At times it just feels like yesterday that we packed up our Piper Cherokee and headed south with our cats and valuables: a one-way trip from Toronto to Panama.
The last five years in Panama have been full of adventure, challenge and triumphs. I want to offer a bit of advice for anyone who is flirting with the idea of moving to the tropics. Come with an open mind and heart. Come with patience and the willingness to learn a new way of thinking and the ability to adapt to a new culture.
There will be days that you are so frustrated you will be tempted to move back to your comfort zone. Take a deep breath: the frustration will pass, and the great days will soon outnumber the tough ones. Make a list of why you are ready to leave your first-world existence. You might need to take it out from time to time to remind yourself why you moved to Central America!
Karyn, on top of the world (in spirit, anyway!) during a 10K race up the mountain in El Valle in 2013
I’ve learned a lot about Panama (and about myself!) in the last five years. Here it is, in no particular order:
The sun shines everyday. The temperature fluctuates by five degrees from morning until night.
The mosquitos are worse in Toronto in July than in any area of Panama that I have traveled to — jungle included.
McDonalds delivers in less time than it usually takes to go through the drive through.
My gas bill for our three-bedroom house is $5/month.
Get ready to re-invent yourself. If this Corporate City Gal can go from sky scrapers to island Bed-and-Breakfast owner, anything is possible.
Driving in Panama is not for the faint of heart. Everyone seems to be in a hurry and drives accordingly.
There is no door-to-door mail service. Street signs are rare and homes are not numbered. “Turn right at the mango tree and left at the pink fence” are what you will soon learn to be detailed directions.
The Pacific Ocean is to the south. Yet, from our location in Coronado, you can watch the sun rise over the Pacific!
Ahora (now) often means “when I get a chance.” Ahora mismo (right now) means you will receive your service or item as soon as possible.
A visit to the doctor is $20. My dental cleaning and checkup is $40. My experience with both my doctor and my dentist has surpassed any experience I had in Canada.
Once you find a good mechanic, keep him and treat him well. You may need to drive into the city or across the country, but in the end your mechanic is one of those people that could make or break it for you here in Panama.
The garbage on the streets will at times anger you. It is improving every day. Be part of the solution and take action in whatever capacity you can. It will help with the frustration.
Your water bill will be approx $7/month.
Ano and año are two very different words. Ballena, which means whale, can mean something very different if pronounced incorrectly. (Ask me about this when you meet me.)
Always always try ,to speak Spanish when you can. You will never embarrass yourself as much as I have in the last five years (see above) — but that’s half the fun, anyway.
The rainy season is really not that rainy in Coronado.
Beer is cheaper than bottled water by over 50%
Fireworks go off randomly on any given day of the year.
You can get a cleaning lady for $20/day.
You can sit and watch your plants grow.
The bus is truly the better way to travel. Driving is bad for your mental health.
Perfect strangers when they enter the bank or a doctors office or the bus will greet everyone in the room with a buenos dias.
Do not even think about going into a government office or many banks without long pants and closed-toed shoes. You will be turned away.
Before you take a taxi — well, consult me first.
The country does not have any leash laws.
Last but not least, if you only remember one thing I’ve told you — remember the sun shines everyday!
Every day I learn more, I am challenged more, and I laugh a lot. Laughing helps during the challenging times as well as during the fabulous times. I don’t know what the next five years will bring, but I will say the last five years in Panama have been absolutely epic.