Forty Nine Palms

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYes there is a Twenty Nine Palms in California … high desert, subtropical, honestly IMHO a pretty drab and nondescript place … sorry ’bout that, but … Anyway, palm trees to me have always represented relaxation, beauty, and vacation.  You know, Kokomo, Margaritaville, etc., etc.

So, being in love with palm trees I’ve planted a lot of them on our Paraíso Tranquilo little mountain coffee farm and finca ouside of Boquete, Panama.

So the other day, wondering if we had 29 palms, I decided to count them.  Welcome to Forty Nine Palms!!  About 7 different varieties, integrated into our coffee, banana, orange, and tropical fruit trees, making this really Paradise.  And when you throw in a rainbow … Paradise!

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For The Birds

mike-webber-fiery-billed-aracariSince Nikki recently spent some time visiting our children in the States and I was working a Fall Foliage Cruise in Canada and New England, our friends Mike Webber and Muzz Laverty house sat for us and took care of our dogs. Mike and Muzz are avid
bird watchers, as are many other folks in Boquete, and take bird watching very seriously. Mike is also a great photographer and took all the accompanying photos on our property.

mike-webber-black-chested-jayNow we knew that we are “bird friendly” and we grow “bird friendly” and “shade grown” and “frog friendly” and “rain forest friendly” coffee, as do most of the small and large coffee growers in Boquete. But no one, well only one very profitable local grower I know, has invested the  thousands of dollars necessary to buy one of these marketing labels. All of these, including the Fair Trade label, are giant marketing schemes. A grower has to pay thousands of dollars to belong, then fly people down from cities in the US, pay all their expenses, wine and dine them in expensive hotels, so they can proclaim “Yes, you grow coffee” and then mike-webber-black-chested-jays
you can use their label. I know of only one grower in town that can afford that! Doesn’t all that stuff … Fair Trade and the rest … help the little guy? No. The true little guy can’t afford that stuff, and the reality is it makes it harder, not easier. Only the big and giant companies and coops can afford those marketing  schemes.

All the growers in Boquete I know ARE already bird friendly, respect the environment and grow shade grown coffee. Not for any label, but because it’s mike-webber-hummingbirdthe right thing to do! Panamanians respect the environment and because our area is heavily populated by Indigenous folks for whom unity with nature is key to their belief system, being friendly to the environment is just part of who we are.

If you want to grow the kind of fine specialty coffee we grow in Boquete, you need shade without paying for some marketing label or financing trips for muckety muck self-proclaimed experts from the States flying down to tell you. Obviously, it’s a lot more fun for coffee aficionados who are stuck behind desks
mike-webber-crimson-backed-tanagerand in tiny cubicles in the States to fly down for a working vacation in Boquete than line up at Starbucks.

Panama has 978 species of birds which we love and protect, so of course we are bird friendly. Dah! So we already knew that our farm was bird friendly … we just didn’t know how friendly! Mike and Muzz found, and photographed, birds on our property we didn’t know we had. Muzz said, “If you just sat on your back terrace and watched you could eventually count 100 species right here!”

We know we live in a spectacular spot of paradise, which is why it is hard for us to admit that the time has come in our lives when we need to seriously downsize and offer our beautiful home for sale.

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Behind The Scenes

Those of you who’ve followed my blog know that we are in the process of “retiring from retiring” … well, actually moving from Retirement.1.9 to Retirement.2.0 … a little more relaxed and with less responsibility. So, we’re selling our home just outside of Boquete, described by many as “the most beautiful home in Boquete.”

So here’s a little backstory and a little behind the scenes of what it costs.

When we moved to Boquete almost 12 years ago if you wanted a North American style home you pretty much had to build it. We initially lived in Valle Escondido, Boquete’s first gated, guarded, “planned” community. We purchased the third house built in Valle Escondido. At the time Valle Escondido was still mostly undeveloped and pretty much Panama. So we lived through all the building, waking up to workmen yelling to each other across the Valley and peeing outside our kitchen window. But when it was nearing being built-out, although beautiful, it really was no longer the Panama we came to enjoy. It became like any gated, guarded community in California with well-heeled expats and weekend mansions for wealthy Panamanians.

We had purchased some properties for investment including a tiny abandoned coffee property. We liked escaping to that property and my wife got the idea to restore the coffee, and she did … and today we enjoy our own home-grown coffee, along with bananas, oranges, lemons, and a bunch of other stuff. So we liked going up there, loved the spectacular view, and were getting tired of what was being called the “gringo ghetto” so we decided to design and build our dream home. We designed it with the help of our friend Brad Abijian,, and took our design to a local architect to prepare the drawings.

Building wasn’t easy. We sourced materials from all over … tiles from Spain, cherry cabinets built for us in China, slate from India … and it all came wonderfully together, but not without a lot of hassle: subcontractors and workmen who didn’t show up, a general contractor who spent all our money finishing up his last project. Amazingly I didn’t end up in the loony bin. I’d begin every day praying that none of the workers would die (no OSHA!) and that I wouldn’t kill the builder.

We ended up with a beautiful home and property: a private driveway lined with beautiful royal palms, flowers and tropical plants everywhere, banana, citrus, coffee trees and other tropical fruits. No neighbors. Very private with spectacular mountain views. And, right off a paved road, just 12 minutes from “downtown” Boquete, and 30 minutes from David and the new 400 store shopping mall under construction.

012-4-copyPeople thinking about escaping to Panama always wonder about the cost … so here’s what things cost …

• Town water $60 A YEAR!
• Trash pick up $30 A YEAR!
• Propane gas … for hot water, clothes dryer, cooking … $70 for a huge tank which lasts about 3 months.
• Electricity … for our house with 4 dehumidifiers, electric spa, our won well and water systems, out buildings, and rental casita on the property … $110 a month.
Property taxes NONE! No property taxes for two reasons. First, the property is a small 1.4 hectares, about 3.5 acres of agricultural property, so no property tax. The improvements … our beautiful 4,500 sq ft home was built at a time when you could get a 20-year tax exemption. So no property tax until 2027!! And the remaining exemption belongs to the property, so gets passed on to whomever purchases our home.
• The beautiful landscaping around our home, the rental casita and our driveway is maintained by one neighbor … a university student … who works one day a week, usually just 8 hours, at $1.75 per hour.

We have chosen to maintain the coffee as a hobby farm. We enjoy being a part of the coffee culture tradition in Boquete which goes back 100 years. We love our fantastic Arabica coffee … and so do our kids and friends. We hold out, and process coffee for our own use, but most is sold “in the cherry” to large, local coffee producers. Boquete coffee is some of the best in the world and snapped up by folks, like Starbucks, who blend our coffee with other coffees to boost the flavor. So if you drink Starbucks … every billionth bean may be mine!

We break even on the coffee. Yes, there are opportunities to sell it on line, or to sell it all to a restaurant in North America that wants to offer an exceptional single-source coffee which is exclusively theirs. But we are retired and have a lot of things going on, so we haven’t pursued these opportunities. Others have done so, very successfully.

A future buyer of the property might continue to grow coffee, or expand the operation, or switch over to nut trees, build greenhouses, or turn it into a pasture for horses. There are lots of options and opportunities. If you want to go off the grid and grow much of your own food, this is the place to do so.

What does coffee cost us? We fertilize, trim, and spray a couple times a year. For much of the time we had a full-time worker who managed things. Our total cost for that full-time guy was under $6,000 a year. Eventually we decided that we could hire local kids, mostly university students, to work for us on a short-time, occasional basis. That costs us less, has proven to be more efficient with less required paperwork with the labor board, and is a way to support the dreams and education of our local kids, many of whom we’ve watched grow up. The “labor intensive” time comes in October to December when we pick. Unlike the big farms that bring in Indigenous folk who come in from the comarca (kinda like an Indian reservation, although with more self-control and independence than Indian reservations in the States) to do the picking. Because we’re just so small, we just use our Gnabe Bugle Indigenous neighbors, mostly members of the little church up the road. For us this is much, much better. We support and look after our neighbors, and they look after us. We’ve had many of the same people pick for us now for eight years. We’ve watched their kids grow and start their own families. So we break even with coffee, although, the truth is I think we would gladly have paid for this experience.

Right now you can’t make that much picking and selling bananas, citrus, and other tropical fruits, so we just use these for ourselves, or share them with our neighbors.

More information on our home for sale