Last week my husband and I flew out of Panama’s Tocumen International Airport for the last time. Well, maybe not the last time forever, but for at least a couple of years.
If you’re not on my mailing list, Facebook page or Google Plus page, you might have missed the announcement.
Long story short, my husband got an unexpected job offer that’s bringing us back to the US, for at least a couple years. Temporarily, we’re in South Carolina. (And, frankly, the culture shock of living in the Deep South may be greater than any we experienced in Panama!)
We’ve been here six days now, and I already miss Las Tablas and Panama. Here, in no particular order, are the 10 things I’m missing most.
In Las Tablas, we had sunshine almost every day of the year. In our week in the US, we’ve already had more cloudy-all-day days than we had in Panama in two-plus years.
#2. Warm temperatures
I know, I know, how cold can it be in South Carolina in August, you may be wondering. Well. . . a lot cooler than we’re used to, for sure! I’m wearing long pants today, and thinking seriously about putting on a sweater.
In Las Tablas, I never wore anything except shorts and tank tops, unless I was getting dressed up for a special occasion or had to visit a government office.
We left some really, really good friends behind. It’s hard.
#4. The beach
We had a lovely, almost always deserted beach 10 minutes away. Here the nearest beach is several hours drive.
#5. Mangoes everywhere
In Panama, the mango is just another fruit-bearing shade tree. Seriously, they’re everywhere.
#6. Food prices
We’re suffering serious grocery store sticker shock. In Las Tablas, we could get good quality beef for about $4/pound. Here it starts at twice that for the not-so-good cuts. Shrimp in Panama is about one-third the price, chicken about half price. Most vegetables there are a lot less as well.
Eating out the difference is even bigger. The two of us could have a nice lunch in Las Tablas, with beverages, for under $10. Dinner for the two of us ran between $15-20. Here, a soup and sandwich lunch with beverage approaches $25. Dinner is more than double as well.
#7. Water aerobics with my friends
Twice a week, a group of us used to get together for water aerobics. It kept me moving, got me out from behind the computer, and gave me some social time.
#8. Live and let live
Panamanians don’t seem bothered by people who have different ideas, religions and politics. Sure, their elections get heated, but there’s none of the vitriol that exists in the US between Democrats and Republicans, Tea Party and Coffee Party, Libertarian, etc.
A Panamanian might disagree with you, but generally won’t be disagreeable about it.
#9. The natural beauty
Every area has its own style of beauty. Panama features verdant, stunninng mountain vistas and absolutely gorgeous ocean views. I can see rolling mountains here, and they’re very different from Panama’s dramatic, more jagged volcanic upthrusts.
#10. The “Buenas” culture
In Panama, when you walk into a shop or restaurant or hop onto a bus, you greet people. You say hello when you pass on the sidewalk or street. You shake hands, a lot. It’s very different from our impersonal ways in the USA. You can read more about the “buenas culture” here.
Photo by Randy Hilarski
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It breaks my heart to see one of my favorite and most intelligent cyber-friends have to leave a place they love. But economic reality always beckons, and that is certainly a realistic topic that is not always explored when it comes to expat life.
I feel certain that you will return both on trips and for the longer-term in the future. Anything we can do to help promote your great blog so that it can pay for a location-independent life!
Thanks, Greg. Economic reality is one of the biggest reasons we were in Panama in the first place 🙂 Having gotten a taste of what it’s like to live outside our familiar comfort zone, I don’t see us staying in one place for long. 🙂
I appreciate the kind words and thoughts.
I like your list and agree with most. I am glad you pointed out that you miss Las Tablas because some of this wouldn’t apply in Panama City. I am currently in the states as well Georgia, so we aren’t far apart, and I have found that many things here are cheaper than panama. Aside from the beef which is as you said about double or more for most cuts. I miss boquete when i lived there for a month or so. I could walk everywhere i needed to go within the city . Hope you guys have the chance to come back!!! I will be returning first part of the new year.
That is a sad story! On the bright side, by leaving your realize how much you enjoyed Panama.
My wife and I have been planning on moving overseas and just recently decided that Panama would be a great place to be. From all that I have heard, it would be a place that we can enjoy activities and natural beauty in a warmer climate with a simple life.
We live in Washington State now (near Seattle) and, although this has been a pretty warm winter so far, we are tired to the cold, wet weather here.
Good luck to you and hurry back to Panama asap!
My husband and I are seriously considering moving to Las Tablas in the next 5 to 10 years. If we go sooner rather than later, do you have any info about schools out there? My daughter is 12 (7th grade) right now. Do you feel they have any need there for English teachers? I am not a teacher, but I know I would be good at it.
Everything I have read on your site so far is making me want to hop on a plane and move now! LOL
Since my youngest child just graduated from college last year, I had no reason to learn about the schools in Las Tablas. And yes, they definitely need English teachers. There’s a big push to have all students leave school fluent in English within the next 10-15 years.
When we left, there was an English school that had just started in Chitre.
I’m so disappointed to learn you are no longer in Las Tablas! My husband and I finally took the plunge and just booked a 2-week trip in early October to house hunt in Panama and generally decide for sure if that’s going to be our new home. I was hoping to meet up with you in Las Tablas and spend a few days scoping out housing there and then go up the coast to David and Boquete to do the same. Is there another expat or other trusted source you know in the Las Tablas area with whom we could connect? Do you know anyone in Boquete or David we could talk to? I appreciate any guidance you can offer.
Sorry I won’t be there to meet you. But one of the wonderful things about living overseas is the options it opens up for you. What can I say?
As to someone who could meet with you while you’re there, send me an email and I’ll see what I can do.
I sent an email reply to your message right away but kept getting the “error” message on the webpage link to your site’s “contact me” page, so I think my email did not go through. If so, I apologize for the repeat message!
Anyway, my husband and I are flying into Panama City on Oct. 6 (my 60th birthday!) and plan to spend about a week in the Las Tablas area and a week in the David/Boquete area. Any contacts you can provide in either area would be much appreciated! We want to get a taste of the expat life in Panama and are hoping to retire there in the next few months if all goes well. We need to live on my husband’s SS income, so we will be trying to gauge whether that is actually possible! We would love to find a nice house to rent like yours — still can’t believe it was only $400/month!
I’ve contacted Bonnie at Casa del Puerto and the Hotel Don Jesus, which are both available for the first week of our visit. Pros and cons of staying in Las Tablas vs. beach house for our purposes? Any hints on where to stay in Boquete area? We plan to stay one night in Panama City when we arrive on the 6th and possibly the night before we leave on the 20th as well. Any suggestions on places stay there?
I greatly appreciate any guidance you can offer. This is a scary prospect but exciting also.
Ken Andrews says
My wife is a Panamanian from Panama and has now been an American citizen for over 30 years. I met her while I was stationed there in the army. As we get closer to retirement I am realizing that will never happen here. She has been away from her family for many years now and we are thinking about retiring there. I cannot and will not ever live in the city. We both love it close to El Valle and the villas near De Cameron resort which is way over my head price wise. We would like to live in Panama for the winter months here in the states during the summer months. Any inputs on Living and retiring in Panama would be greatly appreciated . We have all of her family down there which can help us , but would like to hear from Americans living in Panama If what we are planning has worked well for you.
Stu Minshew says
We are hitting the two year mark from returning from East Africa, so I understand your pain. We are also in the South East (Tennessee) and know how overwhelming that can be after living out of the US. I’d love to tell you there won’t be hard time ahead, but that wouldn’t be the truth. New friends, especially other former expats or internationals, make it better. Yet there are days when we all, including our six and nine year old, want to jump on a plane and go back immediately.
And I don’t know if you ever get used to the food prices when a week’s worth of produce used to cost $10.
So true! $1 for a big bag of tomatoes or a large to-die-for pineapple in Panama…
Your website was one of the first ones I read when we started looking at retirement abroad last year. Thanks to that we are visiting Pedasi and will also spend some time in Las Tablas and Panama City next month. If we like it we will go back in the spring as we get closer to retirement (2-4 years)
That’s great. Let me know ow how you like the Azuero after you visit.
All the best,
Barry Kitchens says
Read your blog. My wife and I are headed to Panama on our initial visit this Friday. We are going to check out Las Tablas and Pedasi. Appreciate your insight.
Excellent! Hope you have a wonderful and informative trip!