It’s Been A While

It’s been a while since we’ve talked!

I appreciate your comments and emails and I do try to respond although not always as quickly as you or I would like.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPlanting Coffee Trees & Wondering “Where’s the rain?”

This is weird weather … we’re into the rainy season which should mean glorious sunny mornings, followed by cloud build up, and predictable rain in the afternoon.  What do we get?  Seattle-like cloudy mornings!  OK, Ventura-summer overcast mornings.  In the afternoon we get some flash and bang and a little drizzle, but not the tropical rain we expect.  And this is the time to plant coffee trees, so we need the rain!

We’ve been planting, Nikki and I in the dirt, coffee trees.  600 little black bags with two year-old trees in a bag, each about a foot tall.  When we have over 4,000 trees why would we plant more?  Although coffee trees last a long, long time, after about 15 years their production declines and you need to pull out the older trees and replace them.  With a little extra care and babying, the new trees will start producing in three to four years.

My coffee guy has been convinced by the local curandera that he has a brown thumb and that whatever he plants will die … this makes a lot of sense since he works on a coffee farm! … and there either appears to be an element of truth in this, or he just doesn’t like to plant.  So, like most things in Panama, we adjust … and get down on our hands and arthritic knees and plant.

This is also the time when the baby fer de lance snakes are born, and yesterday I said to Nikki, as we were on the ground in the leaves digging and planting, “Be careful of snakes!” She replied, “Listen, if I get bit just leave me here to relax and die in peace!”

I told her not to worry about dying since the local Indians haven’t heard the birds singing at night recently.  When the birds sing at night someone is going to die … and it happens!

Panama Relocation Tour

One of the folks on the June tour send me this great photo of the whole group!  Nice bunch of folks!  Folks always ask, “Do you know how many people who take the tour actually end up in Panama?”  According to Jackie Lange, who runs Panama Relocation Tours, 37% of the tour participants from the past four years are actually now living in Panama.

june 2014 tour

Thank you for your comments about THE NEW ESCAPE TO PANAMA!

“Just finished your book, THE NEW ESCAPE TO PARADISE and having been meaning to write you. I have to say that what and how you laid out the details is outstanding. You covered the reality of pros and cons. It is by far the best book out there for folks that want to relocate to Panama. We will arrive in April and rent for a year or so. Thank you for all the great advice and saving us some mistakes and money! Cheers, John & Susan Pazera”

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

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

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

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

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

ReadersThank you all so very much! I appreciate your comments and I REALLY appreciate it when you review the book on Amazon. The number of reviews helps push a book higher … so if you do a search on “living in Panama” or similar, the number of reviews, good or bad (!), helps push a book to the top of the list. And now that I have two grandsons to send to college … it helps!

The Big Finish & The New Start

The big finish … as usual in Panama the outgoing President pardons everyone and his brother who had anything to do with his administration.

IN HIS LAST last public act as president of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli On his last day as president, Ricardo Martinelli yesterday pardoned or gave sentence reductions to 660 people.
368 were pardoned , conditional sentences were awarded to 276 prisoners and sentences of 16 inmates were reduced..
The Government Gazette published the pardons in five digital editions, some of which were released after 8 p.m. The majority of the pardons bear the signatures of Martinelli and acting Minister of Government Alma Cortés. Minister of Government Jorge Ricardo Fábrega signed two of the decrees, including the one that granted pardons to the defendants of the 2004 case involving the flooding of Prados del Este.
The pardons include those given to political allies of Martinelli who have been accused of using state resources for political means. They include Small Business Authority Director Giselle Burillo, Secretary of State Communication Luis Eduardo Camacho, Molirena Party President Sergio González Ruiz, Molirena official Janón Gabriel and National Council for Sustainable Development Director Danna Harrick.
Also pardoned were former Municipal Engineer Jaime Salas, former presidential candidate Gerardo Barroso, former PRD presidential hopeful Honorio Vega, former Deputy Francisco “Toto” Ameglio, lawyer Sidney Sitton, and several journalists, such as Rafael Berrocal, Julio Miller, Alfonso Zamora, Carlos Zavala and Alfredo Prieto, who was also the former Secretary of State Communication under Martinelli.
Last week, Martinelli awarded 15 pardons. The beneficiaries include Tribunal Electoral President Erasmo Pinilla and former Director of Civil Aviation Eustacio Fábrega. The two publicly rejected the presidential pardons, saying they had done nothing wrong to be pardoned for. [NEWSROOM PANAMA]

And the new President Juan Carlos Varela promised … a chicken in every pot, or at least price controls on chicken, and the favorite words in Panama politics … “honesty and transparency.” Hmmm.

Conservative Juan Carlos Varela took office as Panama’s president Tuesday pledging to finish a troublesome canal expansion, stamp out corruption and get more people out of poverty.

The 50-year-old rum maker donned the presidential sash in a massive ceremony at Rommel Fernandez stadium in the capital attended by a handful of world figures including US Secretary of State John Kerry, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou.

“We’ve got plenty of laws. What we need are men and women who respect them; that’s what I am here for,” Varela said to large cheers, warning: “Corruption will not be tolerated in our government.”

Varela, who was elected to a five-year mandate in May 4 polls, replaced Ricardo Martinelli, a supermarket magnate who leaves office with high popularity despite corruption allegations.

Panama’s vice-president and a former Martinelli supporter, Varela was the surprise winner in a three-way race. Final results put him seven percentage points ahead of his nearest rival, Martinelli loyalist Jose Domingo Arias.

Varela has called for a national unity government to sustain economic growth, reduce inflation, combat violent crime and strengthen democracy.

Venezuela broke ties with Panama in March, when President Nicolas Maduro slammed Martinelli as a corrupt US lackey. But Varela has set dialogue with Caracas as a priority.

And just as Varela was sworn in, Venezuela announced it was restoring bilateral ties. These had been severed when Martinelli sought a meeting at the Organization of American States in Washington to discuss the death of 43 anti-government protesters in Venezuela.

Canal priority
Topping Varela’s weighty agenda is finishing an expansion of the Panama Canal, a massive project which is a year behind schedule and has been mired in controversy.

The vast construction project was to have been completed this year, but delays and cost overruns have pushed back the schedule to early 2016.

“We are blessed to have the canal, a major piece of infrastructure which serves our nation, and world trade. As president, I will make sure the expansion is completed successfully, while protecting the state’s interest,” Varela pledged in his address.

The construction to add wider locks and channels capable of handling much larger container ships is one of the world’s most ambitious civil engineering projects.

The 80-kilometer (50-mile) long canal was completed by US interests in 1914 to provide a shorter, safer route between the Atlantic and Pacific.

Work to expand it was interrupted earlier this year over a dispute about who would pay for an estimated $1.6 billion in cost overruns. It was also hit by a strike by workers demanding higher wages.

The stakes are high for the project, with five percent of the world’s maritime trade already passing through the canal. The expanded waterway will be able to process 12,000 container ships in its first year of use, triple the current capacity.

‘Empty coffers’
Analysts warn Varela has his work cut out. “There are empty coffers, there are pending disputes between different unions and the canal work is overdue, such that the money that was counted upon is not coming in, and this will affect how he governs,” market analyst Jaime Porcell told AFP.

“Varela has to clean up the mess Martinelli left behind and keep the broken promises of other administrations” to lower the prices of basic goods, control crime and punish corruption, lawyer and political analyst Mario Rognoni told AFP.

Varela though takes office amid a huge economic boom in Panama, a small Central American nation of 3.8 million people focused economically on trade, tourism and services.

Panama saw breakneck 8.4 percent growth in 2013 but 26 percent of people live in poverty, according to the government.

Varela has said that his first act as president will be to sign an executive order to control prices of 22 products to lower inflation, his main campaign promise. Price controls are not often on a conservative’s policy plan.

He also pledged drinking water for the entire country.

Varela on Monday reached an agreement with the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) guaranteeing him a majority in Congress, which will make it possible for him to pass laws and nominations.

Varela’s Panamenista Party holds only 13 of the 71 seats in Congress, but the agreement with PRD creates a 38-seat majority. [Associated Press]

Varela also held out an olive branch and a promise of a new life to members of Panama’s estimated 200 gangs: amnesty if gang members turn in their weapons by August 1st and choose to lead a “normal life.”

As Varela well knows, given the alliance he had with Martinelli as Vice President, “things change” in Panama.  Alliances can be made … and broken.

Catching Up

At least with paper snail mail you had a stack of paper on your desk as a reminder that you needed to catch up. Now, although it’s not mail, I still have stacks of stuff … have no idea what’s in the stack, but I guess it just makes me feel comfortable!

I appreciate your comments … I really do! And I read and enjoy them all and eventually do get around to doing something with them … all.

It’s a party weekend!

OK, it’s a cultural difference! It’s 2:42 a.m. in Panama and competing parties are still going strong … and noisy.  I can hear the party with the music “typica” blasting away at the community center from one direction, and from the other direction the sounds of clapping and praise coming from the little charismatic evangelical church in town.  So, since I can’t sleep …

Thank you for your comments on Amazon!

If you’ve enjoyed my books, please comment!  Even if you didn’t enjoy them, please comment.  Why?  In part the way Amazon determines position of books is by the number of comments so even if it isn’t a five-star comment, it helps position, which helps sales.

Thanks for these comments about THE NEW ESCAPE TO PANAMA …

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

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

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

Fake vs. Real

The world is full of fakes! Be it watches, boobs, medicine, fashion items, currency, get rich quick schemes … even people!  So, hopefully we’ve all learned to beware.

Items can be advertised and packaged to look like the real deal, but when you look closely you discover they’re not the same and the quality is far different.  And in many jurisdictions even possessing a counterfeit product can get you arrested.  Unfortunately someone is even trying to counterfeit the Panama Relocation Tour.

From Jackie Lange …

If you thinking about signing up for Panama Relocation Tours make sure you are getting information and a phone number from http://www.PanamaRelocationTours.com web site. Call 972-496-6032 or 972-496-4500 or email info@panamarelocationtours.com. Otherwise, it is not MY company. Beware of the imitators.

I tell you this because

This is my 4th year of doing all-inclusive tours in Panama. As you can see from http://www.PanamaRelocationTours.com web site there are many photos of our tour groups and many testimonials from customers who said the tour exceeded their expectations. These are real photos taken during tours (not photo shopped) and real testimonials from people who have been on my tour.

When people sign up for our tours we deliver!

More proof….

Richard Detrich often joins me on the tours and has written about the tours on his blog at http://www.RichardDetrich.com

Bob Adams of http://www.RetirementWave.com usually meets with the group and my tour company is the only one he endorses because he knows I deliver what I promise and we do not sell real estate or have any other financial arrangement with the places we go during the tour or the people we meet with the tour.

I tell you this because…

Unfortunately, last October a travel agent out of Arizona started advertising ‘Panama Relocation Tours’ on her web site and all over the internet. She is also working with a guy in Panama to do marketing for her and a guy in Canada to do marketing for her. They both have Panama Relocation Tours on their web sites, social media sites and other places online.

They are all using MY tour company name, Panama Relocation Tours in their marketing.

They have even used my video testimonials and my tour pictures on their web site.

I have contacted these imitators many times to ask them to stop using my tour company name to promote their tours. Finally after no results, I had my attorney in the USA and in Panama send them a Cease and Desist Notice.

But they have not backed down. In the last couple of weeks, I discovered why…

Last week I got a call from two couples demanding a refund for the tour they never got. I had never heard of the people before.
They did not sign up for MY tour.

Panama Escape Artist told me about another guy who had the same problem, he signed up for a tour but a week before the tour was told it was postponed because not enough people signed up.

Today, I learned that a couple came in to Explora Ya in Boquete complaining that they paid thousands of dollars for Panama Relocation Tours but a week before the tour were told that the tour was postponed because not enough people signed up. Since they already had their airplane tickets, they came to Panama anyway. They, like many others, paid for a tour they did not receive and never got a refund for.

Needless to say this was NOT MY Panama Relocation Tours.!

I would never do that to anyone. And I have never, ever cancelled a tour because not enough people were signed up.

There is no telling how many people have been hurt by this unscrupulous travel agent from Arizona and her marketing partners. Plus this travel agent is doing “tours” in Belize and Costa Rica too so her scam may extend way beyond Panama.

I need to figure out how to stop them before more people are hurt and my excellent reputation is damaged. That is one reason for this post.

Many expats, and would be expats, have a tendency to think they can trust people from their home country more. That is not necessarily so in Panama or other countries. Trust but verify before you do business with anyone. Con artists come and go in Panama too.

The big event for gardeners …

If you are a gardener in Chiriqui the big event every one looks forward to is Carla Black’s Annual Heliconia Plant Sale, July 5 & 6th in Volcan. Carla is the expert on heliconia. These “typical” tropical plants have an amazing variety and just to visit Carla’s beautiful finca is a worthwhile experience. She has other plants for sale including beautiful tropical water lilies. Other years she’s had friends and neighbors who bring orchids for sale as well. This is the rainy season in Panama, the really fun time for gardeners and the time to plant and replant.

Rent First?

Generally I advise folks to come down and rent a place in Boquete for 3 to 6 months before deciding to make the move.  However, that’s not what we did!  We came, we saw, found a place we loved, bought it and have been happily living in paradise for ten years!

Hello Richard, This is Richard & Ofelia from NJ. Hope you remember us from the Panama Relocation Tour last September. We’re looking for a nice fully-furnished rental within a Mile & Half from Boquete center starting in January 2015 for six months or even longer. We started looking on the websites i.e: VIVUIN to find a suitable rental but as of now we’re having a difficulty. What’s the best way to secure a good rental property? Should we just fly down for a week and look around or do you have a reliable Real Estate Agent you could recommend? Just to let you know, this is our wish list for rental property: Fully furnished House with a modern kitchen & Bathroom, 2-3 Bedrooms or 2 bedrooms with a small den ( computer room will be fine), a nice view & reliable internet & water supply. We’d like to keep our rental budget about $1.200/month. Any help you could offer is greatly appreciated. Looking forward to having a reunion dinner with you guys.

One of the best resources for finding rentals is Boquetening.com which functions as kind of classified bulletin board.  A real estate agent is generally going to jack up the price for a rental as their fee.  If you have a week, come down and look around.  A lot of rentals are found by word of mouth.  It’s easy to take what you find on-line, and weave your own dream around the property description, which may or may not end up as accurate.  Right now is off-season so there is good availability for rentals, often at discounted rates.  January is prime time.  For what you are seeking I’d think of a budget more around $1,500-1,800.  You can also put an announcement on Boquetening.com for what you want..

Speaking of Boquetening.com…

One of the folks on the May Panama Relocation Tour who has been following Boquetening asked me “how indicative are the comments on Boquetening of the expat community in Boquete?”  These folks worried that the felt some of the discussions were “catty, rude, sometimes vindictive and reflecting a lot of petty bitchiness.”  They wondered if that was typical of the expat community here.

I think Boquetening plays an important role for our expat community.  I know Lee Zelter and he attempts to keep things open yet civil.  As the expat community has grown we have attracted more “types” of people.  A lot of folks who’ve been here for a while don’t engage in the fray of who said what to whom, yada yada.  I occasionally look at the discussions on Boquetening but mostly use it when I’m looking to buy or sell something.  I read Lee’s blogs and it is sometimes helpful to get news, or just unsubstantiated “news”, that’s too local to find elsewhere. Yes there are some folks who hang out maybe too much on Boquetening and may need to get lives. And there are a few who’ve never mastered the art of thinking before posting.  But, as the expat community has grown we get all kinds of folks.  We’re not all the same.  We don’t have the same political and economic views or even the same lifestyles.  I think that’s healthy.

On two different Relocation Tours I met folks who have expressed similar concerns.  They have asked me privately and nicely, but what they were really asking is “can we find our kind of people here?”  In one case they were looking for people who perhaps were more intellectual, educated, whatever … the kind of folks who would spend Sunday morning reading the entire NEW YORK TIMES.  And the answer is yes!  Another couple, maybe reacting to the fact that many US tour participants seemed to be looking at Panama as a place to live cheaper, said, “We don’t want to throw money away, but we have money and we like to live nicely.”  And the fact is that in Boquete you can find a beautiful little home to rent for $800 a month or a mansion to buy for $2 million.  Panama has poor, middle class, rich and VERY rich folks.  You can enjoy Panama on a range of vastly different budgets. Another couple was concerned about finding an English-speaking, evangelical church. Through the years we’ve had a number of fledgling groups and fellowships, but now we have a “real’ full-fledged, organized church, even with a nice, little building, not that you need a building to have a church.  Another was concerned about how they would fit in as a gay person.  Panama is officially a Roman Catholic country and although sex between persons of the same sex is legal, not everyone in the Catholic church has gotten the Pope’s “Who am I to judge?” message.  Boquete is not Panama City, so no, even small, gay PRIDE parade.  But we do now have a Gay Community group in Boquete of local Panamanians and expats.

Panama is a very diverse country, and so is Boquete, and so is the expat community within Boquete.  You can find “your kind of people” here, regardless of “your kind.”  More importantly perhaps, you have the freedom and opportunity to cross cultural barriers and embrace the variety of Boquete.  We’re not all the same!  Get used to it!  Embrace it!

It’s 4:01 a.m. and the party and fellowship is over …

So long, farewell
Auf Weidersehen, goodbye

(Kurt)
I leave and heave
A sigh and say goodbye
Goodbye

(Brigitta)
I’m glad to go
I cannot tell a lie

(Louisa)
I flit, I float
I fleetly flee, I fly

(Gretel)
The sun has gone
To bed and so must I

(Children)
So long, farewell
Auf Weidersehen, goodbye

Countries with the Best Quality of Life in 2014 for Expat Retirees

005One of the great things about the Panama Relocation Tours is the chance to meet with expats and get their unfiltered and unrehearsed views of life in Panama.  In addition to “ordinary folks” we also get a chance to meet with some folks who blog about life in Panama and qualify as “expert expats.”  These aren’t people who “just got off the boat” and are instant experts, but folks who’ve been here, are experienced, and have keen insights.  One of these is Bob Adams who writes RetirementWave.com  and lives in Panama City.  Another is Susanna Perkins with whom we usually have lunch when we visit Las Tablas.  That’s her at the end of the table, but since you can’t really see her, I’ll include her picture.  Susanna is a writer whose written a book Untether Yourself: 5 Portable Careers to Support You Overseas and who writes a blog FutureExpats.com.  Susanna put together this blog, listing what various companies engaged in “selling” expat life overseas perceive as the best places to retire.

Today we’re looking at the places that are best for retirees.

By “retiree” I don’t mean you have to be over 65 and not working. I just mean you’re not employed full-time by a multinational company.

You could be in your 30s or 40s with a couple of kids. . . or enjoying slow travel through every country in the Americas. . . or teaching English in Asia. But whatever you’re doing, you’ve chosen where you want to be, you’re not on an assignment by XYZMultiCorp.

So without further ado, here are the best quality of life countries for expat retirees.

International Living

They use a complicated formula that accounts for cost of real estate, special benefits offered to retirees, cost of living, ease of fitting in, entertainment and amenities, health care, retirement infrastructure and climate. They published results in their January, 2014 magazine.

Within a country they only consider the areas they recommend for expat retirement living, although their list is by country, not by city.

Panama
Ecuador
Malaysia
Costa Rica
Spain
Colombia
Mexico
Malta
Uruguay
Thailand
Ireland
New Zealand
Nicaragua
Italy
Portugal
France

I have to admit, I’m a bit surprised by a list that puts Nicaragua ahead of Italy, Portugal and France. . .

Live and Invest Overseas

I appreciate that they recommend, not an entire country, but a specific city or region. Here’s their 2014 list:

Coronado, Panama
Medellin, Colombia
South of France
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Cayo District, Belize
Cuenca, Ecuador
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Granada, Nicaragua

Even better, they highlight why they recommend each one, and share a monthly budget for that location.

Coronado’s at the top of the list because it’s the “most turnkey, expat-ready” place to retire. When you combine Panama’s unparalleled retiree benefits with an oceanfront community, and lots of expats, it’s pretty darned appealing. Add to that an estimated budget starting at $1,800/month ($600 of that for rent), and it’s surprisingly affordable.

Only an hour or so outside of Panama City, in Coronado you’re close enough to take advantage of the shopping and the nightlife when you want it — and world-class medical care if you need it.

Personally, I think that estimated budget is a bit low — I could easily spend $600/month for rent here in Las

AARP

The AARP looked for “warm and sunny, attractively affordable locales with good-to-excellent health care that are hospitable to Americans of retirement age.” They only list countries, not cities, and their list is alphabetical.

Argentina
Belize
Costa Rica
France
Italy
Mexico
Nicaragua
Panama
Portugal
Spain

If Health Care is your Top Priority

An article in the Huffington Post by Kathleen Peddicord (publisher of Live & Invest Overseas, whose retiree list is above), lists the top eight choices for overseas retirement if health care is your biggest concern. These are also listed alphabetically.

Cebu, Philippines
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Cuenca, Ecuador
Georgetown, Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Languedoc, France
Medellin, Colombia
Panama City Beaches (ie, Coronado area), Panama

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.

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