Eight Things We Learned While Living in Panama





Where were you in the Winter of 2013? Here, in Wisconsin, it was common for us to hit -55 degrees or so, due to wind chill, weekly, throughout the entire winter. There were piles of snow and more snowfall daily, leading to one of the harshest winters of our adult lives. My recently acquired husband, Nick, despises the winter and everything it brings us yearly. He wants the warm sun, pleasant breezes and a reason to go outside.

So, on Halloween, 2013, after the hellish sale of our downtown condo, armed with several stuffed suitcases, our laptops, and my average Spanish skills, we jumped on a plane to Panama. We stayed five months and returned on April 1st, 2014 (yes, April Fool’s Day, no pun intended) to the states. It was a new and different experience like no other and here are some of the things we happened upon during our travels.

It’s Hot, Really Hot

Real hot. Imagine waking up in 90 degree weather with 90% humidity every day. At least that was what it felt like. Panama City is 31 degrees Celsius on the average day, 87 degrees Fahrenheit, and there is lots of humidity. During the rainy season, it feels almost unbearable to an outsider. However, January through March is the summer season in Panama.The weather is much more temperate and the breeze is abundant.

They Speak Spanish…I Think

Spanish is the official language of Panama according to Maps of the World. Whether you are in the city or the outskirts, the Spanish language will surround you. Panamanians have created their own version of Spanish and have a dialect all their own. They cut off the ends of some words and use only parts of others. Some words are solely Panamanian in nature and only used within their country. The challenge of using my Spanish everyday in every aspect was no easy feat.

It’s Really Cheap

panama foodPanama can be a cheap place to live, eat and play. Living in the outskirts or the countryside of Panama can be really inexpensive. Rent in some places can be less than $400 a month and electricity can be as low as $50 a month. Food is no exception, according to AngloInfo, a website for English-speaking would-be ex-pats. Eating like a Panamanian is a sure way to keep your food bills on the lower end of cost and to enjoy all the fresh fruits and vegetables. Entertainment can be a steal too. A movie for two, including snacks and beverages, can be less than $15. However, International Living, another website for the geographically ambitious, tells us if you live in Panama City and want to spend lots of money, there are lots of places that cater to that as well.

It’s Loud….Very Loud

contruction inPAThe rush of the city and clamor of life in Panama City is like nothing I have ever experienced before. Encuentra24, another website designed for English-speaking visitors to Panama, talks about this in detail, explaining that the city has been extensively built up along the shoreline. There are always people walking about, incessant amounts of traffic and construction everywhere you look. People are all over the city. Lots of people walk and even more use the bus. So, if there aren’t crowds of people to swerve through, then there are slews of people waiting in line for the bus. Rush hour takes on a whole new meaning when people don’t use their turn signals and are always leaning on their horns. If, by some chance you can manage to hear over the traffic, construction will be the next most abundant sound. There is new construction, renovations and expansions going up all around this sprawling city due to this up and coming nature of the country as both a tourist destination and a final destination for retirees.

You don’t have to drive

Taxi_panamaWith the commute I was used to here in the U.S., I was more than ready to take a half of a year off driving. There are taxis, city buses, and what I had only ever known before as “party buses” used as daily commuters everywhere in Panama City. Taxis are a huge percentage of the automobiles on the road in the city. Some are affiliated with the city and some are not. Next to none of them having running meters and the driver’s make good of their absence to their financial advantage, as explained by Frommers.com. If you get into a cab, and the meter is either non-existent or not working, negotiate a flat rate fare before you go anywhere. As excited as I was to take some time off driving, I was eagerly anticipating coming back home and driving again by the end of our stay.

It’s Right on the Ocean

Panama pollutionA beach in my front yard and blissfully falling asleep while listening to the waves sounded like heaven for a five month living experience. Unfortunately, the water from the ocean and the river in Panama City are highly polluted. Because of this contamination, the smell is putrid and the water is most definitely not clean enough to dip in your toes much less swim in. I always wanted to know what it was like to live on the oceanfront but this was by no means the experience that I imagined it would be.

There are food stands everywhere

CocnutWhether you are in the city, along the countryside, at the beach or walking into a local bank, you are sure to happen upon several varieties of street food. You can get a little it of anything in the street. There was one vendor who operated out of a huge pineapple downtown that was big enough for a worker and the top half opened part way. The girl sold pineapple and fresh fruit. A short walk along the same street and there was arroz con leche, translated as rice with milk. This is a sweet mixture of rice and cinnamon. It is made with evaporated milk and sometimes raisins are added. They also have fried food, empanadas (stuffed pastry that can be sweet or savory) and emparedados (sandwiches) along with other roadside snacks.

They have the best mojitos

mojitoI have never had a better mojito than in Panama City. They are sweet but not too much so and full of lime and fresh mint. There are mojito stands at the fresh fish markets which are cheap and refreshing. Any bar or club will have these delicious drinks as well and they are worth a try even if you aren’t normally a fan because they are that delicious.

Whether it is for work, play or an extended stay- there are sights to see and lots of entertainment in Panama City. You can see everything on the cheap or spend your time in the lap of luxury making this city a place for everyone.

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