A good friend of mine, a Panamanian who has lived in Madrid for eight years, came back home to visit, and spent some time with us in Boquete. He’s a faithful reader of this blog, loves all the pictures that remind him of home, and so I asked him to write some of his reflections on coming back home to Panama so I could share them with you.
My main reason to go back to Panama was to renew many some of my ID, passport, cédula (Panamanian ID) and drivers license. Since I was able to make it a 30 days experience, even better, I was very aware it was going to take more than a week to renew everything. And of course, in Panama lives the person that I most love in this world, my mom.
My mom didn´t have a family birthday party this year for her 57th. So, in my mind, the first moment I wanted to experience, was to celebrate that with her along with my family, my neighbor and two of her daughters), and people I really love and who are family to me, So I arrived with cake candles numbers 5 and 7 and Feliz Cumpleaños (Happy Birthday) decorations for the cake one of my neighbours bought the day before I arrived.
Flying over on KLM was a wonderful experience and a reminder of great customer service. [KLM flies direct from Amsterdam to Panama.] It was a, a long journey with the connection from Madrid Amsterdam airport, but the price was excellent, 630 euros [about $843 US] for a round trip from Madrid and, OK, 100 euros [about $134 US] for an extra piece of luggage, but I couldn´t leave any of the gifts in my 62 kilos luggage, only 12 kilos for my stuff since I love to travel light. [Iberia also flies direct from Madrid].
Welcome to Tocumen Airport.
Yes, a nice airport. Nice infrastructure but let´s improve the details.
Panama weather was as humid as I remembered, but love it. I love sweat, a reminder that you are here in the Tropics, yes!, back home. The traffic was terrible. Luckily, with the dirt they are taking from the Panama Canal expansion, they said, the road that connects the peripheral areas of the city is being restored. We call it “Corredor de Los Pobres” (“The Highway of the Poor People” since it is the shortcut to Tocumen Airport from Las Cumbres and, unlike “Corridor del Sur”, you don’t have to pay to use it. Crossing the city on city streets would take 3 hours during the later afternoon.
I love shopping, especially if it is buying my mom clothes and accessories. So we prepare everything in my neighbor’s house, the cake and some of the gifts. I had a wonderful time taking care of my mom and her birthday. Lots of celebrations!
The area where I grew up, is now full of housing developments, individual houses but with almost no parks where nature can breathe. We still have our little jungles hidden in our yards with trees, a lot of grass, platanos (plantains), flowers, avocados, mangoes, and many other plants, many of which are used in Panamanian cooking.
Tears on my Vita
When I was a child it was hard for me to say abuelita (grandma), so all I said was vita.
My second day I visited one of the most loved women in my life, my grandma. She cried the minute she saw me which made me feel so sad and happy at the same time. She is in her 70s and she was telling me that for a couple of days none of her children or grandchildren had called her which breaks my heart. Why wouldn’t you call the person who dedicated her life to raising you and taking care of you? [If you haven´t called your grandma in a while do it now.] Of course we had a wonderful time together.
Nothing had changed in her life. She receives $100 dollars from the government, thank you, President Martinelli. We forget all the work these elder people have done building these great Nation. Her husband even prepared breakfast for some workers of the Panamerican Highway that crosses Panama when he was 12 years old. I´m really happy that she has a great neighbor and many others who check on her and visit her sometimes dropping by delicious tamales and fruitcake at Christmas.
I spent one week in Panama City, first with the ID, because I needed to that first in order to be able to renew my passport and drivers license. The people working in administration were really nice to me, maybe because I have figured out that all it takes to get good customer service is to be nice, and accept that there are steps to follow, sometimes too many, but face it, it is what it is. So when you go to a public office don´t lose your mind, don´t forget Panama is improving, please don´t be rude, and if you feel you are not receiving good customer service, take a deep breath, smile and focus on the paradise where you are living. [I expect that last bit of sermonizing was for me! Richard]
Panama City is chaotic at the moment, there is traffic everywhere, even in the corridors [the toll roads]. The new Metrobus that replaced the Diablos Rojos [“Red Devils” private wildly decorated old school buses that for many years provided bus service in Panama City] is nice, specially because of the air-conditioned transportation service, I love the hot weather of Panama and I love saunas and steam rooms, but I don’t like t hat feeling when I am in a bus at 8 am in the morning. I took one of the remaining old buses the first day, and as is normal in the Tropics it began to rain, heavy rain and we had to close all the windows because we don´t want to get wet, specially if you are heading to work, wow. I have to say I decided that next time I will wait for the Metrobus. The traffic in the city is very slow because of the Subway construction. If you see it in perspective you will see a very modern service in a country that is growing. Wait and see.
The city is full of investment opportunities, I can tell that we are providing a better quality service, in general, people wants to improve themselves, though there is a lack of tools, to improve, mainly in our educational system. Maybe because I´m Panamanian and very proud to be one, and I like to focus in the good things of my country. I feel that we are doing better, and different to many other economies of the world, we are blooming. But there are some abandoned areas…
Even although there are lots of opportunities, the reality for the working class is in many ways harder and they have to struggle with things like lack of garbage collection, neighborhood pataconcitos where the garbage piles up. (Cerro Patacon used to be the place where the city used to dump their garbage.)
After several weeks in Panama City I headed to Boquete, where my Panama still feels very wild.
I took the night bus to David and then the another one to Boquete. This area reminds me of my childhood holidays in Chiriqui: a lot of green. Although Chiriqui is growing rapidly,, this province retains the natural look of Panama that I like.
They’ve redone the main plaza in Boquete and it looks nicer than before. Valle Escondido is really nice too. After visiting friends, I stayed in Richards house, a beautiful Panamanian hacienda. I know he is not Panamanian, and he was maybe inspired from other construction styles, but the wonderful house he has built just matches perfectly Palmira. The coffee, orange, plantains, flowers and many other trees looks incredible and give you that feeling of home, sweet home.
I spent a great time being mentored, by my friend and it is energizing to experience Panama with someone who loves it as much as I do. The Chriqiui countryside has maintained a natural look preserving the rainforest, The area has become home to many other foreigners from all over the world. Welcome home! I have the feeling that most of these people are socially conscious and are aware of the Beauty of the natural environment and the need to preserve it..
After visiting many places in Chiriqui, I felt it is still very virgin, Let’s keep it this way.
The idea of using the bus to go back to Panama didn´t attract me that much, and I was lucky to be introduced to two really nice ladies, that were going to Panama City from Boquete to shop so they gave me a ride. When we got to Penonome, close to Panama City, I offered to drive. The rainforest jungle that we had there in the past has been transformed in a traffic jungle. I guess it is what happens when a country is growing economically as fast as Panama.
They stayed at Hard Rock Hotel in Panama City. Many other hotels and shopping malls have been built in the last few years and it feels like a metropolis. You feel like you are in any of the big cities of the world with fancy hotels next to giant shopping malls.
A friend of mine picked me up, and gave me a ride to another friend’s apartment in the Via España. This area used to be very chic some ten years ago, now with the new malls and cinta costera and Costa del Este the chic areas are somewhere else. The construction of the Metro, gives me the feeling that just in a couple of months this area will be chic again. Next morning I decided I wanted to visit the Casco Viejo, the old colonial part of Panama City, and it is in great shape with all the restoration. La Central which used to be a street full of department stores feels very abandoned, not that there aren’t many people there, but it is not been well-maintained. You see the wonderful new Cinta Costera next to this area of buildings with the paint fading it isn’t very pleasant. However, after you pass this street and get into the renewed Casco Viejo with the French style balconies, its amazing. If you go now you will have the feeling of a very chaotic city, but when you see in perspective, as I do, with all this construction and the renewal of many buildings, makes you realize that this paradise of Casco Viejo will be a lot better and its glory is coming back again.
Another visit I made, thanks to a friend, was to the Comarca de San Blas. And here is where I said I stayed at a Million Stars Hotel. In order to visit the Comarca my friend called a Kuna friend who was going to be our tour guide.. We drove a 4×4 car zig zagging across the mountains to a little port were we took a boat to the Islands, You sail down a river and it is an amazing feeling when you get into the Caribbean Sea and the water becomes transparent.
When we arrived in the Island, there was the Boss, waiting in the tiny port, where you feel very welcome. They served us dinner and then even though it was getting dark, we went to swim for a while in crystal waters. There were some 30 backpackers, from different parts of the world and maybe 10 locals, on the island. We stayed in little cabañas, made with bamboo and palm leaves. Later that night, since many of the visitors were young people we went to a larger cabaña that was like the meeting place to play cards and chat. Nearby was a little store were you could buy drinks and snacks. Then it began to rain. My best rain ever. The visual effects were fantastic. You could experience the magnificence of the lightning and thunder. I love rain. About 11 pm we went to bed and the lights on our side of the Island were off, but with the stars appearing little by little after the rain you could see clearly where you were walking. I didn’t visit this paradise to sleep, so around 4 am I was up and just went out of the cabaña and sat down in the sand, enjoying the beautiful Million Stars Island, it was very overwhelming and all I can say is “thank you”. That was what I was the feeling inside. II was feeling very grateful to be there, not many Panamanians, nor tourists visit the Comarca de San Blas, a protected land and home to one of the Indigenous groups of Panama.
As the sun was rising, the stars were fading, another Mother Nature Show, wow! If you ever want to experience it, you will have to visit it. We had a light breakfast and made a boat trip visiting some of the other Islands, we only visited some 5 Islands, of 365 all of the a Natural Paradise. I am very proud of these Indigenous people and very thankful to them for preserving this paradise. We were four people staying over a night for around $100 per person, everything included, from the port, meals, accommodation, the boat trip, and even lobster for lunch. Compared that with a night I spent at The Westin Hotel in Playa Bonita next to the Puente de las Americas, all-inclusive, for 2 persons for $300 dollars. By comparison the cost of visiting Guna Yala was almost nothing for a priceless experience.
During my visit I met with some friends from high school that I haven’t seen for more than 10 years. We graduated from a public high school in Panama City. Our lives are very different now though we all live the way we want. Me being the only one who has lived in 5 different countries. They all feel well about there lives, and I can see that Panamanian lifestyle, at least seeing my friends hasn’t change that much. My two best friends in Panama are very successful business men. I have a normal life in Spain, in Madrid, you can say I live an average person lifestyle, of course one with a job, since we are facing an economic crisis in Spain. Seeing this two entrepreneurs, I can tell that if I want to be rich guy, money wise and with a good lifestyle and for that Panama is the place to be.
During these 30 days I can conclude that:Panama, is great if you want to have a quiet lifestyle, and also great if you want to developed a business project.Panama is fantastic because of its people, they are friendly, they are Indigenous, they are white, black, blue, purple, mixed, of any color, or race, but they are Panamanians because they call Panama their home.
I’m very proud of what is going on in Panama, my loved Panama, so if you have a great idea and want to be part of something, don´t hesitate to come Panama and make it your home.We need many more Panamanians being prepared to managed the country, and I have the feeling that part of that preparation, education, will be better if you get it abroad.