Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Sunday, November 11, 2012
As I sit here at 9:30pm in the Panama City bus terminal, I'm overwhelmed with relief! Our first day in this foreign country went quite well!
Our departure from Aruba was a breeze. Flying non US bound presented no long lines anywhere. Even after having time to eat a hearty wonderful burger (and I mean scrumptious!), we had an hour left before boarding.
Only an hour and a half flight over beautiful blue seas and Columbia, our first ever South American space, and we were approaching our landing. We flew out over the Pacific Ocean and saw ships of all kinds lined up to go through the Panama Canal. Quite an amazing site! It was a bit cloudy so the pictures from the plane didn't come out very well but if you look close you can see all the ships!
Upon landing early, we ended up sitting on the plane at the gate because the jetway broke. So we ended up getting off the plane "on time".
Making our way through customs with no difficulty, we then faced the task of finding our way to the bus terminal, which is part of the Albrook Mall that resembles Mall of America and is 35 km from the airport. Mike had read in our guide book that there was a bus outside the airport that could take us for much less than the normal $25-$30 cab ride.
After trying to ask where it was at the outside information desk, who then told us to ask the police, a very kind woman just sort of took charge over us! She asked questions and barked commands in fast Spanish to others and the next thing we knew we were getting into a taxi for the amount we expected to pay - $26!!
She spoke fluent English, as well, so we were able to communicate very well with her. Come to find out, she worked at the airport but it was her day off and she took pity on us. We expected to have to haggle out of "Gringo" pricing to the fair and normal price but she took real good care of us!!
The trip to the BIG city was quite interesting as we had to go through a toll booth and there are definitely NO que lines. It's a free for all with cars, trucks, vans everywhere weaving in and out trying to get ahead of everyone else first. Harrowing might be a real good description!!
The city itself is quite incredible! Huge with skyscrapers everywhere but absolutely beautiful!
We were brought to the front of the bus terminal, which is attached to the Mall. It's the biggest bus terminal I've ever seen!! Looked like Grand Central Station and was at least 1/2 mile long!
We were then deposited into the hands of this gentleman that just took over our luggage while communicating with the taxi driver in rapid Spanish, which neither one of us could understand. He proceeded to take us and our luggage to the ticket booth for our trip to David. A 6-7 hr ride Express for $18.75 each of us!!
The bus didn't leave until midnight so we had time to kill. As there were 2 other express busses to David, we wondered why our host told us to take the midnight bus. We figured it out when we realized (duh) that it would get us into David in the middle of the night and he didn't want to come pick us up at that ungodly hour! Plus, at that time of night (morning) there aren't any busses going to Boquete, our final destination. So the bottom line was do we wait in Panama City where it's a much better bus terminal or David. Right choice for us to stay in PC.
Once the tickets were purchased, our "guide" proceeded to lunge ahead with our luggage ad we just followed along like puppy dogs! He went to the complete other end of the terminal with us racing behind him, to locker storage areas. It cost us $7 for him and $9 to store the luggage (4 pieces) for only 2.5 hours because they were closing at 7pm. In hindsight, we shouldn't have done that as it wasn't worth the time and effort.
Oh well, off we went to the mall with a mission to get our iPhones connected with Panama Sim cards and a call plan. As it happened, the first store as we entered the mall was exactly the store we needed - a Claro phone center, where NO ONE spoke English of any kind!
Ha, that didn't stop us! With Mike's fair amount and my smile, we managed to get into the right line where you then get a number and get into another line. It took a long time to just get to someone who could help us. But she was great!! She smiled allot too and used sign language and our phones to try and explain.
Once a "plan" is chosen, you then go another line to pay then come back to the same clerk to get your product. She then put us both all together and for call and data for a month, it was $22/mo. for each of us. You then can go to machines all over the place to re-up each month.
It felt sooooo good to have communication so we could call our host to let him know we were safely here and would meet him in the morning.
Needing something to eat, we found the food court. I have to say that other than everything being in Spanish, we could have been in any US mall all the way down to the food choices. We ended up having Quiznos!
After gathering our luggage, we sat in the terminal reading or whatever. A lady came up to us and asked us if we could watch her luggage while she went to the restroom. We laughed that she didn't hesitate to speak English with us. We do stand out like a sore thumb!! Anyway, we struck up a conversation with her. She was from CA and was just coming back from visiting her daughter in the South Loop of Chicago, right around the corner from where we stayed with our friends in October.
We got loaded on the double decker bus and proceeded to try and "sleep". Ha, ha, that's a joke!! The bus was actually very nice and comfortable for a bus ride but NOT for sleeping!! At 3:30am, the bus stopped so everyone could get off and go to the restroom and, if you wanted, to get something to eat.
I must have been really tired because I actually did fall asleep after that and didn't wake up until 5:30am. We arrived in David about 7:00am, one hour later than expected. We made extra stops that weren't normal for some reason. Anyway, Jim, our host was there anxiously waiting with his truck.
Luggage retrieved like a cattle call and we were on our way. One hour later, we were at our "home" for the next 3 weeks. Since I had detailed pictures of the casita, there were no surprises except that it was more beautiful than the pictures!!
We sent the next couple of hours unpacking and taking a nap before our host was taking us into town to take us to lunch, give us the tour, and let us do some grocery shopping. Lunch was at a local cafeteria style eatery and after loading up our plates with meat, potatoes, salad and a drink, we paid the bill that came to ONLY $11.25 for ALL 3 of us!!! The food was delicious and we had affirmation that we were validated for all of the research we'd done.
Groceries were way less expensive than we were used to including good wine for at least $3-$5 less a bottle than we normally paid at home and beer much less than at home. We were very pleased!!
On our way home, Jim took us to see a 2br/2ba single family home that his friend has for rent at $900/mo. WOW!!! It was beautiful and very high end. The value for what you paid was fabulous!!
We crashed to bed early and found we had a wonderful night's sleep! The bed is extremely comfortable.
The weather here is beautiful but still somewhat in the rainy season. We've had sun and warmth until late afternoon when the clouds gather and it rains a bit. The biggest weather issue here right now is the wind, which they say is very unusual this time of the year. Usually the winds arrive in January and pushes the rain out and dries everything out.
Today, Tuesday, is always the Gringo Market in town. So we were up early and ready to go by 9am when we went to town with Jim. What a treat to be able to do this so quickly after our arrival ! This is one of the most organized markets anywhere by Gringos to raise money for the community.
We met several couples who were doing the same thing we are but they were staying in hotels and were jealous of our accommodations. And, everywhere there were expats from everywhere. Everyone was friendly and didn't mind answering all of our questions.
There was everything from hand woven bags to homemade lasagna. We bought the most beautiful head of butter lettuce for only $.75, vine ripe home grown tomatoes, and a pound of bacon.
Mike and I decided to stay in town and walk and visit stores to do some price shopping. But first we stopped for lunch at a true restaurant called the Baru, which is the name of one of the volcanoes visible from town. We had the special of the day, which was the most luscious chicken soup with thick stock, 2 small pieces of chicken, rice, salad, beans, ice cream dessert with strawberry syrup, and fruity ice tea all for ONLY $5.25 each!!!!!!
We then visited several shops of all kinds just looking and pricing. Since that was hard work, we stopped for an afternoon drink at a local Bistro and found that a good beer and a nice glass of wine was only $4.50 total! We're beginning to really like this aspect.
We met a real estate agent and found out today was his FIRST day!! We were his best client since we were his FIRST client! He was delightful and extremely helpful.
Language school is on our radar and we might do an intensive one week, 4hrs/day course but haven't made up our mind yet.
This evening we had a wonderful Skype conversation with our daughter, Denise, and found that our connection and the clarity of the video call was way better than when we were back in the mountains of WA! That's a big perk too!
So after 2 whole days, we're very happy with our choice to come here! Seriously, it feels really good and comfortable already!