Monthly Archives: March 2016

Packing It In – – Leaving Panama

I never thought I’d say this, and it pains me deeply, but I’m leaving Panama. Calling it quits. Packing it in. Returning to the States.

It won’t be for a couple of months but I’ll most likely be celebrating my 74th birthday in Florida.

Why am I doing this? It’s difficult to put things in any kind of orderly, coherent fashion, so this post is going to roam all over the place, but it’s primarily health concerns that are the reason. I have a serious case of COPD and though I take meds for it breathing is sometimes a real issue. Recently I had an incident that made me decide to take my old and best friend, Stefan, up on his mantra of the last couple of years, “Come back here. We’ll find you a boat you can live on and you can enjoy life again.”

It’s not that I haven’t been enjoying my life here in Panama. I DO. I love this place, but really, when I think about it, I’ve pretty much just been sitting around here waiting to die. So what finally made me decide to act on Stef’s offer? Well, the other day I headed out to the nearby tienda to get something cold to drink. It’s about 50 yards away from my front door, but when I got there the place was closed. So I decided I’d head to the Chino, Panama’s answer to the 7-11, which is about a hundred yards up the small hill past my house. When I got back to my house from the tienda I had to stop and rest for about five minutes to catch my breath. (I didn’t have my Ventolin inhaler with me.) When I got up to the Chino I was panting so hard that I had to sit down on a bench at the park across the street until my breathing returned to normal, and I sat down and rested after buying a couple of quarts of orange juice before walking back to the house. That did it. The decision was made. (More about health in a moment.)

Another issue is “What am I doing here?” The name of this blog is “One More Good Adventure.” Well, I haven’t been doing any adventuring for the last several years. The initial move down here was certainly an adventure. My original idea was to come down and build a shantyboat over in Bocas del Toro and then spend the rest of my life poking around that beautiful archipelago. Obviously that didn’t happen for many reasons that I’ve listed in previous posts and the fact that inertia is hard to overcome.

Another expat who moved down here from Sarasota with her husband, Kris Cunningham, is another inspiration for my decision to leave. She’s a 63-year old woman off on a real adventure. Recently she got on a plane and flew to Seattle, Washington, to visit her daughter and grand daughter. No big deal, right? Well, the thing is, she took her bicycle up there with her and plans on riding it back to Panama! And what am I doing with my adventure???

So, back to health. One thing all of us aging expats need to remember is that Medicare doesn’t pay a penny once you step outside the U.S. Health insurance for anyone in their 70s with three stents in their arteries and COPD is basically unobtainable, and if you CAN get it the premiums are so outrageous that it would take every cent I get from SS each month AND a loan to make the monthly note. I have been signed up on Hospital Chiriquí’s program but it isn’t really insurance. It’s more like a discount program. As at all the hospitals if you’re unfortunate enough to need one, you have to PAY UPFRONT before they’ll do anything for you. And with the program I have they will later reimburse you up to 70% of what you shelled out. It’s not great, but it’s better than nothing. And there are many horror stories about people having to use the public hospital here which is definitely something you don’t want to do.

Why haven’t I left yet? It’s because I’ve been putting off having some extensive dental work done. I don’t want to get into details now, but the fact is that even though it won’t be dirt cheap it will be just a fraction of the cost of what it would be in the States.

What would my new adventure consist of? I want to buy a small sailboat commonly referred to as a “trailer sailer.” Somewhere between 20-25 feet long with a retractable keel so I can creep into places I could never have gone with my beloved Kaiser 26, Nancy Dawson,  with her 4-foot keel. With a retractable keel drawing a foot or so I’d be able to put the boat right up on the beach and step off onto dry sand or just ankle-deep water. I don’t intend on staying stationary in a marina somewhere. After my 9-month sojourn to Mexico, Belize and the Rio Dulce in Guatemala I never went sailing with my boat again. I lived on it at a boat yard for nearly two years and then at Marina Bay. The reason was I was trying to work and save enough money so I could go cruising again, but it never happened.

When I was on the Rio Dulce back in ’92 if I’d have been able to get my hands on just $4,500 a year I could have had a nice life living there on the hook (at anchor). But I couldn’t get that much money so another dream shattered. Now, though, I have a small but steady income from Social Security, and living on a paid-for boat and anchoring out as much as possible, I can still have a nice life.

And what would this “adventuring” consist of? Taking the boat as far north on the Intracoastal Waterway as the Chesapeake and revisiting old places I’d stopped along the way on the half-dozen times I’d traveled that route: Charleston, SC; Belhaven, NC; Wrightsville Beach, NC; St. Augustine, FL among others. Checking out some of the intriguing places I never got to see along the way because I was working delivering the boat I was on. I’d also like to go explore the St. John’s River in north Florida. When my mom died my dad took his two toy poodles, got on his Stamas 26 over in Venice, FL, and disappeared for six months. No one knew where he’d gone. Turns out that he’d taken the cross-Florida route through Lake Okeechobee and vanished into the St. John’s to do his mourning.

I’ve never done the Florida Gulf Coast ICW and I’d like to see what that’s about. I’d like to poke around the waters of the Florida panhandle, Appalachicola, Pensacola, and on over into Alabama and Mississippi. Perhaps go up Mobile Bay and into the Tenn-Thom Bigbee waterway. Go into Louisiana and revisit all the places I know from my crew boat days: the bayous of Cajun country and up into the Atchafalaya. Check out places I’d lived at in New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish. Go on into Texas all the way to Brownsville, perhaps. The entire Intracoastal Waterway system from Norfolk, VA to Brownsville, TX is 3,000 miles. That’s a lot of area to explore. Who knows?

“So,” sez you, ” if you can’t walk 100 yards without getting knackred, how are you going to do all that stuff?”

Beats the hell out of me! There’s a good chance I can’t. ¿Quien sabe? as they say here in Boquerón, but you never know what you can do if you don’t try. But I wouldn’t be doing any long, open-water sailing. Most of what I’d be doing would be motoring or motor-sailing…using the sails when the wind was on the beam or off the quarter. No beating into the wind.

We’ll see.








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The Little Things

Here’s another one of those events that make me love living here in small-town Panama.

My new digs are right on the main road in Boquerón, and the buses pass by no more than 25 feet from my front door. I enjoy sitting out on the porch with my computer and watch the passing parade. Often the bus drivers will honk as they pass by or wave at me. Buses will pick you up anywhere along their route. You don’t have to go to a designated “Bus Stop.” They’ll stop for me right outside me door and then go forty or fifty feet and pick someone else up. And this service is just for a 60¢ fare!

Getting off, though, has been a bit different. So far no matter what I’ve said I’ve been dropped off at “el parque” (the park) which is sort of a designated stopping point as is “el chino,” the Chinese-run equivalent of a 7/11 here. It’s okay since it’s only a half a block from my house. Today was a bit different. I’d gone into David to try and see a doctor about a dermitalogical problem I’m having with my left foot and ankle – think Elephant Man. The doctor wasn’t in. He comes out from Panamá and is usually here on Saturday, but not today.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. I waited for a while to catch the bus back home and as we were getting close I told the “Pavo” (literally “turkey” but that’s what they call the kid who handles the fare at the door) “el parque” but without saying anything the bus stopped across from my front door. The driver looked up at me in his rear-view mirror and raised his eyebrows questioningly as if to say, “it’s your house, right?”

I told him “muchas gracias, señor,” of course, twice, and again marveled at the wonderful service they give me for a 60¢ fare!



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Getting Around In Panama

The United States is an automobile-obsessed country. The main reasons for that are the place is HUGE and public transportation outside of major metropolitan areas is practically non-existent. You NEED to have a car or a truck in the U.S. or you’d be house-bound.

It’s a bit different here in Panama. Sure there are cars and trucks. In Panamá (they don’t use the word “City” when referring to the capitol and largest city in the country) it’s nearly non-stop grid lock 31. (That’s 24/7 combined). It’s nearly that bad here in David (dah VEED), too. But cars are expensive here, especially compared to the States and the prices for used cars are shocking. Gasoline and diesel fuel are expensive here, but automobile insurance is ridiculously cheap.

While the number of cars in the cities is staggering, not everyone owns a car. In my old neighborhood there are two dozen homes. Of those, only six have cars! And I believe that’s typical of most of Panama outside of the gringo havens of Boquete and Volcan here in Chiriquí.

So, how do people get around here? Lots of ways…

First of all, they WALK! And I mean everywhere! They don’t just walk around in town, they walk around in the countryside. The main road through the country is the Interamericana and as you drive or ride through it on one of the huge, air-conditioned buses you’ll see people walking along in the middle of nowhere. I mean there isn’t a house in sight for miles and no little roads branching off of the main road, either, yet you’ll see people walking along determined to get who knows where? The indigenousNgäbe-Buglé who live way up in the mountainous comarca often have to walk miles before they can get to a road where they can board a bus to get into David for supplies.

There are a lot of motorcycles and motors scooters around, but they don’t come close to how many people use bicycles as their main form of transportation. Over on Isla Colón, Bocas del Toro, there are probably more bicycles than cars, and in my old neighborhood nearly half of the homes that don’t have an automobile have at least one bike. The guy who mowed my lawn in La Barriada strapped his weed-whacker to his bicycle and rode over from Bugaba, about six miles away, to find work.

Boats are another form of transportation here. Over in the Bocas del Toro archipelago the only way you can get to Isla Colón is to take a water taxi…

water taxi_Fotor

They will not only take you from the mainland to the island, but they’ll whisk you around to the various islands in the archipelago or just from one place to another as you’d use a regular taxi.

There are also dugout canoes used over in Bocas…


Boats are a much-used method of transportation in Guna-Yala, the San Blas archipelago…


And deep into the rain-forest of the Darien the Emberá depend on dugouts and the rivers to get to their isolated villages and bring in tourist dollars. Some of these canoes are quite large…


The public transportation system in Panama is remarkable. Buses and taxis will take you pretty much anywhere you want or need to go. There are very few “chicken buses” here…old converted U.S. school buses. When I first moved to Panama they were phasing out the ubiquitous “Diablos Rojos” in Panamá for new, modern,  and totally unremarkable buses like you’d find in the States.


The “Diablos” had character, though, and I think much of the vibrancy of the city was lost when these were consigned to the dustbin of history…


There are still a few of these around, though not colorful like these. The buses running up to Gringolandia (Boquete) are still yellow and say “School Bus” on the front over the windshield, and the bus from David to Soloy in the Comarca are the same. The reason for the Boquete buses are that there are so many people up there they need the school buses for the capacity. The most common buses here, and are on most of the routes in the country are the air-conditioned, 30-seat Toyota Coasters



The school buses for the Comarca, though they might not have the volume of passengers to fill all the seats they sure need the room for when the indigenous come into David to do their shopping…


The buses that travel from David to Panamá are generally these…


Huge, air-conditioning so cold you could store meat, which may be how the company views its passengers, playing movies along the 7 hour trip (knock off an hour for the late night express bus). When I went to Panamá recently the fare, each way, with the Jubilado (old fart) discount was $12.65. The bus from my front door (literally my front door) into the terminal in David is a 60¢ fare. In town there’s no discount but it’s not a big deal since the fare is just 35¢.

Did you know it’s against the law to own a yellow car in Panama? The color yellow is reserved solely for taxis and they’re EVERYWHERE!

taxiMany of the taxis are pickup trucks like this one over in Bocas del Toro…I used the local ones here when I made my moves…

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Of course you can FLY from David to Panamá for about $100 each way and it only takes a bit more than an hour, but you don’t get to see a damned thing on the way.

So, that leaves one last way people get around in Panama…the horse. It’s STILL a mode of transportation in this country. When I lived in Potrerillos Arriba there was a guy a couple of houses down the dirt road who was a carpenter. In the morning he’d load his tool bags onto his horse and off he’d go to work. And just the other day this guy rode in to town to use the ATM at the Banco Nacional!




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Move Completed

I’m not going to try and edit this post. It’s a collection of things I’d written down when I was without an internet connection as a result of my recent move.

Well, the move is finished. Done. Complete. And let me tell you, so am I. I’m beat. Whipped. Done in. The last three days (Sat. Sun. Mon.) beat me up bad, and I had help with the heavy lifting every day. Today when I was at the old house wrapping things up I could only work for a few minutes at a time and then I had to rest before I could continue.

That was written Monday evening. A pickup taxi driver, Remiro, I’ve used several times before did all the heavy lifting for me for which I was very grateful, but everything is out of the old house and into the new.  Well, it’s not a house, really, but on of two apartments in a building that was once a set of offices for the Tribunal Electoral which has ceased to be here in Boquerón and moved all its functions over to Bugaba. But the place is half again as big as the house in La Barriada, and easily twice as big as the first house I was living in, here, since I basically lived on the first floor and almost never went upstairs.

Yesterday, Tuesday, I went into David to the Cable Onda office to switch my service to the new place. Piece of cake, and they’re supposed to come do it today, Wednesday. I don’t doubt that they will because this is the FOURTH time I’ve had to have installers come to the houses I’ve been living in and they’ve ALWAYS come.  When I have internet access I’ll feel like I’m truly moved in.

The cable office move went smoothly, and sure enough, the techs were at my house a little before noon and I was back on line in an hour.

Some big goings on over by the bank and the people must have started gather in around six. Right now there’s easily more than 100 people gathered under and around a large, I guess the only way to describe it would be the roof of a tent. I just asked an old guy walking by what was going on and all I could get out of him was that they were waiting for the bank to open. That’s part of the mystery. Yesterday a guy stopped and started talking to me about coming to the bank today and something about paying rent. Had no idea what it was all about. Still don’t.

People continue to arrive, on foot, by bus and in taxis. They’ve just started letting a few people in. There are Europeans and indigenous all together.

Okay, finally two passersby explained what’s going on at the bank. There is a program in Panama that I’ll look up later called ciento para septenta. 100 for over 70. A supplemental give away of $100 to people over 70. That explains all the canes and walkers. We chatted for a couple of minutes and as they left I heard one of them say, “He speaks Spanish well.” If he only knew.

One of the street food vendors is open for business.

Last photo from La Barriada. Didn’t see a lot of this in the backyards of Fort Lauderdale…


This morning the old landlord stopped by the new digs. I was going to go to his house Saturday and give him the keys. I never told him I when I was going to move, I just did it. But this is a very small town so it probably didn’t take too much of an investigator’s job to find out where I was. My last electric bill at the old place was $9.54, and the one previous to that was $15 and change. I gave him a $20 and told him that would more than cover whatever I owed. The bill is in his name. Here at the new place it’s in my name. I did a perfunctory clean-up when I left, but with no water I was unable to mop the floors so I gave him another $20 and told him to get someone to do it. He’ll probably have his wife or daughter that lives there do it, but that’s fine with me.

La Barriada never felt like home, if you know what I mean, and I wondered if it ever would. I already feel more comfortable here in the new place. It’s fun sitting out on the front porch with my mug of coffee in the morning and watch people waiting to catch the bus to go to work. People passing by on the sidewalk always saying “Buenos dias” and of course I have to respond in kind.

Somewhere I’d written about the size of the house in La Barriada, but I can’t find it. It was small, anyway. This place is a lot larger. The living room is 15X19′ and the whole place is 15X56′. I’d say it’s at least 50% larger than La Barriada. The bedrooms are 12X12′ which is almost as large as the living room at La Barriada, and the kitchen has the largest counter space of any place I’ve live since leaving Potrerillos Arriba.

I’m sure it will take a while before this place feels like home, but I bet it won’t be too long.

Oh, and this is on the wall of an abandoned house across the street from my new landlord’s house.

Che copy



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Some Days Things Work Out — Sorta

When I agreed to rent the new apartment el dueño said that he was having it painted. Well, when I checked in on things Tuesday before going to pay the rent nothing had been done about painting. Yesterday afternoon I got a phone call and he said he’d gotten ahold of the painter and would I please come to his house in the morning since it seems I have the only keys to the place. I got down to the bus stop and chained up my bike just as a bus was coming along. (It’s a real uphill climb from La Barriada to the new digs so I take either a bus of a cab) When I got up to the new neighborhood I stopped at the ATM of the bank that’s about 50 yards away from my new front door to get some cash so I can pay off my movers on Sunday. The bank guard said, “are you moving in to that apartment over there?” (In Spanish, of course.) I said I was and he said he thought he seen me going in a couple of times. Kind of gives me a good feeling of security there.  Also, the police station is only a block away and it seems there is always a wagon going or coming.

So, I met Beto who was going to paint the place. I’d never spoken to him before or new his name, but of course over the last four years we’d seen each other quite a bit. I also met Hayde (Heidi) who will be coming in once a week to clean house for me. Ten bucks a day for clean floors and kitchen. Since I haven’t moved any cleaning materials yet there was nothing for her to do today, but I told her that I’d me all moved in my next week and we could start then. Seems she’s a friend of my old neighbor, Maide, from the old place, and we’ve actually said out “buenos diases” a few times when she was over visiting her amiga.

But before all that went down there was a pretty good flow of water here and I quickly was able to get a load of underwear, socks and my Levis washed. I’d been able to fill five one-gallon bottles with water and promptly had to use them for the rinse cycle since the water only ran for about a half hour today. (One of the first things I did when I got to the new place was to turn on the faucet and, wonder of wonders, water came out of it.)

After getting Beto started with his painting assignment I got a bus down the hill and then over to Bugaba to look for a stove. The first two places I lived in down here, Potrerillos Arriba and then in Boquerón were completely furnished. When I moved into La Barriada I had to buy a fridge but there was a stove here. Now, there’s NOTHING at the new place. In Panama when they say “unfurnished” that’s EXACTLY what they mean.

The first place I went to was a strange place called Franklin Jurado. Basically it’s a hardware store that sells some household appliances as well. It’s where I bought the fridge. They had a couple of small Sankey stoves at $107 and $134 but I didn’t like them. The ovens were WAY TOO SMALL. And the next step up from those was $300+. Not going to do that.

The commercial center of town, where most of the stores are located is only a couple of blocks away. I saw one place where the $134 stove was selling for $119. I finally went into Banco Azteca which offered a variety of different stoves and settled on an RCA four-burner with a decent sized oven. It came to $144.44 with tax. I took my order slip to the cashier and presented my cédula and brand new debit card and was told, “solo efectivo.” (Cash only) See. stopping at the bank worked out well.

When payment was settled they called a gentleman with a nice, brand new pickup truck to bring me to the new digs. Cost: $7, and he helped be carry it into the kitchen. I gave him a sawbuck.

By then Beto had finished painting the two bedrooms a ghastly teal color, and the coverage wasn’t very good. Sigh. But at least it was better than the grimy white that was there before. I’m sure I’ll end up repainting the walls something better. I did check out the dimensions of the place. From the front door to the back is 55-feet. It’s 15 feet wide. 770 square feet. About 200 sq. ft. more than the house here at La Barriada. The living room is 18X14.

So that was may day.




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