So You Want to Live in Another Country (Part 2)

My friends By and Mariah lived in Boquete, and now live in Medellin Colombia. This is the second in a series of articles By has written about the expat experience.

Read the article, but the main points he makes are:

  • Factor in travel expenses because chances are you will want to go back to see family and friends.
  • Will you feel guilty about moving away from family and friends? Will family and friends make you feel guilty?
  • Will you feel guilty about “doing nothing” after years of work, earning money, and contributing to the world?
  • Will you feel guilty about having more money than most of the people around you in your adopted country?

For me, we can afford travel because our cost of living is so much less. If we were still in Florida but not working, travel would be out of the question. Now that I have grandkids, I’m especially thankful to be able to visit every few months. Yes it takes time, but I have time now.

Guilty about moving away? No, but I didn’t live close to my kids before. My family – we are not that way with each other. Friends who make me feel guilty for any of my choices are not friends.

“Doing nothing”? There are numerous opportunities to volunteer, and how nice to choose without worry if it covers the bills. I felt guilty about not doing anything, and I don’t seem to be recovering from the work that drained me dry. But I’m slowly coming to the realization that I’ve done enough in my life, and being happy and positive is “doing something” enough.

Guilty about having money? No. We live a modest but very comfortable life, and now I have some extra to share with causes and people I believe in. I feel extremely fortunate, not guilty.

As I’ve  said before, there are many things that are common to most of us in this expat experience, but it’s also a very individual experience.

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If It Isn’t One Thing…..

…it’s another. On the heels of our friend’s post about the challenges of expat life, let me tell a story of our own. (1000+ word story to follow)

There is no guarantee that if you open your faucet, water will come out. Maybe there isn’t enough water and they have rolling shut offs. This is common in the dry season. Maybe there is too much water in the rivers from heavy rains, and debris has clogged the inlets to the water treatment plant. Maybe they are fixing and upgrading their equipment, which has been going on a lot in this area.

Last summer the water was out so much that we decided to put in a water tank.  It’s been wonderful! If the water is out, it comes back on at night and our tank is refilled and meanwhile, we use the water from the tank. We always have water and good water pressure.

BUT…. Sunday the water was out. The tank refilled at night but with muddy water, unfortunately. This happens sometimes after work on the system or heavy rains. The dirt will settle to the bottom and you can use the water but it doesn’t look good for drinking until the tank is emptied, cleaned, and refilled with clean water.

So, Sunday night we got water, but that was the last water.  Monday, nothing. Tuesday nothing but a steady small trickle, not enough to refill the tank. Wednesday, the same. My neighbor said they also had only a trickle so I thought it was everyone’s situation. On the rare occasions that water is out for more than a day, a water truck comes around with clean water. But, if they came around this time we didn’t see them. We were thankful the huge downpour on Wednesday afternoon so we were able to refill the tank to about 3/4 full with collected rainwater.

Thursday, nothing, and the little trickle had now slowed to more dripping than trickling. In the evening I heard pebbles hitting the roof. It was Gilda, our next door neighbor. They also hadn’t had any water since Monday (they don’t have a tank either). We put the garden hose over the fence and they were happy to wash themselves in the yard, but we all still needed drinking water and enough water for daily household use.

Friday, nothing, and we were now carefully restricting our water use. We started checking around the neighborhood and it seems only our two houses were affected, and maybe a third on the corner but nobody was home. Gilda’s daughter Carlita said they had called IDAAN, the water company, but who knows how long it would take to get a response.

On Sunday evening, the band played in Boquete and I was talking with a friend/fan about the challenges of speaking Spanish in unfamiliar situations, like the trip I planned to make to the IDAAN office on Monday or Tuesday to get them going on our water problem. He advised that it would be much better to call a plumber. Good idea!! They plumber who installed our water tank lives in the neighborhood.

Monday, after lunch, who would show up but three IDAAN guys!  They said they were there to make a report which would be taken to the office to arrange for repair guys to be sent. I found out later that our neighbor was going to pick up his grandson from school and saw the guys on the street. He pulled over to tell them they had to come here right now to help us out.

But, I figured it would still be good to keep the afternoon appointment with the plumber, and he could also advise us on our pump which was having some trouble maintaining pressure (a much less urgent problem, for sure).

The plumber came and proceeded to track down the water problem. Nothing had been accidentally turned off. All pipes and valves were open and ready to allow water flow. There was water flow from the street above the meter, but the meter… AH HA! The meter was totally clogged with mud and debris which even included a piece of plastic. He carefully cleaned the meter including a little plastic filter (which didn’t look like it could handle any debris at all), and when he turned the water back on, YAY! Water flow! It came out like mud pudding at first but then clear, clean water.

He then cleaned the neighbor’s meter which was even dirtier than ours and after a start of thick mud pudding, they have clean water too. $50 and a couple hours later, service is restored. Our neighbor helped us drain and clean the tank, and we were back in business with a tank full of clean water.

The pump problem is probably a small leak somewhere so when it’s warm and sunny and everything is dry we can check all the connections for evidence of water escaping.

There is nothing like having your water cut off to make you appreciate clean, running water!! We were able to go to any of the neighbors at any time for drinking water, and we had offers to refill the tank with a hose stretched across the street if it came to that. How many people in the world never have access to reliably clean water, and how many have to carry all their water home every day?

Fast facts: Global water crisis

  • 844 million people lack basic drinking water access, more than 1 of every 10 people on the planet.
  • Women and girls spend an estimated 200 million hours hauling water every day.
  • The average woman in rural Africa walks 6 kilometers every day to haul 40 pounds of water.
  • Every day, more than 800 children under age 5 die from diarrhea attributed to poor water and sanitation.
  • 2.3 billion people live without access to basic sanitation.
  • 892 million people practice open defecation.
  • 90 percent of all natural disasters are water-related.

No, we didn’t enjoy our water problems but it’s nothing in the big picture. But, last night we sure enjoyed a great shower, a clean bathroom and kitchen, and a couple loads of laundry hanging up to dry. Thank you Ray for getting our water going again!

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So You Want to Live in Another Country

Is the expat life for you? It works for many. It doesn’t work for many others. You can and should do as much research as possible but nothing can totally prepare you for what will happen in your own specific, individual experience.

Our friends By and Mariah lived in Boquete, and are now living in Medellin, Colombia. By has written an article on their feelings about expat life and the challenges they have gone through in the process.

View story at

I’m not sure what is going on with the link above, so just in case here’s another….

“Be extremely honest with yourself” might be the most important line of the article. If you know you don’t like some of the things he mentioned, or humidity, or barking dogs, or an unreliable supply of your favorite cookies, or water…. when the honeymoon phase is over and the rose colored glasses come off, you might find these things intolerable.

Everyone has their own unique experience. Sometimes I worry that just because I’m happy, others think it will be the same for them. As the article says, it is not the same, or necessarily happy for everyone.

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New Bike Shop

There is a new bike shop in town not far from our neighborhood. It’s called Todo Bike because, as they said, they have everything bike related that one would need.

Their Facebook page, with a map, is here. .. It’s on the old Via Boquete maybe two blocks north of Design Plaza and Elmec, on the west side of the street.

I have always gone to Tomy, downtown, a block south of the bus terminal. They have grown and increased their selection of bikes, and have all the necessary parts and accessories at reasonable prices. There is also an excellent mechanic who will do repairs for a very reasonable price. I noticed that this time they have also increased their inventory and have more optional accessories. Maybe competition is a good thing?

I thought it was great to have a bike shop in our area though. It’s kind of a pain to go downtown in the city traffic. But, be advised, the new shop very expensive! I needed a new bike helmet and went there, thinking I would find the usual $15-35 options. But, the cheapest on display was almost $100! When I was about to leave they did find me a $50 helmet tucked away. It’s a very good helmet, sturdy, comfortable, adjustable, etc and I know my head is an important part of my body.

I didn’t get a new seat though. They didn’t have any of the wide, cushy ones I prefer for my wide, cushy backside, and the prices were in the $100-200 range! A few days ago we went to Tomy and found the seat I prefer for $8. That’s more to my liking.

But, if you’re a serious cyclist and you want a selection of the best of the best, Todo Bike is your place.

My son in law is a very serious cyclist, and he has a racing bike that looks like this one below. Yes, that is an almost $4000 price tag! I don’t think he paid that much for his but here, with shipping costs and import fees, things cost more.

It’s interesting to see the growth in this area. There is building everywhere, and more and more upscale shopping opportunities are available. People here are generally doing well.

its great to have bikes and accessories available, but it’s the best to get on the bike to cruise around town, especially during mango season. 😁

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Oatmeal Banana cookies

What do you do when you have a huge head of bananas?

Slice them, freeze them, and make yummy things. When they thaw they aren’t as firm as fresh bananas but they are still good as snacks, especially if still a bit frozen, and they are perfectly fine for anything you might want to make. Banana bread is fantastic but since I try to control my weight and eat healthy, I was looking for a healthy snack.

These are basically oatmeal, bananas, a little applesauce, and optional fruit or nuts. Mix all this together –

1 cup ripe mashed banana
2 cups oatmeal (the quick cooking kind is best)
1/4 cup milk (any kind you like)
1/3 cup apple sauce (unsweetened)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon (or to taste. I used 2)
1 teaspoon vanilla (or to taste. I used 2)
1/4 (or more) cup of any additions you like eg: dried fruit, nuts. I used almost 1\2 cup of raisins

Put spoonfuls on a greased cookie sheet, flatten gently with a fork, bake at 350 for 16-18 minutes until they feel firm and dry on top.

I got 18 cookies, slightly chewy and very satisfying. I don’t think you can mess them up so adjust any seasonings and additions to your own taste. I store mine in the freezer because when frozen, they take longer to eat and they can’t go bad or get ants (we have more kinds of ants here than you would believe!)

On other subjects, not too much else going on. We are anxiously waiting for rain to break this beastly hot, dry weather. There are serious water problems all over Panama from lack of rain. Our water plant is working at about 25% capacity because the rivers are so low and I am SO thankful for our water tank. The water was off from Friday morning until late Saturday night, and then came in at a trickle but at least our tank is full again this morning. More serious, lack of water affects the capacity of traffic in the Panama Canal, the country’s ability to make hydroelectric power, and the lives of livestock in some areas. There have been electricity restrictions in the past (no A/C in businesses during daytime hours) but I haven’t heard about that this year. Maybe all the windmills are helping.

Mangoes continue to fall from the trees and my stash in the freezer is growing, along with the chunks of frozen lemon juice from our very productive tree. I haven’t been biking as much as I should, but we have a number of new songs in the band coming out tonight or in the next couple weeks. I practice outside sometimes (with headphones) and enjoy the many birds who come to the birdbath. Life is hot and dry but still very good in Panama.

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Around Town

It’s still summer with bright sun, 94 degrees, very windy, and no rain in sight. I’m glad I didn’t plan to go biking today with this wind. Instead I cut up yesterday’s mangoes and did other chores at home, and sorted through some photos from yesterday.

They are building a huge mall nearby so I went over there to see what is going on. I could see quite a bit of progress, the outside walls looking better, coverings over entry doors, and men hard at work. Word is that the most serious work is now going on inside. It’s a huge project which is expected to take many more months to complete.

Here’s a video with a look at what has been going on inside.


A couple pictures from yesterday.

Summer is also a time of flowering trees. The guyacan can be spectacular but you have to catch them before a windy day blows off all the flowers. These other yellow ones are also beautiful and seem less prone to being stripped by the wind. The other tree with the big balls is also interesting. The balls are hollowed out and dried, and used for cups and bowls.

This is one of the mango trees I have been visiting. It looks very old but has been trimmed back quite a bit. This is the first year I have seen it with fruit.

This is another tree nearby that we visited a few days ago. It is really huge and must be very old, and this is also the first year I have seen it fruit. If you stand below these trees in the wind you can hear fruit hitting the ground all around you! The fruit is small, yellow,  but sweet and delicious. Mangoes in the freezer all year? Oh yes, thank you mango trees!

It’s now after lunch and the wind is still blowing like crazy. It’s time to go inside and practice new songs 🎸 😊

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What’s Going On?

Not much 😁

Again, days and days have gone by since I’ve been to the blog. When I first got to Panama everything was new and interesting. Now a trip to the supermarket or to the chino (neighborhood convenience store) is so routine it’s not at all remarkable. It’s easy to forget that routine stuff is interesting to people who aren’t here but unfortunately, I don’t sit down and write about it.

We are settled back in after our travels to the US, the band hasn’t been super busy, and I’ve had a bit more free time than usual. So, other than the usual chores and errands …. which we have managed to minimize…. we have a freezer so we can avoid going shopping for many days and housekeeping…. I need a certain level of order but not enough to obsess about spiders in the corner or spots on the floor. I’ve tried to cut down on time spent on line. I don’t need to read everything, or get engaged in every forum, or write detailed answers for people who haven’t done even basic research (this one I’m still working on.., I tend to be too “nice”). But still, time is always in short supply.

Anyway, free time, it’s mainly been used to learn new songs, go biking, talk with friends and family, cut up fruit or make juice for freezing, or enjoy a bit of yard work. Mangoes are in season and falling from the trees. We had a really large head of bananas ripen, the limón tree is loaded with fruit, and the guanabanas (soursop) are also in season.

It’s still hot summer and we are anxiously waiting for the rains to return. Some days the clouds come by and tease us, or drop rain in only a few areas. Today is overcast, the first day we haven’t been baked in the hot sun. I’m not sure what that means but we are thankful. Boquete, however, has ranged from cool a breezy to cold, wet, and windy. It’s like a different world up there.

Utilities in David tend to be reliable (except for water, but we have a tank now). There was a very strange thing last week though. Half the house went out. I figured there was something very wrong in the breaker box and we needed an electrician, so I called the neighbor for the number of one nearby. It turned out to be an electric company problem. Half the neighbor’s house was also out, and other houses in the neighborhood were half out as well. How strange is that?! It was like that for a while, and then the power went out entirely. They got busy fixing it though and power came back an hour or two later. I’ve never heard of such a thing. Apparently houses are wired differently here.

That’s all that comes to mind at the moment.  Maybe today I’ll finally get to make those healthy oatmeal banana cookies I’ve been meaning to try.


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New Fruit, Mamey

Mamey Sapote….  well it’s new to me and I love this fruit!

I first saw it in Cuba a couple years ago when our hostess served it for breakfast. Then, I saw it again the last time we were there, and then again, recently, at a produce market here in David. Word is that Mamey is only found in March and is used for making “chicha” (the word for pretty much any fruit drink).

The fruit here is considerably bigger than what we saw in Cuba, and tends to have fiber below the skin but the flavor and appearance is the same. It reminds me of a cooked sweet potato but very sweet, and I’m happy to just eat it with a spoon.

The recipes for drinks all seem to ask for fruit, ice, milk, and sugar. I made a drink and it was wonderful but you definitely don’t need sugar! I found it to be super sweet.

I didn’t have any luck sprouting the Cuban seeds/pits, but I have a couple more here in damp paper towels, a method I found recommended on line. Maybe with luck I’ll have a tree someday. I was told they are very large trees so if it doesn’t work I’m happy buying the fruit in season and putting some aside in the freezer for later.

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It’s Hot!

It’s summer here in David, Panama, the height of summer. The dry season is mid December to mid April so by now we are tired of hot, dry weather and we are wishing for rain. Usually we have the most intense heat in April right before the rain but this year it seems to be here early, but there is no sign that the rain will also be early. (I know the weather report above predicts rain but I’ll believe it when I see it)

This is our thermometer this morning, about 10:20 AM.

The last couple nights it only went down to the low 80’s. We almost never use AC at night so the unit is in the living room (for those hot afternoons). But, even with AC and fans to blow the cool air down the hall, it was still hot.

Let night, however, we had a band gig in Boquete, only 40 minutes up the mountain. It was probably around 70 degrees, breezy, and wet! It wasn’t raining but the misty bajareque was rolling through leaving a layer of moisture on everything it touched. It often feels like a different world up there! Here we are approaching Boquete, heading into the clouds.

But, with bajareque comes rainbows! This is the view while we unloaded the band equipment.

We think we have the best of all worlds. We like the warmth of David (even if we are whining a bit at the moment) and the convenience of all the city has to offer nearby. But, we go to Boquete a lot. On the way we see gorgeous views of the mountains. We get a bit of cold weather, we get to see friends and play some music, and then we come home to our David  neighborhood and the dog who is always happy to see us.

There is no snow, ice, flooding, blizzards, and we’ve had much hotter weather in many other places we’ve lived in the US. All in all it’s pretty darn good here.

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There are many mango trees in Panama, and they thrive here. I have seen huge trees and talked to people who say they can be more than 100 years old. People say that you plant mangoes for your grandchildren because by then, they will be large and very productive.

It’s coming into mango time now. We have been watching the trees flower, then the little fruits develop, and now there are many trees with large clusters of fruit hanging and waiting to ripen.

Last year there were no mangoes. Word was there was a storm with lots of wind that blew the flowers off the trees. No flowers – no fruit. This year I’m happy that this didn’t happen again.

We went biking a couple days ago and checked one of my favorite trees. The fruit is small but ripens earlier than most. A lot of it is close to the ground so it doesn’t bruise when it falls, and it tastes good.

The fruit is low…

The fruit is high….

The fruit is ready to spread on a cookie sheet for freezing….

The fruit is frozen, packed, and ready to store in the freezer… By the end of the season I hope to have a few bags to last until next season.

I love that there is so much growing everywhere here. Just in our yard alone we have bananas. We left them up a little too long so they are sunburned but they will still taste great.

We also have yuca, pineapples, passion fruit (but no fruit because the iguanas keep eating the flowers), plantains, and citrus. We have oranges and now something they call “mandarinas” that are large, dark green, orange inside and so sweet and delicious! We also have tons of limóns, funny green fruit with beige patches, tart orange fruit and tons of juice. We have been freezing lots of juice for later. We have soursop, ginger, culantro (not cilantro, but another herb), and we are waiting on coconuts, huge yellow lemons, avocados, and some other fruits I grew but don’t remember now what they are. The land here provides a lot, and the people here tend to appreciate that and grow a lot of food producing plants and trees in their yards.

I owe many thanks to our neighbor Luis, good friend of our landlords. He planted all these fruit trees that we all enjoy so much. Gracias Luis.

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