Plastic

Whether it’s plastic bags at the super market, tons of unnecessary packing materials accompanying anything you buy on-line, Styrofoam cups or the waste of foam building materials, plastic bottles … you name it, it’s all accumulating and swirling around in the vast ocean dumps or gyres.  Now a cool-looking, young diver from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands has come up with a great idea to save the oceans from plastic.

This video is well-worth watching! Boyan Slat not only has a fantastic concept but he’s also a great presenter.

Slat’s ocean cleaner looks like a giant manta ray …

The Panama Canal Still Returns Benefit to The US

Yes, the US returned the Canal Zone and the Panama Canal to the people of Panama.  And the US is till the number one customer of the Panama Canal  And, yes, according to the terms of the second Torijjos-Carter Treaty, the US guarantees to protect the neutrality of the Canal, and ipso facto Panama, in perpetuity.  In the ’30s the US realized the necessity of enlarging and expanding the Canal and began work, but WWII came along and focus, priorities and budgets changed.  After WWII there was always something or somewhere else demanding US attention and money, so the project was never resumed.  Now Panama is moving toward completion of enlarging the Canal and increasing the size and number of vessels it can serve.  And the Canal de Panama is already discussing yet another expansion project to serve new super ships.

US port cities who have any sense are rapidly expanding their facilities to be able to handle the new, larger Canal ships.  And the US stands to gain significant economic advantage from the expanded Canal as pointed out in this BUSINESS INSIDER article by Rob Wile.

100 Years After Its Birth, The Panama Canal Is On The Verge Of Creating A Huge New Opportunity For US Exporters
On Aug. 15, 1914, the Panama Canal saw its first cargo ships slice through two continents on their way to Asia, forever transforming global trade flows.

It was the product of almost 15 years of military, diplomatic, and economic maneuvers.

Now, 99 years later, the canal is set to cause a surge in U.S. exports across the commodities sector.

A $5.25 billion expansion is set to wind down in 2015. In its current form, the canal can handle vessels that can carry up to 5,000 TEUs, or 20-foot equivalents — basically, the size of a shipping container. Once the expansion is completed, the canal will be able to handle “Post-Panamax vessels,” which can carry up to 13,000 TEUs.

For reference, according to the FINANCIAL TIMES. carrying a 10,000-size load would require 18 trains, 5,800 trucks or 570 planes.

Any sector where the U.S. is a net exporter is likely to reap some benefit from the expansion. For instance, the U.S. currently enjoys a positive balance of trade in its paper, raw textile, and machinery industries.

But their gains are likely to be modest compared with those of two other major sectors: agriculture and natural gas.

Amber Waves

U.S. agriculture stands to gain the most from the expansion, further entrenching America as the world’s breadbasket, already No. 1 in wheat, corn and soybean exports.  In a 2011 report prepared for the U.S. soybean industry, INFORMA ECONOMICS forcaste that volumes of grain and soybeans transiting the Panama Canal will jump 30% or 426 million bushels (or 11.2 million metric ton s) to 1,840 million bushels (the equivalent of 48.4 million metric tons) by 2020/21 from the projected volumes for 2011/12.

It’s already $6 per metric ton cheaper for farmers in the country’s midsection to ship their goods down the Mississippi River through the Gulf than to ship them out through Seattle. Once the expansion is finished, vessels will be capable of handling an additional 7,000 metric tons on a Panamax or 13,300 metric tons on a small Capesize vessel. As a result, the area of farms who can take advantage of traveling down the Mississippi through to the Gulf instead of using freight trains to the West Coast will be able to expand,

“For bulk shipments, the expansion of the Panama Canal is extremely important,” Informa says. “The possibility of lowering the Center Gulf freight rate by $14 per metric ton will expand the barge competitive draw area. The railroads shuttle train locations in the expanded barge draw area will either lower freight rates or lose modal share.

Of course, the canal is a two-way street, and Informa says any domestic U.S. industry that has to compete could face losses because their competitors will also be seeing transportation gains. Steel, cement, and fertilizer are likely to take the largest hits, Informa says.

But this also means consumers and end users will be seeing price gains and increased economic activity. Informa:

“The ability to unload larger ships on the East Coast makes it more likely a large retailer will build a major distribution center in the the Eastern US That will in turn enable ocean carriers to add a string of ports to call. The new availability of containers, load out times and increased destination ports expand backhaul [trucking] opportunities.”

Ports up and down the East Coast have already invested millions of dollars to prepare for this outcome. Savannah, Georgia, for instance, has spent $662 million expanding its own port to accommodate post Panamax vessels, the benefits of which the Army Corps of Engineers said in 2012 would far outweigh costs.

Gas Boom

Currently, Very Large Gas Carriers, the vessels used to transport American petroleum and natgas products, must sail all the way around South America to reach Asia. But once the expansion is complete, shipping days will be cut to 25 from 41. That means the time it takes to get from the East Coast to Asia will now be comparable to the time it takes to get there from the Middle East, resulting in freight cost savings of up to 50%, according to Alliance Bernstein’s Neil Beveridge.

Beveridge says the coal and petroleum product sectors are unlikely to change much given flagging demand former the former and narrow pricing spreads for the latter.

Not so with natural gas.

Thanks to the shale boom, which has made the U.S. the world’s largest natural gas, natgas prices have plummeted, which has enticed importers, especially in Asia to start sending for U.S. goods. The current cost of transporting natural gas is already relatively high, which means it has more to gain from a canal expansion, Beveridge argues.

Bloomberg’s Isaac Arnsdorf says exports to Japan, which has shut down its nuclear plant fleet in the wake of the Fukushima incident, could surge, and with the canal expansion, it will cost 30% less for carriers to reach a the country from Louisiana.

“There’s a huge market in Asia, a huge resource in the United States, and the Panama Canal is an enabler of this trade, reducing the cost of getting LNG to the market,” Sverre Bjorn Svenning, an analyst at Fearnley group in Oslo who’s studied the canal expansion told Arnsdorf. “We didn’t see this coming.”

Most gas gets exported in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). Beveridge is slightly more bearish on efficiencies for LNG, since Washington may seek to limit LNG exports to maintain cost advantages now enjoyed by U.S. consumers.

Rather, he argues, LPG is likely to be the greatest beneficiary. LPG consists of hydrocarbons like propane and butane that exist as a gas at sea level but liquid at reduced  pressures and temperatures. It’s mostly used for cooking and space heating, as well as an industrial feedstock.

Global LPG demand is about 30% larger than the global LNG market.  Asia-Pacific countries comprise 40% of global consumption and 7% of demand growth.

With the expansion, the cost of shipping LPG from the U.S. to Asia will equal the cost of shipping it from the Middle East, Beveridge says. “As such we expect demand for US LPG to increase sharply which will put downward pressure to Middle East LPG export prices,” he writes.

We’ve come full circle.  [Read more at BUSINESS INSIDER]

Another REALLY fascinating BUSINESS INSIDER article is Twenty Huge Trends That Will Dominate America’s Future [with apologies to all the rest of non-US Americans and the rest of the world.  But rest of the world take note, there’s also a Twenty Huge Trends That Will Define The World for Decades.

Back Home: A Changing America

Me and boys 080614Having just been “back home” in the US, I can report that it’s still the same.  But I do wonder what kind of country I will be leaving my grandkids.

It’s easy to hear expats in Panama complain about life back in the US: the Bush so-called “Patriot Act” which Congress and Obama have not only supported but interpreted in even more anti-patriotic ways offering up traditional US American freedoms as trophies to terrorism in the name of “national security”; how the US has become a country living in fear [FDR: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”; how curt and militaristic the airport “Welcome to America!” has become when you go “back home” to visit; and “Obama Care” – if one more person tells me how “bad” or “good” it is I will throw up on the spot!  There are those who still believe that a black man riding on a white horse would save the US from self-destruction, and those whose life revolves around FOX “news” [Yes, it's available in Panama.] who think that had McCain, Palin, Romney (and who was his running mate?) had been elected, the US would be so, so much better.  Palin’s foreign policy experience [Remember?  Even though she'd never had a US Passport she "could see Russia" from Alaska.] would have trumped Obama/Clinton’s bungling.

Some folks love romping in this stuff like pigs in the mud, and others, while still concerned about life in the US, it’s direction or lack thereof, and the implications for grandkids, just enjoy being away from it all in Panama.  Bob Adams, who has a great Web site called RetirementWave.com, says that if you’re coming to Panama to live as an expat you need to pack all that negative, political stuff that has nothing to do with your new life in Panama and leave it back where you came from.

But there is no question that things are changing in the US.  I found this article about Clinton’s potential White House bid that included some very interesting material developed by the highly respected Pew Research organization …

In March this year, Pew published a social trends survey which concluded that the Millennials were “forging a distinctive path into adulthood”. They did not join political parties or churches, lived largely beyond the corporate world, and were mostly broke but still had hopes for their future.

“Now ranging in age from 18 to 33 ½,” the report found, “they are relatively unattached to organised politics and religion, linked by social media, burdened by debt, distrustful of people, in no rush to marry – and optimistic about the future.

“They are also America’s most racially diverse generation. In all of these dimensions, they are different from today’s older generations. And in many, they are also different from older adults back when they were the age Millennials are now.”

Pew found that 50 per cent of Millennials now describe themselves as politically independent, but if they do back a party, it will be the Democrats. They hold “liberal views” on issues such as same-sex marriage and the legalisation of marijuana. Forty-seven per cent of children born to Millennial women are born out-of-wedlock.

They seem to be living differently and adopting different views and values partly because they have had to: they are the generation launched into a global recession with an unprecedented amount of college debt and few job prospects, the first generation to realise that the American Dream is going to remain just that.

They do not want to drive big cars or buy suburban mansions; they repopulate cities (when they can afford to leave the nest at all) and ride bicycles.

Perhaps most significant is that they are adapting to America’s rapidly shifting racial balance. Whites will cease to be an overall majority in America sometime around 2045. That projection is behind the anti-immigrant, right-wing rage of the Tea Party and its related militias. But it bothers the new generations of pink, brown and black Americans less and less.

In short, it is the Millennials who have helped consign the Republican politics of division – “Vote for us or your daughter will marry a black man!” – to the dustbin of history.

It has been calculated that Millennials will not have the majority of votes for another 20 years, and so will not have control of Washington until 2035.

But they have been a rising power since the first of them turned out for Barack Obama in 2008, and their share of the vote will go up in every cycle. [Charles Lawrence THE WEEK]

A Different View of Panama

If you are thinking of “escaping” to Panama, not just because it’s such a beautiful country with what may be a better, and perhaps even less expensive lifestyle, but because you are trying to escape the long arm of the law in your own country, or want to continue some nefarious activity in Panama … think again!

We know how screwed up, backasswards, and unjust the so-called “justice system” can be in the US and maybe in your home country as well.  When you come to Panama you need to understand that it is different in many ways, including the law, court system and justice system, which is why I included a chapter in THE NEW ESCAPE TO PARADISE entitled “The Devil You Know” as in, “The devil you know may be better than the devil you don’t know.”

If you are a criminal … take note.  But it’s also worth nothing that in Panama, as well as in the US, you can simply be at the wrong place at the wrong time  [See BrandonHein.com].

This week there was another riot at La Joya prison, considered one of the 10 worst prisons in the world.  This story focuses on a Canadian citizen, Dr. Arthur Porter, who was arrested in May 2013 on an international warrant wanted for fraud in Canada.  He has been incarcerated at La Joya for 15 months without a hearing while fighting extradition to Canada. (CBC)

A CANADIAN man at the center of an alleged $22.5 million bribery and kickback scandal involving Montreal’s McGill University Hospital was trampled during a violent prison riot in La Joya Prison on Friday, August 8 says a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

According to family and fellow inmates of Dr Arthur Porter prison officers inexplicably opened fire with shotguns and tear gas during a routine search of overcrowded Cellblock 6 of the notorious La Joya prison said the CBC on Thursday, August 14.

Dr. Porter, former executive director of the McGill University Health Centre and a former head of Canada’s spy watchdog agency, has been languishing in that section of the prison reserved for foreign nationals ever since his arrest May 27, 2013 at the airport in Panama City on an international warrant. He is fighting a request by Quebec police for his extradition back to Canada for his alleged role in one of the largest frauds in Canadian history.

“He was shot in the face with tear gas, and then he tried to crawl to the stairs to escape, and he got trampled on, which damaged his leg, and then he lost consciousness,” Gemma Porter, the eldest of Porter’s four daughters, told CBC News.

It marks the first time a member of the Porter family has spoken publicly about the arrest and incarceration of Porter, a member of Canada’s Privy Council, who says he has been fighting lung cancer since the fall of 2012.

CBC News reached another prisoner in Cellblock 6, Leo Morgan, who confirmed the account.

“When a riot breaks out, it’s mayhem,” said Morgan, 56, from Birmingham, England, who has been stuck in the prison for 10 years without being sentenced for money laundering. “They shot 80 grenade canisters of tear gas, and everybody is running. Of course you’re trying to breathe, vomiting, your eyes are running … you’re doing everything. When it was going on, people are looking to save their own lives.
Dr. Arthur Porter was injured last Friday during a prison riot at La Joya prison, reputed to be one of the 10 worst prisons in the world. He has been incarcerated there for 15 months without a hearing while fighting extradition to Canada. (CBC)

“(Porter) was passed out on the floor, everybody running over him, and they just picked him up and dragged him out and left him on the field. When there was a lull, people shot and people bleeding, we checked him out. We could not get A pulse and we couldn’t get any signs of breathing. We’re not trained doctors.”

Morgan is a spokesman for the 506 foreign prisoners squeezed into the 180-bed Cellblock 6, where he says they have no access to water, no exercise time, and have to endure bad food and are forced to sleep on the floor in and around the toilets due to overcrowding. He was planning to meet with representatives of foreign embassies today, but he didn’t believe anyone from Canada was attending.

“I’ve seen more than 59 people die in 10 years I’ve been here,” he told CBC News, explaining that most of the people are there as a result of the U.S. war on drugs. “They die of natural causes, they’re shot, knifed, there’s heart attacks, suicide, AIDS. I’ve seen someone stabbed 17 times and live, and someone punched once in the heart and he’s dead.

“I can’t tell you the worst of it, it’s the smells – urine, vomit, blood. The blood smell when they kill someone it’s most powerful.”

FEARED FOR LIFE
A spokesperson for Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs did not confirm whether any Canadian official attended today’s meeting. In an email earlier this week, spokesperson Béatrice Fénelon wrote: “We are aware that riots took place in La Joya prison in Panama. At this time, we have not received any information that Canadians were affected in these riots. Canadian consular officials stand ready to provide assistance, as required.”

Porter, who is in email contact with his daughters, told them that when he regained consciousness on Friday he had blurred vision and a severe limp, but feared for his life as prisoners had taken over the cellblock.

However, Panamanian officials told CBC that order was restored at the prison later that day.

“It’s one thing thinking every day about his health, how long does he have, he’s already beaten the odds for so long,” Gemma Porter told CBC News. “And then on top of it to get news like that. Not just cancer, not just unclean, unsanitary conditions, it’s being shot at with (shotguns) and tear gas, that I have to worry about.

“That might be the reason he dies. It’s terrifying.”

A CANADIAN man at the center of an alleged $22.5 million bribery and kickback scandal involving Montreal’s McGill University Hospital was trampled during a violent prison riot in La Joya Prison on Friday, August 8 says a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

According to family and fellow inmates of Dr Arthur Porter prison officers inexplicably opened fire with shotguns and tear gas during a routine search of overcrowded Cellblock 6 of the notorious La Joya prison said the CBC on Thursday, August 14.

Dr. Porter, former executive director of the McGill University Health Centre and a former head of Canada’s spy watchdog agency, has been languishing in that section of the prison reserved for foreign nationals ever since his arrest May 27, 2013 at the airport in Panama City on an international warrant. He is fighting a request by Quebec police for his extradition back to Canada for his alleged role in one of the largest frauds in Canadian history.

“He was shot in the face with tear gas, and then he tried to crawl to the stairs to escape, and he got trampled on, which damaged his leg, and then he lost consciousness,” Gemma Porter, the eldest of Porter’s four daughters, told CBC News.

It marks the first time a member of the Porter family has spoken publicly about the arrest and incarceration of Porter, a member of Canada’s Privy Council, who says he has been fighting lung cancer since the fall of 2012.

CBC News reached another prisoner in Cellblock 6, Leo Morgan, who confirmed the account.

“When a riot breaks out, it’s mayhem,” said Morgan, 56, from Birmingham, England, who has been stuck in the prison for 10 years without being sentenced for money laundering. “They shot 80 grenade canisters of tear gas, and everybody is running. Of course you’re trying to breathe, vomiting, your eyes are running … you’re doing everything. When it was going on, people are looking to save their own lives.
WORLD’S WORST PRISONS
Dr. Arthur Porter was injured last Friday during a prison riot at La Joya prison, reputed to be one of the 10 worst prisons in the world. He has been incarcerated there for 15 months without a hearing while fighting extradition to Canada. (CBC)

“(Porter) was passed out on the floor, everybody running over him, and they just picked him up and dragged him out and left him on the field. When there was a lull, people shot and people bleeding, we checked him out. We could not get A pulse and we couldn’t get any signs of breathing. We’re not trained doctors.”

Morgan is a spokesman for the 506 foreign prisoners squeezed into the 180-bed Cellblock 6, where he says they have no access to water, no exercise time, and have to endure bad food and are forced to sleep on the floor in and around the toilets due to overcrowding. He was planning to meet with representatives of foreign embassies today, but he didn’t believe anyone from Canada was attending.

“I’ve seen more than 59 people die in 10 years I’ve been here,” he told CBC News, explaining that most of the people are there as a result of the U.S. war on drugs. “They die of natural causes, they’re shot, knifed, there’s heart attacks, suicide, AIDS. I’ve seen someone stabbed 17 times and live, and someone punched once in the heart and he’s dead.

“I can’t tell you the worst of it, it’s the smells – urine, vomit, blood. The blood smell when they kill someone it’s most powerful.”

FEARED FOR LIFE
A spokesperson for Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs did not confirm whether any Canadian official attended today’s meeting. In an email earlier this week, spokesperson Béatrice Fénelon wrote: “We are aware that riots took place in La Joya prison in Panama. At this time, we have not received any information that Canadians were affected in these riots. Canadian consular officials stand ready to provide assistance, as required.”

Porter, who is in email contact with his daughters, told them that when he regained consciousness on Friday he had blurred vision and a severe limp, but feared for his life as prisoners had taken over the cellblock.

However, Panamanian officials told CBC that order was restored at the prison later that day.

“It’s one thing thinking every day about his health, how long does he have, he’s already beaten the odds for so long,” Gemma Porter told CBC News. “And then on top of it to get news like that. Not just cancer, not just unclean, unsanitary conditions, it’s being shot at with (shotguns) and tear gas, that I have to worry about.

“That might be the reason he dies. It’s terrifying.” [NEWSROOM PANAMA]

No low-level, indigent criminal, Porter, according to Wikipedia …

Arthur T. Porter IV, PC, (born in 1956 in Freetown, Sierra Leone) is a Canadian physician.

In February 2004, Porter was appointed Director General and CEO of the McGill University Health Centre in Montréal, Canada, one of Canada’s largest academic health centres.

He also served as Chair of the Security Intelligence Review Committee of Canada which reviews the activities of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Canada’s spy agency. He was appointed to the position by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper on September 3, 2008, and along with that appointment, was made a Privy Councillor.

He was succeeded as Chair of the Security Intelligence Review Committee by Chuck Strahl.

On May 27, 2013 he was arrested in Panama on fraud charges connected to one of Canada’s biggest health-care scandals. He claimed no wrongdoing. More than a year later, while still in prison, he filed a $150 million lawsuit against the Republic of Panama, claiming damages incurred from his arrest and imprisonment in the country.

That suit cites Panamanian Law 2502 which states that if a person being sought on extradition does not face a hearing within 60 days of their detention, they are to be freed.

He also complained to the United Nations that his human rights had been violated.

As of July 8 2014, Porter was still under arrest in Panama awaiting extradition to Canada

It probably wasn’t that difficult to get comment from other prisoners since many have cell phones … in prison! … and just about any other contraband you can think of.

So what does this have to do with people who are thinking of moving to Panama as expats … normal, ordinary, law-abiding folks dreaming of beaches and rainbows? Probably nothing … but, as my expat friend from Alaska, “Soup” Campbell says, “When you come to Panama leave your expectations at the border.” Paradise? Yes! Different? Yes!

It’s not just Panama …

Jackie Lange’s Panama Relocation Tours recently reposted an article by Marcella Estrada in PANAM POST entitled “Tough-on-Everything Criminal Code Imposes Chill on Ecuador” that is well-worth reading, even if Ecuador isn’t on your list for consideration.  It’s just another caution about moving abroad: check it out … thoroughly!  Don’t just go off half-cocked …

Seventy-seven additional felonies will take Ecuadorians straight to prison, according to the new Organic Criminal Code. The law came into effect this week, and its 730 articles have civil libertarians warning that it will become another tool for the state to expand its interventionist reach, with heavy punitive powers.

If that sounds familiar, like US interpretation of the so-called “Patriot Act” … just remember, “Sometimes the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.”

Happy 100th Canal de Panama!

We live in a throw-away society. How long does your toaster work? How long do you keep any electronic device? Use it … works a while then quits, and you throw it away. Yet here is this engineering marvel that stunned the world when it opened 100 years ago today, and it is still working 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It has survived wars, invasions, dictators and still works as designed bringing the world together! Amazing! Happy Anniversary Canal de Panama!

Now …

August 14, 1914

[1913 is the date of construction of the control house - the first transit was 1914]

Panama Canal 100th Anniversary Photo Alblum

A snake in my blanket! No s*#*!!

Well, that was a first!

Yes we have snakes in Panama, about 127 species only 20 or so of which are poisonous, however a few of those are amongst the most deadly.  So we live with snakes.  Once in a while we see one on our finca.  I’m happy to have most of them since they feed mostly on pests.  We even have one, we’ve seen him, a big, long black snake, but I don’t want anything to happen to it because it’s favorite snack is baby fed de lance, the very poisonous snakes.  So we are “snake friendly” for most snakes.  But if they endanger our workers, our workers kids who run around like all Indigenous kids in their bare feet, or can potentially harm us or our dogs … machete time!

Around my finca you watch where you step, which is very good advice since I have three big dogs who are always leaving “gifts” around!

So today, it’s 4 pm.  I’ve been working hard all day on a ship lecture that includes St. Martin, Virgin Gorda and Puero Rico … all in one 60-minute talk!  It’s a challenge, but it is a port intensive cruise with little time at sea for lectures, so I have to pack a lot in.  4 pm.  Nikki made me a delicious cafe mocha out of our own, home grown coffee, with some “extra flavoring” thrown in.  [Little Kaluha, Anejo Rum, and Contreau - try it!]  The fog is rolling in, so I decided to lay down in the hammock and read a book.

I’m getting comfortable on the hammock, and since it’s a little chilly take the throw blanket that’s always on the hammock and was my mother’s, and go to throw it open over myself … and out drops a two foot, pencil thin, squirming snake, right on my chest!  You’d be surprised how fast I can move, and so was the snake!  I start yelling for Nikki and Milton, the guy from next door whom we’ve known since he was nine and is cleaning our cars.

This guy is skinny, the snake, not Milton, but he has a big, almost lance-shaped head ["fer de lance"] is brownish, so Milton fearlessly smashes it’s head while Nikki fends off three very curious mutts.  This is the time for action!  We’ll identify the sucker later, and if he’s a “friendly” and not a “hostile” … well “Que lastima!”

Near as we can figure, and the consensus now of Indigenous opinion he is a “Chunk-headed” snake, actually more thick-headed to have gotten in my blanket.

Being so thin and bearing little weight, the Brown Blunt-headed Snake can move through branches and twigs without causing any movement. The triangular shape to the body and the large dorsal scales allow it to reach out a third of its body length from the branch supporting it. It has that wonderful forked tongue, which is an acute sense organ designed to detect parts per million of scent particles in the air. It also has those two huge eyes which cover a large percentage of the head. They face forward and can give a sense of depth perception, essential for the accuracy of a lightning quick strike that will follow. The unfortunate victim is snatched in its comatose state from the leaf, wrapped in a serpentine half-nelson, constricted and consumed whole before it even knew what hit it.

The eyes of the snake bear some further scrutiny if only to appreciate the cryptic coloration that along with the markings of the snake’s body serve to blend it perfectly into the background. It now becomes invisible to both its predators and prey. [Philip's Blog Philip's travel and nature experiences]

But needless to say it was a surprising first! Never-the-less another interesting creature.

Your Letters & Comments

We’re all entitled

I was in Seattle cruising through Sam’s Club with my daughter and grandsons when I leafed through this book, found it amazing, thought it would be an excellent toilet book … you know an accessory to the “reading room” … and so I bought it.  I paid $10, which you will find out is $9 more than some folks paid.  I found it to be amusing, filled with attitude, and it helped fill the 10 hours in the back seats of airplanes and airports getting back to Panama almost tolerable.  And I appreciated the fact that it was making a sad point and didn’t expect it to be footnoted like an academic text.

Of course it got mixed reviews on Amazon, like this from a probably FOX addict …

Talk about stupid history–this writer should be in the book somewhere. Some good items in the front but then Fenster let his left-wing liberal views shine as bright as his negative attitude toward virtually everything. Not the least bit cute or funny. He should have quit while he was ahead on a few items, instead, it looks like he tossed about for any liberal trashy ideas to insert as filler. Don’t buy this one. Thank goodness (and there is goodness in the world!) I only paid one dollar for it at a book sale. Not even worth that but at least I discovered how seemingly hate-filled some liberals are, as if I didn’t already know. Oh, did I say something about accuracy? Don’t look for it in this book. Trashaway! It deserves a zero star.

I mention this only because of my recent stupidity …

002 (2) As I told my 6-year-old grandson, who looks 8 and has the vocabulary of a high school student and believes that he should be perfect in every way, “You’re allowed to make mistakes. Don’t sweat the small stuff.” So while I’ve been visiting in Seattle I’ve been trying to squeeze in blogging, but grand kids will trump blogging every time! I made the mistake of partially writing this blog, going ahead and scheduling it even although it wasn’t complete, with all good intentions .. so it ended up gong “live” online this morning unfinished. Dumb to schedule it before it was finished, but I doubt if it was dumb enough to make the “Stupid History” list.

Thank you … I think.

I’m always VERY pleased when you write a review of one of my books on Amazon!  Being an author you put your stuff out there … some folks like it, and others … well … “Super Dave” (doesn’t say what he is “super” at) wrote the following review of ESCAPE TO PARADISE: OUR EXPERIENCE LIVING AND RETIRING IN PANAMA

“A fun read for general info on Panama. The Cliff’s Notes version (if there was one) would be around 150 pages. He occasionally gets up on his soapbox and preaches about all God’s creatures, how happy we should all be to still be alive, etc. You may want to just skip over that.

A good general layout of the country with an emphasis on the western mountainous area, where he lives. Also, a bit surprising that he devotes a whole chapter to coffee. Maybe part of the Cliff Notes editing out?

One last critical comment and then I’ll opine on what I believe is the best part. He includes some maps of Panama, copy paste from somewhere. The one showing topographical features is virtually unreadable, too much detail shrunk down. The other full country map is OK. An easy improvement would be to reference the areas that he is talking about in the text (i.e. Boquete and Coronado) to locations on the map. Not currently done. Work on that one during your next lecture cruise (which he drones on about occasionally).

Now for the best part of this 400+ page somewhat pricey book…a real diversified well thought out 14 day itinerary for first time visitors…Canal, beaches, mountains, and islands. But you can probably get the same or similar from Traveladvisor or Frommers on-line.  Super Dave”

I responded …

Hey Super Dave! Thanks for the comment. When you publish something you put it out there and … well, some folks think it’s the best thing since sliced bread, others think its OK, and a few think its crap. But I do appreciate your comments and suggestions and will keep them in mind when I revise.

Here’s the FREE condensed Cliff Notes summary: “Panama, if you know what you’re getting into, can be GREAT as it has been for us. The key is to figure out what you want, evaluate potential countries, do your due diligence, and come with eyes wide open.” There, that should save you and others a lot of money!  But I hope folks still buy the book!

A few comments … I love it when folks “opine”, it sounds so legal and anchor-newsperson-like … The book title says it all: Escape To Paradise: OUR EXPERIENCE Living and Retiring In Panama. Coffee is a big part of the Boquete experience and has been a big part of our experience and its something folks always ask about (droning on here) when I’m on ships, so I included he chapter on coffee. If you buy a book written by a former pastor you gotta expect a little “preaching.” Mea culpa! And glad you liked the itinerary! No, it wasn’t from a guidebook but based on our experience. I hope you get to try it out! And if you come to Boquete let me know. I’ll treat you to a cup of the best coffee you’ve ever tasted.

It probably depends on where you position the “Super Dave” tattoo on your body.  Of course years ago my nickname was “Dick” … but we won’t even go there!

One other thing: Amazon calculates which book to put at the top of the list based in part on the NUMBER of reviews … so even if someone says “it sucks” it helps sell books. [Thank you friends for your willingness to support but you really don't have to write the "it sucks" review!]Best regards, Plain Old Non-“Super” Richard

khfitz6311 review made me feel a lot better about my efforts …

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!

And this has what to do with COSTA CONCORDIA …

David Lane, a frequent commenter, wrote …

Note that your Coffee estate continues on the market. Just wondering if you retirement chateau/estate is one of the most expensive properties on the market for retiring expats? Can expats come and find retirement homes/properties in adequate living condition in the more affordable rages of $50,000 – 90,000 USD? How about some comments for those wanting the Boquete environment but not able or willing to expend their savings on costly properties.

David, “continues on the market” … well, I wish we could have sold it in three weeks. But most houses and properties for sale in Boquete take a little longer than maybe in a hot real estate market like the US where properties sell … When’s the last time you looked at Zillow.com for various US markets. Of course, if I recall correctly, you live in Florida where property sells immediately. Like anywhere else some folks just want cheap, others want value, others want something more upscale, and a few want something lavish.. I’ve frequently written about the fact that now, as opposed to when we came to Boquete ten years ago, there is a good inventory of homes for sale in all price ranges It just depends on what you want.

Soledad Chica responded to David’s comment  …

There are houses in our neighborhood (Valle Escondido) for $1.2million and $1.5million [and higher!] …..so no, Richard’s coffee finca/hacienda is not the most expensive in Boquete. In Boquete, as in other places: you get what you pay for. You can find more less expensive houses in the $50,000 – 90,000 range. They may be the more typical “Panamanian architecture” (box houses, low ceilings, small rooms, little to no light). If you want the open floor plan, high ceiling architecture more typically found in North America, that will cost you more. You might consider visiting the area and seeing the options for yourself. Boquete can be pricey, but the outlying areas (Volcan, Dolega, David) might have options to suit your price range.

David actually lives happily in Florida, but visits Panama frequently. Unfortunately these comments originally were added to a piece about the dismantling of the COSTA CONCORDIA and had nothing to do with the subject of the post. It’s helpful if a comment about a post has something to do with the subject of the post.

Renting A Car in Panama City

My best advice … don’t!  Since a picture is worth a thousand words …. this video was obviously shot on a day when traffic was actually doing quite well.

The other day I recounted our story the first time we came to check out Panama and see if it stayed on our list … and a few of you have shared your own stories.

“We also came to Panama 9 or 10 years ago for the first time at night, rented a car and didn’t have a clue where we were headed into the City to our hotel. We pulled over at a gas station to look at a map. A cab driver with a full load of people saw us, and asked if he could help. We followed him to the hotel. We were SO thankful. Fred offered him a generous tip which he refused, but Fred finally made him take it. Most Panamanians are such gracious people! Kathy Donelson”

“Love your story about your first day in Panama. We also stupidly rented a car (though we were staying a few days in the City before heading out). At least we drove during the day, but we also got hopelessly lost in the Chorillo District (which is where I assume you ended up since it’s very seedy and we have the Americans to thank for that since they bombed it to smithereens during the invasion to oust Noriega). We also were on a one way street going the wrong way and were almost broadsided by a bus as we emerged onto a major road because the driver was not expecting anyone to come out from our direction. Thankfully, some scary looking, but actually very helpful young Panamanian men gave us directions (they spoke Spanish, but so do I!). A few days later we tried driving into Casco Viejo and again ended up in Chorillo. Again, nothing bad happened but I’d lie if I said I wasn’t a bit fearful.

Frankly, if you are in Panama City for the first time,, don’t rent a car! taxis are reasonably priced. I don’t know how the new subway is but I’m sure it’s an improvement over driving yourself around. There is construction everywhere and detours galore. I would suggest holding off renting a car until you’ve finished a couple of days in the city and are then ready to hit the road for the countryside.
:If you are adventurous or on a tight budget, Panama’s intercity bus system isn’t bad. Even the “express” buses will often drop you off between cities if you tell the driver and baggage handler before you board so they load your luggage in front and can off load it easily. But be forewarned, the large Mercedes luxury buses (between Panama City and David) are freezing cold. We even took an Expresso bus (the Panamanian competitor of the Tica bus) from Panama City to San Jose Costa Rica a 13 hour adventure. I had to laugh because during an immigration check in western Panama a gringa girl (who was apparently illegally in the country) bolted for the bathroom and stayed there until the officials had checked everyone’s passports or other papers and gotten off. When we got to Costa Rica, three gringo backpackers decided to bypass immigration and customs and simply walked across the border and kept on going, I’m sure they got picked up and sent back because there were at least three immigration checkpoints once we got into Costa Rica. So Central America also has a problem with illegal immigrants, some of them from North America. Squirrelmama”

Telling It Like It Is

Once in a while I come across folks, some who’ve lived here a short time and maybe sat in a hotel seminar room and believed the pollyanish “facts” about life in Panama from people who were selling something, or they’ve talked to newly-minted experts, or even people in the States who haven’t lived in Panama and haven’t a clue … and they complain that I present Panama warts and all. Fortunately most folks, who before they pick up, move, and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, would like to know the real truth. So that’s what I try to present. Do we love Panama and our life here? Yes! Is life in Panama without challenges and frustrations? No! Just the facts ma’am is all I’m trying to do.

Always love your posts, Richard. You always tell it “exactly like it is!” Kathy Donelson

Kathy’s a Boquete resident who has been here about as long as we have and helped me with the NEW ESCAPE TO PARADISE. You’ll find very few folks who’ve lived here for a while have any disagreement with my approach.

I just finished reading your book after a recent trip to Panama. We stayed in Panama City for two night. Not for us, not even close. Then we stayed in Bijao Beach, too hot and humid. We were supposed to stay in Boquete for the last four nights. When I searched resorts near Boquete Isle Palenque popped up. The resort was nice but not very handicapped accessible.( I need handrails) so we never made it to Boquete. On our next trip that will be the only place we are staying. I thought the pensionado program seemed to good to be true.At one point while reading your book I felt excited to read the good, bad and the ugly. I went from saying yes we’ll give it a try to absolutely decided we needed to go back again and check out Boquete. Signed, Can’t Wait for Retirement

“…Everyone’s experience living in Panama is different. Richard’s book explains is excellent and explains his experience [from] when he moved to Panama 10 years ago … His chapter about evaluating what you need and want then finding the place to fill those needs is a must read. Richard’s blog shares details about his life in Panama now. Books or blogs written by expats who moved to Panama recently offer their perspectives. With all expat experiences, you will find some similarities but MANY differences. Seeing Panama through tourist eyes vs. expat life are two completely different animals. Like Richard said, the only way to know if Panama is right for you is to come see for yourself … Jackie Lange”

Good comment. However the perspective of “newbies” to Panama is often different, based on more limited experiences. It is best to get as wide of a variety of opinions as possible. Life in Panama is great, but like anywhere else, not without problems. The more you approach Panama with eyes wide open, the better your experience will be. It is a mistake to move to Panama to “escape from” rather than “escape to” what in my mind is a healthier and better lifestyle for less.

Great Blog, tells you the truth and exactly what we did. Subscribed to IL and got lots of information, made a trip here to see what Panama was like on our own, visited PC and the Azuero, liked it, went home and investigated some more. Came back about a year later, rented a car at the airport and took off with our GPS and visited all the places we thought might interest us. Ended up in Pedasi, moved here 6 months later. We came with 6 suitcases and one 4ft x 4ft x 6 ft crate, could have left half of it behind. You do NOT need to ship a 20 or 40 ft container full of “Stuff”. Most (98%) of what you need to live in Panama is NOT what you have where ever you live now. We rent and will always rent, have no need to buy. In Panama you buy in haste and sell in 3-5 years, Real Estate does NOT sell fast, even at fire sale prices. Check out some of the places for sale, most have been for sale at least 2 years. Read blogs, Read Forums, Take a relocation tour, DO NOT sit in a hotel while people who paid to be there paint a rosy picture of their particular offering. They need you to do what they want you to do because they have to make back the money they paid to be there.
If you get to Pedasi, give us a call, have a beer on our veranda at our house in the heart of the pueblo, 10 minutes from 3 great beaches.
PS: Bring kitchen items, tools, cotton clothes, sheets & towels.
PSS: Get a Schwab account, rebates all ATM fees, no foreign transaction fees, no checking or savings account fees or charges. Must get it while you have a U.S. Address and then must keep a U.S. address. Get a Magic Jack, can use your present home number, anyone can call you for FREE, you can call them for FREE and they have an iPhone app that does the same thing once you have a basic MJ account. For us it has been better than Skype. Sunnymikkel

Hi Richard, Love your books and they have been very valuable to us in our retirement quest in Panama. We have visited Boquete 6 times now and a total of 11 in the country of Panama. We were among the visitors who were robbed in Boquete Plantation back in Feb. The lady in the adjoining apartment was tied up and robbed. Fortunately we were not there so only lost a large quantity of stuff which can be replaced. It has not deterred us and we will be back this coming Feb. My question is whether you may have heard anything from it. I know you wern’t involved but we have not gotten any concrete information. I would love to meet you on our next visit, Thanks Ed Jones

Ed, I know nothing about this incident, nor am I even sure what “Boquete Plantation” you are referring to. Maybe if you search Boquetening.com you’ll find some old scuttlebutt about this. Boquete is VERY SAFE: does that mean it is perfect? No. Sometimes I’ve noticed that some people come here, either to live or visit, and check their common sense at the border or just forget to pack it. When I first came down to Boquete, alone, to close our house purchase and start painting the interior, I called Nikki from a pay phone at the China store in Alto Boquete. Stupidly I left my wallet on the top of the pay phone. [That should qualify me for inclusion in the Stupid Things book!] I immediately drove back to the store and … the wallet was gone. OK, Panama is like everywhere else in the world. Our original house was in Valle Escondido. The next day one of the guards drove to my house with my wallet with all cash and credit cards intact. It seemed a Gnobe Bugle woman had come to use the phone after me, saw the wallet, tried to look in it for identification but found none. She came to the conclusion that a stupid gringo who left his wallet and money on the pay phone must be from Valle Escondido. So she paid out of her own tiny amount of money to take the bus, then walk to the guard shack at Valle Escondido to return my wallet wanting nothing in return and not even leaving her name. Nothing is perfect here, but you’ve got to weigh things out.

Kat, a snowbird expat from Canada who provided the “inspiration” for my posts How Safe Is Panama? I II and III, wrote in follow-up …

Thank you for that post Richard. I am still left wondering if Stig was a random attack or whether his attackers were known to him. We are one of the people with a house in Bocas and my husband actually met Wild Bill. We are all happy to know that he and his wife are in prison. It reminds us to be cautious of our acquaintances. We will be returning to Panama this fall, but for now will keep Canada as our primary residence.

Kat, a good question, and one which I’m sure detectives have been asking. There are some things about this account which, IMHO, seem just too convenient. Maybe we will know someday, but this being Panama, maybe not.

I appreciate all of your comments! And will try to get to as many as possible.

This is just too good not to share …

I came across this piece on CNN by Jay Parini, a poet and novelist, who teaches at Middlebury College in Vermont who has just published a biography of Jesus entitled, JESUS; THE HUMAN FACE OF GOD. I thought it was too good not to share. I greatly admire Pope Francis. He seems to be God’s man for the Catholic Church in this hour, calling the church back to what the faith is really all about and with the courage to do what needs to be done and let the chips fall where they may. Just abandoning much of the irrational and expensive pomp and circumstance of Vatican life which really had nothing to do with the Gospel, given the sad history of most popes, was amazing. Telling the “princes of the church,” a title which these guys GAVE THEMSELVES, that the “Shepherd should smell like his sheep” and by word and example piling guilt on those who in the name of Christ choose to live in splendor ignoring the poor at their door (which by the way really WAS the sin of Sodom!), throwing the crooks out of the Vatican Bank, and excommunicating the Italian mafia murderers … simply stunning! What’s next? A new Reformation?

So here’s Parini’s piece …

Just when I thought my amazement with Pope Francis had run its course, he did it again. In a long interview with an old friend who was writing for an Argentine magazine, the pope put forward a 10-point plan for happiness. From where I sit, it seems, well, pretty damn good if not perfect. Here are Pope Francis’ tips for a happy life and my comments on them:

1. Live and let live. It’s an echo of the Pope’s earlier remark on gays: “Who am I to judge?” Moreover, it’s what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “Judge not, unless you want to be judged yourself.” (Matthew 7:1)

2. Give yourself to others. That is, give your money and your time to those in need. Don’t just sit around like stagnant water. Give all you have and then some.

3 Move quietly in the world. The Pope quotes from a favorite novel by an early 20th-century Argentine writer, Ricardo Guiraldes, in which the novelist writes that in one’s youth, a person is “a rocky stream that runs over everything,” but as one gets older, one becomes “a running river, quietly peaceful.” It’s very like the Native American suggestion that one should walk “in balance and beauty” on the ground, making the least disturbance.

This is a wonderful shot of then Cardinal Bergoglio riding the streetcar to work. When he was elected, Francis’ first words were, “May God forgive you for what you’ve done.”

4. Enjoy leisure. The Pope says that consumerism has brought with it unbearable anxieties. So play with your children. Take time off. And don’t spend all your time thinking about your next acquisition. Spend your time well, not your money.

5. Sunday is for families. This is actually one of the Ten Commandments. Honor the Sabbath. (Exodus 20:8) Once a week, give a whole day to meditation, worship, family life, tending the needs of the spirit. This is healthy living.

Instead of the usual custom of the Pope washing the feet of the “Princes of the Church” during Holy Week, Pope Frances went to a juvenile detention center to wash the feet of inmates.

6. Find jobs for young people. Who would have guessed that job-creation would be on list for happiness? But the Pope is right. Honest, simple work for young people is essential to their well-being. Somewhat surprisingly, in this moment in the interview, the Pope connected job creation to the degradation of our environment: “the tyrannical use of nature.” He links the lack of good jobs to the lack of respect for ourselves and the Earth itself.

So creating jobs doesn’t mean ruining the environment. It doesn’t mean, as the politicians chant, “jobs, jobs, jobs.” Good and productive labor is valuable, and it doesn’t mean you have to have a fancy job description. You don’t have to become rich. You can be ordinary. Happiness lies there. Do good work, create good work for others.

7. Respect nature. This follows from No. 6. “Isn’t humanity committing suicide with this indiscriminate and tyrannical use of nature?” the Pope wonders. Not surprisingly, this is what Henry David Thoreau, a founding father of the environmental movement, said. “Most people live lives of quiet desperation,” he said. He went into the woods, to Walden Pond, because he wanted “to live deliberately” and to “front only the essential facts of life.”

One Roman Catholic’s reaction to the selection of Pope Francis.

A proper respect for nature means that you can’t pollute the air, poison the rivers and chop down the forests indiscriminately without suffering greatly. I suspect that a huge amount of the anxiety and suffering that we see around can be closely traced to our wanton misuse of our resources. Just look at any garbage dump and see what is wasted. In a sense, we’ve wasted our souls.

8. Let go of negative things quickly. The Pope tells us not to complain about people who annoy or frustrate us, to let go of things as rapidly as we can. I have an old friend who used to say, “Put the bad things in your back pocket and leave them there.” This may sound like escapism or putting your head in the sand, but it’s more interesting than that. Life throws rotten things our way each day. People say nasty things to us, often about others. This stuff makes them miserable, of course. It makes us miserable, too. Flush it.

9. Don’t preach your religion too forcefully. Proselytism brings on paralysis, the Pope tells us. Wow. I’m a Christian myself, and I don’t mind saying so. But each person sees the world before them in his or her own way. The Pope says this. As a teaching, it seems to run counter to the so-called Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). Jesus said to get out there and spread the word. But the Pope takes a relaxed view of this activity, preferring that we should teach by example. Perhaps that really is what Jesus would do?

10. Work for peace. The Pope has preached this message from the beginning of his time as pontiff. He has gone to Jerusalem and worked to bring together Jews and Palestinians. He has prayed for peace and worked for peace. He has listened closely to Jesus, who said, “blessed are the peacemakers.”

The Pope asks us to take in refugees, to think innovatively about how to create peace in the world. Jesus, of course, invites us to turn the other cheek when struck. This is a complex teaching. But it’s essential to Christian faith. The Pope, once again, calls on us to take the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount seriously. This is very hard but crucial work.

Pope Francis has, in this unlikely venue, given us his own Sermon on the Mount, his Ten Commandments for happiness and inner peace. One can only be grateful for his wisdom, which is rooted in a sincere faith, in hard-earned wisdom, and a very practical knowledge of human needs and potentials.