March 7-9, 2020
In light of the Coronavirus that is quickly spreading through the world, I packed a travel medical kit with nitrile gloves, masks, bleach wipes, salt to gargle with at night, powdered Vitamin C, digital temporal thermometer, my worn stethoscope, and my pulse oximeter to check my oxygen level in the mountains. I started taking 500 mg. of buffered Vitamin C a month ago to strengthen my immune system. Many people take more than this, but as a geriatric nurse practitioner, I know that more than 500 mg. daily is not recommended for anyone over 60 years old like myself because it increases one’s bleeding time and can cause internal hemorrhage.
On the plane, I wiped down my tray table, armrests, and TV screen with the bleach wipes. When I entered each new hotel room, I used them to clean the light switches, doorknobs, faucets, and TV remote. I read the virus can survive 3 days on plastic or metal surfaces. I washed my hands for 30 seconds with soap and water often or used my hand sanitizer and tried not to touch my face. It’s hard not to shake hands or hug anyone which is customary in Latin America.
Our tour began in the hotel by meeting with an attorney who explained the different types of permanent visas in Panama. The most popular ones are for people who want to work called the Friendly Nations visa and the one for retired people. The whole process takes about 6 months and costs $1200-$2000. After receiving a visa, one only needs to visit Panama every 2 years to maintain it. A couple years ago they changed their tourist visa. If a tourist doesn’t drive a vehicle he can stay 6 months but only 3 months if he does drive. Then he must leave Panama for at least 30 days before he can reenter. Prior to this a tourist only had to do a 3-day border hop into Costa Rica, so many people left who didn’t want to go through the visa process.
After the meeting, we grabbed our luggage (we were only permitted a carry on bag), loaded it under the big bus, and climbed on. I sat in the prime first seat, rotated daily in fairness to everyone. Since I’m prone to motion sickness, I was grateful to look straight ahead through the windshield. Our leader quickly pointed out the big bottle of alcohol hand sanitizer and masks. Thankfully, no one in our group appeared to be ill or have a cold.
We drove through the relatively quiet streets of Panama City on this beautiful sunny Saturday morning. About half of the 4 million Panama residents live here in the capital city. The Bridge of the Americas, lined with a walking path and brilliant flowers, has relieved some of the traffic. The Panama Canal, one of the wonders of the modern world, was empty today of any large ships.
After about an hour, we arrived in the coastal city of Coronado, a popular resort area for vacationers and retirees. We easily compared prices in a modern grocery and department store since they use the US dollar. Most goods seemed about the same price as I pay in the southeast USA. Longterm rental of a highrise condo on the beach ranges from $800-1500 per month plus electric of $300-400. One of our guides who lives in the Coronado area said her AC just keeps her barely cool enough to sleep. Personally, the coast is way too hot for me at 90-95 F (32-35 C) year-round. Since it’s the dry season, the wind blows constantly so it’s not humid. The shade sure felt good.
We stayed our second night in a large all-inclusive resort on the beach, mobbed with people at the pool celebrating a wedding poolside with a loud band and bubble maker. After sticking my toes in the cold Pacific Ocean, I retreated to my cool room and took a shower and a nap followed by dinner.
The next night we stayed at a charming traditional Panama hotel with our rooms surrounding a Spanish style courtyard garden and a gurgling fountain. I enjoyed a quick swim in their pool to cool off before dinner. I sure am glad we will ascend up into the cool refreshing mountains tomorrow.
Thank you, dear Lord, for these first few days in the beautiful country of Panama. I pray for strength and health for all those on the tour and sweet sleep tonight.
I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8 NKJV