567: Travel Deals

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I have been subscribing to a travel website for years now that I would like to share. It is free to subscribe to travelzoo.com’s weekly e-mail posting of what they consider to be the Top Twenty travel deals that they found by canvassing hundreds and hundreds of travel companies world-wide. The weekly post arrives via e-mail every Wednesday, and highlights twenty or more local and/or international travel deals that are often astonishingly inexpensive.

To be fair, often they are at times during the year when I cannot travel, being a schoolteacher – travel companies tempt travelers to travel at non-peak times with extra good discounts, and usually, those are times when I am tied to my job and can’t go. However, if it is a time when I can go, the deals are spectacular!

I have booked and traveled with Travelzoo’s recommended deals several times over the last few years and I have been thoroughly pleased with each trip.Often the trip packages offered through the site’s recommended agencies include airfare, accommodation, taxes, fees and excursions, and some are all-inclusive resorts that include entertainment, sports and all you can eat and drink into the bargain.

To sign up for the free weekly e-mail and see the great travel deals yourself, go to http://www.travelzoo.com and register for free. They have departments of the company located in various parts of the world, so there are e-mail deal packages especially for people who live in Europe, or in the USA/Canada, or in Asia, for example. They also offer local deals for you based on your identified zip code, which means for me that I see extra travel and entertainment deals in the southeastern USA, and in Atlanta, Georgia, especially.

Have fun planning your next exotic (and cost-conscious) destination!

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395: Shopping for Produce

Shopping in Panama is an adventure. You can do things the safe, familiar way and go to a Panama grocery store: there are three big ones here in the capital city. Super 99, Rey and Riba Smith, in order of cheaper to more expensive. The problem with the easy way is that it is certainly far and away the most expensive way. If you are someone who freaks out that a spot of dirt is on your potato (yes, I do know people like that), you need to shop there and just bite the bullet on the cost. Also, if you are someone who has to have a gold-plated certificate of organic purity, well…..you might as well shop only at Organica stores, where one apple is five dollars. I don’t want to eat radioactive food, either, but there has to be a balance. I try to stay out of the “real” stores, at least for produce. And, produce is the primary food that I am eating these days.

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Once you decide not to go “normal” grocery store shopping, life gets interesting in Panama. There are street vendors and the Mercado Del Abastos (the local wholesale/retail farmer’s market). If I buy LOCALLY grown produce, it’s reasonable – good, even. If I want imported, I pay through the nose…but still not as much as Organica or the big three grocery stores.

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I can buy three medium-sized pineapples for a dollar, and a good-sized bunch of local spinach (grows on a vine!) is the same. Limes are 10 or 12 for a dollar, and eggs are a half dozen for a buck (if my chickens don’t lay enough to suit me). Plus, there are big, juicy globe grapes a dollar a pound, and coconuts are fifty cents. Carrots, tomatoes and onions are all fifty cents a pound. Melons are a dollar or less each. Plantains are six for a dollar. Papayas are a dollar each, for big, ripe ones. Yucca is four pounds for a dollar. Guyabas, maracuya, guanabanas – yum! Plus broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, zucchini, winter squashes, leeks, lettuces, fresh herbs, sweet and hot peppers, and more and more and more. Some of the fruits I can’t name yet, but they sure are tasty!!

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And mangos? Who buys mangos? The trees drop them everywhere – pick up all you want! I have mango smoothies nearly every day for free. More than one, if I want.  Life is good.

326: Panama Paradise…sort of

Whales 023Nowadays, and for some years, Panama has been touted as the retirement paradise of Earth. Great weather, cheap prices, good infrastructure, conveniences, safety, security and great living.

Well. Sort of. When you read those glowing, first hand reports from people on the ground in Panama, pay particular attention to all the QUALIFIERS they add to the claims meant to entice you here. Pay particular attention to the few trouble spots they mention briefly, and then gloss over.  Not everyone writing about Panama gets full coverage by sites that are promoting Panama as THE place to retire.

Firstly, Panama MIGHT be inexpensive, compared to SOME places on Earth – but not compared to many of them. Especially near the capital city, where the infrastructure, services and amenities are plentiful and good, you will spend very much what you would pay in the USA: more for some/many things, and less for a few things.

Used cars, for example, are not cheap here. They hold their value very, very well. Good for sellers, not good for buyers. Groceries here, unless you are willing to purchase from street vendors, are outrageous, even by USA standards. Four medium tomatoes were priced at over three dollars recently, prompting me to plant seeds. SERIOUSLY.

Bus fares are cheap, but how many Americans want to ride the bus? I do. You will spend hours on the bus. Hours.

Security can be a problem. I’ve been robbed already, and I’ve been here less than three months. You have to be cautious, careful and suspicious of people, like most other places.

Apartments are not cheap. One thousand a month is a low-priced apartment here. That is not cheap compared to many places in the US. Getting a bank account is a time-consuming, aggravating, form-filled, expensive process. So is getting a Panamanian driver’s license. So is getting your visa to stay. The tourist visa is good 90 days, and then you have to get out of the country and re-enter to renew it.

The weather? Well – it rains a lot. When it isn’t raining, the humidity is high enough that your laundry will often sour on the line before it dries, meaning that you smell like a homeless person if you don’t machine dry them.

You can live cheap if you live and eat like a local. That means fans, not air conditioning, and foods you may not know how to prepare, or be accustomed to eating. However, that is part of the experience of living as an ex-patriot. There is good, and there is bad, and then there is just plain annoying. You get some of each. Paradise it isn’t. Liveable, it is.