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Monday, July 28, 2014

Panama Can Be A Scary Place

When you think of voodoo and black magic and ghost stories, you probably think of New Orleans on the home front, and maybe Jamaica or Haiti on the foreign one. Panama typically stirs up images of basking in the seaside sun with the smell of coconut scented suntan oil wafting through the air. Usually, it's not Panama that comes to mind when you think of terrifying tales. However, I have to tell you, since moving here, I've discovered that Panama has a dark side, or at least a strangely shadowy (almost wrote sinister, but that sounds too evil) side. 

I don't want to frighten you with this article. That's definitely not my intention. Life in Panama is great. But Panama has a lot of history, and just like Valley Forge, Pennsylvania or Salem, Massachusetts, anyplace with history is likely to have some creepy stories. 

Not this kind of scary...but scary

For being a country with its roots planted so firmly in the Catholic faith, it's interesting how many Panamanians believe there are witches and other not-so-friendly forces roaming about. This place isn't like what's depicted in the movie The Serpent and the Rainbow or anything, but Santeria is practiced by some here in this country. You know, like the Sublime song, "I don't practice Santeria. I ain't got no crystal ball." Santeria is considered a religion, but also has a dark side (like voodoo, which it's often compared to). 

Not this kind of voodoo (photo from

I'm not saying every Panamanian believes in all this freaky stuff, but I can assure you that if you ask 5 Panamanians if they've witnessed something supernatural or just plain spooky, at least 3 of them will be able to tell you about something that either happened to them personally, or to a friend or family member. Even in the school folklore class, the kids are tasked at least once a year with bringing in reports on Panama's scary legends. 

At some point in the future, I'll write a part 2 to this article and tell you some of the scary stories I've heard from others, but for now, I'll focus on some of the strange happenings I've encountered here. 

When we first moved to Panama, Mar and I rented a two-story house. It was a strange house, with 3 bedrooms upstairs and 2 living rooms downstairs. The back wall of the second living room, which led out to a patio, wasn't a solid wall. Instead, it was a barred-up, screened-in sliding door. So no matter how secure we were in the house, it always felt a little bit strange, like we were way too vulnerable. It did allow a decent breeze to flow through the house though. Oh and there was a back room right next to that door that we used as a toy room for the kids. 

That's the back door/wall I'm talking about

Almost immediately after moving in, we started noticing strange occurrences. Now, I'm not crazy. I've seen some odd things in my life, but I'm definitely not the kind of person to quickly blame everything on the supernatural. And I know many people reading this will automatically chalk it all up to an overactive imagination, but I can assure you, these things were not normal, not delusions, and not make believe. Believe it or not, that's up to you. 


First, came the sightings. Victoria, my youngest daughter, who must've been about 5-years-old at the time was the first to mention the woman in black. Mar was upstairs napping with the boys one night, while the girls were in their bedroom. The phone rang downstairs so Victoria raced down the stairs to answer it (she'd been waiting for her cousin to call). After a few moments downstairs, she came screaming up the stairs, waking Mar up and freaking out her sister. 

"What is it, baby?" Mar asked.

"I was on the phone," Vica replied, "And I saw a woman in black walking through the kitchen. She made the bags move."

She was talking about plastic grocery bags we'd had hanging from the cabinets. We were going through an ant problem at the time, so we hung any sweets and bread in grocery bags high up so the ants couldn't get to them.

Christina with the boys in THAT HOUSE

Shortly after Victoria's sighting, the nanny, Christina, who has been with Mar's family for about 15 years, started mentioning seeing a man in black. The first time was after she saw the shadow of a man walk into the kitchen. 

Then, another time she saw the same dark shadow walk out of the kitchen and into the living room. She followed it until she saw it disappear on the stairs. 

A third time, she'd fallen asleep on the living room couch. When she woke up, she glanced to her right, and there, in the dining room, was the dark shadowy man, just staring at her. She jumped up and he disappeared. 

The boys were infants when we moved to Panama, right around the 9-month mark. We lived in that house for several years, so by the time we left, they were old enough to walk and talk. One night, while Mar and Nico were headed upstairs, they passed the kitchen and were about to round the corner to the stairs when Nico froze in place and looked terrified. Mar crouched down to see what was wrong with him and he said.

"Mama, a woman is in the kitchen." 

Mar figured it must've been her mom in the kitchen as she was visiting at the time. "It's probably just Abuela," she said.  

Nico shook his head and said, "It wasn't Abuela. There's a black woman in the kitchen."

Nico ain't afraid of no ghosts!

Marlene looked back and didn't see anything. Later, when Mar asked the owner of the house about it, she kind of jokingly said, "Oh yeah, the man in black has been there since I was a kid. He won't harm anybody." 

It Gets Stranger 

When we fist moved into that house, the boys were just learning to crawl, and definitely weren't able to climb out of their cribs. One night, I was hanging out with the kids downstairs when Nico fell asleep. I carried him upstairs to the boys' bedroom where the crib on the left wall was Nico's and the crib against the right wall was Matteo's. I am 100% certain I placed Nico in the correct crib because when I went to lay him down, he grabbed one of the bars and I had to kind of pry his fingers off so he wouldn't hurt himself in his sleep. I covered him up with his blanket, then headed downstairs. 

Maybe 30-minutes later, Matteo fell asleep. So I carried him upstairs. When I went to place him in his crib, Nico was there. He wasn't old enough to climb out of his crib and even if he was, he could never have reached up and pulled himself into the crib on the opposite wall. I thought it was really strange, but just pushed it out of my head and went back downstairs. But I was positive I'd placed him in the correct crib in the first place. It really bothered me. 

Then it happened again, on a different night, but the other way around. Matteo was in the wrong crib. This happened several times. Even Mar witnessed it, so it wasn't just my forgetful mind. One time, I wasn't even home. Mar was with her mom in the house and went to check on Nico who'd been sleeping upstairs in his crib. When she opened his bedroom door, his crib was empty. 

Panic hit her right away because he'd never crawled out of the crib. She looked under the cribs and around the room and he was nowhere in sight. By that point she was getting really scared. Her first thought was that someone had kidnapped him, but how could they? His window was sealed up tight with bars on the outside (typical security in Panama's older neighborhoods). 

She and her mom searched the house, calling out his name. She checked all of the rooms once, then twice. On the second round, she entered my daughters' room, and just happened to see Nico's little toes peeking out from beneath Estefania's bed. 

Mar dropped to her knees and had to lie down on the floor because the space between the bed and the floor was tiny, so narrow that it would have taken some effort for him to slide under there (not something you'd easily do in your sleep). She could see Nico, but he was too far away for her to reach, so she rubbed on his foot and called out his name. Mar says she'll never forget the look on his face when he opened his eyes. He was terrified, like he had no idea how he'd gotten beneath her bed. 

One other time, I went into the boys' bedroom to check on them in the middle of the night, and both cribs were pushed away from the walls, at the same odd angle, in the center of the room. That's when I really started to believe something was going on. 


At the time, I was a trainer at one of the call centers here and during a break I kind of mentioned it to the people in my class. These were all adults. As soon as I started talking about it, they all got very animated and enthusiastic about personal horror stories. They started telling me about witches and asked if we'd baptized the boys. At that time, we hadn't. We'd baptized the girls, but wanted to wait until we'd moved to Panama to baptize the boys, and just hadn't gotten around to it. 

"You need to baptize them," one woman told me. 

"Okay," I said, not realizing the urgency. 

"Seriously," she said. "Strange things happen in Panama to children who are not baptized." 

"Come on," I said.

"Really," she replied. "Witches go into the homes of babies that haven't been baptized. They pick up the babies while they're sleeping, and suck on their bellybuttons."

I looked around the room, and no one seemed to think the story was strange. In fact, it kicked up a whole discussion about witches and other evil entities. I later told Mar about it and she, who has heard some wild stories, said she'd never heard the one about the bellybutton-munching witches. 

Mar wanted to get the boys baptized as soon as possible, but we still weren't in a major rush. Then, a couple more things happened which kind of pushed up the date a little. 

One night, while Mar was alone with the kids (as a trainer I had to teach a lot of night classes), she'd just put them to bed when she went downstairs to get a snack. She immediately felt that something wasn't right. You know that feeling you get when the hair stands up on the back of your neck? When you feel like you're being watched? Mar felt that she wasn't alone. She grabbed her snack and went upstairs with it. 

A few minutes later she heard the sound of someone talking. It was a soft, creepy voice far off in the distance. She checked on the kids and everyone was okay, so she crept out onto the staircase and looked down at the dark living room. She could heard the voice and it sounded like it was somewhere in the house. She went back to her room and grabbed her rosary. After praying and forcing herself to relax, she got a bit angry and decided that she was the woman of the house and would not be afraid in her own home. So she got up and went downstairs, flipping on every light along the way. 

Once downstairs, she still couldn't figure out where the sound was coming from, but she recognized it. It was a battery-operated Elmo doll we'd bought the kids for their birthday. It was repeating one of its catch phrases over and over again. Mar followed the sound into the second living room where she realized it was coming from the back toy room. 

She turned on the living room and bathroom lights, but the problem was the motion light outside that large sliding door I mentioned earlier was not working right, so the back patio was pitch black, and the toy room light, for some reason, could only be turned on from a switch inside the closet, at the back corner of the room. Mar didn't have flashlight, so she crept past the sliding door, glancing over her shoulder every couple of seconds, half expecting to find the shadow man peering in at her from the patio, and tried to see where the doll was without actually entering the toy room. It was impossible. She needed to enter the room.

And that damned doll kept repeating that creepy phrase. Something about wanting to play. Over and over again, taunting her. 

She finally convinced herself she was brave enough to do this, took a deep breath, and ran to the back closet. She flipped on the light and saw nothing out of the ordinary. Only three large boxes full of toys. Then the Elmo stopped talking. It just completely stopped. Mar wasn't sure which box it had been coming from. She waited to see if it would start blabbing again, but it didn't. So she started digging through the boxes until she finally found it at the bottom of a box.

She picked up the Elmo and held it at eye level. Suddenly it started laughing and then said, "Goodbye." She hurried out of the toy room, opened up its back panel, and yanked out the battery. She threw the doll into the garbage and ran upstairs. And the talking started again. The battery-less Elmo was calling out with its catch phrase. Mar called me and then called her mom and asked her to come over and stay with her. 

Take that freaky Elmo (we know how to get our revenge, piƱata style)

At that point, Mar was completely freaked out and wanted to get out of the house, but we needed to find someplace else to go. We set everything up to baptize the boys, but her temporary fix was to bless the house. So she got a bottle of holy water and her rosary and we went to each room of the house, splashing holy water in the corners of the rooms while she read a passage from her Bible. When we got to the boys' room and she started blessing it, we suddenly heard a loud bang from downstairs.

I ran downstairs to the kitchen and found Coca-Cola all over the kitchen walls and floor. We'd had a big, plastic-wrapped case of 2-liter bottles sitting on the floor, drinks for an upcoming birthday party. One of the bottles, while still in the plastic wrap, completely burst all on its own. The bottle had exploded and soda was everywhere. Again, each of these things happening on its own wouldn't seem like a big deal, but added together, they're kind of strange don't you think? Shortly after this, we baptized the boys and things started to settle down. Soon after, we moved out of the house and into our next story. 

Baptizing the boys

The next house we rented was definitely in need of some love and care. The owner of the place warned us prior to moving in, that the guy who'd rented it before us was a strange bird. He'd cemented up one of her bedroom windows and I think she said he'd painted one of the other windows black. She was convinced that he'd been selling drugs out of the house, but never had proof. When she'd evicted him, he got mad and ripped out most of the cabinets and light fixtures. 

We went ahead and took the place because we needed to move out of the first house as someone wanted to buy it (and we were tired of being stalked by shadowy figures and dealing with soda-exploding mayhem). So, I painted the front of the house and all the walls inside, cleaned it up, and made it livable for our family, while the owner had the cement knocked out and the window re-installed. Most of the issues with that house (and ultimately the reason we moved out) were electrical and plumbing issues. We had some leaking in several places in the roof when it rained. But other strange things started to go on too. 

Here's the house after I painted it

It began with strange sounds on the roof at night. It's common to hear birds and small animals traipsing across the roof, especially since many of the roofs on the typical Panamanian homes are so thin, but this was different. These were heavy footsteps. This sounded like a person was running across the roof. 

Right behind our house was a small river. Many Panamanians believe, or have at least heard the stories, that witches gather by the rivers at night. Another story is that they run across peoples' roofs at night. 

Well, whether or not it was a witch, I can't exactly say, but I can tell you that it was loud enough and happened often enough, that it woke me up most nights. Then, sometimes I'd heard crying outside my bedroom window. It sounded far away, but it was a strange noise, like a mix between someone crying and someone laughing. It was definitely creepy.

I went to bed one night, right after hearing the strange crying, in boxers and a T-shirt, how I sleep most nights. I've never sleepwalked in my life. Never. I've NEVER done it. I might mumble in my sleep and I sometimes grind my teeth, but I never sleepwalk. And I'm a very light sleeper, so even the softest of noises or movements will jolt me from my sleep. 

I woke up late that night, on the living room couch, completely dressed, shoes on and all, with my car keys in my pocket. I remember sitting up and feeling confused, but really groggy at the same time. I wanted to get up and go back to bed, but I felt exhausted, like so exhausted that I couldn't get up. It was almost like I'd been drugged or something. I laid back down and went to sleep and woke up in the morning, still fully dressed. Mar seemed more scared than I was. I was really confused, but she was actually scared.

In addition to these little odd things going on, the most significant change was in our attitudes. Mar and I argued more than ever in that house and even people who visited seemed to be in a bad mood as soon as they entered the house. My mother-in-law and the owner of the house were great friends before we moved in, but by the time we moved out, were practically at each other's throats. One of my wife's cousins visited once and told us later that as soon as she entered the house she suddenly felt drained of energy. 

Check out these dark clouds rolling in over that house 
(like in the Poltergeist movie, or any other stormy day in Panama, lol)  

Eventually, we moved out, and as soon as we did, everything started to go back to normal. Mar and I got along a lot better, my mother-in-law and the owner of the house went back to being friends, it all just smoothed out. About a year later, the owner of the house stopped by to visit. She was trying to sell that house. She came by to tell us how glad she was that we'd left when we did. Apparently, when she started fixing up the house to sell it, the workers removed the tile on the ceiling and you'll never believe what they found.

I get chills just thinking about it. Above our bedroom, where Mar and I slept every night, there was an altar, one of those evil Santeria altars right above our bed. When we lived in the house, I couldn't figure out why this one light switch in the hallway wouldn't work. I'd changed the bulb and everything and eventually just figured it was another electrical issue. Wrong. The light switch was working just fine. Only it was turning on the lights at the altar in the ceiling. So there I was turning on the altar and turning it off again, over and over. 

Well, that's the end of the crazy stories I have for now. I was all for buying used houses before, but I think in the future I'll stick with new construction. I don't know about you, but I'd rather have a long punch list of things to fix than an altar above my bed. Just sayin'. 

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, July 10, 2014

15 Free Phone Apps That Come In Handy In Panama

I don’t pretend to be a technology expert. In fact, quite often I’m the complete opposite. I was in no rush to go from the tired old flip phone to a Blackberry and was even slower getting to the Smart Phone. I was eventually bitten by that pesky little modern tech bug, and I’m ready to finally admit that not only am I a fan, I’m hooked on these apps. When so much of your life is a big question mark, anything that simplifies things a bit is greatly appreciated. 

Back in the days, people would come to Panama with hand drawn maps (seriously, I met an expat couple who’d done this) or venture out of Panama City only with an English-speaking guide. 

Now, through the invention of so many phone applications, things like dealing with the dreaded language barrier, finding a ride, communicating with people back home, and even finding out what’s playing in English at the closest movie theater are super easy. All that info and more is available with the push of a button. I want to show you 15 FREE phone apps that could make your life much easier here in Panama.

Keep reading for some helpful apps

Some people reading this will be very familiar with some of the apps mentioned in this article, while some will discover something new. Many people reading this may not be comfortable with new technology at all and find Smart Phones to be an alien universe. I’m here to tell you that you will be blown away by how easy it is to download and use these apps and you’ll be just as surprised by how necessary you’ll start to believe them to be. 

And getting data on your phone is not nearly as expensive as you’d think here in Panama. I paid over $100 per month back in Ohio, and that was only for some talk time…SOME talk time, plus my minute count ticked away with incoming calls too (that doesn’t happen here, only outgoing calls eat up your talk time). 

In Panama, you have many phone options, which should probably be discussed more in a different article, but you might pay as little as $10 per month for data. If you switch to WiFi whenever you’re in a hot spot, you can use all the data you want…for free. 

Alright, let’s get to these apps. I didn’t put Google Translate or Google Maps on the list because I think they’re kind of a given and are automatically included on a lot of Smart Phones. Both of those apps do work great.

In addition to the ones that’ll help you out here in Panama, I’ll also throw in a few extra apps that I just appreciate. So really I’ll be telling you about 20 or so different apps.

1. Whatsapp

I’ve mentioned Whatsapp several times on Panama For Real because it truly is a way of life here in Panama. Without Whatsapp, communication as we know it would be lost. Ok, maybe it’s not that drastic, but even with other social media apps available, Whatsapp is still the most widely used in Panama. 

What is Whatsapp? It’s an application you download for free (actually I think you pay a one-time $1 fee). Whatsapp then allows you to chat for free (as long as you have a data plan from your cell phone provider or are in a WiFi ready area) with people in your phone address book/contact list who’ve also downloaded the Whatsapp app.

I text message my mom and brother in San Diego, my other brother on the east coast of the U.S., and everyone here in Panama. It makes communicating with friends and loved ones easier than you ever thought imaginable. You can also record little voice messages and send them along, so if I don’t feel like typing, I can hold down the microphone button and send a message from my kids to Grandma Jackie in San Diego in seconds. It’s amazing.

2. Glide

For anyone wanting to take it a step further, Glide works in pretty much the same way Whatsapp does, by accessing people in your contact list who’ve also downloaded the Glide app. With Glide, it’s not just text messaging and voice messaging. Glide allows you to record video messages and send them to whoever’s on the receiving end.

Here's Glide at the Google Play download screen

Remember being a kid and seeing movies where people had video discussions? I remember seeing Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future 2 arguing with Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ character, Needles, through a wall-mounted TV screen. Isn’t it crazy to think that future has arrived? Well, kind of. I’m still waiting to be able to toss a tiny frozen pizza into a microwave and chow down on a gigantic pie only seconds later. 

Anyway, through apps like Glide (and Skype and a few others), video chatting is a great way to talk face to face with your kids back in Tampa or your grandkids in Dallas or your long-distance relationship in Honolulu.

3. Degusta Panama

Degusta Panama is a popular website that allows users to rate local restaurants on food, service, and ambiance. So, if you’re wanting Indian food tonight and you’re not sure where to go, check out Degusta and see where the nearest Indian restaurant is, and find out how others have rated it.

How does your favorite restaurant stack up against the others?

The only problem is the website is in Spanish, so if you don’t speak Spanish, you’ll just have to trust the 1-5 star system. If you want to check out the website, go to before trying out the app.

4. Conversion

One thing that takes some getting used to in Panama, as least for those moving from the U.S., is the switch over to the metric system. If moving from the U.S., you won’t have an issue with currency conversion since Panama uses the U.S. dollar interchangeably with the Panama balboa (anyone else might need to use the currency converter in the app), but you’ll need to get used to using the metric system and dealing in measurements you’re not so familiar with. 

You can still get by using pounds at the deli or butcher, at least for now, but most meats are listed in price per kilogram. Gasoline is sold by the liter, your car gauge will probably list kilometers per hour, and your AC unit will more than likely read back the temperature in Celsius.

This conversion calculator is quite useful

For these reasons, a good conversion app can really come in handy. I have the app called Conversion installed on my phone and it works great for me. If you simply type in the word Conversion in the Google Play store you should find the one I’m using. Plenty of other conversion apps are available though, so find the one that works best for you. 

With the one I’m using, you can choose whether you’d like to deal with length/distance, mass/weight, temperature, currency, volume, fuel consumption rate, area, speed, or torque. Then you punch in the measurement you’re familiar with and see what it equals out to in the measurement you’re trying to figure out. It’s super simple and convenient.

5. Word Lens

Before anyone writes in saying how important it is to learn Spanish if you plan to move to Panama, I agree with you. I’m familiar with many Spanish words and have never actually needed to use this application, but Word Lens might be very helpful to someone just arriving to Panama and trying to get by on their own. It’s very easy to use and was free at the time I downloaded it. I’m not sure if it will remain free, so check that out before you download it.

Word Lens is a nifty little tool

How it works is, you choose the language you’ll be translating from and to, so for me I need Spanish translated to English. Then, you open up the app, which uses your camera, and simply hold it up to a sign that’s in Spanish, like you see in the photo above. It takes a few seconds and you’ll see the words switch back and forth a little bit while it calibrates,  but then right there in the lens you’ll see the construction sign, or whatever you’re focused on, switch to English. It’s really amazing. You don’t take a picture or anything, you just hold it up and focus on the sign, and it suddenly changes to English. I think it’s pretty cool.

6. Duolingo

You can get by in some areas of Panama, especially here in Panama City, by only speaking English, but at some point, it will be a good idea for you to learn Spanish. I’m still learning the language. I’ve played around with Rosetta Stone and some of the other programs, but I like Duolingo because it’s more like a social media/game app that teaches you Spanish (or whatever language you’re wanting to learn). 

It’s free and sends you daily reminder emails to ensure you keep up with your lessons. It’s a lot of fun and from what I’ve seen so far, it does a good job of teaching the basics.

DuoLingo keeps Spanish simple

If you’re wanting to learn a different language and you’re always on the go, Duolingo is an excellent app to have on your phone. You could sit in the Immigration office and practice Spanish instead of playing Sudoku. If you’d rather use the program on your computer, you can go to

7. Cartelera Panama

I’m a movie buff and with 4 kids it seems I’m always checking online to find out what movies are playing, where they’re playing, when they’re playing, and whether they’re playing in English. Before downloading this app, I’d always search my phone's Internet for a theater by name, then go through the motions of getting to the list of movies and show times, only to find out the movie I wanted to see wasn’t playing in English or was only playing in 3D (I’m not a big fan of 3D movies—they give me headaches).

Find show times quickly with this app

With Cartelera Panama, I can search by movie title (to find out where it’s playing), or check out the different theaters and see the show times and language right there on the screen (SUB for English with Spanish subtitles or DOB for dubbed in Spanish). This isn’t the only movie theater app used in Panama, but it’s the one I have on my phone and it works fine for me.

8. TuChofer

This service may not be as low-cost as it would be to stick out your thumb and grab a passing taxi, but from what I’ve heard it’s a lot more reliable and probably a lot safer. I’ve never personally used TuChofer, but I’ve seen it mentioned in online forums and I do have it downloaded on my phone. 

It basically uses GPS to pinpoint your position, then lets you choose whether you’d like a sedan, an SUV, or whatever’s available to pick you up. Looking at my phone right now, from El Cangrejo, it’s telling me the cost is $1.50 at the start, plus $.80 per kilometer/$.25 per minute.

This is a great service and an awesome app because, you know if you’ve ever had to deal with taxis here, that prices vary by the driver (some are very honest, but most will try to gouge you) and some won’t even pick you up, depending on whether they’re already headed in the direction you’re going. Chances are, if you’re going out of their pre-determined flight plan, they’ll just shake their head and tell you, “No.” TuChofer helps make sure you get the ride you need by way of personal chauffeur.

9. Waze

I started using GPS years ago when I needed to learn my way around Chicago and I got so hooked on that device in my car that I’d use it everywhere I went, even to find the nearest Walmart or Long John Silvers. My only complaint with GPS was the fact that it showed me the most direct route to these places, but not always the safest—nothing like driving a family mini-van full of your kids through a very dangerous slum in Chicago.

When I moved to Panama, I was told by employees at several different stores in several different malls that my GPS system could be switched over to work in Panama. I didn’t do it because at that time, I didn’t trust that spending the $100 would be worth it. I didn’t believe a device could show me how to get around Panama. I mean this is a town where most driving directions consist of making turns at certain mini-supers, looking out for giant mango trees, and parking next to the giant rock. These are the types of references you might hear if asking where to go to pick up a date.

Five years later, through the Waze app, everyone in Panama is using GPS. I used mine for the first time recently, when trying to get to an extreme adventure park in Colon (if you haven’t seen the video, check it out HERE). I asked my brother-in-law for directions to the park and he said, “Dude, just trust Waze.” 

The problem was, I didn’t trust Waze. Reluctantly, I downloaded it and gave it a try (after getting lost first because I refused to try it in the first place). Within seconds of downloading the app, it zeroed in on my location and led me straight to the park. I’m a big fan now.

Road and traffic conditions are reported by Waze users

Waze can also tell you where there is major traffic or an accident you need to avoid, by allowing users to mark maps and warn other users. That’s pretty cool.

10. MagicApp by Magic Jack

I mention Magic Jack all the time in my budget breakdowns, because it’s a super affordable way to keep in contact with your friends and family members in the U.S. or in Canada or anywhere else in the world if the person is also hooked up to Magic Jack. 

Magic Jack lets you pick a U.S. or Canadian phone number, and through your Internet, you can set up a phone that will allow people to call you at that number. So, in essence, you could be living in Brazil with a Magic Jack set up with a Miami phone number and call a buddy living in China with the same set up.

Send and receive calls for free through MagicApp

So that was the old news about Magic Jack. Now, Magic Jack is offering a one-year free service for cell phones. So, even if you don’t own an actual Magic Jack device, you can download the app and pick a phone number to use with your cell. Or, if you do already own a device and want to keep the same number, you can do that too. I have the same number installed on a landline and on my cell phone. So, if my dad in Tulsa wants to call me, he dials that Miami number I chose, and it will ring here to my landline phone and my cell phone at the same time.

This is amazing news for expats because you can speak to friends and family members completely free right now (no more phone cards). After the first year, I think the price is going to go up to $7 or $8. 

Still, for a year of service, that’s awesome. The only thing you’ll need to keep in mind is the amount of data you’ve paid for on your cell phone plan. Data will be used like with any other app. If you’re hooked up to WiFi (I just bought a router for my house for less than $40), you don’t even have to worry about that as long as you’re in a WiFi hotspot.

11. iTranslate

As I mentioned earlier, Google Translate works very well here, but if you’re looking for an alternative, iTranslate seems to be one of the best translation apps out there. I found it listed on several “Best Apps" web articles. 

The voice translation feature on this app can be very useful

I have it downloaded on my phone and have played around with it a little bit. It allows you to type a message in English and have it translated to other languages. Or you can speak into your phone and have it translated to Spanish (or whatever language you need), so it will play back in Spanish. Like Google Translate, the translations might not always come out perfect, but it’s still a helpful app. You have to know that you won't get an accurate translation if you ask something like, "Where do ya keep the doohickeys?"

12. Easy Taxi

Like TuChofer, Easy Taxi zeroes in on your location using your phone’s GPS capabilities, and allows you to order a taxi to come pick you up. It also allows you to manually type in your pick up address. 

If you’re out on Calle 50 in the middle of the day, you might not need an app like this as cabs are constantly zipping down the street. However, if you live in a small neighborhood like where I live in the Chanis area, being able to easily order a cab to come pick you up is quite convenient.

Not only location can hinder your ability to find a cab. Time of day is also a factor. If it’s noon on a Friday, you’ll see plenty of taxis around, but if you leave for work at 4am, or need a safe ride home from a bar at 2am, Easy Taxi is a great tool to have.

13. MB Panama

During your first trip to Panama, you might be reluctant to get on a bus or on the new Metro train. Plus, both of these means of public transportation require riders to have a pay card before boarding, so you’ll need to set yourself up with one of those cards with pre-loaded funds before you can make use of these convenient systems.

However, once you’re here for a little while, you may find that using the new air-conditioned buses and riding the Metro train are both excellent and quite affordable ways of getting around. 

I purposely drop my car at the Pueblo Nuevo station and catch the train anytime I need to get to El Cangrejo for a meeting or to Hospital Nacional. I was in traffic just the other day on Via Transistmica and decided to ditch my car and get out of the thick bumper-to-bumper madness. Ten minutes later I was at my destination. How much did it cost? Thirty-five cents.

I tell you all this, because taking taxis all the time can be a costly, and time-consuming, way of maneuvering around your new city. Click HERE to read my article on using the new Metro train to find out more on the subject. 

Keep track of your transportation funds with this app

Download the MB Panama app if you want an easy way to keep track of the funds you have left on your card. With MB Panama, you just punch in the number on your card (or scan the barcode if you have a card with a barcode—mine doesn’t have one) and it’ll tell you how much money you have left on the card.

14. SaldoExpress Panama

This app didn’t work for me this morning, the first time I actually depended on it, but others find it very useful so it might’ve just been a fluke or downtime with the system. This is similar to MB Panama, but it tells you how much money you have available on your Corredor Norte and Corredor Sur cards (two of the major toll highways here).

Why is this convenient? Well, unless you have the PanaPass (which is a computerized system that automatically deducts funds from your account through a device placed on your car windshield, and allows you to go through an exclusive, quick pass line) you’ll have to choose from one of two lines at the corredor. 

You have to have a card to use the corredor (just like the bus and train system). If you need to reload funds (the minimum amount you can reload with is $5), you’ll have to go through the line that says recarga. This is the slowest lane as each driver in line is recharging their card, which means digging through their wallet for a bill and then waiting for change).

This will tell you the balance on both of your corredor cards

If you’re confident you have funds on your card, you can go through one of the faster lines where you just swipe your card and go on through. You don’t want to make the mistake of going through that line without funds on your card as you’ll tick off every driver behind you and will probably get a ticket from the traffic cops on duty. 

I don’t use the corredor very often so when I do, I usually can’t remember if I have money on my card. This app, if it works next time, will allow me to check ahead of time.

15. Visit Panama Official Guide

This app, run by the tourism board of Panama, is a great way to get basic info about Panama, right at your fingertips. Rather than search your phone’s Internet to find out what the weather is usually like on the Azuero Peninsula, or to get the names of all the provinces here, just download this app and easily get info like that whenever you need it.

This is a great website/app to get you started in Panama

This app also has some neat videos about Panama. If you want to check the website before downloading the app to your phone, just go to

16. Taximetro Panama

Ok, so I lied a little. I guess I have 16 Panama related apps. This one is great, but I'm a little weary about using it.

Basically, Taximetro Panama lets you choose your location and your destination, then you choose how many passengers will be in the cab, and whether or not you’re calling for a taxi (can be a little more expensive) or not (which means you’ll be flagging one down on the street). 
Then it calculates how much you should pay for your ride.

The reason I’m not 100% comfortable with this app is the costs quoted for rides seem way too low to me. In a lot of places in Panama, Panamanians can get from point A to point B for less than $3. However, getting from where I live in Chanis to Albrook Mall would cost quite a bit. I know I had to argue with several drivers at Albrook one time, drivers who wanted to charge me $15-$20 for the ride. I think I finally talked them down to $10. 

According to this app, I should’ve only paid $2.80. That seems very low to me, but if you look at the following link, which lists the price charts for taxis here,, it seems the $2.80 is accurate, which means I got ripped off, lol.

Getting a driver to take you to 24 de Diciembre would be
very difficult...unless he's already headed in that direction

Still, even with the chart and this app, I think getting a driver to take you from Albrook to Chanis for $2.80 would be nearly impossible, until the authorities start doing undercover cab busts and enforcing those charts they post.

Quick Tip: If you’re ever at a mall, don’t catch a cab at one of the mall doors. Leave the mall, walk out to a regular street, and take a taxi from there. Drivers at Multiplaza tried to charge me $15 to go a short distance. I walked out to Cincuentenario, one of the main streets in the area, and ended up paying $3.

I’ll stop numbering these now as from this point on I’ll just tell you about apps that I think are useful no matter where you’re living.

Amazon Kindle

You may already have an e-book reader on your phone, but since Amazon’s platform seems to be one of the most widely used, I think it’s pretty cool that there’s a Kindle app for Android (and probably for iPhone too). When I first moved to Panama, I wanted nothing to do with an e-reader device. I loved having an actual book in hand. I still do. But the harsh reality is, it’s not easy finding affordable reading material in English here.

Yes, there are stores that sell books in English and many that sell English-language magazines. However, your selection will be very limited and the cost will be higher than you’re probably wanting to pay. A paperback that might cost $8 on the Costco shelf in the U.S. would probably go for $15 here. 

Having a Kindle or Nook or any other e-book reading device means you can shop and immediately read books in an instant. I love sitting on the beach with an actual book in my hand, but Kindle is so convenient that I’m much more likely to download a book and grab my Kindle on the fly. I had mine with me at the Immigration office this morning.
You can even buy my novel for your Kindle app

With the Kindle App, you can read books right on your phone (and if you haven’t already, you can download my novel for Kindle for only $.99 by clicking HERE). Sorry, I have to shamelessly promote my book from time to time, and since I’m almost ready to publish Book 2, it’s about time to start pushing my books again.


When visiting Panama, or for just living out your daily life, lists can be very handy. I found this app at some technology website a long time ago, and have started to rely on it a lot. Wunderlist is awesome because, unlike the regular phone notepad, it allows you to create lists, put items on your list, and then check them off as you complete them.

I use it for lists of movies I want to see, grocery shopping lists, and daily to-do lists. Keeping up with Panama For Real, especially the pesky site maintenance stuff, is a full-time job, and it’s easy to forget things, so Wunderlist helps a lot. As I complete tasks, I click on them and they move down to a completed tasks area. Then, if I decide that I didn’t quite complete it like I thought, I can tap it again and it’ll move back up into my list. I even used it for Christmas shopping.

Create easy "to-do" lists with this app

Marlene tried it and immediately tossed it to the side because she didn’t like how it makes you sign in using your Facebook or Google account. That kind of thing doesn’t bother me though. It’s kind of the way things are now. Even Pinterest and Amazon and Goodreads ask if you want to log in with your Facebook account.

So, if you have a Panama shopping list or maybe you’re traveling from Panama back to Canada to visit family and you want to put together a list of things to pick up while you’re there (and trust me, live here long enough and you’ll have a list of things you want to bring back with you, like sugar-free Twizzlers. Sorry, that’s on my list, probably not on yours), this app can be helpful.


Have you ever been browsing through Facebook or any other site and saw an article you’d really like to read, but you just didn’t have the time at that moment? This happened to be recently. I saw a Facebook post about a housing development opening up, and I was interested in finding out more, but I was on the go and knew that by the time I got back to Facebook, that article would be buried below everyone else’s posts.

When I got home, I searched and searched and finally figured out who’d posted it in the first place and was able to locate it again. Then, once I clicked on the link and went to the developer’s website, I bookmarked it, which is probably what many of you would do with a web page you like.

Then, I found out about this app called Pocket, which I think is much more convenient. If you ever click on a link and like a page and want to save it, you simply choose to share it on your phone (like when it asks if you want to share it on Facebook or Pinterest or Whatsapp…whatever) and instead of choosing one of those other apps, choose Pocket. It will then save it to a pocket, just like putting money in your pocket for later.

Saved to the pocket

According to the app, the info will remain in your pocket even if the original website closes down or takes the page off or something like that. I just saved a web page about life hacks that I thought were really cool, so I can go back to it later. In Pocket, you can tag each saved site. So if you want to look later through job related articles or funny articles, you just choose the tag with the articles you want to see.

Relax Melodies

Sometimes, especially in a place like Panama City, where the constant honking of horns and construction noise are a norm, you just need a little bit of R and R. I love this app and I know there are tons of others like it, but this one is good enough for me.

With Relaxing Melodies you can choose from a list of soothing sounds and just kick back and relax. You can either listen to one sound or mix them up and create a symphony of peaceful tunes. I just counted 44 sounds in this app, which includes things like thunderstorm, grandfather clock, monk chant, cat purring, seaside, rain on the roof, humming, campfire, melody, zen, and the list goes on and on.

Tap on rain, flute, and thunder for a stormy Native American sound

I’ve used this app to help get the kids to chill out. I can’t use it when I’m writing or I’ll end up with my forehead hitting the keyboard. Not good.

Zombie Tsunami

Lastly, sometimes you just need to go a little crazy, like this morning while dealing with the Panama Immigration office, and you’d like nothing more than to turn into a cartoon rage zombie and eat everything in sight.

You can even link this game with your Facebook friends and eat them

I don’t play a lot of games. I’m kind of a workaholic, so when I’m not writing something, I’m planning on writing something, or thinking of how I can plan to write something. I saw my daughter playing this game one day and a few minutes later I’d snatched the phone from her hand and had my little green zombies with afro wigs chomping down pedestrians.

I have to warn you though, this game is addictive. Don’t take my word for it. Give it a try. 

That's it for my list of Panama-friendly apps. I hope you find it helpful. Don't forget to check out

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