In typical senior fashion, I’m unable to transfer any of my Panama photos from my phone and downloading photos from Google Images is resulting in gibberish codes and no pictures. I seem to only be able to add this one “featured” image. This, however, appears to be almost the exact view I had of the river and the nursery on the right when I walked across the bridge dividing the main town from the local Tuesday market on the far side of the river. In any case, here’s my tale of the Panama adventure and what I learned about retiring in a foreign county from this little jaunt. I’ve divided it into three parts because I spent time in three different cities and had challenges everywhere I went. Please note: when reading these adventures, you should keep in mind that I was a 63-year-old woman travelling alone.
The first thing I did when I arrived was promptly lose my passport. I arrived at night, it was dark in the taxi and I think when he asked me for the address of my hotel, I must have dropped it on the seat and not in the bag with my other documents as I was retrieving the piece of paper with my hotel’s address on it. Imagine the panic at walking up to a hotel’s front desk, realizing your passport is missing, the taxi has disappeared and you don’t know a single human being in this country. Fortunately, the desk clerk was very helpful in telling me how I would need to proceed.
I spent the next morning at the embassy getting a new one (which you pay for again, by the way). I walked out of the embassy to discover nary a single taxi waiting for customers and the only people around me spoke Spanish (I don’t) and didn’t want to be very helpful. The driver who had taken me had given me a business card, ostensibly from the hotel, with his “personal number” on it. However, when I called it, a woman answered who didn’t have a clue what I wanted. I then tried the hotel number on the card and, in the meantime, found an English speaker who told them to send a taxi. What a great relief to have an English speaking driver show up who not only took me downtown to the police station where I needed to file a report about my passport, but came in with me, played interpreter and then helped me fill out the form. Getting back into his taxi, he casually asked if I planned to call taxis the whole time I was in Panama or if I’d like for him to be my driver. I followed my gut instinct about him and hired him. It was probably the best thing I did on the whole trip to make things feel more comfortable and manageable. So, if he ever happens to read this, I need to stop and say, “Thank you Sinar!”
Once back at the hotel, I had just enough time to book an afternoon bus tour that stopped at numerous tourist spots where you could get off any time you liked and jump back on another bus an hour later. I would have time for one stop and the concierge suggested I choose the market in the old town. I bet that would be great if I were younger and travelling with friends but when we pulled up to a warren of dilapidated stalls meandering up dark alleyways, I opted to sit it out on the bus. I reckoned I would have made a perfectly delicious target.
So – dinner time. I thought I might pick a local restaurant outside the hotel to get a bit more of the flavor of the city until I was told I probably didn’t want to choose the one across the street from the hotel (a Marriott, by the way) because the second floor was a brothel. Just driving through the heart of the city, it seemed there were modern, clean office buildings side by side with Neolithic-looking stores and houses. Figuring that might also mean a varying level of trustworthy people wandering the sidewalks, I opted for the hotel dining room.
The next morning, Sinar picked me up and drove me to the airport. I flew to David, planning to try and get a feel for this recommended city as a possible retirement site. I had already marked Panama City off the list. I was not encouraged to have both Sinar and the Panamanian woman sitting next to me on the plane tell me I definitely wouldn’t want to settle in David. Well, I guessed I was about to find out for myself but too bad I didn’t have their advice before spending one of my few days in a city that even the locals wouldn’t recommend.
I’ll tackle David in Part II.