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Six months

We’re taking a break from the apartment remodel work so I thought I would take a quick look back at our first six months in Panama. This won’t be real exciting, because our stay so far has been relatively free of surprises and disappointments. I think our current satisfaction with how things have gone can be traced to three things: First, we did a LOT of research before we made this move. Second, before we committed to Panama we spent a month here, in 2006, looking for potential problems. Lastly, we benefited in that we were moving from a place (St. Croix) that had a surprising number of similarities with Panama and we had long ago shed ourselves of most North American expectations on how things should be.

First, our two disappointments: We still don’t have our permanent visa - it appears that we got caught in a logjam created when the immigration law was changed. We’ve been told, no problem, that everything is ready to be signed - apparently the guy doing the signing either has writer’s cramp or lost his pen. Meanwhile our small box of household goods sits in St. Croix and it’s back to Immigration to renew our temporary visa every three months.

Disappointment number two. We haven’t made a lot of progress in learning Spanish (Jane is much better than me). Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective) it’s been a little too easy to just get along. We’ve found it difficult to set aside time to study and that’s what it takes. My hope is that when we get settled in the new place language study will become more of a priority.

Now. what’s the fist six months been like: It’s been a fun, busy and exciting time - lot’s of things to do, people to meet and a new culture to absorb. We also have been worn out and occasionally bored by the experience. Here are some observation in no particular order of importance.
  • Shopping - (one of Jane’s favorites) The selection of goods is much better than St. Croix but probably not as good as where you currently live. We have most of the stores you have (wherever you live) or their equivalent. Prices - on average, less expensive than the U.S. unless you absolutely need that favorite name brand from back home - in that case it’s expensive or you can’t get it here. Shopping tip - if you see it on the shelve and THINK you might need it - buy it, because it may be “out of stock” for the next six months, or longer.
  • Groceries - Grocery stores here are on a par with the best in the U.S. Except for that inventory thing (lack of) where items disappear for long periods of time. Produce and meats are cheaper, everything else seems to be priced similarly to the U.S. Selection is pretty good, just don’t expect everything. Name brands can be pricy. Frozen foods a little iffy - you can never tell how many time it’s thawed enroute.
  • Transportation - When we lived on St. Croix (island, 6 x 27 miles) we HAD to have two vehicles. So far in Panama we have resisted the temptation and continue to rely on taxis. Fares are very reasonable, but can vary widely for the same trip - 25% of the time we get the same price as a local (generally older drivers), 25% of the time they think we are idiot rich Americans (we just smile and walk away), the remaining drivers will ask what they think the customer can pay and we then agree on an acceptable charge. We’ve also hired taxis by the hour if we have several errands to run. It’s working for us.
  • Medicine - Jane gets all her medications WITHOUT the need for a prescription at prices way below U.S. prices and then gets a “retired persons” discount. Availability has been good, although she does have to visit several pharmacias on occasion.
  • Medical Care - Inexpensive and professional. We have purchased health insurance for hospitalization only as visits to the doctor’s office are so inexpensive.
  • Banking - We finally opened a local bank account at Banvivienda (say that fast three times and you win a prize). We were doing fine with our stateside bank (no ATM charges) until we started the purchase process on the apartment then it just became easier to open a local account.
  • Remodel - For our kitchen remodel we needed a LP gas pipe moved. Young man arrived (on time) with his helper, worked a total of seven hours (no break) and did a great job. Two guys, seven hours, the bill was ninety dollars - couldn’t get someone to visit the house on St. Croix for that. Louie, the handyman at our rental apartment, has been doing some odd jobs for us (painting and demolition) at the apartment - he gets $4.00 an hour, a little more than minimum wage, and seems to be thrilled. He does good work, too.
  • Casco Viejo - Liking it more each day. What I like best: the plazas and small parks - and the normal everyday things that happen in them. Evening walks with Wags with stops to sit on the park benches and listen to the waves.
  • From Jane - I’m trying to get a book exchange started. So far, I have been unable to find a location. I love my morning walks with Wags but have to be very careful on the narrow sidewalks. (Someone told us the drivers manual says that cars have the right-of-way and they usually take it.) Not too many people know that Wags is an Australian Shepherd. I’ll walk by and hear, “Chow, chow,” or “Lassie,” or “What kind of dog is that and does he bite?” Now when we walk people call his name and goes to be petted. The little old ladies on our street really like it when we stop by, everybody smiles. He does love people.

Will try to make another post later in the week. If I’m totally ignoring a subject that you’re interested in - let me know. Take care.

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