19. Living Without Electricity in Panama | OPERATIONEXPAT.COM

The saga has come to an end. After more than ONE YEAR living without electricity in Panama, Ken and I are no longer living in the dark!!!

Just three days before our princess daughter arrived for a visit, the power company flipped the switch.

Just in time. Seriously. I had reached the frayed tips at end of my rope.

Just imagine…I mean, REALLY imagine:

  • Cooking (about 250) dinners in the dark with only a single appliance (a propane range/oven).
  • NO hot showers. (Even when it’s pouring rain and a bit chilly, by Panama standards, of course).
  • AC and fans only when desperate (and then to the sound of a generator)
  • NO TV. (Ken, an avowed non-reader, claims he has read more books in this past year than in his entire life 😂)
  • NO internet (until Starlink arrived and saved my a$$).
  • Navigating through a house lit only by solar string lights meant to provide ambient light on patios.
  • A Jackery, a 1300 watt power bank, and an 8000 watt generator are your lifelines.
  • Chitras (AKA no see ums) commence biting at 4:30 pm and don’t let up until you scramble to bed and cover yourself with a bedsheet (even when you’re sweltering).
  • Mold sprouting on every organic surface because it’s constantly being watered by the humidity that AC gets rid of.
  • Pumping every drop of water you use, which entails loading aforementioned 8000 watt generator into the back of a pickup truck and pumping not once, but twice, in order to get the water high enough to let gravity work its magic. (Our four-member Neighborhood Water Team was another lifeline.)

Not a big deal for a few weeks…or even months. But, a YEAR??? Now that it’s over I can see just how insane it was.

Why did we live without electricity for a year, you ask?

When I bought my vacant lot back in 2017, my purchase contract stated very clearly that it included electricity. It was verbally communicated by the seller that they expected the hookup to happen some time in 2019.

Being from the U.S., I never doubted my contract.

Being an over truster who wasn’t moving to Panama until early 2021, it didn’t occur to me to insist up on a deadline in the contract.

By mid-2021, we commenced construction on our house because there was no way we wouldn’t have power until mid-2022.

ha…Ha…HA. I cringe at our outrageous naivetĂ©.

If blame generated electricity, we’d have had enough power to run our entire home from 2021 until just before the switch was flipped.

The power company blamed the developer. The developer blamed his electrical engineer and the power company. The electrical engineer swore he did everything and didn’t understand what the problem was.

After a year of BS—the most absurd of which was a request by the power company to rotate every single power pole that were installed three years earlier by 15 degrees and TWO requests to recount the number of poles that had been being inspected for three years—my theory is that every single person involved had some level of culpability in the outrageous delay.

And, we paid the price.

Three life-changing lessons sprouted from the pile of BS:

First and foremost…I will NEVER again buy property outside of the U.S. that isn’t already connected to power (either solar or regular).

Second…I will NEVER begin construction on a house outside of the U.S. until power is connected to the property (actually I won’t ever build a house again…two is enough in a lifetime!).

Third and lastmost…I will ALWAYS insist on a deadline for any key promise in a purchase contract. Although I doubt the developer would have agreed to it, I should have requested a clause that requested he pay for solar if power wasn’t connected within three years. (If he didn’t, that would have been key information for Ken and I to consider!)

Why not solar???

We’ve been asked many a time…rather than living without electricity for a year, why didn’t you just get solar?

Four reasons:

  1. $35,000 (for a Chinese system)
  2. A depleted savings account (as a result of increased construction costs)
  3. Design challenges (our house wasn’t designed with solar in mind and we would risk or lose some things we had come to love…like a huge pineapple patch or a roof that didn’t leak)
  4. People who had the system we were looking at told us that just when you start paying off your investment, you have to replace the batteries (at a cost of about $10,000)
  5. We were SO darn close to getting power that it just seemed better to tough it out

Although solar definitely would have made our lives SO much easier for a solid year, today I’m THRILLED to have that $35,000 in my retirement account. With hindsight, I would exactly the same decision we did regarding solar.

How did we manage living without electricity in Panama for one year?

We couldn’t have managed living without electricity in Panama without a few key items…

  • A propane fridge—it was pricey and imperfect, but it totally worked. Propane is subsidized here, so it cost less than $10/month to run.
  • A propane range and oven—easy to find here and enables you to cook a surprisingly wide range of meals.
  • A good generator—our 8000 watter enabled us to do laundry, run up to a couple of air conditioners, and charge all of our devices. We would also use our smaller one to help save on gas.
  • A 1300 watt power bank—arguably my most brilliant purchase. This enabled us to run a small fan on the hottest of nights and a Starlink router for a good part of the work day…in blissful silence.
  • Solar powered string lights—so we could navigate around furniture and through our closets and see just enough to get dinner on the table.
  • Rechargeable headlamps
  • Starlink—Until Starlink was available, I had to rent a small casita up the road so I could work. It has been AMAZING…reliable, fast, and able to run off our power bank for many hours.

For the first several months, our powerless experience was a sorta fun glamping adventure. After about 5-6 months, the allure wore off. Around 9 months, the chitras broke my spirit.

Now what???

First, RECOVERY. I feel like I’ve lived through an incredibly difficult pregnancy and birth and I need some serious downtime.

Ken and I are savoring our ceiling fans, air conditioners, and lights and soaking up all of the rewards of our labors here at Vista Cañas—reading, walking on the beach, fishing, body boarding and surfing, and enjoying the best dog on the planet (AKA Buster “Boo” Brown).

19. Living Without Electricity in Panama | OPERATIONEXPAT.COM

While we’ve been savoring, Ken and I have made some decisions about Vista Cañas…

  • We changed our minds again! We WILL be renting out the casita—renamed “Casita Alma” (“Little Soul House” in English)—for a minimum of one week. Instead of putting it out to the masses on Airbnb, it will remain a hidden treasure and those who need it and are in a place of soaking up the incredible gifts it offers will find it, I’m certain.
  • We WILL NOT be renting out the guest room in our house. While we’re excited to share the casita, we’ve come to value our privacy inside the main house.
  • I’ll be updating my vision for Vista Cañas soon to reflect the above bullet points.

Make sure you follow me on Instagram or Facebook to stay tuned!

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