Driving Like a Local

As mentioned in an earlier post – driving in Panama is not for the faint of heart!  I found the below quote on a group/blog/forum. Granted this is referring to Panama City, but it could also apply to David!

“We finally had to hire a cab that we could follow to get us to Via Espana in order to return the car. Worth every penny and more!! Driving here in Panama takes a combination of sheer grit, sheer terror, sheer stupidity and hair trigger reactions. If you can’t think lightning fast, don’t rent a car.”

I laughed when I read that, it is so true.  In David there are only a few traffic lights and they are not always “turned on.”   Yes, that is true – the traffic lights will be off and other times on.  Don’t know why that is.  In my opinion they should always be on, the traffic is always crazy in David. Also, the streets here are very confusing, some roads run diagonally. Even people that have lived here for years still get mixed up on the streets in downtown David.

I’ve been so impressed with Jim. He is driving like a local. On a recent outing he drove on the shoulder to get around cars turning left, he went between two buses – one bus in each direction, he backed out of a parking spot into traffic with nary a worry in the world, and didn’t stop for anyone, regardless of age or agility, at a crosswalk.  The only department Jim needs work on is using the horn!!  They love to honk here.

It took me a good eight months to finally drive to David, though I only stick to the outskirts and avoid the true downtown area.  One reason is our car is manual transmission and I am not comfortable nosing into two lanes of crazy traffic to make a left turn.  Also, as mentioned above the way the roads run and crisscross can be really confusing.  We know a local man who drives to the outskirts and uses a taxi for the true downtown area, and he has lived here for almost 15 years.

I think I may try to video driving in David, so you can see what I am writing about.

 

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Maiden Voyage

February was a fun and active month for us!!!

Some friends had recently purchased a boat.  I believe their main focus is to use it for fishing, but also to go to the nearby islands for a day at the beach. Actually, I think their main focus is to have fun anywhere.

We were lucky enough to be invited to go on its maiden voyage to the local islands for a fun day of swimming and eating.

 

Jim enjoying the ride.

Our friend will have a local boat captain on board for the foreseeable future so he can learn the waters from him.  The waters are not marked and it is my understanding that the GPS does not show the small rocks. All I know is that it is a really smart move on the part of the boat owner to do this.

We met at the local marina and boarded ship.  Our first stop was Isla Bolanos.  They say there is good snorkeling at these beaches.

Me and another – swimming to the beach as Isla Bolanos.

The water is clear and the sand is white.  After a bit we decided to go to Isla Gamez, a short boat ride away.  Here is another really pretty beach, but the snorkeling is not as good.  We all brought food to share and had quite a feast.  By the time we got to Gamez the weather had cleared and it was a beautiful sunny day.

A mystery friend – that is one way to protect from the sun!

Snorkeling at Isla Gamez

 

Successful Administrative Day

Oh my gosh.  Jim and I had what we call a “Successful Administrative Day” back in mid-February.

We needed to renew the car’s license tabs.  Well, not really tabs, but the actual license plate. Every year you get a new license plate.  This year’s color is yellow (the border of the plate), last years was blue, 2015 was red.  We (ok, Jim) knew what needed to be done, but not necessarily how it would all play out.  Mentally we had resigned ourselves that this was going to be an all day adventure – as most administrative things are here in Panama.

We knew that our auto insurance had to be current, that you have to have the car inspected and then take these documents to the Municipal building, where God willing and if the stars align, you get the new license plate.

We went to renew our insurance.  Turns out we were still good through April. The lady highlighted the “good through” date on the paper for us. That visit was just a few minutes.

Next stop was the car inspection place. I was actually able to direct us straight there!!!  Downtown David is a crazy mix of roads and I easily get turned around. Jim does pretty well with it.  The car was inspected, and passed.  This  step  was maybe a half hour or 45 minutes at the most.

The next and final stop was to take the documents to the Municipal building, but we have no idea where to go in the three story building.  As we approach I see Informacion.  I say “let’s start there.”  We go in, tell the guy at the counter in broken Spanish what we want.  This turned out to be a good idea because we needed copies, which they do there.  We paid our 5 cents for the copy and he directs us to a door just down the hallway.  We stand and watch for a few minutes, then get in a line.  The guy says in Spanish that we first need to pay the caja (cashier) then come back to him.  Interestingly, Jim is the Spanish speaker of the two of us, though there are times when I can understand what is being said and he doesn’t.  I may not know any of the words, or maybe just one word, but I get it.  On this day Jim didn’t understand what the guy was saying, but I did.  By hearing the only word I understood, caja, and him pointing to another line, I understood. I said to Jim “I think he wants us to pay over there and come back.”  Yep, that’s what he had been saying. In and out of the Municipal building under 30 minutes.

Boy, were we proud of ourselves on our successful (and easy) administrative day.

 

Floating Gualaca Canyon

Friends invited us to join them and another couple (who are Russian and were renting a home for a couple months) for lunch in Boquete and then to swim, or float, the Gualaca Canyon.

We went to an Italian restaurant that is above the town with a pretty creek running next to it. Good food and a really great setting.

 

After lunch we headed the scenic back-way home, but instead, turned off at Gualaca to head to the canyon.

Gualaca Canyon

This is fresh water and a pretty area. The locals are amazing how they can climb up the rocks, and do it in just seconds.  It was almost more fun to watch them climb and jump in than for me to swim.  I did really enjoy the fresh water though.

A local kid climbing up a canyon!!

We had the not so brilliant idea to swim against the current so that we could re-float back down the canyon (instead of getting out, walking a short distance, get back in the water and float).  Let me tell you that current is strong.  Granted I am not a swimmer by any means, but my friend is.  I was first to reach near where we got in and I said, “boy, the current is strong here, I can’t go any further.”  My friend gives me a look like “how hard can it be?”  She gets next to me and is also amazed at the strong current.  We had to re-float from there, but first we had to take a breather.

The three of the six that swam.

It was a really fun day.  We love learning about new areas to see and things to do.

 

To Tint or Not To Tint

We say NOT!!  At least not super dark.

I posted about our purchase of a vehicle here in Panama.  As mentioned in that post, the young lady added tinted windows, along with a bigger and louder alarm system.

Car - the day we purchased it. Note the tinted windows.

Car – the day we purchased it. Note the tinted windows.

After living with the car for a day (almost literally) we realized that the alarm was a pain in the tush.  It went off all the time (false alarms) and was loud.  The spec alarm is just fine – in our opinion.

As to the tint, we really liked it.  We didn’t have to wear sunglasses, we were incognito, and it kept the car cool (though we weren’t to appreciate that aspect until later).  A drawback was that I’d wave or smile and no one could see.

Again, we liked the tint until we drove for the first time at night!!! OH MY GOSH.  We could hardly see even with the brights on.  I do have to say a contributing factor were the dashboard lights. They are so bright (and blue) that it added to the difficultly of seeing at night, to the point where sometimes we’d lay my purse against the dash to cover it.  We looked to dim the dashboard lights and after much research find out that this car does not have an adjustable dashboard light. You’ve got to be kidding.  Sooo, putting those two factors together – super duper dark tint and super duper bright dashboard lights – we decided there will be no night time driving.  The only night driving we allow ourselves is just in the local Boca Chica area once in a while (so that we can actually go out now and then).

For months we’ve been talking about taking the tint off.  Jim even you tubed the process.  Well, it was getting down to the wire.  We knew that we would have to drive at night, from David to home.  So time was of the essence to get that tint off.  I “threatened” that I’d stay in a hotel and he could come pick me up the next day.

The other day was “the day.”  (That was actually back in mid-December).  Jim reviewed the video, prepped the supplies and got to it, doing the windshield only.  The removal process worked like a charm.  I was so excited.  We then drove to David for errands and learned a few important things:  1) we noticed that without the tint the front seat area is (very) significantly warmer.  Definitely need to wear lots of sunscreen and need the AC on more.  2)  We used to be able to drive with no sunglasses, now we need them. 3) The tint from the front side windows needs to be removed.  It being so dark and now having to wear sunglasses makes seeing out the side windows difficult.

Here are some pics of the process.  Jim is such a handy guy.  I am so lucky.

Black plastic garbage bag over the tint.

Black plastic garbage bag over the tint.

Tint removal.

Tint removal.

And the tint is off!

And the tint is off!

It will be much nicer driving at night now.

It will be much nicer driving at night now.

 

 

The Immigration Office Experience

I believe I’ve previously written about some of the process for obtaining our pensionado visa -about getting the necessary paperwork, fingerprints, FBI reports and documents together to give to our attorney. Which he then took to the appropriate offices.  In December he let us know that the documents have been approved and we need to go with him to Immigration in Panama City for the final step of signing documents and getting our picture taken for our permanent resident pensionado visa.  We make arrangements to meet him in PC the beginning of February.

To do business in Panama is a formal affair, or at the least, business casual.  This means that men have to be wearing long pants, no jeans, and women cannot have bare shoulders. In other words  people, this means no shorts, no flip flops, no yoga pants, and most skin covered up.  A little modesty goes a long way. I totally respect that there is an element of formality and don’t begrudge this at all.  In fact, I kind of like it.  Knowing this, we dress appropriately, or so I think! Jim is wearing khaki pants and a button down shirt. I’m wearing a skirt with high heels, a tank top with wide shoulders and a small scoop neck with a lightweight sweater (this is a must, it can get cold awfully fast with the AC running).

Our attorney picks us up at the hotel which is just a few blocks away from Immigration. We arrive and go through security into a very crowded room. Jim and I pretty much stand there as our attorney and his assistant are going to various lines doing this and that.  At one point the three of us are standing against a wall – all the seats are full.  I’m actually starting to get warm – I guess the AC couldn’t keep up with all those warm bodies.  I start to take my sweater off and our attorney’s eyes get big and he says “I’m so glad you wore that sweater, you can’t show your shoulders.”  I immediately put it back on, he says it’s okay, he will block me from view.  I say no, no, I am fine with the sweater.  He told us that if I hadn’t had the sweater on, security wouldn’t have let me come in!!!!!  He tells us a story of one of his clients.  The client showed up in shorts and, of course, was not allowed in.  He ended up renting pants from a water bottle vendor outside.  He paid $5.00 to rent the too big pants that he had to cinch. Apparently he thought he bought them and wore them back to the hotel, but ended up returning them the next day!!!!

So, as we are standing there our attorney asks us for our $200 ($100 each), a fee that Immigration charges.  Jim and I look at each other.  We had totally forgotten that we needed that – in cash. Immigration doesn’t take credit cards.  Plus, our attorney never reminded us of this as we were making plans with him. We have something like $194 when we notice a cash machine.  Jim goes to the cash machine over by the entrance – it’s empty. We then scrape together another two dollars in change, making a total of $196!!!  Our attorney doesn’t have any money because he gave it to his assistant who was doing things for another client. It is decided that our attorney will take Jim to a cash machine a few blocks away.

I am left alone in Immigration with no passport, no driver’s license (this was all given to the attorney that morning for the “process”), no American id of any kind, and not a dime to my name.  I am sitting with a zillion strangers in a foreign country where I know about 10 words.  It was a little frightening and intimidating.  I finally found a seat and just read my kindle.  Though at one point I was imaging a scene like in a movie – me sitting there in a crowded room, a couple hours later, me sitting there in a little less crowded room, and eventually me sitting there alone in a virtually empty room still waiting for my husband!  Good thing he likes me.  That could have been his golden opportunity!!!

Jim did come back, with our attorney, and soon our name was called.  We signed some documents, had our picture taken, and we were done. This only took a couple hours, tops.  We had planned on being there close to all day.

We are now officially legal residents of Panama!

 

 

Evening Shower

I love this picture.  I took this from my phone (as are all my pictures taken) a few days ago.  We were sitting on the terraza for our evening happy hour .  The weather was a little cool, with a light rain.  So beautiful.

A December evening shower. Beautiful.

A December evening shower. Beautiful.

 

The Dentist Appointment(s)

Back in early September we had an appointment for a dental cleaning and check up.  We found the dentist by asking around the expat community.  On the day of our appointment as we approach the Pan-American Hwy we find that it is closed due to protesters.  This is my understanding of the situation – the indigenous people are upset that a dam was built. Although the dam is completed they still continue to protest their displeasure by periodically blocking the highway and roads.  We didn’t know how long this protest was going to last so turned around and went home.  Called the dentist office to explain as best we could in our Spanish. Subsequently we heard from someone that maybe that dentist isn’t quite so good (just one opinion though, many people were happy with him). However, I decided I was on the hunt for a dentist again.

A few weeks after that we were in David having lunch after running errands.  A gringo couple came in and sat at a table near us.  At one point I heard the man tell the lady about his dentist and how much he likes her and what a good dentist he thinks she is.  I tell Jim I’m going to ask him who his dentist is.  Jim says “no, don’t ask he’ll think you were eavesdropping.”  Well, I guess I was eavesdropping, but by accident, they were sitting right there! I go over and say I heard him mention a dentist and that we are new to the area and looking for a dentist would he mind giving me her name. He was happy to.

A few days letter I whatsapped the dentist for an appointment – yes that’s right, I contacted the dentist directly.  In many instances you get the dentist/doctor’s actual cell number, not an office number.  She texted back that her assistant would be contacting me to make an appointment. The assistant contacted us that day and we made an appointment.

Her office is in one of the local private hospitals (versus the public hospital), as are many of the doctors’ offices.  Jim went right in to his appointment and I swear was out about 20 minutes later.  I went in and was out 20 minutes later.  She saw us both for a check up (no x-rays) and a cleaning in under an hour! Here the doctor does the actual cleaning. She was good, but tough. My mouth and gums were sore for a few days afterwards, but feel that we got a good cleaning. We will definitely go back to her for our next check up.

 

Our First Thanksgiving

We experienced our first Thanksgiving in our newly retired life here in Panama.  We were invited to a friend’s home for Thanksgiving, as were pretty much all the expats. Thanksgiving can be a time of thanks for anyone, whether you are American or not.

He and his wife host Thanksgiving every year. They supply the turkey and the invitees bring all the fixings.   The original invite was to their home.  They have a huge covered outdoor kitchen and sitting area which is open on three sides.  Due to the tropical storm (soon to be hurricane Otto) high winds and rain were forecasted.  Being open on three sides would be not be good in that situation, so the gathering was moved to another location.  This beautiful spot is set in lush gardens and is closed on three side – much better for any winds and rain that may develop.

It was a fun time with wonderful friends and great food, and no wind.

One of my favorite highlights – as Jim and I are driving to the party, Jim says “This is the first time I’ve worn flip flops on Thanksgiving.”  Boy have some things changed for us!!!!

 

More things from September

Some more really important and noteworthy items from September!!!!

One of my projects (versus a Jim project) was to put a privacy film on the bathroom windows.  In October we had our first visitors (that is an upcoming post) – two young ladies.  I thought they’d appreciate the privacy in the bathroom.  The window is on the small side and faces the front of the house where no one is (there is no one in the back either, just Playa Hermosa), but still it should have privacy.  We had asked our builder for frosted windows in the bathrooms, he said ok, but alas, we did not get them.  Oh well, I got a project and a sense of accomplishment out of it.

Me having no idea how to accomplish this, I used my friend Google.  Lo and behold I found all kinds of information and videos.  One of our local hardware stores actually had the privacy window film.  I purchased a roll, watched a couple you tube videos and was set to go.  The first window I did, my practice window, was in our master bath, the toilet room.  Then did the window in the guest bath and then went back and modified the first window I did.  I just needed to trim the film better.  Need to buy another roll to do the other window in the master bath.

Before - no privacy window film.

Before – no privacy window film.

After - privacy window film.

After – privacy window film.

September also saw the last night of the Tiki Bar – it closes for the month of October (slow season).  To “celebrate” the closing the theme was Havana Nights. We were to dress in white, there was a salsa contest (as in dancing, not eating), and were offered Cuban food and drinks.

Havana Nights at the Tiki Bar

Havana Nights at the Tiki Bar

Here is a picture of Jim’s feet trying to salsa dance.  It was a fun night.

Jim's on the left - salsa dancing

Jim’s on the left – salsa dancing