Eight Days in Panama
Installment Five

My beloved wife's motto is shop till you drop. That is in the
mall. In the grocery store that is another matter all together. One of many, many good things about Panama is that they use the US dollar. Now this may not seem like much to some. But it is fantastic. You do not have to exchange your US dollars for a local currency and pay the commission fees for exchange. You do not have to carry a pocket calculator to figure out what a item costs compared to back home. Then when you leave you do not have to reconvert and pay another conversion fee. Or get home with a pocket full of odd currency that you have no use for.

For real ease, most stores if not all we went into including restaurants and hotel welcomed our credit cards. I do not use ATM cards and can not compare. We needed cash for taxi's and the ferry ride to Taboga Island. I would think that if you go into the little stores they might not take credit cards. We never had a problem.

Unless you have a car or can walk in the heat of the day you will need a taxi to go shopping. We did not try the buses. I think we would need better Spanish language skills to do that. In Paitilla near the hotel there were lots of close by shops, restaurants and the multiplex Mall. Walking was not a big problem. But we did need taxi's for shopping or dining outside of our walking area. In the hotel driveway at the front doors were always several taxi's. We soon learned that they were much higher than outside the hotel driveway by about ½. We soon learned that if my wife hailed the cab she could get a much better fare than me, even when we were together. To get a cab you just stand near, not in the road, and wave. Most drivers do not speak English. And sign language came in handy. One good finger is one dollar 2 fingers was 2 and so on. It got dicey when it was less than an even dollar. We soon leaned the number 50 in Spanish. We always agreed on a price before getting in. For local rides perhaps 2 to 3 miles one way we paid up to $3.00 for our first ride and as low as $1.00 towards the end of our stay. Most were in the $1.50 to $2.00 range. The hourly rate for driving around is about $10.00 to $12.00 an hour inside Panama City. For the most part cabs were compact or subcompact. I have a leg brace and needed the front seat. Wife is small and had no problem in the back. Most have working air conditioners. Seat belts are required. Quality of cab cars ran from new to nearly ready for scrap. Not like Moscow, where you need 2 cabs if you have something important to get to. One as a backup when the first car dies. Or as bad as Mexico where you get as much exhaust in the car as it blows out the tail pipe. I think the biggest surprise is that when we told the driver where we wanted to go and he understood it, we got there! I have been in some countries and back home where the driver knows less about the city than me. Drivers were never reckless. One time I forgot my camera in the cab. Got to the room and the phone rang. Front desk wanted me to come down and get my camera from the driver. Now I still wonder how they knew my room number from the driver since he and I never really talked? On one of our first returns by cab, we knew the fare was a dollar something. When we get to the hotel I give the driver $2.00, said "Gracious" and get out, he starts shouting with his hand out, he has 50 cents in change and wants us to take it! What kind people! I have to wonder will the pending tourist and baby boomer invasion spoil this?

Two requests from my wife were that there be decent shopping
and we do not live in a remote village. So our first assignment was to check out shopping and assure our selves that Panama City was close to par with back home. One has to consider if consumer goods are readily available. From some of the postings, I was getting the impression that shopping is extremely difficult. Shortages are prevalent. And it will take a great deal of time locating certain things. And of coarse that prices are so much cheaper in Panama City than back home.

I believe one needs to go to the local grocery store to better
understand what life style you will have. Most shopping is done in grocery stores. In Russia, they have open air markets or bazaars in rain, wind or snow. In Frankfurt Germany my first experience was with a nasty typical cashier. As she scanned my purchases she would shove my items down the table caring less if she damaged or broke anything. She got real angry that I did not have my own shopping bags. She charged me for bags as I scrambled to bag my items as she was pushing the next costumers items down the table at me. Then in Mexico the smells of rotting foods overwhelms me and cute little grandmothers love to shove their shopping carts into you if you take too much time picking out your fruits and vegetable. In Spain they require you to put up a small cash deposit to us the shopping carts inside the store? Now with all these experiences we headed to the "Super 99" grocery store in about the center of Paitilla. As we entered the store it was free of the rotten fish smell even some stores back home have. The floors were sparkling clean. Well lighted. Clerks had nice clean fashionable uniforms. Shoppers loading up their carts with all sorts of items. The store had isles and isles of well stocked products. Name brands from back home. A pet department, liquor and wine department. Meats of all kinds including chicken, fresh fish and yes frozen turkeys! Fresh milk, cheese. Produce and fruits I have never seen before. A bakery and deli with imported and local cheese and cold cut meats. What a surprise to say the least. With items in our cart we went to check out. As we approached the cashier, a box boy came up and started unloading our cart! As the cashier scanned our items he bagged them up with care. Even wrapped paper around the bottles of rum we had. We paid with our credit card without having to show ID. Then the box boy demanded to take out bags out to our car! We said we needed a taxi. He took us outside, RAN through the parking lot trying to flag down a cab. When that did not work, he went to a pay phone to call us a cab! By then a cab was dropping off a ride and picked us up. Box boy ran over and loaded our bags into the cab for us! I gave him a healthy tip and off we go. UNBELIEVABLE!!!!! We found grocery store paradise in Panama City!

We strolled through several grocery stores during our stay. It
became apparent that if you live off of frozen prepared foods it
will be far more expensive and more difficult to find a big selection than back home. Unlike our local large chain grocery
stores, Panama's have a larger selection of fresh produce and fruits. Odd is that most produce is prepackaged in preset sizes.
Plastic foam tray try with a clear plastic wrap, like our prepackaged fresh meat back home. The meat department was "live
butchers". The selection was fresh typical cuts of beef, chicken whole and precut, pork, fresh fish of all types. Panamanians must like to cook fresh.

Cost of groceries. I am sure those on the $500 a month budget
know where they can save a few dollars by going to the locals only places. Prices will very because of seasons. If we move to Panama City we will not learn about these places for some time. We will have to go to the most convenient stores. Frankly with experience we had with "Super 99" and "El Rey" grocery stores I not sure I want to go any where else. These stores are a chain of stores we saw through  out the city. This is one area where for the cost of groceries one is truly treated like a king!

Prices that we found on the days we were there: local canned
beer P/C 43 cents or $2.58 6/pack, local rum $5.00 litter, can of locally packaged regular US brand coke 44 cents or $2.64 6/pack, Beef $2.00 to $2.50lb, ground beef $1.60lb, frozen USA turkey $1.69lb, whole chicken $1.05lb, fresh whole fish $2.50lb, Assorted pork cuts $2.50lb, local packaged coffee whole bean or pre ground $3.00 to $4.00lb, butter $2.15lb, orange juice $1.99 gallon, milk $3.00 gallon, large eggs $1.20 dozen, decorated 12 inch round 1 layer birthday cake $6.95, assorted cheese $4.00lb, Banana's 22 cents lb, giant avocados $1.35 lb, bag of onions 95 cents lb, fresh mushrooms  $4.00 lb, cucumber 55 cents lb, iceberg lettuce $1.25 lb, grapes
$1.95 lb, 3 oz Starkist tuna US brand $2.15 local canned tuna $1.17. US brand frozen dinners $2.50.

We did not see a vast selection of assorted carbonated soft drinks
in various flavors like back home. Seemed to be limited to Pepsi and Coke. Canned goods seemed higher than back home maybe 20 to 30%, since they are all imported national USA brands. Locally produced items were less.

The malls. Multiplex is a modern 4 story building. 4 or 5
outside cafes, some with live music in the evenings. The center is
not completely filled up with stores. No major large full line anchor stores like Robinson May or the likes. Fine jewelry stores featuring 18k gold and the most beautiful green emeralds. Clothing, furniture, gifts, pharmacy, electronics and on and on. Nice upstairs food court including but did not use McDonalds. Las Vegas style casino. The mall was decked out with all the Christmas decorations and even a live Santa! What a civilized society.

The Multiplaza Pacific in Punta Pacific, is as modern upscale
as any we have ever seen back home. For those on the $500 a month budget, this is not for you! 2 stories filled with shops. Familiar store names as Tommy Hilfinger, Anne Kline, Payless shoes, Levi's, Izod, Tony Roma's, GNC, Hallmark and even Mrs Fields Cookies! Plus lots more to say the least. Anchor stores with "El Rey" Grocery store and "DO It Center". Attached is a new Courtyard hotel, perhaps a good place to stay?

My wife has found shopping mall heaven in Panama City!
We did get to see the "El Pueblo". It is a nice open large strip mall. Filled with larger stores. The 2 times we went by there were shoppers all over. Looked to be for more local shopping.

We passed many modern Gas stations, regular looked to be $2.50
a gallon, back home the day we returned it was $2.25 a gallon. Gas stations, tire shops, mechanic shops were there as well. The region around Paitilla and Punta Pacific is as complete as any modern city in USA. Malls, furniture stores, pet shops with pet grooming, large pharmacies just like Wal-Greens. Sherman Williams paint store. Deli's, fashionable hair salons, clothing stores, produce markets with a better selection of all types of fresh fruits, vegetable and my favorite huge avocados, celery, iceberg lettuce and tomatoes. Even a most interesting store called "Do it Center". Large store with hardware, windows, exercise equipment, home furnishings, small and large appliance seemed to be about the same back home price and selection, bedding, pots and pans and much
more including a 2 person sauna at $1299.00 and portable hot tub at $5000.00. I wondered who would need or want a sauna in Panama City? There are bakeries even a kosher market. Grocery stores filled with just about everything one would need. Banks, dry cleaners. All within walking distance or easy short taxi ride.

If living in Panama city, we are more than convinced that
anything we needed is there. Perhaps there will be the odd item we
can not find, but all in all, Panama city has it all for consumer products. What we did not see is the bargain prices on food that some postings refer too. It looked as if we would save on some items and pay more for others. Dollar average it would be the same with better quality at about the same back home price compared to Southern California. To make a point, food costs are just about as low in Southern California as any where in the world because California is a year around agricultural state. Perhaps if back home you live in a state that has to truck in produce, prices in Panama may be lower?

It became more apparent that if living in Panama City, we would
most likely need one car. Taxi's would substitute as an extra car for close in shopping. We would not need one car for each of us as we have back home.

Part 6, dining out.
Installment One Installment Two Installment Three Installment Four Installment Five
Installment Six Installment Seven Installment Eight Installment Nine

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