Category Archives: Panama

America, I Miss You!

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Dear Ones,

In an interesting turn of events, my Panama adventure will soon come to an end.  My family and I have decided to move back to the States — and not just because we miss Whole Foods.

But first we need to sell our beautiful Panama City view condo.  It’s really a nice place.  :)

More pics and info here.  Ok!  And now for my post.

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America, I Miss You!

Last month on a quick trip to Florida I realized I miss the US. I miss it because it works, because for the most part, people and operations there are efficient.

When a package mailed to the hotel didn’t arrive before I was set to depart, I asked the hotel if they could do me a favor and forward it to our Miami post office box. “I realize you would be doing me a huge favor and am willing to pay for this service — in addition to the postage.” “No, you don’t have to pay us — just the postage,” replied the kind concierge who actually gives a damn about doing a good job.

Unlike my experience would have been in Panama, I did not have to explain what I wanted 3 times or, as the customer, enroll him in the possibility of giving good service. In fact, it was his idea to make the transaction even simpler my charging postage to the same credit card used for our stay instead of me having to leave cash. Brilliant!

Back at my tropical ranch, I’m still waiting for the director of the Summit Park here in Panama to email me. Two weeks ago, I visited the park to inquire about volunteering, met him briefly and followed his instruction to email him “my information.” Um, ok. Within the hour, while observing other volunteers at the park, I emailed from my phone. Five days later, no response so I email him to see if he got my message. Yes! He did — he’ll get back to me in a bit. I’m still waiting.

For the hotel, there was nothing in it for them and they surpassed my expectations. For the park, there is only upside — I mean, how many people are willing to clean poop from cages without pay — and I’m basically ignored. America, I miss you. Especially you, Whole Foods greeter. I miss your energy and your smile.

Men with Mangoes

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On our way home from a long walk, Billy, Sammy and I pass a man with a cartful of mangoes. Admiring his bounty I ask, “Where did you get those?” “Just down the road. Do you want one?”  Uncharacteristically, I say yes and accept something from a stranger since there are few things enjoy more than a free mango.  I am happy and decide to find this giving tree myself so I continue walking past my usual turn-off.

Eventually, I do spot a huge tree to the left and start to approach it when an armed security guard stops me; I’ve just entered goverment property.

“Can I help you?”  “Hello, I’m looking for mangoes. Do you mind if I just go over there and find some?”  “Is it just you?” he asks.  “Um, yes — and my dogs.” “Wait right here” he commands and points to a shady spot near the gate. He climbs through brush, picks up a giant stick and hurls it in the air. Two huge green mangoes fall to the ground. He retrieves them and hands them to me. “Thank you so much. I didn’t mean for you to go through all of that trouble. I was just going to pick them up off the ground.”  “Those are damaged. You can can make a salad with these.”

For anyone who doubted it, chivalry is not dead; you just need to find a generous man and some mangoes.

 

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When Billy Came to Town

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Everything was great before Billy came to town.  I was happy.  I was loved.  I was the king of my spacious condo castle.  Before Billy all eyes here laid on me.  When I ventured outdoors, others constantly complimented me on my handsome appearance — my cute, scruffy beard, my old man eyebrows — and my charming, effervescent personality.  Glee and delight were mine for the making and sharing.  Easily, and without competition, I won the hearts of each person I met.  Child or retireee — it didn’t matter; to them, I was the man.   

But when Billy moved in, my whole life changed.  I went from lead singer to member of the chorus, from celebrity to semi-lebrity, and from head honcho to pack rat.  At six months old, my 15 minutes of fame abruptly expired.  Now they weren’t just interested in me, in caring me for and making me happy but in doing the same for Billy as well.

If sharing attention wasn’t bad enough, I also had to start sharing my food.  Yes, I know!  Before Bill treats were ALL mine!  Now delicious snacks I used to devour alone were divided in two; full hot dogs became half.  And if he was positioned closer, he obviously got dibs to tasty morsels falling to the kitchen floor.

To make things worse, Billy arrived with sister Maven, another species all-together, the likes of which I’d never met and still don’t understand.  Unlike me and Billy, Maven moves slowly and deliberately.  I never know what she’s thinking, where she’s going to leap, or what makes her bottom smell so good.  She is a mystery and she drives me crazy.  I play with her a lot since she provokes me.  For some reason, though, I’m always the one to get in trouble.  “Sammy, no!” someone always shouts.  I obey but can only comply until the next time I get an enticing whiff of her rear.  

At first, I thought I could convince someone to make Billy leave.  I acted up, yelled and growled for attention.  I even tried to be extra cute.  

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But none of it worked.  

Billy is still here. 

Deep down I know they still love me as much as before.  Except that’s hard to remember when the two hands that used to rub my belly alone now have to work double duty and rub Billy’s simultaneously.  Love shared is not love multiplied.  Check your math — it’s half of love.  Sounds rather sad, I know.  But then again, I’m only human.

The Top 12 Surprises of Panama’s Three-Ring Circus

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Happy holidays to all!  It’s that time of year when Expatsblogs.com holds their annual blog contest.  This year my topic is The Top 12 Surprises of Panama’s Three-Ring Circus.

Please take a few minutes to read and vote for me!

How to vote:

Thank you for support!

The Top 12 Surprises of Panama’s Three-Ring Circus

A year ago, I wrote a grandstanding post called The Top 8 Ways Living in Panama Can Make You Sexier. Still slurping the tropical Koolaid as a newly arrived expat, I highlighted the sultry and magnificent aspects of our Central American spectacle.  The beaches, the weather, the thriving capital metropolis — this was a place to be considered.

Fast forward one year and I urge, “Hold your horses!”  Having moved past opening night glee, experienced both rain and shine, today I’m dishing the real deal, the nitty-gritty every guide book omits in order to convince you to join the circus. The truth is that Panama is not a developed country, rather it is developing. Between the “ed” and “ing” lurks a world of difference and a level of chaos often beyond comprehension. Ladies and Gentlemen, children of all ages, prepare to be surprised.

12. Leaping Prices
Panama concession prices are high and year after year they rise like helium balloons.  Dinner in the Pie Car costs just as much as in any American city.  Rent does, too; the one-bedroom apartment next to mine is on the market for $1400/month. We just paid $250 to reupholster 2 chairs; last week I paid $80 to attend a tango show; and a small container of spinach dip at Deli Gourmet costs $4.95.  Regardless of what anyone tells you, you will want to bring extra moolah to this show.

11. Unlikely Mafia Artists
Of all the mafias a country can have, we have a dentist mafia that keeps service prices tight wire high, enough make you gag.  This troupe can be shrewd, diagnosing you with a dozen phony cavities in order to meet their monthly ring payments.  Be prepared to pantomime “No, thanks” several times during your next dental cleaning.

10. Boss Clowns
Instead of ringmasters, boss clowns run the show.  At each mall corridor turn, store managers create and enforce zany rules to keep us amazed and entertained. Even though I’ve paid my cell phone bill in full and on-time via credit card for 18 months, Cable and Wireless boss clowns still demanded somersaults in order to renew my contract: provide a copy of my mother’s ID and personal letter from her authorizing me to make changes to our family account. I would try to talk the junior juggler of this hassle but I know he will only repeat what he’s been told without considering any workarounds.

9. Five for Two and Three to Get One
For two weeks, five acrobats came to our home to install double-pane windows.  For most of the time three remained balanced on the ground while the other two performed.  When you want something done and ask for a referral, be sure and gather at least three names.  That’s how many it will take for just one stunt guy to appear and get the show on the road.

8. The Wonderful Walkaround
Honestly, we have the worst customer service of any city you’ve ever visited. When you enter a big top, someone will approach you.  But instead of offering assistance and then going away when you say, “Just looking,” they will follow you around the store like a suspicious Bengal tiger, hovering close by, softly but steadily breathing down your neck to make sure you stay in line.  The best is when they follow you around an appliance store as if you’re really going to steal something.  If you actually ask them a question, they won’t know the answer since they receive little or no training from their boss clowns.

7. Excuses Flow Like Canal Water
Each performer has one at the ready.  “I’m busy” es la classica for not showing up, “tranque” is the most popular for being late.  Other time-tested reasons for flakiness — new cell phone, lost your number; ran out of saldo, couldn’t call you; car broke down, I can’t meet.  Our aerialists will offer an excuse before offering a solution or giving you what you want.  I tried to order a combination of squash and lentil soup in the same bowl at Crepes and Waffles but the waitress denied my request.  When I asked why she just said it wouldn’t taste good.  Must have been too complicated, not worth the cherry pie.

6. It’s Freezing!
Regardless of the tropical climate, your costume will often require a jacket.  Banks, hospitals, theaters, and restaurants all love to crank up the A/C.  It’s almost as if there’s no setting between 18 and 30, no room for variation or calibration.  If you’re stuck under the Teatro Nacional’s big top without a scarf, you will shake miserably like you’ve been pushed onto a double-decker wire without a net.

5. Franchises on Clown Alley
Franchise operations are often totally slacking.  Mailboxes, etc. runs out of copy paper, Subway runs out of bread, and Baskin-Robbins runs out of ice-cream.  According to another expat circus-goer, the post office in Bocas del Toro does not have any stamps and has not had any for a long time. “They do not know when they will get more.  But there are still two performers there doing whatever the post office does without stamps.”

4.  Muy Sucio
Our three-ring circus is quite dirty.  Not only does the trash pick-up process leave full bags along the road for a day or so before being picked up, but folks here haven’t been taught not to litter.  Styrofoam and pizza boxes fly out of moving car windows, soda cans and water bottles dirty our beaches, a menagerie of filth ruins our natural beauty.  Send in the clowns —  and make sure they have brooms and trash bags.

3. Crooked Cops
If a cop actually stops you for breaking the law on the road, you can bribe him him with cash or a kazoo to avoid a ticket.  But don’t worry — they’ll only catch you if they’re not already occupied by texting — so your chances of escaping sin boleto are quite good.

2.  The Circle of Death
Most circus-goers are not violent but they are certainly overly aggressive bumper car drivers.  If I didn’t know better, I’d think they were trying to push me off my trapeze on purpose.  They brake with their horns and make right turns from the left lane.  Give them one inch and they’ll take a mile; if you let just one clown car merge, you’ll remain stationary forever.

1.  Everyone.  Loves.  Living.  Here.
Yes, regardless of the each and every surprise, you will be alone if you don’t believe “Panama es una maravilla.”  If you don’t give this show a standing ovation, others will be offended.  They will try to convince you to stand, to sell you on its grandeur.  And eventually you will be sold or at least jaded.

You will get used to the mediocre performance, the big top’s disarray, and the general chaos.  After about one year, the circus will be old hat.  A friend was eating lunch at a busy cafe last week when another customer walked through the door and it fell off the hinges.  The customer caught the door.  My friend just kept eating.

Another friend drove through dicey Chorrillo one night and witnessed a totally naked woman breaking car windows with a baseball bat.  Surprised by this behavior, he retold the tale to local talent, his teenage sons. They both just looked at him like, “Yeah, and then what happened?” as if a naked, crazy lady with a bat wasn’t sufficient to impress them.

Prepare to be surprised — and after a while you won’t be.  Welcome to Panama!

A Warm Body

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Photo by Queen City Kettlebell

With Panama’s unemployment rate at an impressive 4%, I’ve come to appreciate just having a warm body.

A couple of months ago I decided to hire a personal trainer and asked for recommendations via a robust expat Facebook group.  Only send me your best referrals, I requested.  I only want to train with someone who has experience getting results.

Back come 4 recommendations including someone several folks touted as “the best” trainer in Panama.  Of course, I contact him first.  After one conversation, “best” promises to get back to me in 2 days.  I never hear from him again.  When I follow-up with him on Facebook, I get no response.  So down the list I go contacting another trainer via phone and txt, who promises me call me at 8:30 am the next morning.  I never hear from him either.  Via Facebook I strike out a couple more times with referrals for people who aren’t actually in the country.

Figuring I’m on my own, I renew my gym membership and start showing up.  I’d seen the way trainers there worked with other clients and none of them struck me as “the best.”  Having lived in LA for many years and trained with some amazing people, including Bob Harper from The Biggest Loser, I wasn’t impressed by PowerClub’s crew.  Many of them trained several clients at a time and didn’t appear as fit or focused as I’d prefer my trainer to be.

But I’m now a bit desperate to share the effort of my weight training, which I hate to do, and ask for a recommendation at the front desk.  I’m not sure if the attendant thought he was the best or if he just happened to be walking by, but I’m quickly introduced to Eduardo (not his real name) who looks more interested in where he is heading for lunch than chatting with me.  While I can’t say I like it, I’m now accustomed to the less than effervescent greeting most Panamanians give their customers.  I let Eduardo’s expression slide, explain what I’m looking for and make my first appointment.

The next morning I arrive and Eduardo tells me to jump on one of the cardio machines for 30 minutes.  Then we hit the weights for another hour.  I’m getting a good workout but it’s not entirely due to Eduardo’s exceptional training skills.  While he checks WhatsApp, talks to another trainer who’s off the clock, and crosses the gym to chat with another lady, I complete the second and third sets of exercises unsupervised and using the wall clock to time myself.

Honestly, this is not the worse thing in the world since 1) I’m pretty good with exercise and don’t need a lot of instruction or correction; 2) I’m only paying $20/session; and 3) I couldn’t get any other trainer to call me back!

Forget criteria, checking references and asking about previous clients.  If I’d held out for “the best” I’d still be waiting to tone my triceps.  This week I’m grateful for a warm body.

I Miss My Desk Job

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This afternoon around 2:30 pm, when I finally arrived at the treadmill in my building’s gym, I missed my desk job. 

Don’t get me wrong — I didn’t miss the tedious contract, email and other document drafting and review that filled the bulk load of my legal career. I didn’t miss sitting still for 9+ hours in front of UV ray-emitting monitors — often utilizing 2 at a time forincreased speed and efficiency. And I certainly did not miss building someone else’s dream in exchange for a good, but never really good-enough wage instead of manifesting my own vision, which is priceless. 

What I was present to missing, as I finally started to sweat, was the easy, practically mindless push of unsatisfaction. You see, many things seemed brilliant, unequivocally appealing, when I was bored and not engaged in work I loved. The grass was always greener. When I build my resume, when I find a better position, when this contract ends, THEN I will be closer to leading a life I love. 

Today I realize the push was both strong and necessary. Most of my life, I was that person career counsels and life-coachie types hate since I’m terrible at answering their silly, “What-gets-you-out-of-bed-in-the-morning” question. Um, the alarm clock? Honestly, the first time someone asked me this, I didn’t realize getting out of bed was an option. “What are you passionate about?” they’d continue. Shoot. I don’t know. Since I’ve always been good at most anything I do, could it be that my passion was being awesome? Apparently not. 

All of these thoughts ran through my mind as I ran on the treadmill. In the past, running was something I thought about all the while sitting at my desk; it was easy to run 6 miles along the Embarcadero before work instead of immediately schlepping in to my cube. 

With no away-from motivation this afternoon, finally arriving on the treadmill required several conversations in my head. I negotiated things I really wanted to do — giving the dogs an extended morning walk, chatting about the weekend ahead with mom over breakfast, spending time preparing to teach my next class, giving my dad a much-needed pedicure — with working out. 

I have to admit, exercise was much easier when it beat the alternatives. But I suppose I’d rather be happy and chubby than fit and frustrated. I think this is the same trade-off people make when they get married…

Culture Creep

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Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. I’m finally becoming a real Panamanian. How can I tell? On my way to an appointment last week, I stopped for lunch at Deli Gourmet. I buy chicken salad and a bag of platanitos con limon, which I love, love, love and immediately scarf down.

Still hungry, I buy a dollar bag of pixbae, a squash-like fruit of the palm tree, from a woman in the street. I squeeze one in half, remove the tiny coconut pit and slather it with chicken salad. Delicious. Happily, I’m eating, driving and taking a pic of my lunch with my phone — at the stop light, of course. I then call a friend, get caught up in conversation and miss my next exit. No problem, I think, as I’ve learned from the best. I pull a quick u-turn and get back on track.

Unfortunately, I do this in front of a police officer while holding my mobile. Damn. I kind of deserve this one. But instead of fining me right away, he starts chatting and asks me why I don’t have a headset. I smile in a girlish way I’m not totally comfortable with and tell him I forgot it at home. I also offer him some of my pixbae and pollo — which he gladly accepts. Jajajaja — ticket avoided! Buying food while driving, flirting with a police officer and offering him tasty eats is not something I would ever have done in the U.S. But I’m experiencing culture creep, the slow and subtle integration of local norms, and seeing it as a good thing — even if my questionable driving habits are not.

Notes on My One Year Panama Anniversary

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“There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”  — Rumi

One year ago I moved to Panama on a whim.  When Mom fell and fractured her hip, I immediately flew from San Francisco to Panama to be with her.  While visiting for two weeks I received what I now refer to as *a calling* guiding me to move here.  I was kind of shocked to consider this relocation since, at the time, I didn’t even like it here.  Panama paled in comparison to San Francisco; it’s wasn’t nearly as beautiful, interesting, technologically sophisticated nor socially progressive.

But, as they say, no one leaves a great relationship.  For all of the amazing things living in San Francisco provided me, the City and I were not getting along well.  I wasn’t doing work I loved, I wasn’t being emotionally supported by my friends and family the way I wanted to be supported and I led an overly-independent, mostly single and often lonely life.

So after giving it just 2 weeks of thought, I packed up my California condo and brought Billy and The Maven with me to Panama.  If I’d taken more time to think about it, I would not have moved.  I didn’t have much of a plan, my Spanish was terrible and I would have to live with my parents.  The transition was fierce.

So, yeah, I went from living alone to practically never being alone at home.  Dad doesn’t get out much and there’s always someone here to help take care of him.  I’d wake up in the morning and immediately have to talk to someone.  Why are they talking to me?  What are they saying?  Is this really important before I’ve had my coffee?

I went from being surrounded by college friends, city friends and people my age at work to not having any friends at all.  I socialized for months with family friends and people Mom introduced me to until I made new friends on my own.  I accepted every invitation.  I eagerly gathered numbers in WhatsApp.  Every acquaintance was a possible BFF.

I also went from being overly scheduled to being able to fully control my time.  Over the past year in Panama I’ve taken time to get settled — get a driver’s license, buy a car, get lost, find my way, register for health insurance, unpack, etc. — and to give myself a break from the hectic life I had created for myself.  Back in the Bay each day was a long day due to work and commuting.  Morning planning included tricky arithmetic as I tried to maximize efficiency in my personal life versus work requirements of me at work:

24 hours minus at least 9 hours sitting at a desk minus 1 hour for exercise minus 1 hour to get clean, dress and eat breakfast minus 2 hours for commuting minus 1 hour for dinner minus 7 hours of sleep =

an unsatisfying way to live

Undoubtedly, the best part of my new experience is that I lead a more fulfilling and intentional life.  Surprisingly, my intent stems not only from a desire to create my Ideal Life but also from necessity.  You see, it’s much harder for me to be a leaf-in-the-wind when I don’t like where the wind blows.  Here I’m forced to figure out what I really want because the default kind of sucks.  Things other people love to do or love about living here don’t really interest me.  Not to sound like a snob, but chances are I’ve seen them done better or had a better experience doing that same thing somewhere else.  I’ve bathed on beautiful beaches. I’ve partied at awesome street fairs.  I’ve lived in and visited amazing cities filled with the best art and culture.  Lots of things really are better over there.

But the incredible part of my intentional life experiment is that it’s actually working.  About a year ago, I wrote a lengthy description of what my Ideal Life would look like.  I remember feeling weird writing it, like who am I to declare to the Universe what I want?  What makes me think I can actually have it?  I mean, if it were this simple, why wouldn’t everyone do it? Don’t be silly, Laura, this won’t work.

Today I not only love reading my description but willingly share parts of it with others.  Frequently I catch myself saying things like “My dream is to…” which I was way too embarrassed or scared to articulate before.  And although I’m not yet doing exactly what I want to be doing, I’m certainly getting there.  Here is a list of qualities I’m working to incorporate into my days:

  • Billy goes to work with me

  • I do not sit at a desk for 8+ hours each day

  • My days include doing more than one thing — I have several lines of works or projects

  • I work from home or office that is nearby

  • I have time for myself each day

  • My work and lifestyle allow me to be fully self-expressed

  • My work is location-independent and provides with me flexibility to travel

  • I work with people I like/ability to choose who I work with

  • I am respected in my community and have a positive impact

  • I enjoy sunshine and fresh air each day

  • I donate 5% of my earnings

The other amazing thing about my life is that I am opening to love.  You know how I said I didn’t feel supported in SF?  Well now I understand that being perfectly supported means being open to a deep level of love and support.  Today I have more support than I could ever imagine simply because I choose to accept a level of support that has my greater good at heart.  If abundance is being aware of and receiving what has already been provided, then I truly have an abundance of support in my life.

As I write this I’m nursing a slight cold.  Mom and her scooter enter my room.  “Laura, I have your honey and lime.  And Naya is making you chicken soup.”  Because I’ve already decided to juice for the day, the thought of eating chicken leads me to say something along the lines of, “No, I don’t want it.  And don’t do me any favors.”  Really, Laura?

You see, as much as want to be supported my ego still fiercely resists it.  Yeah, I know, it sucks to be me. It also sometimes sucks for the people around me.  A couple of weeks ago I met an amazing person at a party.  We proceed to go on 4 dates in one week and one week later — since it was going so well, I suppose — I practically ruined everything one night for no reason.  Crap.  What am I doing?  Why am I creating separation?  While my change of location has created a real shift in my life, my complete transformation cannot occur until I change as well.

So that’s really what I’m up to, folks — self-discovery and transformation.  Like it or not and whether I was ready for it or not, Panama is my crash course in creation and love acceptance.  Not bad lessons to learn so I’m grateful to be in this ride.

The Top 8 Ways Living in Panama Can Make You Sexier

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Panama consistently appears on lists of top places to live since it rates high as a retirement haven.  But did you know moving to Panama provides all of the elements to make you sexier — to transform you from humdrum to Don Juan?  Yes, our special mix of central geography, developing economy and international culture create the perfect storm for your animal magnetism to spring forth.  Come strut your stuff, feel invigorated and experience a level of sex appeal you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.  Here’s how:
1.      Secret Ingredients
Coconut Bathed Skin
Feeling sexy starts with looking good.  Clear skin, shiny eyes, and plump lips are easy to maintain when you feed your body the best stuff on earth.  Luckily, Panama has an abundance of local fruits and vegetables with healthy benefits to supercharge your appearance.  I know, this probably doesn’t sound very sexy, but trust me, it’s important. Your hair, nails, and skin will thank you for receiving daily doses of antioxidants found in Panama’s delicious tropical bounty.
Papaya, available year-round, is great for the skin; it helps get rid of ugly acne and unclogs dirty pores.  And coconut oil, another highly available super-duper food, gives skin a shimmery, irresistible glow when rubbed all over.  A full gallon – which is like a year’s supply – only costs $25 at Mercado de Abastos.  At this price, it’s easy to look younger and more beautiful.  Naturally, you will make people swoon.
2.      The Price of Beauty
Personal Training in Paradise
If you’ve ever had the experience that “it takes a village* — between a stylist, manicurist, masseuse, trainer, acupuncturist – to consistently look and feel good, then you’ll love all of the inexpensive services Panama has to offer.  Hire someone to do all of your cooking and cleaning for $120/week.  For lunch, order delicious, low-calorie French meals prepared by La Petite Diet.  They deliver lunch to homes and offices for just $10/meal.  Create a killer body with an at-home personal trainer for just $30/session.  Living like a celebrity is within your reach.
3.      Sultry Sports
With our without your own personal trainer, finding fun ways to exercise – which increases your stamina and releases feel-good hormones — is easy here.  Within City limits, you can take a dance class at PowerClub, run along the Cinta Costera, ride your bike on the Causeway or hike to the top of Ancon Hill.  Outside of the City, you’ll find plenty of world-class activities – like surfing, diving, and sport-fishing – to keep you engaged and help you attract more admirers.
4.     Ladies Got Back
But, hermanas, please, don’t overdo it with the exercise!  Panamanian men prefer women with curves so you can stop worrying about losing those last 10 pounds.  Yes!  This is true.  Quit spending hours trying to reduce the size of your rump because the more pert and rounded it is, the stronger the sexual signal to men.  Stop asking “Does my butt look big in these jeans?” and start asking, “Does my bootie look big enough?”  Bienvenidos a Panama!
5.      Heat and Greet
Short-Shorts are Always In Fashion
Panama’s favorable, warm weather offers the perfect backdrop for arousal.  Investing in a new wardrobe is inexpensive since you don’t have to buy pricey boots or coats to cover you in cold weather.  Go ahead and shop for sexy new dresses, skirts, trendy shirts and shorts.
Plus, since we don’t fear catching a chill, we’re totally free to show some skin.  Girls on Barlovento’s rooftop bar bring racy short-shorts back in style.  And to keep cool men leave shirts appropriately unbuttoned, which invites peeking in on macho pecs.  In February, when suckers in winter slumberlands are bundled up, complaining about shoveling snow, Panamanians are enjoying Carnival at the beach with friends.  If the choice is between a  parka or a swimsuit or pasty, colorless skin or sun-kissed skin, it’s really no contest on the titillation barometer.
6.     Stress is Out

La Vida Tranquila

It’s safe to say that expats in Panama lead relatively stress-free lifestyles.  Maybe it’s a by-product of Panamanians’ “tranquila” attitude or the ability to slow down from the rat-race most of us leave behind or both.  Whatever the reason, it’s possible to find room and time here to relax, to enjoy yourself and soothe your senses.  Plus, thanks to the positive effects of sunshine, people here are generally happier and smiling makes us sexier.

7.     Confidence is In

Sex appeal is about attitude — when you feel sexy you are sexy.  And nothing is more important to feeling sexy than self-confidence.  When self-esteem is low, we underestimate our own allure and overestimate other people’s.  When it’s high, we are captivating and charming.  When you move to Panama, your self-confidence will naturally increased.  Instead of feeling like everyone else back at home, here you’ll be different, not the standard issue of career and educational background, which will make you more attractive.  You’ll be free to take more risks here than back home.  Creating a new life in a new place is challenging.  But each new risk builds confidence and confidence is most certainly sexy.
And, men, thanks to more traditional gender roles, you’re free to *be a man* here — to show how useful and strong you are.  Shed the “identity crisis” that comes with living among serious feminist compatriots and return to your innate biological instincts to provide and protect without having to question and doubt your behavior.  Because gender roles are less progressive here, it’s easier for men to be confident in knowing what to do.  Nobody likes arrogance or machismo.  But everyone likes a self-confident man.
8.      You’re Not in Peoria Anymore
Rooftop Pool at Manray Hotel
Panama City is not Peoria.  Far from it – our international ethnic melting pot is loaded with bars, clubs, restaurants, high-end hotels and other big city temptations to seduce your senses and engage your desires.  Move your hips to salsa at Li Bar, loosen your limbs swaying to Cuban jazz at Vieja Habana, or make eyes with a fellow Latin Lover while dancing through the night on Calle Uruguay.  In Panama, the world is your aphrodisiacal oyster.
Care to join me?
This article is part of an expats blog writing contest which ends March 29, 2013.  If you liked what you read, please leave a like or comment by clicking here.
Gracias!

Driving in Panama — A True Adventure

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Nine months ago when I first moved here, I drove like an American.  I remember coming to a complete stop at an intersection near my home and immediately being honked at by the car behind me.  At the time, my reaction was “What the heck!?  Why are they honking?”  Now I have no reaction.  If I reacted every time a car honked at me on the road, I would be a trembling mess.
When Nikki Giovanni said love is the only true adventure, she’d obviously never driven in Panama.  For sure, driving in Panama is an *adventure* — and I use this word as a euphemism for *disaster.*  Between the other drivers, roads under construction, closed avenues, and rubbernecking past the daily car accident, navigating city streets feels like conquering a chaotic obstacle course.  Breaking, swerving and merging all seem to occur simultaneously.  Dodging street vendors and hefty potholes takes special attention.  So does driving behind someone distracted by txting or talking carelessly on the phone with little regard to the road you’re both sharing.
Chalk that up to a regular day.  Heaven forbid you’re caught in special circumstances like a seasonal flooding or that you venture out during “quincena” — one of the two major paydays each month.  Then you might as well surrender all expectations, give up hope in trying to arrive at your destination on time, and carefully start calling to apologize for being late.  Don’t worry.  “Tranque” as an excuse, although totally overused, is still absolutely acceptable.  Even the best planners — myself included —  get thrown off-schedule by unexpected road closings or the world’s worst gridlock.

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Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad drivers here.  Even worse — a number of them are employed as city bus drivers.  In my experience, they are the most dangerous of all.  Unlike little, yellow, tin can taxis, buses are huge and carry lots of people.  But this doesn’t hinder their hack handlers from squeezing, merging and speeding in a way that both manipulates and ignores the traffic around them.  Do not play offense with them; they are bigger and stronger than you and they will win.
If you’re not much of a driver in the States, it’s safe to say you’ll hate driving here.  My advice to you: get a chauffeur.  If you have the means, I highly recommend it.  Personally, I do not have the means; plus, my personality isn’t that of one to be driven.  I like the challenge of finding my way around, getting through, getting away with things, getting by.  If you prefer to drive yourself like I do, then prepare to be surprised.  Every single day I see another driver do something shocking I’ve never seen before.  The day I feel totally confident in anticipating Panamanian driving behavior will be the same day I create my own accident.
And, trust me, accidents do happen.  My brother was in a serious wreck last month and spent several days in the hospital.  About one week ago, a friend of a friend was killed while driving his scooter.  It’s no exaggeration when I say driving in Panama is a matter of life and death.  The result is that I’ve actually slowed down, chilled out and heightened my awareness.  I strive to keep calm and carry on.  When someone cuts me off, I remember that arriving one second sooner is not more important than arriving safely.  In the meantime, I’m searching for a middle finger bobble head.  This will help me keep both hands on the wheel rather than having to lower my window to flip the bird.  Safety first!

In Panama You Are the Sky

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You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather. ~Pema Chödrön

Hands down, my favorite thing about living in Panama is the weather.  Of course it helps that I love, love, love the heat and totally prefer to sweat than shiver with cold.  For 12 years I lived in San Francisco and, truth be told, I never got used to the chilly dampness there.  I wore jackets year-round — heavy ones, like for skiing — and fell in love with my Bikram yoga studio because the heat greeted me like a bear hug.

If you’ve never visited San Francisco, it’s hard to imagine how chilly it can be considering it’s not only in California but also surrounded by warm areas like Oakland, Marin and the Palo Alto.  Tourists regularly arrive in shorts and leave sporting $10 sweatshirts purchased in a desperate, trembling moment visiting Fisherman’s Wharf.  Walking over the Golden Gate Bridge requires a windbreaker.

Here in Panama, numb fingertips, goosebumps and daily scarf wrapping are no longer part of my experience.  My new challenge is to keep cool which means I wear sundresses and flip-flops most days and keep the sun off my face with a wide-brim hat.  SPF is my new BFF.  I look forward to going to the beach, swimming in my gym’s outdoor pool and enjoying the delicious breeze on nightly walks with my dogs.  While friends complain about shoveling snow from their sidewalks in February, I plan a day trip to the San Blas islands.

Weather in Panama varies by location but basically we have two seasons — the dry season and the rainy season.  The dry season lasts from December through May with temperatures between 80 and 90 degrees; our summer is winter in the United States, Canada and Europe — perfect for snowbirds.  Mountain areas such as Boquete are cooler and windier and the Caribbean side of the country is more humid and rainy than the Pacific.  The driest part of Panama is the Azuero Peninsula, where Mom and I attended the pollera festival, on the south coast.  The hottest part of the country is around David, close to the Costa Rican border.

The rainy season lasts from May to November.  Temperatures are about 10 degrees lower and we get rain most days — but usually just for a bit, like in Hawaii.  At 1:00 pm I might think an evening bike ride will be canceled only to be pleasantly surprised by 6:00 pm that streets are dry and bikeable.  Due to ample rain, vegetation here is lush.  Trees and plants thrive.  Panama never goes on Daily Savings Time as all days are the same length and we never gets hurricanes which is awesome.

Mom loves the blue sky.  Each morning she gazes out her bedroom window and thanks the Universe for another beautiful day.  Sometimes I walk in during her blue sky meditation and she shares her grateful thoughts with me.  When affirming what is good here in Panama, warm weather and blue skies certainly are certainly at the top of my list – and Billy’s, too.  Here he is sunbathing on the terrace.  The heat is on, amigos.  Come join us.

BillySun

How to Be Younger Next Year

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For most of my adult life, I’ve been a fan of health and fitness.  I started running at Stanford my sophomore year, completing the 4-mile loop with increasing levels of stamina, and went on to participate in 5 full marathons in San Francisco, Honolulu and Los Angeles.  Living in chilly San Francisco over the past few years, I became a huge fan of Bikram yoga; I loved the heat and the incredible all-body workout so much that I willing put up with and took classes from*yoga nazi* Darius, owner of Funky Door (more like Funky Odor) as regularly as my schedule allowed.

Now that I live in Panama with aging parents — Mom is 72 and Dad is 91 — I am even more tuned-in to the importance of staying healthy.  Yes, I’m still terribly concerned with my figure, with being *as cute as I can be* and with staying in shape.  But I’m also newly motivated to be healthy and strong in order to enjoy the extended quality of life fitness offers.
About 10 years ago, Dad stopped exercising while living with Mom in Gardernerville, Nevada.  Since I wasn’t there, I’m not sure what happened exactly, why he decided to give up taking care of himself through exercise.  Mom encouraged him to continue his nightly walks, but being a somewhat stubborn individual, he chose not to listen.
He also stopped engaging himself in projects, stopped stimulating his mind.  For many years in St. Louis, Dad owned and managed apartment buildings which he was always busy fixing and renting.  After moving to Gardenerville, he no longer had his business to keep him occupied.  He also didn’t have any hobbies.  Dad didn’t play golf or tennis or go out with buddies to drink beer.  He was a generous person but not one to volunteer his time at non-profit or take up community activities.   Dad’s hobby was working, being up to things, making them better, and earning money.  Once he stopped doing those things, he slowly started to disconnect.
Mom, on the other hand, has always been a connector and, therefore, interested in staying connected.  She *retired* from medicine when she moved to Nevada and then started a totally new business in a new field and founded a non-profit organization here in Panama.  She witnessed Dad’s entire ageing process and made a personal commitment to create a different experience for herself.
Unfortunately, Mom fell and fractured her hip last year; she is still working very hard to recover.  Luckily her injury was not worse.  Did you know that twenty percent of women who fall down and break a hip die within one year?  Or that hip fractures kill more women each year — about 300,00 — than breast cancer?  Twenty-five percent of women who break a hip will end up in a nursing home.  And twenty-five percent will be at home, but dependent on a wheelchair or walker to get around the house, and dependent on someone else to get through each day.
I learned these facts reading Younger Next Year for Women, which I purchased because Suzanne Sieloff recommended it.  I don’t know Suzanne but came across her on BodyBuilding.com and was totally motivated by her transformation.  Here are her pics at ages 45 and 50.  Pretty awesome.

Younger Next Year stresses the importance of staying engaged as we grow older and also strongly encourage readers to exercise six days a week, two of those days reserved for lifting weights.  Through facts and anecdotes, it tries to create a sense of urgency around working out, thereby allowing us to avoid emergencies.

So start now.  Do something physical each day.  Do not give up.  If you don’t already participate in sports, find something you like to do and do it.  And go to the gym as well.  That’s where the big heavy weights are waiting to be picked up.  Don’t worry — you can put them right back down.  Yes, I know it’s not easy.  Even though I love to workout, I often struggle to fit it into my schedule or bail because I don’t feel like it.  Then I remember the alternative — eventual vascular dementia or fractures due to silent, creeping osteoporosis.

Suddenly a long walk or short run on the treadmill doesn’t seem so bad.

Gracias, Madre. We Won!

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Yesterday was an all-around excellent day here in Panama.

Not only did I get to honor Mom, one of my favorite people, on Mother’s Day, but I received word that I won first place in the Expat Blog Awards 2012 for Panama.

Mom was excited.

Thank you, Mom, for always believing in me.  And thanks to everyone who voted for me and reads my blog. I look forward to continuing to share my journey with you.

It’s a good life!

Guinea Pig in a Paper Thong

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This morning I was a guinea pig and wore a paper thong.  Mom and I made massage appointments at Estetica Corpural in Galeria Balboa to cash in on OfertaSimple coupons that were about to expire.  When I called about a month ago to make two back-to-back appointments I was told this wasn’t possible — that there was only one masseuse and that they don’t schedule her back-to-back, that she needs an hour break in between.  Mom calls a few weeks later and gets what she wants.  When I hear this I give myself the experience of being given the shaft as a *gringa* in Panama.  I know others complain about unequal treatment towards non-natives.  Now  I may start to complain about it was well.

Mom offers to drive so I pack her scooter in the car and we head off down Cinta Costera.  At some point, she asks me for directions, if she should u-turn or keep straight.  I tell her to u-turn since I think it’s shorter.  Unfortunately, it’s not; we’re forced by a policeman to go left when we want to turn right and travel in 2 huge circles to finally reach the clinic.  I admit that the other route would have been faster and Mom responds with an unexpected “I-told-you-so” type comment.  “When I leave the house it’s almost like I need to have an internal map in my head of where I’m going” she says.  Um, then next time, please don’t ask me for directions and them blame me when we get re-routed.  Deal?  Deal.

We finally arrive and I unload Mom’s scooter.  It’s dead.  She forgot to charge it last night — although she never forgets to charge her iPad — so I put it in neutral and push her into the building.  This is kind of fun until I drop my beloved green glass bottle from Uruguay and it shatters into a million little pieces.  The fun is over.  We’re late, I’m now a bit frazzled, I just lost my bottle and I can feel my blood sugar dropping from skipping breakfast.  Suddenly, 9:00 am on a Thursday is the perfect time for a massage.

Once inside Mom says I can go first.  I’m escorted to my room, told to get undressed and to put on the paper thong lying on the bed.  I’ve never used a paper thong in a massage before — only in waxing appointments — but I have to say it’s a nice touch.  I mean it’s always a bit weird to have that area totally exposed.  Am I right?  With my thong on, I start climbing onto the bed.  The masseuse enters mid-climb catching me naked.  This is a little bit uncomfortable but fortunately, I’m not a shy person so I recover quickly.

Masseuse is nice but the service is terrible.  She rubs me — spending a lot of time on my ankles — rather than really massaging me and then places warm rocks on my back and legs.  She then leaves the room — for, like 20 minutes.  Once the rocks get cold, I decide this is weird, not what I signed up for or got naked for so I start to shout “Hello” from my head-down position on the table.  After the fifth “Hello” Masseuse re-enters the room.  “Where did you go?” I ask in Spanish.  She says something about having to clean the rocks.  I’m glad to know the rocks are clean but mention that it would have been nice if she’d stayed in the room to attend to my feet, arms, hands, head or any other part of my unexposed and uncovered body.  She does not respond.

After a bit more rubbing and before I know it, my *massage* is over.  Humph.  I head back to the waiting room and report to Mom that it was weak.  I tell her about the rocks and that, supposedly, that’s the type of service the coupon entitles us to.  Mom is no stranger to massage; she has her own table here at the house and her therapist Aurora on speed-dial.  She is also very good at getting what she wants — in a very pleasant way, of course.  Thirty-five minutes later, she returns to the waiting room and thanks me for the heads-up.  She told Masseuse she didn’t want to use rocks and received a deep tissue rub — still not a massage — instead.

“What did we pay for those coupons?” Mom asks in the car.  “Eighteen dollars,” I respond.  “Well, that’s ok but it was worth about eight.”

Agreed.

“Do What You Love and Money Will Follow”

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Dad always said, “Do what you love and money will follow.”  More of a spiritual man than a religious one, Dad held deep faith in the universe and one’s own ability to be both self-fulfilled and financially successful.

From day to day, I’m not sure Dad understands what I’m doing here, that I live with him and Mom in Panama.  Some days I enter the room and he asks, “How did you get here?” as if I just arrived from a long trip.  Other days he asks me about school and when I will finish even though I completed my education over 10 years ago.

If I could, if I thought he would understand, I would summon up the courage to explain that I’m here to do what I love, that I’m finally taking his advice to heart by following my own heart.  It’s not an easy road trying to figure out what ignites me and what I desire.  And, of course, many days I’m filled with fear and doubt about whether this experiment, this enterprise, will work — if the money will indeed follow, if I’ll be able to permanently escape a traditional career path in exchange for one of my own creation, if I will be able to do work I love and earn a living simultaneously.

Some days I struggle to keep the faith that seemed to come so easily to Dad.  Videos like this one are great reminders of what he knew to be true.

Las Des Ubicadas

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So fun!  I wrote an article called A Born Again Panamanian and did English translation work for a new, stylish women’s magazine here in Panamá called Des Ubicadas.  Here is a pic of my family, the magazine cover and article text.

A Born Again Panamanian

They say everything happens for a reason.  What started as an accident turned into an opportunity to embrace change and create something new.

At 91 years old, Dad doesn’t leave the house often. Yesterday he woke up early and announced he was ready to go home. Sometimes this happens; he gets confused and doesn’t understand he is already home. Perfect time to take him out for a spin.  I drive as Mom changes the dial to her favorite lite jazz station.  I don’t know which I dislike more, lite jazz or salsa, but I’m having to  adjust to both — and plenty of other new things — now that I live in Panama.

Even though I’d visited several times since my parents relocated to Panama 6 years ago, I had never considered moving away from California, my sister and friends, or even the United States.  My parents left Panama when I was 2 years old so that my mother could pursue her dream of becoming a medical doctor.  She was successful and fulfilled, in huge part to Dad’s relentless support and motivation.  My sister Michelle and I enjoyed a comfortable and safe childhood growing up in St. Louis, Missouri.  We both went to excellent universities and completed post-graduate programs.  For 38 years, I led an incredibly blessed life abroad.

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When mom fell and fractured her hip in April, I immediately flew here to be with her.  Coincidentally, I was looking for looking for work at the time since I had just completed a one-year contract as an attorney at Google.  Yes, working at Google was interesting, but eventually my experience became the same as with every other corporate job I’d ever had — totally boring.  Plus, due to the long commute, every day was a long day.  I was in the rat race and wanted out badly.  So I finally gave myself permission to create my ideal life.  I would  only consider work that appealed to me.  I would stop doing what I think I “should” do and start doing what I wanted to do.

Interestingly, I returned to Panama for the same reason my parents left it — to follow their hearts and create a better life for themselves and our family.  I’ve returned to create a better life for myself, one filled with family and healthy interdependence rather than over-independence, stiff competition and stress.  One could say I returned to the place I was born to be born again.  I appreciate Panama now more than I ever have before because it offers me new opportunities, a chance for new ways of being.  I’m getting to the know the culture I was never a part of before.  My Spanish is improving tremendously.  Together my mother and I are building a business.  At the same time, I’m exploring my interests in foreign exchange investing, writing and teaching.   My transition is taking place slowly but surely; Mom’s lite jazz bothers me less and less.  All in all, it’s a good life.

Read more about Laura’s life in Panama at http://www.panamaguy.wordpress.com.

Update on My Love Life

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Now that Matchmaker is gone, I’m having to search for and try to attract my own men here in Panama.  In an attempt to use my resources, I browsed the online dating site Badoo a few times but thought it was awful.  I had never been on a site where men post pics of actors or other celebrities as themselves with such frequency.  Like playing Whack-a-Mole, I report abusers to site administrators and block the likes of Johnny Depp, Nelson Mandela (interesting choice), Matthew McConaughey, a Spanish telenovela star and other handsome men standing in place of men who hide and pretend behind stolen pics.

Sadly, even though they’re fake, these photos are much better to look at than many real pics of *eligible* men, most of whom have round faces and even rounder bellies, the product of too much rice, platanos y cerveza I imagine.  I spent one evening showing pics to a friend who was equally horrified – photos that look like mug shots, pics taken in such exotic places as the public restroom and practically every other shot of someone holding either a beer or a shotgun.  Needless to say, I have very little confidence in finding a mate on this site.

But since I’m curious – and honestly a little desperate – I pay the nominal registration fee which elevates my browsing options from freemium to premium.  I am now able to conduct advanced searches for men who speak English, are actually single and have at least a college degree.  One guy’s pic stands out so I take the bait and check out his profile.  He’s a gym rat with an 8-pack on display in each of his 6 profile pics.  But he also has tattoos and doesn’t seem like my type so I move on without leaving a message.

About an hour later, he sends me a chat.  He probably noticed that I looked at his profile and thinks I might be interested.  Because I’ve got nothing to lose, I’m friendly and respond to his message.  Here is my conversation with Ellis – not his real name.

 

Ellis — Friday, 30 November 2012 10:03 AM

Holaaaaaaaa

Laura — Friday, 30 November 2012 10:10 AM

Hola. Como estas?

Ellis — Friday, 30 November 2012 10:12 AM

Bien gracias y tu

Laura — Friday, 30 November 2012 10:20 AM

Muy bien. Parece que te gusta ir al gimnasio. Yo tambien pero no tanto como tu.

[Great.  Looks like you like to go to the gym.  I do, too, but not as much as you.]

He responds by telling me he works out compulsively.  He also states that he’s “preso.”  I’m not familiar with this word so I jump on Google Translate.  Really?  Does this mean what I think it means?

 

Laura — Friday, 30 November 2012 10:30 AM

Mi espanol no es muy bueno. Que significa “estoy preso?”

[My Spanish isn’t very good.  What does “estoy preso” mean?]

Ellis — Friday, 30 November 2012 06:36 PM

Estoy en la cárcel

[I am in prison.]

Yep, he’s chatting with me from jail.  I suppose he’s using his iPhone?  At least he was decent enough to tell me off the bat, I figure.  I also figure I’ll be emailing Badoo at some point and suggesting their terms of service should prevent inmates from using the site.  I thought online dating stunk in the US.  In Panama it’s a little bit worse.

Safe Sex Revisted

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One thing I’m up to here in Panama is starting a gluten-free baking business.  Right now, I have a few small cafe customers; in order to sell to larger vendors like supermarkets, I need a Carnet de Salud.  Mom researches this health certification process and informs me that it includes getting a pap smear.  I don’t think much about this requirement until I mention it to my friend and doctor sister, both of whom ask, “What does THAT have to do with preparing food?”  Good question.

Ali tells Mom I can complete a pap exam along with the other steps of the process at one of the local health clinics.  The closet one is in El Chorrillo, a neighborhood that suffered greatly during the 1989 US Invasion of Panama.  Today Chorrillo is poor and dangerous.  Mom and Dad got lost coming home one night and were stopped by a police officer who asked what they were doing.  After Mom explained, he told her to lock the car doors and to drive without stopping until they reached home.  Needless to say, no one in Chorrillo is going into my vajayjay.

Mom becomes interested in the reasoning behind this protocol as well and asks a doctor friend.  According to her, the requirement exists because the carnet can be used by both food handlers and prostitutes.  So in order to safely prepare muffins one must also be safe to perform sexual acts for money with strange men.  Makes sense.

Fortunately, we discover that I’m able to submit pap results from my own doctor.  I maintain that the pap requirement is bogus, but since I need to establish myself with a gynecologist here anyway, I go ahead and do the exam privately.  With results in hand I head to the next closest clinic in Paraiso.  What a nightmare.  Even though I am prepared with all of my paperwork it takes me 3 separate visits totaling 6.5 hours to have blood drawn, receive a dental exam, receive 3 vaccinations and put up with generally poor attitudes and inefficiencies by clinic employees.  I’m also subject to a rather intrusive medical history wherein I must give information about the year of my first menstruation, the date of my last period, whether I’ve ever had an abortion and asked to name the relation of any family members with disease.  I don’t generally have privacy issues but feel that this too much.  I also sympathize with the woman who wants to work at a bakery, for example, and has to answer very personal questions about her body in front of a stranger in order to do so.

If you live in Panama and happen to have additional information on this process or know someone who can fix it, please let me know.

In the meantime, I now have my carnet.  If this baking venture doesn’t work out, I suppose I’m *pre-approved* to engage in the world’s oldest profession.

Extreme Sport Fail

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On Sunday some friends and I went zip lining at La Granja Campo y Aventura near Colon.  A family friend invited me to join her since her daughter, who is close to my age, wanted to go there during her Panama visit.  Once the 3 of us arrive, we are grouped with a few other tourists and taken to the zip line area where we suit up and listen to instructions on what to do and not to do on the line.  I pay close attention and think I understand.

Friend’s Mom goes first.  She’s come to this same park to zip line before so she’s practically a pro.  But since she’s in her late 60s, I give her huge props for taking this on twice now.  She is awesome.  Her daughter goes next.  She’s not as calm as her mom and screeches like she’s on a roller coaster the whole way down.  But she makes it unscathed which is the important thing.

Then it’s my turn.  I’m scared to put my feet up and to receive the gentle push off the platform.   Eventually, I start moving but think I’m going too fast.  So I start doing this pumping thing to the line with my right hand to slow myself down.   When I arrive to the end of the line, a friendly tour guide tells me not to pump like that and repeats some of the instructions.  Also, if my hand comes off the line, which it did, I shouldn’t try to grab it again; I should just put it in front of me with my left hand.  I try again on the second set of cables.  When my right hand comes off the cable, I put it with my left, which means I’ve lost my ability to brake.  That was my fear.  I’m going at top speed when I realize that the guide who’s supposed to catch me on the other side hasn’t noticed I’m quickly on my way.  When he finally does notice me, I’m close enough to catch a fleeting “Oh, shit!” look in his eyes.  Bam!  I crash right into his thick, strong torso.  Of course, this is much better for me — if not for him — than crashing into the tree supporting the platform. I’m exhilarated  embarrassed and frustrated with myself all at the same time.   I get another lecture about what to do with my hands and try to improve my technique on cables 3 and 4.  But I spend so much flight time thinking about what to do that I hardly enjoy the ride.

After the fourth cable, I’m done.  I tell my guide and he calls another guide to help me down the swing ladder.  Back on solid ground, I blame my inability to properly follow directions on my slight hangover after celebrating a friend’s birthday the night before.  Not only did I stick to my two drink minimum but I enjoyed an additional glass of champagne.  After just 5 hours of sleep, I leave the house and stop at Pio Pio, a Panamanian fast food chain and my new favorite place.  I order a corn empanada, an order of fried yuca and a cup of Cafe Duran.  This tasty meal provides sufficient grease and caffeine to get me through the morning but apparently not through 6 cables in the canopy.

I don’t really care about quitting until we’re at lunch and one of the other guests asks me what happened.  Now I feel like a dork in front of this really cute guy — a rare Panamanian species.  I’ve already noticed him, checked out his female companion and used my supersonic hearing and Spanish skills to figure out they’re not a couple, just friends.  In response to his question, I make a funny comment pretending to be so cool that I got bored with the whole experience.  It occurs to me to flirt with him.  Instead I immediately leave the table.  While Friend’s Daughter and I are waiting for the shuttle, I tell her I think that guy is cute.  “He’s adorable,” she confirms and encourages me to give him my number.  I admit that I’m too embarrassed to return to the dining area and she says, “I’ll do it for you.”  I like her.  I write my contact info on a piece of paper and Matchmaker delivers it to him.  Based on Matchmaker’s report of how he received my message, I’m hopeful he will call.  It would stink to fail twice in one day.