4 bathrooms AND 4 toilets!

banoTwo of our bathrooms have just gotten a complete remodel. They both needed it badly and were on the chopping block before we even moved in.  When a major leak was found under the shower floor in the guest room,  the remodels moved quickly to the top of the to-do list.

Then we wished for a Home Depot or Lowes, but settled with Elmec, DoIt, Novey, Cochez and Franklin Jurado.  Definitely not the one stop shopping we once enjoyed.  If a store had what we wanted, it had to be ordered from Panama City – which must be on the moon because it took 3 weeks for each of our orders to get here.

Except for the shower floor in the hall bath, all the sinks, hardware, tile, toilets and accessories came from several intense shopping trips in David. I brought the hall bathroom shower floor from the US.

P1020223The guest bathroom was completed first since we had people staying in the guest room. It was u-g-l-y!   Once the leak under the shower was repaired, the rest of the job was pretty standard. Hot water was added to the sink. It is a small bathroom so white and grey tile makes it seem larger. Replacing the toilet and sink was super easy since we hired out everything.  Towels, rug and knickknacks = done!

The hall bath did not have hot water going to the sink either.  Typically, Panamanian houses do not have hot water at all, even in the kitchen.  Since the walls were being totally cleared, it seemed like a good time to correct that.  The tiling was finished a few weeks back. We chose to tile floor to ceiling with decorative accents.  The granite guys cut holes for the sink and faucet and then the plumbing was complete.

Installing molding and hardware was on us (by “us” I mean David).  Curtains, towels and antique Berber tent poles (a whole other story) are hanging and the hall bathroom is complete

With only a fireplace remodel and a few kitchen cabinets to go, we say that we are coming close to the end of renovations.  But, is any homeowner really ever at the end of renovations?

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What’s New @ Casa Calibri?

We have been in the house for just over two months but now it seems like it might finally be coming together.  Many of the big projects are completed.  There’s still a lot to do, but progress is everywhere.

The terrazzo bedroom is almost finished, needing only a few pieces of fuguest room finishedrniture.  We don’t have any before pictures but this is its history.  It is outside the main house and has an iron door that locks from the outside.  That’s because years ago it was a maid’s room and they would lock their help in during the night so they wouldn’t steal.  Then hot water was added to the bathroom when it was intended to be a mother-in-law’s quarters.  The mother-in-law never came so it was basically a storage room.  It took a lot of scraping off the moisture damage, applying waterproofing and painting.  New curtains, rug and bed – voila!  It’s a guest room!!

The guest bath is usable but not terribly pretty.  The hall bath isn’t much better.  Both will get gutted in January.  New sinks, toilets, hardware and tile.  It will make a world of difference.

Travel room beforeThe Travel Room is where all of our travel souvenirs go.  It houses snow globes, furniture, photos and mementos from all over the world.  The Zanzibar bed and corner unit arrived safely but need to be assembled.  But first the room had to be cleaned and painted.  travel room afterDavid had to do a lot of work to get this room together.  Besides reassembling the furniture, he made shelves, hung masks and a spear, made window treatments and hung chair rail.  We only need a bookshelf.  We are calling the room 95% finished.

The living room has been repainted since the yellow that went well with our big US furniture was not a good color choice for our size-appropriate Panamanian furniture.  The new, 10″ deep, black granite sink is installed!  The moldy mess that served as a kitchen sink is gone.  We have glass block in the bathroom that only needs granite facing.  The gardener is getting the lawn and flower beds under control.  We hired a backhoe to level the back lot.  In January we will need to get 30 mts. of fill (whatever 30 mts might be) and Gabriel, the backhoe driver, will come back and make it ready for our hen house and chickens.

The office is still a hot mess and the terrazzo bar still needs a cabinet for the sink and ice maker.  The laundry room needs some organization, the greenhouse could use some work and landscaping is just beginning.

And finally, Casa Colibri has hummingbirds.  Lots of hummingbirds.  (Colibri means Hummingbird)  I have several feeders around the property.  They fly in the terrazzo and even the deposito.

Life has been extremely busy but very satisfying.  A baby pink house now has many bright colors.  The overgrown yard is being planted with trees.  Fish can be seen swimming in the pond.  We have people over for drinks and/or dinner frequently.  We are even have a Thanksgiving turkey in a few days since our new oven is  million times better than the Easy-Bake at our old rental.

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Burglars

Halloween!  The night that gringos dress up in silly costumes and Panamanians shake their heads.  We went to a big party last night.  David looked like an 80s porn star and I went as a prostitute.  Good fun!

When we got home, everything appeared normal.  We didn’t notice anything different for several minutes.  In fact, I was already in the shower when David noticed that his nightstand was open and things were strewed on the floor.  Then he noticed the bedroom curtain tied in a nice knot, covering the open window and slit screen.  At that point, we knew we had been invaded and looked to see what had been taken.

They even took off some of the molding to break the lock.

They even took off some of the molding to break the lock.

IPad, my Kindle (both with ‘find my stuff’ electronics app) IPod, and some jewelry.  I had taken off my wedding ring and another ring while putting on my Halloween make-up.  I just put them in all the bathroom costume mess so they weren’t seen.  My purse was overlooked.  My cats and dogs were not harmed.  It could have been so much worse.

They may have been in the house when we got home since the laptops and other small items weren’t taken.  Molly, the smart dog, was crazy when we got home.  Now we know why. We’ve only had her about 3 weeks and she is deserving of a steak dinner for saving many of our possessions.

The police arrived shortly after we called Rodny at Alto al Crimen.  The chances of getting our stuff back are somewhere.  They told us that there is an electronics theft division who are very interested in the Find a Phone type features of our electronics.  We should get location notifications as soon as they turn on our things.  The police told us that they used a crowbar-type tool to break the locks on the bedroom window.

Long time residents say that you’re not a true local until you’ve been robbed.  But what makes me really mad is:  We ordered security bars for every opening in our house about 8 weeks ago.  They were delivered last week.  The bars for the patio and the carport were installed.  The bars for the windows are still sitting in our front yard waiting for installation.  The company did not show up yesterday to finish the job.  What’s worse is that the thieves used one of the uninstalled security bars like a ladder to get back over the fence.

We did everything we could do to prevent this from happening short of never leaving the house.  The dogs should have been in the yard but they both were spayed last Sunday and are recuperating with their cones of shame, so they were in the patio.  This was no crime of opportunity so the dogs were probably lucky that they weren’t out in the yard.

Metal covering the huge hole in the fence until it can get fixed

Metal covering the huge hole in the fence until it was fixed today

The thieves got on to the property by cutting a huge, 6′ high hole in the chain link fence, avoiding the barbed wire.  Crowbar and wire cutters – these guys were prepared.  Almost like they had been inside our property recently.  Just sayin’

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Garbage.

Garbage is not usually a topic one talks about in the US., however, the subject comes up frequently in Panama.  Whether it’s the tremendous amount of garbage on the streets of Panama City, if a location even has garbage collection or the lack of a responsible recycling program for all the plastic, Styrofoam and beer cans.  I don’t think I ever talked about garbage collection in Florida.  But This Is Panama.

Garbage collection is very different here than in the States.  In Florida we had two big, black cans with flip-top lids and everything inside got picked up twice a week.   My town  paid a little more so we didn’t even have to drag the cans out to the street.  And if were any big items, the garbage collectors would pick that up too if it was placed on the curb.  Once a week our recyclables were collected in the green can.  If needed, the free dump was only about 10 minutes away for all city residents.

In Boquete, garbage is picked up once a week – usually.  ‘Usually’, because when the one and only garbage truck broke down a few months ago, we got pick up about once every two weeks.  No garbage collection (or re-scheduling) if pick up day is a holiday.  Everyone (not in a gated community) has some type of individual garbage holder.  Many are big basket type things on top of a metal pole.  This prevents dogs, cats, and rodents from getting into the garbage during the week.

New Gate with Sasha inside

New Gate with Sasha inside

We have a ground-level collection bin that has a metal grate opening on the street side.  The garbage collectors open the grate and take everything that is bagged.  Not bagged and it will not get picked up.  Ours is really ugly.  So ugly that it was among the top five things to be replaced/remodeled when we moved in.  Today we had a side gate installed so we can toss our garbage from the front yard and do not have to go out to the street.

Boquete garbage collectors do not take large items like boxes.  Large items must go to the dump.  The dump is about 30-40 minutes each way.  We recently hired someone to make our dump runs for us.  One more run and we should have our trash under control.

Side entry being installed

Side entry being installed

Some garbage bins are quite attractive.  Ours is not but it will as soon as the concrete cures.  Once the iron grating is done, I will pressure clean the entire structure and put plants on the top. The mildew will be gone. You can see the original front gate on the left.  The new grating will be black and the rest will be the same as the house color.

One odd occurrence is that our neighbor seems to be using our bin.  The former tenant told us to expect it but I was still surprised.  Mostly because the woman who lives next door seems to go out of her way not to meet us.  Her kids are friendly and we have spoken to them (mostly because they also have dogs) but she will turn away or go inside as soon as we are nearby.  She does not have a garbage bin so her bags have to go somewhere.  It’s not like the two of us can fill the entire bin every week, but its weird to this gringa.

Making a House Our Home

We’ve owned our home now for 2 1/2 weeks.  We got our container a week ago.  Mucho trabajo for the last 19 days.  Much progress too.

Paint makes an immediate difference.  Most of the living areas were painted a light pink.  We chose to go in a much different direction.

Foyer before

Foyer before

Foyer After

Foyer After

The foyer was easy and we are really happy with the results. Then we moved to our bedroom. We painted the walls and the ceiling. There are no pictures yet since I can’t put on our new duvet cover due to our cat.
Side note: Henry, the cat, spent the first several days here in the closet. Then he moved to the bathroom cabinet. Finally he came out and disappeared. When we saw him again, he was really dirty. Then he disappeared the next day, reappearing even dirtier. We knew he was going into the fireplace so we tried to block it. The third day he went around our makeshift blockade. We found the he was going high into the rafters of the chimney. He returned the next day completely filthy. So no new linens until he is cleaner.  And the chimney?  An effective blockade has been installed until a fireplace grill is purchased.

Henry covered in soot.

Henry covered in soot.

chimney

 

 

 

 

 

Patio beforeThe patio is being transformed. Since outdoor living is most important in Boquete, the patio was among our priority tasks.  The ceiling was made with drywall.  That doesn’t work well with this high humidity but is more common here than one would think.  When we moved in, there was a large hole in the ceiling where an entire section of drywall had fallen out.  It was painted a very dark color that wasn’t appealing to us.

patio in progressWe went with a lighter color and installed a new ceiling.  New fans and a bar light and it is coming together.  We still need to add shelves for liquor and glasses and a cabinet for the sink, icemaker and a refrigerator.

We also ordered enough dinner seating for 12.  We have 5 barstools and other seating left by the former homeowner.  Our first party is currently being planned,

Tomorrow we begin priming the rooms that will become our travel room and our office.  Once those are ready for furniture, we can move stuff out of the guest room and begin decorating that.

I have spent many hours on the overgrown lawn and hired gardeners for several days.   Still much more to do.  It looks much better and I’ve planted about 12 new trees.

What have we learned so far? 1-10:  Nothing is more valuable than a skilled handyman.  11.  Speaking Spanish imperative.  12.  Gardeners don’t work in the rain (even though it’s rainy season) or don’t work at all if something else comes up on their assigned day.  13.  There are weeds that grow here that defy all attempts to remove.  14.  Glidden is better than Sherwin Williams in Panama.  15.  Going to David several times a week is our new normal.  16. Moving furniture to Panama is a waste of time and money.  17.  The more you are able to do for yourself, the happier you will be.

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I recommend that future expats visit the links below.

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Servicio de Cliente?

frustration1Spanish for Customer Service.  The words translate, the idea – not so much.  Since our US sized living room furniture does not come close to fitting in our Panamanian sized living room, we went to Furniture City.  Yes, it is similar to the Furniture City in the US that carries Ashley and other brands.  Their Panamanian website isn’t very helpful so off we drove for our second trip to David today.  The salesman was very helpful and even had a tape measure in his pocket.

This has been a fairly stressful week – moving into a new house, getting our household goods, a new puppy, electricians carving up our wall, a roof leak, and our security bars order that is already a week behind schedule.  And we’ve only been here a week.  So we are not in the best mindset to deal with yet more problems.

As soon as I entered the store, I saw a cute loveseat in the front window.  We need two since that’s all that is going to fit in our little space.  The cushions weren’t sewn into the frame. Yea,  I hate that and don’t know why they started doing it.  It was a great color and a perfect size.  The pieces were individually priced so I immediately ordered two.  In the US, this would be the end of the story.  But This is Panama.

Very quickly, the idea of Customer Service devolved into frustration and me walking out of the store.  Although the prices for each piece were listed, they could only sell the couch and loveseat together.  And, although it was featured in their super corner that you can see when exiting El Reys, they only had one set in the entire country of Panama.  Really Panama?  Really Furniture City?  Can’t you see the craziness of this?  With only one sofa, you don’t highlight it – you put it in clearance.  You don’t put it in the front window where people can admire and want to buy it when you have no intention of ordering more of them.  More importantly, you don’t advertise a special when you only have one.

We ended up at Conway and got some furniture that will work.  They aren’t as cute or pretty but they are available and will delivered in a week or so.

Unfortunately, my comfy couch and big chair are for sale for anyone who may need something for their US standards built home.  Ironically, there’s only one set and they cannot be purchased separately.

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Two Suitcases vs. a Shipping Container

When researching everything before moving here, I read the great debates on whether to bring only a couple of suitcases and sell everything else OR pack everything and bring it down.

For the last year and a half, we have pretty much been living out of the stuff crammed in a few suitcases.  But we lived in a fully furnished and fully equipped rental house.  We made several visits to Conway, PriceMart, Arrocha and the like to get other things to replace what we had sold in Florida.  People that brought only a few things have been extremely happy with their decision.  Their places are filled with all the new things purchased since their arrival.

We took the other route and chose to bring a 20′ container.   Not because we had enough “treasures” to fill 20″, but we had many things that we were not willing to part with.   David decided early to bring his big power tools which required crates.  Once we made the decision to bring some stuff, it made it easy to bring other things.   If you’re going to bring 10 feet of stuff, you may as well bring 20 feet of stuff.

doors openYesterday our container arrived.  A few things were broken or damaged from poor packing by the crew in Florida.  Ironically, some of the damaged items were the treasures that we didn’t want to give up.  Such is life.

Now that we are about 80% unpacked, there are some glaring errors in our thought process.  The couch and loveseat that was almost new doesn’t come anywhere close to fitting in our small living room.  They are being stored there which also means we cannot use our tables or lamps because nothing fits.  We will be looking for replacement living room furniture soon.  We can’t find the stand for our large TV so our using the TV we are going to put in our patio.

junk in house

We have an entire box of ski clothes.  It seemed like a good idea to at least keep our outerwear and sell the skis, boots, etc.  Now it just seems ridiculous.  I sold a lot of Christmas items including two very large trees and the decorations for them.  But the container still held 18 boxes of Christmas that I didn’t sell – including four trees.  Did I mention our small living room yet?  And we are going to Florida for Christmas!

However, I was truly excited to see our things from our travels, David has already uncrated and organized his tools, and we are using our new Kenmore 3 door refrigerator.  We have new lighting and linens that are not available in Panama.

So back to the debate:  Suitcases vs Container.  I still would bring my stuff BUT I would probably bring fewer things.  House specific items, like sofas would get left behind.  Just because you have 20′ doesn’t mean you have to cram it full.  The debate continues.

Man Plans, Panama Laughs

Adapting an old, historical quote but it sure seems true this week at Casa Colibri.  Our timing was perfect.  Close on the house on Wednesday, meet with skilled laborers on Thursday, paint the living areas of the house and then have our belongings delivered on the following Wednesday.  This is when Panama began laughing.

Our electrician was suppose to show up but did not.  When I called, he said he had “some problems” and would be there in two days.  Two days later, no Luis.  Another phone call and he says he has “some problems”.  He will be here tomorrow.  Bets anyone?  We tore down the patio ceiling so that he could get the minor project done.  But he has some problems.

Our gardener has decided that he can’t work if it’s raining.  This is rainy season!  It rains from noon until dark.  It’s raining now.  Gardeners don’t stop working, they wear a poncho.  We are going to have a “hombre a mujer’ talk tomorrow.  A replacement gardener is already in the wings and is doing some work for us on Sunday.

Then the container that was suppose to be here on Wednesday, then Thursday, then Friday, will be here on Saturday morning.  Bets anyone?

But these delays have given us time to get the house ready and painted.  foyerThe patio may even get painted.  It’s much easier and faster with no furniture.  We have two lawn chairs in the living room and a dining room set.  Our bed is complete and we have an almost full kitchen.kitchen2   Most importantly, we have internet – 9 mgs for $49 a month – so we can watch TV on the computer.  It’s comfortable enough.

Because of all the delays, tomorrow will be a free day.  By free it means that I can go to the gym in the morning, then we will head to David for more paint.    And we can continue to unpack.  Since dumping a lot of stuff in the soon-to-be-den, it looks like a trash heap. dumping ground

The cats made an uneventful move.  Not difficult since the move was about 2 miles.  Alexander was happy that his food bowl was full on arrival and our bed was made for his afternoon nap.  henryHenry has barely left the closet.  He will come around though as he has before.  Sasha is a 4 month old puppy that hasn’t even realized she has moved as her world is just one big playground.

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Busy Homeowners

Since closing on our new house five days ago, we have been really, really busy.  The electrician will be wiring our outdoor tv and bar light, the handyman will be putting in another exterior door and fixing the garbage receptacle, the welder is working on our iron gates, the exterminator has made sure we have no 8 legged surprises, and the gardener has already put in 3 days to get the lawn back in shape.  Our bed was delivered this afternoon.  I cleared the greenhouse of the overgrown weeds.  David and I have been painting as much as we can before the container comes with our boxes and furniture.  And we have brought a ton of our belongings to the new house with about 3 more tons to go.

Tonight we stopped for a nice dinner – one that included taking a shower before and wearing dress clothes.  After several days of take-out or just missing meals, it was a much needed break.

If we didn’t have a network of Panamanian workers, we would never get things done.  Today we got another surprise.  Since it’s rainy season, we found a roof leak.  Roof leaks here are not catastrophic.  Our roofs are made of metal and just need a coating of something.  We had a roof leak at our rental and it was fixed in no time.  Good thing it doesn’t mean an entire roof removal like in the US.

The container won’t be delivered tomorrow but it will be here Wednesday.  That gives us one full day to complete the painting and fix the roof.  We hope to move in on Wednesday but probably it will be Thursday.  We promised the new renters they could move into our rental on Friday.

For whatever reasons, I cannot get the photos or my shameless plugs to load.  All for now

Almost Homeowners at Last!

For the last four years I have been scouring every realtor site in Chiriquí.  We have looked at homes and lots, called people who have advertised independently, and made calls based on flyers around town.  I know every realtor in town and some in David.

Jasmine, from Casa Solutions, has been taking us to places for three years.  I am sure we have been the peskiest (is that a word?) perspective buyers that realtors have seen in decades.    We have been difficult in our demands.  It must have Cableonda for high internet speed, it must have a large lot, it must have a view, it must be north of Ivan’s but not in town, it must be protected from the wind, it must have a great kitchen, it must,,,, it must…, it must….  Yes, we are difficult.

We finally found a house that we loved and it met every one of our demands. From the patio we can see as far as the mountains near David.  IMG_0291It even has a fireplace, a greenhouse and a gardener’s shed with bathroom.  It has a maid’s quarters with bathroom that could become David’s workshop. Backyard The only problem, the seller would not budge on his ridiculously high price.  I contacted the listing agent, Ryan, and he showed us the house several months ago.  I took some good friends with us since the husband has done a LOT of real estate transactions and I value his opinion.  It wasn’t until he asked about a particular light switch for a small alcove that I realized that I had looked at the listing for this house four years ago.  I really liked it on the listing page but the price and timing weren’t right since we only moved here a year ago. Kitchen For the last several months we made offers, each rejected and no counter-offers.  We thought we would have to just pass on this house.

But I guess some things are meant to be. Yesterday the owner met our offer and we should close in about 2 months.

Our landlady is not going to be happy.  We sent her an email today about cutting our lease short by about 6 months.  It will be easy for her to lease this house as it is great.  She will probably raise the rent several hundred dollars a month since rentals are so difficult to find.  We worry about our very large deposit but we also have a plan.

The renters in our new home can stay and just pay us rent.  We will stay here and not pay rent.  Unfortunately, our landlady, Marta if you read the book Becoming in Boquete, is not terribly reasonable and has a history of making excuses why tenants cannot get their deposits returned.  Good for us, I took pictures of everything in this house, including the contents of drawers and closets, before we moved in.  If it becomes a battle, she will not win.  Go us!

I am sure I will be writing about the trials and tribulations of the real estate legal system and banking problems in the next few months.  But for now, we are smiling.

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