The rainy season is upon us.
Here in Panama this time of year, it doesn’t rain all day or even every day but, sometimes when it does, it’s like the skies open. Rain can fall in torrents, and streets can flood in minutes.
Here are 16 tips for staying as dry and comfortable as possible in the face of the downpours.
These tips aren’t the kind you’ll find in most guidebooks on traveling or living in the tropics. These are secrets you learn from firsthand experience, the collective wisdom of our Live and Invest Overseas Panama Insiders.
Many are common sense—or should be—but some might surprise you…
1. Always carry an umbrella. Regardless how lovely the day starts out or what the weather forecasters are saying, carry an umbrella whenever you go outside. The downpours come fast and furious, and shelter won’t always be convenient, so carry shelter with you. Make sure your umbrella is plastic, not one with a metal tip. Prancing around with a lightning rod is never a good idea during an electrical storm.
2. Wear sensible shoes. Forget about flip-flops or open-toed sandals. Think galoshes or ratty old shoes that can get wet. Streets and sidewalks in Panama, especially in the capital city, don’t always cope well with the torrents and can flood quickly. Expect your feet to get wet. A clever method is to carry your “indoor shoes” in a bag and change when you get to your destination. Or opt for fashionable rubber shoes. (Melissa is a good international brand with storefronts in Panama’s malls and airport.)
3. Keep a go-bag with a towel, a spare set of dry clothes, and extra shoes (and maybe makeup and hair supplies for the ladies) in your car or office. If you get caught out in the middle of the day and can’t conveniently get home to change, your emergency kit will be a godsend.
4. If you’re out for a run, bike ride, or other outdoor fitness activity, carry a Ziploc for your phone and cash in case you get caught in the rain. (Pockets will not protect your valuables in a true tropical downpour.)
5. A good dehumidifier (or a couple of them, depending on the size of your house) is your best friend. It may add to your electricity bills, but keep it running full time if you can. It will go a long way toward keeping your interior spaces comfortable and preventing mold and mildew. Try to locate it somewhere you can run a tube to a drain. It’s not always possible to empty the water bin every couple of hours, especially if you are not at home for extended periods. Buy Damp Rid for closets and cars—it comes in many forms and the small addition to your grocery cart will save you a fortune in car cleaning and clothes and leather goods lost to mold.
6. If you leave your air conditioning off long-term, prepare for the consequences. Say you’re going on a trip, so you shut all the windows in your house for a few days or weeks. You’re likely to come back to a lot of mold and mildew. Again, it may not be easy on the electric bill, but leaving your air conditioner running while you’re away will prevent a lot of headaches later. If you only have window or stand-alone units (few houses in Panama have central air conditioning), consider putting a timer on them. The same goes for cars. If you won’t use yours for a long time, make sure there isn’t an ounce of moisture inside or you’ll come back to a fuzzy, smelly science project. Charcoal inserts help to draw out moisture, and Lysol helps prevent mold from growing.
7. Install lights in your closets and leave them on. Buy the kind with clamps if you have to and attach them to the clothing bar. The light and heat go a long way toward preventing mildew on your clothing. Also leave the closet doors open for maximum airflow.
8. At the beginning of the rainy season, be sure to clean your roof gutters and take stock of drainage around the foundation of your home. Leaves, dirt, and debris will have undoubtedly accumulated in them during the dry season. Clogged drains lead to overflow, which leads to roof damage and leaks. Pay attention to the area where the water drains as well—make sure it is diverting away from the house and not puddling around your foundation. Also look for dead tree branches over and around your house that may snap off when weighed down by water or blown around in the wind.
9. Buy battery backups, known as an uninterrupted power supply or UPS, or at least surge protectors for fragile electronics around the house. The electricity can be more erratic during the rainy season and will almost certainly go out at some point. A UPS will give you time to save the novel you have been writing if you do lose power, and the surge protectors will prevent the electronics from being fried when the power comes back on. Special surge protectors are sold for refrigerators. If you want to be extra careful, unplug everything entirely when an electrical storm is bearing down.
10. Due to the high-voltage nature of rainstorms in Panama, it’s unwise to use large volumes of water if you see lots of lightning in the sky. Things like dishwashers or laundry machines (on the wash cycle) could potentially draw electricity in. If you’re living in a high-rise building, the risk becomes greater. Of course, most high rises have also taken ample safety measures, but if you’re an especially cautious person, this extra step might help to keep your mind at ease.
11. Keep a supply of white vinegar on hand in a spray bottle. If you see the beginnings of mold on leather chairs, belts, and other surfaces, spray them with straight white vinegar and wipe them down with a soft cloth or paper towel. Vinegar has other uses as well. Spraying sweaty clothing with a water-vinegar dilution before you throw them in the washing machine helps remove any lingering smells. Lysol is another good option for keeping mold at bay—but vinegar works just as well and is cheaper.
12. Slippery surfaces like tile can be downright deadly. And, against all logic, most hotels, residential buildings, and businesses pave their exterior as well as interior pathways in ceramic. You won’t find any slip-grip coating, nor will you see any little yellow signs warning you of the wet floors. Walk with extreme caution when it’s raining or if the ground is still wet from a recent drizzle.
13. When you are packing away clothing for the season, don’t use mothballs. They may keep away bugs, but they won’t do squat for mold and mildew. Instead, pack the clothing with antibacterial soap (preferably scented) that you can put to good use when you unpack the clothes later. Dryer sheets also help to keep locked up linens smelling fresher. If clothes are simply hung in a closet for the season, use Damp Rid and make sure to replace it regularly.
14. Large plastic bins (like giant Tupperware) or other airtight containers are good for storage of all kinds. Sensitive paperwork, photographs, electronics, textiles, leather goods, etc., will all be much safer from the moisture if kept inside sealed plastic. Paper especially deteriorates rapidly in the tropics, not just from mold and mildew but also from insects. Airtight containers will keep both the dampness and the bugs at bay. Just remember to pack in some helpful products along with whatever’s being stored, and to aerate the bins at least a couple times a year.
15. Ladies (and men, for that matter) with long hair should have a hair tie handy at all times. No matter how hard you try to avoid it, the humidity is inescapable, and your hair will frizz out like you won’t believe. If you do get caught out and wet, having your hair tied back will also keep it out of your face.
16. You may scoff at dressing your pet in any kind of human wear… but, we have to admit, wet, muddy doggie paws may be the one practical reason to succumb to pet clothing. They may look silly, but little rubber booties or plastic baggy-like slippers for dogs will make your life a lot easier. And the potential aesthetic shame sure beats mopping the floor several times a day and swearing Fido off of the carpets and furniture for nine months of the year. (Keep in mind that in summer, canine footwear may also be practical—black asphalt gets hot in this equatorial sunshine, and doggie paws were made for grass, not 100°F pavement.)
Adriana Valdez E.