“Hey man, you wan’ some cocaine?”
“Thank you really, but getting chalked up wasn’t in my plans for the night”
“No, no, listen hombre…my good friend Charlie is just around the corner. Let’s just take a walk.”
“If this walk leads to more snow, I’ll pass. Had enough of that wintering in the Colorado mountains the past ten years.”
And so began my first night in Panama City, Panama. The first major stopping point on the long haul north for traffickers carrying blow, coke, snow, yayo, Charlie, white, flake, dust, toot…call it what you like and ingest it however you prefer. Snort it dry, wet, smoke it, cut it with flour, sugar or corn starch. Or…pass on it altogether to make sure you will stay on budget for your long journey South.
If you walk around the streets of old town in Panama City, called Casco Viejo, you will undoubtedly come across the National policemen in full combat gear with the infamous AK47 at the ready. On average, every third street corner has two of these guys along with heavy duty flak jackets and souped up motorcycles. After coming across perhaps the twentieth death soldier my mind went off on a tangent and pondered the significance of the abundant occupation on the streets. Maybe they are here as part of a required national service duty when they hit 18 and perhaps the country has so many recruits that they end up splaying them across the city…but I am pretty sure Panama doesn’t have an army or requirement to serve in the police. Hmmm. Maybe the government believes their presence will make tourists feel safer shopping, dining and discotecing. Or…maybe they are in fact posted on these street corners to intercept Colombian drug runners that land in the night on the nearby beaches…thus quelling the Lords from taking over the region altogether. Wandering around the fish market late one day I had a conversation with a local security agent that confirmed this assumption. Apparently security agents are everywhere and armed to the teeth…waiting for a surprise visit from the snow sleds of the south. In Casco Viejo, security is doubled up since it is also the location of the presidential palace…which I noticed is conveniently located right on the beach, you know – in case there is a late night craving for an eight ball. (White building in the image below)
Casco Viejo is by far the most authentic looking colonial era town I have ever seen. Parts of it look like they haven’t been renovated since 1615. Unfortunately, at the current moment, pretty much everything here is undergoing renovation and the peeling paint, rusted balconies and rotting wooden window panels are being modernized. That said – I still have a good feeling about this part of town, in ten years it will be one hell of a nice place to live, but for now watch out for Charlie and his boys, lest you get caught in a snowball fight.