Our First Week in Panama

I am changing this blog a little to use the personal pronoun, “I”, since it is really me, Connie, who has been writing this all along. We started off where it was both of us who would write, but it has turned out to be just me, and Mikkel is fine with that.
Anyway, on to our Third Life in Panama. It is finally August 1st. (I know I have been a little behind in up-to-date posting, but I will catch up soon.) We stayed at a hotel near LAX the night before after dropping off the rental car. It was best so we could catch a shuttle at 4 am for a 6am flight. Also, after Mikkel had read some forums and blogs, we knew that we would have to have a return trip ticket in order to get a boarding pass with Copa airlines (don’t ask me why, but it is a policy for all non- residents of Panama). On the suggestion of someone from one of the forum’s, United Airlines has a 24-hr. no-fee cancellation policy. So that night, I booked 2 return trips back to the states through United on the Internet. When we checked in at LAX, Copa asked for our return trip confirmation number. Upon giving it to them, we received our boarding passes. That day when we arrived in Panama, I cancelled the return reservations and was refunded the cost in full. Praise God for the little things.

So we got on the the flight with our 4 checked suitcases, 2 carry-ons, & 2 backpacks. I went on first since I was in 1st class, but my very packed carry-on would not fit above. I took some things out of the front pockets and extension side, put them in a plastic bag, and then everything fit. Mikkel was asked to put his carry-on in baggage below, but no extra cost. Off we flew, uneventfully, to Panama, but we decided we will not sit separately again. Arrived in Panama City 6 hours later.

After getting our baggage through customs (no problems, just lines to wait in with all our baggage on two carts). Our driver, Luis, was a welcoming sight, holding a sign with our name. Luis had been recommended by another expat; he spoke English and was very reliable. We found him to be a God-send, a real gem. He is a kind man with lots of knowledge and connections. He took us in his van to our apartment in Panama City where we would stay for the next week. We caught a taxi to Casco Viejo that night for dinner at Ego y Norisco where we had our first meal on our first visit to Panama.

The next morning, right on time, Luis drove us to the US Embassy where we had our drivers’s licenses authenticated. He knew exactly what to do, who to see, where to go, what line to go to, etc. From there we went to the license application bureau; then to the bank to pay for it; then to a lab for blood tests. Afterwards, Luis took us to get cell phones. He was there every step of the way, speaking Spanish for us and interpreting. After he dropped us off at our apartment, he went back to the license application bureau, submitted everything and got the approvals for the licenses. We would have to go to the another licensing bureau next week to actually get our licenses. Later we met with one of our attorney’s associates who took all our required documents for the Pensionado visa application to get them notarized in Panama before we started the process on Monday.

The weekend was free for us to do what we wanted. We had rented a studio apartment in the city which had a small but fully- equipped kitchen. There were a few grocery stores within walking distance as well as lots of restaurants. So we usually had breakfast, and sometimes lunch, in the apartment; and would walk to different restaurants for dinner. Saturday, we took a taxi to Albrook Mall which has over 300 stores and the main bus station; bought a few things such as an iron & travel ironing board. That mall went on & on. On Sunday, Luis picked us up & we went to Crossroads Bible Church, an English-speaking church we had attended on a previous visit to Panama. It reminded us of our church in Auburn, with a nice addition: they would sing worship songs in both English & Spanish. Luis dropped us off at the fish market afterwards. We said our goodbyes, but would see him again the following Friday. He agreed to help us finish getting our drivers’ licenses and then take us to pick up the car we had previously purchased and was available on Friday about 90 miles away. We ate lunch and then walked around Casco Viejo, where we met Conrad, a 77 yr. old Panamanian, who called himself “the walking taxi tour guide”. He walked with us showing us different areas of Casco Viejo, explaining the history along the way. Another gem brought to us. Later, we traveled across town to Altapa Convention Center for an artisan trade show. Most of the things we saw was pretty much all the same type of things: hats, jewelry, clothing, baskets,etc. There were some unique items which Mikkel got contact info from for the future.

The next 3 days we were driven around to various offices and government buildings to apply for our Pensionado visa. It went very smoothly. Our attorney, Berta Sanchez, had great associates and contacts who got us through to the front of lines and helped us through each process. It was well worth the cost. In 3 days we had our Carnets (temporary visas) and our multiple entrance visas. Now we had another free day in the city. We were going to go to another craft fair, but were told by our apartment manager that the area was not safe. So we took a taxi to the Multicenter Pacifica Mall downtown, a more upscale mall but just as big as Albrook. I did manage find a Payless Shoesource and buy some sandals to replace the ones I was wearing which had a broken sole. I found a Lush store, a place I discovered while visiting in Tucson with my daughter-in-law Rosie and daughter Becky. It has all-natural personal care products and cosmetics, but I didn’t buy anything there this time. Went home for a early dinner, repacking, and good night’s sleep. Luis would be picking us up at 7:30am the next day.

Next blog: First week in Pedasi

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