How to Enjoy Boquete

A friend of ours, Maureen Pilson, wrote a wonderful piece about looking at the minor frustrations of living in Paradise with a positive attitude. Maureen and her husband rented our little casita when they first came to Panama .

The sidewalks are all different in front of each store, and cracked, missing or slippery – we call that Character.

You have to park somewhere and drag your groceries up and down the street – we call that muscle-building.

The electricity goes off at 7:30pm in the middle of a movie and leaves you in the pitch black – we call that a chance to catch up on some sleep.

The water turns off with no warning – we call that a chance to drink wine not coffee.

You can’t make an appointment to see the doctor, you just wait with everyone else – we call that an opportunity to make new friends and learn a bit more Spanish.

You can’t find what you are looking for in the food stores – we call that a good time to try something new.

Taxis, cars and trucks come to a screeching halt in front of you in the middle of the road to greet someone – we call that living in a friendly neighborhood.

Care must be taken to avoid running over chickens, dogs and sometimes horses, which are in the way – we call that rustic charm.

There are potholes all over the roads – we call that keeping down the speed without the need for speed signs.

We listen to a lot of drumming – we call that children getting an education, and being proud of their school.

We hear a lot of annoying barking dogs – we call that, well, annoying.

You get the picture. This is the difference between just living here and enjoying living here. It has its faults, but it is beautiful, and so are the people.


News from Paradise Including Firing Donald Trump

Game-changing New Project in Boca Chica

Since we moved here 11 years ago, I’ve always felt that the area around and off Boca Chica was one of the undiscovered jewels of Panama.    It’s an area with Panama’s Gulf of Chiriqui Marine National Park where whales migrate, there are giant game fish, an area with more big game fishing records than anywhere else in the world.  There are brown sand beaches etched with black volcanic sand, and on the islands just off shore pristine white beaches where you will likely be the only people.  It is hot, and I do mean HOT, from about 9am to 11am, but then the wind shifts off the ocean and in half an hour the climate changes from sauna to delightfully pleasant.

There are some nice bed and breakfasts, and a few newer small hotels, but so far nothing has really caused the area to pop.  When we moved here the road from the Pan American Highway to Boca Chica was pretty dirt and during the rainy season it could be like driving a boat with the added thrill feature of slippery, red clay mud that could be two feet deep in spots.  There have been a few efforts to develop areas on Boca Brava island, inconvenient to get to and pretty pricey.

Now … David is the second largest city in Panama, booming like the rest of the country, with an international airport just waiting for more that one or two “international” flights a week from Costa Rica.  David is getting a gigantic, 400-store, new mall and transit center developed by the same company that did the gargantuan Albrook Mall complex in Panama City.  What was a dangerous two-lane highway from David to the turnoff to Boca Chica is being finished as a new four-lane highway.  And the road between the Pan American Highway and David is paved.

Now comes news of this!

Catalaya is designed as an active adult community on Boca Brava island and before you bring up the laundry list of why this will never happen, as I did recently with the developer, they are going to have really deep water wells and desalinization plants, an island shopping center available to other island residents as well as those with homes in Catalaya, fast and continuous ferry service to the mainland, dependable electric and Internet, and a state of the art athletic club.  Cars will be limited, but there will be a car park for resident’s cars on the mainland as well as a fleet of Jeep Wranglers for residents to use if they want to run into David.  There will be a medical clinic and helipad on the island as well and a whole list of innovative features.  Residences will start at under $150,000 and go up to around $300,000, with monthly fees of only $200.

Now if you’ve been around Chiriqui for a while you’ve seen these kind of promised developments with beautiful architectural sketches of the developer’s wet dream come … and go bust with regularity.  What is interesting about these guys is that they’ve done this before – a lot! – they have a track record of developments in the US and Caribbean.  And, maybe most important, the principal, a young Italian-Irish New Yorker, clearly has personally fallen in love with Panama.

Stay tuned!

And they have a great video although personally I don’t care for the narrator’s heavy European accent who manages to mispronounce a few local names and only uses metric.

Step Up to The Bar
One of the problems many expats experience in Panama is finding a good, knowledgeable lawyer who will actually get the job done.  To be a lawyer in Panama you just have to get a Licencia, which is like a bachelor’s degree, in law: you have to complete the course work. Once you’ve down the classwork you are presumed to know the law.  There is no test, as in the US, to pass a bar exam before, so you actually know the law, before you can practice.  Some lawyers in Panama do have the equivalent of an US doctor of laws, but many, very many do not.

A draft law proposing the creation of a bar exam to practice law that led to widespread street protests by university students will not be discussed in the current legislative period.

National Assembly President Rubén De León made the announcement Thursday, October 8 during a meeting with law students and faculty from the University of Panama.

He said that a commission led by the school will prepare a document that meets the conditions to raise academic standards in the legal profession.

He said that this document should be ready in four months, so the discussion would be in the second legislative period that starts Jan. 2, 2016. The commission will also include deputies Luis Barría, Gabriel Soto and Pedro Miguel González.

The law was presented to the Assembly by the judges of the Supreme Court.

It sought to establish an examination as one of the requirements that a person must meet to practice law. The proposal was endorsed by the National Bar Association.[PANAMA NEWS]

Let The Sun Shine In!

Panama gets $1 billion solar investment from Canada

Canadian Company COMPANY SkyPower, the world’s largest developer and owner of utility-scale solar projects, is to make a major investment in Panama that will create ,jobs, scholarships and exports in the next five years

The company ,unveiled its plans to build 500 MW of utility-scale solar energy representing an investment of $1 billion.

SkyPower will also construct a US $50 million world-class solar and environmental research center in Panama dedicated to the advancement of solar photovoltaic (PV) innovation as well as advanced research and innovation in environmental sciences.

To be built in affiliation with several leading universities and research institutions, this research facility will distinguish Panama as the definitive hub for new solar technologies and innovation in Central America, and is expected to generate significant licensing revenues for the country

SkyPower has also announced it will fund 250 scholarships for Panamanian students who are studying in the fields of solar technology and environmental sustainability, through an annual grant of 10 scholarships per year for each of the 25 years its solar projects are generating clean energy. This investment in the future of Panamanian students will begin with the first kWh of energy that SkyPower’s solar-energy projects will generate in Panama.

SkyPower also promises to sponsor a school for each megawatt it installs on Panamanian soil.

“SkyPower invests in countries that uphold environmental sustainability and preservation while advancing their economies and industries. The future of Panama looks bright, as the leadership of Panama is clearly focused on the need for clean renewable energy and has embraced solar as a cost-effective means of addressing Panama’s energy needs today, and as a critical part of its generation mix for its bright future,” said Kerry Adler, SkyPower President and Chief Executive Officer.

“SkyPower’s estimated $1 billion investment is expected to create more than 10,000 total job years in Panama, and create opportunity to export solar panels said SkyPower Chief Commercial Officer Charles Cohen.

SkyPower is the largest and one of the most successful developers and owners of utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) energy projects in the world. With roots dating back to over a decade.

President On The Run

The former president is facing charges in Panama for accepting bribes, an illegal wiretapping operation and illegal insider trading.

With at least six corruption charges against him, Panama’s former President Ricardo Martinelli (2009–2014) is now seeking political asylum in the United States, according to reports from La Prensa Thursday.

The former president fled Panama in January – only hours before the Supreme Court announced that it would investigate corruption during his administration – and has been self-exiled in Florida, U.S. ever since.

Since then, at least six charges of corruption have been laid against him including embezzlement and wiretapping during his administration.

La Prensa reported that Martinelli’s lawyers made the request for his political asylum in the U.S., since the former president’s visa and legal time limit in the country is about to expire.

If the U.S. denies his request, it must send a notice of refusal explaining the exact reason why the application was rejected, at which time the state could immediately order Martinelli to be expelled from the country or Martinelli could file an appeal.

[Fortunately Martinelli’s private jet is standing by.]

One of the larger scandals that Martinelli is implicated in is a US$45-million embezzlement scheme, where officials were forced to sign “anomalous” contracts – including one contract with a dried fruit company for millions of dollars of fruit, which the government allegedly handed to students as part of a social program.

Others include Martinelli’s involvement in a stock market scandal, accused of insider trading on shares of Canadian miner Petaquilla through another brokerage firm, and leading illegal wiretap operations against 150 people, including business leaders and politicians.[TELESURTV]

One of the many charges being developed against the former President is that he used state money to buy sophisticated wire-tapping equipment from Israel which he used on phones and in bedrooms of around 150 people who her perceived as political opponents or powerful people about whom he wanted to “get the dirt.”

Interpol alert and call for 21-years jail for Martinelli

HE PROSECUTOR of ex-president Ricardo Martinelli, over allegations of wiretapping of over 150 political opponents and others has called for a 21-year prison sentence and issued a blue alert to Interpol to locate the man who fled Panama on January 28.

Martinelli left Panama bound for Guatemala, where the headquarters of the Central American Parliament are located.

Supreme Court Judge Harry Diaz, acting as prosecutor sustained in writing that Martinelli gave orders to members of the National Security Council (NSC) for the interception of communications.

He stressed that the ex-president established an organized apparatus of power, through which he gave the Security Council instructions to execute illegal activities that violated human rights.

The prosecutor announced that the trial will present documents and testimony of former ministers and former officials who were close to power with Martinelli and gave statements about the wire taps.

Angel Alvarez, a lawyer for several victims who were caught in the process, said he asked the prosecutor to file an arrest warrant for Martinelli because of the gravity of the crimes he is accused of. He said the blue alert only puts him on notice and allows the alleged infringer to evade justice.

Meanwhile, Martinelli’s lawyers said the prosecutor Diaz violated Criminal Procedure Code by avoiding the phase of allocating charges and presenting the indictment reports La Prensa.

After completing the investigation into the wiretapping during the last government, which affected at least 150 people, mostly opponents, the prosecutor asked Judge Harry Diaz to 21 years in prison for the deputy of the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN) and president of Ricardo Martinelli country.

In the indictment, presented on Friday, October 9 afternoon before Judge Jeronimo Mejia, the prosecutor accused Martinelli of the alleged commission of four crimes and requested the maximum penalty in each.

The prosecutor also asked the judge to guarantee the opening of the trial of the process that follows the Parlacen deputy.

Story developing. [NEWSROOM PANAMA]

Although many thought Martinelli was hiding out in an expensive condo in Miami, turns out he was living in an estate in Paraguay that he covertly purchased while in office. Reportedly Paraguay has ordered Martinelli to leave immediately.  Supposedly claiming political persecution he is also seeking political asylum in Spain.

Keep the jet warmed up!

Memo to The Donald from Trump Tower Condo Owners: “YOU’RE FIRED!”

The 25% or so of Republicans who think they’d like Donald Trump as next President of the United States, might want to take a look at the opinions of condo owners in Trump’s flagship Trump Tower in Panama City who’ve just fired Donald which may be why he’s trying so hard to get the new job in Washington.

The building’s residents and condo owners had invested in the namesake, a 70-story waterfront tower along Panama Bay, charge that during the four years that Trump Panama Condominium Management LLC had managed the property, the management ran up more $2 million in unauthorized debts, perhaps taking a cue from the former administration in Panama, paying its executives undisclosed bonuses and withholding basic financial information from owners.

Residents and home owners charge the Trumps with fine-print chicanery that prevents residents from voting against the Trump company’s wishes, allowing Trumps family to install their top employee as chairman and the residents’ representative on the board, even though the only thing the Trumps allegedly own is a “storage closet on the 15th floor.”

Tump’s lawyers say the complaint is a “complete sham” while accusing residents of “ingratitude and criminal trespassing” according to US NEWS & WORLD REPORT.  After being fired, Trump declared the company was quitting and supposedly demanded a $5 million termination fee.

According to an AP article by Jeff Horowitz …

“Whether wheeling and dealing with Wall Street bankers, debating political rivals or running a condo association, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has advanced his interests by leveraging his outsized reputation, canniness and aggression. The Trump Organization’s adventures in Panama provide a window into how these traits have filtered into his business empire — and the style of management that could be expected in a Trump White House. Transparency and close attention to expenses are not strengths. Squeezing the most from contractual language is.. . .

“The power struggle at the tower shows the powerful allure of Trump’s name — and the disenchantment and separation that sometimes follow. Even that is indicative of Trump’s style: As the Ocean Club’s board was trying to settle into the administrative offices, Trump’s people cut off the office’s Internet and phone service and repossessed the office copy machine. The Trump Organization acknowledged this to The Associated Press, saying that disconnecting services was necessary for security and privacy concerns.”

Is Panama REALLY cheaper?

Answer: It depends!

Depends on many things: what you are comparing, and where you are comparing? Obviously you expect to pay more for everything in cities with higher costs of living.

But let’s talk about a basic: FOOD.

Everyone expects everything to be cheaper in Panama, but it’s not. Eating out in a good restaurant, a little classy with menu, ambience and service, is frankly about the same.  As I discovered last year when I was comparing the cost of a nice meal at Panamonte Hotel in Boquete with a restaurant overlooking Puget Sound in Seattle, right across from Pike Market, operated by a well-known, local, “name” chef … the cost was about the same, not including the outrageous cost of parking.

But this is what I don’t understand, and it doesn’t apply just to Panamonte, but to a lot of nicer restaurants in Boquete.  The minimum wage in Panama is $1.65 an hour.  The minimum wage in Seattle is $11 going to $15 an hour!  Let’s assume for a moment that food costs are about the same, and I’ll explain that in a minute.  The restaurant across from Pike Market is in just about the highest rent district in Seattle.  By contrast Panamonte has been in the chef/restaurateur’s family for decades. So how on earth do you justify similar or the same prices?  Even with a 25% Pensionado discount, which most of our tourists who are Panamanians from Panama City don’t receive, I still don’t get it.

I paid less, LESS, for a cup of Costa Rican Tarazzu coffee, at a coffee shop in Alki, the expensive beach area of Seattle.  Not just any coffee shop, but one right next to a Starbuck’s, but this one was more exclusive because …. there was a big picture by the door of Obama getting his Java fix there in 2010.  And he had cash in his hand!  I didn’t think Presidents carried cash.  So why, given the much lower rent, much lower cost of employees, and the fact that we grow the stuff, does a cup of coffee in Boquete cost more than at Alki in Seattle?

In May of this year [2015] I did a comparison of food costs in Sonoma County [right in San Francisco’s North Bay area in the heart of wine country where you expect prices to be higher] and Panama.  It’s well worth taking a look at that comparison.

A few days ago a reader, Keith Dick, sent me a “Gringo Food Comparison” of prices at various grocery stores in Coronado, a community right on the beach, VERY popular with Panamanians who create major traffic jams on holidays heading from the city to Coronado, and also very popular with expats who want to be nearer to the city in a well-developed beach community with lots of stores, restaurants and amenities.  [I love it when you send me this stuff!]  So here it is … and all the markets listed are well-known in Panama.],


And since I was visiting my other daughter near Seattle, another high rent district, I thought I would do another comparison, this time to the lowest prices available in Coronado. I went down the road to the Fred Meyer [part of Albertson’s Corp] down the way in Burien and here’s that comparison …

Food comparison Panama to Washington

Now, we’re looking largely at familiar US American brand names, so since they have to be shipped and imported, you expect to pay more. The more you can adjust to life in Panama and become acquainted with local products and non-US brands the more you can save. And don’t just assume the brands with which you are familiar are better! But North Americans being North Americans we tend to gravitate to the familiar, which is what brand marketing is all about.

And while there is only one Panamonte in Boquete, and a few other restaurants who try to achieve the same, you can eat a great, local lunch at a local Panamanian restaurant for under $5 including drink where you’d be embarrassed to ask for a Pensionado discount.


And there is a whole list of important stuff that really IS cheaper … much medical care and dentistry, really good rum, farm fresh local produce, tropical fruits, fresh fish including fantastic Ahi tuna at about $4 a pound, wonderful shrimp, men’s haircuts for $3 women’s for $30, car insurance for a fraction of what you’d pay in Washington or California, and the list goes on.  Housing … depends on where you’re comparing.  There is a wide, wide range of housing costs in various areas of the US.  Compared with some areas in the US, housing in many areas of Panama is a bargain, from other areas the cost of housing here is equal, or maybe even more.

So how do you figure all this out?  Take your time, do your research, then do some more. Compare what folks are saying.  Don’t just listen to me OR International Living or all the other folks who promote Panama.  Come on down!  Take the Panama Relocation Tour.  Read my book.  Come down and test-drive Panama for a while before making the leap. You need to look at the whole picture, not just one aspect.