Coming “Home”

NOTE: This is an interesting post because it was written 9 years before we moved back to the US, starting a new phase of retirement living in the Pacific NW in Anacortes on the Puget Sound.

I was sitting in the waiting room on the 11th floor of Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle looking at the window with a partial view of Lake Union and something odd struck me . . . an American flag fluttering in the breeze.

While Seattle was never our home, the USofA was, so what is it like coming “home” after all these years?  Some observations:

  • Mt. Rainier on a clear day – WOW!
  • Of course Seattle in May is a riot of color and blooming rhododendrons, azalea, dogwood, Scotch broom, and the odd lingering late tulip.  Driving pas a vivid red rhododendron in full flower Nikki said, “I have to admit that is even more spectacular than Bougainvillea!”
  • Traffic flows smoothly, even during rush hour – well “flows” may be an overstatement – on I5. But drivers are predictable.  Unlike the road between Boquete and David, everyone is going in the same direction at the same time, lane changes are predictable, and people signal their intentions.  And without totally blacked out front windows, you can see the driver which helps anticipate their intent.
  • Comparing Virginia Mason, consistently one of the top three hospitals in Washington and one of the highest rated hospitals in the US, with Chiriqui Hospital is . . . well, let’s just say that Virginia Mason has hot and cold running water, paper towels, and SOAP in all the public rest rooms.  And the doctors all speak fluent English, not that one does or should expect that in a Spanish-speaking country, but if your primary language is English it’s just a lot easier and more reassuring to have your cardiologist speaking your language.
  • I have no idea what Nikki’s hospital adventure is going to cost.  No one asked for a credit card or for any form of payment when we checked in or when we checked out.  One of Nikki’s goals while she was in the States was to get Medicare and supplemental insurance taken care of.  The program she enrolled in enabled her to see a top cardiologist almost the same week she joined, and he sent her almost directly in for treatment. We did not pass “Go” nor did we “collect $200”.  So, if we don’t get back to Panama and end up in the US version of debtor’s prison you’ll know what happened.
  • Seattle in summer:  it’s tough getting used to longer days and it being light when you head to bed,  There are big temperature variations: 81 degrees one moment and 59 the next.  It reminds me a little of “June gloom” in Ventura, California.  My kids live just a stones through from the Sound so frequently there is morning fog that burns off in the afternoon.
  • Trader Joe’s – only seven minutes away!!
  • Safeway, which I remembered as having rather dumpy stores, is marvelous!  They have everything you could ever want.  What selection!  Prices?  My impression is that for US-style stuff – cereals, salsa, pancake syrup, diet Coke – the kind of stuff we buy in Panama, is pretty much the same price in Panama as it is in Seattle.  And in Panama we don’t really have the same kind of special, loss-leader offers that you get in the US.  Of course tropical fruits (pineapples, bananas, etc.) are cheaper in Panama.  Apples of course are cheaper in Washington just like bananas are cheaper in Panama.  Grapes, from Chile, are the same price in Panama and Seattle.  Vegetables, although a more limited selection pretty much seasonally determined, Bread is cheaper in Panama: eight hot dog buns were $1.25 at the Chinese store in Alto Boquete when I left, and $2.59 at Safeway.  A rotisserie chicken is $6.99 vs $5.99 at Price Smart.  Lean ground beef was $5.50 a pound at Safeway vs.around $2.60 in Panama.  Wine is much cheaper in Panama, even Washington wines, but Australian wine is far cheaper in Panama than even at the vineyard in Australia.  Rum, good rum, is half the price in Panama of what it is in Seattle, but maybe a lot of that is Washington state tax. Prepared food and eating out is still much cheaper in Panama.  Drive through Starbucks – DRIVE THROUGH!! – three tall drinks $11.00!  Add pastry and you’re easily pushing $20!
  • Plants and nursery stock: definitely more expensive in the Pacific Northwest!
  • Fresh blueberries – come on!  Strictly frozen in David when Price Smart has them.  Strawberries, easily available but not nearly as flavorful as Boquete strawberries.  Red raspberries, available, but pricey.
  • Bagels – yeah, but nothing like Western Bagel in California or Noah’s.
  • Yet to be explored, fondled and gaped at: Home Depot, Sam’s Club . . . more later.
  • And Seattle isn’t New York or Miami . . . people are friendly here in a natural sort of way, even the checkout girls in the grocery store smile and say nice things.  At the hospital it was like being on a well-run cruise ship where everyone says hello and smiles.  Nice!

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