9 Months Later

We have lived in our new apartment since January.  Medellin is so different than Boquete.  First, we live in a highrise with no yard.  The population in Medellin is about 2.5 million where in Boquete it was about 25,000.  You would think that we would never see people we know like we did in small Boquete, but we rarely go out where we don’t run into someone.  Two days ago it was friends from Boquete, N&T.

We moved here with our 3 large dogs and our 3 cats which wasn’t as horrible as it could have been.  Luis A drove us to PTY with muchas malletas, 6 animals, 6 cages, 3 humans and a bunch of nerves.  Luis is the absolute BEST!  Things that could have been a disaster, he took care of before our early morning departure.  I recommend him to anyone who is in Panama City.

While visiting in Oct-Dec 2017, we rented an AirBnB apartment.  In that time we got a lease, ordered appliances and furniture.  We wanted the apartment completely outfitted for our return with animals.  We told everyone in November and December that the delivery of orders had to be on Jan 14.  And it was!!!!  That’s another huge difference between Medellin and Panama.

Few Colombians speak English, unlike Boquete where Panamanians want to practice their English.  We finally enrolled in a real university.  After years of Spanish CDs, Habla Ya and private tutors, my placement level was A2.  That’s just above beginner.  David was A1, which IS beginner.  But we figured that if we were going to learn, we would follow their instruction.  We go to Eafit University.  They are professional, their courses are well planned, and we are learning everyday.

We are also starting classes to get our Colombian driver’s license.  Everyone, including adults with  US and Panama licenses, has to take the 38 hour course.  Then the 6 hour practical, which is driving.  Unfortunately, it runs 4-7 pm and Spanish class 9-11 am.  And the driving lessons are all in Spanish.

We don’t plan to buy a car but would like to be able to rent one occasionally so we can take the dogs out to the country.  Medellin is really, really dog friendly but pets  aren’t allowed on buses or the Metro.

Zumba here is problematic.  Beto Perez, the originator of Zumba, is from Colombia but we still have very few Zumba classes.  Instead, they have Rumba.  Rumba is  very easy to do so I don’t get a good workout.  It has no pattern and ends up being whatever random steps the instructor wants to do.  I find that we do the same thing way to much and it’s boring.  I don’t know why Rumba is so popular because it really sucks.

Because of our pet menagerie, we still need a housesitter when we leave.  One of the great things about Medellin is that everyone wants to visit.  We have had 2 different sitters and have another arranged for Christmas/New Years.  Our next sitters are 2 girls from Brazil who work online.  They are going to love Navidad in Medellin.  The city is gorgeous!

Shopping is another plus.  Clothes fit gringas and are well made.  Even Extra Large items were too small for me in Panama – and I am size 8-10 US.  Colombian women dress well.  They would never leave their house without hair done and make-up.  Men wear long pants.  Workers have various uniforms.  Everyone looks neat and I find that really nice.

A huge difference that we found is that every time someone asks us if we live here, they as “Como te  gusta Medellin?”   We tell them that we love it.  One hundred percent of the time, 100%, they are so happy we are here and welcome us.  I am embarrassed that the US doesn’t always make foreigners feel welcome.  Colombians could not be nicer to us.

We have already renewed our lease for another year with no hesitation.  Medellin is a nice place to visit but an awesome place to live.

 

The Price of Living in Boquete

Anyone would find it difficult to find a more beautiful place to live than this small town in western Panama. Fresh air, green, cool temperatures, picturesque mountains and a dormant volcano. It’s about an hour to the beach and less to ‘city’ shopping. In less than 2 hours by car, you can visit Costa Rica. A 45 minute plane ride brings you to an international airport and the rest of the world.

In the last 2 weeks, we have seen 2 different groups coming through Boquete on an organized sales tour. Their objective was to sell their victims clients land in Boquete. If we saw two groups, there were probably several more that we did not see. We were at the same restaurant as one of the tour groups so we could overhear what the participants were being told. Long story short – America is going down hill fast, everyone speaks Spanish and Boquete is a cheap place to leave it all behind. What did the tour group organizers leave out?

Boquete isn’t the cheap oasis you hear about. Housing is expensive and buying is often more costly than a similar home in my hometown of Coral Springs, Florida. People will tell you that you can buy a two bedroom house for $50,000 and you can live very well on Social Security or less. You can, if you want:
to live in a Panamanian home**
to live far from an established town

A low cost typical Panamanian** home is small, maybe 500-600 sf. No king-sized bed. No couch/love seat/TV and tables in the living room. The kitchen will be one 4 foot counter that includes a two burner stove and dorm size refrigerator. stove

You will not have hot water in your sinks or screens on your windows. You will not have cable TV and probably not internet. This will run you about $200-300 mo. If you pay less, you may get a room with a shared toilet area. If you move up to the $400 range, you may get a suicide shower for hot water but not in the sinks. suicide shower This electric attachment on your showerhead, provides immediate hot water. All of this is completely dependent on how close you are to town. More people are renting in Boquete so availability of properties and the costs are rising significantly.

Other rental units are available and can run up to the $2000+ range. For this you get a gated community and all the amenities you would expect in an exclusive area in the States. They have golf, nice restaurants, club houses and full-time gardeners.

Cars cost about the same as in the States but gas is more expensive, about $4.17 for regular. Gas prices are determined by the government and currently is $1.08 per liter. Car insurance is about half what we paid in Florida. Many people rely on the bus and taxis. Both are cheap and available unless you live on the outskirts where availability is not terrific.

Food is cheaper and you will save about 1/3 on your grocery bill. Thankfully, there are no “fast food” restaurants in town so your menu will be healthier. Eating out can be cheap or pricey depending where you go. I’ve previously written about this.

Another expense that is never talked about is entertainment. What will you do with your time? There’s an enormous selection of activities. Visitors to Boquete go rafting, zip lining, kayaking, and renting ATVs. They run about $75+ for each activity. Eighteen holes of golf run about $80 and less for the 9 hole course. There are clubs and organizations for every interest. Most are run by expats and are free to very inexpensive and they are very grateful for your volunteering hours. You must drive to David to go to the movies and, unless you are fluent in Spanish, your selections are limited to the ones that have Spanish subtitles and audio in English. It costs about $2.50 and first run movies do come through.

And then there’s health care. It is good and much cheaper than in the US BUT it is not free. If you end up in the hospital for a few days, it gets expensive. Medicare is not accepted here and prescriptions are costly. Don Ray Williams has lived in Panama for ten years and recently wrote about this topic. http://www.chiriquichatter.net/blog/2013/07/18/a-caution-before-moving-to-panama/ We are lucky to have Tricare as David is retired from the Navy. That is not the rule.

Internet and cable are dicey depending on the provider available in the area you may live. Close to town, it is good and affordable. Further up the mountains it is best to check as those services quickly become expensive and/or unreliable.

These for-profit companies are doing their clients a huge disservice. Pressure to buy after just a few days is reckless at best. But they continue to write articles and people continue to believe. There are cheaper places to live in the States where services are available and there’s no communication barrier. These companies should be promoting a change in lifestyle. That would be honest but not as profitable. Panama reminds me of growing up in S. Florida in the 1950s. Children walk in the rain and don’t rely on mom’s mini-van. Most Panamanian kids don’t have cell phones and are not attached to Gameboys or other electronics. People, including children, make eye contact, greet and speak to you.

What they should be saying: Things are slower here – tranquilo. Repairs are seldom perfect but they are “good enough”. Road hazards mean that you must pay attention and change lanes to avoid it or wait, as there won’t be a half a mile of orange warning cones and blinkers. Watch where you are walking. Learn Spanish. This isn’t the US or Canada. Don’t expect water and electricity all the time. Manana doesn’t mean tomorrow, it means ‘maybe sometime in the future’. Many people only live here a few months a year, not full time. You can no more change a culture than move a mountain with a teaspoon.

The most popular advice from people who have actually lived here is—-Rent at least 6-12 months before buying. We’ve only lived here permanently for 3 months and have already seen new ‘permanent residents’ come, find a place to live and now they have already left.

I’ve also heard more than once that “if you need a group tour to escort you to a foreign country, expatriating may not be for you.” I don’t know if that’s true but the typical expat here is an extremely well traveled. They have been to London, Paris and Rome but have also been to Turkey, China and India. They are independent and fearless travelers who love to experience different cultures. Panama is safer than most of the US, but if you act like you just fell off the turnip truck, you will be scammed. And the biggest scammer very well may be your tour director who told you that you will live like royalty on your Social Security check.

living in Panama

Blog Expat: living abroad

Do Nothing Day

Pedicure, leisurely lunch, dinner with mom, sign financial forms, clearance from our property manager to leave the condo. Not much exciting. Last night at the Jetson’s house and tomorrow the rental car gets returned, 4 50 lb bags, 2 suitcases, 2 cats and their worried parents move to the Miami International Hotel. At least we are moving southward, I guess that’s progress.

Pedicured feet picture removed on the basis of good taste.

Packed!

The condo is cleared of our stuff. We are living out of 2 suitcases. Yesterday, we were both nervous about the amount of stuff we still had and the lack of space/weight available. That’s now decided, packed and done.
Now we have nothing to do. Even the cats are packed and ready.
We are using the last of our gift cards to eat. Students have given us cards for Dunkin Donuts (used only for coffee – hate donuts), Panera, Carraba’s, Starbucks and Outback. Since the refrigerator is bare, these cards are coming in handy. We also needed to get rid of a lot of coins that the bank won’t take unrolled. So the poor Panera lady got over $10 in quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. Eighty-one cents left.
All of this focus on insignificant details means that we are done here and just waiting for our flight Wednesday morning.
Things to do tomorrow: bank to get money and make sure they allow us to use our debit card in Panama. Last year, even thought we informed them, we had to make several phone calls to Wells Fargo. We will cancel our phone service on the tarmac on Wednesday. Last load of laundry. Again, just details. We are ready to go.
Tonight we went out at a typical US restaurant – Bonefish. One thing we realized after spending last summer in Boquete – we didn’t crave any particular restaurant from Florida. I am really looking forward to healthier meals that aren’t smothered in butter in just three more nights 🙂

Bonefish

Getting closer day by day

Today marks the 22nd night spent at the Jetson’s House, our temporary housing between selling our house and boarding the flight to Panama. We are officially 1/3 the way there. We rented this place for 66 nights and have settled in. Our cats, Alexander and Henry, are also comfortable. They just have no idea what is going to happen to them in 44 more nights. Drive to Miami, spend the night, 3 hour plane ride, customs, taxi ride, spend the night, looooong car ride, arrival at their new home.
calendar_flip
Yesterday we drove north and had dinner with another couple who will be moving to Boquete in a few months. They are waiting to sell their house, which is beautiful on a huge lot. The housing market hasn’t picked up yet in central Florida but hopefully they will be packing in no time. We met them on our last visit to Boquete and they were our neighbors in the casita next door. We found they live less than 2 hours away from us. Coincidentally, she is also a teacher counting the days until the end of the school year. It’s amazing how many people are planning to move out of the US to experience different things.

Trouble @ the Jetson’s House

floodOne thing you can depend on during the spring in Florida is rain. Drizzling rain, big drop rain, blowing rain, all day rain, all types of rain. We had a very bad rain the other day that blew in every direction. I thought there was hail but it was just the size of the drops smacking against the windows so hard it sounded like ice. David and I both had places to go and left the apartment for a few hours. I returned first to see a good size puddle on the bedroom carpet. Having pets, you know what my first thought was. They’ve never done that before, and quickly I determined they did not do that now either. It was water. No water around the window or on the sill. As I was looking for the source of the leak though, I found more and more wet spots.

This is one of those times that I was very pleased that this was not my property so not my problem. One phone call to the property manager and an email to the owner and within seconds, they owned the problem.
It appears that it is actually a condo problem. It seems like the rain blew in around some place in the roof, down the wall and puddled under the padding in a fairly large area in the bedroom.
Workers are there today to clean up the mess. A huge positive about renting is that when I get home today, the problem should be solved. yippeee to renting!

Shedding My Clothing

clothes
I have too many clothes. I gave some to Goodwill when we moved from the house and even more in our garage sales, but most I put in box after box thinking that one day before our flight I will go through them. Here we are in our little apartment still looking at these boxes and wondering what I really need. For 30 years I dressed in nice clothes and heels. Those days will be over in 31 student contact days and those clothes will also be donated to Goodwill. And I still have too many clothes. So today I went shopping for more.

These are different though. This shopping was for retirement life where I never want to see another pair of heels. One of my new things is a skort. I would have preferred just a short, casual skirt, but a skort was what I got. A skirt with shorts underneath. Why? I was taught how to bend and sit without exposing my nether regions. But I will wear a skort, probably frequently, after I retire. I may even wear it to work when I get closer to leaving for good.

Anyway, I also got some very casual stuff to replace the dressy stuff I will be donating. And I still have way too many clothes to take to Panama. I have t-shirts from almost every place we have ever vacationed, dived, or climbed. I have boxes of clothes, bags of clothes, a walk in closet packed with clothes, a night stand full of clothes and a suitcase filled with clothes. Something has to give.

Today I began the task of organizing and deciding what to keep. The result: The Goodwill pile is larger by 5 t-shirts, 1 sweater and 2 blouses. Not good results since that really amounts to nothing.

The job continues….. but some other day

Alexander, the dieting cat

IMG_0063We booked our flight on American Airlines for our move to Panama on June 12. In order for our spoiled cats to ride in the cabin with us, they have to weigh 20 lbs or less including their container.
My baby, Alexander, weighed 23 lbs at one time. Last December he was down to 19.05 lbs. The additional weight of the container puts him well above the maximum set by American, so he was forced to diet. Not an easy feat for a spoiled, overweight cat.
After the first month, we took him for a weigh-in – and he lost nothing. So we bought a boa type toy to get him to exercise. He was given “weight control” food. We blended it into a smooth puree twice a day and he ate it, but he was not pleased. Especially since Henry, his young and thin brother, was still on ‘real’ food. And the diet continued.
He got weighted again last month and we saw some improvement. With the container (minus the platform that provides support for the container) he was still .4 lbs. over the magic 20. The diet continued.

This month we moved which was traumatic. You would have thought we moved them to Siberia. No eating, no drinking, no using litter boxes and then, finally, they gave up and ate, drank and pooped. We only moved 15 minutes away from the old house. But it evidently jump-started weight loss!
Today we noticed that Alexander jumped up on the bathroom vanity counter, which he has not done in – forever. He did it twice. Of course his motivation was that that’s where we feed Henry the ‘real’ food. Today we took him down for another weigh-in.
WITH the container (minus the platform that provides support for the container) he broke the 20 lbs. mark! We weighed him at PetsMart since it’s a lot closer than our vet. I hope their scale is accurate.
This is a big day for our big boy. Now we have to work on his constant meowing inside the container like he’s being tortured. Warning: don’t book the morning flight to PTY unless you have the patience to listen to 3 hours of meowing. And our move to Panama is that much closer.
35 student contact days and 56 real days until we move!

Apartment Living

David and I lived in an apartment for 1 year almost 20 years ago. It was a large apartment full of our own stuff. We spent one year in Phoenix, AZ. Although we didn’t like Arizona well enough to stay, our apartment was comfortable and had numerous amenities. Before that, I had not lived in an apartment since I was a young adult. It is very different from living in a single family home. Positives – no outside maintenance. That’s about it from my perspective. Negative is – no outside maintenance. I love working in the yard and it’s something to do besides sitting in the living room. People like the fact that there is a pool – but you share it with 25 yelling kids so I’ll take a pass on the pool.
You have neighbors on the other side of most of your walls and, in our case, below us. They are quiet but we are always aware of any noise we make, including walking hard. This is a short term rental so upgrades that should be made, have not. The original kitchen, bathtub, sinks from about 1980. We found this place on airbnb.com. There’s not much oversight on their part since this place is on the 3rd floor with no elevator. Not elderly or handicapped friendly but no notice of that on their site.
Decorations done by some past resident are still there. It makes you wonder why they thought dots were a good idea.
We also have an “inspirational saying” on the bedroom wall.
The owner is an orthodox Jew so there are lots and lots and lots and lots of Jewish symbols and items. My fav is the menorah. If it had candles we could celebrate Hanukkah every day. Where’s the noodle kugel? Where’s my 8 nights of presents?

The most unusual owner item left for all guests (to use?) is the sitz bath in the linen closet. I am allowing you to visualize the bath rather than posting a picture. Nothing of mine will ever go in that closet.

The owner advertised this place as Coral Springs Luxurious Apartment. First, it’s not in Coral Springs. Second, it is definitely NOT luxurious. But it’s home for another 57 days.
There is no outside space except the landing outside the front door in this apartment. Many residents have pets so there’s lots of people always walking their dogs. Garbage goes to a large compactor. Some people live further away from the compactor so put their garbage on the hood of their car. We saw someone who hung it from their outside mirror and then forgot to stop at the dumpster and was out on the main road with their garbage still attached to their car.

We don’t have the inclination to make friends here. Good thing since we haven’t seen anyone who seems to want to do that either.
So after 10 days of apartment living I realize that I am a single family home where I can decorate and modernize with our own stuff kind of person. Every night here is a night closer to Boquete.

Moving SUCKS

So here we are in the Jetson’s house. This is my take on this condo – In the 1970s a newly retired couple bought this little 1 bedroom condo on the golf course. They decided to hire a blind decorator who thought that orange, hot pink, purple and gold were perfect for this small room. Using the ugliest chair ever made as a focal point, valances, rugs and wall hangings were added.

Notice the purple ball WTF?


So then, when the couple was about 90, they died and their great grandson got this place. Living in New York, he cleared out their clothes( but little else), and began renting it. So far we have cleared away a box of old people stuff. Creepy. But it’s clean – just not cared for.
What do you look at first – the fan with 2 blades or the mirrored “art”? I just keep remembering that we are actually very lucky to have found this place and not an extended stay hotel.
Other than the décor, the place is OK. The cats, Alex and Henry, are far from pleased. Alex is under the bed and Henry is behind the toilet. Hopefully tomorrow will be better for them. 66 nights and counting.