Even though we arrived in July during Panama’s rainy season (a.k.a. the winter), Panama proved to shine through with its massive diversity, ultra-rich history and, yes oddly enough, even my father getting a little older.
Daddy helped introduce me to my first travel ventures when I was just three years old. Ever since then, we have been “thick as thieves” traveling the world. Our previous travels took us below the Equator to Argentina, Bali, and frequent visits to conquer our mission of visiting all of the Hawaiian Islands (to name a few)…and now Panama, for my birthday celebrations.
Naturally, as time has passed, Daddy’s quickness in his step has slowed down, a slight limp now dominates his ‘cooler than cool MacDaddy walk,’ and although his wit is very much on point, his memory is…let’s say…different. Even though these are all natural progressions in this venture we call aging, and although my dad’s doctor says he is very healthy for his age, nothing prepares a girl to see the very first man she was introduced to in this world change right before her eyes. However, even with this revelation, Panama began to put me a little at ease.
Interesting Discoveries about Panama & New Outlooks on the Process of Aging
Panama’s TRANSPORTATION: Car Rentals: Let’s just say if you’re more on the cautious side of driving, then I would Uber (yes, Panama has Uber) it all day long. Drivers here are aggressively fast, hence my boyfriend (a.k.a. LA), who grew up with New York driving etiquette, fit right in to navigate our rental car. If you do have the balls to rent a car, then please know car rental places in Panama are known to push their “local car insurance” to no end. Double check your insurance and credit card policies to make sure you are covered if you waive it.
You can also take advantage of the bus system, which is a mixture of modern metro buses and privately-owned, souped-up school buses that are known to be driven just as wildly as the smallest native vehicles. What’s interesting about these turbo school buses is the person hanging out the doorway yelling out the route of the bus as it approaches each stop….no need for modern technology here….LOVE IT! If crossing the street (crosswalk signals are rare), do as the natives do and follow their lead. Not just because they know what they are doing, but more importantly, as my dad said, “Just in case, they know where the nearest hospital is located.”
Panama’s DIVERSITY: Never in my life would I think I would be so thrilled to see such a smorgasbord of mixed races all in one place. My neck literally ached from constantly doing double takes as I saw Jews, Colombians, Africans and Asians walking alongside one another on crowded streets. For them, coexisting among Panama’s vast international domain is everyday normal life. The best part about all this diversity? Every single type of food you can possibly imagine is available and created by those who are natives to the food’s origin #MmmmmYUMLoveYourTravelLife!
Now, here is one characteristic my Daddy possess that may change, but only with more intensity as he gets older…..and this is his ethnically ambiguous look. So often, he is assumed to be of various races outside his true ethnicity. I get that from him and hopefully, that will remain with me as well. #LoveTheSkinYourIn
Panama’s HEALTH/ EXERCISE: Panama ranks up there with the US in terms of obesity, so I was caught off guard, in a good way, with what I actually witnessed. When I got up for an early morning run at 5 A.M. on my birthday, I thought I would pretty much be alone…uh, not happening. The run along the Panama Bay was what I would consider packed with runners, walkers, skaters, and bicyclists already getting their workout in. I figured it made perfect sense, because during Panama’s “winter” daytime hours, it’s too hot to run…. even for a native Texan like myself! Amazingly enough, there were still people exercising throughout the heat of the day! Speaking of healthy living, I was also pleasantly surprised to find there was not a lot of cigarette smoking in many parts of Panama that we visited….that really makes me #LoveMyTravelLife and reminds me of the value of my Daddy’s current state of health despite his age of 67! Panama is definitely a possible spot in my top places to live outside the US. This also made my time spent with my two favorite XY chromosomes (Daddy & LA) walking around Panama so pleasant, and even better, potentially cancer-free!
Panama’s COST OF LIVING: Another well-known reason why Panama is a mecca for expatriates finding homes here is the cost of living and all the discounts given to those who retire or simply come to live there. Visiting a realtor at the Multicentro Mall, I found that prices for a nice 2,000 sq ft two bedroom condo in the thriving downtown area can be as low as $140K, all the way up to a few million for a penthouse near or in the Trump Tower. However, I am not sure how long these great prices could last with Panama’s booming economy evident in the vast, constant downtown construction and expansion of the Panama Canal, which could double the $2.5 billion a year it already brings in. BTW, it goes without saying (but I will say it anyway), the PC is a must see! Given the Panama Canal’s history of independence from Columbia and the US, it reminded me that is one of the most vital aspects in my Dad’s journey of aging: Don’t forget to let him be independent and honor him by giving him space as he transitions into getting older. I think we often forget that one day too, if we’re fortunate, we will be in the same situation. This trip to Panama may have been about my birthday, may have been me celebrating a milestone in my own aging process, and may have even been about Daddy’s little girl accepting these changes; but ultimately and more so, so does he.
Panama’s WAYS OF LIFE (at least one aspect of it): As we headed to La Tasca de Duran, a restaurant owned by Panama’s most famous man, boxer Roberto Duran, Daddy and LA embarked upon a conversation about legal prostitution in the area. To say the least, I was naively fascinated! Not only is the phrase “legal prostitution” such an oxymoron to me, but it never really dawned on me to think that it was legal to sell sex in most of South America. I never really thought about it until that moment. They actually have an official identification employment card #mouthdrop! I guess seeing the huge statue of the blue woman on all fours in front of the Granda Urban Hotel on the way to La Tasca de Duran should’ve been an indication we were in the “red light district,” but obviously it wasn’t for me.
Oh, and regardless of what the mixed reviews say about the food at La Tasca de Duran, you can’t go wrong with the thick, juicy, melt-in-your-mouth, smells-so-lemony seabass smothered in white sauce! It is said that Roberto Duran frequents his restaurant, especially on Fridays. Despite us not meeting him, Daddy enjoyed watching Roberto’s legendary fights on the screen while drinking local Panama beer. He was happy and that’s all that mattered.
OLD PANAMA: As we ventured from Downtown Panama/ Panama Bay (which can certainly give you a little bit of a vibe similar to that one hot day on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue), and made our way towards Old Panama, the changes I witnessed of these two places just a few miles apart created a subtle conflict inside me. Luxuries, and thus small hints of Americanization, in Panama’s bustling city life versus the appreciation of rich tradition found in Old Panama.
Old Panama is flavorful with colorful boutiques and apartments, little girls laughing and playing on large house steps, an old man painting beautiful scenes of the Atlantic Ocean, the Grandclement Gourmet Ice Creams and Sorbets parlor, genuine panama hat shops, juicy hamburgers and delicious hot dogs, crafty vendors selling their goods to tourist and couples walking hand in hand as they watch the ships in the distance wait for their turn to enter the Panama Canal…..and of course the people you meet along the way. Once we parked the car by the very beautiful Cathedral of Panama in Casco Viejo, one of the oldest churches, we were greeted by a well-dressed man who said, with much personality and a modestly humble attitude, that he’ll watch our car for us. I asked LA if that was necessary, being that we were parked in a tourist area right in front of a police station. He simply explained, that for that man, this was his 9 to 5, so if we’re able, why not help him. So even though I felt as though we had just been hustled by the man, I still could not knock him for it.
I was thankful for Old Panama and the rising uneasy feeling of comparison between new and old Panama. Like my Daddy’s aging process, seeing Old Panama resonated with me and made me desire it to be untouched, unchanged by the “new” (at least in my eyes) Americanized Panama. On the flip side, I valued the fine amenities of AC, Uber, infrastructure of mass transportation, strip malls, ample wi-fi access, fast foods like McDonald’s French fries and yes, as of August 6th, 2015 you know nothing says Americanization like Starbucks.
Yes, perhaps these life travel lessons could have been embarked upon no matter where we journeyed. I’m a true believer that just like life, when you make plans to be somewhere but end up some place else, then that is exactly where you are supposed to be, in this case, Panama.
So, in summary, even though there is less pep in my Daddy’s step, Panama reminded me to be grateful that at least he’s still got many more steps to take. His slowing down has only given me the gift to do the same….. and just BE present with him more and more. But thankfully, you can’t change old history, and even better, you can’t change the memories you create with loved ones when you travel to Panama.