A Christmas Story in Panama… Back in Lockdown!


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A Christmas Story in Panama… Back in Lockdown!

Once upon a time, a pretty awesome family was living in Boquete, Panama. They were getting ready to start their second Christmas story in this beautiful country.

And then the Ministry of Health announced another scheduled lockdown over the next two holiday weeks.

That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. That pretty awesome family struggled with the mandate, let it spoil their holiday spirit, and became total Grinches for the rest of the year.

The End. Oh, and bah humbug!

Wow, that would be one ugly Christmas story, wouldn’t it?

The good news is that you guys know me pretty well and I’m sure you could already guess that’s not how this Christmas story is going to end.

Let’s talk about what’s really going on here and how it’s affecting our plans.

The new lockdown mandate

In my humble opinion, Panama has been doing what I think has been a good job in keeping a handle on the COVID-19 virus. Of course, the total quarantine the country had in place for several months starting in the spring of 2020 was rough, to say the least.

It was a crushing blow to the economy and a lot of the locals here have really struggled, but it also has kept the pandemic from being as crushing as it could have been here.

Over the past few months though, things have opened up and there’s been what is arguably a fair and happy medium in place. In a nutshell, masks need to be worn anytime you’re out in public, no get-togethers of more than 10 people, and there’s been a daily curfew in place from 11 pm to 5 am.

This seemed to be helping in keeping the virus spread from blowing up. The country had been running at less than 1,000 daily cases for the most part until mid to late November. But things have changed a little.

Here’s the deal – as a whole, family and national pride are very important to Panamanians… and so are get-togethers and parties. So even though Panama’s done a good job keeping the virus somewhat in check, there was bound to be a resurgence at some point. And November was the big kick-off for that increase.

Several Panamanian holidays take place in November here including a couple of independence days. Between that month’s holidays and Panama’s Mother’s Day, which is a very big deal every December 8, active cases of COVID-19 picked up significantly here. Just last week, we started looking at daily cases in the country of over 3,000.

Don’t get me wrong – much of that can be attributed to the country doing a lot more testing. Additionally, there are other factors the country takes into consideration…. but that ain’t up to me.

On December 15, 2020, the higher-ups implemented the following:

  • From December 18 through January 4, a nationwide curfew and dry law are in effect from 7 pm until 5 am. Restaurants can deliver until 10 pm, but they can’t sell alcoholic beverages after 7 pm.
  • From December 23 through January 4, beaches, riverbanks, pubic baths, and swimming pools are closed. Roadblock quarantines are also set up in places across different communities. One of the big concerns is that people traveling between provinces are increasing the spread between communities with high rates of infection to ones with low rates.
  • A total lockdown from 7 pm on Friday, December 25 until 5 am on Monday, December 28.
  • A total lockdown from 7 pm on Friday, January 1 until 5 am on Monday, January 4.
  • Airports, ports, and borders remain open during all of this.

Honestly, I kind of expected something like this to be put in place… and really, that’s not too bad. Nobody is thrilled with being mandated to stay home, but it’s only for a few days during Christmas weekend and New Year’s weekend. These are very big holidays in the country and get-togethers would be strong regardless of the pandemic.

Lisa and I did talk about how it was a little strange that the lockdown didn’t include Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve. It seems those would be the biggest problem nights.

Yeah, well, someone must have heard us talking. On December 18, just three days after the first announcement, the Ministry of Health in Panama announced a much stronger directive. Essentially, there will be total quarantine for the holiday weekends (Thurs. through Sun.). And on Mon. through Wed. during the week before Christmas and New Year’s, we’re alternating on gender as to who is allowed into any commercial establishment (stores, pharmacies, etc.).

And of course, the 7 pm – 5 am curfew they’ve implemented stays in effect regardless. Here’s a table to make it easier to understand…

DateTimeNotes
Mon, 12/21/20205 am to 7 pmOnly Women Permitted into Commercial Establishments
Tue, 12/22/20205 am to 7 pmOnly Men Permitted into Commercial Establishments
Wed, 12/23/20205 am to 7 pmOnly Women Permitted into Commercial Establishments
Thu, 12/24/20205 am to 7 pmOnly Men Permitted into Commercial Establishments
Fri, 12/25/2020All dayTotal Lockdown
Sat, 12/26/2020All dayTotal Lockdown
Sun, 12/27/2020All dayTotal Lockdown
Mon, 12/28/20205 am to 7 pmOnly Women Permitted into Commercial Establishments
Tue, 12/29/20205 am to 7 pmOnly Men Permitted into Commercial Establishments
Wed, 12/30/20205 am to 7 pmOnly Women Permitted into Commercial Establishments
Thu, 12/31/20205 am to 7 pmOnly Men Permitted into Commercial Establishments
Fri, 01/01/2020All dayTotal Lockdown
Sat, 01/02/2020All dayTotal Lockdown
Sun, 01/03/2020All dayTotal Lockdown

And here’s what the Ministry of Health presented (they LOVE pretty graphics!)

MINSA - Holiday Lockdown Restrictions for Panama

To put it simply, we’re not going to be allowed to do much of anything over these two holiday weeks.

Our Christmas story

And that’s where this family’s Christmas story took a turning point. Up until now, we’ve been having some fun getting into the holiday spirit.

First off, that crazy elf showed up again at the beginning of the month. Affectionately named “Elf the G” when Faith was only two, he continues to bring all sorts of fun every year…

We’ve had the Christmas tree up since Thanksgiving along with the stockings hung. And then there are decorations hung up on the walls throughout our place…

Last week, Lisa and Faith did some volunteer work with the Association of Community Charity of Boquete (ACCB) and the Boquete Community Pulse (BCP). This event was to put together Christmas bags for Boquete’s needy children… cookies, candy, pencils, and toys.

A Christmas Story in Panama… Back in Lockdown! - Faith helping tie up gift bags

And then, we made the obligatory trek around town to check out all the Christmas lights. The city had a contest for businesses on this front and a lot of them jumped on board. It was really fun to check out. The best part is that even though it was a little chilly and drizzling at the time, the weather was still much better than the 30-40 degree temps we’re used to in Ohio!

In the meantime, we’ve done all our Christmas shopping. Luckily for us, our awesome next-door neighbor let us “borrow” her condo for a little bit while she’s back in the U.S. That gave us a convenient place to wrap and store the presents until Christmas.

So at this point in the Christmas story, we have to make a decision. We can:

  • Be like a small percentage of expats and spend our time on the Facebook expat groups complaining about the restrictions.
  • Make the most of the cards we’ve been dealt and have fun celebrating the holidays ourselves in our condo.

I’ll let you guess which way we’re going to roll!

Our plans for the holidays

I doubt we’ll be spending much time walking around town over this two-week holiday period. We’ve done all our Christmas shopping and have enough groceries to tide us over so why mess with things?

We’re fortunate to be living in the community of Valle Escondido right now. Although there are pluses and minuses to living in a gated community like this, there’s a really big plus right now – we continue to have access to everything during these couple of weeks.

We can still walk around the whole community (it’s a huge development) and Valle Escondido is also continuing to operate the resort amenities. So we can still get outside and walk around, I’ll be able to continue working out in the gym, we can swim in the heated indoor pool, and maybe we’ll even play some racquetball. In case you’re wondering, the pool is allowed to remain open because it’s on private property, which is awesome!

We’re also on a mission to watch a ton of Christmas movies before Christmas. Out of about 40 we had lined up, we’ve watched about 32 so far since Thanksgiving. It’s a tough mission, but someone’s gotta do it!

On Christmas Eve, we’re changing things up. Faith has requested tacos for dinner… kind of a strange request, but why not? There’s no rule that says you have to have any of the usual fixings that day. So it appears we’ll be having a Mexican-style dinner that evening.

More importantly, how cool are these taco holder stands? I stumbled on these on Amazon a while back. It would be too costly to ship them here, but I’ll be ordering them on my next trip to the U.S. for sure!

Hopefully, Santa makes his way here for Christmas Day and I’m sure that we’ll have a jam-packed morning of fun here. Opening presents and chatting with our families should keep us pretty busy. Faith can’t stop talking about how close it is till Christmas.

For New Year’s Eve, we’re planning to order food from Big Daddy’s Grill. Last year, we had blast partying it up there for the evening. Since we can’t do that again this year, we’ll have our own little party here. I’m sure there will be games, movies, and fun. I’m also pretty sure Lisa and I will have a few beers as well. Then we have a bottle of sparkling grape juice to make our toast with at the end of the night… and my guess is that it’ll be long before midnight!

I’d also venture to bet that there will be a bunch of fireworks around from dusk on. Even though the lockdown will be in place, there’s been no directive about disallowing them… and Panamanians love their fireworks! In fact, we’ll probably see and hear a bunch of those on Christmas Eve as well.

And that’s it. We’ll make the best of things like we always do. No one’s thrilled to be quarantined, but this is a short stint to deal with so I’m not too worried about it.

This is the time of year to count your blessings, whatever they might be. And this story will end happily ever after.


Now, that’s how we conclude a Christmas story in the Route to Retire family! Merry Christmas and happy holidays to you and your loved ones!

Plan well, take action, and live your best life!

Thanks for reading!!

— Jim

16 thoughts on “A Christmas Story in Panama… Back in Lockdown!”

  1. Making the best of a bad situation is really all we have done and must continue to do. US holidays are also coinciding with virus spikes. There’s a lot of hype about 2020 ending, as if the 12/31 date will magically alter our course. I anticipate little will differ for most of 2021 in terms of the virus. There’s no time machine back to 2019; instead, we’ll slooowly evolve into ‘new normals.’ What’s Panama’s plan for vaccinations?

    1. That is true – people just wrote off the year as if everything changes as soon as 2021 hits. I have a feeling 2021’s going to present at least a bad first half of the year.

      Panama has been buying millions of doses of the different vaccines available as well. I just read though that they don’t have the cold storage facilities needed to hold the vaccines and are scrambling to make that happen. The info said that they had a number of bids out there but the proposal gave them 80 days to deliver. So once they decide on who to go with, we still have almost another 3 months before they can start bringing in the vaccine… ugh.

  2. I’d like to walk around your neighbourhood! Honestly I wish my province would just do a two week hard lockdown to reset things to more doable. I am getting quite jealous of my sibling in Australia where they haven’t had a positive test in a month. Santa told me he’s bringing taco holder’s for our stockings this year. Metal ones are good, you can pop them in the oven to melt the cheese!

    Enjoy the rest of the holidays and all those movies. Maybe you can spend Boxing Day filming a mini one for us?

    1. It’s such a tough balance that the world’s had to deal with. Those that are too strict with lockdowns (like Panama was earlier this year) can crush the economy and literally cause people to go hungry. On the other hand, the countries that really didn’t do enough to try to stop it (I’m talking to you, U.S.!) are really struggling. I’m happy with how Panama’s handling it now, but that could change on a dime as well.

      Enjoy the taco holders, Caro – I can’t wait to order mine!

      We did our episode of House Hunters International this past year – that should be enough to keep people from wanting more footage of us out there! 😉

      Merry Christmas!

  3. Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Supposed to get snow Christmas Eve in Ohio, anywhere from 6-10 inches which sucks. Planned on visiting with my parents and sister but might not be able to get there. Regardless, I got my present. Just wanted my dad home for Christmas. He went into the hospital before Thanksgiving for COVID but we got him out last Friday. No idea how he got it as he was paranoid about it and hadn’t been “out” since late October to get gas. On paper there is no way he should have made it. This virus just does different things to different people.

    1. That sounds like the best present you could get Scott! It’s crazy how this virus can be passed even when trying to be so careful. Glad to hear that he’s out of the hospital though – that’s fantastic!

      Merry Christmas!

  4. Merry Christmas to you all from Scotland!

    It’s been great reading about all your adventures this year and following ‘Fun with Faith’! Thanks for sharing these.

    I hope that Santa is good to you and best wishes for 2021

  5. Who knew that elf was such a degenerate gambler!? All about making the most out of the situation as it currently stands, which hopefully leads to more gratitude and appreciation in our society (especially back here in the States). Cheers to 2021 and beyond!

  6. Merry Christmas! Lockdown isn’t much fun, but at least it isn’t as strict as in the spring.
    Hopefully, we’ll get back to somewhat normal very soon. I guess summer.

  7. Gosh… A Christmas lockdown with complete access to resort amenities? That’s a rough hand to be dealt!

    Hehe, just kidding! Although I do admit the Panamanian lockdown is a bit more strict than what we’re experiencing in the U.S., it seems like you guys still have plenty of stuff to do. Heck, even with exercise facilities (not to mention all that nice weather!) That’s not so bad!

    It could be much much worse! I might be sick of looking at the same four walls, but I’m thankful that my family is healthy this year. There (hopefully) will be parties and get-togethers in future years.

    Happy Holidays!

    1. Haha, it’s a tough life, but we’re surviving! 😉

      Nailed it on having a healthy family. Right now, that’s really all that matters. Yes, 2020 was not a normal year like most years, but sometimes life throws curveballs and you just deal with it. It’s all about making the most of things and counting your blessings.

      Have a great New Year’s, Mr. Tako!

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