Sunday, March 9, 2008

Back to Panama.... and Curaçao?

I am going back to Panama this week....plans for a trip to Curaçao with a friend are on ice at the moment. My mother needs to be moved, and soon. We are getting the house we bought this week, so there is not turning back; and that means another three weeks away!

It is going to be a hectic trip this time, but in a strange way I am looking forward to it. Not because of the work....moving my mother to her new home is going to be far from easy. After forty years living in her parents' house, she is not going to leave without letting us know how hard this is for her!! And I do understand, really; but the house is too big and old....and charming too!! But having been the family home for over one hundred years, additions not always followed architectural rules. There are ups and downs, steps everywhere, narrow doorways, old fashioned kitchen... you get the picture.

The neighborhood is typical of Latin countries: neighbors still watch for each other, everyone knows everyone and cares. She'll miss that and we are aware of this. On the other hand, since her stroke, she needs a spacious house, with easy access to and from the street, wide doorways, a modern and convenient kitchen and bathrooms that can accommodate a wheelchair. She'll have that and more: an airy terrace, a small garden and a secure community. The property is outside of town and there is a constant breeze.

Now back to why I am looking forward to this trip...after complaining of all the others I took last year and in January..... I am trying to look at Panama as a possible retirement place; not for right now, but for the future....that will come sooner than we want! My small, Third World country has changed so much in the last few years. Hardly recognize some places and there is a building boom that rivals the one Miami have had in the last few years.

BUT with enormous differences.... Even though in Panama City things are as hectic and chaotic as in Miami at anytime of the day, the pace of life is slower even if it sounds like a contradiction! Any home you purchase will have all the latest conveniences, all the modern amenities of a place in Miami, even ocean views. Still, there manners still matter and people take time to get to know their neighbors. There is time for socializing, weekends at the beach (you can afford a second home!!!); there are great restaurants and fabulous shopping!

World class health care, including a brand new hospital run by John Hopkins University, is cheap and doctors still make house calls. How is that for service? I should know. When my mother had her stroke eighteen months ago, the care she received was superb...they safe her life and got her out of the hospital in nine days! Her therapy has been excellent and she is walking and talking and.....driving my sisters and me crazy! There are other incentives: low or non-existent taxes.

Now, what of Curaçao? Have I forgotten the island that means so much to me? NEEEEE!!! It is still very much on my mind (and Frankie's!) and that makes this trip difficult too. First of all, there's the familiar rhythm that our lives take when we are on the island; in no small measure because of our friends and some of Frankie's extended family that still live there. That would be very hard to replace....harder to give up.

On a more mundane plane, beaches like the ones in the Caribbean are not easily found in Panama's Pacific Coast. Frankie and I love the beach! Thanks to that building boom I was talking about, there are few properties on the water that are affordable anymore. Unless you decide to buy a home in a gated community right on a beach...but is this what we want? AND...could be get used to the dark sands and rough waters of the Pacific Ocean? Could we get used to the heat and humidity of this tropical country...remember the rainforest?

Still, I am going this time with an open mind. Trying to see the good and the bad of this country I left so long ago; talk to friends and family, gathering information, taking pictures and looking at everything with a new purpose......and we'll see!

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