view of the panama canal from the causeway

Life at My Homestay in Panama

I recently spent two weeks in Panama studying Spanish at Casco Antiguo Spanish School.  While I could have stayed at a tourist hotel in Casco Viejo, I decided to experience a complete immersion in Panama.  As such, I stayed at Jamraka Homestay, an option among many included on the school’s website for places to stay.

The Jamraka Homestay, located in between Casco Viejo and the causeway which was great for sunset walks from the yacht club to the Biomuseo, is operated by Cachy and her son Ciro, and is a short $3 Uber ride away from the school.  Having said that, it is best to avoid the evening rush hour from 4pm to 7pm.

sunset on the causeway, my evening walk from my homestay in Panama

Upon my arrival the Sunday before my two weeks of classes, Cachy and Taylor, another Spanish student, greeted me at the home.  Fortunately, Taylor spoke English, and eased the transition into my immersion, since Cachy did not. While Cachy’s son Ciro is fluent in English, he was away attending to his restaurant Veri Veri in Veracruz.

Homestay in Panama

The House

Cachy had a nice room for me upstairs, where both she and Ciro live, but I wanted air-conditioning.  Aside from hers, only one other room in the house had air conditioning.  It was downstairs next to a quad of rooms which I later learned was home three young men and a professor.  My basic room was large, clean, private with locks, and cool when I flipped on the air conditioning.  That is all I needed for a goodnight’s sleep.

bedroom at my homestay in Panama

The two-story house is similar to a duplex, as it has two kitchens, one upstairs and one downstairs, as well as two living areas.  The upstairs also features a dining room and an enclosed porch with a hammock, a nice place to take advantage of the evening breeze.

living and dining rooms at my homestay in Panama

Cachy takes nice care of the upstairs which is the best place to stay if air conditioning is not a determining factor.  In fact, many nights I spent my evenings practicing my Spanish upstairs with her rather than with the boys below.  The boys below were friendly fellows, but they were boys. 

porch at my homestay in Panama
porch where I practiced Spanish with Cachy

Downstairs

Despite all the rules of the downstairs kitchen, it was rarely tidy. On the contrary, aside from a daily dead roach that likely seeked refuge from one of at least ten cats next door, the two bathrooms were pretty bad.  Perhaps everyone keeping their towels, shampoo, toothbrushes and toothpaste, as well as their own roll of toilet paper in their rooms, helped.  That being said, my bathroom stints were rather brief as there wasn’t any hot water. 

As a result of no hot water, I was reminded of a recent walk across the volcanic ash plain in Tanna, where we were so hot that we joked no one would be fighting for the non-existent hot shower at the primitive village in which we stayed.  With Panama’s hot and humid climate, I applied the same principle.  I’d go for a long walk or short run and come back for a desperately needed cool shower!

When I reserved my homestay for only $26 per night, I didn’t think about the creature comforts like hot water and internet service being unavailable and spotty, respectively. The boys, however, were quite accustomed to such way of life.  These realizations only reinforced to me how spoiled we are as Americans. 

The Family

After my first few days of adjustment, all went smoothly.  Cachy took me to school every day for the first week.  Her nephew Ray took me to the grocery store when I first arrived.  Ciro gave me tips on where to go and what to do.  They were all very accommodating to any of my needs, and by the end of my stay of only two weeks, I got to know them pretty well.

Ray

Ray lived across the street from is aunt and cousin and is hopeful to become a ship captain.  He has completed his schooling and just needs hours, so he has been applying to work on cruise ships.

Ciro

Ciro retired from the advertising business which he worked in for ten years both in Argentina and Panama.  His new restaurant, with which he has had great success, has been open two years.  I took an Uber to Vera Cruz to try it out, and I can see why it is so popular.  The camarones al ajillo were superb!

shrimp, patacones, and slaw

When he is not managing his restaurant from Thursday to Sunday, he works as a guide in lesser known areas of the Panama jungle.  I’ll be keeping that in mind for the future!

Cachy

As I mentioned above, I practiced my Spanish with Cachy a few nights a week.  Though our conversations were choppy, I learned a lot about her.  She is 65, and despite her health challenges which included but were not limited to eye, dental, and hearing needs while I was there, she is very active.

She loves to paint and sew and is very proficient on her cell phone.  We took a selfie which she imported into an app to make up her face!  She attends church several times a week and has traveled extensively around Europe.  When she doesn’t go to the gym, she dances to Zumba on YouTube at home.

Cachy started her Jamraka Homestay ten years ago as a hostel.  She didn’t like that the guests would call her all hours of the night when they were lost, so she began renting the rooms to students instead.  As a result, she works with the International Maritime University of Panama, and the Casco Antiguo Spanish School.

The Students

The International Maritime University of Panama is the only non-military school that trains merchant marines in Latin America.  Therefore, it attracts civilians from all over the world.  Due to the school’s close proximity to Cachy’s house, some of its students and even a professor rent rooms for long-term stays.  Currently, two students, a professor and a young professional live in the downstairs.

Alexander

Alexander, the young professional, is a friend of the family.  He works in IT in the City of Isabel and has lived at Cachy’s for three years.  With similar schedules, we generally crossed paths in the kitchen. He was very considerate of our shared space and answered anything I asked him, though he may be the king of one-word answers.

Como fue tu día? Bien

Trabajas en Lunes a Viernes? Sí

Que vas hacer este fin de semana? Nada

And the list goes on!  It was actually humorous!  In fairness, I was likely a temporary interference in his routine, as well as with the other boys who offered friendly hellos though not much more. 

Adrian and Brian

Adrian, who spoke some English, sometimes tried his English out on me while I tried out my Spanish on him.  He is an Ecuadorian in his first year at the school and is studying to be a merchant marine.  His friend Brian, from Venezuela, has been at the house for 3.5 years.  Once he finishes his classes to become a naval engineer, he has to complete a six-month internship to graduate.

Santiago

Finally, the professor, Santiago, is Italian, and was definitely the loudest of the bunch.  He bellowed greetings as he was coming and going, and he loved to cook.  If only he’d clean up after himself according to the kitchen rules!

I never expected to meet so many international people, but Panama certainly has favorable expat laws making it a melting pot of nationalities.  I definitely had a very authentic experience at my homestay, and I am happy to have met Cachy and Ciro.  They were very welcoming and kind to me, for which I’m grateful. 

I would have liked to stay in the well kept upstairs with them, but as a middle-aged woman with some health challenges, I really needed air-conditioning to sleep.  Regardless, according to Cachy, I leave Panama speaking better Spanish than when I came, so my visit was a success.  I hope to keep it going!  ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned travel photographer and blogger.

4 thoughts on “Life at My Homestay in Panama

  1. Love that you are good at stepping outside of your comfort zone! I’m pretty sure I’d have a tough time doing a homestay. So cool Beth!

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