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A word of advice to new residents

One of the many reasons I left the United States was to leave behind the judgmental ignorance of the American masses. When I left there was no Tea Party, but there was the artificial culture created by greed and consumption. The culture that wanted services from government but did not want to pay taxes to government. The culture that thinks the United States is the only country that has it right. The rest of the world is made of only those who want to storm the borders to work for Tyson and the meat packers.

The purpose of the masses in the United States is to buy, consume and buy more. The system of public education in the United States has declined to the level where people cannot separate facts from opinions; opinions like this very editorial post and FOX news. Despite many who have religious beliefs in the United States, the real god is money and the sacrament is the things money can buy. When I see that culture, the one I left, starting to express itself here, I recoil in fear. I discovered in Panama, a refreshing breath of fresh air, both from the expats and local people. A different view of life, a respect for families and a respect for the elderly not seen in mainstream US culture.

Currently I am seeing a very different group of immigrants arriving in Boquete. Many are fleeing for political reasons, some for economic reasons, some for fear of their artificial world changing. Most of these people are good people who, if they can survive the culture shock, will enjoy their lives here and add to the community. Mixed in with the good there are the thieves, the pedophiles, the con men and some pompous arrogant fools.

I am addressing this to the gentry fleeing to move their country club mentality to Panama. If you come here with all the values and culture that made you the social gentry of the US you actually are in the right town, you will find others like you here. If you can rise above your prejudices you can enjoy a better life in Panama, if not you can still find a coven of people like you. These people usually stick to themselves and shun the unwashed masses.

If you can find the understanding that not everyone here, Panamanian or expat has your view of the world, you will do better. Some people here come to invest and earn, many of them lose their shirts because they have no understanding of culture, language or law. Others come here to divest and relax. Some people driving Prados cannot make the payments on them and others riding rusty sedans, or riding horses, can buy and sell you several times over. Learn not to make judgments based on appearance and you will have a first step toward understanding you are not in Kansas anymore, despite the fact the same applies in Kansas.

One of the virtues of this young country is the ability to be who you wish to be, unmolested. Although Panama has a law for everything, generally the government leaves people alone. One of the virtues of being an expat here is that Panamanians are a warm, compassionate and by necessity, self relient people. Treat them with respect and warmth and you will receive dividends, treat them as inferior and you will loose both honor and opportunity. They are not inferior, this is their country and you, unless you are a citizen, are a guest here.

The same goes for your fellow expats, there are people here with great wealth and people struggling to survive on Social Security. All of them had the courage to relocate to a new land and start a new life. Whether they choose to drink beer at Baru or the club house in Valle Escondido does not speak to their intelligence, virtue or character. Venue is irrelevant unless you make it relevant, if you do believe it relevant, stay where you are comfortable but do not libel those who do not match your chosen lifestyle.

Panama Beer Sign

I gave up the Jaguar, the Mercedes and the suburban home in the US for a better lifestyle of less consumption and less pressure. I gave away my suits, my dress shoes and my high pressure, high spending, high living lifestyle for something different. I have grown younger each year I have lived in Panama, ask my doctor.

Do yourself a favor and try to understand the country, the culture and the people. Then consider what opportunity you have to have a better, longer, healthier life by relaxing and abandoning the things that you fled; what ever your reasons might have been. This is a land of milk and honey please leave the bitters behind.

Red White and Blue, Redundancy

I spent last week in Panama City, the Capital. Part of my time was at a conference held by Live and Invest Overseas. I write a monthly newsletter, the Panama Letter,  for them and I speak at their conferences in Panama City. I try to speak the truth about making the decision to relocate to Panama. I am happy to say I am encouraged to write and speak what I feel, not prodded into painting a picture that might not be real.

At these meetings I meet many people, from many places, considering many options. Some of these people are realists, some are laboring in a fantasy. At this last conference many, more than normal, were considering a relocation to Panama. I tried very hard to send a message, a clear message. Do not move to Panama unless you are willing to change. Do not move to Panama because someone or some company tells you it is cheaper here. That is not a good reason to move to Panama. Move to Panama only if you are ready to change your life, learn a new language, immerse in a new culture and grow as a person.

If you are coming to Panama with a plan to change Panama into Texas, forget it, stay in Texas. If you are coming to Panama and are not inspired to be immersed in a Latin American culture don’t come. If you are coming to Panama to escape the hordes of Spanish speaking immigrants in the US, you picked the wrong place.

If you are coming to Panama and do not plan to at least try to learn Spanish you will miss too much. Panama is a United Nations, people from all over the world settled Panama and continue to come here. If you are from the United States and have not done much travelling remember this is a different country. They also waive the red, white and blue here, but it only has two stars.

Panama Flag

If a lower cost of living is your primary goal, you can do better in rural Mississipi. Unless you are from Mississipi it will give you an equally unique cultural experience and a lower cost of living without needing to learn a new language, just a new accent.

 

Panama is looking for investment, Panama likes your money and what it provides in exchange is an opportunity for a new life. Whether it is better here is subjective;  for me, better, for others not.

A friend of mine just returned to Canada after years here. I suspect he returned because he could not find happiness in Panama. If you unhappy where you are, consider this axiom. The one constant where ever you are is you. If you cannot find happiness where you are, it is unlikely you will find it here. Unless you are experienced in Latin American culture and speak good Spanish this experience might traumatize you. You might look at Panama and blame it for your unhappiness, despite the fact you brought it in your carryon luggage.

Do your homework if you are seriously considering immigration. Read, go to a seminar, visit, and only then stick a toe in the water. Consider doing a rental for six months. Do not buy anything until you see if this is for you. Panama is not for everyone, neither is Mississipi.

Rehashing an old post for a new wave

In June 2008 I wrote a post called “Don’t Move to Boquete”.  I updated this in September 2009. In light of the current influx of people to Boquete Panama I need to once again publish this, updated version.

If you are considering a move to Panama from the US for only economic reasons, don’t come here.

Not everything is cheaper here, it never was. With the decline in housing prices in the US, you might be able to buy well there; if cheaper is your goal, stay there. Electricity costs more per kilowatt hour in Panama, ignore the fact we in Boquete do not need heat or cooling. If the cost of electricity is the deciding factor, stay there. Imports of all kinds including cars cost more here, fuel costs more here, so if those are the factors stay there.

If you like second class healthcare at the highest prices in the world, stay there. If you need to go to see a doctor in Boquete expect to pay $7 for a consult, if you need health insurance expect to pay less than in the US. If you do need a hospital the closest is in David. If you need a world class hospital you need to go to Panama City. If you want to wait in an overcrowded emergency room, stay there.


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Run to the border, Paso Canoas

As I wrote earlier, despite statements by immigration that the tourist Visa is good for 180 days, it is not. My son needed to make his ninety day, run to the border. He spent three days in beautiful, sunny, Paso Canoas; a not too wonderful border town. Still it was better than another option and as I discovered I could drive him to the hotel and back.

Since I have never done the border tourfor an overnight stay myself I asked for some help. Mark from the restaurant formerly known as Amigos recommended Los Higerones, just across the frontier and according to my son Sebastian, very nice.
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To get there, at the border turn left on the Panama side, drive just out of town to the first time you can cross the border on a unguarded road. Then turn right on the Costa Rican side and drive the UMSC a university, turn left and in a short distance you will see the sign above.

The hotel looks almost antebellum, I was looking for the cotton.
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The cost a reasonable $42 a night, more than I was told it would be, but nothing stays the same and the dollar has declined against the Costa Rican Colon recently.

I learned something important as I drove back to the rather porous border on the Costa Rican side. I drove back to Panama through the official entry portal, where customs is located, I was stopped. It was explained that since I did not drive into Costa Rica with the correct papers for my car, I was only on the border, that I need to exit Costa Rica the way I entered, on another unofficial road. Only in Panama could customs tell me, only cross here if you have the papers, otherwise cross someplace we are not looking. All this with a smile and no problems.
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While Sebastian settled into the hotel I explored the new City Mall. There are signs all along the Interamerican Highway announcing the new mall but no directions. When you get to the border, turn right and drive about 200 meters, it will be on your left. It is big, looks like Walmart and even has a McDonalds.

It is a big change for the border, a big box store, modern, clean and for the moment well maintained.
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Terraforming Boquete

I moved to Boquete in 2006, the peak of the real estate market here and well within the period of change that began one hundred years before. 2011 will mark one hundred years since the formation of the District of Boquete. This is a young area and there are people alive who remember the early years, the years before SUV’s, before cell phones, before the internet; times change.

In reading Boquete.NIng.Com I see a pulse of people living here, considering a move here and those who have a persistent need to discourage new people from moving here. I sit someplace on the fence. While living in Tucson Arizona in a period spanning almost forty years, I saw the sleepy town I adopted as home change. It grew bigger and as it slowly paved over the beautiful Sonoran desert, the climate changed, as did my love of the valley. When moving to Boquete I was aware the same thing would happen here. Still I came to Boquete because of the climate and the people who proceeded me.

In 2006 it looked like Boquete would double its population of immigrants in a year or two. It may well have done so, no one knows. Most people here live in rural areas in visit town occasionally. No one knows how many new immigrants are here. No one knows because the census did not ask the questions, no one knows because many long time residents are still on tourist visas and leave for Costa Rica or other locations four times a year.

One thing is clear, Boquete is changing; the only constant is change. Boquete is a town of immigrants, the first arriving a mere hundred years ago, immigrants from other parts of Panama and all over the world. I often point to the list of founders with names that ring of countries far from Spain, to make the point that we are just a new generation of immigrants. Each wave has changed Boquete, each wave has terraformed Boquete into what it is today and we, the new wave are making what it will be tomorrow.

If you came here because you thought Boquete would stay the small cute mountain village it was even ten years ago, I am sorry it will not. You are responsible for the change. We all brought hopes, desires and needs. The needs included more stores, more services, better police protection, better health care and the list goes on to include all the niches being filled by businesses and the increasingly responsive government.

Boquete is getting a four lane highway to David, David is getting an International Airport, Boquete will continue to grow with these enhancements; like it or not, growth is inevitable.

Personally I am on the edge. I like some of the changes, I despise others. As I spend more time in the Panamanian community I recognize that those I know, family at this point , like the changes. They like that Boquete offers jobs and opportunity for new businesses. They like the fact new immigrants are often more willing to spend money, pay better and are more involved than older Rabo Blanco families that have wealth and are unwilling to allow it to trickle down. The term Rabo Blanco is used to describe the old money in Panama, it signifies white tails, the clothing worn to social events a hundred years ago.

Panama as a country is just over a hundred years old, Boquete under one hundred years old. Panama as a long way to go and it will keep moving forward. There are powerful forces that want Panama to modernize and Boquete is leading the way in Western Panama. Boquete is driving the growth in David, David serves Boquete.

Those who invested here would love to see property values increase, some might want to sell and leave, others just like the feeling that they made a good investment. Those who came for the small mountain village will need to adjust to the fact they are responsible for the change. The things they did to make Boquete more to their liking are the very things that are attracting more people like them to Boquete. For Panama this is a good thing, more money, more jobs, more opportunity. For me it is a mixed blessing, I love it here, but like many others I would love to see the growth slower and with more planning.

I like it the way it was is a fantasy statement, you can not stop change and you can only help chart its direction. Terraforming needs a plan.

A Helpful tip to anyone in this Area

I have lived in Boquete Panama for four years.For four years I have had an ongoing battle to reduce my property taxes; yes I pay property taxes. I know many people selling Panama tell potential buyers there are exemptions, there are. The exemptions are on new construction, but not on land valued at more than $30,000.

My tax issue is a bit of confusion in the Catastro files. Catastro is the office that deals with tax records, in those records my house is located on another property. Someone else has been getting the exoneration for my house for four years, and I have been paying taxes. It took my lawyer, a good lawyer, about two years to untangle confusion as to why I was not getting the exoneration.

Once discovered he wrote a detailed letter to Catastro to explain their error in data entry and request that they repair the problem. A year later nothing had happened and I asked why. I was told it would cost some dollars to an employee in Catatro to have the change made, I refused to pay.

Enter Jorge from Restaurante Mana in David. I did an interview with Jorge for a Panama Newsletter I write. In that interview Jorge explained that listening to the needs of restaurant clients spawned a new business. Jorge who is a US educated, native Chiricano, understands the frustrations many new immigrants have dealing with government and other entities in Panama. In that interview Jorge told me he started helping restaurant customers untangle one mess after another and that that evolved into a business. For $10 an hour Jorge will help with cultural and language intervention.

The language was not my obstacle, Mayra speaks native Spanish. However figuring out who, what, where and when was a real problem. I assembled all the documents from my lawyer and gave them to Jorge. In a week he knew, who, where and what. We went to the Catastro office in David, they could not find the prior request from my lawyer, nor, remarkably, could he find his copy. We resubmitted the documents, they provided me a stamped, signed receipt and said it should be resolved in about a month.

The clock is still ticking, but I feel for the first time that a resolution is the stars. Three cheers to Jorge and a strong recommendation from me for his advice and cultural engineering interface to Panama. I recommend his services without hesitation, you can email him at jlca.mana@yahoo.com or better just stop by the restaurant for lunch when you in David.

Preoccupation and cultural awarness

It might seem that I have been deaf to the discussion about the cultural impact of new immigrants to Boquete, I am not. I have written about it several times, including this piece on the Ripple Effect.

It is a major issue and started as soon as one tribe discovered and attacked or befriended a neighboring tribe sometime in prehistory. Nothing has changed much except for the impact of modern travel, modern communications and the globalization this has allowed.

Personally the local people I know are not upset about the new immigrants, Panama is a country of immigrants. Immigrants have been coming here with their cultures and languages since the pre-columbian times. A visit to the site of the barrels in Volcan is an excellent lesson in Panamas archeological history.

What is different today is the media and discussion in public international forums and those businesses that have learned to profit from selling international living.

Whether the impact of new immigrants is good or bad is the debate going on right now in Arizona. In Arizona they seem to have forgotten that the State was part of Mexico until 1853. The culture and language in Arizona was Mexican for far more time than American. In Panama the country was a part of Columbia until Teddy Roosevelt decided he wanted to continue building a canal the French had started. Panama the nation, has just over one hundred years of history, and much of Panama has been created by immigrants.

The impact on the country is that it is a fusion of cultures. The impact on the immigrants has been a change in lifestyle. What makes this new wave different is that many of us are retired. For the most part, non child bearing and we will not add to the gene pool for the generations to come. Our impact is financial, we spend money, money creates jobs and allows for opportunity and lifestyle changes.

Shortly after arriving here I visited a local kiosco, a small store on Jaramillo. The lady who owns it said thank you. I asked for what. Her response was simple, before the new immigrants arrived on Jaramillo the local people had no cash income. Now she said they can afford to buy things. She and they, are the beneficiaries of the change.

Some people might say so what, all the “gringos” are providing are $10 a day jobs, her response would be $10 a day is better than nothing, and before it was nothing.

As the world economy is still reeling from the economic blowout that started in the excessive spending and lifestyle habits of the US, Panama is continuing to grow. It is not perfect here but for me and many others it is a great place to live. For others it is not; to each their own.

I have said and will continue to say if you are just moving her to save money stay in the US because you will not be happy here. Those who are happy here have a spirit of adventure and can roll with both the disappointments and the pleasures.

I am an immigrant in Panama

I am an immigrant in Panama, a US citizen and a legal permanent resident in Panama. As with anyone living in Panama when a policeman or immigration official asks to see my identification I need to show proof that I belong here. For me it is Jublilado Visa, for a citizen a cedula. If I do not have proof of legal status in Panama, immigration is allowed to detain me until I can prove I am legal and if I can not, they can deport me.

As an immigrant here I am annoyed by check points, drivers license checks, car registration checks and legal status checks. Driving across Panama you are guaranteed at least one legal status check. Driving at night you are likely to be stopped to check your license and take a quick whiff of your breath; I prefer when this does not happen. Still, I understand that hundreds of people die on the highways each year because of drunk and unlicensed drivers. I smile and say gracias to the traffic cop.

I am also annoyed at the immigration checks, they are rare except near the border with Costa Rica and crossing into Chiriqui from Veraguas. Still I smile and present my identification. I am a guest here, Myra is a citizen and she still needs to present her cedula, she smiles also. Panama is a magnet for many people from neighboring countries, particularly Columbia to the south. Columbians come to Panama to launder money and because jobs pay more here. Panama has immigration laws, they try to enforce them.

What is the issue? For me there is no issue. I am not a big fan of government interfering in my life but I understand that  I need to tolerate government because, regardless of where I am they are there. The uniforms change, the language changes, the laws change but there are always rules to be followed.

I lived in Arizona 38 years. I remember jumping into my diesel Mercedes and chugging across the international border to eat lunch, buy Mexican coffee and fill the tank with cheap fuel. Driving back and forth was nothing special, nothing memorable, times have changed. In January of this past year I visited Nogales Sonora Mexico again. I walked across, the border was a different thing, an armed camp on the American side. Just walking back through the security took more than an hour. Fear has infected the frontier. The Border Patrol or what ever they are now called, is militarized and National Guard is being authorized to help them.

For Arizona to pass a law allowing police to check for legal status is not a surprise in the climate of fear that has developed nationally. The reason for the fear is both the public fear of terrorists from the south and I think even more, fear of Mexicans stealing jobs and services. Panama of course has both fears, fear of terrorists attacking the Canal, something I have heard voiced by the US embassy on Panamanian television and fear of illegal immigrants taking jobs and services. Panama enforces its immigration laws by checking for legal status and I do not object, why are people so angry about the same actions in Arizona?

Ramblings on population Boquete Panama

My last four months have been very busy, a lot of time in Boquete, time in Panama City, time in other locations too. This week I have spent a few days in the pueblo, Bajo Boquete. What amazed me was how many English speaking people are here now.

I have often been asked “How many new immigrants are in Boquete?” My answer is the last time I spoke to the Mayor, he told me 500. In a blog post yesterday Sam Taliaferro disputed a different number published in La Prensa. According to Sam, La Prensa printed that there are 6,000 foreigners in Boquete. I am not sure if the word foreigners includes non English speakers, I presume it does. I am not sure if includes part time residents or tourists or what the source of information might be.

Sam makes it clear it cannot be so, because he as the“ largest builder” did not build enough houses for that many people. Read his words:

“As usual there appears to be some exaggerations along with the facts. They state that of the now 23,000 inhabitants of the Boquete district, 6000 are foreigners. This is a very inflated number by at least a factor of 3. There is no way that 3000 homes have been built over the last 5 years to house that number of people. I am the largest builder in the area and have only built about 100 homes in the last 5 years. Based on building permits and counting homes complete in projects I can account for less than 1000 homes which would house a maximum of 2000 couples. Certainly some have children, but at our Halloween party for foreign kids last year we counted all of 70 children.

They also claim that there are 37 hotels and 5(2) restaurants in Boquete. They must be counting every place that advertises a spare room and every kiosk selling cokes and chips to get 52 restaurants.”

prima panama blog 2010/03

Sam goes on to discuss how well his condo hotel has sold out and that he is building another; this as all other projects languish. With all credit due to Sam as the spark plug that started the migration of English speakers to Boquete, I think both he and La Prensa are wrong.

Sam misses a major point, not all new immigrants here buy nice new houses. Many people I know live in older Panamanian houses, many of which have been renovated. These people fall below Sam’s radar they might not have the money that makes them visible to Sam or other developers, or they might not want to invest in an expensive house here. There are also man people who rent here, rent new houses, old houses, rooms etc.

It many also be true that most new subdivisions are dead in the water now. There are multiple reasons for that. Many people are building their own homes outside of subdivisions to be part of the community and not have developer imposed rules restricting their lifestyles.

Of late I have been a bit of a social butterfly, flitting from party to party, to plays, to local events in different venues. After almost four years living here I rarely know more than 20% of the people at any event. I admit some people are tourists, some might be from other Panama communities, but the message is if there were only 1000 new immigrants here I should eventually get to meet most of them, it has not happened yet, not even close.

Still, if you are not here I think you should not move here. Visit, be a tourist, leave some money behind and go home. Boquete is not a good place to retire, listen to Bob a frequent negative commenter on this blog. If more people move here and build more houses, develop more subdivisions and change more of the culture, the very reason that I came here will disappear. I prefer you stay where you are and forget about Boquete. I love the vista, love the people, love the culture and slowly I am even finding food I enjoy. Remember this is not Kansas and if you need corn fed middle American culture, Kansas is the place to be.

Weather Report

Intelligent people visit Panama during the winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Being an exception, I have for two sequential years, done the opposite. Yesterday I left the Grand Canyon behind and drove into the frigid Navaho Nation.NorthernArizona0004.jpg

I left six inches of fresh snow at the Grand Canyon. My first stop was the Cameron Trading Post on US 89. It is now more a large tourist store with a live weaver working, than a trading post.NorthernArizona00051.jpg
I remarked the tragedy that the indigenous in Panama lack some of the great artisans of the Navaho people. I was saddened to see the made in China tag on many items in Cameron.

Then on to Tuba City, a place I worked once years ago. I passed up the McDonalds for a lunch of mutton stew and Navaho fry bread, the memory was better than the reality. I decided to continue the drive into the frozen desolation of the Hopi Reservation. It has been years since my last visit and I wanted to see if the life of the Hopi had changed. Everything was closed, the poverty obvious and although there were signs up not to take photos I took one of this dwelling.NorthernArizona0008.jpg

Americans do not need to wander far to find poverty and people in need of assistance.

My journey for the day ended in Flagstaff Arizona. One major goal of this trip was to visit my daughter. After replenishing her supplies at Sam’s Club, we had dinner in a typical University brewery and hamburger joint. The company was far more important and far better than the food.

Today I woke to this sight out the motel window. I remember one more reason people choose to move south to Panama when they can.
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As I sit here trapped until the snow stops, the roads are plowed and I can clean off the car, I pledge again. Next year Panama for the winter, I must be at least as smart as the average snowbird.

When I moved to Panama one of the reasons was the weather, in my case the heat and drying of Tucson. I moved to Boquete Panama to rehydrate and cool off. After this I can see why people move to Panama for the warmth of the beaches. Compared to this scene from a modern Norman Rockwell painting Boquete is tropical.

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