Category Archives: Retirement Abroad

Yipee, It’s Raining!

We’re deep into the middle of the “dry” season here in Panama. It’s only rained a couple of times since the wonderful fireworks displays of Christmas Eve and New Years, and it usually stays dry until sometime at the end of April or early May. The afternoons have been incredibly hot. I rarely use the air conditioning which is why I’ve come up with a couple of $8 electric bills. For the most part I’m very comfortable if I’m in some shade with a breeze blowing, but over the last month I’ve shut the doors and windows around two or three in the afternoon and cranked up the a/c.

Everyone’s lawns have taken on the color of a shredded wheat biscuit with tiny hints of green poking though like bits of mold. The river, only a few yards away from the house has been silent and normally I can hear it running over the rocks but recently it’s been nearly dry, and you can easily walk across it in quite a few places without getting your feet wet. A patina of fine dust coats everything inside and out.

Yesterday morning when I got up it was gloomy. I thought it was just breaking dawn and was surprised that it was nearly eight thirty, and I almost never sleep that late. It stayed overcast all day which moderated the heat of the afternoon and a couple of times a few drops of rain fell, but only a very few. Not enough to wet anything down.

This morning it was also overcast, but a slow, steady rain was falling and it still is three hours later. What’s remarkable is that almost instantly the lawn, which was 95% brown is now more than half green as the rain soaks down to the roots of the grass. I doubt that the dry season is over, yet, but it’s nice to see some rain again.

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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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It Wouldn’t Be Christmas Without Fruitcake…

My cyber-friend, Linda, who writes a wonderfully literate blog recently railed about fruitcake…

http://shoreacres.wordpress.com/2012/11/27/the-fruitcakes-revenge/

She’s probably right about the stuff, but I have to admit, to my everlasting shame, that I rather like fruitcake though I’ve never been accused of being one.

Today when I went shopping there were a selection of four or five different brands on display. I opted for the smallest and most colorful one they had.

IMG_0191

Then I brewed up a nice cup of locally-grown coffee and enjoyed.

IMG_0193

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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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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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Tropical Storm Sandy

The weather here in Panama, the last couple of days, has been really lousy. While we are in that part of the “rainy season” when our rainfall is greatest what we’re been going through now is unusual. Just to recap what I’ve said about the “rainy season” before…It doesn’t normally rain 31 (that’s 24/7). Most mornings are glorious. Blue skies, puffy white clouds until early afternoon. Then things start to cloud up and just before early evening the sky dumps several inches of water in a couple of hours. Yesterday morning (Wed. Oct. 24), was one of those very rare days when I woke up to rain. I can’t remember more than three or four mornings like that in the two and a half years I’ve been living here. Worse than that, it rained all day long. Not the usual downpours we’ve all come to know and love, but a light, steady rain that just didn’t stop. And it’s still raining this morning and probably will all day long.

Why? Believe it or not, Tropical Storm Sandy which is hovering over Cuba as I write this. We don’t get hurricanes here in Panama. It’s too far south, but that doesn’t mean the storms don’t effect us. They do! Hurricanes are giant weather factories with far-reaching consequences. If you remember your high school science lessons you know that hurricanes, cyclonic disturbances, rotate in a counter-clockwise direction, and that’s what’s changed our weather pattern here.

Look at this NOAA photo of Sandy.

That’s Panama just under and to the left of that huge patch of red. As you can see, the storm is drawing its strength from water vapor all the way into the Pacific Ocean and dragging the bad weather across the isthmus. We’re only about 50 miles or so between the Pacific and the Caribbean here. And it’s causing big problems.

In Tonosi, at the foot of the Azuero Peninsula about 300 houses have been affected by flooding when the Tonosí river overflowed its banks.

(Photo from Panama Guide.com)

Here in Chiriquí Province the river in Puerto Armuelles (about an hour and a half away by bus from my home) over on the Pacific side on the border with Costa Rica, has been threatening to overflow its banks. People in Nuevo Chorrillo, in the district of Arraiján, near Panama City, are living under the threat of landslides from the super-saturated hills above their homes.

While other rivers are threatening homes the river a mere 25 yards or so from my house is doing fine. I’ve written about, and posted videos, about how fast the river can rise to frightening levels in a matter of a few minutes. Right now it’s what I would categorize as “high normal.” Most of the huge boulders as still well above the water level. Since the rain has been light but steady the watershed isn’t being overwhelmed and there’s little to worry about right now.

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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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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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Panamanians Bearing Gifts

There’s no need to beware of them.

It’s no secret that I love my neighbors here in Boquerón, and I feel their love in return. They’re always bringing me things to eat. I’ve had some fantastic homemade tamales that can’t be beat. During mango season I was deluged with the things, and there was a bumper crop this year. Nearly every day when the avocados were in season one or another of my neighbors would bring me some. I got guacamoled out. Recently I wrote about the pibá. Today I was given a large “pipa” (pea pah). That’s a young coconut filled with delicious, refreshing and healthy coconut water.

There’s a coconut palm in my back yard that has a lot of nuts growing but they’re not ready to be picked yet. Just on the other side of the front fence, in my neighbor’s yard is a huge palm…

It’s at least 60 feet tall. (I measured it by visualizing the 65′ Hatteras I used to run in New Orleans standing on end against the tree) From time to time while sitting out on the front porch puffing one of my stogies I hear a loud thump as one of the nuts falls to the ground.

Yesterday my neighbor brought me one. It was filled with enough water to fill a large glass. The water is not only refreshing, but it’s loaded with potassium and antioxidants. With the water transferred to the glass my neighbor cut the nut open reveling the soft, sweet “pudding” inside.

According to Wikipedia, unless the coconut has been damaged the water is sterile and it has been used as an intravenous hydration fluid in some developing countries where medical saline was unavailable.

While Boquete is touted by many publications as one of the best places outside of the U.S. in which to retire, I try to avoid what many of the locals call “Gringolandia” and which I refer to as the “Gringo Ghetto” preferring to live among the natives, like a native. Living as I do certainly has its advantages. I can’t imagine the gringos in Boquete receiving the treats I get from the locals, though I may be wrong in some instances.

I love it here.

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Why No Posts Lately?

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here. Lots of bloggers post every day. I did when I first started this project several years ago. Others post every other day, and some, like my cyber-friend Linda at  http://shoreacres.wordpress.com/ who writes finely-crafted posts and puts up one a week.

Me? Well, none of my posts are finely-crafted. They’re essentially first drafts, quickly written and carelessly checked for misspellings. I post them when I feel like it.

Recently I’ve been negligent about posting anything. There are several reasons. 1) Life gets in the way and other things that take precedence. 2) Nothing noteworthy has been going on and 3) Sometimes I just don’t feel like it. Number 3 has been my excuse lately.

It’s not like I’ve been comatose since the last post, so I’ll give you a few updates over the next couple of days.

As my regulars know, I bought myself a motorcycle for my 70th birthday.

I call it the “Orange Arrow.”

As luck would have it I threw out my back a week after I got the bike. I was in severe pain for the first week afterwards. In so much pain I was THIS close to going to see a doctor. But it’s getting better now and I only get a twinge every now and then.

But another problem came up. I found out that my Panamanian driver’s license isn’t good for motorcycles and if I get caught riding without an endorsement I’m going to get a ticket. What are the odds of getting caught? Excellent. There are traffic cops all over the place daily setting up road blocks everywhere and checking people’s licenses.

I went to the license bureau last week to see what I need to do to get the endorsement. It was pretty discouraging. It seems that I have to go to a driving school which will cost me a couple of hundred bucks. Then I have to take a written test (in Spanish) and pass a practical test. Then I have to go through the whole licensing rigamarole all over again…photo, eye test, hearing test, another $40 fee.

The worst part is that now that I’ve turned 70 I have to go to a gerontologist or an internist and get a letter saying that I’m physically and mentally fit to drive a motorcycle. I could probably pass the physical part okay, but isn’t there something suspect about a septuagenarian’s mental health if they have gone and bought a motorcycle?

Oh, well, we’ll see.

 

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