Snowbirds in Pedasi – We are Not in Arizona Anymore

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Life from the front porch, Pedasi, Panama

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.

Countryside outside Pedasi, Panama
Countryside outside Pedasi

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.

Pedasi, Panama

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.

Pedasi town square
Pedasi 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.

Selection of fish - Panama
Clockwise from top right:pescado frito with patacones, sesame crusted tuna, pescado frito with yucca fries, ceviche

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.

Playa Venao, Panama
Playa Venao

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.

Chicken in Pedasi road

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.

PIN ITSnowbirds winter in Pedasi in rural Panama - a different experience than wintering in Arizona

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  1. That’s the benefit to be gained from travelling off the beaten path … gaining an appreciation for a simpler life that we have lost in large urban centers, but also gaining a renewed appreciation for the comforts and services we are used to and rely on in our urban lives.

    I remember as a child sitting on our front steps visiting with our neighbors, the farmer’s truck driving up our street selling vegetables and my mother walking to the corner store to buy a few things – fond memories to revisit but ultimately I like reliable water, air conditioning and internet – my modern, urban life.

    I enjoyed your article because not only did it provide a nice comparison of two different experiences, it got me to think about what I have experienced and what I have today.

    1. Eva, you remind me that our lives were once simpler too. I enjoyed our time in Panama. I also appreciate being able to rely on modern services. Ironically, one week after returning home to Canada, we had a several hour power outage. The things we’ve come to take for granted aren’t always a given.

  2. Hi Donna. Loved this post. I think that it’s great to have different experiences when we travel. I am definitely NOT one to go to the same place year after year. We have friends who do that. But I LOVE the variety and excitement from trying new places and learning what they have to teach me.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the post Doreen,. I too like to experience new places, but there are some places I also like returning to.

  3. Donna, I loved the comparison and can tell you right off that Pedasi definitely would be my choice. I really like that you were experiencing the actual life of the village. Too bad you didn’t have some Spanish – that would have improved your experience, right? Even though you ran into some problems with Carnaval with the water and power, I’ll bet the Carnaval made up for it.

    1. Lenie, it seemed to me like a comparison was the best way to describe the experience. We are glad we saw Carnaval even if there were some inconveniences during it.

  4. It looks like you had a relaxing time. I love all the pictures. I hope to be able to be snowbirds when we are older. =) I can’t recall if I asked you this before. Was it really humid in Panama?

    1. Sabrina, the Azuero Peninsula where we were is the driest part of Panama, but yes it was humid. There were a few days, however, when the humidity numbers were the same, at least on paper, in our home city of Winnipeg.

  5. Donna, since I am on my third winter in Mesa, I know of what you speak. It is so tempting to go back to something like Pedasi which is like my childhood in the Philippines. But we will be doing the exact opposite. We have just decided to buy a home here in Mesa and travel during the 4 months of summer. We will then be the opposite of snow birds! Where will you spend next winter? Another place like Pedasi?

    1. Carol, we don’t know where we will be next winter. Probably Arizona for a good part of it, but we want to try another hot spot in January. We are heading to Mesa soon and will be there for the month of March. Good luck on the next phase of your life. There really should be a term for reverse snowbirds.

  6. Really enjoyed your post. Great way to explain the differences, pros and cons of each place. I can’t believe the best fish you had was from Canada. Shocked! Was also surprised at how nice the Pedasi town square was considering how rural the rest of the place was (ie. roosters on the road)

    1. Thanks Janice. When we were in Arizona we bought frozen fish from Canada. It was good, but no match for the fresh fish we ate in Pedasi. That was wonderful.

  7. Thank you for sharing your travelling experiences with us. You really see the real country rather than the tourist areas. I like to taste the true culture of a country – only then do I feel as though I am on a true holiday.

    I could lay on Playa Venao Beach with a good book and a cocktail. Time to think, relax and soak in the atmosphere.

    1. Jacquie, we do tend to take things for granted, both the comforts and luxuries we have as well as the busyness of our lives. It is good to have opportunities, whether through travel or some other means, to reflect a bit.

  8. I loved the way you wrote this comparing the two places you stayed. The slow pace of life in such places gives everyone a chance to recharge their batteries and come back to reality.

    1. Mina, it was a good way to recharge. Although that slow pace is not my usual reality, I’ve been thinking about the fact that for many people it is.

  9. Take me to Pedasi. I think I need some time on Playa Venao. Pedasi and Mesa both seem like lovely snowbird options. I have a lot of family in the Phoenix area, so I’m quite familiar with why it’s a draw from those in northern climates.

  10. So where will you go next winter? Your comparison sure seems to favor Pedosi and I think most of us would see this as the as a simpler, more relaxiong option. But sometimes relaxing can become slow and you might miss the more hectic and developed Mesa.

    1. Ken, Mesa is still on our itinerary for this winter – we are spending March there. Where we will go next winter I don’t know. We enjoyed Pedasi. but it would be nice to experience some place new. Arizona has a draw for us because with friends and family there, it feels a bit like home or at least a place to return to.

  11. My parents and their friends have been the opposite of snowbirds. They live in Florida and escape for a couple months every summer to avoid the extreme heat of Florida summers. Pedasi sounds like a great way to experience a few months. Life there is definitely very different from what I am used to. I love that the girl brought you oranges after catching her chicken. That was very sweet and a courtesy you don’t normally see where I live.

  12. I love the idea of flying south for winter! Pedasi looks like a beautiful place and I’m sure that if you returned you’d start to find yourself even more at home there.

  13. Being a country girl stuck in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, your comparison of metropolitan and rural made me wistful–in a very good way. There are pros and cons to each, but like you, I enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of smaller communities. The places where you recognize faces and are recognized. In the spring my sister and I are spending a week in a small town in Wales and three days in London–that should be interesting!

    1. Rose Mary, you will have quite a contrast on that trip – busy London, then small town Wales. I love trips when you get a bit of two worlds.

    1. Susan, we were looking for some place hot and Panama came to our attention through International Living. It is popular now with expats. My husband did most of the research into the country. When we started searching for houses to rent, we came across this one. Then we read more about Pedasi and the more we read, the more intrigued we became. It is hard to say which I prefer – I enjoyed both experiences and they were different. I think we will be seeking out more Pedasi-like experiences, whether we return to Pedasi itself or not. I know we will also return to Arizona because of people we know and the lifestyle is easy for us to adapt to.

    1. Thanks Irene. I think we usually view a place through the lens of what we’re familiar with, but sometimes that contrast seems stronger than at other times.

  14. It’s so much nicer to just slow down and be in a different place and see the every day lifestyle, customs and food experiences. I love to have these kinds of experiences and sometimes to reflect on how different it is to your regular environment.

    1. Noel, it was great to be able to slow down and get to know a little about the lifestyle and customs of the area.

  15. I could feel myself relaxing just reading your story Donna! Which is saying a lot considering I come from a pretty laid back place myself! I love kicking back in low key places, which is probably why I enjoy hiking and camping so much. Thanks for sharing your journey with us. 🙂

  16. I like the laid back aspect of your Pedasi description over the more metropolitan aspects of Phoenix and Mesa. In any case, there’s something to be said for either experience as you’ve shown. There are places worth going back to that’s for sure. I feel that way about Amsterdam and would like to spend more time in the Netherlands in general.

    1. Jeri, there is indeed something to be said for both experiences. I too would like to go back to Amsterdam. I haven’t seen much of the rest of the Netherlands.

  17. Mesa and Pedasi sound lovely. I learnt at the Writers Festival in Perth recently of a Danish term, Hygge. Have you heard of it? It sort of means being socially companionable, content, homely. I think Mesa and Pedasi gave you the platform for that. You sounded very content and fulfilled doing everyday things. I loved the gentle rhythm of this post, and it reflects on how you were feeling I’m sure. I love the term Snowbirds, I haven’t heard that before – we would say Swallows, but I guess it has different connotations.

    1. Johanna, I’ve not heard the Danish term Hygge but I like it. I can see myself thinking about that term applies to the various places I stay in.

  18. Donna your Pedasi, while so culturally and geographically different, reminds me of our part-time life in the Greek village. It is a different pace, a different way of life and somehow it just feels so much richer than that fast-paced, big city life. I am enjoying your posts on your winter away. I took several years of an evening class of Spanish during our (own-in-Mexico phase of life) and now in Greece when I am stumped for a word, I find myself wanting to offer it in Spanish. I’ll be looking into Greek classes soon!

    1. Jackie, your wanting to use Spanish words reminds me of something that was brought up in the brief Spanish course I did take a few years ago. Apparently it is very common when learning a new language or trying to converse in it to fall back on words from other languages (other than your mother tongue) you may have learned.

  19. I really enjoyed your narrative of the two destinations. I love the idea of travelling to two destinations to experience new sights, and get a balance of different paced lives. I would very much enjoy the laid back feel of Pedasi in Panama especially right now when our lives can be so fast-paced that it can be hard to keep up. I think I would go through a feeling of withdrawal of being easily connected to the outer world but would also find some peace in the break. Because I have easy access now, I can’t imagine disconnecting until it is no longer available.

    What a great plan to go to Arizona, a place you know well and can have the social connections, and then travel for a month or so elsewhere for a new experience. I’ll live this through your eyes until I can make it a reality for us. It is a different balance of life that I look forward to experiencing in the future.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    1. Lynn, I’m glad you enjoyed the narrative. My life isn’t as busy any more as I know yours must be and I still enjoyed the opportunity for a more laid-back experience. It is a nice blend of experiences we’re having this winter. Disconnecting is tough. I wonder if it might have been easier if there had been no connection whatsoever rather than the slow and variable speed we did have. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    1. Thanks Anita. Because we did this instead of spending the entire winter in Arizona it seemed natural to look at what a different experience Pedasi was versus our Arizona stays.

  20. What a wonderful description of the place you are at.
    I know it can be a big difference from going from one place to another, both manmade and environmental conditions.
    Thank you for sharing this with us.

  21. You’ve brought up some of the things that I loved best about our time in Central America – time seemed to slow down and life seemed simpler. I loved watching people walk and spend time with their families. All those luxuries we take for granted in the US don’t seem so important once you’re in a place like Panama. Anita

    1. Anita, I too loved watching people walking and spending time with families. People seemed to have time for each other. You’re right – the luxuries don’t seem that important. Our priorities in the U.S. and Canada could use some adjustment at times.

  22. Donna, thanks for sharing your travelling experiences with us. Learnt so much about cities and destinations through your blog. Places I have never heard of. Sane here, there are some places I like to returning to.