PANAMA - Panama City - Jan & Feb 2012 - HOUSE SIT

15 Jan 2012
Well I’ve started my Panama house sitting gig. This house is actually a Spanish teaching school with locations in Panama and Costa Rica. It’s a very interesting concept that it includes class time, local immersion, and adventure tours (white water rafting, scuba diving, surfing, etc), check out their website at “Spanish at Locations” ( For now, the house is a transfer point where students stay for a day or so before catching a flight from the national airport. The plan is to also teach classes here, so in the near future, the school will have four locations.

The house is located beside Ancon Hill, which was a US military area until around 1996. It was then returned to the Panamanian Government as part of the Panama Canal deal. The hill itself was not overly developed by the US military so basically it’s still a small jungle. There is a road and many tourist as well as locals either walk or drive to the top to take advantage of the awesome views. From one side you look at Casco Viejo (The Old City) and from the other you see the Panama Canal.

Casco Viejo (Old City) from ANCON Hill
Mira Locks, Panama Canal from ANCON Hill

So, when I arrived, there were two students here at the house waiting a flight to Boca del Toro, Panama. One was from the part of the former Russian empire (it was hard to understand so I didn’t get the country) and the other from Switzerland. I talked to the home owners, and then went for a hike with the two students to the top of Ancon Hill. The hike is not difficult and the views are worth it, but, take water because they don’t have any on the hill.

After the students had left for the airport I took a walk to orientate myself to the area. It’s diverse. Since the purpose of my walk was to find out where to and where not to go, I just took off. And discovered, on one side of the main roadway (8 lane highway) is Ancon, a residential area with nice homes; while on the other side is an area called Curundu, which is a low income area. When I entered the Curundu area, an elderly lady asked me where I was going and told me do not go in this area because you will be robbed. She made it real clear that it was not just a possibility of being robbed, but it was matter of fact. So, I thanked her, turned around and left.

16 – 17 Jan 2012

The home owners and family left for a short trip to “San Blas Island” and I continued to acquaint myself with the house and neighborhood. I’ve heard toucans’ but have only seen a couple of small ones, so with any luck, I’ll get the chance to see and photograph some exotic birds.

I went to the Albrook Mall, which to me is a really big mall, to look around and pick up some things. I think, if you need something, you will find it here, and at a decent price. It has a bunch of local and international stores, banks, pharmacies, a grocery store, and a bus terminal to get you anywhere within the city as well as outlying destinations. While the mall is already big, it is expanding. I did not notice many empty store locations, so I guess business is doing good.

18-19 January 2012

The home owners returned from their “San Blas Island” trip and the entire family has a touch of sunburn.  They said even though the islands were windy, the trip was a good one.  For their trip, they left the main island and went to a smaller one and camped for two nights.

We also had a student arrive today from Germany and she will be leaving on the 22nd to attend the Spanish classes in Bocas del Toro, Panama.  We were told that she was going to make her own tours, only to find out she thought we had tour guides set up here at the house.   We don’t but it’s not a big deal, we’ll just call some of our taxi drivers that do tours on the side and get her set up with at least seeing the main attractions here in the city. 

20 January 2012

The owners’ husband left this evening and now I’m on my own.  This will be the true test of my Spanish speaking abilities.  I do have a couple of folks that I can call if an emergency arises, but for the most part, all my transactions for the next month or so will be in Spanish.  No time to look the words up, no time to ask a friend, and no time for a telephone shout out; it’s me and all those half-assed Spanish lessons I took.  I’ll be depending more on self-study than the simple phrases I was taught.  You know the ones, hola, como tu estas, donde eras, and the like.  But I do have my confidence and with the hours I’ve spent with Spanish speaking friends, I’ll make out fine.

21 and 22 January 2012

Well, the other student arrived on Saturday but other than that the day was uneventful.  I did go to the mall and met a lady.  We sat, chatted, had lunch and I left for the house.  It was just a friendly meeting and we’ll have to see what happens next.  Since she has weekends off and it seems that I’m the busiest on weekends, we may have a time working out future meetings.  Esta la vida. 
Both the students left on Sunday.  One left at 0515 which was entirely too early, and the other left at 1430.  But, at 0615 I had two previous guests return just to hang out a bit before they had to catch their flights. 

23 January 2012

Now today has been a rather different story.  They are installing another bathroom and the plumber was here most of the day working on that.  He should have been done in a couple of hours, but as life sometimes likes to see how people react, he broke a water line and we were without water for about 4 hours.  He finally fixed that and now all is good.  The maintenance guy just needs to do a little more tiling, hang the sing, paint the walls and he’s done.  In the middle of the plumber fiasco, the carpenter showed up to install a door on the last bedroom.  For those of you who don’t know, in Latin America, most houses are not built to use pre-hung doors.  So, they frame them as the go and at times have to shave the door down a bit to make everything fit right.  A normal door hanging of about an hour in the US takes about 3 to 4 here.  I figure he’ll be out of here in about an hour, and then it’ll be Abuelo, 12 year old rum time.
So, until next time, enjoy life as it comes your way and stay safe doing it.

27 January 2012

It's been a few days since I've updated my postings and I apologize, but here is an update.

Well it’s just another day in Panama.  After waiting for three days for an electrician to show up and work on the additional bedroom, he finally showed up today only to tells the owner that the floor needs to be broken up to run a “different” pipe to the main service line.  Mind you, there is already a pipe of the same size under the concrete and tile floor, but the bend is not right so it has to be replaced.  And guess who will buy the pipe, you got it the electrician, and he said he will have to replace all the old piping.

We had three house guests arrive this evening so it’ll be English speaking time again.  The first lady arrived about 7:30 PM (19.30) and she’s from Switzerland.  The plane for the second couple was about 45 minutes late, and they lost one set of baggage.  They are from Holland and arrived to the house about 12:30 AM (00.30) on the 28th.  Now we’ll get another new experience and learn new Spanish words dealing with lost luggage, because these folks speak absolutely zero Spanish.  Hey, that is what life is all about, enjoying it, learning, helping others, and making things happen.  Good thing this couple is here for a couple of days, at least they have a chance of getting their bag.

One of the particularly good things about living in Central America is that when you get fresh fruits and vegetables, they are usually really fresh.  I cut two types of bananas from our trees in the back yard and we’re now eating them.  The first bunch I cut was your ordinary eating bananas and we had probably 4 dozens bananas on the branch.  The second tree contained plantains which are tart until you cook them; which I will attempt later. 

28 January 2012

Nothing much happened today except we had one student leave and two others arrive.  The student that left arrived yesterday and had a very interesting story.  She’s in her late twenties and works as a nurse in a mental hospital in Switzerland.  I asked her how long she was going to be in the Spanish school and what were her plans when she finished.  She explained that she would be in school for two weeks and then she was going to travel for five months “or until my money runs out”.  She didn’t really have any plan, except that she would be traveling in Central and South America, to end up flying out of Mexico City, Mexico. 

One of the things I like about house sitting is meeting the people.  Even though I meet locals where ever I go, it’s still fun meeting fellow travelers.  Especially ones the younger ones that work hard long hours for a while then take extended vacations.  Not only will they have friends around the world but they are living the culture and will have stories to share for years to come.

29 January 2012

Once again, we had students coming and going.  The two that arrived last night were from Germany and they were going to school for about 3 weeks then returning home.  Both of these guys were in their mid-twenties and were just going to school and taking some of the adventure tours offered by the school.

The young couple from Holland also left today and they were a joy to have around.  They’re the traveling type and had some stories to share.   Their current story is they just bought their first house and since it wasn’t ready to move into yet, they decided to come to Panama to take a cruise and visit a friend for a couple of weeks.  Since they were only going to be in the city for basically one day the only thing we had time to do (after they bought cloths because of lost baggage) was go to the top of Ancon Hill.  We made the journey up there only to find the park closed.  Not to fear, there was a hole in the fence large enough to sneak through, so we did.  We walked most of the way to the top thinking we were going to have the mountaintop to ourselves, but nope, the world is full of explorers/trespassers and the top had about 20 people already there.  They looked around, took pictures, and we made our way back to the house.

The young man that arrived was Switzerland and was a 27 year old surfer.  One of the first things he asked me when he got here, was did I know if the surfing at Bocas del Toro was any good.  I, not being a surfer told him I wasn’t sure but it is one of the adventure excursions the school offered and there were plenty of people that surf there.  He was going to school for two weeks and another few weeks traveling and then return to university in Switzerland and go back to work.  He is studying Spanish back home but his thought was, why not live it and learn it at the same time.  He has a basic working of Spanish and has traveled in Central America before on surfing trips.  He has a very mature and interesting vision on life in that he sees life a lot like his parents do.  While he appears to have money, he knows that he must work for everything he wants and nothing in life should be just handed out.  For me, this is a refreshing attitude coming from a 27 year old.  Too bad he’s here only for one night, because he truly was enjoyable to talk to.

1-10 February 2012

It’s been a busy ten days around here, with 15 new arrivals and 14 departures in a house with four bedrooms and two bathrooms.  This in turn equates to a lot of changing of sheets and keeping the place clean.  Combine this with try to make sure everything is goes smoothly for the students getting to and from the airports, and you can see I’ve been busy.

We had an interesting family from Germany stay here for a few days while they prepared for their final journey on a one year trip around the world.  They started in March of 2011 and traveled to Thailand, New Zealand, Australia, Bali, the US, Panama, and now they are in Cuba.  They’ll return to Panama to catch their flight back to Germany the middle of March.  Their story is fascinating in that they have done all this travel with two pre-school aged children.  Talking to the father one day he said the first three months were challenging because he and his wife did not have any time alone, and not only did they have to be parents 24/7, they also had to be the kids best friends.  In between the traveling and sightseeing, they did a lot of playing that they were not accustomed to doing while at home.

We also had a group of people arrive from Ecuador to attend a Herbalife convention.  Herbalife is company that has adopted the multi-level marketing system.  The conventions are used to teach and motivate distributors to expand their groups plus their sales, thus generating more individual income.  (EDITORIAL COMMENT; I’m an inactive distributor in another multi-level business and the system is sound and legal.  But, like anything else, it takes sweat equity to make it prosperous.)  Anyway, they arrived with one piece of luggage and two backpacks for four people.  When they left, they had a total of six pieces of luggage, plus each had at least one carryon bag.  For the first two and a half days they were at the convention from early morning to late at night, but on their final day, they hit the shopping hard.  They were supposed to be at the airport by 7pm for a 9pm departure, but they did not leave the house until 7:15 and the ride was a minimum 30 minutes.  They didn’t return, so I can only guess they made the flight.

In between those large groups we had four travelers that were just passing through to other parts of Panama.  One couple stayed two nights and the other stayed for one night.  And we had three students arrive, two of which have left and the last one leaves tomorrow.  Like I’ve mentioned before I enjoy talking to the travelers because they have different backgrounds and stories.  The students have many different reasons for wanting to take Spanish.  One thing I’ve learned from our European students is that in addition to their native language, they are basically required to learn English and one other language before they can graduate.  Then they come here to learn Spanish on their own so they can expand their horizons by traveling more and learning the culture through life experiences.  When one student and I were talking the other night she said “life is like a book, and not traveling is like reading only one page”.  Strong words coming from a young lady in her mid-twenties.

I mentioned earlier that the students come from different backgrounds, so I’ll expand on that just a bit.  So far we’ve had at least two nurses, several people recently graduating from universities, some still in universities, and a lot that have completed universities and have taken either unpaid vacation or just quit their jobs to travel.  In an earlier post I mentioned the lady that said she was going to travel for five months or until her money ran out, well since then we’ve had two more (one male and one female) say they were traveling for at least two months and would figure it out when they get close to going home.

Well, that should do it for now.  I hope to keep this part of my blog updated a little better, but life is life, and we use our time the best we (individually) see fit.  Until next time, watch that house and save money while you meet people, live different cultures, and enjoy life.

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