It seems to me that a lot of people would love the adventure of living abroad. Once they’re actually past the moving to another country part and on to the living part. Like when you’re traveling, once you’re in that hammock with a cold beer in hand, or eating a perfectly simple linguine arriabiata with a glass of wine in an ancient piazza. Maybe I’m wrong, but I often catch that glint of wonder and excitement in the eyes of those who ask me what it’s like to “be on vacation in the tropics”. Although it’s definitely not always a vacation around here (cut to 80’s montage of Mr. Mom with spaghetti sauce flying all over the kitchen while getting tangled in the phone cord during a business call) it does still very often feel like we are living in a unique and exquisite place here in Casco Viejo. When I fly home to San Francisco, I still have that sense of pride when I see the Golden Gate Bridge or when I feel the chill of fog on a walk at Chrissy Field, accompanied by the low, comforting sound of fog horns. There truly is nothing like a bike ride to a Berkeley farmer’s market or an evening summer meal outdoors, with an orchestra of crickets, in Napa. I will always be rooted to the Bay Area because it’s where I was raised and it is where I plan to end up one day. But living so far from that home not only makes me appreciate it more, it also allows me to see the interesting, the peculiar, the spectacular, the typical, and the realities of living in a new country and neighborhood.
Maybe it’s because I know we won’t live here forever, or because I am obsessed with catching poignant and magical shots with my camera, but I do feel like I am ever-ready on the look out for what’s around me and this keeps me aware and awake. We live in the “old part” of Panama City, the historical part where it all began. Casco Viejo went from it’s hay day at the turn of the century, to being invaded by the US in 1989 which led to it being more or less abandoned, to it’s revival up to the present. That’s my high speed history lesson anyway. Today, the streets of Casco Viejo are NEVER dull, in fact, they are bustling and busy and dirty and vibrant. Casco Viejo is a mix of old & new, deteriorated & restored, insanely hot & humid, chaotic & friendly, safe & unpredictable, creative & traditional. When I walk down the street to work or while running an errand, I always see at least a handful of people I know and everyone greets each other with a “buenas” or a smile. If I’m pushing Joaquin in his stroller, there are people shouting “Joaquin!” from their doorsteps and windows. I swear, no joke. It’s pretty hilarious and also heart-warming in a wild way. Tourists wander around like bobble-heads wearing freshly purchased Panama Hats, Reggaetone blasts from dilapidated buildings, cafes & plazas over flow with locals and children are running reckless. There is always traffic and parking is a mess. It is a relatively small neighborhood, all fitting into about a square half-mile. However, what lives within it’s streets is a sight to see. For those of us who call Casco Viejo home, there is an understood agreement that this is a very special place and either we are all brilliant or crazy to live here, but none of us are really sure which.
In upcoming posts I will talk more about how living abroad can actually be feasible for someone who is considering a change. I’d like to help demystify the idea that moving/living abroad is a giant, impossible step (or a 24/7 vacation). I’ll provide a closer look of how Juan and I came to move and work here, and how so many of our ex-pat friends make it work too.
Photos: Awaiting a treat : Casco kids swimming : Dinner in Plaza Catedral : Typical Block Party : Palm Shadows out my front door : Plaza Bolivar : Rolo de Sedas Pollera Girls : Sunset in Casco