Monday, August 3, 2015

What’s It Like Taking National Bus in Panama? Our Experience from Panama City to David

The long distance transportation system and National travel buses in Panama are efficient and organized. We traveled across the country from one end of Panama to the other (Puerto Armuelles and Costa Rica border) and down the Azuero Peninsula to Chitre and Las Tablas using the National bus system. The video is about our experience with taking the bus from Panama City to David using the National Bus system. See article about the bus system below the video. 
Buying Your Ticket  

From Panama City you will need to go to the Albrook Bus Terminal. Both the Metro City Bus and the Metro Subway go to the Albrook Terminal, and costs a whopping $0.25 and $0.35 cents. Once inside the terminal you’ll see about 30 ticket kiosks where you can buy tickets going to different parts of Panama.  
David, Panama ticket Kiosk
You’ll notice different names of cities and towns listed in blue above the ticket kiosks; bus fares depend on where you are going but prices are reasonable.
Albrook bus terminal
After you buy your ticket, ($15.50 per) you'll want to carefully look it over because it will have everything you will need to know for your trip: where to board the bus, bus number, the time it leaves, and what your seat number is on the bus.
Inside David, Panama Terminal, waiting to board bus back to Panama City
Last but not least you will need to get/buy another Pass-Ticket that costs another dollar or two, before you can go through the turn-gate and even board the bus. The ticket booth for buying the Pass-ticket is near to the other ticket booths. Ask anyone behind one of the ticket counters if you can’t find it.

For popular towns and destinations in Panama the buses leave about every hour, so there usually is no need to buy your ticket ahead of time. There are air-conditioned waiting rooms (another nice thing about Panama’s Bus Terminal) so you aren’t standing around in a hot basement, smelling exhaust fumes. If I remember right the bus to David boarded about 30 minutes before its schedule time to leave.  
David, Panama waiting area before you board the bus
There are three express buses to David from Panama City, they cost about $3.50 more per person and leave in the late evening around 10:00pm, 11:00pm and 12:00pm. The buses arrive in the town of David early the next morning.  Apparently they are called the express buses because they do not make any stops along the way. However, because at that time of our travel there was road construction on the highway to David, the attendant at the ticket kiosk told us the express bus doesn’t get there much sooner than the regular bus.
Rules and regulations for passengers, bus schedules and the bus numbers,
leaving Panama City for David (click to enlarge)

There is storage under the bus and inside the bus.  If you put luggage under the bus, the attendant will put a sticker number on your luggage and hand you the number, so hang onto it, you’ll need it later. When you arrive at your destination hand it to the attendant and he’ll get your luggage. There are also storage bins inside the bus you can put your things if you want. We noticed that a lot of people put their things up in the overhead bins without a care in the world. That was surprising for us because you don't even want to do that riding Greyhound in the U.S and definitely NOT in Ecuador either.

The Buses

The buses reminded us of the national buses in Ecuador. They are fairly comfortable and all the buses have air conditioning and play movies during the travel time.  Surprisingly, just like in Ecuador, local folks will come onto the bus from time to time to sell their different traditional foods, water and soft drinks.

Lunch Stop

The wonderful part about Panama’s long distance bus travel is a huge step up from Ecuador. The bus actually stops for almuerzo at a decent stop with clean restrooms half way to your destination! We were going to David, so after about 4 hours through the trip, the bus stopped in a nice town called Santiago at a nice and clean café with a banquet of food items to choose from, or you can choose to order off the menu ala carte.  

Note: in Panama a popular way for locals to eat is going to cafeterias where you pick out the type of food you want (all locally prepared and traditional food usually) and then they weigh it and that's how they price the food. We experienced in one restaurant that two pieces of chicken with a side of vegetables and maybe a side of beans or lentils costs about $4.50 to $5.00.

The bus stops at this same bus stop for about 30-minutes or so, which gives passengers time to stretch their legs, eat, and use the restroom. The cafeteria has a large covered outside area with outside cement picnic style tables, and an inside restaurant.  It’s very nice. The bus stop has clean restrooms with toilet paper, soap, and paper towels. To see this bus stop be sure to watch the video here.

Safety on Panama Buses

Another surprising thing we noticed about travel in Panama compared to Ecuador is people put their things in the overhead bins and leave their things on the bus when they get off to go eat. (Back packs, bags in overhead bins, etc, etc).  

NOTE: on the way back to Panama City from David we stopped at the same cafeteria in Santiago and the driver made everyone get off the bus and he locked the doors while people used the restroom and ate. Some bus drivers make everyone get off and some don't.

BTW, we noticed this laxness throughout Panama where people would count their money right out in the open in the Mercado, and local folks would put their cell phones and bags down on the table and then go up to the counter and order their food.  In Panama about 90% of people walk and talk while on their Iphones.  

Bus Drivers Drive Good (Not Fast)

Another nice aspect we noticed is the Panama bus drivers did not speed around corners, or drive too fast, or step on the brakes often, or pass other cars on a two-lane highway. In fact, the bus ride was very smooth and careful, as you’ll notice in the video.

Traveling the country of panama by bus is a frugal way to get from point A to point B. You get a chance to see the Panama countryside and other small towns along the way. We would definitely recommend long distance bus travel in Panama to anyone wanting to travel the country.

Riding the inter-city buses or short distance buses (1 to 3 hours) totally different story; video and ALL the details coming soon.

We're an Expat Family of Five, Living Frugal, Healthy and Happy Abroad. We live in Cuenca, Ecuador and travel the Ecuador coast whenever we get a chance. We just adventured throughout the country of Panama for five weeks! Come along and enjoy some of our experiences with us!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Nitty-gritty of Cooking with Propane Overseas - Pros and Cons

Is it true that cooking with Propane gas makes the food taste better? Some gas range users say it does. We’ve also heard that camp fire coffee taste better too. We don’t know about that, but what we do know is using gas burners does seem to cook the food faster/better in the pan than when we use electric burners; probably because the flame is spread out more uniformly than our electric burners. 
Pros of Using Gas for Cooking

Energy Efficient

One of the greater advantages of cooking with propane gas here in Cuenca Ecuador is that it’s much more energy efficient than electricity; We’re a family of five and we cook a lot and we still have a difficult time going through a tank in a week. Did I mention that a gas tank cost $2.50 to refill?  I actually do a lot of baking as well, so you can understand how cooking with gas can be a great energy saver. 

Cook When Electricity Goes Out

The other advantage about owning a gas range is, if and when the electricity goes out, you can still use the stove and oven to cook a meal.  The electricity is certainly known for going out here in Cuenca Ecuador, so this is a great advantage to those folks who do a lot of cooking. 

               Cons of Using Gas for Cooking

Cooking with gas can be dangerous. You do need to be conscientious about what you are doing at all times. Having your mind on something else while you’re cooking can be hazardous. 

Let me tell you what I did a few years ago.  I turned the oven on, thinking it ignited the pilot light and for a full five minutes I thought the oven was on when it really was not, which means it was leaking gas into the atmosphere.  I went to put the bread in the oven and that was when I noticed it was not on. Of course, when I had realized the oven wasn’t on I, immediately turned off the knob and began airing out the kitchen, opening the window and the door that leads out to the patio. I waited a full ten minutes before turning on the oven again!  Now I ALWAYS make sure it ignites the pilot light by looking into the oven and seeing with my eyes it is lit. If you listen carefully you can also hear when it gets lit like a "poof of wind" noise.

This carelessness of mine ended up not harming anyone. But let’s say for instance someone in our home smoked and lit a match in the kitchen? Or what if, for some strange reason I never found out the ignitoer never lit and it continued to leak gas until it blew up our home, with us in it!  Or worse, we fell asleep and then wake up dead from the gas poisoning. (;-)

We have heard many scary stories from other expats using gas for cooking. We’ve heard of ovens blowing up and getting shoved several inches from the wall. The oven still works, miraculously. We’ve heard of burners being lit too late and the fire singing eyebrows and hairs on their arms…Using gas for cooking can be unsafe for normal, aware folks, so think how much more dangerous it is for folks who are forgetful and unaware of the dangers or of cooking with gas!

Gas Tanks Can Be and Are Often a Subject of Theft

Because the most expedient place to put the gas tanks is outside on a patio, to avoid possible gas leaking into the home and related problems, many people suffer the startling find of having been robbed of their gas tanks.  Many Ecuadorian homes have open patios to the outside, and sometimes thieves figure out how to access your patio in the middle of the night when you're asleep.  This happened to our neighbors here in Cuenca.

Switching Gas Tanks Can Be a Hassle

Houses (townhomes and villas) in Ecuador mostly do not have centralized gas in the homes or heat, so if you live in a house or townhome they all use the portable gas tanks for anything that uses gas in the home, such as shower, heaters, ranges, etc.   For one person or a couple it may take one to two months to use up a tank of gas for a gas stove top and oven.  Here’s some things you’ll want to know. 
  • You need to know at what time approximately, the gas guy comes around and on what days. Then you have to listen for his beeping horn and recognize it as the gas guy and not the milk or potato truck because they also honk their horns. 
  • If you happen to be out while the gas guy drives thru your neighborhood, or if you simply don’t hear his beeping trunk horn, you will miss switching out tanks for that day and you’ll be without gas. Although, you might be able to get the gas guys cell number and call him when you are out of gas.
NOTE: For the reason cited above it is always a good idea to have a spare tank of gas just in case you do miss getting your tank switched out. 
  • Once your tank gets switched for full ones, they will need to go to their respective spot inside the home, usually in the laundry area and they can be heavy when filled with gas. Some people might need to have one of the men bring in the filled tank. (Not recommended)
Note: For newcomers to using gas, we made a video showing how to attach the nozzle to the tank here and also explaining about the quirks of the “on demand water heaters” 
  • If you have strangers coming into your home you might want to remove any electronics and other valuables from site just to be on the safe side. We recommend it. We’re not saying you’ll get robbed just because you have a guy bringing in your gas tanks but we take certain precautions just to be on the safe side.
This is South America and techs, repair people, furniture movers, and others have been known to come back and rob gringos blind, so it is just a preventive measure, nothing else.  
  • Gas prices in Ecuador will be going up when subsidies stop and people go electric in 2017 or 2018.  BTW, gas prices in other countries are not subsidized so it is not as cheap as it is in Ecuador for the time being.
If you are new to using gas for cooking, hot water, and heating your home, it would be a good idea to have someone you trust show you how it all works just to get yourself acquainted with it so you will not be overwhelmed; it will make your move abroad so much easier and hassle free. 

To watch our videos about cooking, heating and showering with gas, click “Nitty-gritty Cuenca Living”; your questions are welcome so ask away. 

Until we write again…

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Reminiscing about Our Life in Cuenca Ecuador

Everyone who moves to Cuenca has their own chapters to write or tell. For us the story goes something like this. We moved to Cuenca and everything was great; everyone was super nice; and nothing really ever bothered us, not even the smog seemed to bother us, much.  It was only after we had been living in Cuenca for awhile in the second chapter of our lives that we began noticing the environment we live in and how it affects our lives. 

Chapter 1 – 3 Months to 1 Year:

Culture Surprise: I wouldn’t say we had “shock” but we had lots of surprises when we first got here. Like men peeing right in front of you, or three people riding on a motorcycle, or pedestrians not having the right of way, or huge cow pies on the sidewalks, and many sickly, stray dogs roaming the streets; drunks sleeping it off in nice Cuenca areas; tall cement walls surrounding homes, topped off with electric wiring; noisy music, parties, and firecrackers whenever; and guards standing outside businesses with sawed off shot guns; etc, etc. Surprise, surprise.

Doing Errands: When we went out we’d kid with each other saying, “I wonder how many things on our “to do” list we’re going to get done today? A good day was getting a least one thing done, a REALLY good day was accomplishing two things on our list, and an amazing day was completing three errands. Why? Well mostly because of schedule differences with the local business community, or because of circumstances changing on that day, or people not showing up, or just because things are done VERY different here. You’ll see when you get

Processing Paperwork: It’s funny how when it is all over you stand back and laugh about it, but when you are going through it, it somehow is not that funny. 

Just to give you a hint of what processing paperwork is like here: how many times can you hand over the same paperwork for five people in a given month? How about four times, will that work for you?  Instead of telling you all on the same day that “This needs changed, we need this document for that person, and this sentence needs to read clearer and this needs translated…"; they will only tell you one thing your paperwork needs and then the next time you go in, they’ll let you know one more thing, and well, by this time days, weeks, even months have passed...and there is new immigration laws, and you need one more piece of paperwork from the states… In a hurry does not compute in Latin Land so, do not be in a hurry... I guess you'll see when you get

For the first year or so, the newness of everything about living abroad kept us in a euphoric type existence. “What’s the hurry anyway”? And that’s the attitude you have to have if you move here. Everything gets done eventually anyway, just not USA PRONTO, PRONTO!

Chapter one was good for us and it was a good learning experience. It was a fun and exciting time as we did all of the local festivals, events and foods, except for cuy; we simply have not had any curiosity about eating pets. We gobbled down lots of fattening and unhealthy but delicious pastries from the many bakeries; we have gotten to know many Ecuadorians on a personal level, learned Spanish, and have got acquainted with the public transportation, local businesses, the weather and local culture and customs, providing us with the familiarity we needed to make a more profound decision to stay or not to stay.  As you know, here we are. 

Chapter 2 – One to Two Years

After a year or two, you begin to notice more than just the surprising cultural things but some things that could make you want to leave, or stay in this place they call best retirement country in the world.

Here's something to think about: it’s funny because the environment hasn’t changed, the smog levels have not changed, the efficiency has not changed too much, the drivers and traffic has not changed BUT YOUR PERCEPTION about these things has changed!! 

Before, you didn’t care or didn’t notice, but in chapter two some of these things might start to annoy you, especially if you start getting sick, or get robbed too many times, get ran over by a car, or haven’t learned the language, etc, etc…you may wonder, “Why am I here?” This is only for some people, mind you, because not everybody is the same. We’re still here because we have accepted what is.

You may have to get out a piece of paper and write down the advantages and disadvantages of living abroad to put everything into perspective. Understand “nowhere on earth is paradise”.  I realize that may sound really cliché but there is so much truth in this statement that it must be said again.

Personal Safety: Here’s another funny one that happened to us in our second chapter of living in Cuenca.  After almost two years of living in Cuenca was the only time we were ever pick-pocketed in our entire lives. Who gets pick-pocketed in the USA?  Yes, it can and does happen in certain areas of the U.S, such as heavily populated airports or train stations, concerts and touristy destinations, but the likelihood of it actually happening in comparison to Ecuador is almost zilch.  In fact, plan on getting pick-pocketed unless you take the necessary precautions not to.

We wrote numerous articles explaining to our readers “how not to get pick pocketed” but we still got pick pocketed because of our carelessness; we broke our own safety guidelines that we wrote about!  Can you believe it? You can read about it here.

Most people who get pick-pocketed or purse snatched, are still in chapter one phase of their moving abroad experience; meaning they just do not exhibit the awareness they need to have in developing countries. It is not just about crime either. It’s not uncommon to be taken advantage of in other areas of our life and that is why you not only just need “eye awareness” but “trust awareness” and “understanding awareness” and finally “knowledge awareness” about how things work in a foreign land because they all sum up to discernment and diligence. Without them you are a naïve duck in a pond full of piranhas.  

The second chapter of our lives in Cuenca was the time when we learned to speak Spanish pretty well, we knew what to expect in most interactions and situations with the local folks, we knew how to get to anywhere we needed to go, we knew where we liked to eat, what bus to take anywhere we needed to go, and simply understanding the basics of how life works in Ecuador.  It all must still be great because after two years we stayed. One thing though, we have learned to avoid the real smoggy streets as much as possible, for now.

Chapter 3 – Four Years Plus

We’re living in this chapter right now and we have settled in and feel that Cuenca is our home. Cuenca has one drawback that we have not been able to adapt, however, and that’s the smog; everything else is small potatoes compared to this one downside about living in Cuenca. In fact, most things about living in Cuenca are wonderful aspects of life you wouldn’t have or get in the U.S.  We have so much to reminisce about that is great in Cuenca, but we'll save it for another day.

When Frank and I went to Panama recently, after about 3-days we realized all over again what we love about Cuenca are the things that originally led us to Cuenca, Ecuador in the first place! Actually in our hearts we knew it all along, but sometimes for it to “sink in” you have to leave it for a bit, or in our case, travel somewhere else to see the things we might “take for granted”.  Panama does not have the abundance of fresh, healthy foods at reasonable prices. Grocery store shopping in Panama is just like shopping at Safeway in the U.S – no, make that the highest priced stores in the u.s. and we left that four years ago. No thanks!

To have a great landing and find out more about the culture in Ecuador with a digital friend that acts like your best friend, get the DIY Cuenca Landing Guide.

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We're an Expat Family of Five, Living Frugal, Healthy and Happy Abroad. We live in Cuenca, Ecuador and travel the Ecuador coast whenever we get a chance. We just adventured throughout the country of Panama for five weeks! Come along and enjoy some of our experiences with us!

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