The grocery shopping experience here in Panama has certainly required an adjustment. We are very fortunate to have two fairly large grocery stores that stock nearly everything we need within a 10-minute drive. When we come across a need for something for a special recipe, and the local markets don’t have it, we travel 25 minutes to the city of Chitre where there’s a grocery store that stocks a lot of familiar items and brands. While fairly expensive in comparison to standard Panamanian markets, we are usually able to find everything we’ve needed with one notable exception: Kosher Salt.
We buy almost all of our fruit and vegetables from one of the plentiful roadside stands. The items are fresh from the farmers’ fields (“everything is organic” as one roadside entrepreneur assured us) and are extremely affordable. The photo below is a “bolsa de legumbres” (bag of vegetables) I bought for just $5. The photo of the carrot demonstrates the size of it as compared to a penny. There were several carrots, three heads of lettuce, five cucumbers, five pounds of potatoes and much more in this one bag. We ate like rabbits for a week!
Speaking of Panamanian entrepreneurs, there are several who travel our neighborhood selling ice cream, shaved ice, and sometimes fresh shrimp. These guys have customized a bicycle to accommodate their wares. The shrimp vendor even had a scale hanging from the handlebars so he could weigh our purchase.
In addition to fruits and vegetables from roadside stands, we also buy fresh fish and shrimp from vendors located in parking lots of the local markets. They typically sit on the back of their pickup truck with large ice chests stocked with that morning’s catch. On one occasion, a shrimp vendor was chanting “Camarones….Camarones…Camarones”. When he saw me with my blonde hair walking by, he changed his chant from Spanish to English. As he chanted “Shrimp” he winked at me. Of course, I turned around and bought a pound from him.
Buying meat is completely different from the U.S. It is very difficult to find the beef, pork and poultry cut and wrapped in cellophane clearly marked as to what the package contains (although that option is becoming more and more available due to the large influx of ex-pats in the area). Usually, we buy meat from the butcher counter at the local store. That is an adventure all by itself, since we are both still struggling with the language, and are unfamiliar as to how things work. (Do we take a number or just wait? How do we ask for a specific cut if we don’t know the Spanish name for it?)
Things are becoming easier every day, though, as my Spanish vocabulary increases. The Panamanians are very friendly, and salespeople work with me, helping me learn the correct name and pronunciation for their wares.
Gas stations are still full service here, with gas sold by the liter. We bought a new Nissan Kicks and financed it in order to solidify our relationship with our Panamanian bank (all in Spanish). I’ve also been able to get mani/pedis; and have started planting a variety of citrus trees, decorative plants, and herbs. The mint is growing like crazy – which makes for a good mojito.
The local baseball team (Los Santos) is doing quite well. Therefore games are typically quite full, and everywhere you go people are wearing orange and black (the team’s colors). We really enjoyed our first game and hope to get a box seat for the “world series” in a month or so.
All in all, while it’s certainly an adjustment living day-to-day, it’s been fairly simple and easy to transition. However, we do plan to continue spending part of our time traveling the U.S. in our RV. There’s just so many places and things to do.