Booming Panama – No Longer “Just A Canal”

Here’s an excellent article by Roxanne James on about the investment potential of Panama, good information not only for major foreign investors but for folks looking to move or retire to Panama.

Panama has long been blighted by misconceptions. When most people think of Panama, they think of the canal, hats, cigars and ‘Prison Break’. For that reason, Panama has largely remained beneath the investor radar, during which time it has actually achieved China-like growth consistently year-on-year over the past decade.

The Telegraph have highlighted Panama as being one of the world’s 20 best places to invest in property and so it would appear that the tiny Central American country’s secret is out although to seasoned investors, this will not come as a surprise.

Panama sticks out like a sore thumb from its Central American neighbours, drawing comparisons with China due to its annual 8.5% GDP growth over the last decade. Inflation is steady at a moderate rate of 4%, largely because Panama uses the US dollar as its currency, meaning the government can’t print money.

Panama is clearly most well-known for its canal which provides easy passage for container ships between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and contributes significantly to the country’s GDP. The importance of the canal will be greater when a $5.2bn expansion project is completed and the waterway’s capacity is vastly increased.

The Panama Canal has been very successfully leveraged to transform the country into a regional financial and corporate hub and a magnet for foreign investment. Panama has 92 local and international banks with a combined $78.3bn of assets as of July 2013.

More than 100 multinationals use the capital, Panama City as their regional headquarters for Latin America including blue-chips such as Japan’s Isuzu Motors, Dutch electronics giant Koninklijke Philips, Swedish telecommunications equipment maker Ericsson and US insurer Ace Group.

Panama has diversified well beyond trade and finance and into tourism, with 1.68m foreign holidaymakers in the first nine months of 2013, fast closing in on Costa Rica, the long-time ecotourism superstar which had 1.85m foreign investors over the same period. Idyllic beaches, lush tropical landscape and the cosmopolitan sophistication of Panama City attract increasing numbers of tourists each year, boosting the country’s economy.

Significant investment into infrastructure adds buoyancy to Panama’s economy with the government spending around $15bn on public works programs to develop and upgrade airports, highways, ports, schools and hospitals. The extent of government commitment to infrastructure provides additional incentive to foreign investors, attracted by the underlying security of well-developed and sustainable services and facilities that create valuable investment opportunities.

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) has increased significantly in Panama, amounting to a record $4bn in 2013, $980m more than in 2012 according to the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF).

Frank de Lima, chief of the MEF said: “The volume of investment in private sector projects is estimated at $7.65bn between 2010 and 2018. It includes $4bn from mining, about $2.2bn in works to provide energy, $650m in new hotels and $500m at the Port of Corozal.” Canada’s First Quantum Minerals is also investing $6.4bn to develop one of the largest new copper mines in the world.

Foreign investors have not been able to get enough of Panama with FDI contributing a remarkable 9% to GDP each year since 2008, helping to raise overall investment levels to 30% of GDP, nearly double the average rate in Latin America.

Panama’s development has been compared with the rise of Singapore several decades ago. Both are small countries blessed with favourable geographic locations: Panama occupies the narrowest point between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans; Singapore sits on the strategic shipping lanes of the Strait of Malacca. Both countries have developed as logistics hubs. Singapore went on to become a huge financial centre and Panama appears to have chosen the same path.

The striking skyline of Panama City along the wide crescent of the Bay of Panama is truly breath-taking with more than 40 skyscrapers over 150m high in a dramatic range of architectural styles, most completed since 2005. The Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower, shaped like a half-open mussel shell has 70 stories, providing all the luxuries associated with the Trump brand.

Many of the new super structures carry the names of banks on their roofs illustrating how the finance sector has grown in recent years. Real estate development goes hand-in-hand with growth of local banking, with most construction financing coming from Panamanian commercial banks. However, loans cover less than half of construction capital in Panama and the bulk of finance comes from equity from domestic and foreign tenants or from investors.

Keen to highlight Panama’s other transformations, the deputy commerce and industry minister Pacheco said, referring to what is fast-becoming the country’s national slogan: “Remember, we aren’t just a canal. It is only one of our engines for economic growth. Banking, tourism, regional headquarters for multinationals and mining have propelled Panama to growth and income levels unimaginable even a decade ago”.

Once the canal expansion project has been completed towards the end of 2015, both domestic and foreign investment in the country is expected to skyrocket creating a major ‘buy signal’ for savvy investors.

Things Change

If there were a mantra for living in Panama it would be “things change!”  In fact, if there were a mantra for life it would be “THINGS CHANGE!”  Living in Panama I’ve learned that you always have to be expecting change and to have a “Plan B” in mind.  In Panama, also  Plans C, D, E, F, etc.  But here, as everywhere else, the secret is to keep plugging and respond as positively as possible to the changes life throws at you, whether they are the gigantic life-altering changes, or the little “that’s interesting” changes.

It’s been almost a year-and-a-half since I was at sea, so wanting to get back in the swing of things I agreed to do several “one-off” cruises this fall, one for Celebrity and four for Silversea. While in the Canary Islands on Celebrity I experienced loss of vision in my one eye several times.  Once when attempting to start a talk, while an inexperienced AV guy tried to figure out PowerPoint, I was stalling by telling jokes I’ve used many times and in the middle of the joke I forgot the punch lines.  I ended up in the medical center with the ship’s doctor sending me to an ophthalmologist.  When the eye doc said there was nothing wrong with my eyes, the ship doctor, fearing a stroke, sent me back home to Seattle for a whole string of tests.  Tests which proved … drum roll! … I’m normal, much to the surprise of some of my friends.  But in the meantime, not to leave Silversea hanging at the last minute, I had to cancel my four scheduled cruises.

The silver lining was getting to spend some time with my daughter and her family in Seattle.  I’m now with my other daughter in Sonoma County working my way back to Panama.  And the other day … Princess called.  They want me back at sea, doing my favorite run through the Panama Canal on ISLAND PRINCESS … starting mid-November!

Island Princess in locks

Since 2014 is the 100th Anniversary of the Panama Canal, and with all the expansion construction going on, this is an exciting time to do the Canal run and be able to introduce a shipload of folks [1,970 passengers, 900 crew] to Panama.  Plus, no long-haul flights!  I start with a Canal transit from Los Angeles to Ft Lauderdale in less than a month, and then do the partial transits round trip from Ft Lauderdale.

New Picture (3)



“If I Were Not Upon The Sea”

There are many traditions that have evolved over the years on board cruise ships, some good, some bad, some indifferent.  “If I Were Not Upon The Sea” is a spoofy skit [or read goofy if you prefer], drug out over the years by cruise directors and their staff and involves a lot of pawing, double entendre and generally burlesque humor.  And, maybe unfortunately, it still makes occasional appearances on board.  One night you may be entertained by a show that cost $1.6 million to produce (that is the figure given by the cruise director for Princess’ “British Invasion”).  The next night, in these days of cutting budgets wherever possible, the evening show might be a crew variety show with a highlight being the cruise staff’s production of “If I Were Not Upon The Sea.”  Knock offs of old TV game shows featuring passenger participation are also a low-cost favorite.  Ironic: one night a $1.6 million show and the next night a knock-off of “To Tell The Truth.”

When I started on cruise ships, in the late 60’s, it was a different world.  Holland America had a Dutch crew.  My table for two (the Roman Catholic priest and I) had a waiter and bus boy who ONLY served our table, plus a wine steward and bar steward standing by. Entertainment, such as it was, usually included an aging dance duo, a dance band, and a soloist.  A few spotlights, no stage, no production crew, simple, and frankly rather boring.  There were movies in a genuine theater, all of which was followed by a sumptuous and lavishly presented midnight buffet.  There was no casino.  The purser organized bingo games and tracked the money to insure that all the money paid in was returned to the winning passengers.   The cruise director would tell you what to do in the ports and where to shop, and when in port you’d see the cruise director visiting all the stores and attractions to collect his money.  Cruise directors in those days lived large and they all had nice villas somewhere.  Cruising was expensive but it WAS an all-inclusive vacation.

Volendam Mar 08 004Well life has changed!  I was on Holland America when they announced they were scuttling the Dutch crew.  My wife was on Cunard when they announced they were terminating the British crew.  Today’s crews, although wonderful and without attitude, are mostly from Indonesia, the Philippines, and Eastern Europe.  On most ships today a waiter and assistant waiter take care of three  to five tables, including getting bar drinks and being the expert on wine.  There may be one sommelier on the entire ship!    And all he revenue from the ports and the shops and the Bingo goes to the cruise line.  I remember when Carnival started up and all the other cruise lines looked down their noses at Carnival.  Royal Caribbean introduced 6 slot machines, tucked away in the dark corner of an upper deck, for gamblers (presumably and other degenerates) who simply had to gamble no matter what.  Now the casino is the most prominent location on most ships.

“All-inclusive”: you’ve GOT to be kidding!  Expect to pay extra for everything.  You want the “good” food: pay for it.  Forget about the Midnight Buffet [which was an extravagant waste anyway].  Food is all portion controlled which not only cuts cost but is better for the environment as well as the health of passengers.  Entertainment has changed as well.  Cruise lines will do almost anything to be “different”, so much so that “different” on cruise ships now consists of being the same as everyone else.  Cruise lines are like lemmings.  One line introduces something, then everyone follows suit.

One of the early concerns about cruise marketing was something called “commoditization.”  [Defined by Wikipedia as: "the process by which goods that have economic value and are distinguishable in terms of attributes (uniqueness or brand) end up becoming simple commodities in the eyes of the market or consumers."]  The fear was that eventually cruise lines would compete solely on price and cruising would become a commodity .  There would be nothing unique about the experience or about a particular cruise line.  So everyone has big-screen, outdoor movies, circus acts, and $1.6 Million shows.  Cruising has become Vegas at sea and people love it!  Cruising is big business and is making big bucks.  Don’t let the price competition fool you: that’s commoditalization.  Royal, regal, majestic, princely . . . think of any of the royal terms you can imagine.  Let the marketing departments go wild with promises, but the bottom line . . . What determines what you get – as usual – is the price.

When I started cruise ships had a Catholic priest, a Rabbi, and a Protestant Chaplain who was sometimes me.  Eventually they dropped the Rabbi, except on High Holy Days, and now most cruises don’t even have a Rabbi then.  The Protestant Chaplain was the next to go, except on Easter and Christmas, and now many cruises just have the cruise staff fill in and read some kind of generic service designed to create warm feelings.  Last to go, the Catholic priest.  Every accommodation that can be sold is sold.  And most people don’t care since they are on vacation and if you’re getting away you might as well get away from church as well.

The other thing we used to worry about when I had cruise only travel agencies was something I called “peeling the onion.”   Twenty years ago we’d watch as cruise lines eliminated one thing, then another, all to cut costs.  My concern was that if you remove enough layers from the onion, pretty soon there is nothing left!  But the cruise industry has, successfully I might add, been peeling the onion for twenty years and continues to do so cutting back here, there and everywhere, hoping that customers either don’t notice or don’t care.  And since the customers keep coming back . . .  Anything that does not create onboard revenue is, or will soon be, history.   Theaters don’t create revenue, so you either watch a movie while swimming or on your stateroom TV, but don’t worry about missing anything because these are the same movies you’ve been seeing for  years.  The shows are there to entertain you, but also to give you the opportunity to buy drinks.  But that too may be changing.  Norwegian Cruise Line has introduced a “Dinner & Show” extra where, by combining two previously free items, they can charge $25-35!

Set in the 217-seat, two-floor Spiegel Tent, Cirque Dreams is a theater-in-the-round show with a surreal mix of motor-mouth monologues, singing, acrobatics, audience participation and food. Reviews have been mixed; those who like it really like it, and those who don’t have a viscerally negative reaction.

Everything is for sale!  On board shopping malls with the same “special discount” sales every cruise.  Teeth whitening, acupuncture, Botox, dozens of spa “treatments” making promises that would never pass FDA muster.  Cruise lines used to pride themselves in their onboard collection of art: now it’s all art for sale.  Pictures, videos, coffee cards, soda cards, good brewed coffee, ice cream, quality food, tours of the ship, special luggage  handling, Internet, special suck up treatment from the staff . . . you name it and it’s for sale. And it’s probably only a matter of time before plastic surgery is offered as well! “Oh, after your world cruise Janet you look so much younger!”

Cruise Critic, an online forum popular with frequent cruisers and where I occasionally contribute on the “Panama Canal” board, has a fascinating article Nickel and Dimed? 22 Cruise Ship ‘Added Fees’ Compared  that’s well-worth reading.  It’s not just one cruise line, but across the board everyone is scheming and dreaming up ways to make more on board revenue.  Cruise Critic readers were allowed to vote and hands down the most obnoxious extra was . . . drum roll! . . . Royal Caribbean for charging an extra $15 – $37.50 + 15% gratuity for the items they know guests love to eat and have always been staple menu items in the main dining room.   Nothing special here . . .  other than the added charge.

On several of its ships, Royal Caribbean’s main dining room menus encourage passengers to celebrate their cravings with a $15 filet or $37.50 surf ‘n’ turf. Since cruise-time immemorial, these options were fee-free on at least one night in the MDR. The freebies are still there in some capacity, but they’re shrinking in size and, many say, quality. But what might be more frightening than the food is the confusing 15 percent gratuity Royal levies. The food is certainly unique; the service and venue are not. There is no special presentation of the lobster, no dancing crustacean or opera-singing claw.

You gotta admit, these guys have balls!

Now I have a vested interest in this.  Years ago, when it was relatively cheap, I bought Carnival stock, Princess stock [now UK Carnival stock], and Royal Caribbean.  The stocks have done well and I’ve made money.  I know people like to grouse, complain and winge about all the extra charges on board, but the fact is that it is the onboard revenue that makes the difference between profit and loss.  And the cruise line makes a whole lot less than you might expect.

Consider this breakdown from WORLD CRUISE INDUSTRY REVIEW:

Cruise Passenger Spending

I’m sure most cruise passengers assume that the cruise line is making a whole lot more than 10.7% before taxes [and taxes are another whole issue]!

The mantra for working on board a ship as well as in the cruise industry is “Things Change”!  And they do.  Face it: most people could NOT afford to have taken those cruises back in the late 60’s.  Today most people can afford to cruise and cruising is one of the most cost-effective ways to vacation and see the world.

Condoms 3 for $4.50, “I’m Sexy & I Know It” & Jesus & Captain Morgan

“OK, how the hell is he going to pull all that together in a blog?”

Good question.

Sometimes at night, as I drift off to sleep I think about what I’d like to blog about.  You think this is a weird combo?  You should see my dreams!

Condoms 3 for $4.50
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen we bought our coffee farm eight years ago before we built our house there was a little neighbor kid who showed up every time we visited the farm.  He’d trail after Nikki.  A cute kid who seemed to be always there.  As time went by he grew into a husky 18-year old who has helped us with the coffee harvest every year hoisting 90 pound sacks of coffee on his shoulders like it was no big deal.  He recently, naturally unexpectedly, became a father.  Or maybe became a father.  The 16-year-old girl claims the baby is his, but he insisted on a paternity test and the girl refuses to show him the results.  So, once again, I gave him the condom lecture.

I have another gringo friend who usually brings his condoms from the States, in bulk I might add, who ran out and had to go to the local store to buy some.  This young Indigenous guy has worked for both of us, and we are equally appalled that he is a father.  My friend observed, “Condoms here are 3 for $4.50, that’s $1.50 each!  No wonder kids don’t use condoms.  How do they expect poor Indigenous folks to buy condoms when they may only take-home $45-50 a week, out of which they need to support a family?”   Coke here is about 80 cents a can.  We don’t think much about Coke being a “luxury,”  but when we give a can of Coke to our workers, often instead of drinking it on the job, they will take the can home to carefully open and enjoy as a treat.

In the States there are lots of places to get free condoms: health departments, hospitals, clubs frequented by young, single folks who love to drink and party.  Panama is threatened by poverty, kids having kids, and a soaring birthrate among poor people that just exacerbates the problems.  If you can spend billions on infrastructure improvements, why not spend a few hundred thousand making free condoms available?  I am told that the new President Juan Carlos Varela wants to introduce sex education to the school curriculum, a subject which is now conspicuously absent.  I wish him well since the very idea of sexual responsibility seems to go against entrenched Roman Catholic teaching.  Children need information and they need to understand their own development and sexuality and take control of their bodies and future.  You can teach all you want … but you also need to provide free condoms!

“I’m sexy and I know it!”

The day Mario got his driver's license

The day Mario got his driver’s license

I blogged earlier about the tragic death of my friend Mario Dean.  Mario and his brother Renato are not only good friends, but in many ways while they were growing up through tumultuous adolescent years they were like the sons I never had.

Mario’s funeral is today.

I’d like to have been there, not for the funeral, but to support Renato.  As a pastor I’ve done a lot of funerals and I hate them.  In the six years I served in the South Bronx I buried 21 kids, all under 21 years of age and all who died violently.  I hate the idea that somehow the person who died is in a box.  No way!   No way could you put Mario in a box!  I understand the role of our funeral customs in the grief process, but I would rather remember the living, breathing, cool person that I knew.

So, anyhow, the Brothers Dean, Renato and two other brothers, were planning the funeral and the headstone.  They agreed on all the necessary information, but then there was a designated area on the headstone for a quote, or something about the deceased. The brothers asked, “What would Mario want?”  They knew and I know that the quote Mario would choose, given the tragic and unexpected circumstances of his death, would be “What the *uck?”  Obviously the dignified memorial park wouldn’t go with that.  So, brainstorming, Renato suggested, “I’m sexy and I know it!” and the brothers all agreed, “Yeah!  That’s Mario!”  And they got it right!  Mario would love it!

And when others are placing flowers on the coffin before it is lowered into the ground, at least one guy will be placing a spray of “herb” or “bud” or whatever you want to call it, on the casket.  And Bobby, who has been these guys friend for over fifteen years, is going to place a bottle of Captain Morgan Spiced Rum on the casket.  How very Egyptian!

Jesus & Captain Morgan

Actually, if I were going to the funeral, I’d probably take a bottle of Captain Morgan as well.  I know this may not be “proper” but I’m old enough to no longer care about being “proper” or worry about “what people may think.” Age does have its advantages!  But many adolescent worries and crises were talked through and often resolved sitting outside in our back yard in Ventura, beside the pool, looking out over the city lights, listening to the fog horn or the occasional barking seal, while sipping Coke and Captain Morgan.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany of Mario’s friends only know the happy, surfer-dude, party hearty Mario, but there was another side of Mario’s personality.  He was a very moral, thoughtful, sensitive guy who I think often used his happy-go-lucky image as a cover.  There was a time when Mario worried if he’d be a good father: he turned out to be the best dad imaginable.  I have no doubt that Mario is with the Lord, “heaven” if you like.  Mario’s faith was real, personal, down-to-earth, without the traditional gobbledygook mantras of Catholicism or Evangelical Christianity.

Right now I was scheduled to have been somewhere in the North Atlantic, doing a one-off cruise to get back in the swing of lecturing on board. But a funny thing happened in the Canary Islands. While getting ready for a lecture I lost a portion of my vision in one eye. The ship arranged for me to see an ophthalmologist ashore and when he discovered no anomaly decided it was best that I leave the ship and fly back to the States. Now, after all kinds of tests and scans in Seattle, it appears that I did not have a stroke but just a kind of migraine without the tell-tale headache. So, thanks be to God, I am fine. But in this process they did an MRI brain scan. Despite what my grade-school teachers believed and some disgruntled parishoners along the way may have believed, I have a brain and it is normal. But when you have unexplained symptoms, and they do a brain scan … of course, you wonder, “Do I have a brain tumor? Is this it?” All of this wasn’t helped by a CNN story about a beautiful young gal, 29-years-old, who after her wedding was discovered to have a brain tumor and given 6 months to live. She’s living in Oregon which has right-to-die laws and has pills which she will take when she decides to conclude her life. And then Mario is killed in a fiery head-on crash.

So I found myself awaiting the scan results and wondering, “What if …?”

I’m reminded of a story I’ve used many times in sermons. St. Francis was out working in the garden when someone asked him, “Francis, what would you do if you knew you were going to die tomorrow?” At he answered, “Finish hoeing my garden.” That always seemed like a good way to approach life … and death. What would I do? Probably arrange to spend more time with family and friends, chuck the irrelevant in my life, and “finish hoeing my garden.”

And in this mental wandering I thought, “Yeah, I could sit around in heaven [and I won't begin to broach the theological discussion of what happens after death ... do we "sleep" until the day of resurrection as the Bible says, or are we somehow "absent from the body and present with the Lord" as the Bible also says, and what does all this mean ...], but if it were a brain tumor and if I only had months to live, I could look forward to sitting around in heaven and Mario and I could continue our discussions about the meaning of life … hopefully with some Captain Morgan, which they must serve in heaven since it’s so good. [My seminary professors are now rolling over in their graves and my seminary classmates who haven't already disowned me are probably un-friending me on Facebook at this very moment.]

Pushing this line of thought a little further … what if Jesus, who obviously, given his turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana, appreciated a good brew once in a while, sat down and joined us.  We could ask him all those perplexing questions that have built up through the years … those “why?” questions like “Why Mario?” and “Why now?”  I guess I have so many of those kind of questions I’d monopolize Christ throughout eternity..

OK, there … you’ve got it! Condoms, “I’m sexy and I know it!”, Captain Morgan and Jesus.  Who knew?

People Hear What They Want to Believe

Several years ago University of Illinois psychology professor Dolores Albarracín, led the study, later published in Psychological Bulletin, the journal of the American Psychological Association, that analysed data from 91 studies involving nearly 8,000 participants, focused on seeking a definitive answer to a longstanding debate. “We wanted to see exactly across the board to what extent people are willing to seek out the truth versus just stay comfortable with what they know.” Or one might also say, “what they think they know.”

Not surprisingly the research found that people were in general twice as likely to select information that supported their own point of view as to consider an opposing idea, with two thirds going for supportive views as opposed to a third going the other way. Some people, particularly those with more close-minded personalities, were even more reluctant to expose themselves to differing perspectives, opting for information that corresponded to their views nearly three quarters of the time.

Sante Fe Panama beautiful but ... Panama Relocation TourIt is my opinion that many times people are so anxious to find the “paradise” that they believe Panama to be, that they accept only what they want to hear, what confirms their existing beliefs. Now I am all for Panama as “paradise,” after all it’s been our experience, and I wrote the book THE NEW ESCAPE TO PARADISE: OUR EXPERIENCE LIVING AND RETIRING IN PANAMA. But … BIG BUT HERE … some of the organizations who promote expat living in Panama selectively offer information that glosses over the realities of life in Panama. And of course they do a very profitable business.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat I try to do is give the REAL story and encourage people to move ahead cautiously, checking out things as they really are, spending time actually in the real Panama, not just a fancy hotel room somewhere, with boots-on-the-ground. If you do that there is a good chance that your will decide moving to Panama is right for you, but you’ll know what you are getting into. We all know you take a big risk when you leap before you look, yet it amazes me how many people will pick up and move to another country, usually one that’s hyped as the latest, greatest place to retire, without doing their own due diligence. In the end they head back home embittered, frustrated and having lost lots of money in the process.

Those who do the research and carefully check things out are the ones who come to Panama, love it, and thrive on the adventure!

I didn’t say these things, but here’s what others have to say about THE NEW ESCAPE TO PARADISE, and if you doubt it, just check out the comments on Amazon.

The Most Beautiful House in Boquete, Panama FOR SALE 12 A good honest outline of what Panama is Really like. I was very impressed with this book, very well written and very informative. Having lived in Boquete, Panama for almost 6 years, travelled around the country and worked here, I have never seen such an honest, complete and straightforward representation of what it is like to live here. Richard writes the truth about subjects that many won’t, and shows very little bias throughout the book. In all of his chapters explaining life, real estate, services, construction and retirement in Panama, he hits the nail on the head and isn’t afraid to outline the fact that Panama may not be for everybody.” Conner

“5.0 out of 5 stars worth every penny, Well written, and informative.” Big Al

“What a fantastic resource from someone who has been living in Panama and knows the eccentricities and nuance of the culture. Whether considering Panama or anywhere else to retire abroad, Richard provides a lot of food for thought. Thanks for sharing your knowledge, Richard!!” khfitz6311

“Great Job Richard!“I could hardly put this book down, even though I’ve lived in Boquete for seven years. Richard tells it exactly like it is … how I wish this wonderful tool were available before we moved here. It would have saved a lot of frustration trying to figure it all out for ourselves. This is an awesome book for those thinking of retiring in Panama.” Kathy Donelson


“5.0 out of 5 stars Must-read for anyone contemplating a move to Panama – Richard once again “nails it” with his straight-shooting comments, No rose-colored glasses here – Panama is not for everyone. If you’ve never lived outside the US before, particularly in a developing country like Panama – don’t even think about making a move without thorough research. Richard’s book is one of the best. Extremely valuable advice – take it to heart!” AKD

“Great book! This book is like reading a letter from a good friend who answers the most important questions you would ask if you were thinking of moving to Panama. Like a good friend, he gives you honest answers.” Jubal Atencio

“Reading Richard’s book paralleled the thoughts we were processing trying to determine where to retire and if Panama is a viable option. His book answers the questions about affordability and the mind shift needed for a life outside the USA, and the sacrifices (really just tradeoff’s, good/bad) we’d need to make if we chose to live in Panama. I don’t think there’s anything he missed in his book! From obtaining a Visa, to moving with a pet, to finding the best for an Expat place to fit in and live in Panama. It’s a big book but a fast read. I couldn’t put it down. A must read if retirement in Central America is on your mind.” Margie Casey

“I have to say that what and how you laid out the details is outstanding. You covered the reality of pros and cons. It is by far the best book out there for folks that want to relocate to Panama. We will arrive in April and rent for a year or so.” John & Susan Pazera

018The New Escape to Paradise is an updating of one of the best books about moving to and living in Panama. Detrich has lived in Panama for a decade and he still thinks of it as paradise. The New Escape to Paradise is a pragmatic and thought-provoking guide if you seriously contemplate moving to a new land. After researching living in Central and South American for more than fifteen years, including some tourist visits, I thought that I knew a great deal of things. As it turns out, my impressions were superficial. If you have plans to live in Panama you certainly should be prepared with this book!” James Fletcher

“This is a comprehensive, boots on the ground book about what it is like to live in Panama. The only way to learn more is to come here and stay awhile. I can’t think of anything Richard didn’t cover.” Judy Sacco

“A must read: great book, especially helpful if you are considering moving or retiring to Panama. I loved all the insight to their experiences and can’t wait to experience the country myself.” Joan Egizili

“I gave this book 5 stars because it answers all the questions about living and retiring in Panama with the pros and cons.” Gillberto Smith

“Excellent. An outstanding, insightful book about the author’s experiences in Panama. It is a very sobering look at his and his family’s experiences, both the good and the not so good. The reader can tell they’ve landed in their paradise. My wife and I are considering relocating to Panama and we’re using Richards book as one of our primary sources of information for an anticipated visit to the country next year. Because Richard does not sugar coat life in Panama, rather he tells it like it is, we feel like we have a more realistic expectation of what life is like in Panama. He most definitely has us studying up on the many aspects to be considered.” Daniel Bridges

“I enjoyed reading your book! It’s very illuminating and entertaining. You have an ability to communicate and have an enjoyable writing style.” Doug Tyler

“Richard really knows what he’s talking about. Down to earth, no sugar coating. The book lays out both the good and not so good of living in Panama. I highly recommend it.” Steve McVicar


“You provide a lot of useful information. Overall it led me to decide against Panama, except maybe as a tourist for a month or two. Too bad! I had high hopes.” Ida Freer

The New Escape to Paradise is a must read for anyone thinking/dreaming about retiring to Panama. We’ve been researching for two years and will be retiring to Panama in six months. The information in this book is highly informative, current, and down to earth. Richard tells it like it is about Panama and retirement in Panama, and, I enjoyed reading about his life and his family.” Allison Guinn

“Part philosopher, part psychologist, part historian, part travel guide, and part economist, all describe Richard Detrich as he weaves his tale of life in Panama. He tells it ‘like it is’ without the hype. The New Escape to Paradise is a must read for anyone who is considering relocating to another country whether it’s Panama or somewhere else. Interactive exercises will give you insight into what you want out of your life and your next adventure.” Kristin Stillman

“Extremely helpful. No bunnies and rainbows here, both sides of the coin are exposed. Like any country, Panama has it’s issues and beauty and Richard gives insight to the reader/expat on both so we don’t arrive and end up shocked to find bugs in our paradise. Good job.” Dorothy

“What a wealth of information. This is the perfect book to read if you are considering a move to Panama or just want to know all about Panama from an insider. After living in Panama for just a few months, this book addressed aspects of life here that I am experiencing or will experience as times goes on, giving me insight as to what to expect. For my friends who live in Panama vicariously through me, I have highly recommended they read this book.” Lorelei

“This book has everything and more than original book had. It is so current, that you will think you are reading the morning newspaper. If you have the original book, now is the time to upgrade. The book itself is also much improved over the original book with very few typos left for us nitpickers to pounce upon. Once you start reading this book, it is extremely hard to put down until you have finished it. If the book wasn’t so entertaining to read, I would say that it should be considered as the text book for Relocating to Panama 101. Panama is not for everyone, this book may save you thousands and thousands of dollars down the road. Get it! Read it!” Larry H

“Besides almost living in Panama for ten years, building a home in Panama and owning a business in Panama, Richard has traveled extensively lecturing about Panama on cruise ships. His second book, an updated version of the original, has more insight into the good, bad and sometimes even ugly about expats living and retiring in Panama as well as wonderful stories about his life along the way. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and found it very useful in regards to my future retirement to Panama. Highly informative, entertaining and a great read!” Allison W. Gunn

“Thinking of moving to Panama? Read this book first! It could save you a lot of time, money, trouble, and worry. Not only is the book entertaining, it’s full of really important information for people considering making a move of this magnitude.” E. Bolton

Mr and Mrs Claus Come To VisitTHE NEW ESCAPE TO PARADISE is an updating of one of the best books about moving to and living in Panama. Richard Detrich has lived in Panama for a decade and he still thinks of it as paradise. His book is a pragmatic and thought-provoking guide if you seriously contemplate moving to a new land. My wife and I researched living in Central and South America for more than fifteen years. Once we chose Panama as our future home this was the book, more than any other, that we relied upon for both its information and its anecdotes. (The Ambulance Ride Story could almost have come from the Canterbury Tales, but it drives home the point of the differences in medical care between our countries.) If you have plans to live in Panama you certainly should be forearmed with this book!” Jim Fletcher

“Everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask regarding the Panama experience. RichApr 3013 Panama Relocation Tourard has endured the trials and tribulations, the discovery and the rewards of life in Panama, and candidly lays it all out for you.” J. Sacco

“He’s amusing and informative. He doesn’t write seriously, yet covers all necessary ground to give us an accurate picture of life in Panama without blinders. All pertinent questions are covered informatively and accurately, giving you a clear understanding of the reality you would experience.I strongly recommend The NEW Escape to Paradise. It’s a great read!”Doug Tyler


I Forgot About Fall

Pumpkin FarmYes, we have seasons in Panama, but the changes are subtle. We have deciduous trees, but the process of losing and regrowing leaves goes on year-round and is not determined by seasons. At the beginning of the dry season native flowering trees burst forth everywhere and there is nothing quite as spectacular! Brilliant yellows, whites, purples, it is just as spectacular as a tree in full autumn color in the Northern Hemisphere. But … there is something about the euphoric mix … and being in Washington now, it isn’t just the cannabis in the air! … of apples, pumpkins, leaves burning, a riot of colorful trees, apple cider and a trip with grand kids to the pumpkin farm.

Boys Perfect Pumpkin

078When I was growing up in the Northern New Jersey there were these big pumpkin farms with huge fall displays and I loved the annual trip to the pumpkin farm. Later, when I was living in the South Bronx, my folks lived upstate in a tiny town called Kinderhook, surrounded by apple farms. To drive up there, arrive when it was dark, and step out of the car and inhale the fresh, apple-scented air was a touch of heaven compared to the South Bronx.

And while I appreciate being able to get Washington apples at Price Smart in David, after the apples have sat around being gassed in warehouses and shipped to Panama, they don’t quite have the crisp, juicy flavor of a Washington apple picked right off the tree.

GourdsWhen I went from the South Bronx to candidate [a ministerial dog-and-pony-show interview for a church job] for my second church in Milwaukee, I went in October, at the height of fall color.  It was spectacular!  Only I failed to realize that after fall comes the long, miserable winter.  If it wasn’t for winter and the snow …

Washington, IMHO, can be very gray, dreary and drizzly … not really my cup of tea, but in the fall, on a sunny day … spectacular!

Grandpa's happy family!

Grandpa’s happy family!

Mario Dean

Happier times: Mario [L], me and Renato [R] on the ship in San Pedro

Happier times: Mario [L], me and Renato [R] on the ship in San Pedro

Eighteen years ago I met Mario when he was a teenager doing yard work for a neighbors.  We had just bought an old house on the hill in Ventura that I was planning to renovate.  Mario became my right hand man and in the process became a great friend.  He, and his brother Renato, became part of our second family: we kind of informally adopted each other.  Nikki and I watched both guys grow through some tumultuous adolescent years and turn into responsible men with great jobs and families, both great dads, guys we are proud of and happy to have as friends.

Happy pappa!

Happy pappa!

Early Saturday morning Mario was killed in a fiery crash of his big rig near San Dimas, CA. I am devastated by the thought of a world without Mario and his infectious laugh and free-and-easy attitude to life which often covered up his more serious and thoughtful concerns.  I will miss him and my thoughts and prayers go out to his brothers, family and friends.

Back in the day …

Mario 4

End of a hard day's work

End of a hard day’s work

Christmas with Nikki

Christmas with Nikki

The Dean Brothers [Mario, Carlo & Renato] thought I needed a fashion consult.

The Dean Brothers [Mario, Carlo & Renato] thought I needed a fashion consult.

Sorry, but I always liked this sketch of Mario

Sorry, but I always liked this sketch of Mario

Along The Way of St James

In the movie THE WAY, Martin Sheen plays Tom, an irascible American doctor who comes to France to deal with the tragic loss of his son (played by Emilio Estevez). Rather than return home, Tom decides to embark on the historical pilgrimage “The Way of St. James” to honor his son’s desire to finish the journey. What Tom doesn’t plan on is the profound impact this trip will have on him. Today 100,000 pilgrims a year still follow “The Way of St. James” from France into Spain and one of the highlights of their pilgrimage is to visit the magnificent cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, about 1.5 hours from the port of Vigo, Spain.

 In the middle ages anywhere from 500,000 to 2,000,000 visitors a year poured into northwestern Spain. Many who came were guided en route by what is considered to be the world’s first travel guidebook written in 1130 by a French monk. Not everyone could make the almost impossible pilgrimage to the Holy Land so for many Europeans the trip to Santiago was a possible alternative. The distinctive pilgrim garb was a simple hat and a shell. Visit Santiago de Compostela today and you will see, in addition to the tourists, pilgrims by the scores with their hiking shoes and backpacks who are walking “The Way of St James”.

 So, what’s the fuss? According to tradition (that marvelous word that covers a multitude of religious tourism sites around the world, and perhaps a multitude of related sins as well) Apostle James brought Christianity to the Iberian Peninsula then was beheaded in Jerusalem in 44 AD. Here’s where the legend gets interesting, and perhaps a bit dubious. The legend that the remains of the Apostle James were brought to Galicia for burial in an anonymous field. In 813, guided by a bright star no less, a shepherd found the burial of St. James at Santiago de Compestela The shepherd took the story and the bones to the Bishop, who recognized opportunity when it came knocking. The declared the bones to be the remains of the Apostle James and built a church. Reportedly miraculous events started occurred as a result of people praying to the bones of St. James.

 Pilgrims, religious tourists with money, started flocking to Santiago de Compestela and as many as 2 MILLION people a year hiked across Europe (without benefit of tour buses) to make a pilgrimage to the town. The present church constructed 1075-1128. The mystical attraction is to climb up above the high altar where there is a quirky-looking silver statue of St. James, place your hands on his shoulders, and make a prayer or a wish. I made mine, but if it happens it will be God above, not St. James or a silly-looking statue that gets the credit. (I go direct!) But anyhow the church is still a big tourist attraction for everyone from pilgrims to popes.

The inside of the church is impressive without a doubt! And I got to attend a service – standing room only by the way – with the music of the giant organ thundering and rolling through the stone arches. So how does any church, even a church with the relics of St. James, get a standing room only crowd of tourists and locals? Well, as the early churchmen discovered (and fellows like Robert Schuller tried to copy in more recent years) you’ve got to add some zing. Some flash! Some pizzazz! And they found it in Santiago de Compestela in the form of a giant incense burner which at the end of each service, “representing the prayers of Santiago de Compestela”, is filled with incense, set afire, hosted and then swung from the top of the cathedral back and forth soaring of the heads of the awe-struck congregation! It is impressive and quite a show!