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Category: Travel

How To Visit El Chorrillo: Panama City’s Most Dangerous Neighborhood

Located adjacent to one of Panama City’s most popular touristic neighborhoods is El Chorrillo, considered one of the most dangerous parts of Panama’s capital. El Chorrillo is often called a “red zone” by locals – a place to avoid, fear, and steer clear of. There is one person though who is leading visitors through El Chorrillo and giving a glimpse into a story of history, neglect, and change.

Next To The Boom

The historic and touristic neighborhood of Casco Viejo is expanding and demand for more land have begun eating into El Chorrillo and driving both prices up and residents out. Local guide Victor Peretz who runs Local in Pty takes small groups through the winding streets where in 1989 the United States invaded the El Chorrillo, home of Manuel Noriega’s military base. El Chorrillo has never recovered truly and has been plagued with violence.

el chorrillo panama city

Victor takes you through the pain of El Chorrillo as well as the daily life within the neighborhood. (Shown in the video above.) El Chorrillo is vibrant with local domino games (an elderly favorite), education initiatives (which Victor is an integral part) and Panama hat maker Mario whose family has been there for three generations.

Changes For Better Or Worse

As Casco Viejo become more expensive, property owners are slowly buying land and constructing new buildings in El Chorrillo. Right now most of the activity is on the borders but the trend is clear – Casco Viejo is moving into El Chorrillo. A slow tidal wave that brings with it uncertainty, co-working spaces, and expensive apartments in a gentrification story familiar in many large cities worldwide.

el chorrillo tour panama city

Victor shows you the present while putting perspective on the past as premonitions about the future become apparent. Overall the walk through El Chorrillo is enlightening and not uncomfortable as you have an experienced guide navigating you through otherwise tricky streets. Victor can be reached by Instagram, Facebook, and email ([email protected]). Tours run around 3 hours at a leisurely pace and begin from Casco Viejo. I can highly recommend Victor’s tours if you want to see a part of Panama City that might otherwise seem unreachable. The tour of El Chorrillo was the most memorable part of my visit to Panama City and gave a contrast with Casco Viejo I would have missed.

The Ridge Commuter Backpack Is Solid But Standard

Ridge the company most known for its line of slim wallets has more recently ventured into luggage. They’ve got their durable but pricey Ridge Carry On and as part of the line, the Commuter Backpack. It’s sits between this world of travel bag and office bag and depending on where you’re going, the Commuter Backpack may or may not be the best fit for you.

Size And Specs

The Commuter Backpack is on the smaller side at around 20 liters and measures 46 x 31 x 18 centimeters. It’s available in four distinct colors ranging from black, matte olive, base camp orange, and alpine blue with all of the colors bright but not overstated or tacky. As Ridge tend to do, they’ve opted for durability but the use of 900 denier ballistic nylon makes the Ridge Commuter Backpack heavier than average at 1.43 kilos (3.15 pounds).

Quality YKK zippers are used and the combined with the other materials in use, the Commuter Backpack is weatherproof. You can’t submerge this backpack (unless you want to get everything inside wet) but it will keep its contents dry in even a strong downpour.

Inside The Bag

There are two side pockets for small water bottles, a flat front pocket that goes down about a quarter of the bag length you can use a a quick grab pocket or for smaller items like chargers or cables. (Since this pocket is more exposed, I wouldn’t store anything of high value like a passport.) The main compartment is a big open pocket with a halfway zip although a three quarters or sided access would make getting your stuff in and out a bit easier. Ridge have also squeezed in a separate laptop compartment as well with a soft microfiber suede lining and big enough to hold a 16 inch laptop.

ridge commuter backpack

Inside 210 denier nylon is used and made to be  anti-microbial. As an added bonus Ridge have sneaked in a hidden Airtag pocket. Overall the Commuter Backpack has a straightforward design when it comes to the pockets – not too different than many other similarly sized backpacks – but the materials used are more durable than most.

Cost Considerations

You will pay for those premium materials though – this is not an inexpensive backpack. As Ridge says, the Commuter Backpack is built to last and given the liberal use of nylon I would tend to say they’re right. At only 20 liters though this isn’t going to be a one bag travel backpack but more of an office, school, or business trip bag.

At 20 liters it may be a bit overkill and heavy for everyday use but if you want a rugged yet stylish backpack to carry a laptop, some books, or light clothes in, the Ridge Commuter Backpack should last you for years of short trips.

How To Avoid Airbnb’s Latest Fee

A few days ago Airbnb changed their Terms of Service to introduce a new fee that will come into effect on April 1st 2024. That fee will add 2% to you next booking but there’s an easy way to avoid it and actually save even more money.

Conversion Fee

The new guest service fee of 2%, before taxes, will be added on the total rate if a booking is made where the local currency differs from the currency set in your Airbnb account. That means if your Airbnb account has a currency set in US dollars but the villa in Spain you’re booking is listed in Euros, there will be an additional 2% fee added at check out.

airbnb settings

Airbnb hasn’t made it clear if this fee will be shown separately or just added under the generic “fees” you see at checkout, but know that it will be in there where there’s a currency conversion.

Avoiding The Fee

To get around the new 2% fee, all you have to do is change the default currency your Airbnb account is set to so that it matches the local currency of your next destination. Log into Airbnb, click the globe icon, then currency, and then change the currency. For example, if you’re looking for an Airbnb in Bulgaria you would change the currency into Bulgarian lev and if the place is in Spain, that would be Euros. Airbnb doesn’t make it clear what currency the host listing is in so you just have to look up the local currency in a given country if you’re not familiar and adjust it accordingly.

airbnb currency setting

Why This Saves More Than 2%

After April 1, 2024 this trick will save you 2% in fees but changing the currency to match the local money will save you double or more because of another clause in the Airbnb terms – one that’s been there for a long time. When you book an Airbnb in a currency that differs from the currency a host as set, Airbnb converts the listing price from local to your currency, using rates they determine. In many cases this rate is not in your favor and hardly the best conversion and can add 3% or more to a booking where the currencies differ.

You should always change your Airbnb account currency to the local one when booking internationally to save at the 2% conversion fee and then another 2-4% in conversion rates. While you’re at it, make sure you keep an eye on Airbnb cleaning fees as well.

An Upgraded Hotel Experience: Sonder Apartments Review

Sonder is a short term apartment rental service for people who want amenities most hotels don’t have but want the consistency in experience Airbnb lacks. I recently rented a Sonder apartment in New York City and found they take some of the best from Airbnb and hotels but the end results aren’t as good as they could be. You can watch my full review in the video above or read on.

Sonder Rising

Sonder was founded in 2014 and now operates in 40 cities around the world with the aim to be a the homestay of hotels. They basically buy up apartments in cities where Sonder operates, then registers them as hotels. Most Sonder listings look a lot like traditional temporary accommodation from the outside but when you walk in you find mailboxes for individual units, like you would an apartment while there are services like complimentary toilet paper and housekeeping, hotel style.

sonder apartment

Many Sonder rentals have kitchens, refrigerators, and laundry machines but that’s not always the case, so you’ll want to review the specific rental amenities before booking.

Online Experience Excels

One thing that Sonder does well is the booking experience. You can search for apartments on their site or mobile app and rentals can be booked for days, weeks, or months. Trying to figure out what’s available isn’t always clear though as Sonder likes to show you a lot of choices in a given location without automatically removing options that are already booked.

Once you do find a place though Sonder lists out the total price you’ll end up paying, including taxes, fees, and any discounts. Having the final price listed makes for a much better experience when booking with Sonder. In contrast, Airbnb tacks on cleaning fees can be as much as the rental rate and hotels too can throw some hidden fees at you in the last minute. With Sonder you know how much things cost throughout the apartment search.

Checking In Sonder Style

Check in and check out times are similar to hotels and you can adjust them by a few hours for a small fee if you’re arriving early or need a late check out. Once you’ve booked the Sonder app is the best way to manage your stay. You’ll get the access code to the building and your room, as well as the option to use your phone as a mobile key to get inside. The address is listed as are requests for services like cleaning or to report any issues. You can also get in touch with support who are quick to respond and everything else you need like wifi passwords are all in the app as well. (The wifi is also very fast, around 350 Mbps download.)

sonder new york city

Sonder isn’t like The Blueground, a premium long term apartment rental service I’ve previously reviewed, where the furniture, kitchen, and appliances are all better quality and the shortest rental term is one month. So although you can rent a Sonder for over 30 days and you get discounts the longer your stay – especially past 45 days, I’m not sure in every location Sonder has a presence it’s the best long term accommodation option for travelers.

When To Sonder

Sonder is a good option for more expensive cities, like New York City, where you’re going to be staying for more than a few days. If you’re staying for a day or two, having a kitchen and fridge you can stock up probably won’t save you much money versus eating out, you should do some pricing comparisons with nearby hotels and and Airbnb.

But for stays of a few days or a week or two, where a trip to the grocery store is going to save you money on food over time, particularly if you want to cook or save money on laundry fees, than a Sonder might be a better choice in those circumstances. Their rates are pretty competitive with hotels and they’re usually in or very close to popular touristic parts of the cities they operate in.

Sonder is an option to check out if you want the hotel experience plus the perks that might save you money where it’s available. For longer stays though, especially over a few weeks, you might want to expand your search to some other booking sites.

This Free App Is The Fastest Way To Get Through U.S. Immigration

dulles airport

After a long flight there’s nothing less fun than waiting in a long immigration line at passport control. There is however a way to speed up the entire process using an app provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Here’s how to use Mobile Passport Control (MPC) to skip the long lines.

How MPC Works

MPC is a free app available for iOS and Android created by the U.S. government. The MPC app lets you digitally fill out a customs declaration form, upload a picture of your passport, and your photo of yourself as you would with a passport agent. In this case though the MPC app lets you bypass the manual process of having your passport looked over by an agent.

MPC users have their own separate line and is available for use at over 33 airports and some seaports of entry. (A current total of 48 sites.)

Who Is Eligible?

The MPC app can be used by U.S. citizens, legal residents, Canadian B1/B2 citizen visitors and returning Visa Waiver Program travelers with approved ESTA. This includes most of the European Union citizens, Australian, and Japanese citizens, among several others who are eligible to use MPC after their initial U.S. visit.

Set Up Before You Fly

A lot of people realize there’s a faster way through immigration using the MPC app when the airline staff announce it’s an option. By that time though uploading everything and getting your account created might be too tight, assuming you have an Internet connection at the airport at all. Therefore it’s best to set up the MPC app before you take off on your trip and it only takes a few minutes to get everything ready.

Then once you land, find the MPC line, scan the QR code on your phone shown in the app, and enjoy waiting for your luggage. But hey, at least you didn’t spend any unnecessary time looking at people’s back in immigration lines.

The Problem With Boeing Planes

You’ve probably seen the images from Alaska Airlines flight 1282 where a section of the plane was blown out in mid-flight. Fortunately, the plane was able to make an emergency landing and aside from 3 minor injuries nobody else was hurt or killed. Still, this was a brand new Boeing 737 Max 9 – only in service for 3 months before this incident – but since the Max line of planes was introduced, there have been two fatal crashes.

What is going on with Boeing and should you be worried about flying in their planes?

Safe But Less Safe

Previous generations of Boeing 737s have a fatal accident rate of .2 per million flights while the 737 MAX have a 4 in million fatal accident rate, still safe, but twenty times more accident prone. The Boeing 737 line is the most popular passenger plane ever – beginning production in 1968 through the latest generation called MAX which began in 2017. Throughout much of that history Boeing was the dominant jetliner manufacturer. Boeing’s main rival Airbus wasn’t a serious rival to Boeing until the 1990s.

alaska airlines

In the 2000s Airbus overtook Boeing in the narrow body aircraft market and today Airbus has 62% of the share of airliner backlog. Their main advantage: fuel economy.

Savings In The Sky

In the 2010s Airbus starting using a new engine design using with what’s known as high-bypass. Technical details aside, these are engines that are bigger than what was previously being used but 25% more fuel efficient. (And 35% quieter, a nice bonus.) Before this jetliner engines were made to be narrower thinking it would reduce wind resistance.

Over time airlines began gravitating toward these narrower, smaller capacity planes because they saved money on fuel. Those cost savings meant that airlines could run more flights versus the larger Boeing planes which burn more fuel. It’s easier to fill up smaller planes resulting in fewer empty seats. Again, economic benefits.

Boeing Plays Catch Up

Boeing isn’t able to put those newer more fuel efficient engines on their existing larger planes because the wings are too low for them to fit. This leads to the decision to make the Boeing MAX, their version of a narrow body jetliner to compete with Airbus. Building planes takes experience and Boeing didn’t redesign the 737 Max from scratch. The larger more powerful engines being placed on modified existing designs have lead to issues. Boeing had to put the new engines further forward on the wings of the MAX but combined with more thrust they have a tendency to pull the plane up more – in other words give it more lift.

jetliner engine

To compensate, the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) was implemented. That’s basically a computer than detects when the nose of the plane might be going up too high and then forces the plane to pitch downward. Boeing engineers allowed the MCAS to be fed information from a single sensor with no redundancy because “they calculated the probability of a “hazardous” MCAS malfunction to be virtually inconceivable.”

The Federal Aviation Administration also agreed and did not adequately inform pilots about the MCAS in their manuals. Unfortunately in the case of Lion Air Flight 620 in 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines 302 in 2019 that lead to two fatal crashes, killing 346 people. Boeing was later charged with fraud and ordered to pay compensation of 2.5 billion dollars for concealing information from the FAA.

Failures For Dollars

There were failures on the part of Boeing and the FAA, who overruled their own engineers in the regarding the 737 MAX 8 and there have been well documented quality control issues with the MAX 9 (the plane involved in the Alaska Airlines incident). A U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure report also pointed to the FAA’s practice of delegating some of its inspection functions to Boeing’s own engineers, noting that this structure “creates inherent conflicts of interest that have jeopardized the safety of the flying public.”

The grounding of the MAX 8 cost Boeing 21 billion dollars. Still, the 737 MAX 8 and 9 still have 4500 orders combined so far but it seems like Boeing’s push to make a profit – which that haven’t done since 2019 – has lead to cutting corners in their race to compete with Airbus. Travelers can only hope there are no more accidents before oversight of Boeing, investigations, and changes both to personnel and production are implemented.

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About Anil Polat

foxnomad aboutHi, I'm Anil. foXnoMad is where I combine travel and tech to help you travel smarter. I'm on a journey to every country in the world and you're invited to join the adventure! Read More

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