At Last! Frank Gehry’s Biomuseo Opening Today

When Frank Gehry’s new Panama Biomuseum was under construction, and nothing more than still girders sticking up into the sky, I was working a Canal cruise. The Biomuseum is located on Amador Peninsula and one of the best views is from the deck of a ship transiting the Canal. A passenger asked me, “What is that over there? Did a bomb go off?” And she was serious, and yes, that’s exactly what it looked like!

It’s been a long time coming, but now it is officially here, another iconic building in Panama City and a new, major tourist attraction.

The vibrantly colored building boasts views of the Bay of Panama to the north and the Panama Canal to the south. Gehry conceived the museum to house a sequence of permanent exhibitions by Bruce Mau Design, but proper usage of outdoor space was also a priority to him. A public outdoor atrium, which is covered by an assemblage of metal canopies in different shapes and strong colors: blue, red, yellow, green, is the museum’s heart. The canopies reflect local Panamanian tin roofs, while offering protection from the area’s frequent wind-driven rains. The $100 million project is reminiscent of Gehry’s Bilboa Guggenheim Museum design with its bold use of free-flowing shapes, but it marks a departure from the architect’s tendency toward silver-colored metallic facades.

In addition to Gehry’s atrium, the Biomuseo utilizes outdoor space with its 6-acre Biodiversity Park, which the architect also had a hand in designing. Full of exotic plant varieties, shady refuges, and observation areas, the park is an open-air extension of the museum itself …

Due to funding issues over the span of four presidential administrations, construction has been on and off since 2005, when shovel first hit ground. Government changes led to multiple funding freezes, and the region’s blistering heat didn’t make construction any quicker. In fact, this official opening–the soft opening was in June–is almost three years overdue. Although the mastermind [Gehry] himself can’t be there on October 2, he and his Panamanian wife will undoubtedly be celebrating, wherever they may be in the world. [FORBESLIFE]

Newbies and Old Farts

One of the things to do once you are newly arrived in Panama is to become an expert on life in Panama. Newbies seem in a rush to create a Web site, start blogging, sit at Sugar & Spice and dish out their newly discovered expert advice to visitors considering moving to Panama, become an opinionated curmudgeon on Boquete.ning.com, or write a book … or two, or three. [In self-defense I waited three years before I started blogging about my experiences in Panama, and six years before I wrote a book about our experiences, a book THE NEW ESCAPE TO PANAMA: OUR EXPERIENCE LIVING AND RETIRING IN PANAMA which I just rewrote, updated and greatly expanded.]

Not so all the newly minted experts. There’s the couple that moved down her to escape the cold and dark nights of the far North, started a blog, stayed four months and escaped back to ice and snow and darkness because they didn’t like the bugs, the roosters, lots of children and pretty much the whole enchilada that is Panama. There’s the gal who came on one of Jackie Lange’s Panama Relocation Tours and then went home to the Southwestern US to start-up her own tour business to Panama sharing the wealth of her vast knowledge, a lot of it copied directly from Jackie. There are folks spewing out advice who’ve only actually lived here for a few months and then high tailed it back to the States, but are now experts.

I happened to sit near a newbie who was expounding on this fantastic builder who had such great recommendations. After dinner I asked him for the builder’s name and I almost choked when he told me … it was MY building … the guy who screwed me out of all kinds of money! And the guy who has played the same trick on half a dozen other gringos.

If you just want to know what Panama is like NOW, and forget all the stories about what went on before and how things got this way, you do so at your own peril. The local health “insurance” scheme may sound good, but you need to know that it almost went under, sold out to another company which has kept changing what it promised initially to the extent that what many of us purchased is no longer what we are getting even although the cost has increased dramatically. Yes, you may have had a good medical experience, but what are the overall experiences of those who have lived here for a while? Some good, some bad, some great doctors and some … But you’ve got to know and that means you’ve got to talk to some of the folks who’ve been around a while.

There are folks who want to believe all the surface hype and just want to hear the fluff. They accept everything at face value. It has always interested me that companies rate consumer satisfaction based on the consumers initial impressions after purchasing their products. What they really need to find out is what people think after they’ve used the product for several years … if indeed it lasted that long. Of course Panama is different now than it was ten, seven, or four years ago! Just look at the price of everything! You certainly need to know what Panama is like now, but you also need to know how it got here.

Like many retirees we are on a fixed income. Yes there are a myriad of ways that we could make more money if we wanted to work all the time at basically low-paying jobs. But we also came here to retire … to do what we wanted to do when we wanted to do it. We didn’t come to struggle to get by. Panama uses the US dollar and as the US dollar has become worth less in the US, it has also become worth less in Panama. Oil costs about the same here as in the US, and we don’t refine it, so that, along with everything but a few local food items, needs to be imported. And Panama’s economy has been booming. All that adds up to many things being more expensive now than they were when we came here, but we’re still making about the same pensions and social security. You’d better understand that … and understand some of the history.

Sure, you can come and open a business, start a restaurant, buy a bed and breakfast. There are great business opportunities in Panama! But you’d better have some experience, know what you are doing, understand the business laws and policies, carefully identify your market, understand the competitive landscape, and do a business plan that would make an MBA proud. For the first year don’t plan to make a cent, just plan to shell out money. And whatever your estimates … double your expense estimate and cut your anticipate revenue at least in half. If you’re willing to work and don’t plan to just sit back and watch the money flow in, you have a chance to succeed!

You come as a Pensionado to celebrate and take advantage of Panama’s Pensionado discount program which was aimed not to attract expats but at Panamanian retirees who are living … living! … on pensions of $150 to $300 a month for husband and wife.

Many things can and do change overnight in Panama. The President of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli not withstanding, has the power to do most things except make war, and since we don’t have an army that’s a non-issue. When the government changes, the government changes. The old powers that be update their resumes and start looking for jobs or just go back to running the family businesses, and the new folks move in. For a few months its pretty confusing as to who is who and what is what. Then things start to fall out and you get an idea of what life is going to be like for the next five years. Many, some might say most, of the old governments programs get dumped. New programs are initiated. There are new laws, new policies … projects that were half completed under the old government are abandoned. Contracts are dumped, the idea being I suspect that its cheaper to just pay the penalty or tie everything up in the courts until the next election cycle five years hence. You’d better understand some of the history. Yes, understand what is now, but also understand that it may all change tomorrow.

In the ten years that we’ve lived in Panama of course things have changed. On the surface we’ve become more like the US. You can get most US products in the grocery stores if you know where to look. In Chiriqui we have nice furniture stores and even a store that uses a Target-like logo … but has no relationship to US Target. You can live in Valle Escondido, hang out with gringos, speak only English, and live pretty much like you would in any upscale gated community in the US. On the surface that may make things “better” for expats now than it was when we arrived ten years ago, or so it may appear. But to understand the character, the values, the struggle of real Panamanians in a country that has been conquered, oppressed, and more-or-less occupied for much of it’s history, that’s endured a dictatorship, and struggles to adapt to it’s growing role as  “crossroads of the world” and “hub of the Americas” … to begin to understand that, you need to be here a while.

And, yes, you DO need to speak Spanish. The voice of experience speaking here … even if you can get by in polite greetings and giving instructions to your maid and gardener … when you make Panamanian friends and want to discuss the meaning of life, the fears and anxieties and challenges of living we all face, Panamanian politics and religion … you need to communicate in Spanish. And once you hit the “golden years” you DON’T just “pick up” a language!  The “mañana,” disregard for time as defined by gringos, laid-back work ethics as defined by gringos, and even the Panamanian national “game of life” philosophy … where everyone is always trying to get over on every one else …All of this doesn’t compare with the frustration of not being able to communicate fluently. How do I tell the kid next door, whom I’ve watched grow up from 8 to 18, who has no idea who his father is, and is struggling with his own identity, already has a woman and child … how do I explain to him what it means to be a responsible man who respects himself and others?

Sure, you can come down here, float on the gringo surface of things, just look out for yourself and what you can get.  You may actually discover that you can outwit a few local folks in the “game of life” …good luck with that.  You can ignore the poverty, inequality, and public education that sucks … just live in your gringo world, look down on your Panamanian neighbors, write a blog, even a book, and become an expert … but does that really give you the meaning in life you are seeking and a rewarding retirement?

Notes from Panama

Changing Hands at Tourism Board

Panama Relocation Tour Sheraton Bijao End of Day 1A new President in Panama pretty much means that everyone in any position of government authority in the old administration is out and looking for a job. The new head of tourism is a coffee farmer from Volcan!  And he also owns is a major shareholder in a 22 room hotel in Chiriqu. Tourist interests in Chiriqui have always felt the Tourism Board was almost solely focused on Panama City and in the pocket of the big hotels and casinos in Panama City. The new minister, Jesus Sierra, also has a visa that allows him to enter and travel in the US, unlike the previous minister who was barred by the US from entering. Being able to visit the US sounds important for Panama’s Minister of Tourism. [NEWSROOM PANAMA}

One immediate change, the free 30-day medical insurance program provided to foreign visitors to Panama is no more. Although much-hyped the program really wasn’t that great and seldom utilized.

For many countries in the world, tourism is a major income earner. In Panama it is 10% of GDP … the new tourism chief, Jesus Sierra , seems set to boost income from visitors and create new jobs. In the wind are a 10 kilometer cable car in Volcan Baru and two theme parks, (with adequate parking, one near Panama City and the other in the interior, largely ignored by the previous administrator. Funds spent on Panama City Carnival will be slashed, and more emphasis placed on traditional entertainment instead of imported talent. There will be an emphasis on training bi-lingual workers in the tourism and hotel industry which could help increase visits from Canada and the U.S. which have been declining. The new Convention Center at Amador is under way, and soon the Bio Museo will be ready to fully spread its wings. Perhaps Panama is finally on its way to realizing its full tourism potential.

Invasion of Panama

Panama’s film industry is growing and is the largest in Central America. Panama’s entry into this year’s Oscar competition for Best Foreign Film is “Invasion of Panama” by Abner Benaim, an up and coming Panama film maker.”Invasion of Panama” has opened in movie theaters across Panama and marks 25 years since the US invaded and captured Manuel Noriega, who now sits in the Renacer Prison beside the Panama Canal.

The film, which won the audience awards at this year’s Panama International Film Festival as the “Best Documentary” and “Best Film in Central America and the Caribbean”, shares the experiences of many Panamanians who lived through the 1989 events still fresh in their memories, but largely unknown to younger generations.. “The film is an exercise in historical memory, I wanted to explore, the invasion as remembered by characters who were deeply impacted by the invasion, from politicians, members of the extinct Defense Forces, Civil Society, and from ordinary people, to celebrities like Ruben Blades, Roberto Duran, and General Noriega “- said Benaim, who directed of the “Chance” comedy movie released in 2010 with a record attendance at local theaters.

The U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989 is unprecedented in the history of the country, that has not previously been addressed in-depth says a press release. In the 25 years since the events, this is the first documentary film ​​by a Panamanian about it. The film will be particularly shocking to those who lived in Panama since 1989 as it collects testimonies that have not previously been made public

SUMMARY
On the night of December 20, 1989 the United States invaded the once peaceful Republic of Panama. U.S. President George Bush made ​​it clear he wanted General Noriega, a former CIA ally out of power.

The Panama Canal, a strategic point for the U.S., seemed to be in danger. For two weeks Panama became a testing ground for new weapons of the U.S. Army. Noriega surrendered and was convicted in the United States for drug trafficking and later in for other crimes. He spent 24 years in prison.

Discussion of the invasion. described by some commentators as “genocidal” and aided and abetted by some local citizens like Bosco Vallarino who were described as “traitors” was shelved for various reasons. The ruling party had to live with the guilt and shame of being put in power by the U.S., and the cost in lives of Panamanian civilians had been high. The government that followed the invasion consisted of people who were part of the political arm of Noriega so they preferred silence. Most of the common people of Panama seemed to think there was no need to remember so much tragedy, loss and violence. The horrible images seemed hit the self-perception of atropical paradise where nothing bad ever happens.

But the invasion was still very present in the minds of those who experienced it. The documentary seeks to capture the memories of the people who lived through it and to bring together the collective memory. The narrative of the documentary focuses on characters whose lives were deeply shaken by the invasion; civilians who suffered attacks Panamanian defense corps who fought isolated, symbolic battles, paramilitary personnel who wanted to fight but could not, politicians justifying their actions, church figures who played the roles of negotiators between Noriega and the U.S., to those who participated in the looting that followed.

22,000 Expats in Chiriqui, 12,000 in Boquete … Really!?!

You wonder what some newbie Panama expat experts are smoking! One article, which hopefully will never make it into print, for an outfit that specializes in promoting Panama claims these numbers.  Interesting. Panama’s attempt at doing a census a few years ago was a colossal screw up.  Truth is nobody knows for sure how many people are in Panama, let alone Chiriqui or Boquete, and how many expats … and how many are living here full-time vs part-time … nobody knows. But what happens is that when one of these made up numbers gets out there, and promoted by one of these outfits, and starts getting repeated over and over, folks come to accept it as fact.

Yes, there are expats living here, some full-time and some part-time. And yes we spend money, and hire workers, and contribute to the economy, but only marginally. I’m always amazed at people who think that the arrival of expat gringos is responsible for Panama’s outstanding economic success. It’s amazing how we expats love to inflate our importance.

We used to sell our coffee cherries to a big coffee producer and a lot of that coffee ultimately ended up in Starbucks. So I’d tell my friends in the States who’d ask where we sold our coffee that if “you get a cup of coffee in Starbucks, every billionth bean is mine!” It’s a little like that with the expat contribution to Panama’s economic success. We can take credit for every “billionth bean” in the pot.

Pyrotechnics

Fireworks are big in Panama, legal and easy to get and they are a big part of celebrations. Christmas and New Year’s the sky explodes with fireworks. Big wedding … bigger firework display than many towns in the US offer for July 4th. But our biggest flash bang display comes around this time of year when we are moving into the heaviest rains of the rainy season. The other night was a good example: probably the wildest electrical storm I’ve ever experienced.

This time of year there is often a “monsoon trough” that hangs over the Isthmus of Panama … lots of moisture in the air. When the mid morning breeze moves in off the ocean it blows the hot air from David and the lowlands up and it collides mid-afternoon with the cool, moisture-laden air on Volcan Baru and by late afternoon the fireworks have begun! Electrical storms like you can’t imagine! Lights flickering on and off, and sometimes going out for a few hours. The other day there was lightning striking all around us. Fortunately the foliage is so soaked that we don’t have to worry about wild fires. I was scared to use my computer so just holed up on the bed to watch the storm out the windows. Our Dalmatian “Baru” is under our feet or beside us, touching us, whenever the first crash of thunder sounds, but the other day even our Rottweiler “Monkey” had jumped onto the bed and curled up beside me.

We lived in California for almost 20 years. If there was a slight earthquake the next day people would start predicting … “2.0”, “No, at least a 3,” “I’ll go with 2.7.” Really no big deal. But if there were an electrical storm and thunder it was all people could talk about. You’d think the world had almost come to an end!

Update: Assisted Living In Panama

I have a younger brother, Ed, who has had many physical and psychological difficulties throughout his life. In his early 20s he had a serious car accident driving home from a job as a night watchman while he was putting himself through a local college. Although only a few credits from graduation he was never able to finish. He survived driving his car head on into a tree and the cause of the accident was determined to have been that Ed had an epileptic seizure, an illness no one knew he had before the accident. Although controlled by medication, in New York State Ed was never able to get a driver’s license. Unable to drive, having experienced some brain damage in the accident, and with what we now know is Asperger Syndrome, Ed ended up mainly mowing lawns, doing odd jobs, and living with my parents. By the time both of my parents had died, Ed also developed diabetes. He tried living alone in Pennsylvania where my parents had lived and thankfully I we had some wonderful cousins who looked after him. Eventually we concluded he could no longer live a lone and four years ago brought him to Panama. We bought a nice little Panamanian house for him in town outside Valle Escondido which worked well when we lived in Valle Escondido. But getting him to live on a schedule, take his medication and insulin on schedule, and eat regularly was always a challenge.

When we moved from Valle Escondido to Palmira we converted a caretaker cottage on our farm into a cute little cottage for Ed. It was right at the entrance to our farm so we could keep closer watch on him. Our Indian farm worker woke him up every morning, tried to make sure he ate and took his medicine, and we tried to have him improve his diet. Things went fairly well for about two years, but Ed would suffer from bouts of dementia. He would forget to take his medication or not eat, or just take medication at random. We came up with a monthly calendar with little plastic bags of morning and evening pills, which worked for a while, but then Ed started to forget what day it was, so he’d just grab a couple of bags of pills at random to consume. He was always pretty good with his insulin, until he started forgetting if he’d taken it, so would give himself a second injection. Then we noticed instead of 30 cc he would sometimes give himself 20 cc or 60 cc. Several times our Indian worker who lived next door to Ed would find him going into a diabetic coma. We knew we were getting to the point where we had to do something.

On this past contract, when I was gone for three months on RUBY PRINCESS, Ed really crashed and burned. The first month Nikki was on the ship with me and our Indian worker Sabino came and got Stan, a friend who was house sitting for us. Ed was on the floor and couldn’t move. Stan managed to get him to our local doctor where they kept him overnight and managed to bring him around. Nikki came back and Ed seemed OK, if very forgetful. Then he really did crash and burn and for several weeks was totally out of it. He couldn’t stand up, control himself, or at one point even lift his arms to eat. It now turns out that he had a type of stroke and epilepsy as well. So it was definitely time.

At one time I had written about a couple who were attempting to start an assisted care facility in Boquete called Angels Wings. They made a valiant effort but in the end were done in by all the local red tape and regulations. It is not unusual in Panama to find that there are often more regulations and enforcement for Gringos than for locals. We knew of nothing in or close to Boquete. For a while it looked like we might have to return Ed to the States.

We found what we thought would be a good home for Ed about an hour from Boquete.  It was run by a church group.  There was a little hurch next to the home. The administrator and pastor has been a missionary all over the world.. Ed had a nice little apartment with a living area and leeping room and private bath. It seemed like an ideal situation for him and he was very happy to be moving . . . probably to escape our nagging to eat and take his medicine on schedule.

So we thought things were good. They had a care giver for every two patients. We were paying $750 a month which we thought was very good. Later we would find out that this was the “gringo” rate and Ed’s doctor told us that for Panama it really was excessive. But we were happy to have what we thought was a good situation. The care giver was excellent, very caring and saw this as her Christian mission. Ed complained a lot about the food … and it was Panamanian food and no way did we expect anything different just because he was agringo. Everyone spoke Spanish and Ed knew only a smattering of Spanish, but this is Panama. Ed could be very critical, as is typical of someAsberger patients, and he complained a lot, mostly about food. I tended to dismiss these complaints, or his statements that they were doing everything “cheap.” Then Ed started dramatically losing weight … down 70 pounds in ten months. We bought him a new wardrobe and put him through a lot of tests at the hospital to figure out the problem. The doctor couldn’t find any reason for the weight loss. Then I started arriving unexpectedly around meal times. Typical Panama food is chicken, rice and beans, only the chicken on his plate were parts of the chicken I never knew existed. And I would see the overweight administrator of the home chowing down on fried chicken breasts. In the evening they served pretty much the same thing ever night. A small bread roll with a slice of cheese or a single slice of cheap luncheon meat. Never any fruit or juices or vegetables, all of which are available in abundance in Panama. I started doing a calorie count and discovered that evening meals were generally 300 to 350 calories. We were bringing him cereal for breakfast and aheavy duty nutritional drink which the doctor ordered before bed. When they were putting in a new water pipe in front of the home, a process which took weeks, I discovered that frequently there was no water … NO water! No back up supply. Nothing. And this was a home where some of the residents wore diapers. No water!

Ed & my grandson Rian at an impromptu park picnic,

Ed & my grandson Rian at an impromptu park picnic,

So we decided to bite the bullet and take him back to the States. With the help of the good people of Washington we found him a wonderful assisted living home with only four residents. It happens to be in an exclusive, gated community of huge houses. The mother of the guy who owns it, and is a builder, had diabetes so they had remodeled the bottom floor for her. When she died they decided mostly as a Christian mission to run an assisted living home. When we took Ed to Washington his sugar numbers were fluctuating wildly, sometimes dropping to 31 and Ed was confused and almost going into a diabetic comma. He has been taking insulin for almost ten years. New doctors. US medicine. Another viewpoint. He is now totally OFF insulin, eating well, walking daily, and his numbers are staying on target. Everyone speaks English. He can watch US TV and best of all for him, NFL football. His roommate is a nice guy, also in his 60s who had a slight stroke and he is a football fan. Ed is still a Dallas Cowboy fan but his roommate is working hard to convert him to being a Seahawk fan.

There may, may be something similar to a US-style assisted living center in Panama City, but there is nothing in Chriqui where we live.  I know that uniformed logic says that it must be just as cheap in Panama to hire a full-time care giver, but finding someone qualified, capable and dependable isn’t as easy as it sounds.

I recently received this email, from Steve …

Richard, I am coming to Panama this November to begin my research into opening what would be called in the States an “Adult Foster/Family Home”, in Panama! I have long believed that there are ex-pats in Panama that have no desire to return to the States and would prefer to spend their final days in Panama. My hope is to offer “American care infrastructure” for ex-pats in Panama. My model is to purchase a home and have up to 6 residents that need 24 hour care, whether the care is limited to dementia or they are bed bound. I have the experience and ability to do this. Am I an idiot to think of this, or is there a real need? Do you have any insights or comments? Anxiously awaiting your reply, Steve B

And here’s my response …

Steve, there is a HUGE NEED for this type of assisted living in Panama! Many of us come down to Panama to enjoy retirement in paradise, but … things change. Life grows on, which means we are all getting older. Our bodies change and although we all see ourselves as “forty something” the fact is that bodies start to wear out. Growing older and needing assisted living is not something that we find appealing, especially for folks who are active and adventurous enough to move to Panama and experience a new and different culture. Family is ALL important in Panama. Multi-generations live in the same town, and often under the same roof. When you get older and need assistance your family takes care of you. Most North Americans and Europeans come from cultures where the family is strung out across states and countries, the so-called “nuclear” family. So, as we discovered with my younger brother whom we had to take back to the States for care, there is no North American style assisted living concept in Panama. And it is definitely one of those things that you need to keep in mind when you move to Panama. It’s the reason why I included a chapter in the NEW ESCAPE TO PARADISE entitled “Exit Strategy.” My wife, Nikki, is involved in the Hospice program in Boquete, created in part to assist folks who come to Panama and end up terminally ill, alone and without a support structure. Just this week she met with folks who are forming a support group for care givers … people struggling with incredible challenges of caring for infirm spouses, alone, in a foreign country without local family support. So, yes, there is a need.

Are you crazy? Well … We knew some folks who tried to do this. Mom had Alzheimer’s and needed round-the-clock care and so they bought a little house, hired a staff, and set up an “Adult Foster/Family Home” intended for Mom and four others. It was a great idea and these folks came with experience doing the same thing in the States. Then they ran into Panama and a different way of doing everything, a host of red tape and regulations … and gave up. This doesn’t mean it can’t be done, but you’ll need incredible patience and deep pockets. I’d suggest that you work with a local partner, maybe a Panamanian church or existing non-profit care group who understand the Panamanian way of doing things. I know from a distance it seems like you could easily hire care givers and hire them more cheaply than in the US. But wages, like everything else, have gone up in Panama, and finding people who are qualified and willing to work as care givers is a challenge and if you hire anyone in Panama you immediately have the Labor Board as a partner and tons of regulations and red tape, to say nothing of the regulations and red tape of the Health Department. There is a crying need, but Panama doesn’t make it easy to meet the need.

We’re all getting older … and it’s something to think about when you’re considering moving outside the comfort zone of where you live right now. But then, if you need to and if you don’t wait too long, you can always move back to wherever you call home. Is it better to sit in the rocking chair, stay put, just in case … or knowing and anticipating that the time will come …? Or is it better to go off to a new adventure and enjoy your life to the fullest while you may?

Good luck Mr. President

No, not that one.

Although I do love this picture that Jim Wasson, creator of Panama Red overproof rum, posted of Obama …

There’s even a Panama Red poster on the Oval Office wall!

No, it’s this Preident, Jaun Carlos Varela, Panama’s new President.  I liked this post by Westanna Carleton, Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs that apeared on EURASIA.

For the record, Varela has his own brand of rum and owns the biggest rum distillery in Panama.  Varela Brothers Abuelo [‘Grandpa”] rum is the best mass market rum available.  Good stuff!

THE CHALLENGES’S OF PANAMA’S PRESIDENT VARELA

The period of near ecstasy over the electoral victory by partisans of Panama’s new elected President, Juan Carlos Varela (who was inaugurated this past July 1) is rapidly coming to an end. After jubilant partisans celebrated his victory Varela declared to his supporters “today democracy won, today Panama won, we will not tolerate corruption in any way,” in addition to guarantees of a more transparent government,growth of social programs and less inequality.
What is being substituted for the enchantment ofthe new president is an attitude of skepticism has taken over. This relates to the change Varela promised his audiences during his presidential campaign.
Varela clearly was not former president Ricardo Martinelli’s (2009-2014) chosen successor. In fact, Varela worked diligently towards the end of his term as Martinelli’s vice president to distance himself from the former president’s most fundamental positioning. Since 2011, when Varela resisted Martinelli’s attempts to extract greater executive power from the legislative and judicial branches, the two have been called the worst of enemies by the country’s media. Yet, the similarities between these two individuals are too numerous to ignore, as they are analogous not only in their belief systems but also in their backgrounds. Much of the media have noted that in terms of their politics, both men are center-right, members of Panama’s elite, and originally come from the business sector. Even the natures of their personal businesses are connected: Varela’s liquors are sold in Martinelli’s Super 99 supermarkets.
Varela may deceptively appear to welcome a fresh start for the country. While he clearly signified during his campaign that he was against the various discredited initiatives left over from the Martinelli era to expand the array of executive sanctions he hoped to continue in effort, he handily exposed that he focused on the absence of anything approaching a radical break-through. At first glance, his resistance to the latter also makes it seem as though Varela’s goals are in opposition to the heart of Martinelli’s platform while he was in power. After proposing his 100 por 70 plan, that allows Panamanians older than 70 to receive a monthly stipend of $100 USD, Varela successfully developed a clear image for himself as a politician with social coordinating abilities in the area of social initiatives.
Informed journalist Eric Jackson of Panama News comments that turmoil in rural Panama are huge issues and Varela’s promise to give every rural household running water and indoor plumbing may have been unrealistic or may be the public works program that saves rural society from total dissolution.”
Hence, it comes as little surprise that Panamanians have a hopeful outlook for what may come, but are by no means certain that it will actually help.
Panama has enjoyed an enviable rate of economic growth under Martinelli, as the country’s building boom has made the capital “a new Miami” or the “mini-Dubai on the Pacific” Panama City also lays claim to Central America’s first metro and Latin America’s tallest building. The country’s building boom, in addition to his ability to carry out economic projects with both panache and a rare rate of success made him a very popular president. Yet his authoritarian streak generated considerable resentment in a large Panamanian populace who want to forget the country’s history of dictatorship, particularly under the Manuel Noriega regime in the 1980s. Accusations of corruption had routinely plagued the former Panamanian administration, and many from the country had good reason to believe that Martinelli’s economic program was not at all that it was originally made out to be. It is hard to ignore the stark difference between the glitz of Panama City and the grim living conditions to be encountered in almost every other locale in Panama. The nearby region of Colon provides a ready contrast that should illustrate this point. This can be seen in the festering environment that describes the vast area that vividly contrasts with the economic growth described above. The World Bank notes that Panama is responsible for providing evidence some of the severest disparities of wealth in Latin America. Obviously not all of Panama is “booming” with wealth. Most notably is the fact that last month was the Panama Canal’s 100th anniversary. What was supposed to be a joyous and memorable moment for the country was tainted by huge over run costs, strikes, and the fear of competition.

Looming on the horizon are plans, backed by a Chinese billionaire, to build 173-mile canal to be built across Nicaragua. For Nicaragua this is good news and “the government says it is critical to lifting the nation out of dire poverty,” to Panama it is direct competition that could drain away profits in addition to being an instigator for future country generated debt if the government chooses to attempt to out build the Nicaraguan project. The Panama Canal, which was built in 1914 and was returned to Panama near the end of the Cater administration, has significantly boosted Panama’s economy, in addition to promoting global international trade and effectively reducing transportation costs. The canal is currently being renovated to allow changes that will reduce transit delays and allow larger trans-isthmus voyages to travel through the locks. Ironically the construction that is supposed to reduce delays in the future, has managed to produce them today. In February, there was a work stoppage due to a dispute between the canal administration and contractors working on the Canal expansion project that involved a $1.6 billion USD in additional cost overrun regarding the planned construction. Moreover,in May, a strike of 5,000 laborers slowed work again. Due to these occurrences the October completion date has been pushed back 14 months. Juan Zamorano of the Durango Herald writes about the benefits that was suppose to accompany canal renovations, “its completion was envisioned as a coming out party for Panama, a chance to showcase the country’s pro-business credentials and role as a linchpin of global commerce…backers portrayed the vote as a bet on the future of Panama’s children” . However, now many disenchanted Panamanians are now seeing the problems besetting

the Canal expansion as a metaphor for the future course of the country.
With the country at the mid-expansion stage, giddy hopes clearly have been dashed and more somber sentiments have evolved that will now have to be replaced. The country as a whole will not be able to generate or sustain the economic expansion symbolized by the Panama City construction boom and the opportunities provided by the Canal Zone. Panama had a tremendous 8.5% economic growth in 2013, well above most developed and developing countries, yet over 25% of the population remains at or below the poverty level. These figures are reflective of the concentration of wealth in Panama’s urban centers, which like many other Latin American countries have become national show
cases in the shadows of what lies as stark economic disparity. Like it’s Latin American sister countries, the challenge in Panama remains in defining economic and social policies which will enable the economy and population’s abilities to move toward a more balanced profile. Part of this definition is recognition of the government’s responsibility to its “social contract” with the population. In this respect, Varela’s 100 por 70 plan may be a step in the right direction. However, the “fuel” that will support this and other social programs must come from the economy itself; simple redistribution of wealth via taxation or other means without expanding the populations and by extension the country’s potential productive capacity ignores the valuable potential of the Panamanian people.
“The First 100 Days” is a term coined during the Roosevelt Administration during the 1930’s when his New Deal attempted to bring the economy out of deep depression. Since that time, the first 100 days has been period after which the national populations and the world have taken a close look at countries’ leaders in order to determine in what direction the country might move. President Varela is just beyond his first hundred days in office and as noted, there are some positive indications for the future.
It remains to be seen whether Varela’s social justice platform will be sufficiently robust to counter balance-anticipated fallout from possible economic policy setbacks.

Mail Call

Great comments! Thank you!

Thanks to all of you who have taken the time to write reviews of my books on Amazon! Special thanks for these new reviews …

Panama Canal Day: An Illustrated Guide to Cruising The Panama Canal

Great book to read when you are preparing for a cruise through the Panama Canal. There are so many interesting facts in this book to help make your transit through the Canal an enjoyable event. Once I started reading the book, I looked forward to the next chapter. It is difficult to believe that this engineering feat was actually accomplished 100 years ago without the technology of today. A must book to have to prepare you for your cruise! Don Gordon

 The New Escape to Paradise: Our Experience Living and Retiring In Panama

Having lived in Boquete, Panama for almost 6 years, traveled 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. Great Job Richard! Conner

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

Worth every penny. Well written and informative. Big Al

And now, on to the mail …

Steve writes about assisted living …

Richard, I am coming to Panama this November to begin my research into opening what would be called in the States an “Adult Foster/Family Home”, in Panama! I have long believed that there are ex-pats in Panama that have no desire to return to the States and would prefer to spend their final days in Panama. My hope is to offer “American care infrastructure” for ex-pats in Panama. My model is to purchase a home and have up to 6 residents that need 24 hour care, whether the care is limited to dementia or they are bed bound. I have the experience and ability to do this. Am I an idiot to think of this, or is there a real need? Do you have any insights or comments? Anxiously awaiting your reply, Steve Broom

Steve, there is a HUGE NEED for this type of assisted living in Panama! Many of us come down to Panama to enjoy retirement in paradise, but … things change. Life grows on, which means we are all getting older. Our bodies change and although we all see ourselves as “forty something” the fact is that bodies start to wear out. Growing older and needing assisted living is not something that we find appealing, especially for folks who are active and adventurous enough to move to Panama and experience a new and different culture. Family is ALL important in Panama. Multi-generations live in the same town, and often under the same roof. When you get older and need assistance your family takes care of you. Most North Americans and Europeans come from cultures where the family is strung out across states and countries, the so-called “nuclear” family. So, as we discovered with my younger brother whom we had to take back to the States for care, there is no North American style assisted living concept in Panama. And it is definitely one of those things that you need to keep in mind when you move to Panama. It’s the reason why I included a chapter in the NEW ESCAPE TO PARADISE entitled “Exit Strategy.” My wife, Nikki, is involved in the Hospice program in Boquete, created in part to assist folks who come to Panama and end up terminally ill, alone and without a support structure. Just this week she met with folks who are forming a support group for care givers … people struggling with incredible challenges of caring for infirm spouses, alone, in a foreign country without local family support. So, yes, there is a need.

Are you crazy? Well … We knew some folks who tried to do this. Mom had Alzheimer’s and needed round-the-clock care and so they bought a little house, hired a staff, and set up an “Adult Foster/Family Home” intended for Mom and four others. It was a great idea and these folks came with experience doing the same thing in the States. Then they ran into Panama and a different way of doing everything, a host of red tape and regulations … and gave up. This doesn’t mean it can’t be done, but you’ll need incredible patience and deep pockets. I’d suggest that you work with a local partner, maybe a Panamanian church or existing non-profit care group who understand the Panamanian way of doing things. I know from a distance it seems like you could easily hire care givers and hire them more cheaply than in the US. But wages, like everything else, have gone up in Panama, and finding people who are qualified and willing to work as care givers is a challenge and if you hire anyone in Panama you immediately have the Labor Board as a partner and tons of regulations and red tape, to say nothing of the regulations and red tape of the Health Department.

There is a crying need, but Panama doesn’t make it easy to meet the need.

Moving money …

I always look forward to reading your blog. I’ve been reading it for years. I meet you in April on Jackie’s tour You came along with us. Which made the trip so much more informative. My question a couple of months ago you named the bank that you deal with for getting money into the country Was it citi bank or another? Thanks in advance, Richard

PS I plan on coming back to Panama next May to scout out a place to settle down for a couple of weeks before I make the BIG move to live. I know for sure it will be in the Chiriquí area.

When we moved to Panama we knew there was an HSBC bank here, so we moved our US accounts to HSBC in Beverly Hills with the naive assumption that it would be easier to move money. We discovered that although they used the same branding, the banks were different with different rules and vastly different customer service. I hated HSBC in Panama and there was no advantage to using the same bank here as in the States since they were different banks. The one in Panama was actually a Mexican bank. So I moved our account to Banistmo [not the same Banistmo as we have now]. HSBC bought out Banistmo, so I moved to another Panamanian bank, which locals not-so-fondly call “the bank of just say no.” This is a truly Panamanian bank where every little item requires a lengthy process of getting approval from Panama City. [I’ve often wondered if the local bank manager needs to email Panama City for permission to go to the rest room.] Last month I was in Seattle and finally closed out our US accounts with HSBC. Nobody asked why I was closing my accounts at HSBC, or how my experience had been, or seemed to care. I took my money down the street to Bank of America where I and my money were warmly received.

In terms of moving money, it really doesn’t make any difference in my opinion. One bank is as good, or bad, as the other. The US has put a ***tload of regulations about moving what you may have thought was your money around. This means more hassle for you and more money for the banks since they charge outrageous fees to wire money. Don’t even think of doing what a friend of ours did ten years ago … she just stuffed her money into her girdle. If TSA doesn’t nab you Panama will. When you enter Panama all your luggage goes through a scanner when you leave luggage claim. They are only looking for two things: drugs and cash. You’d be surprised the millions of dollars Panama customs seizes from folks who thought they could bring suitcases stuffed with cash into the country.

John enlightens me on flushing …

The reason given for not flushing Toilet Paper, that it increases pumping frequency, can have some truth…but there is more. Unvented drain lines, high waste strength due to diversion of gray water, improper material disposal, poor waste line design, double trapping, improper toilet paper, undersized septic tanks, short separation of tank inlet/outlet, undersized/unsuitable leach field selection, improper operation, e.i. excessive loading, such as multiple loads of laundry, can all be problems of individual systems.

Proper design, construction and operation will lead to a sanitary system that does not contribute to disease and is not a nuisance. It should have a useful life in excess of 50 years, more like the Panama canal than a Chinese motorbike, with tank pumping every 5 to 10 years.

The basic design, construction and operation principles are the same, whether in Panama or California.

It’s customary in Panama, as in most Latin American countries, not to put used toilet paper in the toilet but place it in a waste basket beside the toilet. If you can’t deal with it you might not be a good candidate to move to Panama. In your own home do what you want, but in the rest of the country, even in hospitals … Accept it! No matter how much you wish, Panama as every other country you may consider, is different from that to which you are accustomed.

I stand corrected … apologies to Sarah!

Al, was put off by my blog “Back Home: A Changing America.”  Two things raised his ire, one was a response I made to a comment about the blog … which I’ll get to in a moment … and the other was my assertion that Sarah Palin said she could “see Russia.”

First, I quoted from a piece about the findings of Pew Research regarding the Millennials that included this statement, “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.”

Candidobserver wrote,

Until bleeding heart liberals choose to learn the truth of history, and not what politicians want them to know and believe, the name calling and mud-slinging will continue unabated. After all, if you can’t tell the truth, why say anything positive?

To which I commented …Interesting comment … might also apply to “right wingers” but I guess I’m not sure what it has to do with post about Millennials. I agree, I thought the “daughter marry a black man” was kind of irrelevant, since I don’t think anyone cares who marries whom, color, race, sexual orientation, etc. That’s not to say racism is still entrenched in many areas and ways, as we’ve discovered the past few days when a teenager is shot SIX TIMES … siX! … for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. But Pew Research finds what it finds: it is what it is. Regards, Richard

Now Al …

WOW.
“That’s not to say racism is still entrenched in many areas and ways, as we’ve discovered the past few days when a teenager is shot SIX TIMES … siX! … for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
WOW. Really?
Maybe just maybe he was shot after smashing his fist into the cops face and then trying to take the cops gun and then trying to run away from the cop and then when that failed he bum rushed the cop. Just maybe.
There was the case of an unarmed white man shot by a black cop the same week. Do you know his name? Are white people rioting there? Is the White House sending any of their representatives to his funeral?
His name was James Whitehead. Look it up. If you do, you will find that the cop was fired. That’s all. Just fired. Even though his fellow officers said he should be on trial for murder. Double standards anybody?
Nothing is nearly as black and white as we would like things to be if we look at BOTH sides of an issue.

Oh yeah, by the way, Sara Palin NEVER said she could see Russia from her house – that was taken from a skit from Saturday Night Live. You are just repeating the same old tired lie from over 6 years ago. Don’t feel bad, a lot of “objective professional journalists” have repeated the same lie over and over for the last 6 years also.
just saying – Nothing is nearly as black and white as we would like things to be if we look at BOTH sides of an issue.

Al, thank you for the correction on Palin.You are right, she never said she could see Russia from her house.

The basis for the line was Governor Palin’s 11 September 2008 appearance on ABC News, her first major interview after being tapped as the vice-presidential nominee. During that appearance, interviewer Charles Gibson asked her what insight she had gained from living so close to Russia, and she responded: “They’re our next-door neighbors, and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska”

Two days later, on the 2008 season premiere of Saturday Night Live, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler appeared in a sketch portraying Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton, during which Fey spoofed Governor Palin’s remark of a few days earlier with the following exchange:

FEY AS PALIN: “You know, Hillary and I don’t agree on everything . . .”

POEHLER AS CLINTON: (OVERLAPPING) “Anything. I believe that diplomacy should be the cornerstone of any foreign policy.”

FEY AS PALIN: “And I can see Russia from my house.”

Henceforth, invocations of Sarah Palin frequently employed the line “I can see Russia from my house,” rather than the words she actually spoke, “You can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska.”

As to the question of whether one can actually see Russia from Alaska, Governor Palin was correct: such a view is possible from more than one site in that state. A Slate article on the topic noted that: “In the middle of the Bering Strait are two small, sparsely populated islands: Big Diomede, which sits in Russian territory, and Little Diomede, which is part of the United States. At their closest, these two islands are a little less than two and a half miles apart, which means that, on a clear day, you can definitely see one from the other.”

Also, a 1988 New York Times article reported that: “To the Russian mainland from St. Lawrence Island, a bleak ice-bound expanse the size of Long Island out in the middle of the Bering Sea, the distance is 37 miles. From high ground there or from the Air Force facility at Tin City atop Cape Prince of Wales, the westernmost edge of mainland North America, on a clear day you can see Siberia with the naked eye.”

Neither of these viewpoints offers the observer much more than a glimpse of a vast, desolate expanse, however. [SNOPES.COM]

Flack or flattery, I love getting your comments! Keep them coming!

13 Things the Offshore Gurus Will NOT Tell You About Panama

Driveway leading to house

Driveway leading to our house

When I come back and visit the US and folks find out I live in Panama they’re always interested and have lots of questions. It’s not unusual to bump into folks who subscribe to, or have read press releases by outfits that promote seminars and literature about living in Panama. Yes, it has been “paradise” for us and many others, but it is not “perfect” and some of these outfits tend to gloss over the realities of life in Panama. The more you know about how life really is in Panama, or whatever country you are considering, the happier you will be when you make the move.

One of the things I like about Panama Relocation Tours is that it’s not a real estate tour. Nobody is selling anything. It’s a boots-on-the-ground tour that allows you to experience the real Panama and talk with real expats about their experiences living in Panama. Jackie Lange, who runs Panama Relocation Tours, wrote this piece on her blog

Ask 100 expats what their life is like in Panama, you will get 100 different answers.

Their perspective depends on where they live, how patient they are, and how much they have attempted to accept Panama for what it is… a developing country.

When you read offshore publications about Panama you’d think the whole country is a “Paradise”. The distant photos of down town Panama City look like any first world metropolis. But walk the streets or drive around the country and you will quickly notice that it is not as developed as the USA, Canada or Europe.

With its beautiful skyscrapers, new subway system, and Trump Tower, Panama City is certainly impressive. Some areas are very modern with underground utilities. But that is not the way it is in most of Panama City – or Panama in general.

Many people say Panama is like the USA was in the 1960s but with cell phones, internet and flat screen TVs. I grew up in the ’60s and have fond memories of what life was like then. Panama does offer a simple life where young children can walk all over town safely and family values still exist.

But it is not all paradise.

Here are 13 things you won’t read about in in the sugar-coated publications about moving to Panama:

(1) Don’t assume you will have hot water at every house or at every faucet in the house. Some houses only have warm water at the shower.
Be careful to check out the hot water situation before you decide to rent or buy. You should not rent a house without seeing it first.

(2) Internet speed is not the same throughout the country or even on the same street. If you are lucky enough to live in an area serviced by Cable Onda, you can get up to 15 mgps for about $50 a month. If you can’t get Cable Onda, you will be forced to use MobileNet or Planet Telecom where 2 mgps will cost you $125 per month and you will pay a whopping $250 for 4 mgps. Cable Onda is available 1 mile from my house but I’m stuck with paying the higher prices for less speed.

(3) The sidewalks are not level. They may have holes your whole foot can fit through, or metal pipes protruding in bad places or the sidewalk may have stretches which are completely missing. You need to wear sturdy shoes and watch where you are walking at all times in Panama.

(4) If Code Enforcement from the USA came to Panama, they would probably shut down most of the country. There is crazy wiring inside and outside. There are steps and other unlevel surfaces with no handrails or safety devices. There usually will not be a GFI outlet within 6 feet of all water sources. The only exception is new construction in the higher price ranges… maybe.

(5) Most places will have a sign in the bathroom asking you to NOT flush the toilet paper but instead to put it in a waste basket which is next to the toilet. Oh, and don’t assume that all public bathrooms will have toilet paper… bring your own. The reason you should not flush toilet paper because most businesses and homes have a septic system. The more toilet paper that is flushed, the more often they have to get their septic tanks cleaned out and it is just as expensive to do that in Panama as it is in the USA. We recently paid $175.

(6) You can pick your temperature by your elevation. If you are at a lower elevation, it will be hot and humid. If you are at 3500 feet it will be 75-80 just about every day and less humid. Get above 5000 feet and you can enjoy weather in the high 60s to mid-70s every day. Lower elevations (less than 3500 feet) will have more snakes, spiders, and bugs. There are tradeoffs.

(7) There is no Walmart. There are plenty of affordable stores but it will not be the same. We do have a have PriceMart which is very similar to a Sam’s or Costco. Currently, the only big fancy malls are in or near Panama City.

(8) Name brand, imported items will usually costs more, but similar Panama brands will usually cost much less than you pay now. You may or may not be able to find all the name brand items you use now but there is usually a good substitute.

(9) It rains a lot in Panama. We average 100 – 120 inches of rain a year. It does not rain every day or all day… usually. In the dry season, January – April, is may not rain for a month. In October and November it will pour down rain like the Heavens opened up and dumped the Pacific Ocean on Panama….but this usually happens in the late afternoon so you can plan accordingly. The rains keep everything looking lush and green and provide plenty of water for ships to go through the Panama Canal.

(10) Speaking of water… yes, there is plenty of water but the water distribution systems are not what you are familiar with. Some rural areas have water delivered in a small PVC pipe that gets busted occasionally. That means low water pressure at your house or no water. In the dry season, there may not be enough water pressure so it is important that you rent or buy a house that has a large reserve water tank so you have consistent water pressure. Other areas have more modern water delivery systems. In some areas, the water is treated in other areas it is not. So you really need to have a good water filter system at your house. Take all this in to consideration when you select a place to live.

(11) Panama is a Spanish speaking country. In Panama City, Coronado and Boquete English are widely spoken. But in other areas it is not. Even in the areas where English is widely spoken, not everyone will speak English. If you want to live in a Spanish speaking country, you need to learn some Spanish.

(12) Getting things done like opening a bank account, getting a driver’s license, auto registration or even getting mail will be more complicated. It will get done, but your patience will be tested.

(13) Panama has small earthquakes. In the last 12 months I have felt 3 small tremors. They usually last 1-2 seconds. If you are sitting still, you will feel them. If you are driving or moving around you probably won’t feel them at all.

(14) I will throw in one more… There is poverty in Panama but it is not as bad as other South American or Central American countries I have visited. The Indian tribes are most affected by poverty because many of them have no skills and only make $12 – $15 a day. But Panamanians are proud people so you rarely see anyone begging for money.

So with all these negatives, why in the world would anyone want to live in a country like Panama?

For some it is purely economic, others have strong political reasons, and some are just ready for a new adventure. Regardless of the reason, these are the things you can enjoy when living in Panama:

Low utility costs (if you live in an area where you don’t need air conditioning)
Affordable health care .. I pay $2460 a year worldwide health insurance
No wars, no military
Very strong economy
Very low crime in most areas
Fresh air
Fresh fish from both coasts
Great produce and fruit supply – some organic
Great soil to grow your own food
Government leaves you alone and has less rules and regulations
Low or no taxes in Panama
If US citizen, you can take advantage of the $97,600 Foreign Earned Income Exemption
No hurricanes, No snow, No tornadoes
Consistent weather year round – no extremes
Plenty of water – no drought
Visible improvements happening all over the country .. for the better
Not a country divided with conflict from strong left or strong right political parties
Get away from the insanity and intrusion of the US government
Do not have to sign up for or pay for Obamacare
Incredibly beautiful scenery
A lot of opportunity
Small country so you can go to two Oceans or the mountains in a day…. Driving
Friendly and supportive expats… almost always
Friendly and supportive Panamanians… almost always
Pamananians do not have an entitlement mentality

I could go on and on…

Panama is just right for some. But Panama is too big of an adjustment for others who want everything to be like it is back home… wherever that might be.

Panama Relocation Tours will NOT sugar-coat what life is like in Panama. You will learn about the good things and the bad things about life in Panama. I will share my current personal experiences about living in Panama and so will all the other expats you meet with during the tour. The country is changing so quickly, you need to know what it is like being in expat in Panama this month.  For me personally, I can tell you that my only regret is that I did not come to Panama to check it out 10 or 20 years ago then move here sooner.

What “it’s different” actually means …

Living as an expat in Panama, or any country for that matter, is different than living in your home country.  If you want to accept an expat lifestyle and enjoy it you have to accept that things are different.  That’s sometimes easier said than done.  And there are some “different” aspects to live in Panama which often get glossed over in the enthusiasm for all the positives about life in Panama.  “Soup” Campbell who came down from the North Pole, Alaska tells folks that when they move to Panama they need to check their expectations at the border.  It’s different and don’t expect everything to be the same.

The other day our local expat news feed sent out this notice …

We still desperately need 5 pints of O Positive blood for a man in Regional Hospital who is awaiting surgery.

Most of the people on the Blood Donor list do not qualify because they have been OUT of the country in the last 6 months so we need help from anyone who qualifies and can go to Regional Hospital tomorrow morning between 7 AM to 10 AM. The earlier the better.

If you are O Positive, on the Blood Donor list and have not received a call from me yet, please contact me ASAP if you can help.

To donate blood in Panama:

You must be between the ages of 18 and 65. You are generally ineligible when you become 66. In a life or death situation, the doctor in charge of the patient may override this restriction.

You may not give blood if you are allergic to penicillin.

Men can only give blood every 3 months, women every 4 months. The difference is because men usually have a higher hematocrit than women.

Infectious diseases: An active infection or any infection of any kind in the last 10 days, including dental, will disqualify you. A history of the following diseases will disqualify you: TB, malaria, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis of any kind, Chagras disease, Yellow fever. CMV and mono are OK if not recent.

Other medical issues: You must have normal blood pressure. Blood pressure medications are OK if your blood pressure is normal in the ER when you are screened.

You may not give blood if you have anemia falciforme (sickle cell anemia) or if you are diabetic.

You must weigh more than 55 kilos (approximately 121 pounds by calculation).

IV drug users are ineligible.

You may be rejected as a donor by the ER doctor who screens you or by the lab. Your blood will be tested by the lab for normal values and infectious diseases.

IF YOU PASS THE ABOVE QUALIFICATION AND CAN GO TOMORROW MORNING PLEASE CALL and we will provide you with the patients name to give at the lab.

Thank You, Boquete Hospice Blood Donors

There is no blood bank in Panama.

There is no way to give your own blood in advance of surgery and have the hospital store it for use if needed.

Most expat retirees — your friends — are going to be 65 or older and prohibited from giving blood.

So what happens? You lay in bed in the hospital and wait, and hope, and pray.

In the Boquete area we have no ambulance EMT service comparable to what you may be used to in your home country. Ambulances are mainly used for transport. A few years ago a group of gringos got together and raised money to buy and equip and ambulance for Boquete, albeit without any trained EMT. No one is quite sure now what happened to that ambulance and the equipment. My understanding is that the fire department, Bomberos, in Boquete does not currently have a trained EMT. Panama is working on implementing a 911 Emergency Ambulance program but this is only for accidents on the highway. So what do you do?

Our plan is that one of us throws the other into the car and we drive to a hospital in David, about 35 minutes, and hope for the best. The reality is that we had the same plan in Ventura, California where we lived 20 minutes drive from the hospital and knew that it would take longer than that for an ambulance to arrive. That plan may work … except when I’m off on a ship for several months at a time.

It IS different. It’s NOT the same. It is beautiful, a great life style and we love it, but you need to know and accept in advance that things are different.