ride to David, a bus to the capital and then a van to the Tocumen airport to board a red eye to Buenos Aires. One of the challenges or advantages of living in our sky island is that it is remote to the world, unless you consider David the world.
Today, Jan 1, is an awful day to travel from anyplace back to Panama City. All the holiday revelers are heading back to work tomorrow and the buses, plans and highways will be full. We waited one day in hopes the only traffic insanity will be the trip from the bus terminal the international airport. That ride within the city will cost about the same as the trip from David to Panama City. There is a Metro bus that goes from Albrook Bus terminal to the the entrance of the airport but it does not enter. I suspect if the Ministry of tourism did actually deliver the once promised shuttle bus from Albrook to Tocumen, the taxi drivers who overcharge tourists and locals alike would blockade the airport. That is an element of certainty in Panama where laws are made and changed on the streets.
We will be flying on a Copa Airlines red eye. If Copa has not changed, it will be a great flight. Copa is Panama’s Airline and Panama City is the hub, that allows for an increasing number of nonstop flights throughout the Americas, including Argentina. Copa Airlines is also a profitable publicly traded (CPA – NYSE) business.
Copa Airlines has gained market share in part because it is easy for passengers to fly into Panama City and change planes without having a Visa or passing through customs. Panama is a great hub for passengers as well as legal and illicit substances in transit. The illicit part vexes the United States. The Panama City hub evolved because Latin American’s need to get a Visa from the US to fly into a US airport, even if the reason for their trip is to transfer to another flight leaving the US; not so in Panama City.
Visa policy is adding to the cost of our trip. Argentina does not require visas for US, Canadian or Australian Passport holders, but does require a reciprocity fee, currently $160. You need to pay the fee online before leaving for Argentina, here is a link if you are planning a trip. Mayra who will use her Panama Passport needs neither Visa nor fee. A Panamanian Passport is a good passport to have unless you are heading to the US or Canada. This is a link to a list of countries that do not require a Visa if you have a passport form Panama.
Too many in the United States have a vision of Latin Americans as poor, unwashed, uneducated masses trying to assault the the southern borders. Latin America is a large market place with a growing economy, a growing educated middle class and increasing opportunity, the poverty part exists everyplace. Xenophobia prevents many in the US from seeing beyond their borders. Other countries are either poor, Socialist, Communist or worse some combination of the above, all eager to take all that Americans own; even those beaver loving Canadians are too socialist.
We will be visiting two countries I have visited before, Argentina and Chile. Argentina is going through still another in what seems to be an endless series of economic crises and Chile is booming. I have observations of my last trip in made in 2008 in this blog. This trip will allow for an interesting contrast. My understanding of Panama and Spanish have improved so I hope to contrast my experience of four years ago. It should be fun and maybe even insightful for me.