A Snake Story

Speaking of poisonous snakes and the fer de lance  . . . I know I should NOT tell you this story, but I just can’t resist!  My theory in writing ESCAPE TO PARADISE: LIVING & RETIRING IN PANAMA was to tell it like it is.  Better that you should read the book and know what really to expect and either decide to pursue escaping to Panama further, or know upfront “It’s not for me” than to sell everything, spend a fortune moving to Panama and investing here, only to decide you don’t like it.  So if you just want smoke blown in your eyes, there are lots of outfits and online publications and “experts” that will do that, even some for free, but I’d rather give you the straight scoop and let you decide.

Anyway, for better or worse, here’s the snake story . . .

When I talk about Panama on ships going through the Panama Canal and take questions, someone always asks about snakes. And, yes, we do have a lot of snakes, 127 varieties to be exact. But, not to worry, only twenty are poisonous. However, those twenty include some of the most venomous snakes in the world, including the fer de lance. Most of the really dangerous snakes stay away from populated areas, except, unfortunately, the fer de lance. The fer de lance can outrun a horse on an open beach and is an aggressive snake, known to even lie in wait in an area frequented by warm-blooded animals.

When people ask about snakes I always tell them that you will be very lucky to even see a snake in Panama and your chances of getting bitten by a poisonous snake are less than your chances of getting struck by lightning. In most of Panama you are within 45 minutes of a government hospital that has antivenom so your chances of actually dying are nil.

After one talk a lady from Milwaukee came up to me and said, “Richard, I was bitten by fer de lance in Panama and lived to tell about it.” I was dumbfounded!

“Really! How?”

You didn’t hear this from me, but, the lady from Milwaukee took a rain forest walk that all the cruises offer as an excursion if they are actually stopping in Panama. She was at the end of the line of guests when they stopped to hear the guide explain a particular plant. She felt something snap at her ankle, looked down, and didn’t see anything but two tiny marks, which she assumed might have been insect bites. She mentioned it to the guide who told her she probably had just stepped on a twig.

By the time she got back to the ship her ankle was feeling sore and a little discolored so she went to the medical center. The ship doctor told her she probably had stepped on a twig, gave her some aspirin and charged her account for an office visit. By the next morning she was feeling worse and went back to the doctor, who charged her for another visit, gave her some more aspirin and told her she would feel better the next day. That evening, feeling worse and with the discoloration spreading, she went back to the ship’s doctor for yet another office call. By this time she says, “He was looking at me like I was some kind of hypochondriac, gave me some more aspirin and said I’d feel better in the morning.”

By the next morning her leg was discolored, the discoloration was spreading to her arms, and she had blood in her urine. She went back to the ship doctor, insistent that something was wrong and she was not leaving until he took notice. Finally, they did some blood tests (which they should have done in the first place), video conferenced with their medical people in the US and with the Centers For Disease Control and it was determined that she had been bitten by a fer de lance. At this point the ship diverted to a port where they had a medical jet standing by to evacuate the lady to Miami where she was in the hospital for two months recovering.

Wow! The woman was young, athletic in good physical shape, in her 30s, all of which contributed to her successful recovery. So it is possible to get struck by lightning, get bitten by a fer de lance, or even win the lottery! All very unlikely, but possible.

Sorry! It’s still a great tour if you’ve never had opportunity to walk through a rain forest! I know some of you would love to see any snake in the wild, but that is very unlikely. Even herpetologists who visit Panama looking for snakes have a hard time finding them!

As I mentioned the other day, we have a farm and we’ve found a few, not many, but a few. The babies generally in the rainy season. However a mama fer de lance can have up to 80 babies, so we’ve found two . . . and it’s the maybe 78 snake brothers and sisters that I watch out for. A few years ago the guys were working up along the fence line, next to a neighboring finca that doesn’t spray or anything and they found and killed this sucker that probably came over for a visit from the farm next door. That’s Oscar who helps me with plumbing holding the snake.

But again . . . not to worry. You can find rattlesnakes in Beverly Hills. So you just watch where you walk. That way you don’t step in any little “gifts” left by my dogs or on a fer de lance.

It’s been a while . . .

It’s been a while since we talked, so before I jump on the ship . . .

How to get to Boquete . . .

Are there any 2012 updates to “How To Get To Boquete”? Deniceyy

Denice, Pretty much accurate. I did add in a paragraph about our Panama Relocation Tour. If you’re looking for a direct US/David flight . . . unfortunately, not yet. Stay tuned!

Kudos and Montanas de Caldera

Just finished reading your book “Escape to Paradise” very well written with down-to-earth sense of humor and reality checks. My wife and I will begin our first look at Panama this Sept 2012. Her fried has a home being built at the Montanas De Caldera and she told us of Boguete and the feeling she got of the area. Again, thank you for your book, I finished it quickly, it was that absorbing. Jerry

Jerry, thanks for the comments about ESCAPE TO PARADISE: LIVING & RETIRING IN PANAMA . If you really liked it please do me a favor and write a review on Amazon. That really helps.

Your wife’s friend needs to immediately get in touch with someone “on the ground” in Boquete who can keep her informed on recent developments at Montanas de Caldera . . . like the developer having split and being nowhere to be found, after leaving employees high and dry without being paid. Not a good scene!  But it happens. A lot of developments are the developers wet dream inspired by beautiful architectural drawings. It may, or may not, happen. It all depends on how sales go and how deep are the pockets of the developer and how much he wants to spend if things start going South. What I like about Valle Escondido is that it is a reality, not a pipe dream which may or may not happen.

Snake facts . . .

Thanks to Eric Nicolaisen for sharing some fascinating information about snakes in Panama! Hope it doesn’t dissuade anyone from coming to Panama . . . Mostly snakes sense people and they run . . . or slither . . . and go back to doing the valuable things that snakes do, poisonous or nonpoisonous.

Panama has the highest percentage of snake bites in all of Central America; from 1990 to 2009 there were a total of 25,728 reported snake bite or an average in that 19 year period of 1,354 per year; 2008 being the highest year with 1,863 bites. Majority of snake bite by province: Veraguas 450, Coclé 258, Chiriquí 200, Panamá West 175 and Panamá Metro 167. Panamá purchases a polyvalent anti-venom (approximately 5,000 viles per year) from Costa Rica for use on all the pit vipers except the Bushmaster that requires a specific anti-venom. Coral snakes as well require their own specific anti-venom. Besides the 22 highly venomous snakes, Panama has another 14 species that are mildly venomous rear fanged snakes. I enjoy your blogs!
Eyelash palm vipers do have prehensile-tails, but they do not change colors. They are different species with different colorations: Bothrops lateralis, B. Nigroviridis and B. Schlegelii; of the three B. Nigroviridis is the most venomous. Common names for these eyelash vipers: oropel, vivora del palo, toboba de pestaña,tamaga, vivora de pestaña and in the Bocas del Toro area Tommygoff.
I enjoy your postings.

Eric also shared a little more about the Indigenous folks who live around Boquete . . .

Guaymi two sub-groups: (Ngöbere and Buglere) (pop. Ngöbere 170,000 and Buglere 18,000) The Ngöbere (largest of the sub-groups) The speak two distinct languages and the Ngöbere is the largest indian tribe in Panama.

Thanks, Eric, for the update. The Ngobe Bugle guys who work for me tell me that they do not like the name Guaymi, that it was a name given to them by others, but prefer Ngobe or Bugle, but since there is a lot of inter-relationships are fine with Ngobe Bugle.

Cost of Living in Panama

Thank you Richard and Don [Don Winner Panama-Guide.com] for the excellent information on living expenses. Richard, I have really enjoyed following your blog and just received my copy of your book from Amazon. Can’t wait to dive in. Peggy

Thanks Peggy! When you finish reading ESCAPE please, please write a review on Amazon!

I live very comfortably on my Social Security check of $1,200/month and have money left over. On two separate occasions, for a total of 15 months, I house-sat for some snow birders in Potrerillos Arriba. I paid for the electricity, t.v., internet connection and a maid for half a day once a week. That cost me about $140/month average. I now live in Boqueron in a recently renovated, fully-furnished house that rents for $175/month and I maintain the yard. My electricity runs around $20/month. Last bill was $21.24 and the month before that was $19. 63.
Like most of my Panamanian neighbors I don’t own a car and depend on public transportation which puts the U.S. to shame. With the pensionado discount it costs me 60 cents each way to go from my house to the main bus terminal. To get up to Plaza Terronal is an additional 35 cents. Try driving from Boqueron and back in your car for $1.90. Can’t be done. I did buy a motorcycle a while back as my 70th birthday present to myself so I could go exploring the back roads of the area.
Last month I went to see “Los Patrones de la Cumbia, Samy y Sandra Sandoval at Jardin el Cruce. Admission, $3; two bottles of icy cold Atlas, $0.75 each; I went to see what the cockfighting was all about, another $3; taxi to and from, $1.50. So after a great evening I had change left over from a sawbuck.
At the supermarket there are only a few imported items that I take the hit on. One is peanut butter. Having grown up on Jiff and Skippy you just can’t eat anything else, and I have to spring for the Hunt’s tomato paste because Magi doesn’t cut it.
My blood pressure medication and Plavix (I buy the generic Clopidogrel) is about a third of what it costs in the States.
On average I spend about $700-$800 a month here, and my share of rent for the duplex in Fort Lauderdale was $600/month plus another $100 for electricity! Old Salt 1942

Richard, I follow your blogs about Panama because I love your perspective and writing style. This is really useful information. My husband and I live fairly inexpensively in DFW, TX, so some of the costs I read about in Panama didn’t seem that low until I realized that it really depends on the lifestyle one chooses. I think it’s time to schedule that Relocation Tour and see it for ourselves – thanks for all you do! Eva

“Screw all that visa crap”

Why can’t you just visit Costa Rica every 90 days and screw all that visa crap ? Dean

Dean, You can and lots of people do. In theory you are supposed to spend a few days in Costa Rica, but lots of folks go to the border, get the stamps and get it done. If I needed to do that I would probably go to Costa Rica and take advantage of the situation and explore. I wouldn’t want to live in Costa Rica, but it is a wonderful place to visit.

Panama Relocation Tour

Next Panama relocation tour? Any idea when it might be? Sadly, I was unable to attend this one. Missy

Missy, There are two upcoming Panama Relocation Tours . . .
September 10 – 15 – 8 5 seats available
(Monday – Friday Tour)
November 29 – December 4th – 12 10 8 seats available
(Thursday through Monday tour)

I will be on the ship for the September tour, so won’t be able to participate, so I really hope that you come on the December tour!

Richard.. we also plan to take another look at Boquete. When our tour in July of 2011 was going on, the streets in Boquete were torn up. We also picked a restaurant that was a disaster. We don’t think we have given Boquete a proper look.
When we came to Panama, we did a tour similar to the one you are managing. The only thing missing from our tour was Altos del Maria which we found on our own.
If your group liked El Valle, they will love Altos del Maria. We can drive to El Valle in 20 minutes and often do. We enjoy the farmer’s market but we love the security and the natural beauty of Altos del Maria. You couldn’t ask for a better neighborhood. No need for bars on the windows and we don’t allow trash on the road sides. Expats are welcomed and we found out that we fit in nicely. Everyone is so friendly. Altos feels like one big family. Plus, we don’t get as much rain as El Valle does.
From a real estate investment standpoint, Altos outshines them all. My career involved managing property for a major corporation in the U.S. I had direct jurisdiction over 25,000 acres of urban land in 103 cities. Park City, Utah and Sun Valley, Idaho were two of the shining cities where we had holdings. Altos is nicer than both areas especially if you enjoy a tropical climate. We have never seen a development that is nicer than Altos. We are still renting but we plan to buy here in the next year.
It is unfortunate you ran into the typical greedy broker in Coronado. Next time, you may want to specify “two residential units only” and please don’t try to “sell” to my gringos. If they want to be in touch with him/her, they can pick up a business card.
Thank you for setting up the tour. Don

Don, Thanks for the good words about Altos. The purpose of this tour isn’t to “sell” anything, but just to give folks an idea . . . a kind of first look, anticipating that if they are interested in actually relocating to Panama, having gotten a feel for several areas of the country, they will come back and explore further. Regarding, Next time, you may want to specify “two residential units only” and please don’t try to “sell” to my gringos. If they want to be in touch with him/her, they can pick up a business card.” . . . that is exactly what we did. My experience with many Panamanians . . . architects, workers, builders, sales people, etc. . . . is that they don’t really listen, or maybe don’t understand because we’re working in English, but go ahead and do what they’ve decided you want, without really hearing you out.

It is a shame that you had some rainy days on the Panama Relocation Tour and got snarled in traffic. The rain is part of the Panama daily life and it can be bothersome but put it in perspective. I got tired and scared of tornado warnings and watches in Georgia and spending nights in the basement not knowing what was going to happen. If you live here and are retired, while it’s raining you get to sit down and relax. Something we are not used to do in the USA where you feel like you have to be always on the go.
The traffic in Panama City will get worse before it gets better but at least we know that the work will be ready for inauguration before the President’s time is over.There is no re-election in Panama. Consider I 85 in Georgia has been under construction for the past 20 years or so.
So it all comes down to whether you want to try a change of scenery and see how you like it. And in the process, save some money. Carmen Rodriguez

Thanks for this informative post, esp. comments about the weather. People often say just research it, which leads to endless looking at charts graphs. But one person summarized it in 2 sentences. Thank you, Olga. I’m living in Chiang Mai, Thailand now and researching Panama. Want to learn Spanish and have good internet so I can run an online business. That’s something I haven’t seen much yet of is internet speed/reliability. Any ideas? Boquete Traveler

Internet depends on where you are located. In areas of Boquete that have Cableonda they have cable Internet connection. It is reliable and costs about $20 a month for 1 Mg. Where we live in Palmira, 15 minutes up the mountain from Boquete, we have only one choice of a mobil connection. It is very unreliable, costs $65 a month for supposedly 1 Mg, but in spite of numerous calls, complaints, whatever we only get .5 Mg. Horrible “service” but we have no choice. So it all depends.