Category Archives: Retirement

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.

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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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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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Homemade Wildlife Cinematography

I have sort of an open door policy here for certain creatures. There are a couple of common house geckos that live with me and in peaceful co-existence with some anole chameleons . I don’t know if that violates the “no pets” policy of my lease but they’re harmless, cute, funny, don’t crawl over me in the dark and they eat insects so they’re welcome.

There is also a small, brown bird about the size of those colorful finches you see for sale in pet stores. In the mornings I usually have the front and back doors of the house open allowing for wonderful cross ventilation. I’ve seen this little wren, for lack of a better or more accurate ornithological classification, come into the kitchen from time to time either out of curiosity or looking for something to eat. Once or twice I actually saw the bird grab an insect and fly back out the door.

Recently, though, I’ve heard squawking noises out back and discovered that, hidden away in one of the metal beams that supports the second story back porch, is a tiny nest of which the little wren is the major-domo. From first light until dark the little bird works tirelessly collecting bugs and bringing them to her brood. I’m not sure whether she’s a single mom or if pop has stuck around to help but not more than a minute passes between one feeding and the next. If it’s just mom then she’s a real work horse. If pop’s around they’re a good team.

In the last couple of days the squawks have become louder and more persistent. I sat out on the steps leading to the second floor and finally caught the little wren with a large bug in her mouth and found where the nest is. Today I was able to capture several short videos of this feeding frenzy. And at the last minute after each feeding one of the trio of chicks turns around, presents it’s hind quarters to mom or dad and defecates and the fecal matter is taken off somewhere. Disgusting, to be sure, but can you imagine how befouled the nest would be if this wasn’t done?

<object width=”560″ height=”315″><param name=”movie” value=”http://www.youtube.com/v/7my28-1vd-0?version=3&amp;hl=en_US&amp;rel=0″></param><param name=”allowFullScreen” value=”true”></param><param name=”allowscriptaccess” value=”always”></param></object>

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Dry Season In Panama

Well, January is just about over and we’re definitely in the middle of the dry season. So far this month we probably haven’t even had an inch of rain. One afternoon it rained very gently for about an hour and that’s it.

You may remember this video I shot a couple of months ago when we were getting a lot of rain every day…

<object width=”560″ height=”315″><param name=”movie” value=”http://www.youtube.com/v/2Mqa-x82CMs?version=3&amp;hl=en_US&amp;rel=0″></param><param name=”allowFullScreen” value=”true”></param><param name=”allowscriptaccess” value=”always”></param></object>

Well, here’s the same stretch of river this morning…

<object width=”560″ height=”315″><param name=”movie” value=”http://www.youtube.com/v/PLCQonrYN0U?version=3&amp;hl=en_US&amp;rel=0″></param><param name=”allowFullScreen” value=”true”></param><param name=”allowscriptaccess” value=”always”></param></object>

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Slogan Needs Work

The contents of my freezer looked pretty skimpy this morning when I opened it to take something out to thaw for dinner tonight. Grocery shopping here in Panama is similar to, but not the same as, it is in the States.

I do my major grocery shopping in David since there are only a couple of small “Chinos” here in Boquerón. “Chinos” are convenience stores which, throughout Panama are mostly owned by Chinese. In David there are four supermarkets: El Rey, Romero (which is owned by El Rey), Super 99 (owned by Panama’s president Ricardo Martinelli) and Super Barú. There is also a PriceSmart which is Panama’s answer to Costco. There are a couple of other chain supermarkets in Panama but the ones I’ve mentioned are the ones that are here.

You can’t do all your shopping at any one supermarket. El Rey, which is the biggest here, could stand shoulder to shoulder with almost any supermarket in the United States. In fact, you can buy a lot of the same brand names here in Panama as you can in the States though you’ll pay a little more for brand names you recognize. But sometimes the extra money is well spent. For example, peanut butter. I’m sorry, but nobody anywhere else in the world makes better tasting (to American palates, anyway) peanut butter than Jiff, Skippy and Peter Pan. Nor does anyone make better tomato paste than Contadena or Hunt’s. For the most part I buy more locally made products and do fine with them but some things just can’t be substituted.

Another thing one soon learns about shopping in Panama is this…if you see something you like on the shelves BUY IT NOW! There’s a very real chance it won’t be there when you might want it later on. If there are three of whatever you like, take TWO. I always leave one for someone else.

A lot of Panamanian businesses have a very tenuous grasp of the concept of marketing. Perhaps you’ve bought something several times in a store and now, for some strange reason you can’t find it any more. You might find a manager and ask why you can’t find your favorite item any more. They will often tell you with a straight face, and mean it, “Oh, we don’t carry that any more because it was too hard to keep on the shelves.” Well, GEE ZUS!!! That’s the whole idea of retail marketing. Find an item that people want and then sell the shit out of it. Why is that concept so hard to grasp?

As I said, you can’t get everything you want at any one single supermarket. I get most of my non-perishable items, canned goods, etc., at El Rey. But if I want to get Kikkoman soy sauce I have to go down the block and across the street to Super Barú. They stock it, El Rey doesn’t though you can get Kikkoman Teriyaki Baste and Marinade at Rey. Barú is about half the size of El Rey and there are a few other things they stock that you can’t get at El Rey. After a few months you get to know which store you have to go to to get certain things.

Each of the supermarkets has a produce section, El Rey’s is the largest and most attractive, but if you want really fresh fruits and veggies at prices that aren’t extortionate, you do that kind of shopping at small, roadside stands that specialize in produce.

Anyway, I needed to pack in a supply of meat. That’s right, MEAT. Fruits and vegetables are fine as far as they go but I also like a slab of bleeding dead cow meat on my plate now and then. The different markets have differing qualities of dead cow, pig and poultry. The ground beef at El Rey, though, listed as low-fat, is just that. There’s almost no fat at all and it doesn’t make for the tastiest hamburgers. Everywhere in Panama beef is really TOUGH. It’s all grass-fed cattle with no feed-lot grain feeding to fatten them up and it’s the fat in the meat that makes it tender.

I’ve found that PriceSmart has about the best ground beef in the area and they have very good cuts of pork and poultry at very competitive prices though not necessarily lower than at the supermarkets. So that’s where I went today. PriceSmart is on the Inter-American highway a couple of miles outside of David and a couple of hundred yards from the Chiriqui Mall. There’s a road connecting the two about a hundred yards in from the highway. The bus stops at the mall but not at PriceSmart so you have to get off at the mall and walk over to PriceSmart.

At the corner of the road that connects the two complexes there is a billboard promoting the Super Barú market at the mall. It’s a small store compared to the one in David. Maybe a third its size and really small compared to El Rey, Romero or Super 99. I couldn’t believe the slogan on the sign for the Chiriqui Mall Super Barú. It read…

“Esta Mejor Que Nunca!” For those of you who don’t understand Spanish, it means, “It’s Better Than Nothing!”

Maybe I’m wrong, but I think someone needs to rethink that slogan. It sure doesn’t do much to inspire confidence.

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Feliz Hanukwanzmas One And All

Well, it’s that time of year again, and I’m not talking about the Republican Presidential Primary Debates. I’m talking about Hanukwanzmas. That time when people of good will make fun of each other’s traditions. For example Sarah (The Queen of the I-Quitarod) Palin AND Faux Gnus have been criticizing President Obama’s family Christmas card this year.

Palin told Fox News that she found it “odd” that the card emphasizes the dog instead of traditions like “family, faith and freedom.” She also said that Americans are able to appreciate “American foundational values illustrated and displayed on Christmas cards and on a Christmas tree.”

Of course the fact that NO president in the past century has used the word “Christmas” matters not one whit to the true-believer Tali-Christian. Palin sees the season like this:

I hope John McCain realizes that there is a new and special layer of hell set up just for him for unleashing this woman on an unsuspecting American populace. (It’s one level higher than where Five Deferment Dick Cheny is going to spend eternity being water-boarded even after realizing that it IS torture.) Anyway, when is this woman’s fifteen minutes going to be up?

I actually like the Hanukwanzmas season except for one thing. I loathe and despise the piped-in Muzak Hanukwanzmas songs that it is impossible to escape from every time you enter a store or public building like an airport terminal. When I’m in charge of everything things are going to change drastically. Piped-in Hanukwanzmas music will only be allowed to be played from 6 p.m. until midnight Hanukwanzmas Eve. Anyone violating this rule will be eviscerated and their innards will be used to decorate the Hanukwanzmas tree in Rockefeller Center like tinsel garlands.Yesterday, Tuesday, December 20th, I went into the El Rey supermarket in David to pay my light bill and was aurally assaulted by “Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer,” in ENGLISH no less. Can you imagine the uproar that would be heard around the redneck states back in the Great White North if they played Christmas Songs in Spanish? Thankfully I haven’t heard “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” or any of the Alvin and the Chipmunk songs down here.

No, I’m NOT  a Grinch. I think Hanukwanzmas is the greatest thing for kids EVER. In fact, when I’m in charge of everything it will be against the law to tell anyone under 21 the truth about Santa Clause, Papa Noel, Father Christmas. At 21 a person can legally purchase alcohol to soothe the horrible loss of innocence the news will bring. Younger than 21 is just too cruel to contemplate.

When I got on the bus to return home yesterday an old man got on board with a small, pink, two-wheel bicycle for his grand daughter. I HOPE it was his grand daughter because if it was for his grandson there are going to be some real serious identity issues coming to the fore later in life. I looked at the bike with the usual jaundiced Gringo eye and saw what it was. A poorly-made piece of Chinese crap that will be lucky to make it through the first week before the plastic training wheels disintegrate. But that was my initial reaction. And then I realized the truth about what that bike really meant to him and what it will to the loved one he gives it to. In a country where the national minimum wage is a little less than $400 that bike took a huge chunk out of that man’s pocket. One could tell he didn’t have much to begin with just by looking at his clothes. But that little girl is going to feel like a princess when she unwraps it Christmas morning. Her FIRST bike and her “abuelo” gave it to her. He will be the brightest star in her firmament forever. It’s a crying shame that EVERY kid can’t feel like that this Sunday.

While I DO hate the piped-in Muzak version of Hanukwanzmas songs I’m NOT opposed to the following. It was turning dark when this group of kids from a local Methodist church came in to my yard. I know the vids are dark but when the sun sets here this close to the equator there’s no real twilight. It’s light, the sun sets and then it’s DARK! I used the night setting on the camera and a little clip-on light. As the kids come into the yard you will hear someone say, “Parada!” That’s the Spanish word for “Stop.” My hand appears when I waved back at the little girl with the Santa hat on the right.

Here’s wishing everyone a very Merry Hanukwanzmas and a fantastic new year.

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Filed under Boqueron Panama, Living Abroad, Music, panama, Retire in Panama, Retirement, Retirement Abroad, Uncategorized

Christmas Present to Myself

A couple of days ago my computer started acting weird again. First I got a message that my hard drive was maxed out. Couldn’t load anything more onto it which seemed strange since all my big items like videos, photos, that sort of thing are on a separate hard drive. I went to the control panel and deleted a bunch of stuff that I never or rarely used and gained just under 6 gigs of free space. Then a couple of days later when I’d put the cursor over something it would strobe like crazy and when I’d go to turn the computer off the little sign thingy would come up and disappear before I could click “turn off” so I’d end up hitting the on/off button until I could crash the thing and get it to shut off.

Yesterday I went down to the local PriceSmart (sort of a Costco big box store). They had a Sony Vaio there with a 500 gig hard drive and a lot more RAM than the old computer had and it had an English keyboard which meant the operating system would be in English. Panama, of course, is a Spanish-speaking country and the keyboards and operating system are Spanish-oriented. It’s easy to spot a Spanish keyboard. Just to the right of the “L” key on our English QWERTY keyboards, where the colon and semi-colon key is found, the Spanish keyboard has an “ñ” and the colon key is somewhere else though I never bother to look for it. The upper row of keys is our beloved QWERTY but there are some other subtle differences. I found those out when I used Spanish keyboards at some of the cyber cafes when I was first visiting Panama. Using them is a bit different from what we’re used to. For example, when you try and log into your email account as in “JustMe@yahoo.com” there is a convoluted, three-key sequence that requires you to hold your tongue in a certain way or the @ sign won’t appear. Then you have to find some kid sitting nearby working on their Facebook page to show you how to do it.

Well, this wonderful unit was available for $829 plus 7% sales tax. Would have set me back $887.03. Hmmm. Let me think about this for a little bit. But one rule of thumb for buying anything here in Panama is if you see it, buy it immediately because it probably won’t be around the next time you visit the store. Never the less, I decided to wait.

Back at home I was still having problems with the old computer. It is, after all, about six years old. The CD drive will still READ a disc but it’s been nearly two years since it would burn one. However I was thinking about that $887.03. The .03 was what was bothering me. So, in desperation I bit the bullet, made sure all the important stuff was on the external hard drive and I killed the old machine and took it back to the factory settings. It wasn’t the first time I did that on that machine. I had to do it six or seven months ago, too.

About thirty minutes after reading the message that said “Are you really sure you want to do this you ignorant butt-wipe, YOU?” the computer was back to the factory settings except for one thing…there was still, for some reason, only a little less than 6 gigs of free space on the hard drive. Of course, going back to the original settings wiped out all the bookmarks I had on the web sites I visit. That wasn’t an outrageously horrible problem since I’d been meaning to go through and delete probably 85 to 90 percent of them, anyway. You know how it is, you visit a site, enjoy it, bookmark it and never go back there after a week of so has gone by.

Then as I started the laborious process of visiting all the web sites I go to on a daily basis to bookmark them all over again I though, “this is stupid. Why not go get that Vaio at PriceSmart and put these into a NEW computer? Besides, it’s Christmas time. Why not give yourself a present?”

I needed to go to the bank, anyway, so I got up early this morning and went into David and to the HSBC branch at the Plaza Terronal. There are FOUR different stores there that sell computers so I thought I’d go check them out and see if they had any English-centric models before slogging back to PriceSmart which is actually on the bus route back to Boquerón. After visiting the bank for my monthly withdrawal I dropped into a place called Panafoto. They sell just about everything that has a cord attached to it from toasters to washing machines, stoves and refrigerators and, of course, computers. I stopped to look at the Vaios to see what they were priced at in comparison to the one I’d seen yesterday. They were all a little under the PriceSmart model but they were all Spanish-keyboard models. A sales person asked me if I needed any help and I said I was wondering if they had any laptops with English keyboards. (Keyboard in Spanish is “el teclado” which is easy enough to remember if you link it to the word “tickle” and doesn’t a piano player “tickle the ivories?”

“Yes,” he said, an HP.” Actually he said, “Si, una HP (achie pay) because he only spoke Spanish. He took me to the HP display and there was a Pavilion g6-1b70us notebook. Like the Vaio it has a 500 gig hard drive (five times the capacity of my old unit) and 8 gig of memory. A 15.6″ screen and all for only $639.95, which, after sales tax, is $202.28 less than the Vaio. That’s  one month’s rent and a month’s worth of electricity. One tends to think along those lines when living on a fixed income.

Naturally, when I got back home, I checked out what I could buy the same unit for in the States. Buy.com could get it to me for $578.99 which is $60.96 less but I have no idea how much shipping it would have cost so it probably would have cost more than what I paid for it here in Panama. At B&H Superstore it would cost $449.95 after a $50 mail-in rebate (and we know how well THOSE work out). That’s $234.80 less, but when you factor in the round trip from David to Panama City, two nights in a hotel plus air fair to and from Miami, I don’t think I’d save a thing.

For any reader who might be inclined to say, “yeah, but the Sony is a better computer than an HP, yada, yada, yada,” let me just say this is the FOURTH HP that I’ve bought; a desktop and two other notebooks. I drove all three of them into the ground after several years of hard use. I’ve had no complaints about the HP computers and I see no big reason to change.

Which brings me to a story I’ve told here, before, but it’s a good story so I’ll tell it again.

Back at the turn of the year 1974/75 I was working, and freezing my tender young ‘nads off, as a head-hunter in Chicago for a firm that specialized in recruiting and placing computer professionals. Heads of IT departments, systems analysts, that sort of thing. That was back when a computer was a behemoth that took up whole FLOORS of office buildings and were serviced by acolytes in lab coats working in conditions where you could store sides of beef. They were kept so cold because of the heat the machines generated.

One day I did a cold call to a guy who worked at Hewlett-Packard.

After getting his name, scholastic and work background covered I asked him, “So, what are you working on now?”

“Oh,” he said, “it’s real exciting. We’re working on a project for making mini-computers.”

“Mini computers? What the hell are those.”

“There going to be small computers that people will have right on their desks,” he enthused with the fervor of a true believer.

“Yeah, sure thing,” I said to myself. “A computer people will have on their desks.”

“Well, good luck with that,” I said as I cut the interview short without uttering the word “asshole” out loud. “Let me know how that works out for ya.”

As I said, this is my FOURTH mini computer.

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