Let’s Grow Our Global Perspectives

This article was published in the Escape Artist Weekly Newsletter on December 05, 2017. If you would like to subscribe to the newsletter, please click here.

Do you remember when you were a little toddler, standing beside your parents and looking up at them, thinking they were so tall?

It is the same feeling as when you’re standing on the sidewalk in Manhattan, gazing up at the towering Empire State Building.

Or, if you have been to Caye Caulker as an adult, the feeling of smallness when trying to hop on the giant chair at Sip n’ Dip.

Let’s Grow Our Global Perspectives

When we are young, what we don’t consider is that our parents will not appear huge forever…  but at that moment they do, because we’re so small and still learning about perspective. And as we get older, we understand that our reality is a result of our perspective.  In order for our outlooks to change, we need to go through new, and sometimes challenging, experiences.  And for many of us, that’s why we travel, right?  It’s an exhilarating outlet for discovering new cultures, customs, and norms.

There is one country in Central America that is unlike the rest.  On the map, there is nothing tremendously striking about it.  Many perceive it to be similar to the countries on either side of the border, primarily because Central America, as a whole, is often clumped together as one general area.  But when you step foot in-country, you understand why it was given the nickname, the “Switzerland of Latin America.”  It truly is an anomaly in the region.

If you haven’t guessed, this country is Panama.

Flying into Panama City is absolutely sensational.  On my latest flight into the country, the sun was just starting to set as we descended over the downtown area.  In the distance, the lights of the unique city skyline started to switch on.  The vessels loitered in the Pacific waters below, awaiting their turn to pass through the newly renovated canal.  My eyes were transfixed out the window.  Especially coming from a tiny Caribbean island off the coast of Belize, flying into Panama was like entering a new world.

Let’s Grow Our Global Perspectives

And that it was.  For over a century, Panama has been known for the infamous Panama Canal. It’s difficult to grasp the full scope of the canal without seeing the operations in person, but it justly is the lifeline for trade between continents.  With this tremendous waterway raking in close to $2 billion USD in toll revenue for 2016, it’s no surprise that Panama City is flourishing with economic and banking activity.  The banking industry, which ranks 2nd in the world only after Switzerland, makes up about 8% of the country’s GDP, a whopping $4.415 billion (approx.).   The first 8 months of this year alone, banking profits totaled $1.266 million USD, up 13% from the same period in 2016.  Regardless of revealing reports like The Paradise Papers, people continue to diversify internationally (and legally), and Panama continues to be a top-choice jurisdiction.

It was for this last point specifically that we were in Panama.  I was meeting up with a handful of teak owners and potential investors who wanted to see (and hug!) their trees, which meant another exciting trip to the Darién.

For those of you reading who have been to Panama, did you visit the Darién Province (it doesn’t count if you were on the tour!)? Probably not, because there is not much going on out there.  This region, well-known for the timber and agricultural farms, is quite desolate due to the extremely hilly & dense jungle topography.  However, in terms of farmland, it is the ideal spot to be because of the nutrient rich soil and the consistent rainy and dry seasons.  With the exception of the remote indigenous Guna Yala comarcas and the farms, the Darién is quiet.

Every now and again, I am contacted by a panicked prospect who read about the Darién on the U.S. Travel Advisory website and isn’t sure what to believe.  Let me put it this way, if the United States had Travel Advisories for their own country, would you go to Chicago, New Orleans, or New York?  Probably not.  The Darién is a region of Panama that is governed the same way the rest of the country is, by the same progressive, capitalist president.  It’s a phenomenal place for farming, which is what many of the papaya, banana, and other timber farmers have also prospered from.

Let’s Grow Our Global Perspectives

Guna Yalas at Lake Bayano from a few trips ago.

You may remember from an article in February what the trip to the Darién entails – which essentially is a day of driving the Pan American highway with strangers.  18 of us on a bus… with our passports… heading into the “forbidden” region of the country.  There is always something to report back on.

A few months ago, we had a tire pop about 2.5 hours into the ride… with nothing around except a tire shop 50 feet down the road.  Pretty convenient, huh?

Let’s Grow Our Global Perspectives

During a dry-season visit, a tired sloth was slowly crawling across the road in hopes of finding water on the other side.  The video below shows the group moving the sloth to the other side of the road.

Let’s Grow Our Global Perspectives

This trip was relatively smooth, until we arrived to the farm.  With rainy season just ending, it went from smooth to slippery really quickly.  We were gripping onto each other as we walked down the trail.  Owners strayed away from the path to find their parcels.  We were slipping and sliding all over the place, yet smiling the whole time.  How often do you have the chance to navigate through a teak farm with a forestry expert and new friends?  One of the most memorable moments was when we stopped walking and stopped talking to listen to our surroundings.  Absolute silence, with the exception of the howler monkeys overhead and the singing birds.  Out of the craziness of Panama City’s traffic, standing there in nature, it was incredibly refreshing.

Let’s Grow Our Global Perspectives

The tour was a success.  Many new friendships blossomed on the long bus ride, and many went down memory lane as we enjoyed peanut butter & jelly sandwiches for lunch with a side snack of Bugles and Goldfish.  In a world where most of our neighbors and family don’t quite understand our desires to be international, it is energizing to connect with people who do.

My colleague and I ended up staying in Panama for a couple of extra days to explore some of the city hotspots.  For being a resident of Panama, my knowledge of the city outside of the Marriott walls and the teak farm is extremely (and embarrassingly) limited.  So, we decided to play tourist.

For a few months, we had been talking about visiting Ancon Hill, a 654-foot-high point right outside of Panama City that has incredible views of the skyline.

Uber dropped us off where we thought we were supposed to be.  However, after getting out of the car, we unknowingly took a wrong turn.  Instead of finding the gates to the hill, we were walking through protests, passing the public morgue, and running into sick people who were waiting to get into the public hospital.

Let’s Grow Our Global Perspectives

Where the heck were we?

Google Maps tried to re-route us through a hospital building, so we decided to do the logical thing and turned back around to walk in the other direction.  About 100 meters from our starting point, we found the gate.  At this point we had been walking up and down hills, were warm from our morning coffee, and were already breaking a sweat.  But we were relieved to find the right spot…

… Only to have the gatekeeper tell us that Ancon Hill was closed that day for cleaning.  Our chances were 1 out of 365 (0.27%) that the Hill would be closed for cleaning, and this was just our luck.

Let’s Grow Our Global Perspectives

We were bummed, but started to laugh.  What else could we do?

We started back down the road and stopped at the Panama Canal Administration Building to lookout at the view.  In the distance were thousands upon thousands of cranes and shipping containers awaiting delivery to their next destination.

Let’s Grow Our Global Perspectives

With the holidays around the corner, we could only imagine the increased boat and marina traffic, transporting Santa’s toysConsumer Resource Guide to the well-behaved boys and girls around the world.  It’s a reminder that the transportation industry is much larger than the semi-truck traffic on the interstate or the FedEx man delivering your package to your doorstep.

In fact, it’s quite incredible that anything makes its way to where it is supposed to be.  But it does, and after 103 years, it’s a well-oiled machine that works.

Although on this trip we didn’t get to check Ancon Hill off of the bucket list, we’ll be back in a couple of months to try again.  As they say, patience is a virtue, and spending time in Latin America is a constant reminder.  It’ll all work out in due course.

If you’re curious about the opportunities in Panama, feel free to contact us here.  It’s a remarkable country and one that continues to offer many notable opportunities for foreign investors.

This article was published in the Escape Artist Weekly Newsletter on December 05, 2017. If you would like to subscribe to the newsletter, please click here.