Category Archives: Retirement

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


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 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:,   And this: 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 ( 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… 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.





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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It Wouldn’t Be Christmas Without Fruitcake…

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

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.


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



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

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.



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

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

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?

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

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…

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

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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.


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

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.


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