Panama is one of my favorite places to travel with my husband, the former accountant. Lief is careful. He pays attention to every dime and every nickel. But even he is known to play the Big Spender when on Panamanian soil. I'm the happy beneficiary of the temporary transformation.
"Would you like to try the new restaurant on the square for dinner, dear?" "Would you like to go to the movies?" "There's a jazz club around the corner we should try tonight for drinks."
In other cities, these questions don't occur to Lief. But in Panama, a ticket to see a first-run movie in English can cost as little as $2.25. A nice dinner with wine can be less than $10 a person. Cocktails in a nightclub with live music can be $2 or $3 apiece. A taxi from Casco Viejo into downtown Panama City is less than two bucks. We stocked our apartment with the essentials last week...water and soda, eggs and bread, butter and cheese, olives, nuts, ham for sandwiches, the makings for pancakes...four bags of groceries, and got change from a 20 dollar bill.
It's not only Lief's generosity that makes time in Panama pleasant for me...it's that I can afford to hire the kind of help that seems an extravagance elsewhere. A maid twice a week...even daily can be so affordable even Lief wouldn't object. A part-time gardener. A caretaker. A nanny. A modest budget can allow for a full staff of household support.
Electronics are an especially good buy. This is, after all, the hub of the Americas, one of the world's biggest trading posts. Our 15-year-old daughter put in her order before my visit with Lief last week. She was in the market for a new CD/MPIII player. In Paris, the one she wanted was more than 200 euro. Outside her budget. Would I see how much the same thing would be in Panama, she asked? Lief and I visited an electronics shop one afternoon...and found a comparable version of the player Kaitlin had had her eye on in Paris...selling for $65.
And, yes, as we remind you often, real estate can be a steal. A friend last week told us about a 200-square-meter apartment he is buying in one of the city's plush high-rises. He heard of it not through a broker but by word-of-mouth. Price? $150,000.
Publisher, International Living