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

Writers 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.

Wealthy 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.

Could 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.

Beisbol 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]

Listen To ‘In Bali With Baggage’ On CBC’s ‘WireTap’

Jon Goldstein was able to publish our excellent series “In Bali With Baggage” over on “WireTap” this past weekend, marking the first time that a Gadling story has ever been broadcast on the North American radio waves.

You can check out the landing page for the show over on the CBC or subscribe to the weekly podcast here.

Our thanks to Mr. Golstein and the producers of “WireTap” for sharing the good word.

Gadling Gear Review: SuperTooth Disco Portal Speaker

One of the best things about carrying smartphones, tablets and laptops with us when we travel, is that we are also generally carrying our entire music libraries with us as well. The problem is, the speakers on those devices aren’t usually the best for enjoying that music and we don’t always want to wear headphones to get the best sound. Fortunately a number of companies now make excellent portable speaker systems that do offer great sound and are fun to take with us on the road.

One of those speaker systems is the Disco from SuperTooth, which can stream music from any device that supports Bluetooth 2.0 technology. Once paired with such a device, the Disco pumps out surprisingly loud and clear music, streaming audio, movie soundtracks or anything else that you can throw at it. I was impressed with how this relatively small device could fill a room with sound, serving up distinct highs and lows and clear vocals from a variety of sources.

While the Disco does included a standard wired audio port for devices that don’t use Bluetooth, the best way to connect is wirelessly of course. Pairing my iPhone and iPad with the Disco was simple and took just seconds and once they were connected, it was a breeze to stream my personal music library, as well as audio from Pandora, Stitcher Radio or any other app. It was a joy to listen to podcasts while wandering around my apartment and it was fun to use the speaker system as a mini-home theater while watching movies on my iPad too.All of that great sound comes courtesy of two 8-watt speakers and a 12-watt subwoofer, but the Disco is packing more than just a quality sound system. It also features a built-in rechargeable battery that allows you to take it with you just about anywhere. The tech specs say that the battery is good for anywhere from 3 to 10 hours, depending on volume, and in my testing I was routinely getting 8-9 hours on a moderate setting. That’s plenty of time for most single-day outings, but you’ll want to pack the charger along with you if you take it on a trip.

While I found the Disco to be a high quality product, with better sound than I was expecting, I do wish it were a bit more portable. It is slightly more than a foot in length and weighs in at 2.5 pounds. As someone who likes to travel light, that’s a bit on the heavy side for my liking. I love having it around the home and for day trips in town, but I’m not sure I’d want to add it to my suitcase or backpack when I’m heading out for a longer trip.

SuperTooth saw fit to include a speaker cable and a decent carrying case in the box, but I wouldn’t have minded having a remote control as well. While most of the time you’re controlling the music and volume from the phone itself, it would have been nice to be able to pause, skip tracks and control the bass booster from across the room too. Once you get accustomed to wirelessly controlling your audio, it is a bit jarring to have to cross the room to adjust a setting.

All of that said, this is one of the better portable Bluetooth speaker systems that I’ve come across, particularly for the money. The SuperTooth Disco carries an affordable price tag of just $149, which is actually a steal for a device with these features and high quality sound. In fact, I’ve used systems from competitors that cost much more but didn’t sound nearly as nice.

If you’re looking for a great way to wirelessly listen to your favorite music, podcasts and streaming audio, either at home or on the road, then the SuperTooth Disco is a great option. Simply put, you’ll have a very hard time finding anything else that sounds this good in the same price range.

Couchsurfer rhymes a “gift rap” to his host


Couchsurfer Matthew Bloomfield really appreciated his stay at host Elmar Bierbaum’s apartment in Lima, Peru. If fact, he felt so grateful that he composed a rap as a tribute to Bierbaum (and he stayed within the 1,000-word limit for a CouchSurfing reference).

Bloomfield calls himself “The Rapping Professor”, as he not only writes rhymes for those you give him a couch to sleep on, but also for his day job. An event entertainer, the rapper has been able to break into an unusual niche and has been very successful, even performing at corporate parties in Asia.

Check out the Rapping Professor’s talents for yourself in the clip above.

GadlingTV’s Travel Talk – Thailand Part 10: Kanchanaburi

Gadling TV’s Travel Talk, episode 40 – Click above to watch video after the jump

In the first half of Travel Talk’s grand Thai expedition, we’ve tamed elephants, explored Bangkok’s temples, eaten scorpions, taken in a Muay Thai match, and witnessed a train running directly through a bustling market. Now, we’re taking you to explore a lesser known province of Thailand for a closer look at the culture and traditions of rural Thai life.

Kanchanaburi isn’t the first place you might think to visit when planning your trip to Thailand- but in many ways, that’s its charm. We explore this peaceful oasis just outside of Bangkok. The town promises to change dramatically with the recent reopening of the Three Pagodas Border Crossing to Myanmar, and we stayed in a massive 5-star resort that’s anticipating this very change. Exploring the local landmarks, we got a chance to walk across the Bridge over River Kwai- of classic hollywood fame.

If you have any questions or comments about Travel Talk, you can email us at talk AT gadling DOT com.

Subscribe via iTunes:
[iTunes] Subscribe to the Show directly in iTunes (M4V).
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Hosts: Stephen Greenwood & Aaron Murphy-Crews

Special guests: Joom, Tum, Nikki- the champion bartender & Richard- Dheva manager and businessman extraordinaire
Produced, Edited, and Directed by: Stephen Greenwood & Aaron Murphy-Crews
Special thanks: Tourism Authority of Thailand, Trikaya Tours

Travel Talk took Thailand by storm on invitation from the Tourism Authority of Thailand. No editorial content was guaranteed and Aaron & Stephen were free to openly share all adventures that they embarked upon.