‘Tis the season to be jolly and I’m getting into the groove here in Boquerón. I spent all weekend getting my Christmas tree up, but it was certainly worth the effort.
Tag Archives: panama
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).
My story was extremely heavily edited, but parts of it were quoted…
On the facing page is a national hero here in Panama and the Pride of Boquerón, without a doubt…
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
One of the first entries I posted on this blog was way back in April, 2009.
None of that has really changed, of course, but thinking about living on a boat on the hook again has the whole dinghy situation churning around in my head. Sitting on the back porch of Dos Palmas Hotel in Bocas del Toro you look out at the Bocas Marina and the anchorage.
Every one of those boats has an inflatable dinghy with as big a motor on it as it can possibly handle. After sailing to Panama at what was probably an average speed of around five miles an hour now that they’ve arrived they have to zip around as fast as they possibly can while the natives, descendents of those who lived here before Columbus arrived in 1502, have a more sedate manner of getting around.
I’d be lying to you if I said I hadn’t loved my semi-rigid inflatable when I was on my nine-month tour of Mexico, Belize and the Rio Dulce in Guatemala. I enjoyed zipping around in it, the wind ruffling my hair. But times and ideas change.
My first inclination for a dinghy would be one of my favorite designs ever…A Puddle Duck Racer. http://www.pdracer.com/ I’ve written about these so many times in the past that I won’t elaborate on just why they appeal to me.
Here are a few reasons why I think one would be an excellent dinghy.
- No asshole is going to punch a hole in one like often happens with inflatables.
- You can row one whereas rowing an inflatable can be a exercise in frustration, especially if you have to row into a headwind.
- You can sail a PDR. Ive seen, on line, sailing kits for inflatables, but I’m not so sure how well they’d work.
- You can even put an electric trolling motor or a very small gas outboard on one, too.
- The thing is so ugly that theft wouldn’t be a worry. Why? Well, because it would most likely be the only PDR around and instantly recognizable as stolen if you weren’t in it.
And the downside of a PDR?
Unless you’re going to tow it everywhere, there’s really no place to easily stow it on board a 23-foot boat with a 6-1/2-foot beam since the PDR has a 4-foot beam. There’s nothing wrong with towing a dinghy. I towed mine for, literally, hundreds of miles without incident.
They’re fairly heavy. I’d be living at anchor in a place with a tidal range of around 19 feet. That means that sometimes when I’d want to get ashore I’d be afloat, but when I’d be ready to return home both boats would be high and dry, or there would be a lot of sand to drag the PDR over to get to enough water to get it to float again. An inflatable would be even worse.
So, what’s the solution? Is there one? I think so. It would be in the form of what is known as a one-sheet boat. That’s one that is made from a single sheet of plywood. Made from 1/4-inch ply one would weigh around 35 lbs. It, too, would be something that wouldn’t be too attractive to thieves, especially if you painted it some garish colors. Here are a couple of pictures to show you what people have concocted with just a single sheet of plywood.
And this from the designer of the boat above: http://koti.kapsi.fi/hvartial/oss_sam/oss_sam.htm
Here’s all you need to build one of those: http://www.simplicityboats.com/minisharpie.html
If you find those interesting just Google “One sheet boats” and in the images section there are hundreds to look at.
I don’t know what number it is. Over the years there have been so many crazy boat ideas I’ve lost track. There was the R.V. camper shell on pontoons back in the late 60s. I briefly toyed with converting an oil well jack-up service barge after seeing one out at Breton Island when I worked there. I don’t know how many scow hulls and pontoon hulls I bought plans for. I still have some of them in the back room here. As you know I recently went over to Bocas del Toro to look at possibly buying a Westerly Centaur fixer upper. It was too much fixer and not enough upper so that hit the trash bin of bad ideas. This one, whatever its number might be, just might work.
So what’s the new idea? Well, as my readers know I’ve thought about how much work is involved in producing a hull that would support my shanty boat idea. I thought about how difficult it would be to build a scow hull upside down and turn it over and toyed with the idea of building pontoons in modules. All pie in the sky stuff, that’s for sure.
I thought about trying to find an old hull and putting a house on it, hopefully better than this, but you get the idea:
So where to go from here?
I looked at the boats on craigslist, panama and what few were offered were WAY out of my range. For instance:
“Quest Four Winns de 26 pies, 10 pies de ancho
Excelente condiciones, vivero, 2 fish box
Baño, servicio, lavamanos, camarote,
GPS Garmin a colore con fish finder y ecosonda,
Radio de comunicaciones i-com, wash down,
Twin Yamaha 250 hp 520 horas
Tanque de 200 galones 2 bombas de achique
Trailer de aluminio.
And they’re only asking $55,000.
Then I was looking at a site called “encuentra 24.” Their listings for “Yates and Veleros” (Power yachts and sailboats) had things like this 38 foot Donzi, a steal at only $95,000:
Or this 35′ sportfish for a mere $300,000.
Things were looking bleak. Then, for some unknown reason I clicked on their section labeled “Botes, Jet Ski.” The LAST thing I ever wanted was a jet ski. I hate the damned things and I despise the people who have them. But in there I found this:
Ventas de lanchas nuevas (New Boat Sales) Pangas de pesca y turismo
Precio de Venta: $3,500.00.
For those of you who don’t know what a ‘Panga’ is, they’re ubiquitous working craft throughout Mexico, Central America and parts of Africa and Asia. They look like this:
There was a price list: lanchas de 18×5.5×3 -2,300.00, lancha de 20×5.5×3- 2,700.00, lancha de 23×5.5×3-3,100.00, lancha de mas capacidad 23×6.5×5- 3,500.00, lancha de 25×6.5×5- 3,800.00, lancha de 28×6.5×5- 4,500.00, lancha de 30×6.5×5-7,500.00.
I’d done some rough number crunching when I was into the idea of building the scow and figured that just for the scow hull itself it would cost me roughly $2,300. And then, of course, I’d have to build the damned thing myself! So paying an extra grand to get a good fiberglass hull built by someone else didn’t seem to be such a bad idea.
Hmmmmm. And the ad said that he was located in David, though I suspected Pedregal was more likely.
I hadn’t given too much though to the panga hulls for a long time. I remember on my first visit to Bocas del Toro back in ’09 standing in the lee of a restaurant and looking at a panga that was all kitted out against the rain and thinking, “I could put a cabin on that and be comfortable.” The problem is, as you can see above, the things are NARROW! The beam of my Nancy Dawson was 7’10” but on reflection I lived for nearly six years in a very tiny space. The overall length on deck was 26′ but the cockpit behind the cabin was a good eight and a half or nine feet, cutting the interior living space down to about 18 feet, and remember, forward of the beam it narrowed down considerably towards the stem. In an earlier blog entry I’d figured out that I’d been living in about 52 square feet of floor space! And yet I was comfortable, never the less.
My plans for a scow or pontoon boat called for about 24X8 with a cabin of about 16X8 or 128 square feet. More than double what I had on Nancy Dawson. If you look at sites like Tiny House Blog and similar you’ll see a lot of these minimalist shelters running around the 100 to 125 square foot range. And costing $30 grand and more, too!
But you have to realize that we’re not just talking about square footage, here. We’re talking about VOLUME when considering living space…length, width and HEIGHT! To keep windage down I would have built the house to give about 6’6″ headroom, so the volume would be 832 cubic feet.
Now, using the same calculations on a panga with a 16′ cabin and 6’6″ headroom you come up with 676 cubic feet. One hundred fifty cubic feet less. Sigh.
How big a handicap is that six and a half foot beam? Depends on how you look at it, I guess. Over in England, Scotland and Wales, they have what are known as “Narrowboats.” These were originally designed as cargo carriers on the extensive canal system that preceded the railroads. These boats have a maximum beam of just seven feet! That’s so they can make their way through the locks on the canals.
I did a lot of rummaging around online in recent days about these boats. The government estimates there are some 25,000 people who live on narrow boats in the country and then there are the weekenders and vacationers on top of that. While most of the boats a quite long, 40 t0 70 feet, there are quite a few smaller boats as well, many of them just 23 feet:
This is the interior of a Springer 23. Quite cozy:
Wednesday I called the panga builder’s phone number and talked to him, sort of. Talking to someone in a foreign language on the telephone is incredibly difficult. I hated cringed when I had to do it in France and it’s only slightly better here, but I did confirm my suspicion that Sr. Bernal’s operation was in Pedregal.
So, Thursday morning, inspired by what I’d seen on the internet regarding narrowboats I took the 60¢ bus ride to the bus terminal in David, walked three blocks and got on the bus to Pedregal which costs 35¢. I got off 25 minutes later when I saw what looked to be a boat construction site down a side street which would be near one of the rivers in the area. I asked the first person I met if they knew Sr. Bernal who built pangas. They said they didn’t know that name, but a couple of blocks away there was a house that had several pangas in the adjoining yard and perhaps that’s the place I wanted.
I found the place with no problem, and sure enough there were five pangas about the right size there. They were what one would expect of a small operation with so-so quality. They certainly weren’t faired out well. I mean they were rather on the “wavy” side and the gel coat was certainly not of standards we might expect in the States. Of course we’d be paying a lot more for a boat in the States too, so you have to take that into consideration. Pangas are built to two purposes, fishing and tourism. Those for the tourism trade are built with several rows of bench seating. The fishing pangas are an “open” plan. Both kinds have a small enclosed compartment in the bow and a couple of feet from the transom which is cut down a bit for the installation of an outboard there is another full-width partition thus creating an “engine area.” All of these boats were set up with seating.
Heavy salsa music blared out of the open door of the house next door but I finally got the attention of someone inside. They said this was not Sr. Bernal’s operation, but the location where the boats were built was only a couple of blocks away.
My original plan, when retiring to Panama, was to build a shanty boat and spend the rest of my days in the Bocas del Toro archipelago. Well it didn’t happen as my regular readers know. But for four years the idea has lain semi-dormant in the back of my mind. But why Bocas, specifically. Well, in all of Panama there are really only three places that seem to be written about as cruising areas.
On the Pacific side there’s the Perlas Islands. These islands are generally stopped at by people either about to or have recently made a transit of the Canal.
On the Caribbean side there’s the San Blas Islands, known here in Panama as Guna Yala. It is a semi-autonomous region administered by the Kuna Indians and to visit them you have to get permission from the Chiefs and pay to visit and your stay is limited in length. It’s not a place where you’re welcome to stay forever.
But it’s Bocas that most cruisers gravitate to.
Miles and miles of sheltered water cruising with dozens of islands to tuck up to and anchor behind if you’re looking for some peace and quiet:
Or you can go into Bocas Town if you want to live it up a bit:
But making that ride back to the mainland after choosing not to buy the sailboat I realized I didn’t want to live in Bocas anyway. Too far away from too many things.
So, where does that leave me? Closer to home there’s Pedregal with it’s marina, Customs and Immigration offices and other Maritime offices.
Pedregal is a 35¢ bus ride from downtown David. It’s not a very pretty place, and there is quite a bit of crime here, mostly drug related but it’s certainly not as tranquil as Boquerón. Back in 2009 (has it been that long ago?) when I was doing my exploratory visits to the country I went down to the marina to look around, and dismissed the place out of hand. (Please excuse the misspelling of the town’s name) http://onemoregoodadventure.com/2009/05/14/pedrigal-off-the-list/
So with Bocas off the list I went back to Google Earth and took another peek at Pedregal and saw this:
Miles and miles of sheltered water in the delta and then to the east comes Boca Chica and Boca Brava.
And there are lots of boats here which was a surprise to me…
Lots of big game fishing goes on offshore from Boca Chica with world records being pulled out of the water. And there are plenty of islands to relax around.
If anything does come of the boating bug this is probably where I’ll end up. Close to David.