Thursday, April 3, 2008

Living in Panama.....part Two

Small towns, all over the world, have a charm all their own. Life in any of them offers alternatives to big city living that many people find just right. From best selling books like Under the Tuscan Sun, A Year in Provence, and others in a similar vein, we have been fascinated with small town living. True, we have not have a small town in Latin America made it to the world stage as an ideal retirement spot, but who knows? Panama can offer us the first one!!!

The town does come alive at different times of the year: New Year's celebrations, when Carnival really starts; then for Carnival itself, days of revelry that rival anything in Rio or New Orleans. After that Lent comes to town and things get very slow; but this is the time to enjoy the North wind that gives the town a freshness that is delightful. Sunsets are magnificent and there is no rain!

This is the time for day trips to rivers and streams, running clear and cool throughout the countryside. The days are still hot, but bearable; the nights are breezy and cool. More than once I have sat out in the veranda wrapped in a light shawl, even a pashmina...I know this sounds an exaggeration, but it's true!!! And it is such a welcome change.

On the other hand, this is no time to go to the beach....even if it is the dry season. The ocean is cooled by the Humboldt Current, strong and traveling all the way from Antarctica to Alaska... In Panama, the Pacific roars and churns, with high tides that can take so much off the beaches, high waves that bring water full of sand. The water is murky and you can't see the bottom. Not something I enjoy, anytime. I want to see my toes through the clear blue water and the small fish swimming around my legs. Never mind that, I have the Caribbean for all that....right?

Regardless, this year while I was visiting, I woke up early and went to the beach house my family has overlooking the Pacific. I would walk for an hour along the shore, picking up small shells, breathing in the salty air, hearing the crashing of the waves. Afterwards, a cool shower with well water and I was ready to face the day, the heat and everything else!

In the rhythm of life, Holy Week comes next. Inexplicably, the wind dies down and the heat becomes unbearable. This was when I arrived this year...... so the more than week long celebration was one succession of very hot days, breezy and slightly cooler nights, visits to the hospital, to the bank, to the construction site.....did I mentioned our new house was not finished when I got there? Yes, of course.....and I have gone there to move my mother....

The town comes to life, especially on Good Friday. The procession comes out from church as soon as it gets dark and winds around town through dark streets. It is very solemn...something like Seville in the Tropics. My sister and I walked the length of the procession this year.

After these celebrations are over, others come along: patron saint celebration, Independence Day, other religious and political holidays. Time passes slowly, and people that stay in town all year around, settle into a routine. If you like excitement...don't come! same if you think you cannot live without movie theaters, classy restaurants or other such entertainment!

Another thing that I have rediscovered, people in Panama do not know how to live in the Tropics...and I thought in Curaçao they hadn't a clue!! Everyone here walks around complaining about the heat, women carry fans everywhere, water is always served ice cold....with ice in the jugs!! Showers are taken at all hours, windows are thrown open as soon a people wake up, disregarding the fact that light from the sun....brings more heat! Once again: Europeans have not adapted well to the climate.

Still, all this can be worked out. Expats can adapt to anything and I know for a fact that I can too. Slowly, I started to keep the windows closed to trap the coolness of the night inside; opening them only after dark. I took showers early in the morning or late at night, drank water kept in a cool place...I remembered there used to be earthen containers holding well water and they were covered all day...the water tasted so sweet and cool. Progress is not always good!

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