The Move From Hell, Part 1

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I suppose this is therapy … but also maybe good advice if you are ever thinking of moving to or from a foreign country.

We moved from the Ventura/Santa Barbara area of Southern California to Boquete, Panama 18 years ago. At the time Boquete wasn’t overrun with expats, and most of the available local houses weren’t the style to which most North Americans were accustomed. So, a lot of new expats just built their own homes. We had no mortgage on our home in Ventura and sold it in a good market so, like a lot of other expats back then, we were somewhat flush with cash. We bought a 4.5 acre little run-down coffee farm and designed and built our 4,500 sq ft dream home for a fraction of what it would cost to build something similar in Southern California. We had 18 years of living in what was mostly paradise. No heat or air conditioning required, pretty much perfect weather most of the time. And we grew and drank exceptionally good coffee.

But after 18 years things changed. When we came locals would ride into town on horseback and tie up in front of the little pharmacy. Eventually with the gringo boom things flourished. Locals now had fancy, new Toyota 4x4s, horses were replaced by horsepower, and a lot of the new ex-pats had come lured by promises of “cheap,” with different values content to live in gringo bubbles. Coffee is a fickle plant and with global warming the climate had changed bringing warmer temperatures and new diseases and the only way to keep growing coffee at our altitude was to keep dumping more and more expensive chemicals onto the plants. Chicken shit, a wonderful treat for coffee plants, which once was $1 a bag was now $7 a bag! And we were getting older, finding it harder to get good medical care and with no emergency 911 response system . . .it was time for a change and to look for a new adventure.

So, we put our house on a market crowded with high-end gringo homes all built around the same time in an expat market dominated by folks who’d suffered financial setbacks in the States and were looking for cheap.

For me personally the end really came when we sold off our property in Boca Chica on a hill overlooking the ocean. I’ve always been in love with two serigraphs I purchased at the endless “art auctions” on the ships I’ve worked on now for over 12 years … my retirement gig. Julian Askins created these dreamy images of what to me were the ideal settings for my retirement.

Our tiny cottage in Boca Chica was no where near as grand, but I had created this little Greek-like cottage overlooking the ocean, and it was to become my retirement dream.

Only one problem: it was hot, not that I necessarily had a problem with hot (and it was mostly just hot for a few hours in the morning before the breeze from the ocean kicke in), but it was too hot for my wife who hated being hot and had graciously tolerated my dream … but it was my dream. So we sold it and that ended that.

I still have the pictures but have moved on.

We put our dream house in Panama on the market and began looking for a place to live. Sure, we would have liked to go back to Ventura, but we knew when we left California that we would never be able to afford to go back. The Boulder area of Colorado was interesting, but we knew how cold Colorado could be. Same was true about Santa Fe, New Mexico. We both love Southwestern art, the traditional Spanish architecture, and the culture, but again it’s cold in winter, and pretty barren. So, if we don’t like cold how did we end up in Washington?

Well we’ve always like the NW states … the coastal areas of Oregon and Washington, and Alaska are not just beautiful but a lot is spectacular. My daughter Noelle couldn’t wait to get out of Southern California, so went to the University of Puget Sound. When she graduated she took a summer job driving a tour bus for Princess in Fairbanks, fell in love with her boss and the rest is history. After two years in Fairbanks they moved to Seattle for Noelle to get her Master’s degree. My son-in-law went to the University of Washington and his family goes way back in the state. My daughter teaches in Seattle and they are never leaving Washington. My grandsons hardly have any article of clothing that isn’t emblazoned with the Seahawks logo.

My daughter Rebecca went to Willamette University in Salem, Oregon and worked in Yosemite, Marin Headlands, and the Bay Area, but had a lot of friends in Washington. Just as we were considering where to move, she took a job in Washington. And as we were getting older we wanted to be closer to our family. I had worked with American Cruise Line on a ship doing Puget Sound cruises and fell in love with the little seaport-like town of Anacortes, so here we are! Both Nikki and I have always found ourselves tugged between our love for the sea and our love for the mountains, and here we have both.

We will have been here a year in December and have almost recovered from the trauma of our move … more later on that. We’re working on adjusting to four seasons. In Panama there was very little difference between daylight hours year round and we still struggle with that. I’m told last year was an unusual winter in Anacortes and we usually will only get s skiff of snow. Hopefully they are honest about that. Gradually our house is looking like OUR house.

It has been a VERY stressful year and I’m sure that the stress has contributed somewhat to some of my health problems. If I’ve learned anything from our stay in Panama it is this: you always need to have an exit plan. It’s true in business, and it’s true in life as well … moreso than I ever imagined.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of The Move From Hell, meaning the move itself was “Hell” not that the place we were moving from was “Hell”. No, if anything Panama was almost Paradise.

So we are adjusting. Living only two hours from my daughter and grandkids outside of Seattle, and 30 minutes from my daughter up here, is fantastic. And we are slowly getting out and exploring this fantastic area of Western Washington.