A trip to Houston Texas to personally deal with getting documents notarized and authenticated as well as getting our new set of fingerprints for our new FBI background check, was a success. And it was also time for our border run so we got that out of the way at the same time. Mind you, we already went through this whole notarize, authenticate, apostle process once before and we knew from experience that mailing it all would take way too much time. Not to mention we were in serious need of a little shopping spree! (Insert Happy Dance Right Here!) So Flying into Houston and walking over to the Panamanian consulate to deal with it all in person was a much more efficient way to do it. Getting our fingerprints done there was also much easier although the ‘runaround’ that we went through was very reminiscent of Panama. Before we even arrived in Houston we had gone online to Google maps to locate the nearest Police station to go for our fingerprints. When we got there the guy told us we would need to go to the Main Police Station downtown Houston….Okay. Off we went to the Main Police station. After searching for a place to park and paying $10.00 for the precious spot, we went into the building only to be told by the friendly man at the reception desk that we would have to go to the Permit office in a different area of town…..Okay….off we went AGAIN, laughing all the way because it’s not just Panama that makes you pull out your hair! Hah! At least it was all in English so even though we were getting the ‘runaround’, we felt just a tiny bit less clueless just understanding how to get someplace and what we were supposed to do. After finding the permit office we again had a “Panama” moment when we were told to take the elevator down to the basement then the guy down there told us to take the elevator back up to where we had already been to pay at the window and then come back down to the basement! HAh!!! Okay…..down, up , down again… We had to laugh at how similar to Panama some parts of our trip turned out to be. Of course, finding your way around a strange place when they have actual street names and addresses on buildings is an amazing experience! No problem! Oh! And GPS is a dream come true! YEA for GPS!! The smartest thing we did on this trip was to rent a car from the Hertz office in the hotel for a day. We had planned to take taxi’s but Sheesh! The taxi from the airport to the hotel was $45.00! We’re not in Boquete anymore! The rental car was only $65.00 for 24 hours, not bad. We were really glad to have it, especially given the fact that we ended up doing so much running a round.
We still have a few other things to deal with ,like obtaining a new certified copy of our Marriage certificate from California and then sending it to the DC to have it Authenticated , but that should be pretty fast. Last time we sent documents to them the turn around was very efficient. Here’s Something to know if your going through this visa process, it’s important to know who can Apostle or Authenticate which documents. (okay, take a deep breath!) If you have a state notarized document it has to be Apostilled at the secretary of that state or the the Panamanian consulate of that state or the Panamanian Consulate in Washington DC. If it’s a federal notary the secretary of state in Washington DC is the only one who can Apostle it. Federal Notaries include anything notarized by the U.S. Embassy in Panama. I know, confusing! But this information was not given to us and mistakes were made. Again, I’ve said before, it’s really hard to know what questions to ask! And add to that , the fact that the laws change frequently. But hopefully others wont make some of the mistakes we made.
I had been to Texas to visit my mother twice in the past, she lives in Fort Worth and Scott and I were in Houston. The first thing I noticed as our shuttle driver was driving us to our hotel was how clean it was there in Houston. Not a bit of trash on the sides of the road, anywhere! Imagine that! And it was very, very FLAT! No Volcan baru in the distance, no mountains at all, just flat! Another thing I have to mention is… I’ve never been in a place where I saw soooo many big pick-up trucks! And spoken like the California gal that I am….no Prius’s or Hybrid cars at all! Well, I suppose it’s because its Oil & Gas country! Hah! Nobody really wants to conserve on gas when gas is what makes your world go around. One of the most notable things that stands out to me about Houston is just how friendly and helpful all those Texans are! Lot’s of big smiles and jokes , we even asked the Fed Ex guy if he could tell us where the UPS office was and he went out of his way to help us! And of course, aside from all our paperwork and a bit of shopping, we were on a mission for some good food!
First up on our mission to find some good grub was BBQ! Texas is most certainly the right place for BBQ! Our shuttle driver had recommended a restaurant called Goode Company, which was walking distance from our hotel. So after checking into our hotel and dropping off all those empty suitcases we brought with us (oh yea! We filled those puppies up ! ) , off we went to get us some BBQ. YUMMMM! Smoked ribs and brisket and pork and sausage….Oh ya! Baked beans and potato salad and cheese bread to die for….Diet? What Diet? After rolling back to our hotel, we fell asleep in a stupor of BBQ bliss. Next up…after dealing with all our official visa stuff, shopping!
We had most of Thursday for shopping after we finally got our fingerprints done. Thursday was an official Panamanian holiday so the Consulate was closed that day. We would be at the Consulate first thing Friday morning but Thursday we hit the stores in an effort to fill those ’empty’ suitcases I mentioned before. We made a list of some things we needed, Yes, needed! Hah! And REI was our first destination. Scott really needs some new hiking/working boots and buying them in the states would be much more economical than ordering them online and having them shipped here. And I love that store, I got a much needed hat, and three new pairs of my favorite Keens (shoes). Then I went to check out the clothing section at REI and oooops! My new casual lifestyle really fits into all the wonderful clothes at a sporting goods store! While Scott was trying on boots and shopping for a new backpack I hit the dressing room with piles of clothes to try on. After 30 years of working as a stylist and buying clothes appropriate for that job, Its really fun to have a more casual lifestyle and not need to worry about what’s fashionable, although, I found some fashionable enough casual clothes! :). While I tried on my clothes Scott found a new backpack and a snake bite kit (good to have here!), a new headlamp, a new water bottle for me (mine fell out of our backpack on our last bus ride!) and two coffee thermos’s (we cant seem to find one that doesn’t leek here!) and a pair of sunglasses for him. Next up BEST BUY! I got a new bluetooth keyboard for my iPad, which I was really really in need of, my old one was very well used and needed to be retired. Scott needed a travel case for his computer, our backpack was just not really big enough and a pain to squeeze it into when we need to take it with us. He also really needs a new smartphone the battery on his is just gone, it doesn’t hold a charge anymore. But he wasn’t willing to pay all that money for a new phone when he hates talking on the phone anyways! What he really needed was some sort of tablet to have access to his emails and the internet while he’s on the job site. And he ended up buying an unlocked Nexus tablet and he’ll just buy a cheap phone here in Boquete and get a data plan for the tablet. After hitting a few more stores in the mall we were ready to drop! Although…..Our shopping day wasn’t over until we hit Scott’s store…HOME DEPOT! Uggggg! This is where the bags really get filled up! Hammers, a new drill, bits, a saw, blades for that, a bunch of other construction junk (my words, not his) and I also picked up a bunch of packets of flower and vegetable seeds. Now, we were done with our amazing shopping extravaganza. Hoping we would be able to stay within the 50 lb. per bag weight limit for our suitcases!
Friday was spent locating the Panamanian Consulate and successfully getting our documents Notarized and authenticated. Then we headed back to the hotel to finish filling out the request for the FBI background check and preparing that along with our fingerprints to mail. Then we decided to walk to the Fed Ex office to mail that and it just happened that there was a U.S. post office right next door which we needed as well to mail a few things and to buy some U.S. postage stamps. It’s not always easy to find U.S. postage here in Panama. Our paperwork mission for now was completed and we had one last mission on our minds…..A good Steak dinner! I Know….We are sooooo carnivorous! But we just love our meat! Hah! It’s one of the few things we haven’t found especially good here in Panama. But in Texas….well….let’s just say, we found some really good meat there! I have a feeling we could not go wrong when It came to finding a place for a good steak dinner. We wondered into a place called Gracey’s and we very nearly never left that restaurant! Two bottles of good wine and two mouth watering dinners later, followed by a decadent desert, and we thought we had died and gone to heaven! MMMMMM! “Somebody roll us back to our hotel please!” Sheesh! We’re gonna need some serious Zumba when we get home to Boquete! LOL!
And now that we’ve gotten back to our peaceful mountain home in the lush hillside town of Boquete, all is well! It’s so refreshing to be home again. Driving up the driveway, through all the banana trees and coffee plants we breath a sigh of relief…..Ahhhhhh….It’s good to be home! All this pain in the butt paperwork that has us at times feeling a little less “tranquilo” than we like, is allllllll worth it. There may be a few things we have given up by choosing to expatriate and to live in Central America, like some food we miss and the ability to buy certain things easily, but there’s also a balance for us when we look around. Having the time and energy to enjoy our surroundings and our day to day life together, is making us so much happier. This adventure suits us just fine! It’s not a lifestyle for everyone, but for us, It’s just right!