Eight Days in Panama
Installment Two

My wife and I explored Panama City the first week in December. Our intent was to consider if we could relocate or at least have a second home there. We had 8 days to explore and separate fact from fiction in our view. I am wise enough to know that 2 people can look at the same thing and have extremely different views. My wife and I have achieved a degree of success in our life. So our interests are not living in a low end area of any city just to live on pennies a day. We want a degree of quality in our life. We are looking for a middle class life style equal to or better than that what we now have in the USA. For those looking to live in Panama City on $500 a month or less, they will not find our observations helpful. I think one could live in Panama City on $500 a month but not at the level we would consider.

Our plan was to take a look around Panama City on our first day. It was our objective to get the over all general view, or lay of the land. City maps are almost non existent. We needed to put regional names like San Francisco or Paitilla or Bella Vista to a location within the city. Nora was our guide. At 9am sharp we are ready to go. We got in her like new air conditioned car. The morning sky was clear and sunny, not a cloud to be seen. Hot and humid. The local air outside the hotel was salty and had that low tide smell one gets used to when living near the ocean. Some times confused with sewer gas. However after a heavy rain storm, we did smell sewer gas around our hotel for several hours. It was explained that heavy rainfall over loads the old sewer system. Unlike Mexico, we did not see raw sewage running down the street.

First thing any explorer of Panama City will encounter is the local traffic. Balboa Ave starts up at about 7am on the way into the city and gets stop and go. Speeds up a little from 10am to 2pm. And by 3pm the traffic is stop and go heading out of the city. It is a mix of "Red Devil" buses, cars, small and large trucks and taxi's. It looks like it is slow going, but getting around town never seemed like it took that much extra time even in traffic. If you live in some rural city in USA, you might be overcome by the traffic. Coming from Southern California and Phoenix, it is just about a normal day in big city traffic. Seat belts are required. And if you do get into an accident, it will be more likely be a fender bender. Not like the death and destruction I have seen on Southern California freeways. There are few traffic lights or signals. There is an order to driving in the traffic and most drivers seem to be some what cautious.. Some streets have named street signs. The city roads are in fair condition with occasional ruff spots. The most difficult challenge is crossing through on coming traffic. Unlike USA, horn honking is common. Not usually honking out of anger but more like courtesy warnings.

Our hotel room wall was all glass from floor to ceiling wall to wall. We looked high over Balboa Ave, a main road in and out of the city. In our 8 days we saw no accidents from our room. There was one accident in the morning on city bound side of the "corridor or toll road". Except for the well used and sometimes beat up taxi's, most cars looked in good shape and in many cases newer and very upscale.

Our first stop was the ruins at Viejo. The short trip there took us through Paitillia, Punta Pacific, San Francisco, Coco Del Mar and Panama Viejo. Punta Paitillia residential region is a mix of newer high end high rise condos, doted with older units 30 or more years old. Stacked in real close and with marginal privacy from neighboring condo's. Paitillia is a bluff above the bay. Tree lined streets with sidewalks and even a ocean side park. Some water front condo's with breathtaking views of the city, bay and islands. High end shops, 4 story enclosed mall, niceness most modern grocery store we have ever seen. A forest of high rise condos 30 to 40 stories. Some new high rise condo projects, but Paitillia is almost built out. Soon learned that condos that are blocked from wind or breeze and no view can be hot and confining.

Punta Pacific is where the highest end projects are under construction. Fantastic modern 2 story enclosed shopping mall, huge new hospital. This area looks as if it is planned for the affluent "Baby Boomers". Perhaps 10 or 12 perhaps more projects starting or under construction with deep water ocean fronts and multi million dollar views!

San Francisco is a mix of some new and lots of old. New high rise condos spread out over a larger area, set back from the ocean, but some with bay views. It is a mixed area of older some shabby and other real nice homes. Most houses have security grated widows. Lots of local shops, gas stations and stores.

Coco Del Mar was the "hot spot" in the 60's and 70's. Now faded older and its grand days long past.

It became apparent that the growth of the city is on the move. Giant high rise condo projects are pooping up ever where. It looks as if the high rise condo building boom is to the south or toward the Tocumen international airport. Older is not better. The faded high end homes of 30 years ago are becoming old-fashioned. New more modern is considered better. I had to ask myself if long term ownership say 15 to 30 years is going to leave buyers with an outdated unwanted property? Such as Coco Del Mar region. Especially since in 15 to 20 years the property tax holiday will expire.
We drove into the ruins at Viejo. Just a quick look. As was explained, until recently this area had been neglected since Henry Morgan sacked the city, pirated the treasures and demolished the fortress city. Now there is a effort to restore the castle like walls to attract tourist. It would be interesting to go back and spend more time looking around.

My first impression of Panama City is that it is much smaller than I had imagined.

Next posting: Our visit to central city along and around Balboa Ave.

Installment One Installment Two Installment Three Installment Four Installment Five
Installment Six Installment Seven Installment Eight Installment Nine

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