About our month in Pedasi, Panama – a different snowbird experience than our previous winters in Arizona
In my previous post I wrote a bit about our month-long stay in Pedasi, a small town on the southern tip of the Azuero Peninsula in Panama. My husband and I have been snowbirds (definition: someone from a northern clime who spends a significant portion of the winter somewhere more southern and warmer) for four years now, but our previous three winters were spent in Mesa, Arizona. Our time in Pedasi was similar in some ways and yet vastly different. It is perhaps best described in comparison.
Mesa is part of the greater Phoenix area, a large metropolis which includes several cities as well as uninhabited desert and mountain areas and which has a population of 4.5 million people. Pedasi is a remote town in rural Panama, near the Pacific Ocean. Its population as of the 2010 census was 2,000 people. In Mesa we drove long distances on freeways. In Pedasi, we walked, rode local buses to other towns, or took a cab to the beach.
Sounds in Mesa were urban sounds: freeway traffic, planes on the flight path to and from the busy Phoenix airport, traffic and police helicopters, and test runs of Apache helicopters, made at the nearby Boeing plant. The sounds of Pedasi were that of roosters, people talking (in the hot climate much of life happened outdoors), and the welcome breeze through the leaves of the trees. We heard the singing of birds in both locations.
In Mesa, we did weekly grocery shopping at one of the many supermarkets, bringing bags home in the back of our car. We bought fruit and vegetables at the vegetable market. In Pedasi, we walked to the main store in town about every second day, carrying our purchases home in backpacks. We bought fruit from trucks which drove through town on no set schedule.
We went for walks in both locations. In January in Mesa, the preferred time was mid to late-afternoon. (Come March, that changed and early morning was best.) In Pedasi, we walked before eight in the morning, preferably before seven, before it became too hot. In Mesa we walked past neatly landscaped lots of manufactured homes, blooming flowers, cacti, and orange and lemon trees. In Pedasi, we walked past family homes and businesses, mango trees, and palm trees. We might see a horse tethered. Within a couple of blocks we were in the countryside.
Dusk was another pleasant time for walking in Pedasi. Local families were also out walking or living their lives on their front porches and patios. This was the time of day teens and others congregated in the town square.
Some of our activities were the same in both locations. We read. I wrote. I did crossword puzzles, from the Arizona Republic in Mesa, from a book of puzzles I’d brought with me in Pedasi. Some evenings I watched television. In Mesa, that meant current network shows. In Pedasi, the stations available in English (an audio button on the remote switched language from Spanish to English on select stations) showed some American movies and reruns of American television shows, predominantly mystery and cop shows, but some other dramas and some sitcoms as well.
In Mesa, I kept up with news via the newspaper, American news channels, and Internet access and streaming of Canadian news. My primary news source in Pedasi was BBC World News. I accessed Canadian news sites on the Internet where I could read headlines, but with slow Internet access there was no streaming of any news shows.
Our life in Pedasi was unstructured and laid back. There were no water aerobics classes at a set time, no men’s pool league to attend. Our life in Pedasi was also less social than in Mesa, where we had friends and family and attended activities within the 55+ park. Although people were friendly and greeted us with smiles, our lack of Spanish limited interactions. We conversed with a few tourists and expats. My husband painstakingly translated a letter into Spanish to give to our multi-generational next-door neighbours, introducing ourselves and explaining that we were not unfriendly, we just were unable to easily communicate. By the end of our stay, we began to recognize and be recognized by people. If we’d stayed longer or were to return, I would make use of the well-respected Spanish school in town.
Pedasi is a fishing town and we ate a lot of fish, all of it delicious. Traditionally fish is fried and served whole. Snapper and corvina were common. The area is also known for its tuna. I never knew tuna could be so tender. I tried ceviche, another local specialty, for the first time. Ceviche is raw fish cured in citrus juices and spiced with chili peppers and possibly onions, salt, and cilantro. I ordered it several times. Each time the recipe was slightly different, including a sweetish version with pineapple and a very tart vinegary version. I wondered why I had been reluctant to try this tasty dish before. Mesa is a desert, miles away from oceans. The best fish we found there was frozen fish from Canada.
In Mesa, we took electricity, water, air conditioning, and fast Internet speeds for granted. In Pedasi, we were reminded these are luxuries for large parts of the world. Fortunately, we had functioning electricity and water for most of our stay. Like many houses in Panama, we had a water tank which held extra water for the times the town water stopped. Our last few days in Pedasi coincided with Carnaval, when the population of the town triples. The system became overloaded. One day we were without power for almost six hours. We spent our last two days in town mostly without water. We got it back for short periods, enough to each get a trickle shower. Luckily, we had a five gallon jug of drinking water.
In Mesa in January, we had the heat on inside to warm up. Should we get a hotter day, we’d spend time at the heated pool. In Pedasi, we headed to the beach to cool off.
Because Panama and its culture was new to us, we paid more attention to what was happening around us and explored more. And yet, with the heat, we seemed to live a slower life. Pedasi has many excellent restaurants and we ate out more than we did at home or in Mesa. We grew to appreciate the laid-back vibe of this quaint town, the friendliness of its people, and its family-oriented lifestyle.
What we saw as we sat on our front porch in the late afternoons and early evenings reminded us we were not in Arizona anymore:
∼ Chickens on the road. One afternoon, the twelve-year-old girl from next door chased her chicken in front of our house. The chicken made a break for it, ran through our open front door, down our hallway and out our back door. My husband and the girl managed to capture the chicken in our back yard. The girl took her chicken home and returned a few minutes later with a bowl of oranges for us.
∼ A mother and her child stopping as they walked by to pick a couple of starfruit from the tree across the street.
∼ A man on a motorcycle, steering with one hand, and holding a live chicken in his other arm.
∼ Dogs chasing each other. Dogs ran free through town.
∼ Farm trucks bringing workers back from a day in the fields.
∼ Families walking together, off to visit someone or just out for a walk.