Friday, February 21, 2014

It's A Good Day In Panama When....

A few days ago in the middle of the day we heard a truck outside.  Our dogs along with all the neighborhood dogs began barking at this strange sensation pulling up to our property. Men dressed in bright red jumpsuits walked up to our trash bin and picked up the bags and took them back to the big truck.  Clyde and I were excited and thought, "it's a good day in Panama because the trash was picked up."  Never before in my life do I remember being so happy over the trash pickup. When we first moved to Panama and were told we had trash pickup, I was actually shocked.  I really didn't expect it here at all.  The trash is supposed to be picked up two times a week but for the past six months we're lucky if they come once. And for a while they'd only come once a month because from what we heard, the truck was broke. When they don't come pickup for a while Clyde takes the bags to the office of the trash company where he and many others drop them in front of the door. Now frustrating as this all may be, the upside is that our trash pickup costs around $5 per month.

So this got me thinking about the things we accept as "normal" here that wouldn't be tolerated back in the states.  These are the things they don't tell you in those pricey magazines that write about how wonderful it is living abroad.  And our life here is wonderful but we have changed our definition of what's acceptable now, and you'll see why as you read on.

My dear hubby recently read that Panama has reliable water and electricity.  The part they left out is that it's reliable only when it's on. Frequently our water goes off for no apparent reason for anywhere from an hour to a whole day.  Fortunately we have two holding tanks of water along with a pressure pump that pushes it through for those many times when the city water is off.  When the town water is off we conserve, not doing six loads of laundry that day, watering the lawn or washing the car. But the upside is that it only costs us between $4.50 and $5.50 per month for good, drinkable water.

Our Two Water Tanks
Pump is in the purple box

As for the electricity, it's common to have short breaks in power for a few seconds, just enough to screw up the microwave clock. Some of our friends experience longer periods without electricity but for us it hasn't been too bad.  Because of the breaks in power we have surge protectors on all major appliances to keep them from being zapped. The upside of the electric here is our monthly bill costs us between $30-$40 per month, but we do live comfortably without air conditioning.

Surge Protector
One for Fridge and one for Microwave

Since the rate for electricity is high Panamanians try to use much and instead use propane.  We use propane for cooking, heating our water, drying our clothes and our bbq pit outside. We have four of these small propane bottles and when they run out, Clyde swaps it with one of the others.  So when cooking and the gas runs out we borrow one from the dryer, or vice versa.  Next time we're out he swaps out the whole tank at a local store, paying around $4.85 for a filled bottle, obviously the upside of using propane here.

Our On Demand Water Heater
with Propane Bottle

Go into any public restroom in Panama and there will be a sign on the wall in Spanish saying not to throw paper into the toilet. On a good day there will actually be paper in the restroom, but that's another story. Most of us that live here follow this practice and don't flush paper.  I know here at the house we have a septic but elsewhere I'm not sure why no one flushes paper but again it's something we've come to accept as normal.

More than once we've been at the checkout in a department store and the scanning bar on something we want to purchase won't scan.  The cashier tries repeatedly to hand key the number and sometimes even calls over her supervisor.  Still the item won't scan and the cashier tells us this indicating that we can't buy the item, end of story. I spent 13 years working in retail management in the states and know there are ways to get an item rung into the register, but not in Panama.  If it doesn't scan they can't sell it.....period!

And since we're on the subject of shopping, they don't like letting anyone try on white clothing, for fear it will get dirty. One time I tried on five different white blouses and was instructed by the clerk in Spanish, "not to get them dirty." Another time Clyde asked to try on a pair of white shorts and was told, no.  Apparently he looked dirtier than me.  Then the clerk asked him to put them back on the rack and he told her in Spanish, "no I'm too dirty."

Another time I was shopping for bathing suits and even though the sign said, "bathing suits could not be tried on," I played dumb and stood in line.  The clerk had to ask her manager who said it was ok but after carefully examining the suits one was missing the sanitary shield that protects the crotch. The manger took the suit away from me and I was not allowed to try it on or buy it apparently because it was gone when I came back out.

And one time Clyde tried on a button down shirt over his shirt in the middle of the men's department. A clerk quickly came over and told him he was not allowed to do that and would have to go into the dressing room. But the upside of all these clothing issues in the store, are the cheap, cheap prices for good quality clothing, sometimes with tags from US stores like Macy's, Walmart, Sears and more. Recently I picked up a Ralph Lauren gown that had a Macy's tag marked $150, but my price was just $50. And one last note on shopping is that once a purchase is made it cannot, never, ever be brought into the next store despite the many staples they put into the bag to seal it. They have packaterias that hold you purchases until you're done shopping in their store.

The roads here are not maintained the same as they are in the US.  Potholes are patched with loose rock which only lasts until the next time it rains.  But the upside is that we pay no taxes to fix the roads so we really can't complain.  The main highway is in good shape it's only the side roads that we have to watch out for.

We get asked a lot, "does it really rain in Panama for eight months?" to which we say, "it can."  The prolonged rainy season here simply means that it CAN rain at anytime during that eight month period, but doesn't mean that it WILL.  Just like in the US some days it rains, and some days it doesn't. It usually never rains for the whole day, just a quick shower or downpour sometimes accompanied by lighting and thunder for a nice display of mother's nature force.  The benefit of the rain is obviously that everything grows! We're surrounded by lush, tropical flowers, fruit trees, plants, shrubs and so much more.  Our hair and skin is enveloped in moisture all day long which makes me feel soft and supple.  I use less hair conditioner and moisturizer here if any at all.  And my pin strait hair now has body, sometimes even curls in this hot, humid environment.

Panama is hot and humid year round with cooler temps only up at the higher elevations.  Despite the hot temps Panamanians only wear shorts at home or on the beaches.  In public wearing long pants or jeans is the norm.  Women like to dress them up with sexy tops and high heels too. So to fit in with the locals and not look like tourists, we do wear jeans when we head into Panama City.  Clyde wears jeans all the time around our area too but I go with capris or dresses for the cooler approach. And some of the government offices and banks don't allow people in wearing shorts or flip flops so that's another reason we have to be careful. Squeezing my butt into jeans when it's 90 degrees outside is one of those things we've come to accept as normal here.

A few days ago on the highway we got stuck in the middle of a political parade.  Cars were all decorated with colorful flags and banners, honking and waving to people along the roadside.  Clyde turned off the highway attempting to take back roads to where we were going, only to drive straight into a political rally. Streets were packed with people, large tanks filled with water spraying the crowds and more. Quickly we turned around and went the other way. And yesterday on our morning walk we had to move aside to let a local band of kids go by, playing instruments and all. Yes, life is different here, but that's part of the fun that we've come to accept as normal.

Despite the different way things are done here it's a good day in Panama because we don't have to go to work.  Instead we might pack up our kayaks and take them to a nearby river for a day of paddling up stream.....along the gringo trail.


  1. Some things may be different or puzzling, but a lot of things are way more fun!

  2. It's really nice how you've integrated technology and routine in your management of water. That's really important, not just for the shortages or abundance of societal supplies, but also for the water that arrives from outside the social arrangements, such as rain water, which we really need to deal with. Thanks for sharing that! All the best!

    Bert Aguilar @ Rainfill Tanks


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