Tuesday, April 15, 2014

We Have The First One.....In All Of Central America

Years ago when we first started talking about moving to Panama, I never imagined we'd be riding on a subway here someday.  But ride it we did yesterday during a trip to Panama City with friends.  Known locally as The Metro, the subway system in Panama City is the first of it's kind in ALL of Central America.  Currently line one of the subway has 20 trains each with 3 cars that can carry a total of 200 passengers. During our commute yesterday each of the three cars were packed full, carrying a total of 600 passengers. This means that the subway has the capability to move 15,000 passengers per hour, and that number will increase to 40,000 per hour as they add more trains in the future.

Gives you and idea of the route

A big thank you to my buddy Chris for letting me
use his pictures for this one.

The Allbrook Station


We drove to Albrook Mall where we picked up our "tarjeta's or "passes" in the nearby bus station. The Metro is free to use during this initial period but we still were required to have a card to get us through the turn styles.  According to Wikipedia line one of the Metro has 16 stations of which 8 are underground, 6 are elevated and 1 is at surface level. The whole route is 8.5 miles long and takes 23 minutes to go from one end to the other. A diagram of all stops was clearly displayed on the train along with constant announcements of upcoming stops. Announcements in Spanish encouraged riders to give up their seats to the elderly, pregnant women and those traveling with young children.

When we rode, it was considerably more crowded


Panamanians enjoy like having a police presence throughout the country and the Metro is no exception. There were uniformed, armed police standing in every train car watching people come and go, making sure everyone was safe.  At one stop one of the cops  instructed a boy to step back so that the door could close safely. About half way along the route we exited the train with our friends in the El Cangrejo section of the city to find a place for lunch.  Another time got off the train in the Los Andes part of town just long enough to walk through some of the shops.

A view of one of the overhead stations  WOW!

Many people think of Panama as a third world country yet it's not looking that way anymore. By the way the term "third world" came about during the Cold War.  It simply referred to those countries not aligned with either NATO (of the US and Western European nations as First World) or the Communist Block (including the countries of Soviet Union, China and Cuba as Second World). This terminology divided the world into three groups based on social, political and economic divisions. And it's because many of the nations considered to be third-world were poorer that the stereotype stuck and is still around today in the minds of many.

Isn't it incredible!

For us Panama seems first-world in many of the things it has to offer, yet third-world in others.  It's capital city is lined with high-rise buildings, banks from all over the world, top-notch health care cheap and more shopping than anywhere else. Yet on the other hand the city water is frequently turned off either to conserve or for repairs and small breaks in electricity are rather commonplace too. But we've come to accept the little problems that arise here because the cost of living is so cheap, and our quality of life is so wonderful.  The fresh tropical air, the mountain and sea breezes and the mere fact that we're retired early and enjoying life.....along the gringo trail.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

An Exciting Weekend.....Of International Living in Panama!

A few months ago I was asked by International Living to speak at their annual Fast Track To Panama Conference, and jumped at the opportunity. Since I submitted my first article to them over two years ago it's been a thrill-ride of writing about our experiences in Panama and getting paid to do what I enjoy. From full length articles, e-post cards and even an e-letter, I've had dealings with many of their editorial staff who have all been wonderful.

A fuzzy picture of Terry doing her talk

It all started back in 1979 when they first published a newsletter suggesting that life in a tropical setting was no longer just for the rich and famous.  It went on to suggest that one might even live on less money overseas. Since it began International Living has grown to more than 500,000 readers and 200 contributors around the world. Based out of Ireland, International Living is the premier publication that sells the dream of living abroad for less. 

The three-day conference was held at the Hotel Riu in Panama City with 460 attendees.  The Exhibition Hall was full of companies trying to sell a service or a product.  Next door the conference room was where attendees would listen to a variety of speakers and expats like myself. Much of the time Clyde and I made ourselves available by sitting at an expat table.  We enjoyed chatting to the many attendees that came by for information, advice or moral support assuring them that it IS  possible to move to Panama and live happily.  Speakers were all honest about how life really is in Panama and they all made comments like, "it hasn't always been easy," "life here in not perfect, but we're still here," and many more real thoughts. IL staff members showed samples of property for sale or rent here and they were all at realistic prices too.

Whenever I tell someone that I write for International Living I receive many different comments, some good while other comments are horrible. But after witnessing first hand what they tell participants at a conference I was impressed with many things like: their honesty about real estate in Panama; they encourage people to learn Spanish; that life is not perfect here; Coronado is a lightly secured gated community; there are diseases here like dengue but it's also in the US; living here is not as inexpensive as it once was, yet is still cheaper than the US; and they do encourage their writers to tell the truth in articles along with so much more.

My talk was 20-minutes long and included a slide presentation done with Powerpoint, which my dear husband Clyde helped with.  I spoke about our lives in Panama, why we made the move, our experience with health care, our struggles with the language and this blog. All presentations were video taped and attendees received a copy of our powerpoint presentations to refresh their memories once back home. I received many favorable comments about my presentation from both audience members and IL staff.  One woman even went so far as to say, "it was the best talk of the day."

Later that night we were invited to attend a VIP cocktail party at Miraflores Locks. After being transported by bus, the social provided a nice opportunity to chat with prospective expats over drinks and food to share our experiences with them. Saturday was a long day of speaker presentations and more chats with attendees.  The finale was another cocktail party poolside at the hotel. 

I left there with a much better appreciation of what International Living provides for it's readers.  An honest, realistic view of what life is really like in Panama. I did not however speak to any of the business owners trying to sell everything from property, insurance, gold, Spanish lessons, diamonds, legal services, relocation specialists, financial investments and so much more.

I am truly grateful for having had the opportunity to share our story with so many. It was great to be able to meet and mingle with some of the International Living editorial staff who I knew only from their names and writings. And it was wonderful to make friends with other expats living throughout Panama, who we look forward to keeping in touch with for years to come. This past weekend was another wonderful, rewarding experience full of thrills and adventures.....along the gringo trail.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Dear Faithful Blog Followers........

Just a quick note to let you know that I.....you're silly, tell it like it is blogger......has been asked to speak at International Living's - Fast Track Panama: Lifestyle and Opportunity Conference to be held here.....in Panama City next weekend! The conference begins on Thursday, April 3rd and runs through Saturday, April 5th. I will be closing out the day on Friday, April 4th at 5:20 for a twenty minute talk along with a slide presentation.

Just thought I'd mention this IN CASE any of my faithful followers will be attending!  If any of you are there, please come up and say hello as we always love to meet blog followers.....along the gringo trail.
Clyde and  Terry on our bohio, Chame, Panama

Panama.....The Land of Endless Summers!

Riba Smith.....Not What You Think

The first time we spotted the store called Riba Smith, it brought to mind the name of a famous country singer. A far cry from reality, Riba Smith was actually the first supermarket chain in Panama started by two families, one named Riba and the other Smith. 

It was back in the late 20's when Jose A. Riba Robira began selling groceries back in the old Panama City, which is known today as Casco Viejo.  Business began to expand too quickly for Riba to keep up with so Lloyd W. Smith joined forces and Riba Smith Supermarkets was born.

Today many a gringo living in Panama ventures into one of their stores to find familiar products from their home countries.  Considered to be the most Americanized supermarket in Panama, Riba Smith is known to carry many of the US imports that some of us just can't live without regardless of the price. Last year Riba Smith Select opened in nearby Coronado with a special assortment of those products that might not be carried in the other three grocery store across the highway. 

And unlike the other grocery chains here, Riba Smith grows much of the produce and plants that they sell in their stores. Yesterday we were allowed a behind the scenes tour of their nursery operations here in Chame. Organized by CASA (Coronado Area Social Association) about twenty gringos set foot onto the grounds of The Riba Smith Vivero.

Our tour guide was Javier who spoke fluent English as he explained the four methods from which they grow plants: seeds, cuttings, grafting's and tissue.  Each of the four types has their own zone within the green house because each requires different amounts of water, fertilizer, sun and shade. Javier received a degree in Agriculture from a US University where he had the chance to practice his English before returning to Panama to work in the family business.

A big thanks to CASA'S Louise and her husband Barry who organized the whole event. Just another day of new experiences and the chance to learn something new.....along the gringo trail.

After taking the tour Riba Smith offered our group a selection of sandwiches, pasta, fruit and drinks. Many CASA members picked up a few new plants to add to their gardens before heading home for the day. 

View of Nursery and Plants Just Starting
Javier explaining things to gringos

Attentive Gringos

Another View
Riba Smith Workers
Irrigation System and More Plants
Entrance To Riba Smith Vivero, Chame, Panama
More of the Vivero Grounds

And More

Making a Purchase

Expansion Project Across The Road


Friday, March 28, 2014

Under The Big Top.....At Renato Circus

Since we've lived in Panama several small traveling circus' have popped up here and there, and last night we finally entered one of these big tents to see the show. "Circo de Renato," or Renato Circus is a Mexican based business that seems to travel through Latin America.  A few weeks ago they made themselves known as they drove into the area showing off the animals in large trucks. A Panamanian friend raved about how great the show was so we decided to check it out ourselves. Besides......our electricity was out yesterday for six hours and we really didn't want to have to talk to each other anymore.....so we went out for the night.

Entrance to Circus......
Notice the dead grass, this is the dry season in Panama
Tent with animals

Camels and Elephants
Posing with hunky performers.....and Renato.....
Yes I do realize it's just a photo!
Clyde dreaming about Cat Ladies

Along the side of the road in the little village of Coloncito, sat the large, colorful tents of "Circo de Renato." We parked the car and joined the crowds that were standing around admiring the animals who looked rather undernourished to me.  Among them were elephants, zebras, horses, camels, tigers and a kangaroo too. "Boleto's" or tickets to the circus were $5, $10 or $15 depending on where one wanted to sit.  We paid just $5 each being jubilados (retirees) but were directed to the cheap seating area anyway. Seats were orange, plastic seats with backs on them which turned out to be a nice surprise as we'd expected wooden bleachers. All seats no matter the price had a great view of the ring since they were elevated in the huge, nicely built tent. In a world where locals live on little money, I thought ticket prices were rather high.  Not to mention the tons of junk food, toys, photo's and other stuff they were selling once inside to get more money out of people.

The worst "raspaduro" ever.....a snow cone topped with a jelly-like syrup
and sweetened condensed milk.  Way too sweet....the Panamanians make them much better!!
Good thing we only bought one!

Ladies dressed in Funky Cat Suits.....in a cage because they're dangerous
Or to keep Clyde away?

Tigers.....oh my!

Renato being silly
Renato seemed to be the main performer who entertained the crowds dressed as a clown for the most part. But this talented performer appeared in just about every stunt sharing the stage with all of the other performers too.

Michael Jackson is Alive.....traveling with a Mexican circus!

Michael Jackson character doing stunts

Renato again.....interrupting the trampoline act

Clowning Around

Camels performing and Renato

Horses....and yes Renato again
And more....

Clyde thought this might be one of the illusive "zonkey's?"......
Half donkey, half zebra?  But we all know Clyde's not quite right!

Elephants.....and guess who that is?

And more.....

Still more.....
Unicyclist performs

A kangaroo boxing with Renato.....Clyde thought this was hysterical

The kangaroo kept kicking him, looked painful.....
perhaps he's had enough of this guy?
The animals acts started the show with Bengal tigers, camels, horses, elephants and even a kangaroo with boxing gloves to delight the crowds. The crew quickly dismantled the animal cage and set up for other acts like trapeze artists, clowns, motorcycles in a cage, daredevil acts and so much more. I'll let the pictures tell the rest of the story since Clyde took a bunch.  And once again we were the only white faces in a crowd of Panamanians, as we enjoyed a fun night under the big top.....along the gringo trail.