Gambling for Alcohol Anonymous

Trip Start Oct 10, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Panama  ,
Sunday, March 18, 2007

Gambling is legal in Panama and Adam and I have discovered how to beat the system. Their design was almost perfect but there is one blatant flaw which we have come to exploit to our full advantage - free beer. Even if all we do is slow play the penny slots they give us an endless supply of free beer. Beer in this country costs about a quarter each, but our  gambling expenditures of one penny every three minutes has ensured we come out on top. We have managed to walk out of every casino feeling like successful card counters with briefcases full of bills. Except our briefcases are our bellies, and they're full of liquid gold.

After finally detaching ourselves from the lure of air-conditioned casinos we managed to brave the sweltering streets of Panama City. This is one of the more interesting, if depressing, cities I have been too. The contrast here is quite obvious and accessible. Rich and poor live side by side, modern and old as well. We are staying in a district that is reminiscent of any large city business district. The lights from towering sky scrapers replace the nighttime stars. Although it is the most similar area to home it seems out of place and foreign in this part of the world.

We decided to amble over to Casco Antiguo yesterday, the oldest part of the city and home to the President and likewise important government officials. We had certain expectations of grandeur for the area, so when we found ourselves among rotting wood shacks along the seaside, their walls gaping with holes and rusted corrugated tin roofs only acting as strainers towards the rain, we imagined we had taken a wrong turn. But suddenly the last remanents of ancient paint jobs turned to a brilliant white upon an intrictatley carved pillar.  Looking up we saw a balcony fit for a French king and marble adorning every inch of interior that we could see beyond the stern guards. The buildings all around had suddenly become perfectly restored artifacts of the Colonial period. All trims, gardens and walls looked like they had been attended to that very morning.

After that surprising contrast we continued our walk destined for the Causeway which connects four islands just of the coast from the city. Almost immediately after the decision had been made the affluence disappered and we found ourselves in a slum.  Clothes dried across lines connecting drab gray concrete blocks, with garbage littering the entrances far below. The smell of raw sewage replaced the scent of flowers we had just enjoyed. We quickly pushed on to the Causeway, where we shocked one more time to find a scene out of Southern California. The road was lined by symmetrically planted palms, with perfectly manicured grass and colourful flowers filling the gaps between. The modern stores and American-themed bars blasted air conditioning and their tiled patios complete with stainless steel tables and ratan chairs were a perfect place to watch the white faces attend to their behemoth yachts.

I think we'll go and drink beer in the casinos today and shut out all the extremes of Panama City.
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