Three Reasons Why I Like Panama

Cynthia and I are really enjoying our life in Panama. It is very different from what we are used to and it seems that something interesting is always happening. Here are three recent things that made me smile.

Thing number 1. Christmas night at about 9:00, Cynthia and I were sitting in the living room. We heard a rattle-trap of a car come to a stop on the main road in front of our house. Jabo went ballistic. I heard the hood creak open and then the trunk, and there was a lot of chatter between a man and a woman. Obviously, the car had broken down.

It was dark and I could see that they were trying to rebuild the engine or something with the only light coming from a cell phone. So I grabbed my LED three-battery MagLite and went out to see if I could help.

I’d seen the car on the road many times, often stopped for repairs. It was an old Toyota with nearly all the paint gone due to its advanced age. I worked the flashlight beam in the trunk as he sorted through a big bag of used parts looking for a set of points that might be serviceable for the distributor. Ahh, here’s one!

I illuminated under the hood as he pulled the plug wires and the distributor cap. He popped in the new old set and wallah — I said wallah — Nothing. The car just cranked when he turned the key. It didn’t start. So we did this trunk-to-hood-to-trunk-to-hood dance for an hour, replacing nearly everything except the air in the tires.

Finally, when he was ready to give up and move the car off the road (I was ready to offer them a ride home because there were no more buses at that hour), I said, “What about the condenser?” Ahh, back to the trunk to find a condenser that seemed serviceable, and low and behold, the car fired up on the next try! He asked me how much I wanted for helping him. I said, in Spanish, “Are you kidding me? It’s Christmas night!” With many thanks from them both, they rattled off on their way.

The next day, the car returned and pulled in our driveway. The man gave us an armload of yucca and a big hand of bananas. These people who have next to nothing could not be faulted for taking, taking, taking. But they didn’t. They wanted to make sure that they thanked me to the best of their ability. I’m very appreciative.

Now, had this been in the States, the guy would probably just have called AAA and I never would have offered my help. That’s recent reason number one that I like living here.

Going along with reason number one, I should probably say that I know nothing about how cars work. I can do carpenter stuff and metal stuff and a lot of computer stuff, but mechanical stuff has evaded me. How I knew to suggest the condenser is beyond me. Before my auto mechanics crash course on Christmas night, I was kind of like Goldie Hawn and friends in this old Rowan & Martin Laugh In skit:

But in that hour and a half by the side of the road Christmas night, I learned more about automobile mechanics than ever before in my life. What an education.

Thing number 2. Every year between Christmas and New Years, muñecas (moon-yek-ahs) appear at the roadside throughout Panama. Muñecas are life-size dolls that people make and put in front of their houses. There is often a theme, such as political, entertainment, things you want next year, or things you want to never see again. The muñecas are stuffed with firecrackers, and they are lit ablaze on New Year’s Eve. Here are some photos I took today on my way to Coronado:


Thing number 3. If you think you can get away with something here in Panama, you are generally free to try.

Yesterday, I needed to go to town and buy two 40-foot 2″x4″ carriolas. This would be a long load for the Honda, but it would be two days before the store could deliver them. So, I did the Panamanian thing and said, “Load ’em up!” Everyone at the hardware store was cheering me on for my bravery/stupidity. We tied a red flag at the back and off I went, long load hanging fore and aft, smiling at/to myself all the way. I have proof — here is a video of the three-kilometer drive from the edge of El Valle to our house. El Valle, by the way, is located in a volcano, so the drive home is uphill all the way, about 300 feet in elevation gain. I thought you might enjoy seeing the scenery in our neck of the woods. There is no audio in this video.

Even though there is a tremendous amount of government red tape here in Panama, life feels more free to live without undue interference. My example is that if you were manufacturing ladders in the States, you would cover them with every conceivable label warning of impending dismemberment or death. If you were manufacturing that same ladder here in Panama, just stick a label on it that says, “ladder” and be done with it. But be very aware, that with all the freedom comes a real need to be vigilant at all times. I recently read of a woman walking in the dark in Panama City who dropped fifteen-feet into an open manhole. One of the reasons I got my new dash cam is to potentially have a video record in the event of an accident where someone veers over the double yellow line on a blind curve. Happens every day.

That’s all for now.