What We’ve Learned

We first landed in Panama May 10, 2014. It is over a year now and time to look back at some of the things we have learned over the past year in Panama.

Perhaps the most difficult adjustment for us has been seeing so many stray dogs and cats roaming the streets. We have never seen an aggressive animal and they all coexist nicely; cats, dogs, chickens. They are not pets as Americans know pets.


Some people put food out for them, some expats feed them, but it is definitely very different and an adjustment when first living in Panama. There are dogs on the beach,

Just a beach dog...
Just a beach dog…

sleeping in the roads or in parking lots

Dogs will sleep anywhere...
Dogs sleep anywhere…

and just roaming around. There is a non-profit group (many of whom are expats) known as “Spay the Strays” who work with local vets who volunteer their time to help curb the overpopulation of homeless animals. To animal lovers such as us, it’s a very heart-tugging situation. Some expats have rescued dogs and/or cats and do have them as pets but animals in yards of local people are usually workers. Their job is to guard the house and warn of anyone entering the property. They are not brought into the home, are fed and cared for but are not petted, scratched and loved in the sense we Americans are used to. Difficult adjustment.

Fuego, fuego everywhere

Let’s talk a little about fires. Our last permanent home was in New Mexico and if you know anything about that beautiful state, you may know it’s VERY dry. Often the humidity is below 10. Fire is very dangerous in NM and in high fire season smoking outdoors is not permitted nor are campfires, fireworks or anything else that could cause a fire. It was quite an adjustment to realize in Panama much of the trash and yard debris like leaves and branches is often burned

Burning debris and yard waste...
Burning debris and yard waste…

on the side of the road, in the yard, anywhere it happens to be. At first, we would see smoke

Burning something...
Burning something…

and get that “uh oh” feeling, but we had to get used to it because at any given time we can stand on the back side of our building and see four or five fires burning.

More burning...
More burning…

Sometimes they appear unattended but we think there must always be someone keeping an eye on them.

Fires in the hills...
Fires in the hills…

Some people close their windows on that side of the condo when there are more than three fires blazing to avoid the smell and any ash. We love the smell!! Often there are various wood branches burning and we just find it fragrant.

Fireworks are fun

Another adjustment was fireworks. Fireworks are everywhere and often. There are actual permanent firework stores as fireworks are not just for holidays. Panamanians LOVE fireworks.


For birthdays, weddings, holidays, even just because!!

Fireworks for any occasion...
Fireworks for any occasion…

We often see fireworks along the beach on weekends and people in the condos cheer for them. I’m not talking little firecrackers. I’m talking big ole 4th of July kind of rockets and loud and colorful fireworks. We were here for New Years Eve 2014 and the display along the beaches from Coronado to Gorgona lasted an hour and a half.

Fireworks everywhere...
Fireworks everywhere…

I kid you not. It was an amazing sight. There are no rules about when or where fireworks can be ignited. We have seen them in the park, on the beach, in neighborhoods…. there is no regulation and Panamanians will celebrate anything or nothing with fireworks.

Mail call

Another peculiarity we have observed is that there are no addresses and no mail delivery in Panama. Once a month, an electric bill is put on or under the door. They are actually hand delivered, no envelopes and no on line payment either. At certain times of the month, there are long lines of people in the grocery stores at the customer service counter waiting to pay their bills. I believe automatic payment from an account can be arranged but you can’t jump online and pay. We’ve also heard that Cable Onda (Cable One in Panama) works the same way. And if you don’t pay the bill, they turn off service. No three warnings, no notice. Your bill, your responsibility. End of story. There are clusters of postal boxes near larger towns and you can arrange to have one of those but from what we have heard, the service is not very impressive. Many expats use services such as Mail Boxes, Etc. where, for a monthly fee, they have a MBE address in the US (many are in Miami but I’ve heard of others) and mail that comes to your box in the US is forwarded to the local Panama MBE where you have an account and you pick it up there. This seems to be the more reliable method of receiving mail and I believe the monthly charge is about $25.

If you think about it for a moment, having no mail delivery and no addresses has its own set of problems. We are at a condo that has a name (Playa Serena Beachfront Resort) but if we weren’t, how do you call a taxi? Have pizza delivered (and there ARE one or two delivery places) or invite a new acquaintance to your home. It’s more like turn left at the MiniSuper (M/S) Jonathan then follow the road to the big turquoise house and turn left — get the idea? Kind of complicated. The directions to the hairdresser are “turn right at the T then when you pass the tree in the middle of the road

Yes, past the tree IN the road...
Yes, past the tree IN the road…

take the first left and it’s four houses down on the right”.

While we are at it, what is a MiniSuper?

M/S Gorgona...
M/S Gorgona…

These are also called Chinos. They are convenience stores ALL owned and operated by Chinese families who settled in Panama during the building of the Panama Canal. They are handed down family member to family member and calling them Chinos is not considered disrespectful or politically incorrect.

M/S Angelina
M/S Angelina

That’s just what they are and there are a lot of them. Our condo is a couple of miles from the PanAmerican Highway and we pass five on the way home, or maybe six. Two are within walking distance from the condo. They sell everything from eggs to chicken to laundry detergent. One of the unique things is that if you are baking and need three eggs, you can buy three eggs. You don’t need to buy a dozen or half dozen.

M/S Johnathan...
M/S Johnathan…

You can buy three. If you are making a sandwich and want a slice of cheese, you can literally buy a slice of cheese, the individually wrapped kind, one slice. One battery. One can of coke, one roll of toilet paper and on and on. Just a little different, huh?

Keeping things trimmed

Interestingly enough, machetes are used to trim shrubs, clear brush and whatever other yard work needs to be done. We have seen shrubs shaped without clippers, hedges trimmed without trimmers and all kinds of things done with only one tool, the mighty machete and someone who knows how to use it. It’s an interesting and versatile tool that, in the hands of a pro, can do just about any yard maintenance.

And then there is the job of cutting the grass. We have seen very few lawn mowers in Panama. The weapon of choice to cut grass is, oddly enough, a weed wacker.

"Mowing" the lawn...
“Mowing” the lawn…

At any given time we can hear a faint buzzing in the distance of someone cutting grass with their weed wacker. It seems tedious and odd to us but there are a lot of hillsides and not very many large lawn areas so I guess it makes sense or at least we have gotten so used to it that it no longer seems odd.


We have also learned about unlocking cell phones, Sim cards and how to change them out and keep them charged up with time/money. We’ve learned about USB Sticks for internet service. One tip here, it’s a good idea to have your phone set up as a hotspot in case you have no other way to get on line.

We have learned how to watch US TV and how to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) for accessibility to sites that are not available outside the US. A VPN assigns your device a US IP address so these sites become available to us. Most recently, we have been introduced to the Kodi operating system which gives us access to movie’s, USTV Now (access to CBS, NBC, ABC and many other channels).

Mostly, I think we have learned a different style of life down here. Things move at a slower pace here. You might have to wait in line sometimes here, but nobody seems to get upset about it. Traffic jams, yes they happen, nobody minds. It’s just they way it is down here. Panamanians always greet you with a “buena” or “hola”. School kids wear uniforms. Everybody does their “own thing” and everybody else is fine with that. Is life perfect? No. Is life perfect ANYWHERE? Not that we have seen. But down here, for us, it’s pretty darn close.


9 thoughts on “What We’ve Learned”

  1. Bob, we so enjoyed your year’s report! You do such a fine job! Can’t wait to see you guys! Safe temporary trip home! Are we going to have more fun or what??!!!
    Love, “Quiet Riot”!

    1. Hey Peaches (and Andy). Thanks and we are looking forward to seeing you two too!! I’m sure you will have everything scoped out in Boquete by the time we arrive. Safe travels and we will see you in late August.
      Love and friendship… Suzi

  2. Thank you so much for posting. I thoroughly enjoy your pictures and posts on FB. And Suzi, you look marvelous–love your platinum hair!

    1. Hi Janette! Glad to know you are enjoying our blog and FB posts. I wasn’t sure about the hair at first but I’ve gotten used to it and I embrace it now. I must admit, wash and wear is certainly easy!!

  3. Ah – your post took me back to our travels through Central America and the expat experience of living in Panama. Getting used to the stray dogs was difficult, especially when some appeared to be ill or starving but I loved the fireworks for every occasion and the friendliness of the people. It’s so fun to look back on a year of learning about another culture and another way to do things. Panama is certain to have years of new adventures and things to learn ahead for you! Anita

    1. Yes, it has certainly been a year of learning and adjusting. The slower manaña lifestyle has certainly been more of an adjustment for me than for Bob but, I must admit, it’s a nice lifestyle once the adjustment is made. The learning and adjusting is all part of the fun.

  4. Wonderful, wonderful! Publishing a book from your blog might be something for you to consider! Your writing is wonderful and so interesting. It makes me feel such a part of it! Thanks so much!

  5. Like you we have set our sights on Panama for our retirerment. House sold and we are on our way to being nomads. Trying to figure out what to do when we have to be out of house in Aug. Wrap things up here and head that way sounds like you just have to jump right in. Any words or advice you want to share. Thanks for your blog great reading.
    Joyce and Jeff

    1. Joyce and Jeff, good luck with finding your dream. I sent you an email and would be happy to answer any questions you might have. Just do it!!!

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