These last few weeks have been extremely hectic and exciting. We have our small restaurant up and running (Paco’s Tacos) and the response by the customers has been amazing. I know I have a part two of my “Keeping up with the Lopez’s” blog that is due, but I figured I would take a little time out of the schedule to post a quick note on some of the nuiances about life abroad in Panama.
When you sit down and read articles about communities and living in other countries, some of the details seem to be, well, lost in translation. Things like high speed internet availability and such are oftened answered as yes or no, but never really qualified or quantified. I figured I would take a little time to explain some of the details in living here. Some useful (or useless, your call) trivia.
Hi-speed is relative…
Internet in Panama city and even along the coast is offered here as high speed. It is true, the high speed capabilities are available, however, they are extremely inconsistent. CableOnda’s speed fluctuates a great deal, but during peak times can be tough. It is cable internet, so it is somewhat expected. However, what is difficult to expect is when it will or won’t be on at all. Internet goes out in places like Chorrera and Arraijan often (these are 2 suburbs near Panama City heading towards the interior). It can be a bit frustrating if you have to constantly be connected or if your work depends on high speed.
From what I have heard, Panama City is more consistent. There is a service called PaNETma that offers terrestial sattellite and it is supposed to be very good and consistent since its is manly broadcasted from the city itself and repeated along the coast. We will be planning on testing them out in our restaurant in La Chorrera.
Something in the Air…
Panama city is developed more than the rest of the country. It is an up and coming country and has potential. That said, you could pay millions for a condo with a view of the ocean, walk out on to your terrace and breathe in the nice fresh sewage filled air. There is a huge problem with trash. Aside from the fact there are very lenient litter laws (as long as you don’t hit the cop with the trash when throwing it out your window you are ok) there are serious issues with the garbage collection and the consistency and frequency of this service.
The problem throughout the rest of the country is worse but luckily people are much more spread out. There is no garbage collection in most of the country so trash is burned. Plastics and all are burned. Often times, you will see giant charred areas where a fire seems to have consumed more of the vegetation than anything else. There is a lot of potential for recycling but no one has addressed it yet. (I’ll expand on this more in another post. There are many beautiful areas where the locals clean up and never let trash pile up!)
I’d buy that for a dollar…
Things that are common sense for you and I may be a strange concept to the way things are done here. You can buy beer for 50¢ a can in the grocery store, or you can get an amazing deal, 6-pack for $3.00. What a great deal! The concept of bulk buying hasn’t really hit home here. Funny story, one Panamanian at the abastos (local market) was selling bananas for a nickel each. He had about 50 bananas left and it was still somewhat early in the day. One of my friends asked to buy all the bananas for $2.50, in other words, all the bananas for asking price. The man at the market declined and would not sell them all. His answer as to why: “If I sell you all my bananas, I won’t have any bananas to sell the rest of the day.”
Read between the lines…
If there is something that you have to do, and needs to get done, you can bet your bottom dollar that to do it, you have to wait in line. Some lines are not marked, and you won’t know you are standing in the wrong line until you get in line, and make it all the way to the front, where of course they tell you, please step into the next line.
But this isn’t even just about public services, like renewing license plates or pulling a permit. Retail stores employ this tactic as a way of checks and balances for their employees. It is meant to deter theft and dishonesty. Example:
Say you step into a popular cell phone store. We’ll make up a name, let’s call it Clear for the sake of this story. You decide you want a contract phone, something with internet available. You walk into the store and people say hello, but before you can hand over your money for a phone you have to stand in line and get a number. After you get a number, you proceed to a counter where the person confirms what you are there to do. In this case, buy a phone. Now this person behind the counter can’t get in front of the counter to show you the phones available on display. This requires another person, who you have to wait for to be available. This is important because even though there may be 100 phones on display, about 10-20 are actually available now or ever. The other phones on display are there just to tease you.
After this sales person shows you a phone, and it is verified in stock, you proceed back to the counter person assissting you before so they can handle the paper work for your phone. This person could be assissting someone else, so you have to wait for them to finish up. After they get most of the paperwork done you can see the promised land, but wait! This is a purchase transaction, and that means someone has to pay and someone has to receive payment. This is when you have to go into the next line.
That’s right, you have to go into a line for the register before you can complete your transaction. Once you wait through this line where maybe 2-3 cashiers are available, you have to go back to the counter person to show you proof of payment. The cashier window and the counterperson you are assigned to could be side by side, but that doesn’t matter in the world of lines. Once you show proof of payment, you are free to get your phone and continue on with what’s left of your day. Just remember, you may want to take the time now to setup automatic billing and payment, otherwise you will find yourself in line. (Don’t worry…the grocery stores aren’t that bad…just don’t go on payday!)