Seven years ago, we stepped off a plane at the Tocumen International Airport in Panama to start our new third life. It has been an adventure I never thought in my wildest dreams of how I would spend my retirement years. Lots of experiences, mostly good and fun; some not so great (such as the loss of my son Ben). All in all, both Mikkel and I have never regretted our decision to move to Pedasí. And with current global pandemic situation and unrest, we feel blessed that we are here. It is not a perfect paradise as some would like you to believe, but for us it is home.
My last posting was written about 3 months ago. We had just returned from a 6-day trip for Puerto Armuelles & Volcan. Then we were in full quarantine; could not go out of our house other than 2 designated hours 3 days a week for groceries, medicine, or banking. That meant we really couldn’t go anywhere outside of Pedasí. There was a sanitary checkpoint at the beginning of town to make sure no one came through unless they lived or worked beyond, but it was taken down after it was found that no legal national authorization was given. The checkpoint at the river between La Villa and Chitré, the divide between Los Santos and Herrera provinces, was also closed then.
Since then, and only in the last month, things have loosened up a bit for the Azuero Peninsula, but not for many other provinces, especially around Panama City. First the dry law was lifted starting with allowing just one bottle of wine or spirits, or one 6-pack of beer could be purchase per day; although that didn’t stop people from going to several stores to purchase more. Eventually it was completely lifted. Then the quarantine changed to a curfew allowing us to be out from 5am to 7pm every day, but encouraging us to stay home as much as possible. The curfew is still in place. And we are all required to wear masks outside of our homes. Construction for public projects were allowed to resume. The hardware stores were opened, but restaurants and other shops remained closed.
At first, we were to remain within our own province unless we had a “salvo conducto”, a document permitting us to move between provinces for work or medical reasons. But when the checkpoints and full quarantine was taken away, we started venturing out to Chitré to shop at the bigger hardware and grocery stores, buying a few things we were unable to purchase in Pedasí. We also were able to finally see our dentist in Chitré for a checkup and Mikkel could go visit the VA Service Center for his prescriptions and lab work. Wherever we go, sanitary measures are in place: masks are worn, social-distancing observed, only so many people are allowed in a store and only one at a time, floor mats doused with rubbing alcohol or antiseptic are in place at the door as we step through, temperatures are taken, and we wash are hands with sanitizer gel or an alcohol spray.
Still, no big parties or large groups are allowed to congregate. Here we can visit others at their home, but no more than 10 people at any one time. Mikkel and I visit friends down the street to go swimming in their pool occasionally on sunny days for a couple of hours, but there are no more than 4-5 of us and I have noticed we naturally social-distance ourselves. We have had a few people over, but only 1-2 at a time and we visit outside on the veranda. Our gardener Manuel and our housekeeper Marta have returned to work for us (Manuel comes every 2 weeks and Marta once a week for 5 hours). But we still don’t hug each other as we did in the past. That is really hard sometimes because this is a hugging culture. We can go to the beach now, but not for sunbathing; just for exercise. So Mikkel takes the dogs and walks along the beach, usually picking up a bunch of shells. Walking on sand is good for his neuropathy in his legs.
Covid19 arrived in Pedasí only a few weeks back from a person who had visited a hospital or clinic in Chitré. It spread to the immediate contacts, but they kept under full quarantine. Last thing I had heard was it had only infected about 4 people; there have been many rumors of more cases, but nothing substantiated or confirmed. I did hear that one more person came down with it, but they live in another town in the Pedasí District. All-in-all, the Azuero Peninsula has the lowest number of cases compared to the rest of the country. Because of that, more activities were just recently opened for the Azuero only. The Panama governmental administrative plan is divided into “Blocks”. We have been in Block 2 for quite some time now. Finally, Block 3 was opened for both provinces in the Azuero which allowed for car sales. opening of small administrative offices, and private construction. Due to the lowest amount of Covid-19 cases, most of which are no longer active, Los Santos province was granted part of Block 4, allowing restaurants to open if they met the health requirements and can only accept a lower capacity of customers. Many restaurants and chefs have started or opened their businesses with take-out and/or delivery service within the last couple of months. I must say that this has been a real plus, since Pedasí hasn’t had restaurant delivery service before. Some have said they will continue to do that as their restaurants are not worth it to open with a limited capacity. A few with more space will open, especially if the space is mostly outdoors; Smileys being one of them will probably open in next week, but without the live music nights.
But with restaurants opening in Los Santos only, the municipality has received official authorization to put the sanitary checkpoint at the La Villa/Chitré border back up as of Monday, August 3rd. Only those with Salvo Conductos or medical emergencies will be allowed to enter Los Santos. One can only guess the reasoning for this added restriction again is that Herrera Province has more Covid-19 cases than Los Santos Province. There are also 2 other entrances to the Los Santos Province that have been authorize to set up similar checkpoints. Initially it was planned for this sanitary entrance to Los Santos 24 hours a day. As of today it was announced it will only work from Monday to Thursday from 6pm to 5am, and on weekends starting on Fridays, 5pm to 5am Mondays. This change was decided given the clamor of the Santeña (what we call those who live in Los Santos province) and the Herrera population, among whom there is an important commercial exchange. There is still a 24-hour sanitary checkpoint at the entrance to the Azuero in Divisa/Santa Maria area. (Thank God for internet and local WhatsApp groups that keep us informed with all the changes.) We can still order things from Amazon and other places in the U.S. that can be sent to a Miami address, then shipped to Panama, and delivered to and picked up at Chitreana Cargo Express in Las Tablas (one of several shipping options available). But there is no regular international mail delivery to our post office box in Pedasí; nor can we send anything internationally out of Panama. And all air travel has been restricted to cargo or humanitarian flights, extending the date each month since April 22nd for 5 times to August 22nd now. That date could easily be extended again. And there are no more humanitarian flights scheduled as of now.
So how have Mikkel and I faired through all this? We have become pretty-much home-bound, trying to take it all in stride the best we can. This is not to say we don’t get frustrated at times. Being the rainy season now (and it has rained quite a lot lately), we watch a lot of Netflix, Hulu, & Amazon Prime, more than before. Mikkel has done some planting of various plants, mostly in decorative planters and hanging pots. I have continued with some crafting projects.
We go to the beach occasionally or to a friend’s house to cool off in their pool. The other day I went with my friend Sue to El Ciruelo to hunt for sea glass. I found a handful while walking up and down the cove. On the way, we stopped at a bridge where we viewed 8 crocodiles sunning on the riverbank or swimming in the river. Rivers are not for swimming in Panama.
Thank God we have remained healthy and Covid-free. I meet up twice a month on Zoom with my family in the U.S. We even play games together online. Thank God, they are all Covid-free so far. I hear about what is happening in the U.S. regarding Covid, protests/riots, and politics. It reminds me how glad we are here in Pedasí. We didn’t move here to get away from the U.S.; just to seek a better less-expensive retirement. But now I am glad we made this decision. We love our family and we love our country for the freedoms we had. But I know many would agree that things are not going well there. We still want to go back to visit. We had a full-month trip planned last May, but of course, that got cancelled. Probably won’t go back now until next year some time depending on the circumstances. Mikkel needs to return to Houston some time within the next year for medical exams for his additional VA disability claims. In the meantime, he can still receive prescriptions and some exams through the Veterans’ service center in Chitré.
The one thing we really miss is being able to travel freely through Panama and other countries. (This is why there are not too many photos included with this post.) We would like to go Las Lajas again to enjoy just relaxing on the beach. We would also like to visit Columbia at Christmas time. And maybe even go on a cruise somewhere. All those are just wishes for future travels with no real planning right now. The whole world is at a stand-still.
We also miss the local celebrations, the live music nights at Smiley’s, shopping at stores and sometimes going to a shopping mall in Chitré and even Panama City. We miss seeing and hanging out with many of our friends regularly. The freedoms we took for granted are gone for now and I want them back. In the meantime, I try to remain grateful for the little things we do have and the blessings we have received through all this time. I continue to pray that God will intervene soon and His peace will prevail.
We are still here after 7 years and plan to stay at least another 7, God willing. If you want to know how things have changed and transpired since August 1, 2013, you can read from the archives of this blog. I used to write often, but now not so much. But I do wish to continue this blog about our third life in Pedasí as long as I can.
Here’s hoping you who are reading this remain safe and healthy. Until next time…