I am writing this from our dining room table, which is outside on the porch facing the cows. We are settling in nicely to Pedasi although we are reminded that transitions are always hard. We arrived Friday after a lovely (but long) drive from Boquete. Luis fit all Sherman and Smith family worldly possessions into his van with about 2 inches to spare. We unloaded the Smiths in the nearby town of Pocri where they are renting a house while their homes in Pedasi are being finished. We bid them goodbye and wished them luck with their 1-bathroom non-air conditioned house with many noisy roosters as neighbors. They are more hearty souls than us, by a Texas mile.
We met up with expat Debbie, who is serving as the property manager for our house here. Our rental house is much bigger than the apartment in Boquete. The girls are sharing a room still (Haley is not pleased) but it has a large kitchen area and living area along with a little splash pool and a big covered porch. It has a farm on three sides so each morning we are greeted with cows and lots of birds. In the evening we have lots of bug and spider visitors.
It’s always challenging arriving at a new place after dark, and street lights and yard lights are not common here. We also were a little distressed by the humidity and high temperature in our house, although both bedrooms have air conditioners so we holed up in our rooms right away.
We weren’t sure how it was going to work with our comfort in this house but the next morning we realized the value of a breeze (both natural and man-made) and we began to settle in. We will be in this house for a month while we look for our permanent (2-year) house. Yesterday we explored the town a little bit and then drove to Chitre, the nearest large town. We stopped in Las Tablas (which is on the way to Chitre) first to set up our mailbox account but they were already closed for the day. Monday is a holiday so we’ll get our PO Box on Tuesday. In order of small to large it goes Pedasi (population 2K) – Las Tablas (pop 25K) – Chitre (pop 50K). That’s also the order of the road.
Our first stop in Chitre was Claro, a local cellular provider. We needed internet in our casa so I switched into Spanish mode and we learned about all the options from the patient worker guy who repeated a lot for the gringa. We decided to go with two options – a wifi hot spot as well as a USB stick. The stick has a good chance of feeding internet to our home router, and the wifi hot spot is good for a back up and when we travel. We have to buy SIM cards and data cards to go along with it so it was taking awhile. And although we didn’t ask for a discount, the sales guy was nice to give us one. What we didn’t realize was, getting a discount takes 30 minutes of finagling the checkout system to apply it to each line item. We’ve never waited so long to save $17. Finally we paid for all our items and I thought we were in the home stretch but there was still a LOT of typing and configuring going on behind the counter. So I asked if we could go to lunch and come back and Patient Worker Guy seemed very happy about that option.
We went to McDonalds because at some point with everything new, you just need something familiar. And by “you” I mean the girls. Haley loved her McPollo and Zoe liked her “Cajita Feliz – Happy Little Box” but I made the mistake of ordering my burger with no bun because of my gluten issue. It took 2 managers and 5 workers to discuss how they might make this burger with no bread. After awhile I said that I’d take the bread but by then they had solved peace in the Middle East and figured out how to make my burger with no bread. I asked for all the other fixins – lettuce, tomato, etc – but it arrived with just the burger and cheese. Win some, lose some. It was actually very tasty meat, however.
After McD’s we went back to Claro and it only took 30 minutes to finalize this, what should have been, minor task. By this time Dan and the girls waited in the car and the employees brought around a chair from behind the counter for me. But in the end it worked out OK and last night we had internet. Today, notsomuch, but that’s a different story.
Quick side note here… this part of Panama seems to love to create checkpoints everywhere. I swear, police really need to find another hobby. So between the Claro store and McDonalds (2 minutes from each other by car), we had to go through a checkpoint going to McDs and back. Not to mention the other 6 times we traveled that road to do all our other errands. It really was quite the annoyance. And each time, there were buses and buses of people stopped with dozens and dozens of people milling about, discussing important topics with police everywhere. I half expected for someone to start selling hot dogs, there was such a crowd. There was a guy juggling machetes 3 feet from car bumpers for tips at the next stoplight, however. Gotta love his entrepreneurial spirit.
Anyway, I digress… So at this point in the afternoon it was about 4 p.m. we were ready to hit a few stores to increase our comfort level at the house (read: buy some fans). We bought a wheel around, room air conditioner at one store and then went to Do It Center (like a Home Depot and Bed Bath and Beyond combined) and loaded up the cart with a few essentials like night lights and a lighter for the gas stove and a dishwasher (read: dish drying rack) and we looked for a mattress topper for Daniel’s back, which does not tolerate the very firm (read: concrete) mattress that we are currently using. Oh, and we ran into the Smiths, who ate lunch at Dairy Queen (which we couldn’t find so we went to McDs instead) and were now pricing furniture for their new houses. They bought a TV, which ended up not working. Just like their convection oven didn’t work. And not to mention their 3 missing plates from their set of 16. Not having a good day, those Smiths.
After a very long stint at Do It Center we went to Arrocha, which is technically a pharmacy but it’s unlike any pharmacy I’ve ever seen. It’s pretty much a Walmart without groceries but with a lot more home decor. Wow. And they are loaded up for Christmas, with aisles and aisles of really pretty decorations, sorted by color. We found a good mattress topper for Daniel and then explored the mall that it was attached to. We checked out the major department store in the mall for some shorts for Haley but they were either too girly or too sexy. We may end up doing some internet shopping for her. That store also sells all the personal care items like soap, lotion and deodorant. Kinda strange to see that stuff at a Macy’s equivalent.
We stopped back by Do It Center for just a few more items and now it was my turn to wait in the car with the girls while D spent an inordinately long time picking out three fans. Each fan had to be removed from its box, plugged in to see if it worked and then re-stuffed back into its box. Then there was the figuring out my customer number which I had signed up for only 2 hours earlier which seemed to not work/misplaced/not work/relooked up/not work/relooked up/original number Dan gave her finally (magically) worked. After nearly 45 minutes of fan buying, we finally were headed back to Pedasi, which is about an hour’s drive – and a rather dark one at that. Especially since our windshield is tinted (the entire thing) so that at night, it’s night PLUS 3 more shades of dark. That makes for VERY dark night driving. With our tinted windshield PLUS the basically BLACK side windows, our sunset is about an hour before everyone else’s while driving. We have to open the windows if we actually want to see that the sun is still shining if it’s anytime near sunset. (We plan on replacing that windshield at some point, but meanwhile, day driving is nice and shady!)
We ate dinner en casa last night at 9:30pm and set up our fans and wifi. We are settling in nicely and learning how to keep the house cool and breezy. We didn’t even have any power outages in the last 12 hours, which is a change from the first 12 hours when we had about 6. We have multiple power strip / battery backup devices for the electronics. Power outages and surges are part of life here.
This morning the Claro network seems to be down given that Haley and I have no service and of course, since our wifi router gets its internet from the same company, we’re DOWN. Although, Daniel still has internet on his phone since he still has Movil, another mobile company. So I am being patient, having coffee and working off line until it comes back up. When in Rome, people! (This post is getting posted thanks to Daniel’s internet connection.)
Today we plan to stay in Pedasi and relax, explore the town a bit more, maybe head to the beach and chill out. We’ve had several very busy days and being in a new culture 24/7 really drains you so we all need some down time. Tomorrow is another big holiday here so we’ll stock up on groceries today and figure out how to watch the festivities tomorrow.
Our return to some sort of schooling takes place on Tuesday. We are still working that out but at this point homeschooling sounds like it will be a good option. Our desks will be in the “dining room” facing the cows. Mooooo! (No, really. There’s a cow standing about 8 feet from me at this very moment.)