Terry & Clyde: Along the Gringo Trail
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Panama?
When a laid back Texan married a confrontational Jersey girl, we knew this match was made for adventure. After 26 years as a firefighter and paradmedic, Clyde was ready to take an early retirement. But with the high cost of health care in the US, along with his ex-wife getting a third of his pension, would we have enough money to live on?
We are Clyde and Terry Coles of Corpus Christi, Texas. One day when Clyde was 56 years old and I was just 50 he proposed a question. "If we could find a place where we could live cheaply would you be willing to move, or would you rather stay in the US and keep working?" Stop working now or work another 15 years? Where we going and when....I was ready! After all we'd both lived in many parts of the US so why not live in another country?
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
Clyde suggested to me one day that I start blogging about our pending move to Panamá. This would allow our children, friends and family to follow along on our journey. It would also provide a valuable source of information to future expats that may consider retirement in Panamá. Much of the information that we'd read was outdated or inaccurate also, and this blog would provide current information to those interested.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Tell us about the ways your new life in Panama differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Everything in Panamá is different, but that doesn't make it wrong. The people are easy going, laid back and life here moves slowly. Nothing has to be done right now because there's always manaña. But since we're retired our life has also slowed way down. We live in a Panamanian style home without air conditioning. There are iron bars on all the windows and doors as a type of security system common in Latin America. Most of our day in spent outdoors enjoying the warm, tropical breezes under fruit trees in our yard. We enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables from local roadside stands that cost very little.
Back in the US we worked hard to pay for all of our American luxuries. Two car payments, a mortgage, gym memberships, credit card debt and more. Here in Panamá everything we have we own outright, and owe nothing. In the US we lived on packaged foods that were easy and quick to prepare after long hours of work. Here there are no processed, packaged foods as everything is fresh and natural.
At first we did experience some culture shock and realized we'd have to embrace the changes of our new life. It took some time to discover how things work here and where to go to buy things that we needed. Once we accepted the changes we could breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy our lives here.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Panama? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
Although we read every book, e-book, and website we could find on Panamá we still were not fully prepared. Most of our stress was due to not knowing enough Spanish to make the transition easy. If we could change things one big thing we'd change is to learn more Spanish before moving here. And we did ship some furniture and personal belongings which we don't think was necessary. If we had to do it all over again we would have just moved with a suitcase and bought everything here. Part of the experience and fun of moving to another country is buying new stuff there.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
While staying at a hotel in Panama City my husband asked the maid for extra towels so that we could use the pool. He asked for "toallas para el pizo." She brought back towels and laid them on the floor in the bathroom. Then he realized he asked for "towels for the floor" and should have said "toallas para la piscina."
We bought a Panamanian style house without glass windows. It had screens and bars on the windows but no glass. So we had made arrangements with a local window company to come install windows. Clyde said they told him they'd be here first thing on Monday morning. We excitedly sat here all morning but no installers showed up. So Clyde mentioned that he wanted to drive over to the window place to ask them what time they'd be here. I asked him "they did say first thing on lunes, which is the word for Monday in Spanish?" To which he answered "no, they said martes." I said "well that explains why they're not here since "martes" is Tuesday." The next day they showed up as promised.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Panama?
Learn Spanish, bring lots of patience, and be willing to change.
How is the expat community in Panama? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
We have made friends from all over the world here in Panamá. There is a huge number of expats here along with many expat mixers that give people the opportunity to meet. And since most of us are retired we have plenty of time to get together and socialize. We have many friends here that we see on a regular basis.
How would you summarize your expat life in Panama in a single, catchy sentence?
Every day is an adventure full of new experiences in Panamá, along the gringo trail.