More Postcards From Paradise

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOoops!

My project to finish the little casita on our property in Boca Chica got off to a rough start: I fell down the hill and cracked my ribs.  Stupid me.  Jorge, the 21-year old helping us, had already fallen going down the hill, but I thought I knew better.  Not so!  Guess I need to start acting my age.  So we lose a couple of days.  It only hurts when I laugh, sneeze, or turn in bed.

It’s taken a while but Boca Chica is starting to get “on the map” as a Pacific resort area.  There have always been fishing lodges like my neighbor Bruce’s Gone Fishing Panama.  Just off shore is the huge Chiriqui Marine Sanctuary with an abundance of giant fish, dolphins, whales and even whale sharks.  Palenque Island which is being developed as an upscale resort community.  A week here for a couple during the “green season”  (i.e. rainy season) runs from $3000 to $4200 in an ocean suite.  A more affordable new resort is Bocas del Mar just across the water from us where rooms go from $139 to $200 during the “green season”.  And, by the way, the “green season” or rainy season is my favorite time in Panama!  First everything is lush green.  It generally will rain, sometimes hard, sometime in the late afternoon, but usually the mornings are bright, blue and sunny with clouds building up after lunch and a thunder storm in late afternoon, just about the time you are ready to curl up with a book and my newly discovered “Panama Red” rum.

OK, it's tiny, but bigger than a lot of suites on cruise ships!

OK, it’s tiny, but bigger than a lot of suites on cruise ships!

Paradise Lost

Not exactlyESCAPE TO PARADISE but a movie entitled “Paradise Lost” will be shot in Chiriqui starting next week.

“Paradise Lost”, a romance-thriller involving the niece of late Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, to be played by Puerto Rican actor Benicio del Toro . . .The source refused to give details about when the shooting would begin or at what precise locations, saying the production company has asked for “maximum discretion”.

But media outlets said some technical staff had begun arriving in Panama, while Del Toro, 46, will be in the Central American country next week when filming starts in the western province of Chiriqui, which borders Costa Rica, and Cerro Azul, a mountainous area outside Panama City.

The film will be the directorial debut of Italy’s Andrea Di Stefano, who also wrote the screenplay. As an actor, Di Stefano has appeared in more than a score of TV productions and movies, including Taiwanese-American filmmaker Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi”.

“Paradise Lost” tells of the romance that develops between Pablo Escobar’s niece, Mary, and a surfer named Nick (Josh Hutcherson), who falls in love with the young woman during a trip to Colombia.


Hunting For Scorpions

scorpion light Our friend and neighbor, and renter of our casita, Shaun, has officially become Panamanian – all in less than 2 months! They’ve bought a house, a car, opened a bank account, and their container is even already here and sitting at Chiriqui storage awaiting the move in date for their new home. Does all that make you officially “Panamanian”? No! But the other day, on his birthday no less, Shaun dutifully shook out his slippers before putting them on, but never-the-less there was a scorpion inside! A big sucker! So now having been bit by a scorpion, even although he hadn’t managed the appropriate swear words in Spanish, Shaun is officially Panamanian!

James send me the picture of the black light flashlight. James has been here checking out Panama on several Panama Relocation Tours and he is now packing up his container for the move. Wisely, he ordered the black light flashlight from Amazon so he could go “scorpion hunting” when he gets here. Like tee-shirts washed in Tide, in the black light the scorpions show up a brilliant white!

Speaking of the Panama Relocation Tour . . .

Panama Relocation Tour Wine & Cheese at our house

Panama Relocation Tour Wine & Cheese at our house

How do you think James knew to pack a black light flashlight?   I doubt if that practical fact is mentioned on the pricey real estate relocation tours that are pitched by companies whose business is getting folks to Panama and where the presenters generally pay to participate.

The Panama Relocation Tours are boots on the ground tours where nobody is selling anything.  You just get to see, and experience what life is really like in Panama in many of the areas expats like to call home.  Of the recent tour, 1/3 of the group, three couples, are escaping to paradise.  One couple to Volcan, another to Valle Escondido in Boquete, and a third planning to come down and rent and explore further.  My connection?  My book ESCAPE TO PARADISE: LIVING & RETIRING IN PANAMA is the textbook and required reading for tour participants.  And whenever we are in Panama we always have everyone over to our house for wine and cheese.

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Panama Relocation Tour – Days 6 & 7

The Panama Relocation Tour is designed as a boots on the ground tour with the idea that actually exploring Panama and some of the places expats call home is a far better way to decide if living in Panama is for you than sitting in a hotel ballroom in Panama City for three days hearing folks who’ve paid to be on the program present and tell you about Panama.

Yesterday the group travelled to David to actually see the private hospitals, shopping centers, browse the stores, visit Price Smart and experience David’s steamy heat. Interesting observations:

“Well it is reassuring to know that you can get anything you want in David.” [Well, almost!]

“The Rey supermarket is better than the one we have at home.” [If you forget about the Rey/Romero “knife promotion”.]

“I didn’t see the same brand of imported Italian canned tomatoes I buy at home.” [Of course we grow the sweetest and best-tasting fresh tomatoes, but I’d check Deli Baru in Boquete or Baru supermarket in David. Maybe not the same brand, but I know they have imported Italian canned tomatoes.]

“I was surprised at the prices. The price for a huge plasma TV at Price Smart was LESS than the same TV at home. I know, because I priced them before we came.”

Boquete Panama Relocation Tour

The day finished with a non-memorable meal at the Peruvian restaurant near Isla Verde. Three hours!! And the final entre was being served 2.5 hours after it had been ordered. Of course everyone was served at different times, so by the time the last entre arrived most of the group was dozing off or . . . the reality! . . . engaged in lively conversation. But at least these folks know from their boots on the ground how restaurants work in Panama, something you’d never experience at a 3-day seminar in a big fancy hotel in Panama City where they are used to catering to large events. Just for the record – not that I am or want to be Boquete’s food critic – but . . . Friendly, but incredibly slow. My pisco sour was OK, but the ones at Hotel Ladera are far better. Nikki had “fresh” fish and shrimp and noted that the fish was “mushy” and overcooked. I had the beef tenderloin, a thin slice of smothered with a heavy, think, supposedly mushroom cream sauce which seemed to me to be a homemade imitation of Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup (although not as good) and white rice. No vegetables. Presentation was “slopped on the plate.”  Any flavor the beef may have ended up lost in the sea of forgettable sauce.

Restaurants come and go in Boquete with breakneck speed. There have been three previous restaurants at this location and I doubt that this one will have a very long life.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATomorrow is the last day of the tour. The group will go over to Volcan and the areas around Volcan before returning to Boquete. Several are flying to Panama City in the afternoon, and others are remaining in Boquete to explore and or look for real estate.
Some of the folks are sold on relocating to Panama and some have made the decision that Panama is definitely not for them and that really is the aim of the tour. But the tour is just an introduction. My recommendation is after you’ve decided that Panama is for you, come down several times and stay for several months each time before you make the final move. We did not do it that way. We came down, fell in love with Panama, bought a house and moved. It worked for us! Our only regret was that we didn’t make the move sooner. Eight years and we’re still here and love it. But for most people . . . it’s better to take it slow and as Walt Disney’s Davy Crockett used to say, “Be sure you’re right, then go ahead.”

March 2nd I’ll be back to answer the mail!

And if you’re in Boquete . . . help me find who owns this beautiful black Labrador!

Lost LabHe showed up the other morning and won’t leave!  He’s a healthy, beautiful black lab with a chain.  I’m tempted to keep him just so he can show my dogs how a trained dog is supposed to act!  He follows me all over.  Responds to Spanish commands.  Last night he slept by my wife and this morning woke her up with her slipper in his mouth!  Our dogs don’t deliver that kind of 5 Star service!  Obviously someone is looking for this beautiful dog, so if you know anyone in the Alto Boquete/Palmira area who is looking for their dog, he is comfortably ensconced in Nikki & Richard’s Dog B&B!  The last thing we need is another animal!

Panama Relocation Tour – Day 5

Today was the day to enjoy the crown of Panama, Boquete!  Everyone on the Panama Relocation Tour had a hearty Panamanian-style breakfast and then visited Boquete’s famed Tuesday Market at the BCP Event Center.  Local Panamanians and Gringos bring a variety of products and crafts to sell at the weekly market.  There are various home grown estate coffees, jewelry, breads, foodstuff, crafts . . . all sorts of stuff.  And it is a great opportunity for participants in the Panama Relocation Tour to meet other expats who call Boquete home.  Since you couldn’t join us, I thought you’d enjoy a video that my friend Halfthrottle made last year about the Tuesday Market.

In addition to the Tuesday Market there is a Tuesday Morning Meeting featuring various speakers of interest to the local community.

Afterward there was a walk around tour of Boquete’s supermarket, farmer’s market (that’s open daily as opposed to the Tuesday market which is only on Tuesday morning], pharmacy, doctor, etc. and then lunch at a Gerardo’s restaurant which is operated by our bus driver’s mom.  Following lunch the group made the tour of the Boquete “Loop” which is one of the most beautiful drives from Boquete up into the valleys and hills that surround the town.  Everyone visited the home Jackie Lange rents and then drove up to Palmira to visit our coffee farm, see our home, have wine and cheese and meet with several other expat families including Shaun and Maureen who are renting our casita and have only been in Boquete for 3 weeks.  They shared valuable and current information about their own experiences bringing their dog Digby to Panama, opening a bank account with the new banking laws, there experiences moving money from the US to Panama, and their experience bringing down their container of household goods and buying a home.  These guys have been busy!  All of this was valuable information, first hand from people who’ve done it.

Panama Relocation Tour Wine & Cheese at our house

Panama Relocation Tour Wine & Cheese at our house

Finally the group moved on for dinner – we eat a lot and it’s great food – at the Secret Garden.  Where is it?  A secret: you have to come and find out!  Why is it a secret?  Again, I can’t tell you or they will have to terminate me with extreme prejudice.  And since right now I’m looking at a beautiful full moon over Spring-like Boquete with an occasional fire fly flitting by and frogs in the background . . . Ah!  Sorry if you are shoveling snow.

Panama Relocation Tour – Day 4

Having breakfast in Bocas del Toro

Having breakfast in Bocas del Toro

Day 4 of the Panama Relocation Tour found us in Bocas Town, Bocas del Toro having enjoyed a comfortable evening in the Tropical Suites Hotel right in town and overlooking the water.  Breakfast was in one of two local restaurants, your choice.  The problem in any Panamanian restaurant is ordering off the menu for 10 or more people.  There is usually one cook in the kitchen . . . and meals arrive one by one with the first person served finished eating by the time the last person is served.  Although buffets work best for a group they are few and far between and you Bocas del Torogenerally miss out on Panama’s many tiny and good restaurants.  And of course one of the points of the tour is to allow people to experience the REAL Panama, see what life here is like, and then go home equipped to evaluate and make a decision.  Far better than sitting in a big hotel in Panama City in seminars for 3 days conducted by folks who have paid to participate, but in those three days you will become an “expert” on Panama.  Right!   Nothing beats boots on the ground to get the real feel of a country.

Panama Relocation Tour Bocas del ToroEven although it is the “dry” season, Bocas gets rain year round, maybe less in the dry season but rain none-the-less.  Warm rain, but it was enough to squelch our plans for the beach and snokeling.   We did enjoy a boat ride around the Bocas islands and when we hit a squall of driving rain we all huddled under a tarp in the boat for a few minutes until it passed.  We were able to see colorful fish, starfish, dolphins and even a sloth on our boat ride.

Panama Relocation Tour Lunch Bocas del ToroAfter our boat ride and checking out of the hotel we hopped in the boats again for a ride over to another island for a delightful lunch overlooking the water and the best margarita I’ve ever had.  Yeah, it was only noon, but . . . a Passion Fruit Margarita is fantastic!

After a relaxed lunch we took the shuttle boat from Bocas del Toro about 45 minutes back to the

The Passion Fruit Margarita

The Passion Fruit Margarita

mainland to board our bus for the trip up and over the Continental Divide and back down to Boquete.  Fortunately the weather cooperated and we enjoyed some beautiful vistas.  On the bus ride Jackie Lange and I were available to answer individual questions about living in Panama.

Arriving in Boquete we checked into two small hotels, Isla Verde and Oasis.  Because of the size of the group and the fact that this is the week of the Boquete Jazz Festival we were unable to accommodate everyone in the same hotel.

It’s been said an army travels on its stomach and so does the Boquete Relocation Tour!  All meals are included and they are good!  There is a variety of restaurants and cuisines so folks get to sample the best but also some typical

Dinner at The Rock, Boquete

Dinner at The Rock, Boquete

Panamanian restaurants serving “comida typica”.  Back home in Boquete we enjoyed a great meal and conversation at The Rock.  We always have local expats join us for meals to provide opportunity for informal visiting and allow people to get direct input from real, ordinary expats who call Panama home.

One unfortunate accident to one of our tour participants required that he see a doctor and have stitches.  We called Dr. Chen in Boquete and he came in to stitch up our friend.  12 stitches plus antibiotics: total cost $60.  Of course as tourists in Panama they are covered under the Panama insurance policy provided free to all tourists for one month courtesy of Panama.  However . . . $60 . . . may not even be worth the hassle of filing a claim.  But it’s nice to know you’re insured.

And I just can’t resist including a picture of this lighting fixture I found in Bocas del Toro: you won’t get anything like this in Home Depot!

Outdoor Light Fixture Bocas del Toro

Panama Relocation Tour – Day 3

Learning to shop in a Chinese store in Panama

Learning to shop in a Chinese store in Panama

We’re on Day 3 of the Panama Relocation Tour.  Why am I on the tour?  Well it’s being run by my friend Jackie Lange and the “textbook” every participant receives is my book ESCAPE TO PARADISE: LIVING & RETIRING IN PANAMA.

Leaving Santiago we drove to Chiriqui and then turned to climb up through the mountains, across the continental divide, to Chiriqui Grande to get the boat that would take us across to Bocas town.

Whiteout at the Continental Divide - one of the most

Whiteout at the Continental Divide – one of the most

The views were spectacular except for the summit and Fortuna Lake where we were fogged in and the view was only of a fog whiteout.

After a wonderful 45 minute boat ride from the mainland to Bocas town we checked into the lovely Tropical Suites hotel. It’s really an amazing hotel with beautifully furnished rooms, a few actually looking out over the water. It is located in the heart of Bocas town.

My beautiful room at Tropical Suites Hotel in Bocas Town

My beautiful room at Tropical Suites Hotel in Bocas Town

I called my wife to check in and said, “I haven’t been in Bocas for three years”.

She replied, “Honey, it’s been seven years.”

Well, time flies! But there have been lots of changes in Bocas town: more development, more hotels, but the same Caribbean flavor. We had a wonderful dinner, outside and over the water at Bocas del Toro Hotel.

Dinner over the water at Bocas del Toro Hotel - featured in a recent 12-page spread in CONDE NASTE TRAVELER

Dinner over the water at Bocas del Toro Hotel – featured in a recent 12-page spread in CONDE NASTE TRAVELER

Bocas is yet another glimpse of a popular destination for expats who want to be on or near the water and enjoy the Caribbean water and atmosphere. Tomorrow morning we’ve chartered a boat that will take us around the islands including Red Frog Beach.

So here are some views from Bocas Town.

Taking a dip at Tropical Suites Hotel

Taking a dip at Tropical Suites Hotel

Cat nap in Bocas Town

Cat nap in Bocas Town

Bocas Town

Bocas Town Evening

Bocas at Night

Panama Relocation Tour – Day 2

The Longest Day – Well, Maybe Not

Breakfast overlooking the pools and ocean at Sheraton Bijao Resort

Breakfast overlooking the pools and ocean at Sheraton Bijao Resort

Today was Day 2 of the Panama Relocation Tour: a long day with a lot of time on the road.

We started out the day with a great buffet breakfast overlooking the beach of the Sheraton Bijao all-inclusive resort. And I need to say something about the staff of this resort. I encountered: friendly folks who went the extra mile and demonstrate the kind of service team members at Panama hotels need if we are going to grow tourism to its full potential. The bar tender was great and although all inclusive went out of his way to do more than just pour “free” drinks. I was walking up from the beach/pool area after dinner and a kid who works for the resort came up behind me. Could have just walked by doing his job, but he stopped and greeted me, asked where I was from, how I liked Panama in perfect and understandable English and took a few moments and express a genuine interest. Gals at the front desk smiled, not always something you take for granted in Panama hotels or hotels anywhere for that matter. So kudos to Sheraton Bijao! Good food, better than my last visit, friendly staff, comfortable bed in basic, simple room, and great pool complex.

Spanish Colonial church in Parita, Azuero Peninsula

Spanish Colonial church in Parita, Azuero Peninsula

So into our “Coaster” bus and off . . . all the way out the Azurero Peninsula through Chitre and Las Tablas [Carnival central in Panama]  to Pedasi. En route we stopped to see the old 17th Century Spanish church in Parita. Unfortunately the church was closed in this charming, old Spanish colonial village . . . but there was a horse competition and we got to see some beautiful Peruvian horses on demonstration.

Pedasi is a charming town on the way to the beautiful beach areas of the Southern end of the Azuero Peninsula. There are several beautiful and unique developments there, one by a Frenchman that is very upscale and unique. There are some neat little places to stay overnight in a variety of price ranges. Pedasi is a neat town and from Pedasi you can reach some of the best surf spots in Panama.

Peruvian horse competition in Parita

Peruvian horse competition in Parita

Lunch at La Playita Resort in Pedasi

Lunch at La Playita Resort in Pedasi

We visted the charming and unique La Playita resort 50 minutes beyond Pedasi for lunch. Lunch and drinks for 20 people, including tax and a generous tip, $120! No, not a misprint, $120 for lunch (fresh fish, fried chicken or pork) for 20 people.

On the way back through Pedasi we stopped for an afternoon treat at Yely’s, the spot everyone visits for delicious flan and cakes. The first woman President of Panama was from Pedasi and she had Yely’s cakes shipped to Panama City for receptions and parties at the Presidential Palace, the “House of the Herons.”

Presidential treats at Yelty's in Pedasi

Presidential treats at Yelty’s in Pedasi

So why drive all this was on a Panama Relocation Tour. Well there are two ways to get the scoop on Panama. Pay a bundle for a 3-day event in a nice Panama City hotel where folks who’ve paid to be part of the program basically blow smoke you know where about “opportunities” (code word for investment schemes and sales talks) in Panama. You pay for the hotel and your meals and sit and listen. Or . . . you get in the bus and explore Panama and boots on the ground actually visit

I've seen trucks carrying all sorts of livestock, but an elephant!

I’ve seen trucks carrying all sorts of livestock, but an elephant!

the places expats like to call home and along the way get to experience Panama and talk to expats who’ve actually made the move. I know on the map Panama is just a little squiggle of a country, but never-the-less to actually get on the ground and visit potential places to call home takes a lot of time on the road.

From Playita we drove to Santiago and for dinner and overnight in a new, clean, comfortable but simple Panamanian style hotel.

A long day, but folks are beginning to look at places and start analyzing, asking questions, and evaluating the positives and negatives of some of the places in Panama expats call home. The purpose of the Panama Relocation Tour is to give people an overview.

Pan American Highway to Santiago

Tomorrow we’re off to Bocas del Toro!