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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Halloween shopping in Panama City

Wow, it's been awhile. I mentioned in my last post that I was having some back issues. They just continued to get worse, keeping me off my feet for a few weeks. I didn't even want to try to sit at the computer. Basically, an old military injury, three herniated discs (along with other back problems), is affecting my legs now. A disc is pinching my sciatic nerve, causing pain from my back all the way to my toes. Anyway...I'm feeling a lot better today, so I wanted to get back to blogging. Just didn't want you to think I'd given up on you.

So the other day my wife convinced me to finally get out of the house and take the kids Halloween shopping. Halloween has always been a tricky thing here in Panama. Since way back when the U.S. military was occupying the Canal Zone. Bitterness over issues then, combined with religious thoughts and feelings, have convinced many Panamanians that Halloween is a bad thing, an evil holiday that shouldn't be celebrated. One politician has gone as far as trying to ban the holiday from all schools, public and private, stating that schools are losing sight of their duty, which is to keep students aware of Panamanian holidays, by spending time celebrating Halloween. Personally I think it's sad that the politician is spending so much of his time trying to ban a holiday that only lasts one day. How I feel about is besides the point.

Since I moved here a little over three years ago, I've had a difficult time making Halloween the fun holiday I grew up with. Trick or treating is almost non existent here. Some neighborhoods, like one called Antigua in Costa del Este, which is where a lot of Americans live (many of which work in the U.S. Embassy), celebrates the holiday with trick or treating, but unless you know someone living inside the guarded gate who will invite you in, you can only participate if you live there. I've heard that the embassy also has some sort of festivities, but again, it's only for employees and their families. The only place in town that I know always celebrates Halloween openly for the public is Multiplaza Mall. That's where we've taken our kids the past couple of years. They always have a costume contest and some of the stores, probably not even half, hand out candy to trick or treaters. My main complaint here, and it wasn't much different in the malls back in the States, is the stores buy the cheap candy, which here is the big bag of pi├▒ata candy sold in the little Chinese stores. Every store hands out the same candy and it's all individually wrapped, fruit flavored hard candy. It's boring.

I wish so badly that I could take my kids back to Wellington, Florida, or Naperville, Illinois, a couple of places where we lived and enjoyed great trick or treating when they were really little, and too young to remember or appreciate it. In Panama you never see someone giving out little Snickers bars or Butterfingers or even candy corn. Some of that stuff is sold at Pricesmart (which is the equivalent of Costco here), but no one's going to spring for the expensive stuff. So the kids get a quarter of a sack filled with the stuff grandma used to keep in the little glass bowl on her coffee table. With so much changing here in Panama, and so many expats flocking to this Central American paradise, I can only hope that Halloween will become important here. In the meantime, I'll be headed to the mall this year too I suppose.

My little Wonder Woman

With the lack of emphasis put on Halloween, I was surprised to find a store filled with Halloween costumes and decorations. Last year was the first time I visited La Oca Loca department store in the Los Pueblos outdoor shopping center. By now you've heard me mention Los Pueblos a few times. I've seen Halloween costumes and decorations in some other stores around Panama City, but they're usually way overpriced and the selection is skimpy. We visited La Oca Loca this week to take the kids shopping, and this year they've actually dedicated half of their lower floor to Halloween. It's great. There are more adult costumes than children's costumes, mostly due to the fact that most of the nightclubs (called discos here) host some sort of Halloween party, but still, there are at least two whole aisles dedicated to the kids. And most of the kids' costumes are reasonably priced. One of my daughters bought a witch costume for $9.99. The other wanted to be Wonder Woman for $14.99. One of my sons is some sort of crazy dragon ninja and that cost $8.99. His twin brother wanted to be Bumblebee from the Transformers and that was only $14.99. For less than $50 all four of my kids got a Halloween costume. I spent more than that in South Florida that's for sure.

The crazy dragon ninja costume for $8.99

What impressed me the most was the great customer service at La Oca Loca. In each aisle they have attendants who will actually approach you and ask if you need help. That's almost unheard of here. Customer service is something severely lacking in Panama. Not at La Oca Loca. One girl I remember from last year because she provided great customer service. This year she did exactly the same. Most of the attendants are dressed in costumes and they'll gladly help you find a costume to fit your little ones. Then, which I don't think you could do in the States (I may be wrong), they walk you over to the dressing room and let you open the packages and try the costumes on. In the photo above, my son Nicolas "Nico" is modeling his crazy dragon ninja costume. 

One of the many costumes my daughter tried on (typical woman) before she settled on being a witch

I got a kick out of some of the store employees walking around dressed up in costumes. My sons went nuts when Batman came walking down our aisle. He took time to shake their hands and everything. Another employee was dressed in a creepy white outfit with a scary mask. He was getting a kick out of spooking the young women shoppers. On our way out of the store we passed yet another employee dressed as Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I thought my sons were gonna shit their pants when he came walking up the stairs behind us. Matteo and Nico took off. You can tell from the picture below we had a hell of a time getting them to pose for a photo with the guy. 

If you're having a hard time finding party supplies here, or you need an affordable costume to wear for your office Halloween party, save yourself the aggravation of searching the other stores in Panama and dealing with terrible customer service. Head to Los Pueblos shopping center and go to La Oca Loca. It's right behind El Costo and right next to Popeyes. When we were there last week the sign was missing. I think they're redecorating a little bit, so you may not even see a sign that says La Oca Loca, but it's there. And it's the only place I go now for Halloween shopping in Panama City. 

Thanks for reading. Oh, and please, if you're here in Panama and you know of any place to take the kids (other than Multiplaza), let me know. I'd love to find a new haunt. Leave comments if you have any suggestions.