Weekly Photo Challenge, Cover Art

Weekly Photo Challenge, Cover Art For this week’s Photo Challenge, stimulate your creative process and imagine which of your images you would like to see gracing the cover of a book, an album, or a magazine.

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We cut down a banana tree to harvest the bananas, and found this creature under one of the leaves. If my research is correct, it is a caterpillar of the owl butterfly, a beautiful, large butterfly that we see frequently in our yard.

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I think the white bits are some sort of pollen. When we discovered him the leaf had been lying in the grass, and we saw these spots on his body and the leaf as well.

Our new friend is now in a large plastic jar on the table. He apparently spend a fair amount of time last night munching on the banana leaf. This morning i gave him some new fresh leaves, and we will see how he does. If he makes a cocoon and morphs into a butterfly, that will be totally cool!

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Posted in fruit, gardening, insects, Panama, Photo Challenge, photography, wildlife | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Panama Cost of Living Report – October 2014

What does it cost to live in Panama? The answer can vary widely depending on where and how you live. I can tell you though what it cost us to live in David, Chiriqui, for the month of October.

Fixed expenses Rent $385
Cable (TV/internet) $60.49
Car insurance, monthly (2 cars) $50
Food $395.63
Other Gas for the kitchen (a can lasts at least a month) $5.12
Electricity (it is usually around $40 but we were gone for part of the billing period) $27.07
Gas for the cars $65
Minutes for phone $16.05
Medicine (the Nicaragua bug) $14.49
Optional and/or one time expenses Eating out $44.03
Pricesmart membership (for a year) $37.45
Bike repair $14.75
Car repair $232
Gift $23.53
Pedicure $10
Charitable donation $173.50
Beer / alcohol $98.60

The grand total is $1652.71.  But, this is the first major car repair we have had in almost two years. The charitable donation is optional, of course. And, the total would also be lower if we hadn’t just gone to Pricesmart and stocked up on some food and household items, as well as enough beer/alcohol to last for quite a while.

If you subtract the car repair and charitable donation the total is $1247.21, which I think is a more realistic representation of what we usually spend in a month. Of course this is for basic living expenses. There will always be something additional like the car, travel plans, or something else.

Our biggest expenses are rent and food. We are very fortunate to have found an affordable house in a nice neighborhood of mostly professionals, business owners, teachers, and some retired people. Housing costs will vary greatly depending on where you live.

Food is another variable. We eat mostly local food and buy all our produce from the local markets. We eat very little imported and/or processed food because it is expensive and we don’t like it as well. We also never eat out unless it is a social thing with friends.

If we are home in November I’ll track our expenses again. It is interesting for us also to see what we spend and where.

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Some Local Scenery

just another day in the life of a retired expat in Panama….

One of my longer bike routes takes me northwest of David through the countryside and up into the hills. It is so pretty! The other day I decided to take the camera with me and share a bit of what I see.

There isn’t a good way to go west along the Pan-American highway so I cross the highway and go southwest through town, and the cross back over at C Sur. This takes me by the neighborhood “La Princesa” (I’d live there just for the name), and then through the town of Aguacatal.

The route then goes through San Juan, and continues at pretty much steady climb until it intersects with 425 which comes up from San Pablo. (I know this doesn’t mean much if you aren’t familiar with the area, but if you find a Google map of the area you can find where I am)

When you reach 425 it feels like you have gotten somewhere but actually, the climbing will only increase.

After awhile 425 intersects with Ave. Joseph Halphen which not only takes you back to David, but goes mostly downhill.

Once I get to the top of the hill, then it’s only a few minutes more to get back home.

Thanks for going riding with me! This is only a small look at the beautiful areas but I hope you enjoyed it.

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Scorpion? Again?

We were told that scorpions tend to come in houses during the dry season because they are looking for water. We have found this to be true so far. We are now in the height of rainy season though and yesterday, when we were showering, I happened to look over at the shower curtain and there he was!

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What is it about the shower curtain that they seem to like?

This is the second time we have found one near the top of the shower curtain. It was probably hiding in the folds and when we pulled the curtain closed, he was revealed. I think these are pretty cool critters, but not in the house please. Joel got it into a bucket and I tossed it over the fence into the woods where, hopefully, it will make its way somewhere else.

In the bucket, ready for it flight over the fence.

In the bucket, ready for its flight over the fence.

We share our environment with a lot of various critters so it’s always good to shake out clothes, shoes, towels, and anything else where something might be hiding. And, never put your bare hands in leaf piles or other likely hiding places outdoors either. These are good things to do anywhere you live, just in case.

I love living next to the woods because of all the birds and wildlife! If one gets a bit closer than I’d like, at least I can grab a camera and share a photo before it gets “relocated” over the back fence.

Posted in insects, Panama, wildlife | Tagged , , , | 15 Comments

A Rant on The State of the Middle Class and Retirement

I think it is common knowledge that many people are going to have a hard time affording a comfortable retirement, and we all know people who plan to work until they drop because they feel they have no other choice. Joel came across an article recently – Middle-Class Americans Living With Regret About Retirement Savings  One line jumped out at me

In a new survey question added this year, 22 percent said they would rather “die early” than live without enough money for a comfortable retirement. 

More than one in five people are afraid they will be so poor that the time will come when life isn’t worth living. What a sad statement.

I can quote more statistics and link to more articles but I don’t think we need convincing that many people are going to retire with less than they think they need, or won’t retire at all. What does this mean in terms of quality of life?

Quality of life is much more than a financial thing, and I’m afraid that in the US we are going about it all wrong. It wasn’t until I left that I fully realized how much we are brainwashed to buy more, to have better stuff, a better job, house, spouse, car, clothes, jewelry… on and on and all this will make you happy. Work hard, get an education, get the great job, work very hard, and you too can succeed. But, succeed at what? Being happy? Not necessarily.

Then, I come to Central America and meet a lot of very happy people. Many of them live in conditions we would find totally unacceptable. There are financially poor people here in David, and even more in the more rural areas. There are terribly poor people in Nicaragua with dirt floor houses. But, if you define success as happiness they are very successful and very rich.

The Gallup Poll on happiness that came out recently that says Panama is #1! The US didn’t make the top 10. The article states “Panama had the highest scores in the world in four of the five well-being elements — purpose, social, community, and physical well-being. Sixty-one percent of Panamanians were thriving in three or more elements, the survey found.” Notice they didn’t score well in the 5th element – feeling financially secure.

What does this have to do with all of us? I’m not sure, but it is pretty clear that most of us at or near retirement aren’t going to increase our financial net worth enough to make a bit of difference.  Besides working until we drop, it seems there are two things we can do though – decrease expenses and lower expectations.

Many of us are looking at other countries as a way to decrease expenses. For some of us it is working wonderfully. For others it doesn’t work, especially those who don’t love the experience but feel forced into it by finances. There are also ways to cut expenses in the US – live in a cheaper place, give up various things, etc. But, does this help if we are filled with resentment?

I think the biggest thing we can do is change expectations. Of course this is terribly difficult to do in the US where we are bombarded with expectations every day on all fronts, from TV to newspapers and other media to the attitudes of those around us. But when you think about it, we experience our world and our happiness in our heads, in our minds. If you want to change your world, change your mind (so say the Buddhist teachers). Turn off the TV. Throw away the magazines. Cultivate friends who are happy. Be grateful for what you have. Try to help others. Get outdoors and enjoy what nature provides.

I know we are very lucky to be surrounded by happy people who generally have their priorities straight. If you ask a Panamanian what is most important you will probably hear – family, friends, enjoying life. They work hard but they are less driven and more relaxed about work. There isn’t the constant striving and stress that is so familiar in the US. Days off are for enjoying family and friends and having fun. There is no stigma about lying around in a hammock, even if you don’t have money to put paint on your house.

I have learned so much from these happy people and it has made it a lot easier for me to keep my head on straight. I really feel for the people who feel trapped in the US, unable or unwilling to leave, dealing with retirement on little money, feeling forced to continue working, feeling forced to make changes they don’t want, feeling they deserve better after a lifetime of work. I hope that somehow they can manage to make some really nice lemonade from the sour lemons.

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Raquel’s Ark Wildlife Rescue

The next stop in our day with friends was Raquel’s Ark in Volcan. Raquel has a number of interesting animals and birds which she cares for and clearly loves. Most are tame and enjoy visitors so it is a great place to see some of the wildlife of Panama up close.

The first were the sloths! These gentle and slow moving animals are usually seen high in trees where they are sometimes hard to spot. I have been lucky enough to see some on the wild, but only at Raquel’s have I had the chance to touch and hold one.

There were also coatimundi, aka coati who needed attention. One in particular loved to be held.

There were many more animals and birds to see!

This is a wonderful place to visit. We enjoyed seeing all the animals and birds, and it was great to talk with Raquel and learn more about the place, and hear stories of all her animals and birds. Many of them cannot be released because they are unable to manage in the wild or they are too accustomed to people, but she releases those who can safely be returned to the wild.

If any of you have a chance to visit this place I highly recommend it. Admission is free but donations are gratefully accepted to help with the food and upkeep of the animals. It is located right in Volcan and here is a map to help you find it. I think it is the only two story house in the area.

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I will close with a video of Raquel giving the viewers a tour. It is a couple years old before the hydroponic garden was completed, but it will give you an introduction to the place in her own words.

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Macho de Monte, revisted

Macho de Monte is an amazing river canyon near Cuesta Piedra, a town between Conception and Volcan.  I met up with a bunch of Boquete expats near Dolega so we could drive to Volcan together, and I was thrilled when they stopped at Macho de Monte because I really wanted to visit it again.

It is rainy season now which helped us. The last time I visited there were steep sand banks and it looked impossible to climb down to the mouth of the canyon. This time however, rains had washed channels into the sand banks exposing some rocks which gave enough footing to climb down.

It takes a bit of climbing down a steep sandy hill and then clambering over a lot of rocks and boulders, getting your feet wet at times, but the reward at the end is so worth it! The river is rushing below these huge walls of rocks while waterfalls fall from the tops of the walls. Since it is rainy season there was a lot of water, and a lot of waterfalls!

Macho de Monte river canyon

Macho de Monte river canyon

It is hard to get a photo that does this place justice, especially with a lot of bright sun which contrasts sharply with the darker shadows deeper in the canyon. A photo cannot convey the roaring of the water either. But, scroll down below for a couple videos made by my friend Ryan, and a wonderful look at the inside of the canyon. A number of us would love to figure out how to get down there, but he actually did it.

Group photo time -

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Ryan’s video, and an amazing look at the canyon from inside!

And, in case you wonder why we hesitate to go down into the river and through the canyon, we know from Ryan it isn’t that easy to get back out again. You would definitely need a lot of strength and ropes to go back up! Or, like Ryan you would have a long journey to go downriver and make your way back to the road.

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Car Trouble in Panama

A little bad luck, a lot of good luck and good people, and an interesting day.

I have a 97 Mazda, not fancy but a sturdy little car. I have had a number of people beg me to sell it to them so I have the feeling I’d better hang on to it. It also holds the bicycle rack, and today my bike needed to go to the shop for a couple repairs.

After we dropped off the bike, I called my friend Cedo who was on the bus coming back from her farm. It was starting to rain, and I thought it would be nice to pick her up so she didn’t have to wait for the local bus to take her back to our neighborhood.

The bus terminal was crazy! It was full of people, buses, taxis, and tons of noise and activity. We finally found each other, got back to the car, made our way out of the area, and headed up the street towards home. Then suddenly, kaput! The clutch went out and we were dead in the street.  But, thankfully we were in front of some stores and there was an open parking space right in front of us. Joel only needed to turn the steering wheel and push it a few feet into the space.

I called the mechanic. Side story – when I arrived in Panama my friends knew I needed a car so they put their mechanic on the job. He couldn’t find anything suitable in my price range so he sold me his wife’s car.

The mechanic tells me to call my insurance company. Here in Panama, towing is covered by your car insurance policy and if you have a problem,  your insurance people arrange for a tow truck. This involved a number of phone calls back and forth, and Spanish is more difficult on the phone and we are on a noisy street. But Cedo is with us and I was able to just hand her the phone. What a great help!

Everything is arranged and we are told the tow truck will arrive in 30 minutes, so we sit on the curb to wait. In 20 minutes, here comes the truck! He has to go around the block to get to the correct side of the street. As he is coming back the insurance company is ringing my phone to see if the truck has arrived, and the mechanic shows up! I just wanted to give him the heads up that our car was coming to his shop. I never expected him to come to us. But, he checked that it indeed was nothing he could fix on the spot, and he was also able to help load the car on the truck and explain to the driver where it needed to go.

By now, the rain is barely a sprinkle, the car is loaded up, and a taxi sees what is going on and beeps to see if we need a ride. We gather our things and pile in, and finally all make it home.

The bad luck – a car problem, and I never thought about taking a photo of anything. Sometimes you are busy living life rather than documenting it.

The good luck – we didn’t get stuck in the bus terminal or on a hill or in heavy traffic or some other totally inconvenient place, but rather on a flat and main street right in front of an open parking space. Cedo was with us to help me with the phone calls. Our mechanic went above and beyond for us. Our insurance company took very good care of us, and the tow truck guy was very professional. We are in Panama where it was only sprinkling, not snowing or cold, I am not on a schedule, and everyone was so helpful and things were taken care of faster than expected. All in all, it’s been a very good day.

Here is the offending little car, a photo taken just before I bought it.

Here is the offending little car, a photo taken just before I bought it.

Posted in Miscellaneous, Panama | Tagged , , | 19 Comments

The Birthday Party

Kris Cunningham:

Los Ramos, Nicaragua is the town most devastated by the recent downpours and mudslides. This post is about Deb’s experiences with these people years ago. It just might be the most beautiful post I’ve ever read, and shows clearly her relationship with these gentle and loving people. We may think they are poor, but reading this show how they are rich in the things that really count. But, right now they are suffering from loss of their homes, crops, livestock, and one of their children. I know I sound like a broken record but these people also touched my heart and I want to do what I can to help and support them. But first, read the post and get to know people who are so different from us, but at the same time have so much in common – caring for family and friends, and wanting to be happy. http://www.youcaring.com/help-a-neighbor/help-los-ramos-rebuild/248011

Originally posted on Rewired and Retired in Nicaragua:

My carrot cake at the birthday party

The Birthday Party

January 22, 2005

          It was at Alba Ligia’s sixth birthday celebration, where I learned the meaning of compassionate immersion, creative ingenuity, and peaceful understanding in our troubled world of terrorist threats, struggles for power, and greed beyond the imagination of ordinary folks.  Francisco invited Ron and I to his cousin’s birthday party in Los Ramos, a remote village on Ometepe Island lacking running water, refrigeration, and in most houses, electricity.  “Oh, by the way,” he stated nonchalantly before leaving, “My mother wants you to make the birthday cake.”  “But, Francisco,” I whined, “Ron and I haven’t made the horno commitment, yet.  We have no oven.” “Don’t worry,” he added, “We have an adobe oven behind our house.”

So began our search for the illusive ingredients such as, powdered sugar, cream cheese, and baking powder to whip up a carrot cake with cream cheese icing for…

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Refraction

Weekly Photo Challenge: Refraction  For this photo challenge, show us what “refraction” means to you. It could be an image taken in a reflective surface, it could be light bent from behind an object, or it could mean remedial math homework: the choice is completely up to you. I’m looking forward to seeing how you interpret “refraction.”

Back in Sarasota, Florida I was out and about a lot, and became fascinated by the many fountains all around the city. I especially loved them in the sunlight when they seemed like exuberance made of water and light. Once in a while I was lucky enough to catch one in just the right light that showed a rainbow, which is just the thing for this photo challenge of refraction.

It’s funny how a photo can take you right back to the moment when you took it, even after years have passed.

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