Dispatch, Panama: Learning curve

By Eric Moya
EMHOTELRIUPLAZA_200X115Copy editor Eric Moya recently spent a week in Panama, first at the newly opened Riu Playa Blanca, then as a guest of the Riu Plaza in Panama City. Click here to view a slideshow from the trip.

After a couple of rides, I felt like I’d nearly mastered Panama City’s subway system — though I should note that, as of now, the “system” comprises one line and 12 stops.

Subway service is new to Panama City, having launched last month. Leaflets available at the ticket booths acquaint first-time users with the finer points of rider courtesy and safety: stand behind the yellow line, wait for passengers to exit before attempting to board, no eating or drinking, etc.

As I made my way through the freshly painted stairwells and gleaming turnstiles of the Iglesia del Carmen station, things appeared to be going smoothly. Schoolkids and office workers looked to be the early adopters, deftly swiping their Metro de Panama cards as they headed to lunch around Cinco de Maya Plaza.
But there were plenty of other passengers with different agendas: shopping at the enormous Albrook Mall to the south or the Centro Comercial Los Andes to the north, perhaps. Given Panama City’s unrelenting traffic, perhaps it isn’t surprising that its citizens have taken so readily to this new form of transportation.

Earlier in the week, about 90 miles west of the city, I had witnessed another operation in its early stages. The staff of the all-inclusive Riu Playa Blanca, the company’s second Panama property, had been at work for a little over a month, since the resort’s April 4 opening.

The company had mostly recruited locally from the surrounding Cocle province, and many of the employees were new to the hospitality industry.

Service proved anything but amateurish. At the restaurants, wait staff capably made small talk in English with members of our press trip, and empty beverage glasses were promptly refilled. Throughout the resort, groundskeepers, front-desk clerks and housekeeping staff were all quick with bright smiles and cheerful greetings.

In the Playa Blanca resort area, a shopping mall is under construction, poised to cater to occupants of the region’s ever-growing number of hotels and condos. (Signs along the highway, however, only committed to "proximamente" as an opening date.) A new airport awaits carriers to reduce what is now a two-hour drRiuPlayaBlanca-Balboaive from Panama City’s airport to a matter of minutes from terminal to thatched roof.

Panama City, too, is experiencing a building boom, judging by the number of construction cranes along the downtown skyline and the restoration work underway in the Casco Antiguo historical neighborhood.

It seems the country is in the midst of major growth. Luckily, Panamanians seem quick to adapt.
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