Thursday, February 13, 2014

I've moved my blog to my web page.

All of my old blog entries have been copied to the blog page on my personal website,  Xulonn.

New posts/entries will be added there. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Long overdue update - I'm still loving Boquete

Just thought I'd do an overview post today to bring things up to date - after neglecting this blog for three months.  Those three months have been a low-key, relaxing period of settling in, enjoying my new home, getting to know my neighbors, and planning the next steps in my transition to expat life in Panama. 

Finances have been tight, but I've managed to reach several goals on my path to a new life in Panama.  I now have my temporary "Pensionado"resident visa card and a multi-entry visa stamped in my passport.  I hope to be able to convert that temporary card into a permanent one by next March.  Once you have a Pensionado card, you're no longer supposed to drive with a foreign driver's license, so I went through the process of getting a Panama Driver's License in Panama City.  I documented my experience to help other expatriates in their efforts to also get a driver's license here.  It's a bit more of a hassle than the (actually, rather good) experiences I've had dealing with the California DMV, and I'll post my document at the bottom of this blog entry just in case anyone's interested.

 I also just had dental implant surgery to replace a missing molar.  (The crown will be mounted on the implant in 4-5 months - after the actual implant has healed in place.)  The dentist in David is incredibly talented - one of the best I've ever had.  The total cost of the implant will be about $1,600 - compared to $5,000 in California.

 I now have enough personal belongings here to feel at home, including a great little digital stereo system with all of my 360 classical, jazz, folk, international and classic rock CD's ripped to MP3 format and stored on a media player with a high-capacity hard disk.  I also listen to internet radio a lot.  It's kind of weird to be able to listen to my old favorite local radio stations from the Bay Area here in Panama. 

I'll be heading back to Northern California next week to visit family and friends - and especially my grandchildren - over the Thanksgiving holidays.  Now that a full FBI background check with Apostille notarization is required for the Panama permanent residency card, I will get my fingerprints taken and the application submitted to the FBI.while I'm in California  

I still have a few things to do to get back into my passion - woodturning.  I plan to sell some more of my tools and wood while I'm in Sonoma County, including my old "mini" wood lath.  I will buy a new one will be better for my needs, and have it shipped to Panama.  I will also retrieve from storage some wood lathe accessories that I need to start turning here in Boquete, and bring them back with me in my suitcases. 

Although I live in a cool and pleasant highlands (4,500' elevation) area with a number of beautiful back roads and footpaths, I haven't walked and hiked as much as I said I wanted to, but I'm slowly getting into the groove again.  When I return, I am planning to push myself back into walking and hiking, and taking an occasional drive to experience and photograph more of the beauty "different" aspects of Panama to post pictures of and blog about. 

Enough for now - here's the procedure for getting a Panama Driver's License:

Obtaining a Panama Driver's License:
Tourists visiting Panama may drive with a valid driver’s license from their home country for a period of 90 days, after which they must do a leave the country and come back in, at the least a "border hop" into Costa Rica and back.  Panama residents - including those who obtain a Pensionado visa - must get a Panamanian driver’s license, because residents cannot drive with a foreign license like a tourist.  Of course, the Panama license eliminates the border exit/entry requirement.
·         Make an appointment online (appointment s are mandatory) with the U.S. Embassy.  Bring your valid driver’s license to the American Citizen Services (ACS) section and request an affidavit.  A standard form is available at the ACS Unit.  The fee for this notarial service is $50.
·         Take your valid U.S. license and notarized documents to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for certification.  The MFA is located at: Plaza Sun Tower on Avenida Ricardo J. Alfaro (Tumba Muerto) by the National Bank of Panama.  Telephone number:  511-4045 or 511-4046.
·         Obtain proof of your blood type, if your driver’s license does not include that information.  You must visit a lab certified by ATTT .
·         Bring your residency documents, passport, valid license, notarized documents and proof of blood type to a SERTRACEN service center (which I call the Panama DMV).
Note:  People age 70 and above must also obtain a certificate of good physical and mental health, and also, I was told, an EKG (which, it turns out, was not asked for by the Panama DMV when I went through their process).  I went to Chiriqui Hospital on a Friday afternoon the week before my trip to Panama City on a Tuesday to go through the process of getting my Panama driver's license.    
EKG:  I went to the emergency room, where the EKG's are done, and told them I needed one for my Panama Driver's license.  It was completed within 1/2 hour in spite of the crowd in the E.R.  There was a 24 hour wait to pick up the report after the cardiologist had read the EKG and completed a cursory report, so I had to go back to David the next day to pick it up.  Total cost:  $19.97
Certificate of Good Physical and Mental Health:  After the EKG was done, and a struggle with asking for help in English, I walked to the office of a geriatric physician down the hall (I forget his name).  With my usual chatty demeanor, I struggled to communicate with the young woman in the reception area for the office of the geriatric doctor and a couple of internists.   She called an interpreter on the phone for assistance, and I spoke to another woman who talked to me in absolutely perfect English with no accent.  I then gave her my new temporary Pensionado carnet and my passport, and she went into the doctor's office.  15 minutes and $40  later I had my letter/certificate.  I assume that the doctor know that I had gotten a physical health certificate for my Pensionado card, and probably asked the receptionist/admin whether I seemed to be alert and not exhibiting signs of mental problems or dementia - and I obviously passed the test!
Going to Panama City and getting the license:
  • Midnight express bus - big and comfortable - from David to Allbrook Terminal (6 hours, $12 jubilado fare)
  • 7:15 - Meet driver/facilitator/translator (Sergio Gonzales) at Allbrook bus terminal.  Sergio would accompany me everywhere to facilitate/translate for all the steps of the process - except at the U.S. Embassy Consular Affairs office.  (His fee is currently !$10 per hour - well worth it!)
  • 8:15  - Arrive at big U.S. Embassy compound, Sergio parks outside and I do the long walk up the gentle hill to the department of Consular Affairs where I get my U.S. (California) driver's license notarized for $50 at the American Citizen's Affairs window.
  • 10:00 - Arrive at the Panama Ministry of Foreign Affairs office for U.S. drivers license certification - $40
  • Go downstairs to bank, go to the head of line as a Jubilado, buy stamps for $4 and take them back upstairs.  Then go do something for three hours while I waited for this to be completed.
  • Sergio drives me to the Allbrook Medical Laboratory for a quick "finger-stick" blood test to determine blood type.  Regular price is $15, I got the jubilado  price of  $5.95. 
  • Then Sergio takes me on a tour up to Ancon Hill which offers a magnificent view of the Panama Canal and the city, and displays his excellent knowledge of Panama and it's history. 
  • Then it was to Manolo's Restaurante at the Allbrook Mall for an excellent lunch - my treat for Sergio for his excellent services.   I received a 25% jubilado discount on my meal!
  • 1:15 - Back at the Panama Ministry of Foreign Affairs notary office to pick up completed certification papers. 
  • 1:45 - Arrive at the Panama "DMV" where I filled out the application, had my picture taken, and took the vision color vision and hearing tests.  In spite of a "moderate" red-green color vision defect, I was able (barely) to pick out the red amber and green spots.  They did not ask for my EKG, and a sign on the wall said the medical/mental health certificate had to be done by a geriatrics doctor OR internal medicine doctor. 
  • Go to the head of line as a Jubilado at the cashier's payment window. (The young Panamanian man at the head of the line smiled and waved me forward when the window became available.) 
  • 3:00 - After about a 20 minute wait, I was handed my new Panama driver's license.
Note:  Since I have a temporary Pensionado card, my new license will expire when that card does, so I will have to go back to the David DMV to get a new one when I get my "permanent" Pensionado card.  I understand that this is a relatively simple process.  
Summary/Impressions of the process:  My total time from pickup at Allbrook Bus Terminal until I had my Panama Driver's license in hand was eight hours!!  Total time from was 25 hours round trip.  (Please note that I went to Panama City for this process on a Tuesday - and for unknown reasons, lines were short moved fairly quickly, and the waiting rooms were not jammed.  Luck?  Serendipity?  God favors me?  I don't know, but I was thankful.  Careful planning and listening to the advice of others here at boquete.ning paid off.
 The most unpleasant part was the minimal sleep on the six-hour midnight bus ride from David to Panama City, and the seven and one-half hour bus ride back from PC to David, but I would do it that way again if I had to repeat the process.  Fortunately, I met another expat who was sitting across the aisle from me on the bus ride back, and her family gave me a ride back to Boquete at 11p.m.  Thanks Leslie!!


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Another quick update before a very busy week.

This is another "personal" post about settling into my new home, which has been the primary focus of my life since coming back to settle in for life as an expatriate here in Boquete, Panama.  Next week, I hope to blog about another aspect of the community that may be of more general interest.

Tomorrow, I will meet a friend from southern California whom I met via our community forum,  She's a chocolate maker who starts with cacao beans from Costa Rica and makes incredible fine chocolates.  She will be here for a week to check out the area, and see if it would be possible to open a chocolate shop here.  I have offered to help her explore and get to know the area a bit better, since her only previous visit was a three day visit earlier this year.  And believe me, I am not the only expat in the Boquete area who would love to see a maker of fine chocolates set up shop here!

On Tuesday, I will to drive the 25 miles to David to meet my lawyer, who will take me to the immigration office to apply for my Pensionado permanent resident visa, get a temporary resident card and a multi entry visa to use until the permanent one comes through.  Then things should settle down a bit and allow me to blog, e-mail friends, and create and post some post slideshow videos with music on my new, but still empty channel on YouTube, "PanamaParadise"

I've settled into my new home - a 1200 sq. ft., 2-bedroom casa that is one of three identical units on a property known as the Zen Garden at 4,500" elevation above Boquete between the village and Volcan Baru. It's further from the village of Boquete than I wanted to be - about 8km (5 miles), but it is so perfect for me that I couldn't pass it up.  The neighbors in the other two units are great folks and already friends, which really makes it feel like I'm living in a mini-village.

The house looks great in my pictures, but it's not a "high-end" home, and a little rough around the edges, which is part of the reason I can afford to rent it.  However, the design of the house and the beautiful landscaping are far nicer than I ever expected to be able afford.  Maintenance is a constant issue here in the tropical highlands, and the property manager repaired yet another roof leak last week, and there is some peeling paint and plaster inside and out that we will deal with during the dry season.  And the yellowish-beige, tan and brown color scheme is really bland and dreary.  One of the reasons I got this place is because tenants here have to vacate the house and relocate some personal items for two weeks every year in February when the owners from the U.S.  make their annual visit to Boquete.  As I have done all my adult life, I will work with the property manager and the owners to improve the house and make it even nicer for myself now, and the owners in the future.

Don't think that I am disappointed - I'm just doing a little nitpicking.  This is a home that to me is fantastic.  The layout of the casa is ideal for my lifestyle, and the weather is just perfect for my tastes.  Cool, long sleeve weather in the early mornings and evenings and in the 70's during the day.  Right now, at 3pm on an unusually cool overcast and windy day, it's 68°F outside and 72°F inside.  Time to put on a long-sleeve shirt!  People who prefer warm weather don't like the cool climate up here at 4,500" elevation.  I love it! 

There are birds everywhere around this casa.  There are almost always at least two or three hummingbirds feeding at the many flowering bushes around the property.  I see ground-feeding seed eaters a few feet away outside my dining area window as I type this, hopping around picking the seeds out of the little cherry-like berries the drop from the tree right outside the front door.  I awake to magnificent views and the incredible complex songs of some little, rather plain bird that I have not yet identified.  Little birds hop up on the windowsill two feet from where I sit at the dining table working on my laptop.  Other birds hop across the little patio or sit on the railing frequently, and birds fly through under the patio roof while I'm sitting at the patio table where I eat many meals and enjoy the view and sounds of nature.  I expect to get around to photographing and identifying some of the birds later, but my less than perfect color vision makes it difficult to see the subtle color differences that are used to tell them apart. 

 So long for now from Paradise, and I hope to blog more in a week.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

I'm back in Panama...

This post may be a bit too personal and mundane for many people, but it is primarily intended for friends and relatives.  I will compose another entry on Boquete and life here for a broader audience next week after I get settled into my new rental casa.  It's at 4,500 ft. elevation in the neighborhood known as Volcancito Arriba, but still in the "district" of Boquete.  The setting is absolutely beautiful.  It reminds me of the image of a tropical paradise I had as a teenager growing up in Chicago in the 1950's based on movies and television!

To recap, I moved out of my apartment in Sebastopol, California at the end of January after selling many of my larger possessions (furniture and stationary woodshop tools) and moved in with friends for a few weeks.  I traveled to Boquete for a four-month exploratory trip that spanned the end of the dry season and into the rainy season.  On June 20, I returned to Sebastopol in Northern California for five weeks to prepare for a "permanent" move to Panama to live there as an expatriate.

The trip back to Panama was a bit different this time.  I purchased a one-way ticket for a July 20 American Airlines red-eye flight to Miami, then a morning flight to Panama City where I arrived at noon on Saturday.  After clearing immigration and customs, I used private transport company (Jose Saenz of to take my big 50 and 70 pound suitcases to a courier company, who transported them both to Boquete for $12!!  Jose then took me and my carry-on luggage to the huge Allbrook Bus Terminal, where I bought a $15 ticket for the big air-conditioned bus and the seven-hour ride to the bus terminal in David, the capital of Chiriqui Province and the second largest city in  Panama.  Boquete driver Daniel Higgins picked me up in David and drove me about 20 miles directly to my studio apartment in Alto Boquete where I arrived at 11pm Saturday evening.  It was a long trip with only fitful sleep on the airplanes, in the Miami terminal and on the bus, but after a good night's sleep in a familiar bed, I felt great and fully charged to continue the transition on Sunday morning.

For those considering a similar move, or curious about how I ended a decades-old lifestyle in the U.S., here's what I accomplished during my month back in the states:
  • Visited family/grand-kids & friends.
  • Sold more "stuff" that I had stored with friends and family, including: 
    • Woodworking power tools  
    • Stereo gear  
    • Bicycle  
    • LCD TV  
    • Dell laptop - an older, big, heavy laptop that I replaced with a newer Toshiba Satellite with a big 640Gb hard disk, BluRay video player, and HDMI video output for use with a flat-screen LCD TV that I plan to buy in Panama.
    • 1987 Volvo wagon - went to the California clunker/polluter buyback program.
  • Bought 8 classic Hawaiian shirts on eBay and a pair of off-white khakis for that tropical look!!  (Plus new shoes and jeans)
  • Moved my stash of tropical hardwoods from a friend's shop/studio (pic below - thank you, Michael Cullen!) to a 5" x 5" commercial storage locker.   I will ship the wood and my remaining tools to Panama after I get my Pensionado permanent resident visa later this year.

  • Assembled a really good stereo system that would take up less than half of the space in my big suitcase.  It is truly an amazing system - low-energy consumption and far better sounding than I expected.  (I have been into audio since high school.)  For those who are interested, the components are:
    • Synology 1-terabyte NAS (Network Attached Storage) and media server - essentially a hard drive in a "smart" box for storing music and videos with the media server software and internet download capabilities built in.)  
    • Logitech Squeezebox Touch (streaming digital audio media player and internet radio)  
    • Teac Reference Ice-Power digital amplifier plus DAC (Digital to Analog Converter)  
    • A pair of demo Paradigm "Atom" bookshelf size monitors, which are relatively inexpensive, and have been highly rated by the audiophile press for years.
  • Sold some music CD's to get the number down to 360, then removed the remaining CD's and paper "covers" from their jewel cases and stored them in three "Slappa" brand hard-body CD  cases.  (I was able to recycle the jewel cases via a surplus electronics store.)   
  • Ripped the 360 CD's to MP3 format and stored them on the Synology NAS drive. 
All that remains of my possessions in California besides the wood and tools in the storage locker are some books, a few warmer clothes for visiting Northern California in the colder seasons, and some miscellaneous items that take up about 2 - 3 feet of closet space in a family member's home.   Everything but the warmer clothes will be shipped duty-free to Panama after I get my Pensionado Visa.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Boquete Restaurants


Note:  When I mention prices, think in terms of American dollars.  Panama's currency is tied to the U.S. dollar, meaning that Americans don't have to convert currency and prices here.  Panama mints its own coins, and a one "Balboa" coin is worth exactly one dollar.  Lesser values Panamanian coins are equal to half-dollars, quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies.  Paper money here is U.S. dollars only.  Panamanian coins are not accepted in the U.S.
I occasionally get lazy and eat at fasts-food restaurants in the U.S., but I definitely prefer real, fresh deli food, a proper restaurant, or home-cooked meals. There was a Subway franchise sandwich shop right next door to my former residence, an apartment complex in Sebastopol, Sonoma County, California where I lived for seven years before moving to Panama.  I bought a Subway sandwich occasionally, found them to be reasonably healthy, if not particularly tasty - and the price was reasonable for an American eatery.
When I researched expat living in Boquete, I noticed pictures on the internet of a Subway sandwich shop in the newer commercial and business plaza “Los Establos,” at the entrance to downtown Boquete.  When I arrived here in late February, I discovered that the Subway franchise, the only international fast food chain restaurant in town, had not survived.  With many middle-class retirees in the large expat community, and lots of middle class tourists plus crowds of young international budget-minded travelers and hikers, I was a bit surprised to learn that a Subway franchise could not survive here.  However, drive 25 miles south down the mountain to the hot and humid sea-level provincial capital of David, the second biggest city in Panama, and you will see many of the common American fast food outlets, and even a Price Smart store, which is part of a San Diego-based chain..

Like many expats here, I much prefer the tiny Panamanian restaurants for breakfast and lunch. They are literally all over tha place – in town and in the countryside near the many small villages in the region.  For about $2.50, one can have a simple breakfast of two eggs cooked any style, two pieces of fried bread called hojaldras (or fresh yellow corn tortillas that are made as you wait), and a cup of coffee.  A typical Panamanian lunch consisting of a couple of pieces of chicken or pork, potatoes or rice, vegetables and beans costs about $2.50.   It is fairly easy to live here on $7-10 per day for food, and even less if you prepare some of your meals from scratch with local ingredients.  You can also carpool to David and buy some of your staples in quantity at the Price Smart store in David, although much of the food there is frozen or processed.

Boquete and it's surrounding communities are home to many expat-owned restaurants that cater to tourists and fellow expats, as well as to middle-class Panamanians, but prices are usually 3-4 times higher than the humble local restaurants.  I typically eat one breakfast and one dinner per week at the local expat-owned restaurants where the food ranges from good to excellent.  I've learned to spend my money at these places only when the owner is present, because food preparation and service can sometimes drop to unacceptable levels in the owner’s absence.   I've met many fellow expats by uttering a friendly "hello" and sometimes sharing a table with strangers at Boquete restaurants.

Locally grown fresh produce - fruit and vegetables - is available in many places here in Chiriqui Province, which is the last province in Panama before you cross into Costa Rica, which lies to the northwest of Boquete.  Chirirqui Province is the largest farming region in Panama, and is sometimes referred to as the breadbasket of Central America.  There are small and large farms from sea level up to the rugged hillsides at 7,000 feet around the agricultural town of Cerro Punta, a spectacularly beautiful region of mountains, valleys.  Fruits and vegetables are sold for very low prices at numerous roadside stands throughout Chiriqui.  Boquete has a dark and dingy multi-vendor produce market downtown right across the street from the Romero supermarket, and there are several individual produce stores in the downtown area.  I’ve seen big, beautiful, ripe locally-grown pineapples sell for as low as 35 cents each, but that was on sale at Romero's.  A typical purchase for me is a big pineapple and 3-4 bananas for $1.25 at a roadside produce stand.

One last item regarding food and drink in Chiriqui Province is coffee.  It's impossible to be unaware of coffee here in Boquete – there are cafe fincas (coffee farms) all over the place, from tiny to huge, and a fair number of tasting rooms/cafes.  Only the high-quality aribica beans are grown here, and not the mega-farm, cheaper, high caffeine "robusta" variety that is frequently used by the mass-market instant coffee producers.  My limited experience is that local Panamanian coffees range from ordinary to excellent, and although the price of premium roasted beans is about the same as in the U.S., it is one of the real pleasures of living here.  One could say that my move to an expat community was a move from wine country to coffee country.

Here are some pictures of local restaurants and produce shops with short comments.  This is not intended to be a series of restaurant reviews, but simply photos of places where I like to eat. 

Jardines de Boquete.  I walked five blocks into town to to have my first breakfast with a friend I met on the boquete.ning expat in Boquete.  Jardines is a traditional small local Panamanian restaurant. 
I'm currently living five miles south of Boquete, and frequent this little nearby restaurant that is next to the Curvas Bonita gym and Ivan's Super Centro market in Alto Boquete. It's another good little Panamanian restaurant for breakfast of lunch.

Inside the El Alto.  There are five tables inside and two smaller ones outside.
Central Park Cafe is a traditional Panamanian restaurant located next to the park in the center of the downtown district, with the local craftspeople and artisans displaying their wares at the end of the street to the left.

A closer view of Central Park Cafe's outdoor seating area.  A community gathering place and great people-watching place.  I sometimes go here for mid-morning cup of coffee.

Punta de Encuentro (point of contact), also known as Olga's is one of my favorite restaurants in Boquete.  Although Olga is a Panamanian, her place is more "upscale" and attractive than the typical utilitarian local restaurant.  Prices are a bit higher, but with good food, nice decor and a dining area open to the garden, it is a very pleasant place to have breakfast or lunch.  Be aware, however, if you sit at the edge of the roof next to the garden, birds may fly down to your table and steal pieces of fruit from your plate if you step away to talk to folks at another table.  I've encountered mostly expats eating here when I make my weekly visit, and the place just seems conducive to meeting people and talking to strangers.  I came here twice during my first week in Boquete, sat at tables with other expats, and twice had my breakfast paid for by strangers that I had just met.   Olgas can get very busy on holidays and weekends, so I go there during the week. 

The entrance to Olgas.

Looking back at the entrance from inside the dining room.

Looking out at the garden and my favorite table - the round one.

Coffee, yogurt with fruit (sorry, I ate it before I remembered to take a picture) and waffles.  A familiar breakfast for many Americans like me.

Sugar and Spice, a bakery and restaurant two blocks south of downtown on the main highway.  Owned by Richard Meyer, it is a full-blown Euro-American style neighborhood bakery where I buy all of my bread.  Sometimes it's still warm -fresh out of the oven.  He doesn't make a San Francisco-style sourdough loaf with crispy crust, but his 9-grain and whole wheat loaves are my favorites.  Richard's French coconut pie is decadently delicious, and one of my favorite treats.

Service counter and inside seating at Sugar and Spice

Fresh breads at Sugar and Spice 

Richard and his staff at work behind the counter.  Richard always has time for a pleasant hello, but he is constantly working.

Sugar and Spice is another good place for breakfast, and his ham and cheese frittata with toast and coffee is only $4.   Salads - like the tuna salad above, are a good choice for lunch. 

Ana's Sweet is another tiny Panamanian restaurant in downtown Boquete, right behind Craig Jacob's Boquete Bistro.  I occasionally go there for lunch and instead of traditional local fare, have a hamburguesa con queso - a small cheeseburger.  Add a big blended fresh fruit drink and have an ice cream cone (my favorite is "naranjo y pina" - orange/pineapple) for dessert, and it  will cost you about $3.50.

Nelvis is another excellent local Panamanian restaurant behind the Los Establos commercial building/plaza.

The serving counter at Nelvis,   They have quite a few seats, both indoors and outside.  The menu is in both Spanish and English, a great help for new residents who are struggling to learn Spanish.

El Sabroson, an inexpensive Panamanian restaurant, is a cafeteria ith a much larger choice of entrees and sides than most of the local restaurants.  However, you will do better here if you can read food names in Spanish, or recognize the food and point to what you want.  It's big and busy, and the serving line moves quickly. 

Interior of El Sabroson.

Big Daddy's Grill, located on the main street, Via Boquete. Excellent local Chiriqui seafood.

The outdoor bar at Big Daddy's  They sy the best way to find a good place to rent is by getting to know the locals, and I met my current landlord on another day here at Big Daddy's bar.

Craig Jacob's Boquete Bistro is a new restaurant on the main drag near the center of Boquete.  Craig is an American chef who has opened two restaurants so far.  Prior to opening the Bistro, he established his reputation for good food at the Boquete Roadhouse or "Las Ruinas," an open air palm-thatch covered restaurant several miles south of town.  The food is excellent and moderately priced, and the customers are mostly expats, the customer base that Craig markets to regularly.  Craig is planning to open another restaurant this year that will specialize in seafood.  It will be at the north end on Via Boquete, the main street, and a block or so past the landmark catholic church. 

The interior of the Boquete Bistro is very nicely done with lots of beautiful wood.  There are inside and outside balconies for seating in addition to the main floor pictured above.

I hope to take pictures of the rugged and beautiful farming region on the other side of Volcan Baru soon and post a blog on that subject.  The pictures below and many more will be uploaded and available for viewing on my website, after I get my photo section up and running – a project that’s a bit behind schedule.

I hope this blog post wasn't too long, but I didn't even include all of the restaurants I've eaten here so far.  And there are many more restaurants that I haven't yet tried, from more tiny Panamanian ones to upscale restaurants like the more expensive eateries at the Panamonte and El Oasis Hotels, and inside the gated community of Valle Escondido.  It's not San Francisco, New York or New Orleans, but there is lots of good food, and many of choices for dining out in Boquete.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Boquete, Panama is my new home!!

Apologies to all of my friends and acquaintances for not blogging regularly as I had promised.  The Jazz Festival was wonderful, and it was fun living in town in a Panamanian residential neighborhood for my first few weeks here.  On March 15, I picked up a 1999 Mitsubishi Montero to use and take care of for the next 12-15 months.  The owner of the condo lives not too far from me in Northern California, and is renting out his Boquete condo unit until he comes down here sometime in 2013.  Cars should be drive once in a while to avoid maintenance costs after long periods of not running, so he offered it to me to use until he needs it here next year.  What a pleasant surprise that offer was – I’m still amazed at how so many things have happened to make my life change go smoothly and minimize the inconveniences. 

On March 16, I moved into a long-term rental five miles south of downtown Boquete, an area I had avoided looking at previously because I really wanted to live in the bustling, busy town itself in the valley surrounded by rugged mountains.  However the amenities of the rental made it too much to resist, and having a vehicle, especially a high MPG diesel one, made the decision an easy one.  My new home is a back-side studio in a modern three-unit building with two larger units in front that comes in on the low side of my budget.  The larger units face a deep canyon whose sides and bottom along the river are covered with thick rainforest. This is one of several neighborhoods with magnificent views over a canyon to the 11,398 foot Volcan Baru, which is the highest point in all of Panama.  The property I’m on has a paved walkway next to the canyon, a gazebo with a magnificent view, and a rock wall to keep people from falling over the cliff. 
The canyon-side amenities are shared by the three units, although the larger two units have a view to the volcano from their living rooms and front porches.  I hope to move into one of those units someday if I can ever get my finances in order and make some extra income from my artisan woodworking here in Boquete.

Did I mention that beautiful sunsets are frequent?  There will be many sunset shots on my upcoming photo gallery.

Over 900 species of birds have been sighted in the Boquete region, and many either reside in, or visit my new neighborhood.  The air is filled with unfamiliar and beautiful bird songs at dawn and dusk, adding much variety to the familiar calls of of the neighbor’s roosters. In the evening, and last night up until midnight, I can hear the occasional territorial call of the howler monkeys down in the rainforest in the canyon.  I just heard their guttural call for the first time this evening as I was typing this sentence

A neighbor here in Alto Boquete has become a very good friend.  Like me, he is a U.S. Navy vet and loves nature, animals, science and science fiction movies.  He’s a former college biology teacher and marine researcher from Florida.  I occasionally ride with him to Boquete, or 25 miles down the road down to the hot and humid sea-level provincial capital of David together.  Shopping is better at the big stores, including home improvement stores, department stores, and a Price Smart membership discount store which is like Costco.  Buying food in larger quantities at Price Smart allows me to stay within my food budget, and have a bit left to go out for an occasional special meal at one of the excellent gringo-owned restaurants in Boquete.

Boquete has a small town feel, and the people, both Panamanian and expat, are very friendly.  I already as many friends here than I had in Sebastopol. I absolutely love this place and will be applying for my permanent Panamian “Pensionado Visa” after I return to Sebastopol in June and get the necessary notarized documentation.  I hope to return again to Northern California again for Thanksgiving through Christmas, because I do miss my family and friends “back home.”  Copa Airlines, a Continental Airlines affiliate, is scheduled to start flying between Las Vegas, Nevada and David, Panama in June.  Hopefully, that will make the journey from California to Boquete more convenient.

I promise I won’t wait so long for my next blog.  The rainy season just began, and I will blog about that transition next.  I am also designing a photo gallery for my website, and hope to have that up within a week.

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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Getting ready for the Boquete Jazz and Blues Festival this weekend.

Tomorrow is the start of the four-day Boquete Jazz and Blues Festival. I bought my ticket on-line while I was still in Sebastopol, and will attend the opening event tomorrow – a New Orleans style street parade (beads and all) in Boquete with the Smoking Time Jazz Club from New Orleans from 1-3pm. Then there is a garden party at the elegant old Panamonte Hotel from 3-5pm.   If you’re curious, you can read about the festival here.  The venue for the Saturday and Sunday afternoon concerts is the Greek-style amphitheater in the upscale gated community of Valle Escondido (Hidden Valley) a few blocks from downtown Boquete.  Here's a picture from the website and a couple of shots I took at an earlier event there with a group of young women on tour who dance with hula hoops, including one performer who uses fire batons. 

Fantastic weather here in Boquete!!  T-shirt temps from early morning to evening, and then a long sleeved shirt is all that is needed.  My room ranges from 65 at night to 72 during the day.  The sun is hot, but the air is always cool, but there is shade from the clouds for a few hours every day.  There are strong gusty breezes nearly all day every day during the early part of the dry season, particularly during January, and still lasting into February.  During the dry season, there is often a light, misty rain from the clouds blowing over the mountains from the Caribbean as they evaporate on the way down to the hot lowlands. This misty rain is called the "Bajareque" (pronounced ba-ha-re-kay), and it often produces wonderful rainbows.

I walk into town 2 or 3 times a day – it takes about ten minutes.  I usually start the day with two scrambled eggs with onions and tomatoes, and a HUGE cup of coffee and a couple pieces of a local deep fried “bread” – all for $2.65!!  I’ve started buying groceries at the local supermarket (Romero Supermercado), as well as small grocery stores (mercados), and will be eating more of my meals at my studio apartment as time goes on.

The area is spectacularly beautiful, and the people, both expats and local Panamanians, are warm and friendly.  It looks like I made a good choice.  I’m staying for two weeks in a modest studio unit here at Valle Primavera, a low-key lodge / apartment complex in a residential neighborhood.  It consists one building with two sleeping rooms, and another one with three studio apartments.  The outside of the building and the pathways are not completely finished, and it has lots of character./  Nieves, the lady who owns it, is delightful.

I have viewed one casita for a longer term rental, and although it was nice, it is a few miles out of town to the south toward the provincial capital of David (great name for a town!!)I would prefer to stay in the valley near the main part of town, called Bajo Boquete.  I have a couple of people looking for other rentals for me, and hope to move into a more permanent rental situation within a couple of weeks.

I miss Sebastopol and my old friends and neighbors, but I will not be lonely here.  It's easy to make new friends in Panama, and I'm sure I will feel like this is my home very quickly, especially after I move into a longer term rental “casita.”

I’ve met several woodworkers ranging from carpenters/contractors to furniture makers and hobby woodworkers during my first week here, and already have several leads on sharing shop space.