Thursday, April 3, 2008

Living in Panama...part One

After the factual part, the part where I looked at the place as a possible retirement home, I tried to see the everyday life. This was, in part more difficult since I had no chance to spend time in Panama City. The day I arrived, my mother's sister had a stroke, or something similar. As soon as I got out of customs, my cousin and his wife were there to pick me up with the news. I was planning to stay in the city for the weekend; but this changed everything.

We went back to their home and got ready to drive the almost four hours to the small city where our mothers live. It was not an easy trip, I can tell you. I was exhausted and they were nervous. We arrived at the hospital to very sad news. My aunt was in intensive care and not expected to make it. The next two weeks were an up and down ride that made everything else more difficult. That is why I only got a real feel for small town living. The kind you would enjoy must of the time, but cannot tell if you could take for long periods of time.

The town where my mother lives, Las Tablas, is located in an area very popular with foreigners. They have been buying property for years. There are luxury hotels, mansions by the sea, chartered planes delivering celebrities to their hideaways. From the French architect Gilles St Gilles, to Prince Max of Liechtenstein, who is married to a Panamanian, to Toby McGuire of Spiderman fame, the area has become very popular with the rich and famous. Fortunately, it is a large area, and there is something for everyone.....including retirees on a budget!

Pedasi, the town closer to the rich and famous, is beautiful, with charming cafes and restaurants and an air of prosperity that is refreshing. It is only forty minutes away. The beaches, at the end of the inverted U that is the Gulf of Panama, are beautiful. The roaring and churning found up the coast gives way to clear waters, white sands and breathtaking views. By now, prices around here are out of the range of most people! Still, it's worth the visit.

The heat of the Tropics is felt here more than in other places. It gets so hot, I could only run errands in the mornings. Everyone should get time for a siesta, but it is not a way of life there. Everyone goes home for an hour or so, to have a heavy meal with tons of iced water! Then rush back to work and things resume in the heat of the afternoon. Can't understand that! Everyone seems tired and slow and somnolent. I have never been one for lying down in the middle of the day....but I did!!! Even without air conditioning, those few minutes made a difference. Another thing, I learned about life in the Tropics!

Life really starts at sunset; it used to be that early evening was the time to visit, hear family stories, sit in the cool verandas and converse. People went abroad and walked about, passing other people's homes and greeting everyone. Children played in the streets and in the parks and the evening was full of life. I remember this from my visits to my maternal grandmother during school breaks when I was a child.

Nowadays, novelas or soap operas have taken over and there is little social interaction anymore. This is especially true in smaller towns. Everyone is inside, watching television in the homes that have taken the heat of the day and stored it like an oven. This is because the cool houses of the past, made of mud and straw walls with tiled roofs, are disappearing. New ones are made of cement blocks, nobody bother anymore with trying to position the houses to catch the wind. If there are visitors, everyone sits in front of the TV and watches, commenting and arguing, taking these televisions productions as serious parts of their lives. How sad!

The average expat, I'm sure, will not conform with this pattern. On the other hand, this way of life can deprive you of much needed contact with the locals. I know it did me! A couple of my cousins showed up in the evening for a drink, something to eat, a dessert treat and lively conversation...others stayed home watching the ubiquitous novelas!!! Maybe it is not that way in the city, there are so many things to do and see there.....but I am not sure I want to live there. Big dilemma!

I am sure Frankie and I will refuse to get into this small town pattern! I observed that there are expats living all over the place, average people who look tanned and healthy and happy to be in the area. They patronize the supermarkets, drugstores, walked through the town at all hours. I didn't approach any of them, but I am sure they have their expat groups, their activities, their new lives to enjoy. It would be worth exploring these alternatives. After all, I am an expat at heart and would be happier continuing to live like one, even in retirement, even in the country of my birth!!!!


Pratishtha Durga said...

OMg, Goddess... what terrible news to arrive to!

The hot, humid days remind me of Mumbai... though *this* city is not half as charming.

Sunset Goddess said...

I know! and I still have to go back and move my mother....

The place is charming, and the people friendly, but I am still of two minds!!!....