Lots of folks ask me what it really is like to pack up everything and move to a new country and start learning a new language. In some ways, like describing a spiritual journey, it's almost impossible to convey the reality of it--the joy, the strangeness, the adventure, and the challenges.
Thanks to my good friend, Tony Busse, who's been here six years, I had a lot of information when I decided this would be my destination, Panama City, Panama. But when I arrived on a sort of scouting expedition (even though I had already committed to moving here on February 1st) last October for ten days, that data was exponentially and dramatically expanded. Living here for just over ten weeks now, I have even more knowledge and awareness about this new identity as An American In Panama.
So here are some of the things I've discovered and learned:
A knowledge of Spanish is only essential if you want to have the full experience of being here. Many expats don't bother with more than a few phrases, "Hello." "How much?" "Yes." "No" "Goodbye." They think they are having a full expat life, but I don't agree, which is why I am focusing a lot of time and effort on learning the language. After extensive reading of studies that show learning and speaking a new language is a way to enhance memory and brain health, I have even more of an incentive to do so. But it's a real challenge, having been monolingual all my life.
Latina women are friendlier than most women in the U.S., and beautiful younger women seem to genuinely like relating to and flirting with older American men. They really don't all look like Sofia Vergara, but enough of them are in her class of beauty to make for a very pleasing esthetic. And if you're a man who likes pretty women in summer dresses, this is the year-round situation here.
When I read that the average year-round temperature here was 82 degrees, I did not realize that this meant that at least a couple of months would be in the 90s. That's hot, but having lived in Miami for ten years, I am quickly adapting.
A major advantage is the easy availability of cabs you can hail on almost any street, and the $2. fare with no tip that will get you anywhere in the city. But traffic is terrible, worse than Boston and the Interstate 405 in LA, and there is no rush hour--it is all rush hour except on Sundays and holidays. Much of this is due to massive construction projects throughout the city, mostly the state-of-the-art new Metro subway system, that is supposed to be finished next year. This is why I am so lucky to have found a place to live in the El Cangrejo neighborhood, where just about everything, including great restaurants and several casinos, is within walking distance.
Though my street is in pretty good shape, many of the sidewalks have chunks of cement missing, or sudden curbs that appear to take you up or down the hilly city. If you don't watch the ground, you could break your neck. Sometimes the smells are not too pleasant, though the air is generally cleaner than most U.S. cities.
The prices can be 40% to 50% less than the U.S. Restaurants are particularly inexpensive, and a nice meal for under $10 is the norm, plus retirees get an additional 25% discount at many places, even if they are not locals. The meat is not tainted by hormones and chemicals, and most of the fruits and vegetables are organic. The tap water is also very drinkable.
Some of these things I've mentioned before in blogs and on Facebook, but they are worth repeating as I find myself appreciating them more each day of my new life here. Other than a great trip last week to Lake Gatun, I have not explored much of the vast outdoor experiences of Panama. I haven't even yet visited the highly regarded botanical garden and rainforest within city limits. Or more than one of the many beaches on both the Pacific and Atlantic sides. Or visited the Embera Indian villages.
The wonders I have yet to see and experience far outnumber the ones I have already explored. That is perhaps the greatest attraction of this small Central American nation. There is always more to see and do, and you learn to take your time down here. After all, Siempre hay mañana.
I also have another blog focused on Prosperity. http://MoneyloveBlog.com