Dec 30, 2010

Panama's Prices----"Things Ain't Like They Used to Be"

I first visited Panama in 2006, but have been coming & going as a part-time resident since January 2007.   Most recently, in anticipation of a long-sought visit from one of my sisters, I've started exploring tourism services again. What a shock!  The cost of hotel rooms and transportation services has skyrocketed in this short time.   The world is focusing on Panama---to it's detriment, in my humble opinion.  

I've written elsewhere about destruction of the landscape and flora in Boquete, and how highway expansion in the area is destroying the very reason for creating a better road into town.  Panama's beaches are getting overpopulated and pricey as well.  Panama City is already ahead of everything else.  It's sad but inevitable, I guess.  Just a few examples:  

One of my Panamanian friends spent six months researching new apartments in Panama City,  and finally settled on an 800 sq foot, 1-bedroom space on the 7th floor of one of the new high rises centrally located.  She feels she got a good deal, and works in the industry so she should know.   She paid 180K for the construction and received the unit with stark white, flat-painted walls, a thin-partitioned, provisional front door,  closet-sized bath, no kitchen appliances, no air conditioning, no hot water, no fans or light fixtures, no washer/ dryer or laundry sink.   All these items are extra and the responsibility of the homeowner post-purchase.  My friend has been busy for the past few months shopping and arranging to have them installed.  Other additions she's made include crown molding, a custom, burglar-proof front door and security gate, decent paint in all the rooms,  construction of closets, and installation of vertical blinds and window treatments.  Once completed, she  will be able to address furnishings and design.  Another 15K, minimally, has already been spent since receipt of the keys.  But the unit is far from ready for occupancy still.

In 2006,  I stayed in a very nice 4-star hotel near the Panama Canal with balcony views of the ocean  & canal, for $ 89. a night.  Today that same accommodation is $ 158 a night and I couldn't be guaranteed the room I reserved will have the canal/ocean view.  It all depends on availability at the time of arrival.  Eight months ago,  a clean, secure, decent economy hotel room in the city center with hot water and air conditioning cost me $ 55 a night at the height of carnival season.  That same room is now $ 85.50 for the end of the tourist season. 

In 2008, a partial-transit Panama Canal tour cost under $ 80 per person. Today that same tour costs $ 115 per person.   Prices for food and other requisite items for day to day living have also increased exponentially in comparison to  wages, and Panamanian's  as well as ex-pats  are feeling the pinch.  

Conceivably,  the costs I'm citing will still seem reasonable to most Europeans and North Americans.  But it bears noting that what seems reasonable at this time is unlikely to remain reasonable much longer.  Panama is no longer the bargain it once was.   And the tranquil beauty & laid back lifestyle previously attractive to so many foreigners,  likewise is being eradicated  in the interest of progress.

Is it time to head for other shores....?

North Point's iBand - Feliz Navidad

Dec 25, 2010

Christmas in Costa Rica

Since I'm away from home and family this Christmas, and my 90-day tourist visa is about to expire again,  I decided to take advantage of the paid holiday on 12/24/10 and head back to Costa Rica.   Arrived in Golfito around 2 pm and spent a few hours getting settled in and wandering around town looking at the lights and Christmas scenes.   They were few and far between, unlike the situation in Boquete.  These days the park in Boquete is ablaze with lights, a huge Christmas tree, and decorations on the adjacent municipal building    Here, there are a few houses that are lit up, but otherwise it's business as usual.  I went to both supermarkets in Golfito, and had one tough time finding bottles of champagne to purchase.  

Why was I looking so ardently for bottles of champagne?  Because I'd been invited to a potluck brunch for Christmas Day.  And since I hadn't the ingredients nor the inclination to cook anything, I agreed to bring some drinks.   Hands down the preferred beverage was mimosas.  After getting the manager's assistance at the chinese supermarket, we managed to locate only two bottles.  They were of Concha y Toro, a Spanish champagne, that would have been 300% cheaper in Panama.  Luckily orange juice was plentiful.  

The brunch was a lot of fun, although I forgot to take my camera.   It was held on a fishing dock, overlooking a huge catamaran and a few other sailing vessels tied to adjoining piers. Attendees were a mixture of expat locals and cruisers that happened to be in town at this time.    A Canadian couple,  a few southern Californians--(Santa Barbara), an Australian woman, an Irish lady, more Canadians, a couple from Kansas, one New Yorker, and me as the northern California representative.   It was unfortunate that I didn't take my camera. The scene was so unique.  In place of Christmas wreaths, mistletoe and holly, we had a gorgeous centerpiece of tropical flora---orange heliconia and red ginger flowers, palm fronds, banana leaves, and branches from an unnamed green and yellow speckled bush outside.  The tiki totems all donned Santa hats. Multicolored rope lights blinked cheerfully as we listened to traditional and Hawaiian Christmas CDs. It was a beautiful, sunny, warm day.  The tide was low, which I learned after commenting  about several potted  plants perched atop 20 foot cement pile-ons.  I was told they get watered and tended when they are at waist level.  The mood was mellow, the company pleasant, and the food a cultural mix. I had the most delicious hearts of palm I've ever tasted.  Having only sampled the canned product, eating a fresh version  from the farm of one of the gringos was a true treat.  Fresh palm heart has a crisp, velvety texture and is nothing liked the canned version.  We also had tamales, grilled ham w/pineapple salsa, sushi,  traditional  potato salad,  multiple veggie dishes & cheese casserole.  And banana bread, and homemade cinnamon rolls, and tropical fruit salad, and muffins.   In addition to the Spanish-champagne mimosas, there was California wine and Old Milwaukee beer.  Not your customary Christmas fare, I admit.  But much better suited to the heat of the tropics.

The Reason for the Season

And last but not least, just found this video on my son's Facebook page and thought it worth sharing. Hope it works...

Back to Blogging--maybe

It's been awhile since I've  posted.  That's because the last one I did, about two weeks ago, was accidentally deleted when I tried to cut and paste something.  I'd spent over an hour writing about the recent floods near Panama City that caused closure of the Panama Canal for the first time in over 20 years. I included photos obtained from local internet sources, and it was a great, informative post.  Apparently the canal has only been closed three times in it's entire history.   But for some crazy reason, (it's happened to me twice now)  I've written long posts, attempted to correct a typo, and accidentally deleted everything.  Even though there's an auto save that kicks in every so many minutes, I was unable to recover the writing I had done.  Go figure.  Even tried pulling up cache history, but no luck.  I was so discouraged...  Don't know why the auto save didn't work.  Figure I will try again, but if the problem continues I may have to find somewhere else to create a blog.

Dec 4, 2010

This is a Day the Lord Hath Made

Stepped outside my front gate to behold one of the brightest rainbows I've ever witnessed. The photo above doesn't do it justice, but was all my camera could do...

And it ended just on the other side of my back yard!

Dec 3, 2010

Car Trouble in the Middle of Nowhere, Panama-style

I had hoped for the best regarding my first long trip with my new twenty-year-old Japanese jeep.   And actually, things did go pretty well.  On the way back though, about an hour outside of Santiago, in the mountainous foothills, the car  broke down.   Unfortunately, I was too distressed to snap photos of where I was stranded, but suffice it to say it was isolated, hot, and full of vegetation.  (I'd managed to use the car's momentum when the engine cut out to get off the highway...).  I waited about 15 minutes, trying to figure out where I was located so I'd be able to tell someone how to find me. --- It all happened so suddenly I hadn't paid attention to where I was at the time.  A peasant happened by on foot and when I asked her to tell me where we were, she looked at me incredulously, then patiently explained we were in Panama.  I thanked her and asked for more specific information, at which point she told me there was a police station down the road about 2 kms.   
I tried to start the engine again, and it fired right up!  So, I headed back onto the highway hoping to make it to the police station.    The car would go a few blocks or so, then lurch and die, then start back up again, go a few more blocks and repeat the process.  I made it to the police station like that.  When I got there,  two very nice police officers looked under the hood,  checked the radiator,  and started the engine. Everything worked beautifully. But I knew better.  I wanted to see a mechanic.  There was ONE mechanic in the small pueblo where I ended up, but he was gone for the weekend.
I remembered my insurance agent told me my auto policy had emergency roadside service, so I called her to double check.  I hadn't been given any number to call when I picked up the policy.  The woman was a saint!  She arranged everything, and while I waited at the police station a tow truck was sent out from Santiago to pick up me and the vehicle and take us back to the city.  It took about three hours, and the shop where we went was closed already, but the mechanic was called in and subsequently fixed the problem .   Repairs cost $ 12. to clean a gas filter in the back of the vehicle near the gas tank.   The tow was free, and I didn't even have to sign for it. 
It was dark by then, though, and being a rather unadventurous soul, I decided to stay the night in Santiago.  Spent the night at the one main hotel in the area and then headed out at 6 am the next day.  As I drove past the police station that morning, the same officer was on duty and he waved as I went by.  

We'd spent a rather enjoyable pair of hours the previous day sharing jelly beans, watching soap operas, and chatting in a small, thatched-roof lean-to where I snapped the above photos. To the very right, about mid-way up in the first one, you can make him out taking down the flag at days end.  He was a sweet, mature 26 year-old with a 7 year-old daughter.  He said he became an emancipated minor at age 16
I arrived back in Boquete around 11 am, to learn there was a major parade happening in town.  November 28th is Panama's Independence Day (one of them, at least) and schools and organizations from all over the country go to Boquete for the parade and celebration.  Unfortunately, I was too tired to go to the parade, and from photos I've seen since, I really missed a great opportunity. 

Thanksgiving in Panama

Two weeks ago, I finally found an inexpensive used car to buy .  After getting it insured and having a mechanic give it the once over, I drove my "new" 1991 Suzuki Vitara to visit a friend six hours away in San Carlos. Hadn't planned to observe Thanksgiving, being it's a US holiday.   But as luck would have it, I got invited by this wonderful group of Panamanians to have Thanksgiving dinner in Panama City's Punta Pacifica area.

We enjoyed a non-traditional turkey dinner prepared by one of the guests, a professional chef.  The bird was seasoned with rosemary and rum, and the most succulent I've ever tasted.  I was the oldest in the group, but felt right at home with these hospitable, warm and funny friends---whose other vocations  include small business entrepreneur, relocation expert, architect, engineer, television announcer, realtor, corporate officer and project manager.  The attractive lady in the photo immediately above is from France and speaks four languages---French, English, Spanish and Portuguese. The get-together was also a send off for her, as she was returning to France in a week. The cookies being held up were gifts from the lady in red in the photo below, who has a successful sole proprietorship in Panama City called Stylish Cookies.   She does gift baskets and edible logo items for corporate clients.

Next to her is my good friend, Diane, who spends her time between Panama City and managing sales for a new resort under development in the Coronado area.

For entertainment we sang karaoke in Spanish and English.   Things got a little rowdy sometimes....

It was a lot of fun, and plans for next year include a wedding in France.  The lady in the black tee-shirt dress is engaged to a French pastry chef and will be married in Dijon.