What to pack?


Soon we’ll be off on yet another trip to Panama, this one longer than the last, to discern whether or not Boquete is right for us as a retirement spot. We’ve been diligent with Duolingo to learn as much Spanish as we can, wracked our brains thinking of what to do prior to departure and made all necessary accommodations (we hope) for a long stay.
The abiding question seems to be, what to pack? It sounds easy, just take what we need for several weeks, and hope it’s enough. But here’s the thing, we’ve come to understand that there’s a real cultural and presentational aspect to this. Do we travel as typical gringos, a couple of American tourists descending on the locals to mix with them? Or do we attempt to fit in, dress down, try for as low a profile as possible? This is not an easy dilemma. Let me explain
For one thing, regardless of what the word has come to mean to us here in Ohio, or Kansas, or California, we’re not the only ‘Americans’ around. They may or may not refer to themselves as such, but Panamanians are Americans, too. If we want to get technical, a person living in Tierra del Fuego, at the tip of South America, is ‘an American.’ So it’s up to us as visitors in Panama to be aware of such distinctions.
Here’s another aspect of it: by presentational, I mean the way we appear to local folks as we move among them on the streets of Boquete, rub shoulders with them in the Mercado or Farmacia, sit side by side with them at un restaurante, comiendo nos sopas, y bebendo nos cafe y leche. Sure, they’ll realize we’re not Panamanians, we know that. But how much do we try to fit in, and try to blend with them as if we hope to become their neighbors? All these questions have a focus on what to stash in the suitcase. Do the Panamanian people wear the casual, almost shabby shirts and pants we do? Do they think nothing of heading into town wearing T-shirts & sandals? Or does such casual dress offend them in some way? Do we take the camera long every time, snapping away at whatever novelty item or bright shiny object we see, or do we just act like inhabitants? These are not idle questions. The answers may, to some extent, determine how we’re accepted if we decide to become expats in Panama.
So back to the suitcase. Do we really need the dress shoes? They take up a lot of room, and we may not need them. The full range of toiletries & makeup etc? Or do we make a point of purchasing needed items there? What about the snorkel gear? Take ours, or rent it there? One other side of this is the weight factor. Ordinarily we make every effort to carry on baggage, stuffing as much as we possible, avoiding a checked bag. That won’t work this time, and American Airlines wants their fifty bucks (each way) for that item. Baggage handlers need to eat, too, I suppose.
We’ll figure it out, and any suggestions from our readers are, of course, encouraged and welcomed. One other side of this comes to mind. While we’re scratching our heads filling the suitcase, taking things out, putting them back, asking if things are  needed, or not, or perhaps..? One question is coming into focus: It’s not likely we’re going to be snowbirds. If we decide to move to Panama, it’s likely going to be a permanent relocation. That will simplify packing, and a lot else.