Wednesday, February 28, 2007

13 Not-So-Conventional Reasons to Love Panama

By Mona Sutherland

Most of us have already read the myriad of articles about Panama, not to mention the “About Panama” section on the websites of every real estate agency promoting property in the region.

There is no doubt that Panama possesses numerous advantages, including its strategic geographic location, incentive program for retirees and a relatively low-cost of living, amongst others. However, some of the reasons that I particularly enjoy living in Panama cannot be when searching for the most obvious reasons, such as the Panama Canal (After showing my 4th visitor the Miraflores Locks, the outing becomes slightly monotonous) or its proximity to Miami (I’ve never been to Miami in my life!). Certain pleasures can only be recognized after living in Panama as a foreigner for some time.

Though I appreciate the similarities that Panama and the “Western World” share, I also cherish the differences, since they are what makes my life here truly unique and exciting.

Here are 13 reasons why Panama makes life so interesting:

1. Casco Viejo
-Casco Viejo is 100% different from the towering high rises scattered along Balboa Avenue. Casco Viejo has an interesting blend of architectural styles, most notably ornate Spanish- and French-influenced buildings. However, in addition to the amazing views and unique architecture, there is always something quirky going on in “the Casco”! My roommate is the president of Panama 9º80º, a lifestyle and travel magazine about Panama. Her offices are in Casco Viejo and I get an absolute kick out of dropping her off some mornings. It isn’t often that I get to laugh so hard I almost wet myself at 7:30 a.m. Much better than coffee! (Okay, that was an exaggeration. Sorry coffee.)

One of my favorite “Casco moments” occurred one morning as I was dropping my friend off at work. As we turned the corner onto Avenida A, we saw a little boy of about 7 years old peeing in the street. What made this pee different was that he was not facing the wall or partially hidden amongst the narrow alleyways, but was rather on the edge of the sidewalk, practically in the street, facing the traffic! As we neared the situation, we saw a projectile yellow liquid spurting from his body and said, “That can’t be!” However, it was. To this day, that little boy and his “necessities” still put a smile on my face.

2. Wine
-South American wine, from Chile and Argentina, is much less expensive than in the United States. However, who said you can have your cake and eat it too.

My friend and I were succumbing to our vices one night, and went to buy wine and ice cream at El Rey supermarket. As we were checking out, the $3.50 appeared on the screen as the price for the wine. I said to my friend, “How great is it to live in a country where a good bottle of wine is $3.50!?” Then, the ice cream came, and $8.50 appeared. My friend and I were in utter shock and disbelief. Since then, we have sought out other, less expensive means to satisfy a sweet tooth.

3. Sushi Itto
-Sushi delivered to your front door…Do I need to say anything else? If you think that there isn’t sushi in Panama, then you are in for a delightful surprise. Sushi Itto, in my humble, sushi snob opinion, is the best delivery sushi in Panama. Their Philadelphia rolls and Edamame are extremely scrumptious.

What’s even more interesting is when I’m walking to work or walking my mini schnauzer and the Sushi Itto delivery guy honks and waves as he zooms past on his little red moto. It must be a small world after all. Or, I order a lot of sushi!

4. American Dollar
-This is a commonly cited “reason” for why Panama is so great, and I agree whole heartedly!

For the foreigner, especially Americans, it is great because it doesn’t become “Monopoly money.” It is easy to be aware of exactly how much you are spending. There is no labor-intensive addition, subtraction, division or multiplication involved to figure out the price of a soda. So, in Panama, it is easy to grasp the value of what we purchase, instead of throwing away our Monopoly money at any and every chance we get. This is especially useful if you are off to the casinos!

5. Patacones
-Patacones are twice-fried plantain patties and incredibly delicious. I had not discovered them until my arrival in Panama, and I am a self-proclaimed patacon addict!

6. Albrook Mall
-Albrook Mall is a large, air conditioned indoor shopping center that offers a wide variety of discount stores and boutiques, as well as a food court with carousel. Be sure to check out El Costo, Oca Loca and Conway for some great deals!

These stores are magnificent for retail therapy. You can walk away with about 15 shirts for $20. Even if you wear them just once, it’s a lot cheaper than Target.

7. Opportunities
- Panama is like the Wild West of Central America. There is a huge variety of employment, business and investment opportunities just waiting to be taken advantage of. After being in Panama for almost any extended amount of time, everyone catches the entrepreneur fever.

8. Slang
-Though I don’t make it a habit to use it in my everyday speech, I must confess that I get an absolute kick out of the Panamanians’ faces when they see a full fledged gringa talking like she’s from the barrio.

9. Cable TV with ABC and CBS
-All the great things of Panama fused with Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune and Grey’s Anatomy. Does it get any better?

10. Taxis
-Finally, inexpensive taxis! Taxis in Panama are abundant and relatively inexpensive, a fare costing from $1 to $2 to most location in Panama City. However, taxi meters are not typically used, and therefore it is recommended to negotiate the price before leaving. If you understand and speak Spanish, you can overhear and engage in a number of colorful conversations with drivers.

11. Cayos Zapatillas, aka. Zapatila Cay
-Zapatilla Cay is a small island located about an hour boat ride from the main Isla Colon in the Bocas del Toro province. Zapatilla Cay is astonishingly beautiful, including spectacular views, clear waters and white sand. Without a doubt, it is one of my favorite places in Panama.

12. Fireworks
-Back in the states, fireworks were reserved for the 4th of July, and some spectacles at Sea World. In Panama City, it’s not bazaar to see fire works going off every night of the week. On New Year’s, the entire city, and I mean as far as the eye can see, ignites with the colorful flashes and flickers of thousands of fireworks.

13. Piropos
-What’s a piropo? I have yet to find a direct translation that suits me. Some dictionaries translate it as “compliment,” though that is a serious understatement. Piropo is a word that stands for what men do to a pretty girl as she walks by. Flirt, not really. Torment, could be. Most Westerners would agree that this is a “Latin thing.” I generally can’t stand it and want to flip off everybody that whistles and hisses and yells “Ay mami” as I stroll along. However, on days when I roll out of bed and my hair is astray, I must say that I feel less hideous as I waltz along and still get the “Yeah baby”. I know it is done to all women. I was in a taxi once and the driver whistled and hooted at a couple of women that looked as though they were pushing 70 years old. I’m not implying that they were not attractive, but the taxi driver was about 25! Moral of the story, it’s one place to get an ego boost.

Bonus - The Finger Wag
-You all know the finger wag, a way to indicate disapproval of something. The motion is generally carried out by wagging the index finger from left to right, considered by most incredibly rude and demeaning. Well, the Finger Wag is back in Panama! The best way to say no ever!

Watch Internet TV about Panama on Latin America Real Estate TV!

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