“I neva f***ed anybody over in my life, who didn’t have it comin’ to ‘im, you got that? All I have in this world is my balls, and my word, and I don’t break ’em for no one, you understand?” (Scarface: Tony to Sosa)
“My word is my bond” is part of our cultural heritage in the US. It’s how the West was won . . . if, of course you forget how the settlers treated the Indians . . . and it’s part of our national identity . . . except of course for Presidents, Congress and the US government. Dishonesty seems to be a way of life with those folks. But other than that . . . a lot of ordinary Americans still believe in the value and importance of their word.
The stock market works on this principle. Much business in the US is done on the basis of a handshake. My poker-playing buddy would lend other “players” hundreds of thousands of dollars, just based on their word. With the exception of politicians and government, in the US one’s word has value and means something.
In theological terms it means something. An old version of the Bible, that I was raised on, says, “Let your yea be yea and your nay be nay.” So I was raised that if you say it, you’d better do it. If you don’t intend to do it, don’t say it!
And if you do say it, and don’t do it, your credibility is shot! Period. No ands, ifs or buts.
It seems the saying, “My word is my bond”, originated around the 16th Century. Since 1801 this has also been the motto of the London Stock Exchange where transactions are made with no exchange of documents and no written pledges are given.
Now I get to Panama and a person’s “word” doesn’t mean s***! Just because a person says they will do something doesn’t mean they have the faintest intention of actually doing it. And they feel no shame, no guilt. It’s a way of life. Promises mean nothing. Nothing! Whether its a professional or a day laborer . . . what people say means nothing.
In my culture it is a matter of trust. If I can’t trust you to keep your word, can I trust you at all? If you are not trustworthy and dependable in small things, will you be trustworthy and dependable in large things? So coming out of my culture, when people continually don’t perform, you start to wonder if you can trust them at all.
To say you are going to do something with no intention of doing it, or without breaking your balls to do it, is the same as lying. Who trusts a compulsive liar?
It is a major cultural difference and one which is very difficult for gringos like me to come to terms with. To promise to do something, with no intention of actually doing it, with absolutely no compulsion to perform, goes against every grain in my body.
Welcome to Panama!
As my friends Nikki & Squirt wrote in one of the songs in their “Postcards From Paradise” play, ” . . . better get used to it if you’re going to stay, don’t give a damn how you did it in the US of A!”
But it can still be frustrating as hell!
No matter who you are or where you are moving from or to, moving is a pain in the ass! Here’s some stuff we learned the hard way and some things to think about if you are moving TO Panama or eventually move FROM Panama back home, wherever “home” may be.
FIRST: TRAVEL LIGHT We had (tense is important here) a lot of really neat things that we’ve picked up in our travels around the world. Our decorating theme we’ve always described as Marco Polo with a little Hemmingway thrown in. Our stuff was important to us and when we moved to Panama 18 years ago we were going there “for good.” The home we built in Palmira, just outside of Boquete up in the Chiriqui Highlands, was on “Cemetery Road” because our little road led down to the tiny cemetery that served our tiny hamlet. I remember when we moved in my wife said, “This is it! I have only one more move and that’s down the road to the cemetery. I’m not moving again!”
So we thought. And we were wrong. I guess nothing is forever.
The current advice is take as little stuff as you can with you to Panama. There is a good likelihood that at some time you will be coming “back home,” and if that’s even a distant possibility sell, give away or store your stuff and travel light. When we moved to Panama it was hard to find what you needed and were used to in Panama and particularly in and around David. Now you can find pretty much anything and everything in David which is only a half hour or so from Boquete. People are coming and going and there is lots of stuff in a few good resale shops. Now we know folks who’ve “moved” to Panama with nothing more than a few suitcases prepared to rent or buy locally whatever they need.
SECOND: HAVE AN EXIT PLAN.
I learned this, or should have learned this, in my MBA classes. See point above: nothing is forever. It will eventually end either jetting back home or in a box in a little Panamanian cemetery, or in a pottery jar that your kids won’t have any idea what to do with or how to get rid of. If you have an exit plan you will be able to make wiser decisions throughout your stay in Panama knowing that whatever you acquire you will have to get rid of or take with you.
Of course we didn’t have an exit plan, so when our first family of three dogs died, and then we adopted three more, we weren’t thinking of ever leaving Panama or, in addition to all our stuff, getting three dogs back to the states. Not really understanding the legal differences in Panama, the quality of the medical system and what our future needs would be, and, of course, not reading or fluently speaking Spanish, and without a thought-through exit plan, we were sitting ducks for crisis when and if it became time to exit.
Making any kind of move is a stressful event and it you’ve thought all along about an exit plan when the time comes, it will make it far less stressful. In our case it is almost as if by failing to have an exist plan in place all along, we created the most high-stress exit possible. Even if you end up developing a somewhat last-minute plan, Panama being Panama and people being people don’t count on things working as planned!
Times change, and not always for the best. Things such as Covid and economics take their toll. When we moved to Panama, flush with cash from selling our home in California, there weren’t houses available period, and those that were often were not built to North American standards or expectations, at least not in Boquete. We, and a lot of others who arrived around the same time, built really nice and somewhat grand homes. I think, if I recall correctly, our construction costs ran about $70 a square foot, plus of course finishes, site development, well, yada yada. As construction began on the new Canal locks, prices for concrete, steel, and other building materials soared due to high demand and limited supply. So housing construction prices climbed steadily.
Then things started to change. The US dollar devalued and bought less. Many folks in the US saw their retirement plans disappear and the folks moving down, lured by promises of “cheap living” in Panama, were all looking for cheap houses which still offered all the comforts of North American living. Literally thousands of expat folks came to Boquete area looking for “cheap” and some might argue changing the whole tenor of things. Folks who had lived as expats for years were at a point where they either needed or wanted to “go home,” so all of those grand houses started coming on the market offered at prices less than it would cost to build them in that current market. We saw the writing on the wall that eventually, much as we had enjoyed most of our time in Panama, time was marching on and it was time for us to go “back home” and be near to family. But. given the market, it took a while to sell our home and farm not making the profit we had hoped for, but more-or-less (discounting inflation) breaking even. But, make no mistake, we had a wonderful adventure in Panama that was well-worth it to us for the “cost.”
If we had a well-developed exit plan we would might have done a lot of things differently … wouldn’t we all.
THE MOVE FROM HELL
So we decided we were going to return to the States to live in Washington near to our kids. Real estate in Washington was going crazy with soaring prices and bidding wars for properties that went hundreds of thousands above the asking price. We couldn’t have picked a worse time. Supply chain issues resulted in US ports that were swamped with freighters tied up for weeks and that was getting worse by the day. We had decided we would move our valuable stuff back with us at the tune of about $24,000 and take our three rescue pups with us. Crazy, I know now, but at the time we thought it made sense.
The dogs were a major challenge. We worked with a pet relocation outfit which was somewhat helpful at times. We couldn’t use our regular vet in Boquete but had to use another David vet who had trouble copying down the correct information on the paperwork and identifying our neutered male dog as a female, all of which resulted in my wife and dogs being driven en route from Boquete to Tocumen Airport in Panama City and ending up getting a call when they were halfway in Santiago about the paperwork problems, then having to drive back to Boquete and start over. The normal challenges were acerbated by Covid which resulted in fewer flights and smaller aircraft which could not handle the large containers required for our full-sized pups. Suggestions were to charter a private plane (right!), fly all three dogs from Panama to Amsterdam or Frankfurt, thence to Costa Rica, thence to Miami, and finally to Seattle. Not wanting three dogs to take a world tour, nor pay for their world tour, we finally got Copa to fly them to LAX. Since I had gone ahead once the sale of our house in Panama closed to buy a house in Washington, I drove from Seattle to Los Angeles to pick up Nikki, three dogs, and three dog crates from Copa/United cargo in LAX. That cargo operation was a nightmare and we only narrowly avoided our dogs getting on a live taxiway and chasing a 737 aircraft down the runway!
I never thought I’d be writing how grateful I am for Motel 6 because they were the only place that would take us and our three dogs for three nights. The rooms were clean and comfortable if basic, and the dogs actually loved riding in the car and staying in motels and were, for our farm dogs, exceptionally well-behaved on the journey.
So the dogs and we made it.
The furniture and rest of our stuff more or less made it although not all in one piece. I had asked the one person who knew more about folks moving to and from Panama than anyone else for a recommendation. They reported they had heard “good things” about Mexican Moving Company. Let me clear one thing up from the start: they are not Mexicans, but a company based in Alabama owned and run by father and son, Ronald Ponton Sr. & Jr., that apparently began moving folks between the US and Mexico and had expanded to their destinations including Panama.
It was tough getting space reserved on a freighter for our 40′ shipping container, so we took what we could get. We ended up fooling around with the buyer’s attorney which messed up our timing, so our stuff had to be loaded and shipped before I had the money to fly to Washington and buy a house. So the container with all our stuff was at sea with us, anticipating shipping delays, intending to buy a house before the container arrived, or, worst case need to store it a few weeks, something we had discussed with Mexican Movers.
I’ll write more about our horrible experience with Mexican Movers and why I would never recommend them at a later date. Suffice it to say we are here and we’re trying to build our new lives in Washington. Unfortunately about everything the movers touched was scratched, damaged or broken, so we are constantly reminded of the distain Mexican Movers showed towards us and our treasured possessions.
In the 13 years I have been writing this blog there have been a lot of changes … in the ways in which we communicate and share online, in where and how we lived, in times of our lives, and in the world. Challenges of political division, global warming, the introduction of Covid, the disruption of supply chains, new hourly wage minimums and inflation, and “the Great
Retirement” .even a US Supreme Court messing with precedent and threatening rights we all thought we had.. all of which have and are challenging us in various ways. Pretty much we’ve all been dumped into a game of 52 Pickup, you know what happens when you get fed up with a card game and throw the whole deck into the air … and then have to pick them all up.
So things have changed, and so its time to shift the focus of my hallowed blog, which by the way has been written all over the globe, on and off ships, and when the Internet on board sucked, in cafes and anyplace with a good Internet connection in over 300 ports around the world.
And I’ve long since given up on writing a blog daily … or even weekly.
So the blog continues … sorta kinda. There will continue to be a focus on my retirement job, which is lecturing on ships around the world about the ports we visit … kind of my “business” Web site as well as some retrospect to our 18 years living in Panama. And from time to time, as the spirit moves, I will ad some personal info, and just some fun writing stuff, the bloggy-type stuff. If you are interested, please subscribe. Just stick your email in the subscribe box on the top on the right sidebar. No one will call. You won’t be added to any junk mail lists. And if you ever tire of getting my blog stuff in your email, you can easily unsubscribe.
I’ve enjoyed sharing with you and I’ve met fascinating folks from around the world. Thank you and I hope we can stay in touch and you will subscribe and keep visiting.
Sorry. Even although it’s perfectly legal in Washington, available in pot shops everywhere, and in the Beatle’s next line in the song, we don’t get high.
We appreciate the thoughts and prayers from everyone. Both of our daughters, despite their own very busy lives, have been wonderful. And even although we are brand new to this tiny community, our neighbors have brought food and wanted to help out. So we’re getting there. My pacemaker is doing fine, as am I, and hopefully in a few more weeks I’ll be able to drive which will simplify life a lot. Nikki’s orthopedic doctor is pleased with her progress and her breaks are healing a little ahead of expectation. She’s managed all kinds of moves and challenges. The mayor’s wife of one of our kids’ towns has loaned us a wheelchair. Unfortunately I can’t lift or push it, but when one of my daughters is here to load us into a car and push the chair, we can take some beautiful walks. And Washington is abloom with azaleas and rhododendron and the weather is changing … warming up and some sun. The days are getting much longer and I will miss the uniform days nearer the Equator in Panama.
I’m scheduled to go back to work on board PEARL MIST August 20 on a Great Lakes Cruise and then doing the fantastic fall foliage cruises on the St Lawrence and New England through mid-November. Right now everything is a go. We pushed going back on the ship until August 20 so I would have plenty of time to fully recover.
What I probably won’t recover from is sticker shock. The fire department ambulance treatment and ride was $1,410, but then again there was an ambulance with trained EMTs who were able to shock me back to life twice. So far, and you all know how hospitals keep finding more stuff to add to the bill, the hospital bill from Skagit Regional Medical Center, what they billed the insurance/Medicare is $76,000 for emergency room and a two nights stay. The estimate is that our out-of-pocket cost will be around $1,000. Whatever, I’m grateful for the care and to be alive, and grateful for insurance and Medicare.
People always want to compare medical care in the US with Panama. When it comes to emergency/911 response if it is available in Panama (and it wasn’t where we lived) there is no comparison. When we lived in Boquete town and Nikki went into anaphylactic shock due to a medication, the first question the ambulance folks asked was “Do you have money for gas.” The kid who accompanied the ambulance had to wedge himself between the side and the gurney on which Nikki rested less she slide out the back doors which wouldn’t close.
So we knew there from experience there was a certain amount of risk living in Panama. Back then we were willing to accept some risk, but as we’ve grown older for us now the risk is no longer worth the reward.
Regarding prescription medicine: it depends. First, not all medications are available in Panama. Panama’s medical establishment, like the CDC in the States, doesn’t necessarily approve or allow sale of some medications which may be available in other countries. If you have essential medications you need to check this out before you move. For a while we were able to order medications in the US and have our kids send them to us in Panama using one of the forwarding operations in Miami. Then Panamanian customs got wind that expats were doing this and started opening and inspecting packages and prohibited sending most prescription medications into the country.
Life is more simple in the US even with the hassles of insurance company reviews. You simply pick up what you need at the local Walgreens. Since most of my medications are available in generic form. most are covered by my Medicare Advantage plan. In Panama I would be paying at the local drug store for every medication. Granted some were half the price of what I would pay if I was just buying them myself in the US and they weren’t covered by my insurance. But some of those pills were $12 each when I had to buy them in Panama.
So it depends.
Don’t go with easy answers or generalizations regarding medical care and medicine. This is an important consideration if you are thinking of relocating to Panama or anywhere else. Do the research first regarding your specific situation.