First Trip Back to Florida

Most expats have stories of things they found different from Panama. The longer they spend here, the greater the differences. Having left Florida only 5 months ago, I was not expecting anything unusual or shocking. I still remember the grocery prices, the heavy traffic, and the wonderful big box stores. Gas prices have been relatively stable so no shock there. I noticed that I-595 is finally complete. Not really a surprise but much appreciated after years of detours and traffic jams.

So what were the “OMG” moments?

There were two:
1. Behavior of children/parents
2. Serving portions in restaurants.

We arrived late from Panama, so we stopped at Bru’s Room for a quick sandwich before collapsing into bed. The restaurant was filled with young kids, even though it was 10 PM and it was a school night. It was Karaoke night. Unfortunately, while we were there, only one adult sang. The rest of the “entertainment” was provided by precocious, untalented pre-teens. Someone must have convinced them that they could sing, because they were loud. Elementary schools start at about 7:30 AM, so having to tolerate off-key screaming while their parents consumed massive amounts of liquor so late in the evening (it was also Ladies’ Night) was annoying at best.

In Panama, children are generally quiet and polite. They do not get awards for coming in 13th place and they do not get pats on the back for invisible ‘talent’. They certainly are not being entertained by restaurant staff while their parents ignore their children while drinking to excess. They talk to their parents during dinner. They are not wired to sound and/or video. Their entertainment is their family.

The next night we went to a Thai restaurant – something that we do not have in Chiriquí. We had shopped and packed all day so we arrived with a healthy appetite. I could only eat half of my meal. Since I always took home leftover Thai, this wasn’t surprising. The surprise came the next morning.

We used to go to Bernie’s Bagels frequently for breakfast. We ordered our regular. Mine was 2 eggs, side of grits and a bagel. It was delicious as usual. I ate and ate but when I finished, I had more food left than what I ate. I got probably 6 eggs and a full bowl of grits.

That's a lot of leftover breakfast

That’s a lot of leftover breakfast

Since I got 3 times more food than what I ordered, I left 2/3s of my breakfast behind. In Boquete, I would have given the extra food to the street dogs. In Coral Springs, it went into the garbage. Then we got the bill. $20 plus tip. $20 and most of the food was thrown away. No wonder the US has such a problem with obesity.

In Panama there isn’t a lot of waste. Most people in Panama don’t have the luxury of buying things just to throw them away. Most everything is sold individually. For example, we needed 1/4 lb of squash to make dog food. The vendors at the Mercado cut the portion you need so half the squash isn’t wasted. If you need 4 cold capsules, the pharmacy will sell you 4 capsules. No need to buy the entire box when you only need 4.

What did we notice that we missed besides the obvious family and friends?
1. One-stop shopping.
2. 70 mph speed limits.

Maybe it was because we had such a diversified list of items we wanted to take back but once we hit Publix and Walgreens, we were essentially done. There are so many choices. In Panama, we have 1 choice of canned cat food. One choice is not really a choice. At Publix, we had probably 15 options. I wanted vitamins and supplements. Here, you probably won’t find what you want and if you do, they are pricey. At Walgreens, they have an entire aisle full of selections – different brands, different strengths, and many were on sale! BOGO doesn’t happen in Chiriquí. Putting together a project here normally means stops at many stores. Hanging a Guatemalan mask today took 3 stores, one for drill bits, one for hooks and one for wire. Our Do-It Center (Home Depot lite) is about 30 minutes away so we shop at the local chineys.

My daughter lives in Tampa so we drove from Fort Lauderdale. It is about the same distance between David to Panama City. 242 miles vs 272 miles. It takes about 6 hours to drive to Panama City since the speed limit is between 60-80 km per hour. That’s about 40-50 mph. Driving from Fort Lauderdale, the speed limit is about 70 mph but, without the frequent speed traps, drivers can easily go 90+ mph. The trip to Tampa – just over 4 hours.

I’m sure the longer we live in Panama, the list will grow. But you don’t move to a foreign country if you don’t appreciate the differences.

living in Panama

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