A little progress report…

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We’ve been living In Panama for nearly 18 months now. After spending so much time researching and then planning for this move, it feels so good to feel ourselves settling in more and more with the passing of time. Never having made a move like this in my lifetime, Its been quite an adventure for me. As I’ve said before , I had never moved away from Northern California where I grew up, so this transition has been all encompassing for me. I can’t even begin to express what a huge life change our move to Panama has been. And its a change that’s creating endless opportunities to learn and to grow in countless ways. I’ve never really thought of myself necessarily as a ‘risk-taker’, but I imagine most of my friends and family may beg to differ with my opinion of myself in that regard, Hah! My life before moving to Central America was pretty ‘normal’, and I felt very secure in the lifestyle I had worked so hard to create. Well, ‘normal, aside from being an Entrepreneur, because I know that owning a business isn’t always something everyone is interested in taking on. I think my life was pretty ‘run of the mill’ so to speak…..well, not anymore!

I feel so proud of what we are accomplishing as a couple. This decision to uproot ourselves and move to Central America was a risky one in many ways. One way it was risky is just the amount of time Scott and I now spend together. That may sound strange, but seriously, before this move we spent the majority of everyday away from each other. We were like every other couple we know, only having the evenings and weekends together. But now, we’re together all the time! When we aren’t together we are in constant communication. We recently bought walky-talkys so we can get in touch when the cell phones aren’t working. This has proven to be a really good investment. We often have various errands when we need to divide and concur and its great to be able to get in touch when we need to.

As I’m typing this I’m remembering the adventure we took on when we decided to remodel our house in Los Altos, without hiring a contractor, and Scott never having had any experience doing anything quite like that in his life…..he had been a finance guy, a controller for a high tech company. He had never done any home remodeling aside from building a deck in my backyard with his buddy Jason. But, as I like to say, Scott missed getting that gene that most of us have, you know, that common element that many of us has when we question our ability to do something? Yea, when you silently think to yourself, “Will I be able to do, this or that?” Well, from my observations, I have decided that he’s so successful at tackling seemingly impossible tasks because he never wastes precious time and energy telling himself he ‘can’t’ do something. Instead, he dives in, whole heartedly and just enjoys the challenge. Never limiting himself with worry over the fact that he’s never done a particular task before. Seriously, his self confidence and ability to ‘figure’ out nearly anything inspires me. And, may I just say, for those of you who don’t know him, don’t misunderstand this description and think that this character trait is one that comes from ego, no, he’s just a very ‘matter of fact’ kind of individual. And…..Maybe just a bit of a control freak? Hmmmmm…could be! Hah! ( As I just re-read this paragraph it got me thinking about many of the new friends we’ve made here. I have to say, to make a move to a new place and create a whole new life , like all of our new friends here have also done, it takes some very similar character traits that I think we share. A sense of adventure, bravery, a vision of living life a little differently than most, Willingness to change and to grow, and an innate sense of ‘knowing’ that you can make your life look like whatever you want it to look like, in spite of what others may think.)

Well, one thing we’ve learned so far in our experience living in Panama is that one must be willing to do a lot on your own. At least this goes without saying when one decides to buy property and undertake the task of building a house. Well, we could have hired a contractor….NOT! I have to silently chuckle when I think of our original plan…we had originally planned to buy property and hire a contractor to build the ‘shell’ of our house. Then we would go in and do all the finish work, you know, the tile work, the electrical, plumbing, cabinetry…this is where I roll my eyes! Yep! I have a sneaking suspicion my husband never intended to hire a contractor to build his house! Pffffft! What was I thinking, believing that malarky??? I was indeed delusional …Anyways…I digress….

Here we are, nearly 18 months into living in Boquete. As Iv’e said before, we’ve fallen into a sort of rhythm in our day to day life. I’ve noticed that I’m becoming accustomed to this new routine and much of what seemed, ’new, and different’ now feels just ’normal’. Like for instance, this spectacular view I wake up to each morning. And the sounds of all the birds. Last night we were talking about sounds we don’t hear up here in the mountains of Panama…ambulance sirens, airplanes, train horns the sounds of traffic, just to name a few. Actually, come to think of it, in this neighborhood we don’t even have any roosters crowing in the morning and hardly ever dogs barking, its very peaceful and serene up here in Jaramillo Centro. Right now as Im typing this post the sounds of the dozen or so Hummingbirds eating at my two feeders is the prominent sound…they sound like giant mosquitos or like the sound of a light saber in Star Wars…its funny. And how cool is it that the sound that I hear the most this very moment is a band of hungry hummers ! I love it! And Scott just drove up the hill with his truck full of our workers heading up to start a day of work. They stand up in the bed of the truck, holding onto the bar near the cab and every morning when they drive by this house, I’m usually sitting here typing on my computer and they all wave at me as they go by. I sometimes pick them up but right now we have too many workers to fit in my car so Scott has to go.

I mentioned that this new lifestyle has given me many opportunities to learn and to grow in Countless ways….and that Scott and I are now spending the majority of our time together. Even before we made this move we’ve always enjoyed spending time together, we actually genuinely enjoy the company of each other. Its been interesting to see how our roles have changed with our new life. I know everyone who knows me is aware of my less than enthusiastic feelings about cooking. I’ve never really enjoyed being in the kitchen and I’ve always been really lucky that Scott loves to cook so much. But lately for obvious reasons that I’m sure I need not go into, he’s not been especially enthusiastic to cook every night…sigh…poor me, Hah! Although he still cooks, frequently I find myself needing to take the lead and prepare a little something to eat. Early on I took on the task of making breakfast for him before he left to work on the casita. Now, this was a new thing for me. I’ve never been the one to prepare meals, as I’ve mentioned. But It was something I actually enjoyed doing, and I’m still really loving it. I usually get up a little before Scott and I make breakfast. Mind you, my breakfast menu is rather limited to pancakes, french toast and the normal egg dishes with english muffins….and always fresh ground coffee, which is a given since we are surrounded by coffee fincas up here in the land of coffee. But he loves it! And guess what, I love it too! I also started early on in this new adventure, making him lunches. When we were living in Alto Lino I would drive up here every day and bring him lunch and we would sit in our little folding chairs that we always keep in my car, and eat lunch together under the trees overlooking the beginnings of what will one day be our home. This ‘meal preparing’ gig I’ve somehow fallen into has really become something that has surprisingly made me feel really good. I’ve never liked cooking, but lately I must admit that , while I’d never call myself a ‘good cook’, I am enjoying preparing meals for my sweet husband. And I think its really nice that I never feel rushed or in any hurry while I’m cooking or making lunch. I don’t have to run off to work or drive anyone anyplace, Its fairly leisurely and unhurried and never ever do I feel like I’m doing something I “have to” do!

Often times Scott and I will find that we need to ‘divide and conquer’ in order to get certain things done. I’ve found that I end up being the one that has to do all the banking and mail retrieval errands as well as the grocery shopping. Scott is usually running to the local construction supply place for sand or rock or whatever he happens to need that day. Just the other day I had to go to two different banks and make a deposit into the bank of the company where we ordered our transformers for our electricity run. So It was, off to Banco General with the account number and name to make a deposit and then off to our bank to make a deposit from our Schwab account in the states to cover the first deposit, ugh, I’m not normally the finance person but I took charge because going to the construction supply store was for sure not in my arena of ‘can do’ things. And, talking about our electricity, I may not have updated you on that aspect of our project.

As you know, we are really hoping to be able to move into our little casita by January when our friends Al & Kat return from the states (although, they have very kindly and generously reminded me on more than one occasion that we shouldn’t feel too much pressure because they won’t be upset to be roomies again for a short time when they return in Jan!). Nonetheless, we are really looking forward to living in our new place. I gotta tell ya, its been nearly 18 months since we’ve had a place to call ‘Our own’. We’ve been so blessed to have lived in such comfortable and homey places that we loved but its just not the same as having your very own space, ya know? So, on the subject of Electricity, if your new to our little Adventure, our property has zero infrastructure to it. And by ‘infrastructure’ I mean, you know, little things like water and electricity , oh, and a road. Hah! yep, alllll those wonderful little conveniences that we take for granite in the states when we buy a new home, those things are up to us to provide for ourselves. Its kinda like the “Wild, wild west” here in the highlands of Panama. Hah! I’m not complaining, don’t think for a second that we’ve been at all ‘put out’ or even surprised by these realities of building in Panama. We knew, before we began this project , that we were about to have a big Adventure. Thats why this blog is called , “Let The Adventure Begin”! This is exactly what we signed up for when we decided to expatriate. And boy are we learning a lot!! (I say this with a big smile on my face!) So, several months back we got hooked up to the aqueduct system and we have water, we are still working on getting the water storage tanks and filtration system all hooked up but that aspect of our infrastructure is well on its way and nearly all set up and ready to go.

The electricity, on the other hand has proven to be a little more of a headache. Not because its hard to get it up here, but because of this one little aspect of the Panamanian culture, this tendency to not want to tell people something they know that you don’t want to hear, you know, a little thing know as…THE TRUTH! Hah! Oh, yes, its just not their way to say, “This is a job I do not want to take on”. Something like that. We’ve had at least 5 or 6 electricians up to our property to give us quotes on bringing the power from the Jaramillo Centro road, up to our property. Its a big job, and a long run up to our place. They come out, they are very friendly and nice and seem very interested in doing the job and they tell us they will email or call with a quote for doing the work, and then………nothing! They never get back to us and don’t return calls or emails. We are attributing this to the fact that here in Panama its just thought of as wrong or rude to tell someone something they don’t want to hear. So instead of just being honest and upfront and telling us that this job is too big for them or that they simply don’t want to do it, they just disappear and never communicate at all. Humph! On the other hand, our most recent interaction with an electrician was a whole other approach. This electrician, who, I may add, has been the one who seems to have the most experience and really knows his stuff , he has been very very good at communicating and has followed through on getting back to us. But he gave us a quote that was so outrageously expensive we felt it was his way of saying, “I don’t really want to do this job but if you pay me an outrageous amount, then I’ll do it!” Eye roll here! Well, we most certainly are not willing to pay him his outrageous price. So Scott asked him to give us a price for only doing the major hookups and dealing with the permits with the city and the electricity company. Scott will do all the trenching, build the cement boxes (11 of them!) that hold the transformers, and lay all the conduit and buy all the wire and all the materials…Ugh! He got back to us with his price for doing nearly nothing, and agreed to work with us. His price was still crazy, but more doable for us. And, he’s a very good electrician, he’s been highly recommended by a Panamanian who knows all the most reliable and qualified people, so we trust him. And….we are running out of time, we already know that although the casita looks like it will be ‘livable’ by our January goal, we are pretty sure it won’t have power when we move in. This isnt so uncommon. We’ve talked to many who have had to live in their new house with no power. And we do have a good generator that will run the fridge and so, we’ll manage for a short time without it. At least we know we will have water…thats kinda important! Hah!

The other little ‘Adventure’ we’re having at the moment has to do with buying wood. You know, wood to build cabinets and doors as well as wood for the ceilings on our terraces and the soffets of the roofs. Here in Panama this is a little different than in the States. There simply are no Wood Stores. Nope. You don’t just go to the store where they stock lots of different varieties of wood that is ready to go, all made into nice perfect boards, and dried out ready to made stuff with it. No sir. As Scott has gotten his workshop all ready to go, with all his wood working tools all set up, he’s itching to buy some wood! And I’m itching to see him get started making me some cabinets, you know…those things I didn’t have in my house in California until it was ready to sell!! Ya! Those things! Pfffft! Anywhoo…I’m really right there with Scott, ready to buy some wood. But, as I was saying, buying wood isnt as simple as one would assume. It turns out that we’ve had to start asking around and putting the word out that we’re in the market for buying large amounts of wood. We got the name of a man who many of our wood working friends buy wood from, a man named , Guy. So Guy got back to us and came up to our house with a few small wood samples of different varieties that he can procure for us. He and Scott talked for a long time and Scott is trying to learn about what types of wood is available here. It would seem , so far, from our observations and from talking to people who know about buying wood here, that its a ‘word or mouth’ type of thing to find wood to buy. You gotta know a guy who knows a guy, who has a neighbor who’s sister in-law has a cousin who’s father owns a finca where a tree fell! Hah! I’m not kidding! I find this little detail about living in Central America quite amusing. But we did manage , with Guys help, to locate a large amount of wood that would be suitable for the ceilings and soffets . The wood would need to be milled as it would be delivered as big blocks of wood, not actually boards of pre-cut lumber. And then it would need to sit in Scotts workshop for some time until its dried enough to work with. And, there happens to be a man, or several men, who own mobile saw mills. They will come here and mill the wood to make it into boards, how convenient is that! So we told Guy we wanted to buy the 6,000 board feet of the wood, its called Cedro, and he communicated this to the guys who had the wood. Then we kept hearing that they were on the way, apparently 2 hours away and then we heard they needed to procure another truck because one truck was not big enough to transport such a large amount of wood. We had to laugh because Guy told us that we should be patient because organizing Panamanians was like trying to Herd Cats! Hah! This went on and on until they finally got to Guys place. Well, Guy inspected the wood and decided it didn’t look like good product and he rejected it! How nice is that…Its good to know someone who is familiar with the wood here and can tell when something is not good. But that meant we were back to square one on our search for wood. Then two different friends of ours , Joel and Al, both forwarded us an email from some local man who has a very large amount of several different varieties of wood that he wants to sell. We went to look at it and wow! Its a lot of wood and its already cut into boards and its been stored under roof and drying for several years, making it ready to use. But the man was asking way too much money for it, so Scott just gave him an offer, about half of what he was asking and he accepted the offer. Now, Scott is going to try to count the wood to see just exactly how much is there. The man who owns the wood told us that for the low amount of money he’s not willing to count and measure the wood, so its up to us to figure out exactly what is there before money switches hands. This will be a lot of work, but when has Scott every shrugged at a lot of work? NEVER! We shall see if this actually ends up working out. But It seems like we may be one step closer to having wood. Life is good!

One thing Scott and I both are really enjoying about our move may sound funny to you…we are enjoying the challenge of learning how to do almost everything much differently than we are accustomed to. We both have a sense of humor and get good chuckles out of so many things we face during our construction project. You gotta be able to see the humor and to laugh, or you’d go crazy! Hah! From finding materials to dealing with the laborers and even learning about how and what we are supposed to do in terms of permits and inspections. We’re really enjoying learning so much, and doing it all in Spanish just adds one more layer of craziness! Some things, while different still have similarities to how things are done in the states. Some things seems silly to us while other things seem so much easier. Inefficiencies are not unique to Panama, because we also learned about countless crazy inefficiencies in the states as well, obviously!

I think for me, I have to tell you that I am reveling in the newness of my life. The fact that there are days when I realize halfway through my day that I have not even looked at myself in the mirror that day, makes me laugh! Especially given the fact that in my previous life I stood in front of a mirror everyday for nearly 30 years! I love how much different my life is now. I love that my focus is not the same. I love that I can focus on connecting with my wonderful new friends here and building a home as well as re-defining with each passing day, what is important to me in that particular day. Each day I’m faced with a clean slate. I’m not confined to being in a box and striving to maintain my life according to any notion of what I ’should’ be doing other than my own ’notion’ of what I will do this day. We’re working hard together and enjoying it more than I can express in the written word. Life is good! And Adventure Is The BEST!

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6 responses »

  1. What a great post on the differences living here in Panama and the States. Sally and I are still getting used to the fact that we can take our time and just do what we want, when we want. Our dinner with you and Scott was fun for us and helped us understand how fortunate we are to have that freedom. We are looking forward to seeing you again. Rick Flaherty

  2. Oh, Holly! You’ll never know how much I enjoy hearing about your adventure. We’ll be staying at the Spanish by the River School in Alto Boquete, from Dec. 23rd (bussing it from El Valle) and leaving for Bocas del Toro on Dec. 30th. I’ve already told Kris that we’d like to meet you all and take you out for drinks or a meal and find out more about what it’s like to live in the area.

    Kris also said you might be able to recommend a shuttle company for Boquete to/from Bocas del Toro?

    We’re also deciding on how best to handle the cell phone in Panama. Do you think it’s worth picking up a cheap-o phone in P.C. with minutes or just switch out the SIM on my smartphone?

    When you email back, do you have a contact number? I’ll also give you our phone numbers.

    Can’t wait to meet you and Scott. I admire your courage and get a kick out of your sense of humor!

  3. A “Little” progress report?????—–hah–that was a great progress report—and I do so admire you and Scott for your “largess” in accepting all that you need to do to “get along” in Panama!!! I am assuming that the wood in the picture is of the wood that you bought from the man for half price?? My husband is adding a garage to a piece of property he bought in Monterey about 3 years ago–it has a small house on a long, narrow lot. The house is 800 sq. ft.—the garage will be 1000 sq ft. !! As you will remember, my husband is a “car” guy and has several cars and hopes to store some of them in his new three car garage. I showed him Scott’s workshop–much like what M is building in Monterey. Probably not quite as big—-but now I will show him how Scott get’s his wood—-Milton simply calls a local lumber yard and they deliver just what he needs—–as you said—different ways of doing everything in Panama!!! I don’t think my husband would “survive”!!! :)) The best to you and Scott—-

  4. Thanks for you comment. Its really nice to know when people are appreciating my story, Id love to let you know when I publish new posts, the easy way for you to get updates is to subscribe to my blog. It’s easy to subscribe, all you do is go to the home page of my blog and on the right hand side if you scroll down a bit you will see a space that says..”push here to subscribe”, you will simply put your email address and click ‘confirm’, then you’ll receive a confirmation email , you just confirm that you want to subscribe and then every time I publish a new post you will receive an email letting you know. Thanks so much!

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