Car Insurance

A few days ago we took a daytrip to Rio Sereno on the Costa Rican border. Shorter distance but travel time is about the same as going to Paso Canoas, Panama’s major western border town. Jan wanted to look for a supplier of hanging baskets. Hardly worth it to me, but she had heard it was a pretty drive and convinced me to make the trip. It was a pretty drive, and that’s what this post was originally going to be about. But things happen, especially things that start with the letter “s”.

Either on our way over or on the way back I mentioned to her that we needed to renew the car insurance soon. I noticed that it expires early next month. No more was said about it.

When we were just a few kilometers from home there was a lone cop doing a traffic stop. He wanted to see drivers license and insurance. No problem. Here you go.

He pointed out the expiration date of the policy: 07-06-16. Yes, so what’s the problem?  I barely uttered the words when I realized that down here that date means the 7th day of June, not the 6th day of July. I knew that, but somehow my brain wasn’t in gear when I looked at the policy a few weeks ago.   (That happens a lot lately.)

He told us to pull off the road. He was going to write us a ticket. From there it got only worse. He said he was calling a tow truck. I tried, Jan tried, but there was no talking him out of it. He was not going to let us drive the vehicle without insurance.

OK, so how about I leave the car here, go to town and come back with an insurance policy? He wasn’t interested. I really considered offering a bribe. It would be so much cheaper … and faster. Jan said no. She was probably right.   But we’ll never know about that.

All this happened on a Saturday mid-afternoon. I called my insurance agent immediately upon reaching home. Well, she got out of the business about 6 months ago. So we called both of our two closest friends here and got recommendations from each. One of the agents responded even late on a Saturday afternoon. By Sunday we had a list of things she needed to write the policy: registration, drivers licenses, passports, and pictures of the car.

The car was at an impound. Couldn’t get in for photos on a Sunday. So that had to wait until Monday morning.

By Tuesday morning we had an emailed copy of our new policy. I went to try to get our car out of jail but was told we had to first pay the ticket. I expected that, but thought it was worth a try.

We had to go into David to take care of the ticket. A one hour drive,  one way.

Without too much difficulty we found the place. A non-descript little office in one of the wings of Chiriqui Mall, the closest thing to a shopping center around here. (But that’s about to change.)

The first window Jan went to (I’m taking pictures) referred her to a different clerk at a free-standing desk.


This clerk said or did something and then Jan went back to the original window.


It was suggested by a friend that the ticket might be waived when we provided proof of insurance. That didn’t happen. $50.

Before leaving I thought I would be great if Jan took a picture of me on this bike.  She wouldn’t even consider it.


OK, so now I couldn’t wait to get back home and get our car out of hock.

When we got to the impound lot the old man I’d been dealing with wasn’t around. I dealt with the wife and the daughter. They wrote me up for $195. I was livid, and they knew it. But what could one expect from a towing business, right?  Even in Panama.

We barely got home when the owner, the old man, called. His women made a mistake. They charged me according to someone else’s bill.  Come back and he will refund us $50. And he did.  I was and still am dumbstruck.

The Lawn Service

Based on the strong recommendation of a neighbor, we contracted with a local Panamanian for a lawn cutting every 2 weeks. After the first cutting, he was about a week late. Now we find he’s almost a month late and the grass is getting really tall. After all, this is the rainy season.

We called him with a gentle nudge and within a couple hours he had a young man show up with a string trimmer, that being second only to machetes in preferred lawn cutting equipment.

As he didn’t arrive until around noon, there was some concern about him finishing before the rains began. The concern was well placed. He had hardly started when the skies opened up. But we continued to hear his trimmer running.

I went to the patio and this is what I saw.


Internet Service in a 3rd World Country

Living outside the US, in most countries I dare say, you are constantly reminded that “we’re not in Kansas anymore”.

The residence we recently left, because it was somewhat remote, had a choice of but one provider for internet service. It was mostly good, relatively speaking, but a single megabit per second of service cost $85/month. Two Mbps cost $150. We were eagerly anticipating the new residence in Volcan where the landlord had a different provider. He was paying less than $20 for a screaming 3Mbps!

After we moved in we were disappointed to find the differences between the two were not that dramatic, in spite of online testing services verifying the speeds. Twice I called the provider to order a faster speed that I knew they offered, and twice I was told someone would call me back. No one ever did.

We heard about a new service in town. Fiber optic instead of phone line. Yes, phone lines are still used by some ISPs. But probably not in the US. It took the intercession of a neighbor to actually get someone to talk to us about ordering the service. Nice enough young man. He wrote us up on a Thursday and said the installation should take place on the next Monday or Tuesday. It was Tuesday of the following week when it actually happened.

Tapping in to the main fiber optic line.

Tapping in to the main fiber optic line.

Stringing the cable from the road to the house.

Stringing the cable from the road to the house.









We had been told that when one ISP is installed over an existing service, the new one likes to disconnect, or pull out, the older one. We were not about to let that happen. At least not until the newer service had proved itself. As it turned out, they never even tried to disconnect the existing ISP.

There were a few false starts over several hours but eventually the new service was working to my satisfaction. Time will tell if it lasts.


Back to Houston Again, Thru Costa Rica

Once again for our trip back to Texas we elected to go through San Jose, CR (cheap airfare on SWA) and once again we took a Tracopa bus from David (because we knew the drill).  This time the bus was quite new and air-conditioned.  The only thing that made the ride the least bit uncomfortable was the road, the Pan American Hwy.

The bus trip from David, Panama to San Jose, Costa Rica took a total of 8 hrs.   It was  an hour just getting  through the border at Paso Canoas, of which maybe 10 min was spent actually conducting official business.  Most of the time was just waiting around.

I took advantage of the wait time to check out the bus stations here, both for Tracopa  and Tica Bus.  Everyone seemed to acknowledge that one could leave from Paso Canoas instead of David but no one knew how to buy the tickets at the border.  I now have that knowledge.

After several hours on the road,  there was a stop of about 30 min for lunch, where one gets a first impression of Costa Rica prices.  A very basic cafeteria style lunch for two was almost $15.

After another couple hours, there was a short potty break.  And at about 7:15PM local time, we arrived at Tracopa’s St Joseph bus station, near downtown San Jose.  Another 30 min or so and a $25 cab ride put us at our hotel.   

While Jan checked us in at the hotel I went over to check out the WalMart next door.  Imagine!  A WalMart in Central Ameria.  The store was huge.  And so were the prices.  A real disappointment.  Panama is much cheaper,  but the selections are far fewer.

The Courtyard Marriott had thoughtfully placed bottled water in our room available for purchase at $3 and $5.  So it should have been no surprise that they offered a Continental breakfast for $11.  Next time we will return to the Adventure Inn.

There were a few changes we noticed at the international airport.  Jan wanted to hurry and pay our exit tax as she remembered this to be a minor bottleneck.  Turns out it’s now included int the purchase price of the ticket.  Also, the lines to get through security were substantially longer, but still modest by the standards of most airports.  As we arrived almost 2 hrs early (her idea) all we had to do now is wait.



Looks like frogs in our future

We moved into a different residence about a month ago.  Now we’re in Volcan, the second major gringo area, at least for western Panama.  It’s quite different from Boquete.  Has a more rural feel to it, although by most gringo standards Boquete is plenty rural.  Volcan is much smaller than it’s neighbor to the east and English is spoken less.  More about all that later.

The house we’re renting occupies two city lots.   Towards one end of the property there’s a small, above-ground concrete pool.


Our landlord had emptied and cleaned it before going back to the hinterland.  We planned to do something with it … someday.  But so far it’s just been ignored.  Too many other things have a higher priority.  But the rainy season is on its way.  Not quite here yet, but it’s on its way and water is collecting.  This morning I noticed, from the house, what appeared to be a frog in the pond/pool.  I meant to remove it before it drowned (?) but got sidetracked.  It was several hours later before I remembered it.  That sort of thing happens a lot these days.

When I walked up toward the pond frogs started scattering everywhere.  I counted seven.  They must have been having a good time earlier as I noticed a small plant that I had forgotten about was now totally submerged with a sack of frog eggs attached to it.  That didn’t take long!



Another view


A sack of frog eggs at the tip of the plant.

 Already there’s clumps of algae in the pond and the frogs are trying to hide in it.  But it’s insufficient to hide all seven of them.


I wondered what they will do …


… when they want to get out?










So I propped up a board to make the egress easier.  I later saw a couple of them resting on it, but so far no one seems to want to leave.

I was, and still am, concerned about some mosquito larvae in the pond.  Do baby frogs, err, tadpoles eat them?  It would seem so, but what do I know?  And speaking of eat, what in fact are all those eggs going to eat?  I can’t just leave them alone, now that I know that they’re there.   Well, Google is my friend, so I’d better get busy.


Calendar Photo Shoot


The photographer for the 2017 Amigos de Animales calendar came by this morning to take pictures of Whiz Bang. I signed him up long ago, when he was a kitten and well before he exhibited signs of xenophobia. I was not optimistic about his cooperation and he didn’t disappoint my expectations. He absolutely freaks in the presence of strangers. Our friend Suzi has had the best luck with him but that’s only after spending 2 or 3 days here with us. Fortunately, we had other cats that were ready to step in and take his place.

We decided on Cinco.  Cinco de Meow. We rescued him in May 5 yrs ago from the streets of Cinco Ranch subdivision west of Houston.  Hence the name Cinco.  He’s very docile. No problem whatsoever with strangers. Or cameras. Whiz has an uncanny sense about cameras. He can detect their presence and immediately surrender a really cute pose. Still, I was hoping.

You can barely see Cinco on a big rock in the shadows.  The photographer is clicking away as Jan looks on,  Well, she sorta looks on.

At right, Whiz Bang in a defiant pose when told the photographer  would be coming.


At the Coast

The house that this trip was all about was not a disappointment, but the neighborhood and indeed the entire city was. Las Palmas was no doubt  an upscale neighborhood at one time.  Relatively speaking, I guess it still is.

This place belonged to the guy that used to spray the banana trees and whatever else around here.  He just recently closed the doors on the business.

Maybe his kids played in it?

Maybe his kids played in it?

Today, most, but not all, of the houses and properties are in depressing states of disrepair. The rest of the town was even worse. In it’s heydey, Puerto Armuelles had a population of about 40,000. Today it’s more like 20,000. But it is apparently rising. We heard from two different sources that Dole is now considering moving in. That would be a boon for the area and property values. Right now real estate is as cheap as we’ve seen in Panama. I guess the government sees potential because a nice 4-lane divided highway from the PanAmerican is almost finished.  In several places they got a bit ahead of themselves on the arrow markers.  This caused quite a start at first.

The road is 4-lane divided, but not finished in all areas.

The road is 4-lane divided, but not finished in all areas.

A couple that had another property we wanted to look at, only so the entire trip wouldn’t be spent on a single listing, happily drove us all over and around town. If it had the intent of getting us hooked on the area, it had the opposite effect. But somewhat surprisingly, their property had a tantalizing appeal to me.  I saw it as a welcome challenge.  The asking price was under $70K. It was a 1400 sq ft house on a small lot very near the beach, so close that grass wouldn’t grow on the lawn. The present tenants made it look like the place was occupied by a bunch of 14 yr olds. Totally trashed.

Looks fairly decent from the outside.

Looks fairly decent from the outside.

A bedroom?

A bedroom

The other end

The other end








While we were there only Grandma was in residence tending an infant. It was feeding time and three skinny dogs and a cat were hungrily hoping for some scraps. It’s a sad and pathetic fact that many Panamanians should never have pets. They can’t, or won’t, give them proper care.  It was much the same situation on St Croix.

Skinny animals and clearly hungry

Skinny animals and clearly hungry

We stopped at the Duty Free Zone on the way back to pick up the liquor on our shopping list. The particular tequila that was described for us as being “two for $12” turned out to be “one for $12” … and 80 cents. But we got the 1.75 liter bottle of Bacardi for only $10! That’s what I paid for Cruzan rum on St Croix 10 years ago.

Except for liquor, nothing we came across in our border shopping was any great value.

This entry was posted on February 1, 2016. 2 Comments

We’re Off to Puerto Armuelles

Today we continue our search for a new residence by heading to Puerto Armuelles (arm-WAY-yes) the closest beach town on the Pacific coast. We’ve lined up a restored 1942 house that United Fruit Company (Chiquita banana) built for it’s upper management peoiple back when this was a big banana exporting area.  Looks like something out of an old movie.  We also plan to stop in the Costa Rican border town of Paso Canoas to pick up some (allegedly) cheap liquor.  Like great tequila for $6/bottle.  We’ll see.

Not Panama, but Interesting Enough

I like to read in bed before going to sleep. History books, mainly biographies, are my main interest. I like the big, thick books that treat the subject thoroughly, but reduced in physical size so they can be read on a Kindle.

Having recently finished Truman’s biography by David McCullough (my favorite author) I was perusing the book store on Amazon. Somehow, some way, I came across a title “The Captured: A True Story of Abduction by Indians on the Texas Frontier” by Scott Zesch. Maybe it was just the title alone, maybe it was because it was Texas, or the fact that my daughter as a child was regaled by her great grandmother with tales of being kidnapped by Indians when she herself was a child (stories that I considered entertaining but not much more) but something made me pause and read the synopsis. It was not my usual read, but I thought I’d take a chance.

I was hooked from the beginning. The setting was hill country Texas with towns whose names are very familiar to me, like Fredericksburg, Lano, Mason, Lampasas. I somehow never gave any real thought to what it was that might have been in this area. I had a vague understanding that there were a lot of German settlers trying to push the frontier ever westward, with an even vaguer understanding of the hardships they endured. I had a vaguer yet understanding of the Indians, mostly Comanche, that too often terrorized the mostly German settlers.. What an eye-opener this book is!

The book all starts with the author’s research into a distant ancestor that was kidnapped by Apaches. He spent nearly 3 years with the Indians and even though he was ultimately returned to his own kind, he would forever remain an Indian. The book deals with a number of white families and the unspeakable atrocities committed against both adults and children by the Indians to the north. Fiction could hardly be more dramatic. And all of this happened in Texas, just a few miles from where my daughter now lives!

It seemed like something she would like to read. I called her on the phone and started to tell her about this great book I thought she might like to read. It’s about Indians kidnapping and murdering white children and adults in the last half of the 1800’s. She said, “Wait a minute. I’m reading a book now about white kids being kidnapped by Indians. She went for her book and started reading the title “The Captured …” I interrupted with “by Scott Zesch?” “Yes!”, she screamed. She was reading the same book I was! Now what are the odds? It’s not like this is a current best seller. Rather, it is, let’s face it, a rather obscure book on Texas history. This ranks high on the really strange coincidences I’ve experienced in my lifetime.

The Final Trip Home

We had arranged to pick up our Ngobe friend at 7AM.  He was ready.   He loaded several trash bags of presumably personal articles into the back of our car; our first indication that this was not to be a round trip for him.

Before 7:30 we were in downtown Boquete at the Municipio office.  He indicated where we were to wait and then left the car.  A half hour later he was back and said he should be done by 8:30.  OK, no problem.  The day was his.

It was closer to 9AM by the time he had his paperwork and we went to the local funeral home.  There he picked up a very basic infant-sized casket.  The body was in David, as it turned out.

We went to the morgue at an old, run-down hospital that we didn’t previously know existed.  There was another waiting period whereupon he was sent to the Tribunal Electoral  building n downtown David for yet more paper work.  Within half an hour or so we were back at the morgue.    We waited.  And waited.  We had the windows down in the car as it turned in to a long wait, beyond which I was willing to idle the car with the air conditioner running.  But then the smells from the morgue started drifting in.  We had to relocate the car.

It was fully two hours after our return to the morgue that the baby was put in the casket and we could be on our way. By now it was 12:45.    There was not a lot of conversation during the drive.  We would have been at a loss for words in English, not to mention Spanish.  The road started off decent enough but soon went from bad to worse to absolutely terrible.  Adding to the drive’s difficulty, we encountered thick clouds going through the mountains.  Visibility was less than 100 meters much of the time.

After about 2 hrs on the road he had us pull over at small grocery store,  essentially identical to one of hundreds if not thousands that dot the country.  We were expecting to drive another hour or hour and a half.  There were 6 or 8 men hanging around and he seemed to know them all.  From here we went maybe 2 km on an uphill, unpaved road.  The countryside was beautiful.  The road made a dead-end at a river and we stopped a couple hundred yards before that to unload the casket at a quieter spot on the same river.

This is where we left Benicio and the small coffin.  He had another 2 hr walk from here to his destination.

This is where we left the small coffin.  Benicio has another 2 hr walk from here to his destination.

One or two old people and several young ones were waiting.  Nobody smiled.  We took a photo of the setting but not the people.  I thought it would be in poor taste.   Besides, the Ngobe are known for being averse to photography.

Our friend indicated that his destination was yet another two hours away on foot, but for now we took him back to the store at the main road.  We didn’t exactly understand what was going on but we didn’t query anyone either.  We did ask him when he would return to La India and he said it would be 3 weeks.

We would thankfully be home before dark, something that looked quite unlikely not too much earlier.