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Don’t Cry for me Argentina

I love Argentina, in 2008 I visited Buenos Aires in 2012 I returned with friends and a lot has changed, not all for the best. In 2008 a US Dollar bought about three Argentine pesos, now the bank rate is closer to five pesos for a dollar and the official inflation rate for 2012 was 10.8%. A typical lunch cost about 25 pesos in 2008 and is double that now. With the devaluation of the peso relative to the dollar the impact on us was small, but for those who earn their daily bread in Argentine pesos the impact has been significant. I was told the current minimum wage in Argentina is 2,000 pesos a month, about $400; not much more than the minimum in Panama with costs much higher. So if you want to shed a tear shed it for the masses living in Argentina, not for the tourists.

If you travel to Argentina in the near future take US dollars or Euros. In 2008 you could get either from any ATM no more, the government has restricted access to other currencies and Argentines are hungry for dollars and secondarily euros. In stores we had exchange rates of 6.5 pesos to one US dollar, from money changers I receive as much as 7 pesos for a dollar. At those rates the prices were not so bad at 5 to one it was expensive.

The costs of all things imported were astronomical. My Macbook power supply fried our first week there. It took some serious hunting to find a replacement in Buenos Aires, only one Apple dealer we could find even had one, they wanted 1200 pesos for the power supply, almost $240, I ordered one from Amazon for $29.

Argentina has taken a path of protectionism. They have very high tariffs on imports and export taxes on many items. Argentina has some of the best beef and wine in the world and a very long border with Chile. We could not find either wine or beef from Argentina in Chile.

What appeared affordable were groceries. I did a food survey of some items for comparison between Argentina, Chile and Panama and will compile and covert currencies later when I post it. We kept our travel costs down by renting apartments for a week in three cities, only two nights were spent in a hotel in Santiago Chile. In all cases, including the hotel they wanted US dollars not pesos for rent. We also did a fair amount of cooking and used a lot of public transportation. While we were in Argentina they were announcing increases in public transportation costs, the subway was 2.5 pesos for a ride increasing the 3.5 pesos.

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Many restaurants in Argentina have a seating charge, not only do you pay for your food and drink but you pay for the privilege of paying for your food and drink.

We ate well, lived well, travelled well and saw a lot and it is likely at least I will return.

One more note of significance for those of us in Panama; Copa Airlines is great. We flew nonstop on a Boeing 737-800 a new aircraft. Copa is state of the art we did web checkin, they handled baggage perfectly, the aircraft left on time, although the flight left at 9pm they served us food, drink, a selection of movies and excellent service. Copa runs nonstop from Panama City and we spent less time in the air than in the bus from David to Panama City. On the return trip I neglected to do web checkin because I did not have a printer, I did it from my Iphone while standing in the queue to check my luggage and they printed out the boarding pass at the counter. Copa is a real Panamanian asset, a well run business building Panama City into a hub.

Tomorrow some pictures and specifics on Buenos Aires for the tourist.

Wow, from Chile to OSETI, the optical search for intelligent life

After almost a month on the road it is great to be back in Boquete. Although I never felt the need for ruby slippers, I did need to return to the tranquility of Boquete. After living all my life in Cities, I retired to the hills overlooking Boquete, I love the sounds of Panama including the crowing of my roosters. My holiday schedule was mostly cities, they are a great place to visit for culture, cuisine and energy but I prefer living here and visiting there.

My efforts at a real time travelogue were dashed by a failed power supply and then a loss of some data. I was going to move forward without more about the month away, but several people asked about the trip and wanted to see photos. I will do a post on each city we visited with photos and occasional suggestions for the traveller based on our experience and then a cost of living comparison to Panama.

Yesterday, I thought I had returned to earth after almost 24 hours of sleepless travel getting back to Boquete. Then I went to the Tuesday meeting and listened to Ben Schuetz a Boquete resident discuss his search for intelligent life someplace far beyond Chile.  Ben has been a resident of Boquete since 200, a retired physicist/engineer and amateur OSETI investigator.

The presentation was about the history, current work and future outlook for SETI and OSETI. Everyone knows what SETI is, but few know about OSETI,  “Optical Search for Extraterrestrials”, that is, searching for laser signals from ET.
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Ben has created his own OSETI observatory, the Boquete Opera House and Observatory here in Boquete. It is probably the only one chair opera house with a telescope in the world. Ben has also developed and built his own optical search tools. As Ben admitted to a packed crowd in the newly remodeled BCP theater, his search is a exercise that is unlikely to bear fruit or discover ET. It is however his way to enjoy life after his career, we all find our own paths if we look for them.

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Wifi for a day,

I did not plan on a one week a absence but WIFI was not available in the apartment we rented and access with Movistar is slow so here I am on the beach in ConCon Valpariso Chile a beautiful spot a short bus ride from Viña del Mar and a twenty minutes from the historic city of Valpariso. Although I have much to say I will keep this short and add a few photos. We will be returning to Panama Sunday, pass out and be back online Monday.

My recent pictures are on my iPhone and have not updated to photo stream yet so please be content with this singular image of a woman I do not know, posing next to a statute that was not of Don Quixote.

Chile is beautiful, the food excellent and a great place to visit, but unlike Panam, Chile is not home of the happiest people on earth. After almost a month on the road I think we are all looking forward to returning to Boquete.

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The cow who gave all for us

I find myself in an enigmatic position. Living in Panama I have reduced my beef consumption and increased the ubiquitous chicken and readily available seafood. According to all prognosticators this should be better for my health.

Here in the land of beef it could be a criminal offense not to eat beef. In compliance with the law of the land.

We went to a Trip Advisor recommended Parilla, Los Establos, a short stumble from the Florida Street shopping mall.

Between four of us we had two large ojo de bife I believe boneless rib eyes. Sweetbreads asado the best I have ever eaten, riñones asado, kidneys and lots of sides it was the best beef I can remember eating. Now I wonder how I can return to chicken.

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Day 2.5 Street walking, new friends and good eating

This was planned to be a trip to sample the wines of Argentina and Chile at the source, so far it’s been coffee and the beer.  People call Buenos Aires the Paris of South America I disagree, it is the Rome of South America. The pizza is great, the food great and the beer fantastic.

It took another visit to Movistar to resolve my cell phone issues.  If you get a prepaid SIM here, Movistar does not sell minutes and no place we went had cards. Unlike Panama everyone here does online recharging, once we asked the right question, can you recharge a Movistar prepaid phone we had the right answer, yes. The costs are also interesting a phone call is $2.90 a minute, about $0.60, but if you charge up 50 pesos or more they double your credit.  Also if you call another Movistar number the cost is half again, down to about .75 pesos or $.15 a minute. Unlimited Internet for my Iphone is one peso a day, about twenty cents, go figure.

After I finished writing yesterday, we hit the streets again, Deborah has her list, all the things she wants to see in Buenos Aires, Mayra just a smile and Dan and I a mission to taste beer, lots of rich, flavorful beer. We have not yet a had a beer that is not superior to anything brewed in Panama.

Buenos Aires Subte

Buenos Aires Subte

On day two we started taking the Subway (subtle), 2 pesos, to the Palermo district and visited to Botanical Gardens and Zoo. The Botanical Gardens is also a cat sanctuary, we talked to one of the cat feeders at work.

Buenos Aires Botanical Gardens

Buenos Aires Botanical Gardens Cat feeder

At the zoo I made several new friends and had a discussion in Spanish with a llama, he appeared to understand my Panamanian jargon. I have had no language issues here.

Buenos Aires Zoo llama

Buenos Aires Zoo llama

The zoo pathways are littered with animals that have all become beggars at the animal food stands. This couple caught a picture of a stray Capybara while  a duck watched and I  caught a picture of them capturing the picture.

Buenos Aires Zoo

A peacock blocked me from making a food purchase, probably a good thing in a zoo.

Buenos Aires Zoo Pavo Real

Buenos Aires Zoo Pavo Real

We then ate lunch in a Pizza place called San Martin on the corner of Santa Fe and San Martin. The prices were more or less equal to the Panamonte or the Rock in Boquete, except for the surprise Cubierto Mayor, charge of 9 pesos a person for a table full of things we did not order.

Dan not wanting to be seen drinking at noon.

Dan not wanting to be seen drinking at noon.

I asked the waiter, he smiled and said it is really a fee for the table;  the food was excellent. One more slight of the hand here is there is no free water. The water costs more than the beer, so back to beer we go.

Nicholas, if you are reading this, the raviolis below were bathed in a cheese sauce laden with mushrooms and Parma ham. If Spaghetti Carbonara is a heart attack on a plate, this is a double bypass, and it was beyond excellent.

A double bypass on a plate

A double bypass on a plate

If this was not sufficently toxic the Antipasto made no claim to reduce your cholesterol level.

Buenos Aires Antipasto

Buenos Aires Antipasto

Tonight we are hunting for a Tango show, Mayra wants to dance!

 

 

Day 1: Arrival

It took more time to get to Tocumen than to get from Tocumen Airport to Buenos Aires. Traffic was maddening in Panama City, but within 24 hours of leaving Boquete we were in out Buenos Aires apartment in the Recoleta District.

As I anticipated, a high five to Copa, the trip become smooth the minute we entered the airport terminal. The plane boarded on time, a new Boeing 737-800. The last plane I flew in was an American Airlines flight to Miami in a plane that might have been thirty years old, this one still had some shrink wrap on it. Passenger comfort items included video screens with flexible programing in the language for each seat. Then they surprised us with free drinks and dinner. After than we tried sleep, it did not happen.

The only observation I can make about Immigration and Customs in Buenos Aires is that we never saw anyone with a gun and everyone was helpful. There were a group of Arab Americans in front of us who apparently did not bother to purchase their $160 Reciprocity Passes online. They were told that they needed to somehow go to the appropriate tax office, pay the fee and return to collect their passports. The office of course was not at the airport.

We were advised not to use a Taxi from the airport but to use a service called Remis, a van, and it also worked smoothly. Within 24 hours of leaving Boquete we were in our apartment in BA.

Before a nap  came breakfast, finding some local currency, getting local cell phone chips and filling the refrigerator. I confess we ate at one of the ubiquitous McDonalds in BA, due to shear exhaustion.

Buenos Aires McDonalds

We then marched to Movistar and bought cell phone chips, not exactly bought, they were free. In fact Movistar could not even sell us prepaid time, they sent us out to a kiosk to buy time. As of this moment we still have not found a kiosk that sells Movistar cards nor any other way that works to charge the phones.

Our trip to the grocery was far more fun than either McDonalds or Movistar.

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Argentine Pesos are currently about $.20 USD, so $48.70 is abut $9.74 a kilo, or $4.43 USD a pound for short ribs.

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Mayra’s first observation, we are not in Panama anymore.  Below, Dan, Deborah and Mayra discovered bags cost $.15 centavos each and if you want your meat and wine packed, you need to pack it yourself.

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A New Year a new adventure and a fresh perspective

Last night as the fireworks boomed over Bajo Boquete we were at the house of a friend who loaded his suitcase and took a walk out of the house, a traditional Panamanian way of wishing for a trip in 2013. Starting at the early hours  tomorrow we are taking a trip. Two couples from Boquete beginning a four week exploration of a small slice of Argentina and Chile.

David Panama Bus Terminal

David Panama Bus Terminal

We need to leave Boquete at a ridiculous hour in the morning to catch a ride to David,  a bus to the capital and then a van to the Tocumen airport to board a red eye to Buenos Aires. One of the challenges or advantages of living in our sky island is that it is remote to the world, unless you consider David the world.

Today, Jan 1, is an awful day to travel from anyplace back to Panama City. All the holiday revelers are heading back to work tomorrow and the buses, plans and highways will be full. We waited one day in hopes the only traffic insanity will be the trip from the bus terminal the international airport. That ride within the city will cost about the same as the trip from David to Panama City. There is a Metro bus that goes from Albrook Bus terminal to the the entrance of the airport but it does not enter. I suspect if the Ministry of tourism did actually deliver the once promised shuttle bus from Albrook to Tocumen, the taxi drivers who overcharge tourists and locals alike would blockade the airport. That is an element of certainty in Panama where laws are made and changed on the streets.

We will be flying on a Copa Airlines red eye. If Copa has not changed, it will be a great flight. Copa is Panama’s Airline and Panama City is the hub, that allows for an increasing number of nonstop flights throughout the Americas, including Argentina. Copa Airlines is also a profitable publicly  traded (CPA – NYSE) business.

Copa Airlines has gained market share in part because it is easy for passengers to fly into Panama City and change planes without having a Visa or passing through customs. Panama is a great hub for passengers as well as legal and illicit substances in transit. The illicit part vexes the United States. The Panama City hub evolved because Latin American’s need to get a Visa from the US to fly into a US airport, even if the reason for their trip is to transfer to another flight leaving the US; not so in Panama City.

Visa policy is adding to the cost of our trip. Argentina does not require visas for  US, Canadian or Australian Passport holders, but does require a reciprocity fee, currently $160. You need to pay the fee online before leaving for Argentina, here is  a link if you are planning a trip. Mayra who will use her Panama Passport needs neither Visa nor fee. A Panamanian Passport is a good passport to have unless you are heading to the US or Canada. This is a link to a list of countries that do not require a Visa if you have a passport form Panama.

Too many in the United States have a vision of Latin Americans as poor, unwashed, uneducated masses trying to assault the the southern borders. Latin America is a large market place with a growing economy, a growing educated middle class and increasing opportunity, the poverty part exists everyplace. Xenophobia prevents many in the US from seeing beyond their borders. Other countries are either poor, Socialist, Communist or worse some combination of the above, all eager to take all that Americans own; even those beaver loving Canadians are too socialist.

We will be visiting two countries I have visited before, Argentina and Chile. Argentina is going through still another in what seems to be an endless series of economic crises and Chile is booming. I have observations of my last trip in made in 2008 in this blog. This trip will allow for an interesting contrast. My understanding of Panama and  Spanish have improved so I hope to contrast my experience of four years ago. It should be fun and maybe even insightful for me.

Curtain call for 2012, what is coming to Boquete in 2013?

I am going to take a risk based upon the pulse I feel in the Boquete Panama community. Some of these observations are based upon what is happening, some on projections and some on clear speculation as I peer into a recycled crystal ball.

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The wave of new immigrants to Boquete Panama will continue, people from the United States will join others from Canada, Europe and Venezuela. Many of the Americans will come, rent and leave within the year because they think they are fleeing Socialism only to discover Panama is far more socialist than what they are leaving.

2012 showed that financial deals that sounded too good to be true, were indeed too good to be true; COACESS, Financial Pacific and Pronto Cash all washed out in 2012. Expect great new opportunities lusting for your money in 2013 and expect some of them to fail too. With all of the regulation Panama has of it’s financial industry there is no effective regulation, just laws selectively enforced when it is good press or good for those in power.

Boquete is a great place to retire as long as you understand this is a rural area based on an agricultural and tourist economy. The US Panama free trade agreement will change the agricultural economy and many small farms will need to change or they will fail. Climate change is already effecting coffee production and should it continue, coffee will become a lesser part of the local economy. That is a shame since our coffee is wonderful.

Tourism has developed as an industry in Boquete during the world wide recession. It has always existed here, but tourism has grown tremendously in the past few years. It is likely to continue to expand if the government does not destroy all of the ecotourism destinations with dams and pavement.

Union Fensoa will keep installing street lights even where the streets are really paths for cows. The cattle need to find their way also. The question will be whether they will move the poles out of the Boquete David Highway or just cut them flush with the new blacktop.

Expect the road to David to be completed in 2013, the same with the airport in David. I predict direct flights from David to Tocumen. If Copa or Air Panama are into speculation one of them might try David to Florida, but I am not holding my breath.

When the transportation corridors are open look for new commercial projects to start. Also some large new hospitality projects, like the environmentally destructive project in Jaramillo Abajo. I do not understand why developers have not figured out that what makes Boquete unique and desirable is the environment. Cutting down the trees and paving the mountain eliminates all that makes this area special.

Panama is a land of opportunity, if you have the knowledge and correct connections, but most expats who come here to build a business fail. They fail because they don’t have the knowledge or the correct connections, this is not Kansas.

Boquete will see still another crop of restaurants, seems many new immigrants want to open restaurants. No one knows the Boquete market size, how many people live here at any time, how many are dining out, how many venture out at night, who has sufficient discretionary income. Still without market informaiton investors will come, invest and often lose. Still other ventures are bitten by the labor laws, the sound regulations, the health laws, the immigration laws etc. Some of these new ventures will succeed, most will last less than one year.

The BCP will have it’s best season of plays ever, hopefully people will pay to see them even if it means being out after 8pm. The Tuesday market will continue to grow and evolve as the hub of the expat community in Boquete. The meetings will continue and become more interesting. Bid4Boquete will have their best year ever and the community will continue to support needs of it’s most needy and the dogs too.

For all those here it will be a year of inflation, change and politics. Panama is heading toward primaries in 2013 and in 2014 a new cycle of politicians all of who will promise to clean up corruption and none of whom will.

I do not see anything dramatic changing in Boquete in 2013, just a continuation of growth without a plan, despite the fact there is plan and immigration without understanding by those fleeing known into unknown. On the positive side hopefully we will see an evolution into a stronger tourist economy for all the residents here who need to earn their daily rice and lentils.

One final note, I can predict with some security, that for me the January winds will not be a bother to me since I am taking a vacation from my full time vacation and will be writing from venues to the far south for about a month.

Financial Pacific, still another fallen star in 2012

I have heard that residents in Boquete Panama has been hurt by the failure of the investment firm Financial Pacific.

Apparently in an audit by the Superintendency of Securities the firm was discovered to be missing seven million dollars. Panama Guide

It might be of interest to know that the President of the Republic has been busy using his office to deny that he had any involvement with the failed company.

The National Chamber of Commerce has issued this statement in asking for an investigation into the failure of the firm.

“This case undermines the international image of our country, since its effects are counterproductive in the attraction of investments and has a bearing on the value of shares that are quoted on the stock exchange, which ends up creating insecurity for current and future investors in Panama,” the chamber said. “We join the pronouncements made by the Superintendency of Banks of Panama, the Panama Stock Market and the Panama Chamber of Capital Markets for due transparency and a quick, complete investigation that clarifies what happened with Financial Pacific.”

La Prensa

The newspaper La Prensa, no friend of the President, has published a lengthy article tying President Martinelli with Financial Pacific and the Petaquilla Gold mining operation in Panama. Petaquilla is a publicly held Canadian company.

La Prensa claims to have documents from the fraud investigation process in Financial Pacific, linking Martinelli with this brokerage.

“The investigation was performed from 22 to 29 November 2012, and she, Pellegrini (A former employee of Financial Pacific currently in custody), said that managers of Financial Pacific, West Clare and Ivan Valdes, said publicly that an account called High Spirit is “Mr. Ricardo Martinelli.”

“There is an account called High Spirit, which Mr. Ivan Valdes and West Clare have publicly stated that Mr. Ricardo Martinelli had the opportunity to manipulate the stock market value of shares of Petaquilla. In this way, they could make money with inside information he received President Martinelli on Petaquilla’s performance. ”

Martinelli accused La Prensa of “manipulating information”, and try to involve him in a “small problem”.”

La Prensa

According to the same article in La Prensa the “Officials of the British Columbia Securities Commission, the Canadian regulator which is subject Petaquilla Minerals Ltd. – contacted yesterday by The Canadian Press on publications in Panama, preferring for now “no comment on the issue.” In this city, the Embassy of Canada decided not to comment, stating that the ambassador, Sylvia Cesaratto, is on holiday in your country.”

There is much more background on the Newsroom Panama site.

and more on the Panama Guide.

In 2012 we have seen the collapse of Pronto Cash, the seizure of COACECSS Cooperative and this issue with Financial Pacific. I for one would not consider putting any significant sum of money into any entity in Panama.

A three course meal of live music with a disco for dessert

For the last Friday night before Christmas in Boquete Panama Mayra and I decided to look for some live music. I have written several times that music has become hard to find in Boquete with various new regulations inhibiting and at times prohibiting it, last night was an exception. I am going to included our bar tabs for those concerned that a night on the town in Boquete is prohibitively expensive.

Our night started at Porotos (Kidney Bean) the new bar, restaurant, casino and now a place that occasionally has live music. I am not sure when the music started but we made the final set at 8PM, yikes, early. The band, which may or may not yet have a name was excellent. Three expat and one local did a great job with Rock and Jazz tunes. The music was the type that I love. Close your eyes and let the music take you away from reality, fantastic. A salute to Frank, Steve, Michael and their fourth whose name I do not know. There was no cover and we paid $2.50 for two beers plus a tip to Lorena.

The Namless ones

The Namless ones

When the final set ended with a rousing performance of Johnny be Good we marched off to Baru. They said they would have Salsa. They had music, we were told from Cuba. It was good, it was background compared to the first band of the night. We ran into several friends and enjoyed two more bottles of beer each, no cover, total bill $6.00.

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At about 10:30 we decided to see of La Posada had their regular group in for the night, they did. We ordered drinks and danced to Typico for about an hour more. La Posada caters to a mostly local crowd and has excellent live music virtually every Saturday night. We drank a Margarita and a rum between us and the bar tab was $5.85 including tip.

Party3

After our third course it was still Saturday, not yet Sunday and the last option of the night was Coca Cola a mostly Panamanian Disco in Los Naranjos. Off we went, paid out $1 cover charges and joined a host of others on the dance floor. They spin to much reggie for my taste, but they did enough Salsa, Meringue and Typico to make a fun hour or so. Coca Cola has beer, rum,Seco and Vodka on the menu, we had rum. The price has gone up 50% from $.65 to $1.00 a drink since my last visit. Total tab for cover and bar, $4.00

Our night on the town cost less than $20, compared the $6 bottles of beer I was buying in Miami not a bad deal for three bands a disco and more than enough to drink.

We were among the first to leave Coca Cola at 1 am. In all a fun night following the sound of music in Boquete Panama.

Party5

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