Ocu With Friends


I have been fortunate to make several friends while living in Panama. Many are expats who share a sense of adventure that motivated them to leave their familiar homes. Others are tourists from literally all over the world who were intrigued by Panama. The individuals, however, that I am in daily contact are members of Panama’s working class who are employed by Los Cuatros Tulipanes in the heart of Casco Viejo. In spite of my very limited Spanish, their very limited English, and vast differences in backgrounds, we have found ways to effectively communicate. It has been natural for me to form a friendship with each.

It was because of my friendship with Deira, the assistant manager, that I was invited to attend the Festival del Manito Ocueño. I eagerly accepted but knew very little about the festival or what to expect. I was to be Deira’s guest. We would leave immediately after her shift on Friday and return Sunday. I would soon learn how important leaving on time would be. Deira had to spend several minutes locating me at the end of her shift. As a result we were 10 minutes late leaving work. We literally jogged to an area where we could hail a cab headed in the direction of the Albrook Bus Terminal. Several passed us before we found a willing cab.

Once at the terminal, it seemed we had arrived on time since the next bus was in 20 minutes. There was a line waiting for the bus which did not seem a concern until a small bus arrived and the bus was full just before our turn to board. Those precious minutes that Deira had not been able to leave meant that we would wait for an hour for the next bus. It also meant that rearranging when her children would be picked up along the bus route. I had a whole new perspective about willingness to stay a few minutes late.

It took approximately 90 minutes to reach Choerra for Deira’s children, as she exited the bus I needlessly worried the bus would leave with me but without her. Deira soon boarded with her children. Deirita, her 14 year old daughter, sat next to me. Manuel crawled up on his mother’s lap. The journey resumed, with the AC at ice cold and the radio blasting Panamanian folk music for the next 4 hours.

We arrived in Ocu after 11:00 PM. Carrying our bags and drowsy 5 year old, we began our hike to Deira’s mother’s home. It was pitch black outside. We were following a dirt road without a single street light when a cab pulled over driven by Deira’s step father, Jose. We all piled in for a short ride to her mother’s home.

I am not entirely certain of the full layout of the house but believe it had 3 bedrooms separate from the living area. There was a small kitchen in the front attached to larger living area. There was one small bathroom. It was made of cinderblock with a tin roof. Electrical wires were routed along the roof lines.

Deira’s mother, Virginia, had waited up. She served us chicken and yucca with a yummy sauce for our very late dinner. She then pulled out a sack from the second hand store filled with items for Deira and her children. She has a good eye. There were great finds in that bag – Rockport, Naturalizer, Travelon, and Chico. I communicated what the US retail price would be as one bargain shopper to another. Virginia beamed and insisted that I take Travelon leather purse. Muchas gracias, Virginia! I let them all know that it was going to be the purse I take on my upcoming trip to England in December.

Exhausted and no longer hungry, we went off to bed. Deira, Deirita, Manuel, and I would share a room. All three of them slept in a large bed. I was provided the twin bed with freshly laundered Strawberry Shortcake sheets. I woke up quite early to the sound of roosters crowing – indeed an entire choir of roosters. It was still dark outside which does not matter a tinker to Panama’s roosters. Virginia and Jose were already up and busy. I could see now that that the outside living area served many purposes. The large cement porch had a tin roof overhead, several clothes lines, wash machine and tub, dining table, hammocks, and open flame stove. It led into their garden with an area for chickens, including several members of the rooster choir, and dogs. The morning air was pleasant and far less humid than Panama City. I understood I was being asked how I had slept which until waking up before the crack of dawn had been fine. Not knowing the Spanish word for rooster, I crowed, “cock-a-doodle”. Virginia and Jose roared. Indeed it may have just been the funniest word ever heard. The rest of the weekend, Virginia would imitate my crow and laugh.

Soon the day was underway. I grabbed a fast shower which without hot water was quick. Deira’s younger sister Naomi arrived who I had met some time ago in Casco. She, Deira, and I head to the second hand store where Virginia scored those bargains. Next we stopped at a market. I bought apples and sodas to share.

We then drove over to Naomi’s house which is in a lovely neighborhood of new cinder block homes. She was pleased show me her home which has an addition underway. I am reintroduced to her two sons and little girl. Naomi’s husband, Ricardo, has been watching the children. He is an immigration officer who I immediately had declared as best friend when we first met. He commutes between Panama City and Ocu each week in order for his family to continue to live in this idyllic community surrounded by their families. Since the trip takes 5 hours each way, he is only home weekends.

More of Deira’s family has arrived by the time we return for lunch. Attending the festival is a family event and everyone excited as we head out the door to walk to town. Deira and Deirita explain that the festival celebrates tradition. The town has been transformed. There are booths selling handmade clothing, shoes, and food. A large stage with audience seating surrounding it is in the center of town. We find seats for our large group to watch the various competitions. The performances include music, dance, and handiwork. Each is judged on the basis of both skill and adherence to traditional standards.

The competitions continue throughout the afternoon and into the night. There is standing room only by early evening. Each contestant is cheered by everyone in the crowd. Not a single boo or hiss is uttered. Indeed when a 12 year old accordion player who dazzled the crowd with his first two songs, cannot remember the third the whole crowd empathically claps the song’s rhythm to support him. He finishes the song best he can, dissolving in tears as he exits. The announcer makes his way to lad to ensure he has done a great job. The next competitors nail all of their three songs. The crowd is equally supportive of their efforts. Before the winners are announced, the disappointed boy is called to the stage where a compassionate judge again congratulates the young boy on his talent and tells him that everyone who has ever played has done the same including him. The whole town cheered his effort.

The next morning, Virginia made us tortillas for breakfast which she cooked over an open flame. Yummy! Family members were again arriving early. Sunday was an important festival day and it was traditional for children to wear traditional dress. Naomi’s 2 year old was as pretty as could be in fancy white dress. Deira’s nieces wore the calico print skirts of Ocu. The boys were dressed as well in traditional garb. I watched in amazement has each girl’s hair was done in a traditional style without a fidget. Each child also made a special point to say “Good Morning, Sandra” in English, except the little 2 year old, who, simply crawled up into my lap. Nanas are simply universal – no language required.

Before we headed back to the festival, Deira was insistent that I try on her traditional dress. The outfit was beautiful would have been shown off much better by Deirta’s beauty. Nonetheless it was quite an honor to be allowed to try it on. Deira had embroidered hundreds of pink flowers on the tiers of the skirt. It was lovely and would no doubt one day be Deirita’s wedding dress. As soon as I changed back to my clothes and took a few photos of the children in their traditional outfits, we were ready to go back town.

Once all were ready, the family walked to town, greeting neighbors as we passed. When we arrived the parade was well underway. Again the whole town seemed turned out either to participate or watch. There were l classes of children marching, dance groups, and cowboys on horseback all in traditional dress. Groups of men carried replicas of traditional houses. Traditional music played. It wasn’t long before I was in the midst of parading children snapping photos with my iPad and having a wonderful time showing them the results. The parade would last for hours as it wound its way to the stage where each group was cheered.

Before leaving the festival, I could not resist purchasing a white cotton dress with traditional embroidery and handmade sandals for my granddaughter. Virginia and several of her friends carefully inspected each stitch– front and back. They let me know that I too had a good eye. The workmanship was excellent. Isn’t amazing the conversation that is possible without common language!

We needed to leave festival early to return to Panama City. With another long line at Ocu’s terminal, Ricardo drove us to the freeway where more buses would pass. We waited just 15 minutes before we were boarded. I was glad to have purchased a sweater at Virginia’s second hand store and only wished I had thought to bring headphones or ear plugs. Ah, well. It was nearly 10 pm when we arrived in Panama City. Deira insisted she find me a cab from the terminal to Casco when we arrived. I insisted she let me pay for a cab to take her family home to Chorrera and would not hear of them spending another 90 minutes on a bus. I can be quite stubborn about the welfare of my friends.

I will long consider this weekend, one of my most memorable in Panama. I had become a member of loving Panamanian family. I lived with them as they live. I ate the same food, slept in the same room, and played with their children. I joked and laughed with all and managed to bridge a language gap. Everywhere we went I was welcomed and treated as a local and not as a tourist. I was impressed with the obvious bonds of Deira’s family who had evidently made education a priority. Deira and sisters of earned college degrees with the exception of her youngest sister, Virginia, who is studying to be CSI officer – another new best friend. They are all best friends – everyone in the family. I loved Ocu as well. I will long remember the many special moments I had while there.



One of the very first things that I changed when I arrived in Panama was my routine.  For many years getting out the door to work was my first consideration.  There were a couple of things I would add walking a mile on the treadmill or completing a Wii routine before showering, but my resolve never lasted for more than a few weeks before fading.  Moreover my gym membership was only active because the dues were paid automatically.

Unfortunately, there was not an automatic motivation system to drive me the 25 miles nor send me upstairs to my treadmill and Wii.   The results were predictable.  I gained weight, a little more each year until health alarms were beginning to ring.  I was pre-diabetic with occasional spikes in blood pressure and cholesterol readings.  My right hip throbbed with chronic arthritic pain sufficient enough I needed to take Aleve throughout the day.  Indeed when I did venture up to complete a Wii routine, it announced loudly  “you are overweight!”

Before I arrived in Panama, my son Evan had joined a local gym.  He was so enthusiastic about the program within my first week in Panama, he had signed me up as well.  Frankly I was less than enthusiastic and not convinced that exercising would actually do much for me.  Afterall, I have limitations – an bad hip, two wrists that were broken a few years ago,  and various back issues caused by car accidents.  I was not flexible, could not balance on one foot,  and easily became dizzy.   Indeed, I knew of at least a dozen more reasons why this was a bad idea.  However, Evan was insistent, so off I went with the intent of giving it a fair chance if only to prove that 65 is not the new 40 – 65 is 65!

During the first month at the gym, Andy eased me into exercising.  He was careful not to have me over do anything.  When one exercise did not work, another was substituted.  When I teetered, he was right there to hold me up.  When the routine was too strenuous, he modified it.  Little by little I improved.  My clothes fit better and I felt better.

I then decided I could accomplish this on my own by walking. So I gave up the membership which is actually the rationale that has sabotaged me countless times before.  This time, however, I admitted that self discipline was not working and too often I found reasons for not walking, i.e. – it is raining!   I returned to the gym and Andy’s guidance in earnest as my New Year’s Resolution.

It has been a life changing decision.  I begin my day with a 45 minute aerobic and anti-aerobic  routine.  Every morning Andy lists the exercise series I will complete and the number of repetitions.  First, I begin with run/walking to warm up,  followed by stretching, and then, the series of exercises is repeated 4 times.   Each day the exercise series is different and Andy is there to show both what to do and to make certain that is done correctly.  I do this Monday through Friday.  On Saturday, I walk and stretch before Andy gives me a massage.  The massage increases circulation and takes away muscle soreness.  Moreover, it helps Andy determine which of my muscles are responding.  The massage routine has worked a miracle on my hip which no longer chronically throbs.  On Sunday, I rest.

The results are more than impressive.  At my annual examination in March, I had lost a full 18 pounds.  All of my tests were normal.  My doctor was thrilled and stated that once considered medications were not needed.   Upon my return, I resumed the routine and have lost more weight.  I now wear medium and have given away most of my previous wardrobe.   I no longer need to take Aleve to cope with my arthritic hip.  My balance and flexibility have improved so much that balance is no longer concern.  I can even bend over to touch the floor!  There is muscle definition in my arms and legs.  I can run laps and climb stairs without becoming breathless.  And at least one of my chins has disappeared.

But the biggest change is that I look forward to working out each day and feel years younger!  Perhaps, 65 is the new 40!

I must credit the gym with the results that I have achieved in less than 5 months.   Having a personal trainer work with you each day is much more effective than occasional instruction.  Having one like Andy who is a physical therapist with an understanding of rehabilitation and aging is a godsend.  I am convinced that there is absolutely no other way that would have achieved my results.  There is no diet or medication that would have increased my flexibility, strength, and stamina.  The arthritic pain vanished because my hip is regularly massage and has become stronger.  My blood sugar, bone scan, cholesterol, and blood pressure are impressively in the normal range because the calories consumed are burned more effectively.  Prior tight fitting slacks literally fall off me because I am 2-3 sizes smaller.

All of this was accomplished without taking a single supplement or medication which my doctor was convinced should be added to bring levels nearer to normal.  Indeed, it was all achieve without giving up ice cream!

I have become a CrossFit devotee because it works. The program is the key to staying healthy, fit, and youthful.  It is worth every penny spent both on membership dues and a weekly massage from Andy.   So to those of you living near, join me.  You will find me every morning at Santa Familia in Casco Viejo!   I have complete confidence that I will reach my goals in the next few months and that you can be on your way as well.

Back To Casco

Back To Casco


Time does fly.  The six weeks I spent at home in Northwest Washington, seemed like a few days.  Nonetheless a lot was accomplished.  We found new renters for my house there within a short time.  Whew!  I completed dental and doctor check ups.  We successfully shopped for items that are to find in Panama.  And most importantly, I spent time with family and friends, dedicating most of it to  my daughter and my 15 month old granddaughter, Addi,  who jumped from her crib into my arms.  I even managed to help my daughter organize her new home while doting on Addi.  The time literally flew by.

It did not take long to switch gears upon my return to Panama.  Blas, my driver, was patiently waiting for me as I exited customs.  Vamos, Sandra a Casco Viejo!   Evan was, of course, waiting and I was warmly welcomed back by the staff at Los Cuatros Tulipanes.  And in no time, I was back in the swing of things which allows me to meet guests and sometimes help staff.

Everywhere I went for the next few weeks, I was welcomed back.  I have made many friends in Casco.  Even more than I might have counted before returning and realizing that people here notice and care.  The guard at the museum who I pass almost everyday, the owners and their staffs at restaurants, the pharmacist, street vendors, children, and workmen have all welcomed me back.  Indeed even a man that I pass when ducking out the back way and the maid who cleans the floors of building that I am in daily welcomed me back.  This was amazing to me since very often people do not notice when a neighbor is gone on vacation.  It is another thing that I love about Casco.  It is a community.

There are many people that I miss in the Northwest.  But I know there lives are busy and spending time with them is limited.  Spending time with friends here is also limited but less so.  The difference seems to be frequency of contact.  In the Northwest, to see most of my friends requires that arrangements be made.  Many live too far to walk over to see.  It is even rare to run into any at a store or restaurant.  Here the opposite is true.  Everyday I pass friends on the street and meet new people.  We are known customers and recognized neighbors.  No matter where we go we bump into friends.

It is a very good feeling.  Afterall, in the words from Thoroughly Modern Millie, “tis sad to all alone in the world.”  To which can be replied, “but impossible to be all alone in Casco.”

Retirement Blog: My Entourage

Panama Retirement Blog: My Entourage

One of the most compelling reasons to live in Panama is the affordability of services. It is here that I can do with my time what I wish. This luxury is not solely because I retired in June — anyone who has seen me helping Evan will question that I am retired. It is because I have services which free my time.

In Panama, I have a host of services that I can afford that would surely be too expensive for me to enjoy with regularity in Seattle. It is though I have a personal staff that I can refer to as my entourage, even though they do not travel with me — pity.

Sandra Kelly

The first service that I arranged in Panama was to be chauffeured. I have long stated that driving with me is a once in lifetime experience, since those that have had that thrill insist on driving thereafter which I gladly let them do. Driving in Panama, was out of the question for me. Traffic here is a nightmare that seemingly relies on aggressive driving and horns. I would be a nervous wreck behind the wheel. Instead I opted for taxi service from Blas. I pay Blas a monthly fee to drive me. And although, he has other customers whose other demands must be considered, I have a chauffer who knows every short cut in Panama City.

The next service that Evan insisted I have was a personal trainer. Frankly I arrived in Panama overweight and out of shape. I now begin almost everyday with exercise under the direction of a personal trainer, Andy. Andy works for Top Level Gym which is located in Casco Viejo and is just downstairs from Evan’s apartment – absolutely eliminating any excuse of inconvenience. Everyday the workout routine is varied to work different muscle groups and personally supervised by Andy. It is Andy’s supervision that guarantees that the exercises are done correctly and levels are increased as stamina improves. The results are beginning to be as dramatic as Oprah’s while training under Bob Greene! I am almost 2 full sizes down!

We also have a housekeeper. Leonarda cooks and cleans for us. I love this. We always healthy food in refrigerator that is ready to heat or serve. Moreover, our apartment is easy to keep up because it will have a thorough cleaning twice a week. I am certain this allows Evan and I to live in harmony in a small shared space. She also does our laundry!

My most indulgent luxuries include a manicurist and masseuse who come to my apartment. I am able to afford a mani/pedi from Olga twice a month in the comfort of my apartment for the cost of one in salon in the Seattle. I also schedule Clarita or Andy for a massage to work out muscle tensions. Andy I schedule every week for a chair massage as part of my fitness program. Clarita, I schedule less often, but for an hour and half full body massage. I love that she will schedule time in the evening and like Olga comes to my home. There is, perhaps, nothing as relaxing a long massage after at hot shower before curling up in bed to read a few pages. This is living!

All of this costs me less than $500 per month. And there is more! Virtually every household project is hired done — painting, electrical, tiling, and all sorts of repairs which keeps me off ladders. There is but one drawback to this all of this attention. It is “a luxury once enjoyed, becomes a necessity”. How, pray tell, how will I do without my entourage!

Retirement Blog: Visiting Leonarda

Not long after I arrived in Casco Viejo, Evan completed the hiring a new maid from the Calicanto Foundation.  The intercity program trains women from low areas including El Chorrillo and Santa Ana.  While I am certain that Leonarda need little instruction on cleaning techniques, she took from the program something much more valuable.  She gained the confidence to rebuild her life after the tragic lost of her son.

It was our good fortune that Leonarda accepted the job.  She is a near perfect employee.  She takes pride in her work, is easy to supervise, and gets along with co-workers.  Those qualities would be enough, but she also has a host of additional skills.

Sandra Kelly

Leonarda bakes, cooks, and sews.  She made rum cakes for guests at Xmas that were both magazine photo perfect and delicious.  She is so good, that I pay her to fix us meals that we can heat up after a long day.  Another skill is sewing which was discovered when I asked if she knew someone who could recover an old seat cushion.  “Si, I can,”  she replied proudly in English.  I immediately turned the project over to her and the results are impressive.

While shopping with Leonarda for the chair’s fabric, I was invited to visit her home.  Leonarda owns a two bedroom apartment in El Chorrillo which she is very proud of having.   Normally I would not venture into to El Chorrillo since it is considered unsafe for gringos, but I very much wanted to accept her hospitality.  We took a taxi when we completed shopping for the project’s fabric.

Leonarda’s home is in a large apartment building with a secured courtyard entry.  We walked up 2 flights of stairs and she open the door. The small space was divided into 2 bedrooms, a bath, a living room, kitchen, and utility area. The floors were cement and spotless. Indeed although the space was crowded,  the entire apartment was neat.

On the  dining table sat a sewing machine that she had used for 27 years.  It was evident she used it regularly since she had made her curtains and there was a pile of sewing projects stacked corner.  Above her sofa she had a shelf filled with family photos and trinkets. She also had an exercise bike in her living room which she uses to keep trim.  No wonder she can bake yummy desserts and stay slim!

We sat down to visit.  I am continually amazed at the level of conversations that I can have without common language.  Between Leonarda’s limited English and my limited Spanish, we talked about our families especially our bond to grand-daughters.  We talked about diet and exercise routines.  She agreed to prepare for me healthy meals.  We talked about her absolutely stunning nieces whose pictures were on her walls (I do literally mean beauty queen winners).  We even talked about being independent and self supporting women.   I was there for nearly an hour.

At the end of our visit, she and I walked to the street to secure a cab for my trip back to Casco.  I marveled on the trip back how she could accomplish so much in her limited space.  Ah, but then, she is a wonder, my friend Leonarda.

Retirement Blog: Panama’s Day At The Denist

Panama’s Day at the Denist

Before leaving for Panama, I completed a dental check up.  Nothing major was considered necessary.  My teeth were cleaned and old filling replaced.  Everything else checked out.

While a taking a bite of a sandwich at Multiplaza, I felt a sharp pain as a tooth broke.  The entire front enamel section of incisor chipped off the tooth, leaving the entire inside and the nerve of the tooth exposed!   Even worst it was New Years Eve.  Not a single dentist was open for the next couple days.  So, I sat with a half broken tooth and a steady supply of Advil. There was nothing else to do.

Sandra Kelly

My next realization was that I did not know a dentist in Panama.  But I did know Mary.  She is another retiree in Panama and a maven of information.   Surely, she had a couple of names.  However, before I had a chance to contact her names, my taxi driver Blas made an appointment for me.  We were off with the dentist waiting.

We arrived at small dentist office.  It was tucked away in a strip mall in El Dorado.  Within minutes of arriving, I was seated in a dentist’s chair and greeted by Dr. Katarzyna de Sanchez.  She was assisted by a pleasant young male dental assistant.  They completed an  examination of all of my teeth and quickly determined that the broken tooth had become infected and would require a root canal.  The immediate steps were to seal off exposed surface, treat the infection, and eliminate the pain.  Mission accomplished.  I left with prescriptions and a sealant surrounding the tooth with instructions to not bite on that side of my mouth and keep to soft foods — a wonderful excuse to eat Granclement ice cream.  Holding my breath, I went with the doctor to the desk for the bill.  My hour with her was $100.  The next appointment was set.

I had 2 more appointments with Dr. Sanchez to complete the work on the root canal and build a semi-permanent cap for the tooth. Total cost of all the work done $320.  Her suggestion is that I have a porcelain crown put on the tooth.  I have decided to do that but since I am returning for a visit to Seattle, to see if my dental insurance will cover the expense.  What I am certain of, however, is the work done to date even with my insurance would have cost more than $320.

Cost, of course, is not the only consideration for dental care.  Much more important is the quality of care.  The most pleasant surprise was that I received quality care.  Dr. Sanchez spoke more than enough English for me to understand what I needed to know.  She made the entire process painless.  The temporary cap construction looks so much like a real tooth that it is undetectable.  Indeed that experience is more than enough to consider cancelling my dental insurance and opted for dental work in Panama.  Who would have guessed?

Retirement Blog: The Streets Of Casco Viejo

The Streets Of Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo is an exceptionally diverse neighborhood.  Within an area of 12 blocks there are the very wealthy  and the very poor, living next door to each other.  Since the Presidential Office and several embassys are located in Casco, it is the hub of the very powerful and yet its streets are filled with forgotten souls.  There are expats from Europe, Canada, and the United States, and those who have never travel outside this neighborhood.  There are persons with white skin, black skin, and every hue in between.  There are the very old and the very young.  There are beautifully restored colonial  buildings with modern conveniences and buildings that passing time left in rumble.  There are pedigreed pampered pets and too many stray dogs and cats to count.  Street vendors sell food from carts within feet of some of Panama’s best restaurants.  Presidential guards and police make the area secure but there are vagrants whose claim to abandoned buildings and streets still remains.  It is an area with one of the most significant histories in all of Latin America and an area that currently is most threatened by Panama’s quest for new importance.  I love this place!!!

Sandra Kelly

One of the things that I love most is the people of Casco.  As I walk from place to place,  I exchange greetings with almost all that I pass and hugs from those that I have met.  Rarely do I sit more than moments alone in cafe before I am joined by someone who will visit awhile. I exchange pleasantries with the police on the street, most of whom now recognize me.  Blaine at Super Gourmet calls me “Mumsy” and my name or Mama is called out several times a day.  Indeed there is now a workman that blows me a kiss when I am out walking and another who chats about his work because I remarked that building he is painting has become beautiful.  And there is Danny, a young Panamanian contractor,  who when he drives by offers me a ride and promises to invite me for dinner.

The friendliness that I encounter each day is not surprising.  So many of the expats that I have met in Panama chose Panama because of its people.  Most are welcoming and will listen intently as those of us with few words in Spanish attempt to be understood.   What, however, was surprising, was to be cared for when in need from those I had only exchanged a few greetings.

I arrived in Panama exhausted from weeks, no months, of going non-stop.  I also hit the ground running here in order to keep up with my 27 year old son.  Climate, time zone, and living arrangements  were huge adjustments.  There were projects that Evan had lined up for me to begin with short deadlines.  I also moved 3 times the first week.  One evening all of this impact hit.  Mid way through a delicious dinner, I felt flush.  I walked outside hoping it was merely climate adjustment.  I felt nauseated.  In a blink,  things went from bad to worst, I was shaking and could barely hold my head up.  It was that so sick feeling that praying to die makes sense.  I did not want to make a scene or call for help.

Then the most surprising thing happened.  Two men , Mario and Enrique, who spend their evenings on the streets on Casco, came over to check on me.  Mario quietly sat down next to me.  Enrique who speaks English attempted to determine what was the matter. I was too sick to speak and was becoming more ill with each passing minute.  Quietly without asking Mario left me in search of my son which required him to enter a restaurant where it likely he is not welcome.  Enrique continued to be my guard and assure me help was on the way.  Mario returned with Evan and Blas (my driver).  They drove me quickly home but very nearly took me to the hospital first which I refused simply because I did not want to move.

So many of us make judgements with a lack of understanding and without compassion.  I have no knowledge of Mario’s or Enrique’s live circumstances or events.  What I do know is that both men are considerate and honorable.  I was easy prey who was most fortunate to have two exceptional men of character come to my aid.  They will forever be mis amigos.

Retirement Blog: Habla Español

Let me begin by stating that I took two years of high school Spanish. It was a long long time ago.  Spanish was not my best subject.  I passed just enough to complete the college entry requirement.   I definitely wasn’t conversational.

My memory of most words vanished years ago.  Worst, I listen slow so when anyone speaks fast, I only pick up a few words.   This has meant, I have little ability to communicate in Spanish speaking country.  Frustrating indeed for an extrovert who craves talking with everyone she meets.  I need at a minimum enough Spanish speaking ability to go beyond text book greetings and simple phrases.

Sandra Kelly

My son, Evan, had taken language immersion in Guatemala several years ago.  He learned a enough of the language to launch his Latin America adventures.

Perhaps, a Spanish school would work for me.  I would emerge myself in Spanish in Boquete.    Evan had arranged for his friend Itzy who is a teacher to tutor me.  I would take lessons four hours per day – two in the morning and two in the afternoon – for a week.  Admittedly not nearly enough time, but hopefully it would create momentum.

Itzy began by asking me to write a list of what I wanted to be able to say.  This was a much more practical approach than learning from a book organized into sections of contrived conversations.  We were also able to skip over things I already knew – granted not a lot to skip.  The process continued when the lesson was dedicated to verbs.  I picked the verbs that I would most use.  Learning became so much more relevant!  Even more amazing, was that I actually began to understand when Itzy spoke to me in Spanish.

The real thrill of this came at the end of the week.  While in Boquete, I stayed at a private residence.  My hostess spoke only limited English.  Our conversations for most of week were pleasantries.  At the end of week, we had a long conversation.  We discovered commonalities of social work, backgrounds of case loads, and much more.  There were, of course, words spoken by each of us that the other could not understand.  The more important thing was it was a real conversation!  More than enough motivation for me to keep learning.

Back in Casco, there is a conspiracy to keep me practicing Spanish.  My driver Blas each day insists that I learn a new word.  I attempt to tell him in Spanish that at one word a day, I will speak Spanish when I am a 100.  Evidently I did not quite say this because he understood that it will take me  100 years to learn Spanish.  It was close enough for it to become our joke.

I am getting better but need to keep taking lessons and practicing. If I pick up the pace with two words a day, well, I should be fluent well before a cententinal birthday.

Panama’s Retirement Visa – What I Know & What I Don’t Know

Panama’s Retirement Visa – What I Know & What I Don’t Know

Panama has one of the world’s best retirement incentive programs. Almost everywhere and almost on everything there is a discount offered to those who have this documentation. I’m currently applying for one.

Sandra Kelly

Here’s what I know:

* A Pensionado Visa is restricted to individuals from foreign countries who have secure retirement incomes, and are intending to live in Panama.
* Individuals receiving private pension funds must be 50 years of age or older.
* The amount paid by the pension must be at least $750 per month for individuals investing a minimum of $100,000.
* Be paid a minimum of $1000 per month if no property is purchased. (Couples are able to pool funds to meet minimum requirements if applying together)
* Offers discounts on goods and services from 10-50% percentage.
* Request must be processed through an attorney in Panama.
* Documentations are required – income, age, criminal record, & health records.
* It also offers a limited duty free shipping of furnishings and a car to Panama.
* It is a lifetime visa.

Here is what I don’t know:

* How long does it take to process — heard everything from 2 to 8 months?
* What is an reasonable attorney fee for an experienced attorney? People have told me they’ve paid as little as $750 and as much as $2000.
* Where can the medical exam required be done? Will my attorney appointment me a doctor?
* Can my police record be faxed?
* Should I use my discounts at Mom-n-Pop shops?
* Can I buy international airline tickets with it?
* Is it really worth it?

Hope that you guys can help me fill in the blanks. Also, any other tips would be helpful. Muchas Gracias.

Retirement Blog: Brewin’ Boquete Coffee

A tour at Dos Jefes Finca in Boquete.

I am from the Coffee Capital of America, Seattle.  Where coffee is truly appreciated.   In fact, we proudly boost that we are responsible for the popularity of gourmet coffees, expresso stands, and trendy coffee cafes.   Enjoying coffee to me is every bit as wonderful as savoring a fine glass of wine is to someone from France.

Every time I’ve come to Panama I travel to Boquete.  I love its cooler climate and lush green hills, but also go to sample fresh coffee.  Frankly there is nothing more wonderful than having freshly roasted and brewed coffee made from carefully grown beans.  This year was no exception.  Once again, I traveled to Boquete anxious to again find the perfect cup of coffee and learn more about the production that makes some coffees so special and others… well, not.

Sandra Kelly

I jumped at the opportunity to join Dos Jefes Coffee Tour.   Dos Jefes is located at an approximate altitude of 4600 feet and above the town of Boquete.     Its owners are expats, Rich and Dee Lipner, from the United States that a few years back fell in love with Panama as well as a prime piece of coffee producing property that had not been worked in years.  They arrived without any prior coffee expertise.  Dee would learn everything about planting and Rich everything about production.  Boy did they learn!

As much as wanting to produce coffee, the pair wanted to preserve their farm and environment.  Their finca which produces Cafe Luna is operated on the lunar calendar and beans are dried on racks in the sun.  It is an impressive operation.   Our tour allowed us to pick a few beans and taste them in a raw state.  We peaked into the drying racks which had been carefully wrapped because rain was on the way.  We saw rows of pots of young coffee plants that would be used to replace those that were losing production or traded for a plant more productive in this area.   All the while, Rich was explaining the details of growing, the world coffee market, and the importance of environment.

We headed back to the terrace, where Rich set up a taste test.   Three cups of coffee were poured.   One was a light roast, the second a medium, and the last a dark roast.  We were asked to determine which one of the unmarked three suited our personal taste best.  We were also provided a taste chart to see if we could discern tastes within the coffee – just like wine. Before taking the test, I was certain that I would pick the light roast.  I like my coffee smooth and a bit sweet without adding sugar.  Imagine my surprise when I picked DARK ROAST!!!   Café Luna from Dos Jefes is DELICIOSA and was recently voted Boquete’s “Best Coffee”!   It is well worth another visit to keep a fresh supply.

Next came a very special treat.  We enter the roasting room where I was chosen to be the roaster.  I measured the beans, set the temperature, and waited patiently as the roaster reached the exact temperature.  I put the beans in the roaster and monitored their progress by listening to pops and monitoring the color.  I nervously prayed that I would not ruin the batch or break the machine.  We were all invested as the roasted beans were poured out.   Rich measured us generous packets of Café Luna that we had roasted for souvenirs.   How special is that!

This is a Boquete must do tour.  It is a wonderful opportunity to learn about coffee growing and the coffee industry.  You will leave with a new appreciation for the  rich tasting liquid,  the people who bring it to us, and likely a new brand favorite.   You will get more than your money’s worth.

Panama Retirement Blog – When the Rooster Crows!

Panama Retirement Blog

When the Rooster Crows!

It’s been 3 weeks since I’ve began my Panama retirement.   During this time I have trained to handle reservations; developed a space plan and decorating scheme for Evan’s apartment;  undertaken my first house-sitting assignment; started a cross-fit training program; learned more than 155 Spanish words; shopped till I dropped; and ran more errands than I can count.  So much for the leisurely life of a retiree!

My day begins early which is a surprise to me.  All my life, I have preferred to ease into the day.  I dreaded morning meetings but was likely to be still going strong when most  were ready to call it a day.  Now, I wake up at 5:30 AM to the sound of a rooster.  Yes, there is a actually intercity rooster somewhere near my high-rise apartment in downtown Panama City — strange, but nonetheless true.

Sandra Kelly

After the cock-a-doodle-do, I check emails and water the balcony plants.  I’ll shower and dress in a exercise outfit.  Around the time I finish a light breakfast, Evan’s favorite cab driver, Blas is waiting for me downstairs.  Every morning Blas picks me up.  He drives to the old town of Casco Viejo.  Along the way, we practice speaking – his English, my Spanish.  Incremental daily improvements are made.

In Casco, I head straight to cross-fit training.  My trainer Andy guides me through walking,  stretching,  and various weights exercises.  I’ve discovered long forgotten muscles and lost about 4 pounds.  My goal is 10 more before Christmas.  Moreover, my energy level seems to soar all morning. Good thing because the rest of day will be hectic.

Most days after showering and changing after cross fit, I will head to Super Gourmet.  More than simply a deli/coffee shop/market, Super Gourmet is a hub of Casco Viejo.  It is the place to go for to meet other ex-pats in the neighborhood, local business persons, and newcomers.  Often I will bring my lap top to check reservations over a cafe con leche or lunch.  I love that I will be interrupted with “Hola, Sandra,” and engage in short chats which are becoming more frequent as I meet more people.  Blaine, the owner, who hails from New Orleans calls me “Mumsy”.  It feels like home.

By mid afternoon my eyes begin to cross.  I crave a siesta.  In less than the time it takes to stretch out, I am napping like a baby.  I’m hoping that for one hour there will be nothing to disturb me.  I love my siesta!

Sometime between late afternoon and evening, Blas will take me back to the apartment.  I will do a few chores or go out to dinner, write, read, or watch television before showering and falling asleep.  As a long time night owl who rarely closed her eyes before midnight,  I am amazed to be sleeping soundly most evenings before 10 PM.  If you are thinking it is due to the time zone change, keep in mind by Seattle time I am asleep by 7 PM!

My experience as a retiree in Panama has just begun.  Soon I will have more free time.  Furnishing the apartment and learning the various reservation and hotel systems, will be complete.  With the apartment done, reservations should then only occupy few hours of my day.  I will then want to take on other projects.  On the top of that list is my application for a Pensioner’s Visa and learning Spanish.  Panama’s Pensioner’s Visa offers great discounts.  Learning Spanish will actually allow me to understand what they are.

I will keep you all informed of my progress and activities as I learn to live in Panama.  It is the greatest adventure of my life.

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Children of Panama

The Children of Panama

I have spent most of my professional life developing programs for children which has made me acutely aware of both child and parent behavior. Throughout my travels on the Isthmus, I have been impressed with the behavior of the children of Panama and dismayed that so little investment is being made to enrich these precious lives.

For many reasons, my preferred method of distance traveling has been public transportation. Traveling from Panama City to Boquete, Bocas Del Toro, Pedasi, Coronado, or other areas very often are long trips that can require multiple transfers to range of vehicles that can include large modern bus, old school bus, small bus, or even a van. Since this system is very affordable, many Panamanian families rely on it for transportation.  It is commonplace to have children of varying ages riding a crowded bus. Can you feel the headache coming on caused by the anticipation being confined to hours of listening to crying babies, squabbling siblings, whining toddlers, and adolescent arguments? A pleasant surprise will then be yours.

The children of Panama are amazingly well behaved.  The will sit quietly on a parent’s lap without a whimper. They do not fight with their brothers or sisters.  And they do not have tantrums. I have yet to hear a parent yelling for their children to come back because they have run off and instead witnessed pairs of very young children waiting for their parent as instructed. They seem to be content to talk with their parent or look out the window while on a long trip. Indeed I can recall only one crying toddler whose cough suggested she simply making it known she was not feeling well while traveling from Santiago to David. Nor is this good behavior limited to traveling, it is also seen in other public places including shopping malls.  Indeed the children that I have witnessed that are misbehaving are those that belong to tourists.

Well behaved children are not limited to one ethnic group in Panama. It appears to be a universal expectation and standard achieved by even the very young mothers common to the Ngobe. It is also not limited to one geographical region since it was true of the children from Pedasi, Boquete, Bocas del Toro, and Colon. There seems to be no affect when which parent is present. The mother with the fussing toddler two other children sat quietly nearby while their sister was comforted. Our guide in Bocas was of West Indian descent and had his four year old son with him for the day who either contentedly played in the surf while we explored the beaches or helped his father tie up the boat without a single demand the entire day. A man traveling in the van that runs from Pedasi to Las Tablas with his four children crowded on two seats was able to talk with other passengers without interruption or competition for his attention.  A group of three children pushing the stroller with an infant cousin, were bright and friendly, exchanging translations of greetings with me in Bocas. The children in Pedasi waved as they rode past on their bikes and did not shove or grab when candy and toys were thrown out to the crowd at the Christmas Parade. It is my observation these are not single incidents but rather the norm that as a mother of three children (now grown) I marvel at the accomplishment.

The children of Panama are truly charming, cared for, and beautiful with bright eyes, smiles, and coloring ranging from honey to chocolate. What unfortunately many are not is educated.  Too few of the children in this country will have an education that will not equip them to compete for skilled jobs. There is a great education disparity between the children of families who can afford a private school and those who go to public school. Many public schools send children in shifts of 3 hours per day for each grade and employ teachers without certifications.  It is not uncommon for children to work in Panama at ages and in jobs that would violate any western country’s standards, which is a situation that President Martinelli hopes to end in the next five years. Nor is the exploitation of children limited to labor in Panama. Young girls, as young as 10-14 years old, are traded to become wives in many of the native tribes like the Ngobe and will have 2 or more children before they are even 16 years old,most often fathered by men many years their senior. It is little wonder that Panama’s pregnancy and infant mortality rates are high.

It is clear that the Panamanian children deserve and need help both from their government and from those of us who will make the Isthmus a home. It is the responsibility of the government to improve public education systems to ensure Panamanians can furnish a quality workforce for their expanding economy. The government might also consider implementing incentives for expat retirees to encourage their investment in community and training programs since many of us are coming here after years of honing skills. However, with or without incentive, part of an expat responsibility should be an investment in Panama. We can easily become involved in community efforts and teach needed skills especially those in education, construction, agriculture, health-care, or business. We can pay better wages to those hired to clean houses or maintain yards which will help parents support their children and decrease the need for children to earn instead of going to school or tutor a child while their parents are working for us. And we can also remember to give with the knowledge that a small gift here is still meaningful and that large gifts help enormously.

Everything Grows in Boquete

Everything grows in Boquete. There are simply not words to describe the luscious of this area of Panama. It is truly a gardener’s dream where both the soil and the climate allow virtually every form of flower, bush, and tree to thrive.

Throughout the area one can see bougainvillea climbing over walls in its vibrant colors of red, purple, and magenta. Delicate impatiens fill garden areas and can also be found growing in the dense forests. Calla Lilies grow to several feet high. Huge Angel Trumpet bushes are grow along roadways with their enormous bell flowers appearing too large to be real. Bird of Paradise, Morning Glory, begonias, roses, fuchsia, clematis, orchids, and many more that I cannot name in hues of orange, yellow, red, pink, white, purple, and blue fill the landscape of the area. It is a dazzling display of color.


I am amazed to find azaleas, rhodies, and hydrangea growing here as well since these plants are often considered native to North America. Indeed I wonder if all that needs to be done is to toss a seed in this ground and watch it take root, thrive, and become native. Surely, I ponder, all of these that are here were not born in the Region. Yet each time I can think of a missing plant I will find it growing happily in garden, forest, or in the jungle. Even hiking through the forests that lead to the Volcan Baru, we were impressed with many variety of plants. Many of the ferns were more than 15 feet high. Stalks of bamboo were nestled among the trees and gracefully swaying with the breeze. Elephant ears, vinca, palms, serpentine lianas, and vines cover the ground or piggyback on decade old trees.

Just as effortlessly as the colorful plants and bushes grow, so do those that bear fruit and vegetables. The coffee grown in Boquete is considered some of the best in the world. Bananas, pineapple, papaya, strawberries, and watermelon are a few of the fruits grown. Corn, tomatoes, peppers, onions, carrots, cucumbers, and of course, lettuces are also easily grown and marketed by local farmers. Because fresh produce is a ready supply, cooks are able make the very best tasting dishes. The impact of fresh picked ripe produce is almost indescribable since the flavors are intensified. There is nothing like eating a banana, melon, or pineapple that was picked ripe the day it is served. The flavor explodes which makes the trip to the Region not only a gardener’s dream but an epicurean delight as well.

It is easy to understand why the Boquete area becomes the new home of many retirees. Anyone, including those no experience, can become an accomplished gardener who can produce fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Gardening in a climate that allow plants to thrive with little effort is a much more soothing experience than one in many other areas of the world that requires true mastery of soil amendments, irrigation, and planting timetables to produce a limited selection of crops. You can putter instead of toil and reap huge rewards or for a modest cost hire help. There is pure joy in biting into a ripe juicy flavorful strawberry or melon, or displaying a bowl of red and green peppers almost too perfect to be real on your kitchen counter, or filling vases throughout your house with rainbow bouquets of fresh flowers grown in your garden. One has a sense of wellness having a delicious cup of freshly brewed, locally grown coffee while watching an endless variety of birds and butterflies visit and appreciate the loveliness as they add a lively dimension of activity and additional color. It is this lingering serenity produce by an area that neither becomes too hot or too cold, where the sun shines brightly and yet does not want for rain, and where all things grow without struggle.

Loving Boquete, Panama

Is is easy to understand why Boquete is one of the top tourist draws in Panama and is attracting retirees from North America and Europe. Located in a picturesque valley and surrounded by lushly forested mountains, virtually all of property in this area has amazing views of the Volcano Baru, the Rio Caldera, forests, or vivid gardens.

Boquete is one of the world’s best garden spots. It is no exaggeration to say one only needs to spit the seed of a watermelon in the dirt to start a new plant. Melons, pineapples, bananas, grapes, papaya, oranges, lemons, limes, and mamey are grown in Boquete, as are vegetables of all sorts. The coffee grown in this region has been rated the best in the world, three years in row by the Speciality Coffee Association of America. And it is a flower lovers paradise with endless varieties of lilies, bougainvillea, verbena, roses, begonias, impatiens, angel trumpets, saliva, germanium, fuchsias, hibiscus, and many more in brilliant hues found gardens and growing wild. Coleus, begonias, and impatiens grow to quite large bushes and flowers easily multiply themselves. There are gardens with hydrangea, rhododendron, azaleas and even poinsettia thriving in this fertile soil. The forests are filled with huge ferns, bamboo, and ancient trees that seemingly branch in all directions while laden with vines.

What this lush vegetation means is that there are also endless varieties of birds that make the region home. Colorful tamarinds, macaws, cockatoos, hummingbirds, parrots, finches,and a host of other varieties are easily spotted in the gardens. Butterflies too in a sorted sizes from tiny to huge, many in vibrant colors also make the area home. Nature lovers will be enchanted if they simply put out a few pieces of fruit in a garden and then sit back to enjoy a coffee and a parade of birds and butterflies.

The town of Boquete although far from metropolitan does provide many things westerners expect. There are a variety of restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, and bars that will allow most cravings to be satisfied. There are fruit stands and markets which make fixing meals with the freshest ingredients easy. Gift, clothing, perfumeries, and a wine/liquor shops are easily found. And although there is not a movie theater, movies can be rented and electronics purchased without needing to head to David.

Boquete has developed a selection of tourists activities. Tourists can hike many trail areas, take a canopy tour through the forested jungle, visit a wildlife rescue center, go river rafting, horseback riding, rent a scooter, or tour a coffee finca. With its rankings as one of world’s best producers of coffee, these tours are especially enlightening. Far from simply picking a berry off the tree, the production of coffee in this area is careful step by step process that uses eco-measures to ensure preservation. For example, coffee growers will plant fruit trees in the midst of the coffee rows to both shade the coffee bush and to deter insects from the coffee plants since the fruit tree will be more appetizing. The insects are then controller since they will attract the birds to the tree.

What Boquete seems to be lacking is a consensus about its development. There are many expats living in the Boquete. Some of these have plunged into developing business which has provided them an on-going interest in the community as well as some frustration since Panama has rather strict laws about foreign owned businesses. Some complained that new charges seemed to be levied when they become more successful than Panamanian owned businesses. Some also gripe that it is difficult to find trained and motivated native workers. As a educator, I believe that underlying cause of this is that training in Panama for those who cannot afford a private education is very limited and natives have little opportunity to advance. Whatever the causes are, it is a situation which does little to develop consensus about development either in Boquete or elsewhere in Panama.

The undeniable truth is that Boquete continues to grow in popularity to both tourists and expats. Those seeking a pleasant atmosphere to retire, are seriously considering purchasing new construction or looking to find a great deal on an existing property being sold by someone who has decided it did not meet their expectations. It does have a lot to offer but will take some getting use to in order to live here since it is unique blend of Panama’s life style with considerable expat influence. Moreover the climate while much milder than many parts of Panama and glorious when the sun is shining does have substantial rainfall in the form of a raining cats and dogs down pour. As a Seattle native who is more than accustom to showers, I think that the 70′s weather and lush gardens will continue to be a draw. Just be certain to invest a well made umbrella and a pair of Crocs.

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Loving Pedasi, Panama

Pedasi located on the Pacific Coast of Panama is a quaint village that offers travelers a relaxing atmosphere. Seemingly far away from the bustle of Panama City, it is only a half day bus ride for those taking public transportation with all but the last 40 minutes on a comfortable air conditioned bus. The last leg which is from Las Tablas to Pedasi is by van whose route is determined by passenger destinations and will take you thorough a country side of green rolling hills with grazing cattle. If you are less patient or in a hurry, you can fly.

The town of Pedasi is charming. Most of the homes in the town are painted tropical colors and have hibiscus, honeysuckle, or bougainvillea blooming in the courtyards or entry way pots. It is front porch society where locals sit and greet passer-bys with “Buenos diaz” and children wave when riding by on bicycles. The few business in Pedasi are small, a few restaurants, a bakery, a souvenir shop, gas station, small general store, and internet café. It is easy to relax in Pedasi and understand a causal culture which still has workers riding to work on horseback or walking.

One of the adventures that travelers can have while visiting is Pedasi is snorkeling. Not far of its coast is Isla Iguana which has waters shallow enough to let the most timid swimmer spend hours relaxing on a white sand beach and either wading or snorkeling with tropical fishes of all sorts. For the more adventurous, this area is great for scuba diving. The water is warm and clear with interesting coral beds. The island is near paradise since it is yet unspoiled by any sort of commercial development, which also means you must pack a lunch, towels, sunscreen, and equipment because they are not for sale or rent here.

For those who want to go sport fishing, this area of the Pacific has been nicknamed “Tuna Coast” and is home to several varieties of marlin and sailfish. Fishing charters are available at reasonable rates and will often have native fisherman who have spent life-times in these waters as guides.

There are charming places to stay in Pedasi. A few hostels and bed & breakfasts are in the town which will provide travelers with comfortable accommodations. Some of these look like Panama haciendas. And although there are few restaurants in Pedasi, the food is often wonderful. This is an area where pineapple, mango, papaya, and banana are grown locally which means each has a sweet intense taste that green picked fruit does not come close. Fresh eggs, meats, and seafood are locally available and served.

What Pedasi does not offer is entertainment. There are no nightclubs or pubs. It does not have a movie theater. Those of us that consider shopping a sport will be greatly disappointed that the souvenir shop is one small room with a few pieces of handcrafted jewelry, crafts, and artwork. Most likely if you forgot to bring it with you, you will need to either live without it or go to Los Tablas to find it.

Pedasi is a destination for those seeking to unwind, relax, and live a simple life, if only for a few days. It will remind those of us old enough of a time when front porches were the outside visiting spaces so we could chat with the neighbors and meet any newcomers. When entertainment was a parade where the school band played and completed marching routines, floats gilded down the street with local pretty girls throwing out candy to children, and the whole town turned out to watch. This is still Pedasi. Personally, I could retire here and let the rest of the world go by.

Panama’s Canopy Tour At 63 Years Young

Link to the Canopy Tour: Panama Outdoor Adventures

Proving you are not too old or timid to have the thrill of a lifetime,Sandra hops a board the canopy tour high in the jungle of Panama. Take a look.

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Panama’s Urban Dictionary: Part II

Once again, these terms may be offensive to some, and Eye On Panama does not encourage the usage of these words. But we do realize that these terms are widely used in Panama, and we hope to educate our readers about the terminology spoken in Panama. ********This list was created by wikipedia*****

  • eop-evan-headshot6Que xopa = common expression meaning Whats up?, Whats new?. Sometimes shortened to just xopa, the equivalent of “Wassup”. Reverse of “Que paso?”.
  • Diablo rojo = large city bus, lit. “red devil”. Also known as “liquid paper”, “borrador” (eraser)in the sense that they often travel at high speeds and cause accidents or run over people.
  • Awebao = taken from the root word ahuevado (egg-headed), it can be either derogatory in its use (idiot) or friendly, (dude) depending on the tone. Pronunciation varies depending on the speaker either awebado, awebao, or aoaooo. Is is one of the most common words among Panamanian youth.
  • Arranque = means to go out, party and get drunk.
  • Huevear = “To egg around”. An expression used to describe the action of not doing anything productive. (hoy solo vamos a webiar= today we aren’t going to do a thing) it is used by youth and comes from “awebao”. also used as a synonym of hanging out. (see “parkear”)
  • Cabrear= (ver.) it’s one of the must common verbs in Panama, it is used when someone is getting tired of doing something or when someone is bothering a lot. (Eg. “Estoy cabreado”=I’m tired of this, “Me tienes cabreado”=I’m Fed Up with you.
  • Mili= From militarely. To do something with disregard for authority, odds, or common sense. Ex. “Dale mili”= go anyway.
  • Awebason= Awebason or Ahuevason expression used for things that are foolish or just dumb.
  • Chucha = vulgar way of referring to the female reproductive organ. This word can be used in dozens of connotations. It can denote anger, happiness, surprise, sadness, speechlessness. Examples: Chucha, que bien me fue! Chucha que mal me fue! Chucha no se como me fue! Estoy en chucao (I`m angry).
  • Pichazo= A lot of. Ex. “Un pichazo de gente”= A lot of people.
  • Cuara= Cuara is derived directly from the English word “quarter”. Also applicable to the word “dime” ($0.10 coin)
  • Culo de Botella= “Ass (bottom) of the bottle (coke bottles). Referring to extra thick eyeglases.
  • Casa Bruja= Very poor house (shanty) made out of wood scraps and/or zinc built on invaded lands.
  • Quenque or Kenke= Marihuana or pot, ganja, week, reefer, joint.
  • Chacara= “A countryman’s bag”. Commonly used as a nickname for balls (testicles).
  • Alla onde uno: From the tv show ‘Hecho en Panama’, it means “from where one is”, usually means the place where the ‘campesinos’ come from or grew up, their hometown. Ex: Tu eres de alla onde uno?
  • tas pescando = a person who is going to go out and. pick up someone of the opposite sex/sexual partner.
  • Casa del culo = A place that is very far away. Middle of nowhere.
  • Chantin= Home, House. Example: “Vamos pa’ mi chantin” (Let’s go to my house). From English “Shanty”.
  • Chiva = literally means female goat, but it also means “small bus”. Not to be mistaken with a “diablo rojo”. (eg. Me voy en chiva pa’ Chitre)
  • Fula/o =blonde
  • Guilla’o = pot high, stoned, baked
  • Pilla = from the verb “to look” or “Gotcha”. Mirar, Observar, atrapar. “pilla esto” = “look at this”, “te pillé” = “I Gotcha”.
  • Cinta = “Story”. term of cocoa and bochinche (hey te tengo una cinta! hey, i have a story!)
  • Quemar = to be unfaithful. betray. to cheat.
  • Una pinta / una fría = a beer (una cerveza); una fría = “a cold one”; cerveza is also used.
  • Un blanco = cigarette (cigarillo).
  • Keton = a box of cigarette.
  • Solido= “Solid”. Referring to something that is cool or awesome.
  • Jumarse = used commonly instead of emborracharse (to get drunk)
  • Vaina = used to fill out blank spaces in conversations, also used like “cosa” (thing). Example: “dame esa vaina” meaning “give me that thing”.
  • Palo = one dollar (buck) used as in “me costó 5 palos” (it cost me 5 bucks) Used also for “tree” Example: voy a mear atras del palo. “I’m going to pee behind that tree”
  • La botaste = meaning that you did something awesome, great or cool (comes from the English phrase: you hit it out of the park).
  • Gallo = meaning awful, distasteful, sucky, used commonly to express cheap objects. (Eg. Ese restaurante estaba bien gallo. = That restaurant was very sucky.)
  • Jo! = expression used to denote afirmation, surprise, exaggeration, admiration or anything that shocks depending on the used tone. (Eg. Jo! Esa negra esta hermosa. = That black woman is beautiful.) A shortened version of Carajo!
  • Vamos pal cuero = means to let’s go at it or let’s do it, meaning to perform any non particular action.
  • ta = short for “está” (is), as in “ta bueno” (it’s good)
  • pa = short for “para” (for), as in “esto es pa’ ti” (this is for you)
  • En pinga = un-cool, un-interesting, not hip. “Tas en pinga” (You suck)
  • Tranque = Traffic jam. Example: “Llegué tarde por el tranque” (i was late because of the traffic jam)
  • Hasta la verga = Extremely drunk or fucked up. Also: Hasta la zapatilla, hasta la wacha, hasta la wacharneta, hasta la requete
  • Pelar el bollo = To die.
  • Plena = Panamanian version of reggaeton, which came first. Reggaeton came from Panamanian plena. Example: “Dj pon plena” (Dj play some plena)
  • Chuzo!!!! = Non vulgar way of saying “chucha” to mean Damm it, ####, ####, etc. Same concept as saying “fudge” instead of “####”.
  • Pilinki= a cheap person (persona tacaña)
  • Offi= Means O.K., comes from “oficial”.
  • Pichi= cocaine
  • Rochadera= Make out session.
  • Enculado= Very in love, especially at the beginning of a relationship. Example: Rodolfo está enculado.
  • Osea = a way of expressing surprise, disgust; commonly used by yeyes (see “yeye”)
  • Nueve letras= Popular name for the highest selling brand of Seco in Panama, Herrerano, which has nine letters
  • Salió el fulo= The sun just came out.
  • Bajapanti= Popular and cheap “wine” called Night Train Express. Literally means, “panty remover”.

Panama’s Urban Dictionary

This is a list of slang terms you will hear in Panama.  Eye On Panama does not recommend the usage of these words because some of them are very derogatory.  However, we realize the following list below is widely spoken and we would like to educate our readers before they attempt to repeat them:

***** This list was created by wikipedia*****


YeYe = a wealthy person who likes to show off a lot. Preppy boy/girl.

Racataca = A very unsophisticated person – the stereotype usually involves listening to bad reggae dancehall music (or reggaeton), wearing gold teeth, wearing clothes that look like stuff gringo rappers threw in the garbage and were picked up by piedreros, naming their children with strange, multisyllabic composite names like SURISABEL or

YAMIURKA (examples of which you’ll find painted on the windows of most DIABLO ROJOs)

El Chino = a corner store (bodega), lit. “the Chinaman”. Originates from the fact many Chinese migrated to Panama to help build the Panama Railroad, and many

corner stores are owned and run by Chinese immigrants. Other countries have similar social patterns, for instance, the “Arab” corner store of France.

Maleante= “Gang member, criminal, etc.” Racataca’s male mate (see “racataca”). Usually belongs to a gang in the ghettos.

Zambito/a: In the region of Azuero ( The Provinces of Los Santos and Herrera) is a slang meaning dude, Child O Teenagers (Boys) Zambita fem. slang meaning due Child O Teenagers (Girls)

Rejeros=Refers to a group of men who only hang out with males. They usually go out in packs to try to pick up women, but often fail at doing so. During weekends they will typically hang out at a guy’s house and drink between themselves. Also, they can be spotted at strip clubs too. A man who belongs to this group is know as a “rejero”. The word became popular after a TV Show (La Cascara) ran a skit based on four fictional rejeros.

Agua Cero= Heavy, constant rain that often causes rivers of water to run down the street.  Usually last for 20-40 minutes, at most an hour.

Maricon = butterfly, gay.

Chombo = derogatory term use to refer to black people.

Cholopop = Person from the countryside, trying to impress by wearing rocker outfits.

Chambón= A clumbsy person

Chifiar= To ignore a person. Ex: Chifea ese awebao (see “awebao”) que es un loser- Don’t invite that guy because he is a loser.

Borriguero= A low ranking employee. Lizard Ameiva ameiva. In the contructions works is the person that do all the hard work.

Chapot= From the English “Shaped up”. Used to refer to someone that is very well dressed. As in “Estas bien chapot”.

Chuchita= Someone who is always being taken advantage of by another.

Pipi sweet= Womanizer or a “Don Juan” (Sweet dick).

Brother surfer= Stereotypically, how surfers call each other.

La kenton= When someone promises you something and does not deliver. “Carlos me hizo la kenton, me dijo que iba traer dos botellas y solo trajo una”. Syn. la pacheca.

Tortillera: Disrespective form to say lesbian.

Congo= Someone who is always taken advantage of, an idiot.

Piedrero = A homeless person that has a deep adiction to “crack cocaine”. Crack in Panamanian Spanish is often called “piedra”(“stone”/”ice”). Can also be used to tell a person that the way they are poorly dressed and not good looking.

Pela= slang meaning “any” woman or chick. (Eg. Vi a esa pela en la discoteca anoche.= I saw that woman in the disco last night.)

Pelao= slang meaning dude. (Eg. Yo conosco ese pelao. = I know that dude.

Cueco/a= Syn:of gay and lesbian. Despective form to say gay ( cueco-man) o lesbian(cueca-


FIRI-FIRI= very skinny man or woman (Ana es una firi-firi). On its superlative form BIEN FIRI-FIRI (extremely skinny!).

Cangreja= “Female crab”. An unattractive woman.

Manzanillos = A rich/famous person’s entourage and leech off of them. Buddies that follow and take advantage of someone for interest (ex. roberto duran).

CHACARON(A) or CHACARUDO(A)= superlative for CHACARA means a very lazy man (or woman) or someone who relies in everybody else to solve his (her) problems.

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