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.

 

Aprendiendo Espanol en Guatemala

I am completing my third week of school in Antigua, Guatemala.  Most people wonder why I left Spanish-speaking Panama to learn Spanish here.  In Boquete, it is difficult to learn Spanish quickly for a number of reasons.

First, many people speak English only and that includes most of our friends.  Second, many of the locals want to learn English and will answer your Spanish-spoken questions in English for practice.  Third, although we have an excellent Spanish school in Boquete, their bread-and-butter clients are students who come in for several weeks of intensive study, not us locals who can’t/won’t devote 20-30 hours a week to classroom instruction.

I chose Antigua for a few reasons.  David and I have been here before so I would not be distracted by shopping or sightseeing.  My homestay hostess, Sarah, speaks to me in Spanish only although I think she speaks more English than she lets on.  For the last week, I have been the only guest in Sarah’s house so she has plenty of conversation directed solely at me.  More importantly, she corrects my mistakes – which are almost always verb tenses.

My classroom under the avocado tree

My classroom under the avocado tree

I chose the Don Pedro Spanish School.  The most popular schools were all rated high but I chose Don Pedro.  Most likely, the teacher is more important than the school and I got lucky.

Claudia deserves a halo and a bottle of Jack for putting up with me

Claudia deserves a halo and a bottle of Jack for putting up with me

Claudia was the unfortunate soul that got me.  She was a kindergarten teacher so has a lot of patience with ‘slow learners’.

I have one more day of instruction before leaving Saturday morning.  I have learned a lot.  For four hours each day, Claudia (my private instructor) teaches, drills, practices, corrects and otherwise pounds Spanish into my brain.  Today I read a ‘longish’ story, maybe on a 5-6th grade level, and I understood almost everything.  I did not know words from the story dealing with skiing, knolls etc. but I knew that the pretty girl turned out to be a battery powered robot.  I still need a few seconds to remember the correct verb tense but I am much better.

Learning another language after a certain age is difficult.  I was always a great student that could read and remember everything.  Bit here, I felt like I rode the short bus to school almost every day.  I would study 15-20 irregular verbs at night until I “knew” them.  The following day it seemed like I never saw those words before.  I am not used to being the dumb one but the harder I studied, the worse I got.  I never understood how my very bright students just didn’t “get” something.  Now I fully understand.

I wish I had taken more Spanish in Florida before we moved since it was available at every community school, community college, public libraries and colleges for little or no cost.  I must make an effort to continue practicing or I will lose much of what I gained during the last three weeks.  All in all this was a great experience but I’m ready to be home!

Other classes under the vines

Other classes under the vines

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Welcome to Guatemala????

I’ve been to Guatemala before but my experience arriving in Guatemala City this time was one for the books.

The Copa flight was uneventful, as it should be.  Once I got to customs, things changed quickly.  I was pulled over so a customs man could check my luggage.  Already unusual, he only wanted to check my suitcase, not my other bag or my purse.  He proceeded to take every single article of clothing, appliances, books – everything – out of my suitcase.  Then he went through my new notebooks that I bought for my Spanish classes.  They were brand new notebooks with nothing but blank pages.  He unzipped the zipper at the bottom of the bag and searched through the wheel mechanism.  He opened my vitamin bag and fingered them before taking a glucosamine capsule, opening it and tasting the powder.  If I wasn’t so mad by then, I would have told him that it was strong hormones and that in the morning he would have breasts but not penis.  I gave him written prescriptions for all my medication knowing he had no idea what he was looking at.  By now I am fuming and he still wasn’t done.  Next, he called the drug dog over – TWICE!!  It’s the same dog that I had been standing next to during the entire ordeal, now going on about 10 minutes.  And he still wasn’t done.  He took my passport and starts to walk away and I asked him where he was going.  So he stopped and decided just to write down my passport information on some kind of paper.  Then he began shoving my stuff back in my bag.  That’s when I stopped him and repacked myself.

I’ve traveled to Russia, China and several Middle Eastern countries and have never been treated like this.  It was ridiculous and infuriating.  I wanted to take pictures or video, but they probably would have introduced me to Guatemala’s jail if I did.

So what was so interesting about this one bag?  No idea.  But certainly not a Welcome to Guatemala.  No wonder half of their population is trying to get out.  So as I exit customs, I take a deep breath and move on to the next step – getting to the homestay.

Luckily the driver was still waiting since I was definitely the last person to leave customs. He was sent by the school to take me to the home.  The ride was $40 and split between two people.  When we got to my homestay, I gave him $20.  I found out later that he was getting paid by the school and said that I had only given him a tip.  That was corrected immediately and he will no longer be working for the school.  Second strike, Guatemala.

I applied to stay at a Level C home, which was suppose to be an upscale colonial home including private bath and internet. homestay 1I arrived at a run down house with no hot water.  To use the sporadic internet, I had to stand near their front door in the yard.  homestay 2My room looked like a hostel and the windows could not be opened.  The woman that owns the place was extremely nice but this was not going to work.  After a cold shower and a few attempts at using wifi, I called the school and they arranged for a much nicer place.

All of this occurred in the first 3 hours of my arrival in Guatemala. Not a shining moment for a country who could really use tourista dollars and a little help with their reputation for corruption.  Guatemala’s first family has been implicated in getting payments from a drug cartel and the head of the cartel was just found guilty in Miami.

I am writing this three days after the fact and things have improved immensely.  The school, Don Pedro, has been great and my teacher, Claudia, is amazing.  She has so much patience and knows when to shift to another activity before my brain explodes.  After 3 days of class, I can already see the progress.  Sarah, my homestay landlady is very helpful.  She speaks no English and forces me to use Spanish, even correcting my never-ending mistakes.  For the last 3 days, everything has been the smooth experience that I was expecting.

Next post – Spanish progress!

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My Hospital Experience

I’ve had ongoing issues with the mesh that I had implanted many years ago.  My US doctor ignored my complaints for years and denied that the pain was from the mesh he implanted.  For over 4 years the pain got worse and he continued to deny that it was from the mesh that, by now, was getting a lot of media attention.  He gave me lots of drugs and finally left me with Vicodin, which I am allergic to.

I gave up running and most activities at the gym.  The pain on some days prevented me from even walking more than a few blocks.  That’s when I went to our local Boquete internist, Dra. Digna.  A quick exam confirmed what I had thought for years.  Parts of the mesh had rippled and others were pulling on my internal tissue.  No wonder it hurt.  She recommended a specialist, Dra. Roxana in David.  Dr. Roxana advised me to visit Dra. Hernandez in PC.  This is so unusual to me.  In the US, doctors seldom refer patients to other doctors.  Not true here.  They really want you to have all the information you need to make a good decision.

My surgery was the past Monday.  All of my pre-op tests were done last week, including a visit to a cardiologist.  The total cost was less than $100.  I asked for a private room at Hospital Chiriquí.  Dra. Roxana asked to have a plastic surgeon to assist since the tissue she was dealing with is so delicate.  I was told to get to admitting at 10 AM.  By 10:30, I was in my room with IV attached.  Amazing!

At 2 PM I was wheeled into the operating room, got my jugo de felicidad (Happy Juice) and I woke up back in my room.  Dra. Roxana was right behind me explaining everything she did and handed me a vile of the nasty mesh that caused me so much grief.  I need the contents to help in my lawsuit against the manufacturer.

For the rest of my stay I was given great care.  The nurses came in for their usual blood pressure, temperature, etc. I am really glad that I have a working knowledge of Spanish however.

The next morning I was released.  My total bill for everything including the surgery and specialists?  $2600.

People ask about health care in Panama.  I tell them I have never had better care.  Better than that, it’s affordable.  I have my doctor’s cell phone number and she answers my texts almost immediately. I can see a doctor, even a specialist, usually within 24 hours if I need it.  None of my doctors have ever rushed me through an appointment.   I am very comfortable with all of them.  I feel that I am getting more competent care here than in Florida.

Anyone who is considering moving here should do their own research to make sure they have doctors here that meet their individual needs.  Our needs have been rather simple and we have been very happy.

 

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I recommend that future expats visit the links below.

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Boquete’s newest B&B – Highly Recommended

 

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Exploring David

David being the city 35 km south of us, not my spousal unit. Going to David is a necessary trip for people who live in Boquete. Unfortunately, it’s not always pleasant. Not because David is a bad place to go, it’s just confusing, crowded and hot to newcomers. I don’t mean that in a bad way though. We normally go to the necessary “gringo” places to get the things we can’t get in Boquete about every other week. PriceMart, El Ray, Arocha, Super99 and Conway are stores equivalent to Costco, Publix, Walgreens, Dollar Store and a small department store. But after living here permanently for almost 3 months, it was time to explore the “inner” city of David.

We found out earlier that to park on the street, you must have a parking pass. I suppose they are available in many places. Kris took us to the municipal building to get a stack several weeks ago. They are only 10 cents each and prevent you from getting a much more expensive parking ticket. If a police officer walks by your car, he/she will check off a time on the pass. If you return to your car and nothing is written on the pass, you can use it again. That happened to us. Yippee, we saved 10 cents!

david mapThe starting place is the large park in the center of town. I understand there is free wifi there which explains the large numbers of people relaxing under the trees. Around the park there are every type of tiendas imaginable from food to car repair. There are a number of fabric stores nearby, which I was escorted to a few months ago by my friend Kris, who lives in David.

On Friday we went to David unescorted to wander the streets and poke our heads into stores just to see what’s there. With Halloween coming up, we needed ideas for a costume. We found some stuff at Daisy’s. I don’t even know if Panama celebrates Halloween but I do know that the expats dress up. Since Halloween is my favorite holiday, the shopping must begin. We also found “The Shopping Center” which is a 2 1/2 story department store. They have clothes, (which are so tiny they probably wouldn’t have fit me when I was 10), shoes, and housewares. Because our rental looks like a generic rental, we bought some things to make it a little homey.

We wandered into many stores. To a relative newcomer to Panama, I find it odd how helpful the sales help actually are. I’ve noticed that at some of the stores in Boquete too. “Solo estoy mirando” (I am only looking) does not stop them from following you around and pointing out many items in the store. We ended up with several bags of stuff so we decided that we had had enough ‘adventure’. We had lunch at Super Baru’s cafeteria and were the only gringo’s there.

In David, most people do not speak English. Good for us as we had a chance to practice/mutilate the language. It’s amazing that the Spanish that sounds perfect in my head as it leaves my mouth results in nothing but utter confusion on the faces of the Panamanians. But I just keep plugging along.

Walking the central area of David is not as confusing as driving the streets. People are friendly. You can get a pedicure or manicure on the street. Food is available everywhere. It is a lively town that is so unlike a US mall. Eventually the heat won out and we moved from downtown to the outskirts of town where the gringo stores are located. Kitty litter, ginger snaps and chicken breasts and on our way home.

Thirty-five kms later, we were back home in the cool mountains.

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The Importance of Learning Spanish

Today David went into the community clinic to get his tetanus shot for the cat bite he received at the Spay/Neuter clinic. He’d never been there before so they had a lot of background questions. The nurse tried to ask him questions in English. What David THOUGHT they asked was something like: Are you male? Have you ever been female? So he answered “Yes, I am a male. No, I’ve always been male. He thought the questions were weird and he didn’t understand the them completely.
However, it dawned on him that they were asking about sex and HIV. What they REALLY asked was: “Have you ever had sex with males? Have you ever had sex with a female? Unfortunately, his answer was interpreted as “Yes, male, always male”.

I am certain you can still hear the laughter from the clinic.

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Spanish 101

holaToday I started taking ‘real’ lessons in Spanish. Evelyn and Christobal teach Spanish to small groups in her home. I went on Monday to the beginner’s lesson but I needed more so I got an immediate promotion. David stayed in the beginner class. Each class is only 1 1/2 hours so my old brain isn’t too taxed.

I like this class because it focuses on things we need to use. Like talking to the maid. Or leaving/taking/giving items. I know enough Spanish to shop, eat in a restaurant, get basic locations, and the usual daily things. But unless you are in a very advanced language class, you aren’t going to be able to tell the ‘limpiador’ to use the ‘trapeador’ on ‘las pisas’. So we learned words for ceiling, roof, send me and practical words that are commonly used. My assignment is to use as much of what I learned in the community.

Friday is conversation day and I hope that many of my classmates can attend. I know enough Spanish to know that it’s a lot easier to learn than English. I can do this.

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Decisions

One of the best things about retirement is that you don’t have any place to go, no time to be somewhere and virtually no commitments. So far that’s been true but we have been very, very busy.
One thing about living in Boquete is that you can be as lazy or as busy as you want – often in the same day. While we haven’t dived in with all the activities Boquete has to offer, we are still jumping around from one thing to the next.
In Boquete you will have more opportunities to socialize than you would ever think possible. Maybe this is common in a small town since you know so many people. I am from the Fort Lauderdale area. It has over a million people and numerous suburban towns. Mine hometown, Coral Springs, had about 100,000 people. So it was common to go out and never see anyone you knew. That doesn’t happen in Boquete. A quick trip to the hardware store means you will meet someone you know or meet someone new. Picking up a loaf of bread at Sugar and Spice always means talking to people. Tonight as we were leaving Amigos, we met a couple who just moved here last week from Florida so we stayed another 30 minutes talking. Parties are common either at homes or at the many bars and restaurants Boquete has to offer.
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We go to trivia on Tuesday nights. On alternating Tuesday nights, we either go to Los Molinos or to Amigos. Good fun and good competition. P1010595 There is also line dancing on Wednesday nights, Happy Hour on Friday nights, art classes, cooking classes, Spanish classes, gardening, programs to help animals, children, the library, the handicapped, recycling, and the BCP. Because Boquete is in the mountains, you can also walk, hike, climb rocks, white water rafting, rent an ATV and enjoy all of them in almost a perfect climate.
So what do you choose?

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The Bloggers Meet

bloggerToday three bloggers met for lunch. We had all met each other independently, but this was our first time – with spouses – together. We are (L-R) Holly, Cindy and Kris.

Kris came to Panama first, about 9 months ago and settled in David. She began her trip from Sarasota, not too far from my hometown of Coral Springs in Florida. She was my role model – sell almost everything and go. I am very envious because of her great Spanish which she says is “not that good”. To a newly arrived gringo, she is fluent. She can put nouns and verbs together and the Panamanians usually understand her. When I try, the Panamanians try to find someone who speaks English. I sound so good in my head but it’s not translating well here.

Holly was moving at almost the exact same time as us so we were doing so many identical things at the same time – sometimes on the same day – it was eerie. Holly ended up moving two weeks before us but we both brought our two cats. She came from the other side of the US, from California.

We left our happy American homes with American amenities behind along with American stress and American road rage. Most of our friends and family don’t get it. But as we sat outside on the patio having lunch watching the monkeys and parrots, we knew we are where we are suppose to be.

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Pedicure y leccion en Espanol

spanishThis morning I got a pedicure with Melina. I also got a short Spanish lesson. In Florida my pedicurist was a Vietnamese man so there wasn’t much talking. Melina did not initiate conversation but I kept asking questions and she corrected me. Mis palabras parra oy: desagradable, cortar, pedicure and cera caliente. Rude, cut, pedicure (easy) and hot wax. I should learn the words for “my spelling is atrocious” but I figure I will seldom have to write Spanish as long as I learn to speak and read. When I told her that in Estados Unidos un hombre did pedicures, she thought it was funny. Melina was very patient with my mangled Spanish and I will be back in two weeks for another attempt.

To finish off getting the supplies needed to decorate the bedroom, we went to the Alto Dorado hardware store where I continued to massacre the Spanish language. I needed plywood cortar (notice the multi-use of cortar in a single day) so I gave the man at the counter the measurements in cm and pulgadas (inches). At the end of the day, my 3 pieces of plywood were cut perfectly.

Feeling pretty proud of myself. If I continue learning just five new words each day, I should be somewhat fluent before I am muerta (dead).

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