Tag Archives: Expatriate

Suited Up And Ready To Ride

Justin, who was supposed to be buying the motorcycle left his passport over in Bocas del Toro, so technically I sold the bike to his girlfriend, Brandy. We went over to Bugaba and worked out all the paperwork. Fortunately there was a young lady who handles titles and registration for some care dealership standing behind us and she helped us fill out the two forms we needed to complete (in Spanish, of course.) I’m sure we could have made it on our own, but the line behind us was growing longer by the minute so the lady was a great help…

Here’s Justin all suited up and ready to ride. They plan on going to spend the night in Boquete and then ride the bike over to Bocas del Toro in the morning.

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SOLD!

Heading over to Bugaba this morning to transfer title on the motorcycle. Got close to my asking price so I’m satisfied. Of course the money is already gone. I have some massive dental work that needs to be done. Fortunately it’s a LOT less expensive here than in the States, but it’s still a serious chunk of change.

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I just never used it like I thought I was going to. There were roads I’d pass on the bus going to and from David and Bugaba and wonder what was down them. I did ride down several of them and the answer was…not much.

 

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An Honor

Back the last week in September our little community of Boquerón celebrated the feast day of its patron saint San Miguel. A little old man, Jorge Luis Ríos, who lives just up the main road from me said he was putting together a small magazine and he wanted me to write an article for it. He and I talk a couple of times a week and he knows that I was a newspaper reporter way, way, way back, and I lent him the Spanish version of my book which he said he enjoyed. He must have because every time we are on the bus together going in to David (DahVEED) he tells everyone around that I’ve written a book.. Sr. Ríos is a radio journalist reporting on farm news for Radio Chiriquí. So, I gave him about a thousand words in a little article titled “Mi Boquerón” (My Boquerón). He produced a 14-page magazine (revista in Spanish).

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My story was extremely heavily edited, but parts of it were quoted…

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On the facing page is a national hero here in Panama and the Pride of Boquerón, without a doubt…

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It’s an honor to be in such good company and definitely an honor to appear as the only extranjero (foreigner) in this community’s celebration of their year. I think it’s called assimilation.

 

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GO DO IT NOW!!!

I have long advocated that people should live out their dreams and it needs to be done while you’re young!

Everyone has dreams and most, nearly all, I’d bet go unfulfilled. I know my mom and dad had dreams of travel and adventure once the kids were grown up and gone. Didn’t happen. I watched my mom succumb to the most debilitating case of rheumatoid arthritis imaginable. First her hands, then her knees and she was getting around on crutches and then a walked in her 40s. And she was gone at 58.

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My brother Gary faired a little better. His dream was to play golf and he became a PGA member and was a club pro for many years. He and his lovely wife, Dianne, traveled extensively, arranging golf tours for people and I know they went to Hawaii several times as well as Puerto Rico and other spots in the Caribbean. He and Dianne loved going on cruise ship vacations and they loved dancing so much that the dedicated an entire room in their house to a place they could spend their evenings dancing. He developed bladder cancer and was gone at 55.

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While sitting in offices, dreaming about being somewhere on a boat I came across two passages in books that had a profound impact on my life. The first is from Sterling Hayden’s book Wanderer

 

“‘I’ve always wanted to sail to the South Seas, but I can’t afford it.’  What these men can’t afford is not to go.  They are enmeshed in the cancerous discipline of ‘security.’  And in the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the wheels of routine–and before we know it our lives are gone.

     “What does a man need–really need?  A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in–and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment.  That’s all–in the material sense. And we know it.  But we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention from the sheer idiocy of the charade.

     “The years thunder by.  The dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience.  Before we know it the tomb is sealed.”

The second is from Richard MacCullough’s book Viking’s Wake in which he said:

 “And the bright horizon calls!  Many a thing will keep till the world’s work is done, and youth is only a memory.  When the old enchanter came to my door laden with dreams, I reached out with both hands.  For I knew that he would not be lured with the gold that I might later offer, when age had come upon me.”

So I ditched the nine-to-five routine, got a job as a deckhand on a dinner cruise boat in Fort Lauderdale, put in my time there and in Chicago, got my U.S. Coast Guard license and spent the next 20+ years running other people’s boats around in the Great Lakes, the Gulf of Mexico, up and down the east coast of the U.S., on the French Riviera, sailing across the Atlantic Ocean, and when I turned 50, I pulled into the harbor at Isla Mujeres, Mexico on my own (finally) small sailboat making a nine-month cruise to Mexico, Belize and the Rio Dulce in Guatemala and back to Fort Lauderdale. I was living out the dreams of my childhood and youth

But that was then. This is now. Last year when I went to get a letter from an internist saying I was fit to drive here in Panama, he told me that I had emphysema. Well, I knew that. I’m not dumb. A half century of inhaling licit and illicit substances into one’s lungs will tend to do that to ya. But, while he gave me a referral to a doctor specializing in pulmonary disorders I didn’t act on it. Until yesterday (Nov. 6th). I’m susceptible to pollen allergies and there’s something in the air now that has me hacking and coughing up icky stuff from my lungs which I haven’t been doing since I gave up smoking a year ago. I’ll be completely honest. Sometimes the simplest of tasks leave me wheezing. Gasping for breath. I don’t have a chipper walking gait any more. I’m not doing a Tim Conway old man shuffle, but there’s no pep in the step.

So I dug up Dr. Osario’s referral scripts and went in to Hospital Chiriqui and saw Dr. Rafael Rodriguez. Nice guy. Speaks excellent, though heavily accented English, and insisted on conducting our consultation in English “so you will know exactly what’s what without losing anything in translation.” And here’s the big difference between doctors in Panama and in the States. We were in his office for nearly an hour. He explained things clearly and pulled no punches. “You’re lungs are in really bad shape. From the breathing test you did when you came in it shows you have just 34% of the lung capacity you should have! If we don’t treat this very aggressively you will be on oxygen at home in six months. But that doesn’t have to happen. I believe part of your problem, from how you’ve described your symptoms, is due to allergies that we will tackle at the same time we go after the emphysema.” He referred me to a cardiologist since I had a heart attack six years ago and have three stents. I’ll go see him in a week of so. Dr. Rodrizuez wrote out a slew of prescriptions and ran me through a bunch of breathing exercises I have to do daily. The cost of the visit was $75, but I get an old-timer’s discount of $15 so an hour of face time with the doctor set me back $60!

I went down to Romero supermarket pharmacy and bought everything he’d written. Don’t know what happened to the receipt, but after getting the 20% jubilado discount it all came to almost $275!!! But I can’t imagine what that would have set me back in the States!

So, if I hadn’t gone out and actually “reached out with both hands” I’d STILL be in the same physical condition as I’m in today but wishing that I’d actually gone out and done all those things I did when I was young and able.

Got a dream? Don’t let it  escape you. Reach out with both hands and don’t let go. Remember, too,

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Thinking Outside The Box

A common complaint here, especially among the expat population that huddles, incestuously, in the mountain peaks and valleys around Boquete above the city of David, is about horrible, or nearly non-existent, customer service. In the almost five years I’ve lived here I haven’t found that to be true at all, and today was an example of the good customer service. Comparable to good customer service anywhere. (Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I try my best to speak Spanish with the Panamanians I have to deal with.) Here’s what happened:

Last month I went into David to pay my cable and internet service bill. I wanted to delete the television portion of the service since my t.v. died and I decided I didn’t want to buy a replacement. The girl I dealt with at the Cable Onda office played around on the computer keyboard for a while and said the service had been discontinued and that I needed to bring in the t.v. modem. I asked if it would be okay to wait until the next billing cycle to do that instead of having to make a special trip back to their downtown office. She said it would be fine. But that the internet portion of the bill would be $42.36 since I had signed up for a “package deal” that combined t.v., internet for a monthly total of $50.36. That was all right with me since before I signed on to Cable Onda’s five meg cable internet I had been paying $45 and change for Claro’s USB modem internet which, on a good day, provided me with half a meg speed. What  I’d save not having to pay for the t.v. meant that I’d be getting almost two months of free internet service. I figured I was ahead of the game.

Friday I received my monthly bill and saw that they were still billing me the full $50.36. This morning I put the modem in my knapsack and went to the Cable Onda office. I asked to speak to one of the customer service reps. This time I ended up with a young gentleman who insisted on speaking English even after I’d explained my situation to him in Spanish. He said I’d done it well, but he liked the opportunity to use his English whenever possible. He explained that with the package I had I paid $21.12/month for the television access and $29.24 for the internet. But internet alone was, as I said before, $42.36. HOWEVER, even though I wasn’t going to buy a new t.v. and use the service, he could sign me into another package in which I’d be subscribed to just Panama access to local television shows and that only costs $6.88/month but would leave the internet payment at $29.24 for a grand total of $36.12. A savings of $14.24 a month from what I had been paying and saving $170.88 over a year. Another way of looking at it is, I’d also be paying $6.24 a month LESS than subscribing to internet alone OR saving $74.88 over the year. That’s like getting two months FREE internet service.

He spent some time clicking around on his computer and said I’d only have to pay the $36.10 today and not the $50.36.

Now THAT’S customer service. Do I think the girl last month was trying to rip off the gringo? No, not at all. She was thinking linearly. The book says if someone comes in off the street and wants to subscribe to internet service by itself it costs THIS MUCH. I’m sure customer service reps in a similar situation in the States would have done exactly what she did. I probably would have done the same thing had I been sitting on her side of the desk last month. I was lucky today to get someone who thinks outside the box and who knows that giving the customer a little lagniappe, as it were, results in a satisfied customer. And another thing to consider…the pay here in Panama sucks. The girl and the guy will be lucky if they GROSS $125.00 or $150.00 a week! At those prices you can’t expect them to be doing a lot of thinking at all. But sometimes you just get lucky.

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Latest Inspiration

I know, I know, I keep coming up with different ideas for what might be a good shanty boat to build. Here’s today’s offering. It’s a stretched Chugger. Back in October of 2009 I featured the Chugger in one of my posts: http://houseboatshantyboatbuilders.wordpress.com/2009/10/13/chugger-the-spirit-of-shantyboats/

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Bryan Lowe, who built the first Chugger (the red one above) has expanded the original eight by four foot boat to a 12 feet:

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During the building of the Bonne Chance he took a ton of photos that would help anyone interested in building one of their own. https://www.flickr.com/photos/sidshare/collections/72157629210859469/

And he offers the plans, here: http://www.angelfire.com/ego/lewisboatworks/html/ChugBuildPlans_a.htm

In the pictures on this site you can see that the sides of the boat are cut out first and then molded over a couple of frames to get the boat into 3-D shape. Chines are installed, the boat is turned upside down and the bottom is put on. Then additional framing for strength are added later. He also has some sketches for a 16 foot by 6 foot version which I think could be stretched another four feet.  I think building in this fashion would also be easily adapted to building in sections and then bolting and epoxying everything together. Working with sections would make turning the sections over a lot easier than trying to manhandle a 20 foot boat.

I really like the skylight on this one. It would come in handy down here in Panama during the rainy season when you’d need to keep the side windows closed but you’d still get a lot of light below.

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This builder, who calls himself “Bike and Boat” on Boat Design.net where I found thise shots came up with a nice “pop top” idea to add headroom after towing the Chugger to a launch site.

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Moved To The Dark Side

I haven’t posted in the last week partially because I didn’t have anything I wanted to say, though I do have a couple of drafts that aren’t completed. (That’s kind of a silly statement when you consider that almost all of my posts are, essentially, first drafts quickly scanned for spelling errors. ) Ad another reason I didn’t post was because my computer died. Kaput. Shit the bed. Won’t start! Finished. Washed up. I could go on, but I won’t.

Except for my very first computer, every one I’ve owned has been a Hewlitt -Packard (anyone remember the old Packard cars?) whether a desk top or a notebook. And, by and large, I’ve been happy with them. When using them I would often remember a phone conversation I had back in 1974 when I was working as a head hunter in Chicago. We recruited high-end systems analysts and heads of IT departments. This was back in the days when computers were so huge they took up entire floors of big buildings and were attended by white-coated acolytes.

I really didn’t know squat about computers or what the jobs of the people I was talking to actually entailed. But I knew certain buzz words that we were supposed to ask and that was actually enough.

One day I blind-called a systems analyst at Hewlitt-Packard, and during our conversation I asked what projects he was currently working on. He got real excited and said, “We’re working on building ‘mini computers.'”

“What the hell are those?” I asked.

“They’re computers people will have on their desks.”

“Yeah, right,” I thought. “Call me in a couple of years and let me know how that worked out for ya.”

I came down here to Panama with two HP notebooks. One was on its last legs but I figured it could be a backup if my main one went belly up. About a year later they were both toast and I went into David and bought a third notebook. It, too, was an HP, mainly because it was the only one in three stores that was reasonably priced and also had an English keyboard. Remember, this is a Spanish speaking country so naturally Spanish keyboards predominate. They’re slightly different. For example, on the English keyboard the key with the colon and semi-colon is now the Ñ key. The semi-colon sits to the right of the letter M and the colon key is just to the right of that. There are also three-key acrobatics needed to get the @ symbol up and running instead of simply the Shift and #2 keys.

Everything worked fine until last Saturday. Then it was impossible to get the thing to start. Parts of files somewhere were missing, etc., etc. I’m not going to get into what I tried to do to repair things using the defunct spares.

So, on Sunday morning I went into David looking for a replacement for the replacement that replaced…well you get the picture. However, this time there wasn’t an English keyboard to be found around Plaza Terronal where there are three stores selling computers. Now, I know that if I went to the Pricesmart (Panama’s answer to Wally World) I could probably get one, but the last time I was computer shopping the exact same model I eventually bought at Panafoto was priced over $200 more than the one I bought.

When I made a sad face about the lack of an English keyboard model the computer geek sales robot said that going into a computer’s it was possible to select what language you wanted the Spanish keyboard to resemble. For instance, I could turn the Spanish keyboard into an English one with a couple of clicks.

Cool!

Then there was the problem that all the Windows-based computers were loaded with the universally panned and hated Windows 8 operating system. Funny, the week before I’d read a story about how the world was anxiously awaiting Window 10 (no one said anything about why there was no Windows 9, though).

There were three long shelves full of Toshiba, HP, Sony and other PC notebooks and I played around with the Windows 8 displays and could see why people didn’t like it, and not knowing, and not being able to be computerless for who knows how long before Windows 10 comes out, I started to eye the meager collection of  Apple products. I very much liked the 13″ screen Airbook, especially because it was fairly reasonably priced and I liked that instead of a mechanical hard drive it has a solid state memory. The problem with regular hard drives is that they move and things that move wear out. They also generate a lot of heat because of the whirling discs.

So, I bit the bullet, pulled out my debit card and bought one. I took it home, plugged it in and NOTHING!!! Damned thing wouldn’t start. I figured, okay, the battery needs to be charged before it will start. I left it plugged in for four hours and still nothing.

I was the first civilian through Panafoto’s doors Monday morning. I went around and around with the manager about getting them to swap out the non-working unit with one they had out back. All in Spanish, I might add. No, they had to send the one in my possession to the Apple Store in Panamá as they call the Capitol. They would send it express and I’d have a replacement Wednesday afternoon. Needless to say I was pissed, but had to capitulate after 45 minutes of fruitless arguing.

Wednesday afternoon arrived. Nobody with a computer showed up at my door. I called Panafoto and they apologized, but the torrential downpours currently underway meant it wasn’t going to happen but I was assured that I’d have the replacement “before 12″ the next day. Well, almost. I was just ready to call when two guys from Panafoto showed up at 12:15. We opened the box, pushed the button and Voilà, it worked!

So, here I am with four notebook computers:

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There is definitely a learning curve moving from the PC platform to the Mac way of doing things. It will take a while, but the Airbook is praised as absolutely the best notebook in existence. We’ll see.

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