Karen: In Da Campo
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Panama, etc.
My name is Karen Ann Miles. I’m from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. My husband and I moved to Pedasi, Los Santos, Panama full time in May, 2012. We have the Pensionado Residency Visa that allows us to live year round in Panama.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I originally started blogging in August, 2012 as a way to keep in touch with my family and friends. From the time we moved to Panama, I was giving weekly updates and posting photos on Facebook and also sending emails to individual family members that didn’t have Facebook. I had opened a blog several years before while I was taking a web development class but had never used it. I went back to revamp it and the Panama blog was born. Surprisingly I began to accumulate readers other than my friends and family.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
My favorite entries are about day-to-day life in Panama and the culture. Most readers find my blog because they want to know how to make the dream come true and how much it will cost to live in Panama. Another popular post is about sand flies or chitras as they are called here.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Panama differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Our new life is very different than our life in Canada. We come from a mid-size city and lived in a neighborhood where everything was readily accessible. We’ve moved to the countryside of Panama where the roosters crow and cows sometimes graze in our yard. We’ve learned that the search is part of the adventure and we are thankful that we were able to retire early and now have the extra time that it takes to do things. The first few months were the toughest, setting up house, getting used to not having consumer goods readily available and all the paperwork that the Panameños seem to love. Panameños are lovely people and our move has been a lesson in patience and slowing down to their pace.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Panama? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I think if we had to do it over again we would have taken some Spanish lessons before we arrived to get some of the basics down. We also brought some furniture that did not do well in wet season last year. We’ve since replaced some of it with items made out of native wood. And although we only brought a twenty foot container, a small amount by some people’s standards, we brought a few too many “things” with us. We’re very lucky that we have a lot of storage in our house because we have a few “things” that we haven’t taken out since we moved here.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
The first time we visited Panama we decided to explore the Azuero Peninsula. We stopped for the night in a town called Guararé and got a room at the Hotel Residencial La Mejorana. It looked like we were the only guests that evening. Later in the evening when we were sound asleep for the night we heard; pop, pop, pop. We turned on the light and went out to the balcony to see if we could figure out where the sound was coming from. We couldn’t see anything so we returned to bed. Not long after we heard once again; pop,pop,pop. Thinking it was gunfire we hunkered into our room for the night.
We were awoken in the morning by a loud rooster, that had taken up residence in the empty field, and the sound of a large saw behind the building. We quickly had breakfast, paid our bill, and got out of the dangerous town of Guararé.
We found out not long after that Panameños love their fireworks. Explosives are used to broadcast all types of occasions and celebrations. It need not be dark for them to be set off because it’s not the sparkle that is attractive, it’s the noise; the louder the better. Fireworks have now become part of our daily life in Panama. I’ve even dubbed Fridays “Fireworks Friday”.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Panama?
- Try to learn a little Spanish before you arrive or sign up for lessons not long after you arrive. You’ll read on many websites that you can get by without speaking Spanish. You’ll get much more respect from your new Panamanian neighbors if you at least have some of what I call “muddle through Spanish”. There are many language schools in Panama that will give lessons over the web and websites that are great for learning the basics.
- Remember that you must adapt to Panama, Panama will not adapt to you. Remember to pack your patience in your suitcase.
- Don’t worry so much about the “stuff”, unless you’re planning on living in air conditioning 24/7. Be realistic about what items will be able to take the humidity without growing mold and mildew.
How is the expat community in Panama? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
We have been very lucky to have made very good friends in our district among the expats and locals. Along the way we’ve had to sort through what we call the “nuts and twigs”. Our Panameño neighbors always say hello and wave, one of the things that we love about Panama and we’re out and about in the community often.
How would you summarize your expat life in Panama in a single, catchy sentence?
Life is good in the campo.