Category Archives: Expatriate Living

Watch This Spot For Future Developments

I haven’t been sleeping well since the shanty boat bug bit me again. I’ll go to bed and then wake up at 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning as 72 year old men are wont to do, but then when I lay down again my mind keeps churning about all the possibilities of  this venture that I can’t get back to sleep. So a half hour, forty-five minutes later I’m up again and roaming around on the computer.

Here’s one of the hurdles I have to overcome…

Where I Am

As you can see by the yellow stick pin where I am and where the boat should be are quite far apart. Not only that, running right smack between those two pins is the continental divide. A mountain chain thousands of feet high!

I have a complete set of plans for a shanty boat called the Brandy Bar

brandy-bar

It’s 25 feet long and 10 feet wide. That would make it too wide to put on a trailer and truck over the hills to Almirante where it could be launched. The construction is pretty straight forward. It’s like building a house because everything is right angles and no complex compound curves. It would be pretty simple to simply modify the plans and scale the beam down to 8 feet so it would be trailerable.

Another problem is cost. Even scrimping on things like interior design and not counting such essentials as navigation lights, anchors with their chain and rode, regular lighting, cooking facilities, etc., etc., the bare hull would cost around $4K!

Then we get into construction problems themselves. 1) The best source for marine plywood is over there in Bocas del Toro. I live here in Boquerón. For those of you not familiar with boat building, real marine plywood is expensive stuff. Without getting into a big dissertation about how plywood is made I’ll just say there’s “Marine Ply,’ ‘AB’, ‘BC’ and stuff called ‘CDX.’ The letters all refer to the condition of the outermost ply, and the X means ‘exterior.’ All need to have exterior grade glues so the plies won’t delaminate.  The supplier I know of charges $99.95 for a 3/4″ sheet of the stuff. Tack on Panama’s 7% tax and each sheet come in at $106.95. There are approximately 18 sheets needed to build a Brandy Bar or $1,925.00 worth of plywood! He also carries CDX which costs $54.95 for a 3/4″ sheet. That would cut the plywood costs to $1,058.33.

Now all that doesn’t include the framing lumber. There are 21 frames that need to be built with 2X6 inch, pressure treated lumber. Each of the frames requires 14′ of the stuff. An 8′, pressure treated 2X6 costs $14.12 (tax included). Each frame is 3′ high, so the lumber for the framing comes in at about $77.00 whether you’re building with top rated marine ply of CDX.

I was also directed, yesterday, to a place that’s supposed to sell plywood in David. What I’ve seen so far has been disappointing, but I’ll check out the new place in the next few days.

And that’s just what the lumber costs. Add in epoxy resins which are far from cheap and which I haven’t even tried to price out though I did find out about a place in David that sells it, fiberglass mat for protecting the hull against ship worms down here (Columbus abandoned two of his boats here in Panama in 1502 because of ship worms). And so on and so on with expenses.

Another problem arises in the building process. You have to build the damned hull upside down on a kind of large jig to hold the framing in place while you’re putting on the plywood sheeting and glassing it all together.

upside downSo, when it’s all sheeted and the fiberglassing is done you have to do this…

flipping itYou have to turn it over so you can build the cabin. And the flippin’ thing is HEAVY right now. (The last two photos courtesy [though they don't know it yet] of http://littleshantyboat.blogspot.com/ which is one of the best blogs I’ve read anywhere about the actual building process of a shanty boat. If you’re interested in building one you need to bookmark this site.)

So, the other night I was talking to my surfing friend, David, who lives in Costa Rica but who is thinking about resettling, too, in Bocas, when an idea hit me. . .

From time immemorial boats and ships have been built as a single unit. The keel was laid down, frames were attached to that and planking was added to the frames to complete the hull. Instead of building my 25′ long by 8′ wide hull as a single unit, why couldn’t I build, say, units that were 8’X8′ which would be a lot lighter in weight and them, with epoxy, through-bolt those units together? Sort of like putting Legos® together.  Why not, indeed? I mean they build HUGE ships and aircraft carriers that way, now, don’t they?

If they can build something as big as an aircraft carrier in sections and, essentially, bolt the pieces together why couldn’t I do the same thing with something so simple as a shanty boat?

So, naturally, this set me off in other sleepless wanderings around the internet. I found a TON of stuff. From Viet Nam there was this: http://www.hapby.v-nam.net/builds/projects.php,   And this: http://shantyboatliving.com/2012/collaborative-modular-project-post-1/ Plus a bunch more, but you get the idea.

Four Puddle Duck Racers bolted together would make a 16’X8′ hull. Six of them and you’ve got a 24X8. Four of them with a deck covering the top of each one, and joined with spanning  members floored over and you’ve got yourself the pontoons and platform for a pretty large floating home.

And here, too, you don’t have to build it all at once. You can build something large enough (or small enough) to give you a place to live in while you construct further modules. My uncle Dick and his wife Helen lived in the basement of their house in Cincinnati, Ohio while they were building the big house. My secret heros, Jim Kimball and Jay Viola (not to mention their wives who worked just as hard as they did, though in the States) built a fabulous Eco Resort, Tranquilo Bay (http://www.tranquilobay.com/) on the island of Bastimentos  in Bocas del Toro, Panama, piece by piece, and they lived in a TENT on a rickety dock when they started the venture. You really SHOULD read this story, it’s absolutely inspiring about what guts and determination can accomplish…http://www.inc.com/magazine/20080501/paradise-the-hard-way.html I had the good fortune to spend a couple of hours with Jim Kimball a few years ago when I was making my first exploratory trips to Panama and it would be hard to find a nicer person  willing to sit down with a total stranger for a couple of hours and discuss the stranger’s crackpot ideas of building a shanty boat.

So, there you have it. I’m sure there will be many more sleepless nights ahead because of this nonsense. My birthday is only a couple of weeks away. I think this year I’m going to gift myself with some power tools. I’ll show you when I get them.

 

 

 

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Filed under adventure, Boat building, boats, Bocas del Toro, Boqueron Panama, Expatriate Living, Floating Homes, homemade boats, Houseboat, Living Abroad, Living in Panama, Living off the grid, Living Small, Minimalist Cruising, PDR Racer, Puddle Duck Goose, Puddle Duck Racer, Retire in Panama, Retirement, Retirement Abroad, sailboats, Shanty boat, Shantyboat Living, Small Houses, Small Sailboats, Tiny Homes

Another Shock

I recently posted about my shockingly low electric bill. Last week I got another bill from Union Fenosa. This one was slightly higher. They said I owed them $10.94 for the period between November 7 to December 7. I went to the Plaza Teronal shopping center to buy my monthly medications and stopped at the Union Fenosa payment center at the El Rey supermarket and received another shock. The girl said I only owed $8.46, not the $10.94. I figure the way things are going Union Fenosa will start paying ME for being hooked up to their service sometime around the end of April.

Another Shock

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My Shocking Electric Bill

When I lived in Fort Lauderdale my electric bill normally ran around a hundred to a hundred and twenty five bucks a month. Granted, I had the air conditioner running most of the time. It’s about the only way you can survive there for three-quarters of the year. The other three months you need to have the a/c turned to the heat function.

When I was first researching the possibility of retiring to Panama, I read a lot of different blogs and paid special attention to posts about the “cost of living.” People often wrote that one of their largest expenses was for electric service and that the cost per kilowatt hour was higher than it was in the States. Well, you’d probably expect that you’d be needing to run your air conditioning 31 (that’s 24/7) in a country that’s only eight degrees north of the equator. It wasn’t unusual to see people saying that they had monthly bills in Panama similar to what I was paying in Lauderdale.

When I finally made the move it was to a house in Potrerillos Arriba, Chiriqui Province in western Panama. The house didn’t have air conditioning, but at 2,600 feet above sea level it wasn’t necessary. In fact I spent a great deal of the time wearing a sweat shirt to stay comfortable. My electric bill there generally ran about $25 a month. Certainly a bargain compared to what I was used to in Florida and a fraction of what I’d been lead to believe I’d have to pay according to the blogs I’d read.

Boquerón, where I currently live, is 2,000 feet lower than Potrerillos Arriba. The house I rent does have air conditioning, but I rarely use it. The house is small and with the front and back doors open there is generally a nice breeze flowing through. I’m usually comfortable if I’m in shade with a breeze, and when there is no natural breeze one of the two pedestal fans I have works just as well. There are three reasons I turn on the air conditioning. 1) On the first of each month I turn the upstairs unit on for an hour just to make sure it’s functioning. 2) When a neighbor down the street decides to crank up the music and it forces me to close the doors and windows to block out the bass. 3) When I’m using the oven and it heats the downstairs to an uncomfortable level. When the food’s done I shut it off. At night, if I’m not cooking, there are only two lights on and they are the kind conservatives in the U.S. condemn as part of a nefarious socialist plot against their individual freedom to use incandescent lighting. My monthly bill here is pretty much the same as it was in Potrerillos…around $20/month or a bit less.

Last Friday I received my most recent Union Fenosa bill for October’s service. It was shocking! The electric company wants me to pay them $9.87!!! Just so you don’t think I’m pulling your leg, here’s a pic of the bill.

While I came to accept hundred dollar electric bills as normal while living in Florida I also had exceptionally low electric bills when I was living on my shanty boat in Louisiana where it’s every bit as hot and humid in August and September as it is in Lauderdale.

As you can see, I had a window-banger a/c unit but I never used it. Each slip at the marina had its own electric meter. My bill was usually just the minimum necessary to have electric service. It was $7 a month.

One month when I went to pay the bill I stood in line and watched people paying three, four and five hundred dollars just to keep from having their service cut off. The only thing I could think of that would warrant such bills is that they kept their a/c going day and night keeping the temperature of their homes at a level where they could store meat just by leaving it on the kitchen counter.

When I made it up to the window I told the woman, “I’m almost embarrassed to give this to you.”

She looked at the bill and said, “well, you don’t live there.”

“I do,” I told her. “The thing is, when I’m not home the only thing drawing electricity is the refrigerator. If I’m home during the day you can add the television or the stereo. At night you can add a single light bulb.”

The lady took my seven-dollar payment and I left.

One morning, a few days later I was lying on my sofa reading a book (I’d been laid-off at the time). I heard a vehicle crunching down the shell road along the docks. It came to a stop nearby and I heard two doors open and close. Curious, I raised s slat on the blinds and saw two men from the electric company with an instrument testing my meter. The lady at the counter had pimped me out, unable to believe that anyone could exist on seven dollars worth of electricity a month.

The following month I went back to the electric company and paid my monthly seven dollar bill.

 

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Filed under Boqueron Panama, Expatriate Living, Living Abroad, Living in Panama, Living Small, Panama Cost of Living, Retire in Panama, Retirement, Retirement Abroad

The Problem With Yard Maintenance

Part of the agreement I have with the owners of the house where I’m living is that I maintain the yard. That’s not all that easy since everything grows ten times faster here in Panama than it does anywhere else I ever lived. I could choose to pay someone to keep the lawn trimmed, but I do it myself. The only problem I have is that it’s a two-hour yard and I have a one-hour back.

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Filed under Boqueron Panama, Expatriate Living, Living Abroad, Living in Panama, Retire in Panama, Retirement, Retirement Abroad

Things I’d Rather Not Know

Ignorance, they say, is bliss. There are certain times it’s better not to know some things.

For instance, yesterday two men were working to clear out the weed-clogged field next door so that it could be planted with corn. They worked for about six hours and during that time they killed two small fer de lance snakes.

The fer de lance is one of the most poisonous snakes in the world. If there were two next door you can be sure there are a lot more around. Sometimes there are things I’d just rather not know about.

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Filed under Boqueron Panama, Expatriate Living, Living Abroad, Living in Panama, panama, Retire in Panama, Retirement Abroad

It Finally Happened

Living, as it were, in a total-immersion language learning situation it finally happened. In the last week I’ve started having dreams in Spanish. I don’t mean that ALL my dreams are in Spanish, but when I have one that’s located here in Panama the dream language is Spanish.

I remember the first time I had a dream in French. It woke me up. It was a “WOW” moment. When you start dreaming in another language you know that it has become a part of your subconscious.

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Filed under Boqueron Panama, Expatriate Living, Living in Panama

A Mountain Retreat in Chiriquí Province, Panama

This morning’s cup of coffee wasn’t my usual brew. It came from a very special place and my ritual for brewing it was different, too.

After grinding the beans, I cupped my hands around the bowl of the grinder and shook the grounds lightly. I put my nose between my hands and inhaled the rich aroma, gathering in all the complexity of the beans. I poured the steaming coffee from my mocha pot to my mug and went out to my rocking chair on the front porch where I noisily slurped a bit of the nectar in a way guaranteed to draw disapproving glares had I been in a restaurant. I held it in my mouth for a few seconds and then spit it out into the flower bed. There was nothing wrong with the coffee, but I’d learned to do that recently at a coffee “cupping” at Finca Lérida in Alto Quiel, Chiriquí Province, Panama. As I savored the wonderful variety of flavors that toyed with my taste buds and palate I was instantly transported, as if on a magic carpet, back to that extraordinary place high in the mountains.

There aren’t enough adjectives to describe the beauty of this Shangri La. To say it is “breathtaking” is like saying the Mona Lisa is a “pretty good” painting. Calling it “awe inspiring” is akin to calling the Grand Canyon, in Arizona, a “pretty deep ditch” as you stand on its rim. Two-dimensional photographs and videos simply are inadequate to convey the magnificence of it all. The majesty of the surrounding mountains, the rugged hills covered with coffee plants offer the world some of the best, and, not coincidentally, most expensive coffees in the world, and sometimes being enveloped by clouds…

Sitting at 5,602 feet above the Pacific Ocean, Finca Lérida is, first and foremost, a working coffee plantation with a boutique hotel and gourmet restaurant. It is not a hotel that happens to have a few coffee trees scattered around for the guest’s amusement. The finca covers 150 hectares (370 acres) of which 43 hectares (106 acres) are devoted to coffee production. Finca Lérida borders Amistad National Park, the largest nature reserve in Central America, with nearly one million acres of tropical forest jointly administered by Panama and Costa Rica, which gives the visitor the sense of the immensity of undefiled nature.

A boutique hotel is defined as being a smaller hotel that is not part of a huge chain, but is top quality, has individually styled rooms offering customized service. This “customized” service is evident in the personalized, handwritten greeting left at bedside from the general manager of the hotel, Jessica Real:

The hotel is small having only 11 deluxe rooms like the one I stayed in:

There are four “standard” rooms that would qualify as being “luxurious” by most anyone’s standards:

There are six suites that feature a fireplace and a Jacuzzi:

And the Historic Suite (Casa Centenario) built by the original owner, Tolef Monniche back in 1929:

This was the home Tolef Monniche, a Norwegian engineer who worked building the locks on the Panama Canal. After suffering four bouts of malaria he set off to find his own piece of heaven high in the mountains. He built the lodge with his own two hands. It has a cozy living room with a fireplace, dining room, family room, library, and a second floor with an unsurpassed view of the carefully landscaped grounds meticulously maintained by four gardeners.

Every room has a 42-inch LCD TV with satellite cables (but I can’t imagine why you’d want to veg-out in front of a television here), Wi-Fi Internet connection and phone service. All rooms and suites are 100% non-smoking.

Just as neat and tidy as the grounds are, the rooms are also spotless and well-cared for. A Marine drill instructor giving the place a white-glove inspection would be hard-pressed to find a speck of dust anywhere.

What would a luxurious hotel be without a fine, gourmet restaurant? The one at Finca Lérida is presided over by Chef Gean:

(Photo courtesy of Omar Upegui R.)

Don’t let the serious pose fool you. Gean was nothing but smiles and good humor when I talked with him.

The dining room is light and airy and offers spectacular views of the grounds and the mountains in which it nestles.

(Photo courtesy of Omar Upegui R.)

Or you can dine al fresco:

I started my dinner, the evening I spent at the hotel, with a delicious roasted tomato soup topped by a healthy serving of fromage aux chevre (that’s a fancy way of saying “goat cheese” which happens to be one of my favorites and was what tempted me to order it).

The cheese was a fine complement to the dish and the garnish was picked fresh from the garden just outside.

For the main course I chose the trout topped with onions, tomatoes and candied cashews:

My dad was a chef. My first French girlfriend was the chef on a 180-foot mega yacht, and when I was captain of the Lady Ann in New Orleans the renowned Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme used to charter us several times a year for dinner parties he’d have for his friends, so I know good food. What I ate at Finca Lérida was as good as any I’ve had anywhere. And they stock a good selection of imported wines to go with your meal.

One thing you won’t find anywhere at the finca are machines dispensing carbonated soft drinks or packages of “munchies” made from chemicals you can’t pronounce. Instead there is a small coffee shop adjacent to the reception area

(Photo courtesy of Omar Upegui R.)

(Photo courtesy of Omar Upegui R.)

Here you can savor some of the finca’s coffees and fresh “dulces” (sweet pasteries). The coffee is also packaged either as whole beans or ground for you to take home so you can, as I was, taken back to this magical place when you brew a cup.

I’ll leave you, today, with this short video. Listen carefully to what Eden must have sounded like…

In an future post I’ll fill you in on the activities available at the finca either as a guest staying at the hotel or for those who might simply want a “day trip.”

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