It’s only natural for people to wonder what it is that makes me like Panama so much. Of course the natural beauty of the place is one, as long as you don’t look at the ground. It’s often said that Panama, at least in the countryside, is like it was in the States fifty years ago. And for you youngsters who might be reading this, fifty years ago people in the States thought nothing of throwing their trash out of the windows of their cars and littering the landscape. Unfortunately that’s how it seems to be in Panama. In that respect they’ve got a lot of catching up to do with the gringos, but remember, it took the United States a whole generation to get most of its citizens to stop trashing the place.
But it’s the people of Panama that makes the country special. Now, there are some very annoying differences between Panama and the States that may truly try a gringo’s patience. For instance, in many commercial dealings customer service is a completely foreign concept. That’s not to say it’s perfect in the States, it’s just that here, in a lot of instances, the customer is the enemy and is treated that way. But it’s not just gringos who are treated as the enemy, it’s Panamanians as well, so the pain is spread evenly.
In the last couple of weeks I’ve had trouble finding the blood pressure medicine I require. The large Arrocha Pharmacy didn’t have it at all and said it would be a month before they’d get another order. The El Rey supermarket pharmacy didn’t have any, either, nor did the small pharmacy where I buy my generic Plavix. The cute little pharmacy clerk there tried to order it for me but her supplier didn’t have any of it, either.
So, today I decided to go to the pharmacy at Hospital Chiriqui, a modern facility in David and one of the two private hospitals in the city on which most expats depend.
As you know, I don’t have a car. Like almost all of my neighbors I depend on the bus system which, in almost every instance, puts the public transportation services in the States to shame. And with only one or two exceptions, we don’t depend on “chicken” buses here, either. Almost the entire fleet in the provinces consist of 30-seat, air conditioned Toyota “Coasters.”
Here in Boquerón a bus passes the end of my street about every 20 minutes from very early in the morning until the last one departs the David terminal at 7:30 pm. The fare from here to the terminal downtown is 60¢ each way after the “jubilado” (old farts) discount. A bargain at twice the price because you certainly couldn’t drive into town on 60¢ of gas with the price hovering around $4.50/gallon.
I was a good 50 or 60 yards from the corner of where my street joins the main drag that goes down to the InterAmerican Highway and on into David when the city-bound bus flashed by. Oh, well, big deal. I’ve only got to wait about 20 minutes for the next one and I have my Kindle with me to read in the meantime. If I was really in a hurry, and since I’m retired and have nothing but time on my hands 20 minutes doesn’t matter, I could pay half a buck for a cab to take me the mile and a half or so down to El Cruce (the cross roads) where I could pick up any of the buses from seven or eight different routes that service communities farther to the west heading back into the city.
But then I heard a high-pitched sound and low and behold there was the bus that just passed backing up so that I could get on board. That, my friends, is what customer service is all about. And all for a 60¢ fare. I’d seen drivers do that on the Potrerillos buses when I was living up there but it’s the first time it’s ever happened for me. Things ARE different here in Panama. It’s one of the things I love about this country.
p.s. I usually try and buy a month’s supply of my medication but even at the hospital they only had a one-week supply for me. I opted to buy double the dosage pills and will just cut them in half.