Editor's Note: This is the third installment of Rachelle Smith's series detailing her experiences buying a home in Panama with her husband, Ben.
When Smitty and I woke up our first morning in our new house in Panama, it was to the most musical sound of a bird. It felt like he was welcoming us to Panama. It is a strange and scary feeling waking up in a foreign country knowing this is where you have chosen to live and you don't know anyone except your attorney.
When we arrived at the airport the night before with two cats and the macaw it was quite a scene. I don't think too many people bring a large bird into Panama. Several people had to meet me at customs to check the bird into the country; my attorney had it all set up so it went along quite smoothly. I quarantined the bird at home and had to call in every week for a month to say she was fine. I would advise anyone moving here with a bird to make sure your attorney has done this before and knows what they are doing. Cats and dogs are easy to bring into the country and you can quarantine them at home.
I was asked to tell my story about moving to Panama and maybe a few stories on after I arrived here. Honestly, I have hundreds of stories, some are hilarious, some are heartwarming and some are pure frustration. I wouldn't know which story to write about, so I have decided to try and answer the big question everyone is always asking me--Why Panama?
Honestly, I don't know why we chose Panama. When we went walking downtown our first day here everyone said good morning to us like they knew us. When we got lost people tried helping us. It didn't matter where we went we felt like we belonged here. One of the first things we noticed was how families sit out on their porches and play games or just visit and how the children all play together outside and seem so happy. It could have been the beauty of the country that got to us, the Pacific on one side and the Caribbean on the other or maybe it was the rain-forest and all the birds and nature. I guess it just all felt right and that's why we chose Panama.
There are many positive reasons to retire here--the cost of living is cheaper. We don't need an air conditioner or heater, it's almost always the same temperature in the mountains, so our utilities are so much less. Medical is cheaper here and we have had excellent care. I had terrible allergies in the States and was continually on meds, but here I very rarely take anything because the air is so clear here in the mountains.
There are also the negatives about living in a foreign country; first and foremost the culture is different. You have to be able to adapt to the way things are done and not try to change things to the way you think it should be done. The driving is probably one of the biggest obstacles you have here. If you aren't used to a two lane road turning into a four lane road at rush hour you might want to take a taxi. I think it will be hard for me to get use to driving in the States again. You mean the stop sign means Stop? And when the light turns red that doesn't mean six cars go through after it turns red?
I have so many stories about driving, from being chased down the highway by teenagers because I refused to let them bully their way in front of me, to being stopped by protesters on a main road. You just never know what you will run into. The good thing is progress is happening here and there are more police and now they have radar guns... and they are using them. So things are changing here for the better and progress is going to continue here for years to come.
We have lived here for almost seven years now and it has been a truly amazing experience. I don't know if I really answered the question, "Why Panama," but I do know I'm glad we chose Panama.
I feel privileged that when I go to sleep at night it is by all the different sounds that are coming out of the jungle and I didn't have to buy the DVD Sounds of the Rainforest. Of course, waking up at dawn with all the bird sounds has to be one of the best ways to wake up. We especially love our musical common house wren. She still sings her song outside our window in the morning. I will miss all of this when we leave, but it is time for us to move onto a different adventure. Life is short and precious; we want to experience many life adventures.
Rachelle and Ben Smith are now selling their three bedroom, three bathroom house in Los Altos de Cerro Azul. It is listed at $399,000. Click here for the listing.