One of the questions we’re most often asked when telling people we’re heading off the Panama for six weeks is, “Why Panama”?
With all the places in the world we could go, why Panama, indeed!
Before we started thinking about this trip, all we knew about Panama was that it was home to the Panama Canal. But Jen and I enjoy watching travel shows occasionally, and one night we watched Samantha Brown travel to Panama on her Passport to Latin America series.
We learned some interest things about Panama, such as that it is covered with beautiful rainforests and beaches, it uses the US dollar as its currency, and that Spanish is spoken there.
It looked like a wonderful place, as do many of the places we see on travel shows, but it still didn’t stand out as a place we would be traveling to in the near future.
However, the thought of foreign travel, or living in another country for a while had been on our minds for quite some time. Jennifer has felt a bit cooped up here, and wanted a change of scenery. I wanted immersion into a new culture and language, and a break from work. We both wanted to give our kids the chance to experience something new. We thought that a Spanish-speaking country would be good because Jennifer speaks Spanish already (she served a mission in the Canary Islands, which is part of Spain, near Africa), and it’s an easy language for the rest of us to start learning (well, compared to the Japanese I learned on my mission).
A few weeks later, we were watching General Conference. Elder Perry gave a talk about simplifying your life, and focusing on things that are most important. He recounted Henry David Thoreau’s experiment in simplicity which he documented in his book, “Walden“. During his talk, I couldn’t get it out of my mind that we needed to take an opportunity to get away from our sometimes fast-paced, materialistic culture, and take time to focus on what’s most important. (I doubt he intended to imply that we should all take extended vacations with our families, but that’s what I felt I needed to do).
I knew my life was fast-paced. I have worked my tail off the last five years building my Music Teacher’s Helper business and other websites, and my life has been absorbed with these tasks continually. I knew I needed to separate from it mentally for a period of time to really rejuvenate, and refocus on the areas I had been neglecting.
In between sessions of Conference, we watched a 1-hour special about the recent dedication of an LDS Temple in Panama. We were fascinated to learn more about Panamanian culture, and to see the saints there, even among some indigenous indian populations. For some reason, I couldn’t get it out of my mind that I wanted to go to Panama. I thought about it all through Conference, and spent every minute I could looking up information about it to see what life was like there, and if it was a place I might like to take my family. Once I learned more about it, the desire to go there simply grew and grew.
I found out that Panama is the safest of all the Central American countries, with a low crime rate, relatively sanitary conditions (especially in the city), and a total population of about 3.3 million people (mostly in Panama City).
Panama has a low cost of living, compared with the United States. We found out that everything from housing, to food, and transportation are all cheaper than where we live. For example, many restaurants have entres around the $2-4 range. Taxis charge $1-$1.50 to take you around certain zones of a city, or $8/hour. You can rent and purchase homes in beautiful locations at great prices as well.
I found many websites encouraging people to retire in Panama, for a myriad of reasons. The Panamanian government seems to encourage foreigners to live there, and gives incentives and discounts for doing so. For example, retirees get 50% off of cultural and sporting events, 25% off utility bills and airfare, and several other discounts. Also, you do not have to pay property tax on any property you own in Panama until it’s 20 years old!
Panama has beautiful weather, with temperatures staying roughly between 70-80 degrees all year round. There is no winter, but a wet season (May-Dec) and a dry season (Dec – May).
Jennifer and I are definitely into warmth. We don’t like temperatures much below 70, and don’t mind a lot of heat or humidity. I have always loved jungle and tropical rainforests. The islands and beaches on the Carribbean side also have their appeal.
With all of this going in its favor, and no other place standing out with the same propensity, we started planning how we could make the trip work, when we would do it, how long we would stay, and other such details.
Now, obviously I’m an idealist and an optimist. I didn’t mention one negative thing about Panama in this post. I’ve heard there are some negatives. It’s still a third-world country, after all. So I’m trying not to set my expecations too high, and I’ll find out when I get there if all these things are true :). But I think most of all, we’re just going to enjoy being somewhere different together.