Thursday, January 4, 2007

Why Panama? Part Two

In "Why Panama? Part One" I explained our reasons (or in light of my wife's comment on that post I should say my reasons) for moving to Panama.

But perhaps your question is not, "What do you like about Panama?" but rather,

"Why did you choose Panama over the myraid other places in the world?"

For example, why not...
  • Canada? - Expensive, hard to get residency, and Laura doesn't like the cold.
  • Europe? - Too expensive. Presents no savings advantage over the USA. In addition, Europe is experiencing a wave of cultural turmoil and xenophobia that makes it not much more attractive than the USA.
  • Asia? - Certain parts of Asia are very enticing to me, particularly India, and affordable; but it's too far away. We want to be able to visit our families regularly, and vice versa.
  • Australia or New Zealand? - Australians are weird. New Zealand, however... I've heard so many good things about it. Again, though, it's too far from California, in fact it's as far away as you can get.
  • Africa? - Utter chaos, corrupt governments, civil wars, starvation. A place to go if you want to dedicate yourself to helping humanity, but not a place to start a family.
  • The Arctic? - It's melting.
  • Antarctica? - No one there, aside from a few insane scientists.
  • The Caribbean? - Too hot, too poor, and land is expensive because there's so little of it.
So Latin America was the logical choice. It's close to California, it's affordable, and much of it is startlingly beautiful. Of course there are many Latin American countries.

So why not...

CENTRAL AMERICA (STARTING AT THE TOP AND MOVING DOWN - click on the map above to see a much larger image):
  • Mexico? - It's the Wild West. Too many problems to count, including drugs, kidnappings, serious pollution in the capital, and police corruption. The government has been known to seize private properties, including those owned by Americans, on behalf of influential developers. I love Mexico but it's just not secure. And yes, for the smart alecs, I am aware that Mexico is technically part of North America.
  • Belize? - A swamp with buildings on stilts and hostile locals.
  • Guatemala? - Fought a brutal civil war from 1960-1996 that resulted in the deaths of 200,000 civilians, mostly Mayan Indians. The effects of that war are still felt in Guatemalan society and a lot of guns are still in circulation.
  • El Salvador? - Also fought a long civil war in which a brutal dictatorship, supported by the United States, killed and disappeared tens of thousands of civilains. As a reslt, there is still much residual hostility towards Americans.
  • Honduras? - A massive crime problem and the occasional big hurricane make it unattractive.
  • Nicaragua? - Cost of living is certainly rock bottom, and property is very cheap. I've heard nice things about a small city called Granada. And Nicaragua by all accounts is a beautiful place. But extreme povery is a problem, along with overbearing government bureaucracy and an underdeveloped infrastructure.
  • Costa Rica? - Sure, it's got the Pura Vida. The people are friendly, the country green and lovely, the government solidly democratic. But it's already overrun with Americans and Europeans, property values are almost equivalent to the United States, and getting residency is becoming more difficult. The roads are bad and the capital suffers from awful air pollution (I had to hold a rag over my mouth much of the time in San Jose).
  • Panama? - Well, here I am. A democratic nation in which the military (like Costa Rica) has been disbanded. An incredibly biologically diverse environment, with more species of birds than any nation in the world. Large tracts of virgin forest, thousands of miles of coastline and beaches, a well-developed capital city which is becoming the shopping mecca of the region. A low cost of living and a simple residency process. No hurricanes or earthquakes. A racially diverse population with large minorities of Chinese, Jews, and Muslims, and a fairly large indigenous population. Sure, it's got problems, but they are minor in comparison to its attractions.
  • Colombia? - Yeah, right.
  • Venezuela? - From what I've read, street crime is out of control and the capital is not a particularly pleasant place.
  • Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana? - Hot, stifling, sweaty chunks of jungle.
  • Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil? - Each of these nations is unique and vast, but in general I think it's fair to say that they are unstable. Conflicts over allocation of land and resources, grinding poverty, drugs, crime and sprawling overpopulation make these nations a risk. But there certainly might be liveable and lovely places within each nation for someone who is willing to look.
  • Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina? - These four nations at the southern end of South America have cosmopolitan capitals, first-world infrastructures and interesting cultures. But they're a little too far away, and not as cheap as I'd like.
So there you have it. A global process of elimination leaving Panama as the last nation standing. Do you live in Panama or one of these other nations? What's your opinion?


Laura in Panama said...

I dare say that not many of us who are reading your blog, or should I simply step up and speak for myself, know or read as much as you do about the countries of the world to compile such a review. Given the similar blemishes on so many countries a partitioned vision of the world's ills begins to take shape.

Zach said...

Hi Wael -

I'm really enjoying reading the blog! These Why Panama posts are particularly well written. I second Laura's comment on the extent of your knowledge of the world's countries!

Danyell and I have done our own research on places to live and Panama, while not perfect, seems to be a good fit for the things we care about most.

At this point we're ready to make the move (hopefully as soon as July/August) but we cannot decide where -- El Valle or Chiriqui.

P.S. - glad to hear the Laura is feeling better.

Wael said...

Zach, always good to hear from you. If you decide on Chiriqui, Laura and I will have to come visit you from time to time.

A funny thing happened to me last week, but I was too embarassed to blog about it. I went to dinner at Nina Delia, the restaurant where we dined with you and Danyell. Most of their chairs are metal framed, but a few are plastic. Well, I sat in one of the plastic chairs and it shattered into pieces beneath me, I mean literally into several pieces, tumbling me onto the floor. There were two American families dining in the restaurant, both with teenagers, and the teenagers thought this was very funny. I got up, brushed myself off, and left. I know I'm a big guy, but come on...