How could It already be our 3 year anniversary? Ummm, well…I’m a tad distracted by a little project we’ve been working on so it snuck up on me. Hah! Three years…sigh….for me this anniversary is a great time to reflect on what this move has done to our lives. So many changes and so many incredible adventures have transpired in this last three years. Where do I begin? New home, new dog, new friends, new language, new culture, new experiences with every corner we turn. When we first came up with this idea to expatriate, so many years ago, I must admit I didn’t really believe we’d actually do it! I know! Right? In my head I quietly just sorta thought we were dreaming and it all seemed way too crazy to actually make it happen. And here we are three years into a life changing adventure that brings us so much joy and has changed us in ways I could never even have imagined. With each passing day I feel more and more a sense of being home here in this heavenly place. (not to say its “perfect” here, but man! is it pretty and so full of so many things to love!) (besides, no place is Perfect, right?)
The early years of our research before we actually stepped off the ride that was, living in the U.S., lasted a long seven years. Yep. We spent tons of time researching, dreaming and traveling to many places in order to make the right decision for us. In case you thought we just woke up one day and randomly decided to move to Panama, let me tell ya, it was a very strategic and thought out decision that we did not rush into. We are list makers. We had so many lists during those years and those lists morphed and changed and grew unendingly. We each had our own list of things to consider and things that were important to us. We had collective lists of considerations we both needed as a couple. Our lists seemed to ignite a huge amount of conversation and what felt like unending research. During those years as we began to travel to places that were on our list of possible places to relocate our lives to. And of course we were also enjoying the dream of what it would be like to leave a life crammed full of so much that was familiar for a life that was full of unknowns. Doing ‘research’ on places to live and visiting on short vacations could never give you an actual, perfect reality of what life would really be like once you live there. Being on vacation in a place and actually ‘Living’ in a place are vastly different things as we all know.
While seven years of research was indeed incredibly helpful and we felt about as prepared for our new life as expats as we could be, we still had lots to learn once we had feet on the ground. Three years ago when we arrived in Panama we knew virtually no Spanish whatsoever! We dove in right away an began what may well be a never ending challenge of learning a new language. Learning to communicate with the people in our new home is one thing we knew was a must for us. We both wanted to immerse ourselves in the culture of our new home as well as to give ourselves a way to connect with Panamanians who would be our new neighbors. We also had a ton to learn about all the little details of setting up a new life. How to get a Panamanian drivers license, finishing up the process of getting our legal residency visa, car registration, car insurance, opening a bank account, getting health insurance, buying property, setting up a will that is legal in this country, getting cell phone accounts, are just a few of the little things we had to slowly figure out how to do. The list of new things we had to learn and are continuing to learn is never ending. I think especially given the way we decided to do our relocation , by building our house ourselves, we feel as though we’ve gotten a ton of opportunity to immures ourselves into this community.
I often try to imagine how our immersion into this new home would have been for us had we not dove into a construction project. I have to say, Im so grateful for all the challenges and lessons we’ve learned as a result of this mammoth project we’re working on. We’ve met so many Panamanians and have gotten to forge new relationships because of it. Scott’s especially learned so much about the very different way they build houses here in Panama. He’s gotten to immerse himself in the language and to learn how very different it is to deal with Panamanian construction workers compared to the workers he had in the states. We’ve had to learn all about labor laws, about paying our portion of social security for our workers, and benefits, and we’ve gotten up close and personal with an understanding of just how things are done here. And, I’ll tell ya, we’ve learned a TON about how very different things get done here, that’s for sure. One thing I will say about our experience dealing with employees here is that they work their butts off! Seriously! Our crew, while they have their little quirks, and are not perfect, are hard working men. I think we are especially honest and respectful to them and they know it and they give us tons of respect and loyalty in return. I know everyone who has done construction or been involved in a project like ours will have their own unique experiences and those may well be very different from ours, but for us its been overall a very good one. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had our ups and downs and have had to get rid of workers now and then. Our crew of guys has changed as times gone by but all in all we’ve felt very positive about our experience. Of course Scotts truck would have a few more negatives if it could talk! hah! But, ahem…we’ve moved on from that terrible experience with the one worker who,( if you missed this little drama), decided to take a drunken joyride in our truck while we were away….Ugh a live and learn for us , for sure! hah!
We’ve accomplished a lot in our first three years of living in Panama as expats. And we’re looking forward to so much more that this new life has to offer. Our focus this first few years has been this building project, obviously, and its been fairly all consuming. Our day to day lives seem often to be so busy with work that our early ‘retirement’ doesn’t always feel especially ‘retired’ but often rather ‘tiring’! Hah! One day we both look forward to having a lot more time to do what we see so many of our friends doing everyday. Most of our friends, (not all of them!) are really and truly retired and are embracing the hiking and exploring and endless social opportunities that this wonderful area has to offer. We seem to decline more invitations than we can accept and I wonder if we’ll have any friends left by the time our lives are less focused on our all consuming project. Hah! Nah….I know they’ll all wait for us and one day we’ll be in more of a place in our lives to chill more than work. The good thing is, all our friends are figuring out where all the best hikes are and one day we’ll have our own personal guides to show us all they’ve discovered while we were building this house! In the meantime, we’ve managed to have a fair amount of fun during this three years. We’ve gone to Peru and explored that majestic country. We spent a Thanksgiving in The Dominican Republic. We have had several short trips to places in Panama, the San Blas islands, Bocas del toro, Boca Chica and lots of trips to Panama City. We’ve also taken time to do a bit of hiking around in Boquete, there’s so many incredible trails we’ve yet to explored but given the fact that hiking is one thing we love doing I know we’ve got lots more in store for us.
All in all I can say this past three years have been spent working hard on something we both feel so proud of and setting up a new life in a new country while maintaining a fair balance of fun times as well. We’re happy and thats the best thing of all. I can say with genuine clarity that for Myself and Scott, diving into this Adventure together has enriched our lives in countless ways that words can not do justice to. We felt ready for this new life three years ago and we were willing to work hard to get here. We both knew that staying put and continuing to do what we were doing, while it wasn’t so terrible, it was not what we wanted to do anymore. We wanted exactly what we’ve gotten from our life changing move….A totally new and different way of living our lives! As we continue to work hard on what we’re so busy doing day in and day out we may often feel physically tired and mentally drained at the end of our days, but our hearts are so full of an all encompassing feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment that only comes when you’re exactly where you’re meant to be. Another year has flown by and yes, we’re having fun! I wonder what this next year has in store? One or two Adventures, I’m sure!