You Don’t Need to Worry About This in Panama

I live in Boqueron, a small community in the highland province of Chiriqui, an area almost completed overlooked by expats but filled with friendly locals.

Here I rent a comfortable, air-conditioned house—fully-furnished—on a pretty little river for just $175 a month. For another $25 a month, someone comes regularly to maintain the yard.

I live among great neighbors, manage comfortably on just a little money, and with decent internet connection, can chat to the folks back home whenever I wish.

Staying in touch with family and friends from Panama is easy. The country is well-wired for internet.

Some services will hook your home up with an antenna so you can get online and have an array of television programs, too. There are so many free services available now, that you don’t even have to worry about running up costly phone bills. Using a tablet or notebook computer you can drop in on family and friends with video calls via Skype, and if they download the free Skype program to their gear you can talk as long as you want without paying a dime.

And, like much of the United States and Canada, many businesses in Panama, such as restaurants, offer free WiFi service to their customers. There are also free WiFi “hot spots” throughout the country thanks to former president Ricardo Martinelli’s wish to make internet access freely available to everyone.

Cyber cafes can be found in every sizable city in Panama and you can get online at very reasonable rates. But one of the neatest things you’ll find in many of the smaller towns throughout the country are the Infoplazas. These are government-funded locations with a number of computers available to anyone who drops in—at no charge.

But much of the charm of the country lies in what happens when you interact with the locals…

When I arrived in Panama five years ago, I house-sat in Potrerillos Arriba, a small mountain village across the valley from Boquete in the shadow of Volcan Barú.

I’d only been there a couple of weeks when I had a real hankering for a Coca Cola late one afternoon. There was none in the house so I needed to make a run a half-mile or so up the very steep hill to the local “Chino.” That’s what the small, family-run convenience stores are called here, and most are actually owned by Chinese-Panamanians.

Not having a car I walked out to the main road just in time to catch the hourly bus just as it started to rain. (Most local buses are new, 30-passenger, air-conditioned Toyota Coasters.)

Eventually the bus worked its way to the top of the village. There were no more than four or five other passengers on the bus, the rest having disembarked up the road.

We wound our way past some pretty large houses and dairy fincas (farms). I’m fascinated. It’s all new and wonderful.

As we’re going along my few fellow passengers left as the bus got to their destination. Finally the bus came to a stop. There were no more houses. There were no more dairy farms. In fact, if any place could be described as “the middle of nowhere,” we—the driver, the young teenager who collects the fares, and myself—had arrived there.

The driver turned in his seat, and said, “Adónde vas?” (“Where are you going?”)

I shrugged my shoulders, shook my head and said, in my horrible Spanish, “I don’t know. I was going to the Chino, but I’m new here. I’ve just been enjoying the ride.”

He gave a little grin and said, “Well, I’m going home. I’m done for the day.”

The three of us looked out the rain-streaked windows at the jungle surrounding us. “Don’t worry,” the driver said reassuringly. “I’ll take you to a bus stop a little way back.”

And he did without complaint or extra charge.

It was a small but early introduction to the lifestyle here; these kinds of easy, friendly interactions have come to characterize my time in Panama.

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