(Just a quick update, but definately read the entire post to know about phones in Panama if you haven't: April got in touch with the guy who had the chip from our phone, and managed to get it back. So, we don't have the physical phone, but we do have the chip, and thus the phone number. It is normally easy to swap chips between phones in the same system, but the new phone we bought ironically glued the chip in. So for the foreseeable future, we'll be using the new number. Once we get another phone for the old chip, we'll post to let you know.)
It is my fault...I lost our cell phone the other day. I think it fell out of my pocket on a bus. Some lucky Panamanian is now using it (or so say the people who have called us) and does not seem tempted by my offer of a reward for its return. Replacing the phone wasn't too bad, just $15. It is the loss of all the info in the phone that really hurts.
So our new number is: 011-507-6639-1352
Yes it has one more digit than numbers in the USA. It is free for us to recieve phone calls, so we welcome calls when we have suficiant battery. We have week to medium phone signal the majority of the time, but we sometimes turn off the phone during the daytime to save battery. The phone is almost always on between 4-9pm (we are one hour behind EST right now because you wierdos have DST). If you want to call, we recommend looking for a prepaid international calling card for a cheeper rate.
While we are talking phones I may as well explain the phone system here...in brief of course. There is a land phone system in urban areas...getting one installed into your house is possible but effort and cost intensive. Pay phone use is more common than home phones in most urban areas and there are only pay phones in the country areas. There are many many country communities that do not have cell coverge and only have a single pay phone for the community (and those pay phones are natorious for dying and not being fixed for a long, long time).
Cell phones are common but not cheep by Panamanian standards. To put the following into proper perspective remember that a day's labor here pays between $5-$10, for the day not the hour. You can get a lower end phone for $15...and the options for more expensive phones include everything that you can buy in the USA. Calling cell phone to cell phone is about $.45 a minute for the person who makes the call. Reciving a call is free. Even calling payphone to cell phone is $.25 a minute so that isn´t cheep too. Text messages are common as are llamada perdidas (hang up calls which is a request for you to call the number that hung up).
Monthly cell phone plans do exist here, but the VAST majority of Panamanian cell phone users use pre-paid cards to "pay as you go" call. The cards differ in the amount of time the money lasts on the card and how much air time you get. For example: a $2 card will get you $2 of time and last only 2 days before the money disappears. A $10 card will last 15 days and is eligable for special deal days that triple or quadruple the value if entered on the right day. A $15 card is always quadrupled no matter when it is entered and lasts 30 days. But few people have the plata (money) to splurge on a big card and take advantage of the savings.
We tend to use roughly one $15 card a month. More at times. Calling the states at $.85 a minute eats calling cards quickly (but a prepaid calling card at a pay phone costs $.05 a minute which is why you tend to hear from us when we are in the noisey city). Thanks to those of you who are willing to call us back at times.
The irony that we never had a cell phone before Peace Corps is not lost on us. Just a warning...there is the possibility that we won't have one after PC either. We are enjoying it now though. Hope to talk to you all soon.