$7.2 Million Cash Found in Suitcases at Panama City Airport

Newsy

Newsy

Travel tip: If you’re trying to smuggle cash into Panama, start using the train.

Three Honduran men were arrested at Panama City’s international airport after police found $7.2 million, mostly in $100 bills, in secret compartments in eight pieces of luggage. According to this video from Newsy (Newsy? Really? Really.), officials in Panama believe the money was connected to a drug cartel. Thirty-two officers and airport security staffers have been suspended as a result of the find.

Panama Police Find $7.2 Million Cash In Luggage

Breezy, Probably Unfair Generalizations About Panama Based On An Hour At Tocumen International Airport

harley davidson panamaWriters are famous for blowing into places for a very short period of time and then spouting off on them as though they were experts. Click on my name here and you’ll see that I’m just as guilty as everyone else. And writers with a hell of a lot more talent than me have done the same thing.

According to Paul Theroux’s “Tao of Travel,D. H. Lawrence spent just a week in Sardinia, but needed 355 pages to describe the trip in his book, Sea and Sardinia. Graham Greene spent just 18 days in Liberia preparing “Journey Without Maps,” and Rudyard Kipling never went to Mandalay, the subject of his famous poem. Bruce Chatwin would wash up in a place for an hour or two and somehow get three chapters of dialogue-driven material, much of it likely fabricated, without breaking a sweat. (Theroux wisely doesn’t disclose how long he spent anywhere)

The hazard of writing non-fiction is that there will always be readers who know more about the topic you’re writing about than you do. Travel writers record their impressions of a place and then duck for cover as people who live there or know it very well take justifiable shots at us.I had all this in mind on Valentine’s Day when I had an hour to kill at Tocumen International Airport in Panama City, Panama. Like most Americans, I know very little about Panama, but I wondered what I could pick up about the local culture from wandering around the airport for an hour. Here is what I noticed. I hope that those who know Panama well will use the comments section to set me straight.

See through pants. The first thing I noticed after stepping off the plane was a middle-aged woman’s ass. Mind you, I was in the airport with my wife and two children, but even my wife couldn’t help but notice it.
“Dave, look at this woman’s outfit,” she whispered with a nod, as though it had somehow slipped past me. “Her pants are totally see through! You can see her ass.”

I wanted to get a photo of it, for posterity, but I didn’t want to get too close, and from a distance, it wasn’t possible to detect how shear her stretch pants were. I didn’t see anyone else in a see-through outfit but I did spy plenty of women in very tight, form-fitting attire and even the airport janitors looked quite fetching in their uniforms.

Treasure Chest: As I stood underneath an airport monitor marveling at all the exotic places I could connect to in Panama (Manaus! Belo Horizonte! Ascuncion! Cali! M.A. Gelabert?!) my sons made a beeline for one of those horrible feed-a-dollar-and-your-child-will-get-the-prize-they-don’t-want machines called Treasure Chest, which was full of stuffed animals and other assorted junk kids love.

My three year old will plead with us to feed coins into these machines and then, invariably, commence a meltdown of biblical proportions when he doesn’t get the thing he wants. I swear that Tocumen has at least 100 of these exact same machines all called “Treasure Chest.” And my sons approached every last one of them, harassing us to buy them something. In some areas of the airport, there were two of these machines back to back. Why so many? Obviously Panamanians must be into spoiling and indulging their children.

harmont and blaine tucomen airportWealthy elite. Panama is a relatively poor country but the rich elite must be damn good shoppers. Rolex, Roberto Cavalli, Valentino, Caroline Herrera, Lacoste, and Salvatorre Fergammo all have locations in the airport, not to mention other upscale retailers I wasn’t as familiar with. My favorite was Harmont and Blaine, an upscale Italian store with a WASPY name and logo featuring two dachshunds. (Short sleeve polo shirts sell for $90) Most of the posh stores were empty and it seemed like the only places doing any business at all were selling perfume or electronics.

No Bargain. Here’s all I know about the cost of living in Panama: a pizza sub and a small bottle of water from a Subway sandwich shop cost me $11.50 U.S. Even by airport standards, that is ridiculous.

tocumen airportCould I get a newsstand, please? You can find a decent newsstand and/or bookstore in almost any major airport in the world. But I looked very hard for one at Tocumen and asked several people to guide me and came up empty. I finally found a very small place with a modest selection of magazines (all in Spanish save Time and Men’s Health) but, oddly enough, they had no newspapers. Not even local ones.

I asked the woman where the papers were and she said they get them in the morning and by the afternoon they’re all gone. I suppose one could take the optimistic stance that this shows avid readership but I found the lack of reading materials in the airport a bad indicator for the country’s literary scene, and indeed, the list of famous Panamanian writers online is pretty modest.

But one woman I asked in a perfume shop who was talking to a guy that looked like a Panamanian drug lord straight out of central casting was nice enough to give me her copy of “La Estrella,” a 164-year-old daily newspaper that is apparently one of the oldest in Latin America.

sophia rossi porn starBeisbol and boobs. After I’d seen enough of the airport, I sat down and leafed through “La Estrella,” which was full of coverage of the country’s baseball championship between teams called Metro and Occidente, and seemingly random photos of bodacious women. One particularly fetching photo, which appeared in the Sports section under the headline “La Apasionada” (The Impassioned), featured the porn star Sophia Rossi, who makes Pamela Anderson look like the flat-chested girl next door. (And has been romantically linked to the baseball player, Pat Burrell)

Diversity. I spent the rest of my time people watching and, while you never know where people are from, the diversity was impressive. There were people of every skin tone, befitting a country that’s long been a crossroads and a melting pot. I was only in Panama for an hour, not even enough time to get Van Halen’s song of the same title out of my head, but I saw enough to know I want to go back. Next time, I’d like to actually exit the airport.

[Photo credit: Dave Seminara]

A Valentine’s Day package for Bachelor fans

Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day is coming up really fast and those stuck without plans may think they are out of time to do anything memorable. Think again. Luxury hotels still have some packages available for those a bit light on the thoughtfulness with heavy, deep pockets.

The Trump Ocean Club International Hotel & Tower in Panama is among the romantic destinations included in the 16th season of ABC’s The Bachelor and luxury resort is offering guests who book their stay now through March 31, 2012, the opportunity to experience the utmost in romance with the “Live Like The Bachelor” package.

Offering exclusive amenities, experiential activities and a savings of about 50 percent off rates, the package provides guests with the same romantic escape seen on The Bachelor. The “Live like The Bachelor” package includes:

  • Four-night stay in a spacious Executive Suite
  • Round-trip private transfer to and from the airport
  • Welcome bottle of champagne and rose petal turndown
  • Daily breakfast at BARcelona Restaurant
  • Romantic dinner for two at Tejas Restaurant
  • VIP helicopter excursion
  • Private tour of Panama City including visits to the Old Panama Ruins, Casco Viejo, the Panama Canal and Mi Pueblito
  • Signautre 60 minute couples massage
  • Exotic island expedition on a private yacht, including food, beverages and fishing equipment
  • Complimentary shuttle service to nearby shopping centers
  • $1,000 worth in shopping cards

The price? Rates start at $7,999, plus tax and service charge.

Too much?

The Ritz-Carlton, Fort Lauderdale is a luxury oceanfront hotel on Florida’s Gold Coast that has water views from every room, balconies in every room, and legendary service plus two Valentine’s Day packages.

A Valentines Day One-Night Escape is $549 plus tax and includes a luxurious Partial Ocean View accommodations at The Ritz-Carlton, Fort Lauderdale along with a gourmet three-course Italian-inspired dinner and breakfast for two in the oceanfront Via Luna restaurant, or in the privacy of your luxurious guestroom and an assortment of romantic welcome gifts including a bottle of fine champagne.

An Ultimate Valentine’s Day One-Night Escape with concert tickets is $1,999 plus tax and includes a One-Bedroom Oceanfront Residential Suite with Club Lounge Access and a dedicated concierge to assist with any reservations or travel plans, Two VIP tickets to the one-night only Andrea Bocelli Valentine’s Day concert, Tuesday, February 14 at the Bank Atlantic Center, private roundtrip transportation to the concert, breakfast for two in Via Luna or in the privacy of your guestroom and romantic welcome gifts of limited edition Jean-Paul Gaultier-designed, fishnet-laced Piper-Heidsieck Champagne and more romantic presents.

Still too much?
Launched this week on Best Western Hotel’s Facebook page is a new “Be a Travel Hero” Promotion which rewards business “travel heroes” for their time on the road away from friends and family. The promotion encourages Best Western Rewards members to build a virtual vacation for their family and friends for a chance to win a grand prize dream vacation and other great prizes, including Best Western Travel Cards and MasterCard Gift Cards up to $500 in value, Avis rental car vouchers and AAA/CAA memberships.

Still need more ideas? Try Gadling’s Couple’s guide to Valentine’s Day hotel packages.



Valentine's Day Flowers Guide - Buying Roses

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Westin opens first hotel in Panama to the tune of $100 million

westin panamaPanama, ranked the number one travel destination by The New York Times and an emerging destination by pubs like Fodor’s and Travel + Leisure, has just gotten a little hotter with the opening of its first Westin hotel.

The newly-opened Westin Playa Bonita Panamá is 20 minutes outside Panama City, flanked by both rainforest and beach. The hotel boasts 611 luxury rooms and suites, six fine dining restaurants, four bars and an open-air VIP Lounge on the 19th floor, which boasts panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, rainforest and Panamá Canal.
While 600-something room hotels aren’t always our preference, it’s a great way to get a tropical escape on the calendar for a reasonable price or for a moderate number of SPG loyalty points.

This opening falls on the heels of other major hotel announcements in the fast-emerging must-visit destination, including the opening of Trump Ocean Club Panama earlier this year.

Photo of the day – Panama on skateboard

Photo of the day
Skateboarders get a bad rap: they travel in packs of (usually) teenage boys, gravitate towards public buildings and spaces, and redefine the word “loiter.” But this shot by Flickr user aaroncolorado taken in Panama City, Panama is graceful, almost balletic. No doubt the no-goodniks were promptly chased away from their hangout spot, but looks like they had a good afternoon skating.

Have some great action shots to share? Add them to our Flickr pool and we may feature it on a future Photo of the Day.