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Panama unversus Costa Rica

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Written by Matt   
Wednesday, 17 August 2011 19:25

Reviewing Panama as it relates to Costa Rica nowadays is a little like doing a case study on apples and babaganoush. Should I be primarily discouraged that they have no similarities at all? Am I supposed to state the fact that both can be placed in a bag? You can hold both in your hand? Do their vague similarities even merit an article or must they be explained totally separately so no one gets any wrong ideas?

Whenever I am at the airport and see parallel flights departing for San Jose and Panama City, I immediately try to deduce which travelers belong on which flight.

I’ve been thinking about these two countries for roughly six years, during which I’ve thought more about these countries than I’ve thought about far more important topics like world peace. But with more and more tourists having visited Costa Rica first – now looking for some comparisons – it makes sense to try and draw some conclusions that are not ridiculously complicated or constantly changing over time.

Here are four simple things about Panama and Costa Rica: both are endowed with tremendous natural beauty, both have significantly fewer natural disasters than any other country in Central America, neither has a consistently good soccer team, one may or may not be headed for self-combustion.

Riding on the heels of the last attribute, here are the more complicated things: everything else.

Panama and Costa Rica, despite being neighbors, are a vast gulf apart. They sit on opposite ends of so many spectrums that it sometimes does a disservice to talk about them in the same sentence. They’ve both taken development trajectories so radically different that comparing them the way we compare Maine and Rhode Island has a way of confusing people. They have a way of attracting different kinds of people for roughly the same reasons.

Whenever I am at the airport and see parallel flights departing for San Jose and Panama City, I immediately try to deduce which travelers belong on which flight. I like to guess – from their outfits, baggage, the way they talk – where they’re going and for what purpose.   I aim to determine who will be “satisfied” with their visit and who will be “disgruntled.” While I’m buying a bag of almonds, I casually explain to my traveling companion how Panama City tends to lack museums, galleries, and cultural events. “That don’t matter,” interjects a man in a Hawaiian shirt behind me who’s buying (a) Playboy Magazine and (b) a to-go cup of Coors Light. I have never met anyone who buys Playboy Magazine, much less at the airport, much less in a unconcealed manner. “Museums don’t matter if you’re just goin down there to screw and smoke a few cubanos."

I decide that, wherever this man is going, he can be safely placed in the “satisfied” category.

The weirdest (yet unfortunately most predictable) aspect of Panama versus Costa Rica is that neither seems to have learned much from one another and I get the feeling neither ever will. This could be good depending on which country you prefer. This could also be bad if you continue trying to compare them. This could mean nothing if you believe both will do whatever it is to make themselves super rich today, but it could also mean everything if you happen to be personally in this for tomorrow.

Comments (2)Add Comment
written by Houston , August 19, 2011
This article couldn't be more spot-on. I personally love the off-the-beaten-path feel of Panama. The ecotourism is just as good as Costa Rica's bot with an element of adventure that CR lacks.
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written by ITZEL , December 23, 2011
Dear Matt...why dont u write a "USA report" every country in this world , including USA we have good and bad things...I am proud of my country...Guess what ?..when USA had trouble in real states and banking system and big companies, our banking system reamin USA need to learn about Panamenian banking system. You sure say money laundry,ut our banker are well known even in USA. You have a lot of drugs consumer....your kids do not respect parents, and a lot criminals around, example Washington D.C. one of the most criminal city in the world, and this city has a lot of museum. You must open a webside named "USA Report"...start writting about your country....tell the good and bad it has. Tell us about race discrimination you have...tell us about how big company need to be support by government, tell us about the people living on street due to lack of governemt care....if there things you dont like from Panama, just never come back, be happy!!! haces falta aqui....
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