Expat Interest

Things Ex-Pats Should Consider: Volume 1

I have done a “Favorite Things” ongoing volumes of my favorite things about living in Panama, so I would like to do a least favorite things list too. It seems only fair. It is a list of things you should probably consider before committing to living here. If you are pretty laid back, these things will not bother you so much. But if you expect Panama to be the same as a pristine suburb in the US, you may be very disappointed. These things apply to Panama City:

1. Garbage. There is an ineffective garbage pick up service in Panama City. Trash piles up fast and sits a while. You will see piles of it on street sidewalks, often feeding feral cats.

2. Sidewalks, or the lack of them. Sidewalks in PTY are more like an obstacle course. On one block in my neighborhood, which is San Francisco, an upscale community, there are three two foot deep holes, four rusty pipes sticking up from the broken concrete, several mud slicks, three sections of broken tiles, many splits in the concrete where tree roots have pushed up the concrete, two long patches where there is no sidewalk at all and the curb is a full foot long step down. My husband and I are gamers and like to think of it as gaining experience points while walking; “OK, that was 5 XP getting over that hole, 2XP for avoiding the pipe, 10 XP for not getting hit by the oncoming cars and 50 XP if we get across Via Porras alive… it’s like human Frogger.” The guards at the bank across the street cheer when I make it across the street and I break into a victory dance.

3. Traffic. The traffic scares the hell out of me. The only relief from fear I have is the notion that the majority of this chaos is gridlock in the city in which goes slowly and is unlikely to be fatal if you are in a crash.

4. Car horns. AAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH! This is the worst! Panamanians honk their fucking horns at EVERYTHING. All the time. All day, all night. No consideration for other people at all. No courtesy, no common sense. The traffic could be backed up because of construction and everyone is honking, as if the car in front of them can magically take flight and move forward at their whim. I think all car horns in Panama should be forcibly removed. It is a huge detriment to the city, a black eye on what is otherwise an awesome place, despite the negatives.

5. The heat. The humidity. This should probably be #1 but this list is random. The heat and humidity here is fierce. It is brutal. You go outside and you are sticky and hot. For those like my husband who professes to be “a lizard” this might be just fine. If you are one of those alien creatures that professes to be cold in 90 degree weather… eat a sandwich, and the heat might be fine for you. For the rest of us, it is uncomfortable and we must make ways to cope with it easier. I carry misting water bottle and fan with me. I walk with an umbrella to keep the sun off of me. I am pale and I don’t tan. I burst into flames like a phoenix.

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These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things: Volume 2

El Valle de Anton –
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There is something almost mystical about “El Valle”. As you round winding roads, white knuckling turns and come upon this open valley, it feels like a hidden paradise. The market on Sunday Mornings is my favorite time to go. I love hiking up to the painted rock and dipping into the waterfall on the way down.
Ceviche

ceviche
Because… ceviche! Nothing is better than that on a hot day, which is almost every day here.

Thunder & Lightning
rain
Panama puts on spectacular thunder and lightning shows during rain season. If I am quiet and don’t multi-task, it is meditative.

La Praline Chocolatier
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On Via Porras there is a new boutique chocolate shop. It is amaaaaaaazing.

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 I have professed my love for Theater Guild of Ancon before and here it is again in the favorites list. This is where I met most of my friends and established a new life.

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Panama thrives and is among the happiest nations, according to Gallup poll

Gallup and Healthways produced the annual “State of Global Well-Being Index,” which this year analyzed 135 world countries in five elements, including financial stability, social relationships, community safety, physical well-being, and sense of purpose (i.e. contributing to society). The results might surprise you. Often, people think of happiness in terms of Polynesian islands and a lot of mai tai drinking in a hammock. But Panama came in number one by a landslide. Panama is growing, changing and moving with a rapid speed that is sometimes breathtaking. In a constantly changing country like this, it is easy to find a way to be part of that change directly, and with that, you feel like you are changing the world because in some little way, you are. According to the Gallup poll, 63% of people in Panama are thriving in at least three of those elements.

Here are the 10 happiest countries, with the percentage of people who are “thriving” in three or more of the elements of well-being:

  • Panama: 61 percent
  • Costa Rica: 44
  • Denmark: 40
  • Austria: 39
  • Brazil: 39
  • El Salvador: 37
  • Uruguay: 37
  • Sweden: 36
  • Canada: 34
  • Guatemala: 34

Gallup Poll at Business Insider with a map

A numbered chart

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5 Gadgets & Apps To Make Expat Life Easier: Volume 1

WhatsApp____Home    

Whats App – What’s App is a phone messenger service that lets you text internationally for free. Super easy.

 

 

Google_Translate

Google Translate – Voice to text and back again, Google Translate is extremely useful when trying to communicate in those beginning (and middle) stages when language is a serious barrier. 

 

 

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Kindle – Oh dear, Kindle! Download books wherever, whenever. Make sure to get the one with the international download capability. 

 

 

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Rosetta Stone – Simplified language learning. For romance languages like Spanish and French, you would be surprised by how much you already know but did not realize you know. Rosetta Stone is pricey but easy. Conjugate those verbs!

 

 

Uber

Uber – Find a taxi quick. This tends to be set up more for the first world countries but it is a great service.

 

 

 

 

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These are a few of my favorite things…

There is a lot to enjoy and experience in Panama in every corner of the country. This is Volume #1 of my favorite places and experiences in no particular order:

VOLUME ONE: “IN THE CITY”

 

Parque Metropolitano
Smack in the city is the huge 232 hectare natural reserve which hosts an abundance of wildlife and natural beauty. Sloths, tamarinds and gorgeous blue morpho butterflies are easily seen if you go very early in the morning.
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The Plaza de Francia in Casco Viejo (French Plaza in colonial Old Town)
With a mix of stately architecture, galleries, cafes, a beautiful flowery garden tunnel and a gorgeous view over the bay, this is a perfect place to have a romantic stroll, have an icee and just chill.

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Restaurante Las Tinajas
If you are not visiting Panama during a festival, then the folk show at Las Tinajas might be your best chance to see the beautiful Pollera, national costume of Panama, up close. The music and dancing are excellent and so is the food.
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Raspaos (Panamanian snow cone)
Hand-shaved raspaos are a favorite street food in Panama, with vendors carting around large blocks of ice to carve the treats fresh to order. The shaved ice is mounded into an easy-to-hold cone before being doused with a variety of fruit syrups, including cherry, grape, pineapple, lemon, and passion fruit. If you’re looking to add an extra kick of sweetness, ask for a thick drizzle of condensed milk (as shown above), malted milk, or honey.
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Amador Causeway
A chain of islands that were created by the relocated soil moved when cutting and expanding the Panama Canal, the islands are now a stopping point for cruise ships and a favorite hangout of tourist and locals alike. The islands are connected by a road so you can drive there. Rent a little bike buggy and putter around with your family, skate, bike, run, or just kick back and have a tropical drink and watch the sunset over the bay. I have been told there are several swanky nightclubs there but that’s not my scene so I don’t know if they are any good. 
Amador-Causeway

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Expat Interest, Reviews, Tourist Interest, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

True.

quote_twain

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Time lapse of Panama City

Credit to 5D2Max on Youtube –

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Aaaand… here’s a rant!

     I have been in Panama for twelve days and my physical and mental health has improved so much it is alarming. It is amazing what being around good friends can do. Being in a place where I feel I have opportunities is freeing and relieves much stress. Living in the US is bogged down by so much bureaucracy and negativity that it permeates everything. It is so prevalent that it seems normal, when in fact, it is unhealthy in my opinion. In California in particular, the cost of doing anything is so high that it is prohibitive. The sense of adventure is gone. It is a nanny state that regulates every aspect of life and calls it freedom. Some might like living there and that’s great, but it is not for me. There is a sterile kind of safety in living in California and in much of the US I have experienced. The houses are cookie cutter dollhouses. The people are going the same direction. The media rules the mental landscape with images of unattainable crap that people nonetheless spend their lives striving to obtain. The cost of buying a house is so high it is painful. You could work toward it for years and years and still not succeed. If you are lucky, you can get the house, the two kids and the mailbox painted bright red with a rooster on it and still have enough money left over for a week long vacation once a year. Saving money for a comfortable retirement is out of reach for most Americans. That’s why we have “mother in law cottages” in the back yard. You work your ass off for 40+ years and end up living in your kid’s back yard. As an American expat living in Panama, I have a unique situation, and really my situation is unique even among expats.

I am not retired. I run a business of my own and so does my husband. We both work from “home” which really means that we can work anywhere in the world as long as we have high speed internet access for downloads and uploads. Our “office” is portable. We have lived in Prague & Budapest, and traveled often while working. We make good money – comfortable middle class America money. Our clients are based in the US, Canada, UK, and Western Europe, all countries that pay premium costs for work. High wage countries. In my opinion the smart financial thing to do is work for expensive countries and live in the more affordable places. In the US, I found that we were working our asses off with little to show for it. It was work just to work more; a tiresome cycle that felt like a hamster wheel. 

Cost of living was so high that there was not much savings, or not as much as we would like. If we wanted to start a small business with a storefront, the cost and risk analysis showed it was not worth it. Most small businesses in the US are barely scraping by and at the end of the month don’t show enough profit to really make much difference. People stay stagnate and don’t have a chance to grow at what I consider a good rate. If you do own a small business in the US, you have to worry about frivolous lawsuits from employees (which are contagious- one person sues for bullshit reasons and more follow suit if they think they can get away with it), overregulation from the government and most of all a fucking Walmart moving in next door and killing your business overnight. I tried to open a small juice stand at a farmer’s market in California  (a farmers market!) and was told I needed multiple permits, inspections, a taco truck style regulated kitchen (it had to be in a taco truck style vehicle – several thousand dollars) and a business license. A juice stand. Hey, here’s a cup of juice… juice stand. Nope. Not possible. Kids can’t run lemonade stands anymore. Seriously, police have shut down lemonade stands run by ten year olds. I am not saying I want to live in the wild west with no regulations, but I do want to live in a place where the overzealous regulation harpies are not actively working against the idea of people making a living. If you are out of work and need to make a living, you should be able to do what you can to make a living without some lifeless, dead eyed government drone in your face holding a stack of obstacles. Just now, as I wrote this, a friend who is reading it said,

“Yes, but the government has to make sure everyone is not poisoning the population with the lemonade stands.”

My response,

“With all due respect, bullpucky. McDonalds can put formaldehyde in our cheeseburgers and the government doesn’t give a crap. It’s about money and squeezing every wheezy shart of money out people’s pockets and sustaining useless government committees to employ useless people. 

Living as an expat in Panama (which is a different paradigm than being a local, certainly) gives me the lower cost of living so that I can save money and do something with it. Open a business, travel, take a vacation, invest in something or someone, give more to charity, help out friends and family when they need it and have something for retirement. It means that if I have a business here in Panama I can afford to pay employees really well and have lots of extras and bonuses, job perks and overall, a more pleasant experience for the employees and myself. It means I can own a house, or two houses and rent one out, which I do. There are rules and regulations, of course, and I follow them and respect them, but here, for the most part, things are practical and make sense. There are some whackadoo things, for sure, but far less than the endless labyrinth of obstacles in the US. I will be honest with you though, the traffic is a nightmare, it is uncomfortably hot and humid, the sidewalks are pock marked with holes and pitfalls and Panama has it’s hefty share of problems, but the freedom I have here with my unique situation makes up for all of that, or at least most of it. Living here has helped me get in touch with the truly important things. I can connect with deeper things. I have time. Not just money. Living here buys me time that is precious.

Yes, I am ranting. No, I am not sorry. Ok, a little sorry. But sort of not sorry at all. Rant. Rant rant rant, but you gotta admit, I’m onto something.

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I’m in Panama!

After a hellish flight (I had seizures on the plane) I am back in Panama and finally had a night of sleep. To make a long story short – or maybe to just make a long story, here is a quick run down of what is going on with me:

– I have a rare and treatment resistant form of Epilepsy and I have had it since age eleven. This influences almost all decisions I make.
– I used to live in Panama but moved back to the US because of family issues.
– I have been planning to move back to Panama for several months.
– Two weeks ago (in the middle of my move) I discovered a medication that works for my seizures. My plans were tossed around quite a bit because the medication is not available in Panama.
– I planned to stay in California for medication reasons, or at least in the US.
– Then I realized I would be giving up my happiness, so I stuck everything in storage and hopped on a plane.
– Now I am in Panama without the medication and trying to figure out a way to either get the medication here or cope without it.

Note: Epilepsy medication is easily available in Panama, but what I have is rare and complicated.

So, now my belongings are in a storage shed in California. I am in Panama with nothing but a carry on suitcase (I pack hella light) and a loosely woven plan.

For now, I am going to focus on fixing up my house here in Panama, something that needs to be done whether I stay in Panama or not, and focus on being happy. I’ll figure the rest out day by day. I do really enjoy not having “belongings” now (I might liquidate what I have in storage later) as I can go where I want and do what I want.

My dream life is to live in Panama most of the year and one to three months of each year, travel. Financially I can do that if I live in Panama. I really want to stay.

From my balcony

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How I live the way I want and travel the way I want.

I have the good fortune to be able to travel often, and I have been asked often how I got that good fortune and what I do to maintain it. How am I able to spend an entire Summer in Paris, or hop around Eastern Europe for months at a time? Don’t I have a job? Am I rich or something? Yes, I have a job and no, I am not by anyone’s standards “rich” though I am comfortably middle class- right in the middle. The answer is that it took a lot of life building on my part to get to a point where I can live my life the way I want to, live almost anywhere I want (note I said almost) and get to do these things. It certainly did not happen by accident. 

 

I don’t have children. I made a decision early in my life to not have children. Not because I wanted to travel, but because of many, many reasons. While I am sure it is possible for some super-parents to be able to do this kind of stuff with a family, I have never met anyone that does. Not having the cost of raising children has freed up most of my income to do with as I please. No, I don’t consider it a sacrifice because it was a well thought out choice.

 

I decided to quit college after four months. I actually consider this a good thing (for me) because I realized I was not getting an up to date or applicable education that would actually get me employment. Instead, I was being forced to take useless classes that had no bearing at all on what I signed up to learn to do. I realized pretty early that my goal was to work for myself in the future, so I didn’t really care if a potential boss cared about my degree or not. I knew I would need more chutzpah than most to be able to bypass the hurdles that would come from not having a degree, but I weighed that decision against the idea of starting my adult life with thousands of dollars in student loan debts I would never get out from beneath, and decided I preferred chutzpah. I have never regretted that choice. My husband made the exact same choice after one year in college, for the same reasons. We are doing quite well. I am not saying that not going to college or quitting will work for you, but I’ve never had a problem and I believe that the American tradition of “if you don’t go to college you will be unemployable or flipping burgers” is a myth. It depends a lot of the kind of career you want. Some require college truly. Others don’t and yet people still think they do. It seems a horribly expensive decision to make on auto-impulse.

 

I am successfully self employed. My husband and I own a small software development company that employs 8 to 10 programmers (8 full time, 2 part time specialists) from around the world. We started the company with no start up cost, save a computer and a lot of talent and hard work. No bank loans, no maxed out credit cards. Just work. We both worked in the IT industry before, being employed by large companies and proved our worth to employers, built reputations for excellence and reliability. Then we branched out on our own, hired amazing programmers and now everyone in our company works from home – virtual office. What this means for us (and our employees) is that we can travel or live anywhere, as long as reliable high speed internet service is available. In 2005, we sold everything we owned and moved to Panama, bought a house and have been happier than we could have imagined. We operate our business from a home office, usually spending 9 months out of each year in Panama and the rest of the year traveling elsewhere. While we are away from our home, we rent it to visitors for short term stays, covering our mortgage and often making a profit. We work while we travel. We don’t do the ‘sight seeing all day, every day’ kind of travel (though that is fun), and we prefer to stick to one place and have more time there to explore at leisure and soak up what life is really like. When we plan well, we can usually have 3 to 4 day work weeks (though we check in to see if problems occur) and have the rest of the week off, since our company is running on it’s own while we are away. We have to be connected. We don’t ever really get days off because if a client needs us, we will be there without complaint, but this style gives us the opportunity to travel while we are still young and to be able to afford extended travel. We usually rent short term self catered apartments rather than hotels or hostels. We can go to Buenos Aires, spend the mornings working and be tango dancing by 3pm. It is a different way to travel and live. It is a lot of work and a lot of hassle, but it is worth it.

 

I enjoy my work. For the way I travel, this is very important. I actually like what I do and I enjoy doing it, so if I have to spend all day inside on the computer while in Paris instead of going to a beautiful garden, I am OK with that. I don’t begrudge it. The garden will be there when I am done. This requires being pretty laid back about everything.

 

I’m laid back, man. Chill. I tend to just go with the flow no matter what. When you travel a lot, it helps to have an easy going attitude. I don’t expect things to go my way. I figure if things do go my way, it’s a lucky bonus. I have traveled with very regimented, uptight people before, where everything was expected to work on schedule, like clockwork, and any interruption to a plan or a routine was met with irritation and fear. In my opinion, those interruptions are part of the experience. I tend to be annoyingly rigid when it comes to my work while traveling, because I want to make sure I am always on time for my clients and always meeting deadlines, but the rest of it – bring on the chaos.

 

Low cost of living at home. We keep costs at home fairly low, making it easier to have expendable income and to justify leaving for months at a time. The car is a used Toyota Corolla, the house is awesome (we like it) but we bought it in 2005 for $147,000 (in Panama) so the mortgage is low. We tend to shy away from spending on material things and prefer to invest in experiences instead. Living in Panama instead of the US has made it possible for us to live this way. We lived in California for years and watched our money be chewed up while getting very little in return. So we moved.

 

I limit exposure to naysayers. This is a difficult thing to do, but I try to limit the amount of time I spend around negative people, particularly the ones who enjoy telling me that things are “impossible” or that I “should” live a certain way, according to their life plan. When you are doing what you want to be doing, those people will come out of the woodwork and do their best to inflict their own misery on you. I don’t let them infiltrate my life. That doesn’t mean that I don’t listen to well thought out advice, or concerns. It just means I don’t listen to haters. To live your life as you want (travel related or not) takes immense courage, and you shouldn’t let haters slow you down.

 

I am always trying to do something new. I decided a few years ago that I wanted to be in theater. I had done a lot of theater work as a kid, and then in Panama, I thought “How am I going to be in theater here?” It turns out it wasn’t that hard. I found a theater, I auditioned, got a part and have been in several plays there. A couple years later, I decided I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to write over the top, pulpy novels, the kind I enjoy reading for escape. So I wrote one. I published it, and people bought it. So I wrote more, and people bought those too. So I was a writer. Then I decided I wanted to be an artist. Well, that one was harder for me, but I’ve only been painting for three months and I just hung my first piece in a gallery, and no, I am not very good. At all. Like, seriously. But my art is up there for people to see, and I’ve been hired by an author to illustrate the borders of a children’s book. So, I think that makes me an artist. A good one? Probably not, but an artist. I wanted to start a company, so I started one. I didn’t ask for anyone to validate my ventures with a piece of paper or their permission. If you want to do something, do it. Don’t think you need to wait for someone to tell you it is alright. If it’s safe, sane and right for you, do it. If you have this attitude, you will rack up so many awesome experiences in your life resume, and travel will be richer for you.

 

It’s all just my opinion and experience, but I hope this helps.

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