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Restaurante Amigos and our trip to Costa Rica

Boquete has a bar for the ex-pats that was as close to “Cheers” as you could ever come. A number of the ex-pats would gather around four in the afternoon and eat and drink well into the night. I knew one man who often used the place as his office.

I mention Amigos because I had taken slave mindi there on Mother’s Day (May 10). As we eating our meal, I couldn’t help but notice a Scandinavian-looking woman who was clearly signaling from her poise (and from the particular table that she had picked) that she desperately wanted to be picked up. We invited her to our table.

She explained that this was her last night in Boquete; she was going home the next day. “Home” was a few hours north of the Panama / Costa Rica border on the Atlantic.

I asked about where she lived and she told us that she lived in such a remote and inaccessible community that it requires a 4-wheel-drive vehicle to reach it and you can’t even make the drive if there have been heavy rains. She lived in some kind of nature retreat. She said she was taking the bus down to David to transfer to the bus that would take her to the border. In all, about a 7-hour process.

I wondered whether we might have an opportunity, here.

I had wanted very badly to do some touring and photography in Costa Rica but we couldn't figure out how to get across that border. On the Pacific side of Panama you can get into Costa Rica on the Pan-American highway simply by driving 35 miles north of David. However, on the Atlantic side, there was no road across a substantial river. There was only a railroad bridge built by the Germans in World War II. I suppose I could write two or three pages about our experience getting to and then crossing the border, but I will tell you this: you would certainly not want to do this without somebody who’d done this many times and who spoke fluent Spanish. It was fairly harrowing.

She accompanied us to the town of our destination — which was where some friends of hers would come the next day to take her home.

She selected a (rather cheap/sleazy) motel for us and we went in town for drinks and dinner.

mindi totally didn’t think about the “don’t drink the water” rule and had ice with her drink. She didn’t have a reaction while on this trip. We spent three days in this little village, mostly just walking around.

At the end of our stay, we took a bus back down to the border. There, as we were going through the customs process, we were forced to purchase a “return ticket” from Panama to Costa Rica (“rules” and all that”). You can’t enter Panama without proof that you’ll leave.

By the time we returned to Boquete, she was starting to feel ill. Within a few days, she was seriously ill. The story of our hospital experiences with this would fill pages.

For those of you who don’t know us, Mindi is an RN in real life.

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Our Stay in Boquete comes to an End

In late February, about six weeks after we arrived in Boquete, Karen’s son collapsed at work. He was 19. At the hospital, they found his heart was only pumping 10% of normal. He was rushed to Dallas so his father could care for him. It was not at all clear he would survive: he had evidently caught a virus that had caused his heart to enlarge. In fact, his best friend in Marble Falls, TX had died the previous year of the same cause.

Karen returned to the US. Mindi and I remained. Mistress said she could only focus on her son, now, and she would let me know when we could return. In October, she said we could return with our pre-scheduled departure date of December 19. Patrick’s heart was being “assisted” by a battery-driven power pack that he wore around his waist. If the batteries were to lose their charge and he was away from the charging unit, he would die within three minutes. He was on the heart-transplant list for Texas, but he was very young and had a very slim body. The wait would last nearly two years before he had a heart transplant.

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Our Spectacular Frog Holiday

b 18 red frog stem

We took one spectacular four-day holiday. I had told our main guide, Moty (who is actually an Israeli who had lived in Panama for 25 years and spoke very good English), that I really wanted to photograph poison dart frogs. He arranged a trip for us to go by bus from one side of Panama to the other side across the Continental divide. It was about a three-hour bus ride. Of course you had to then add the hour that it took to get from Boquete (up in the mountains) to David (down by the sea).

Once we arrived at Bocas del Toro, Moty left us alone to settle into our rooms. When we next saw him he said he'd found a guide for us. He said that he found a guide who specialized in taking photographers around the islands to photograph poison dart frogs. I was delighted. Moty had the clever idea of incentivizing the guide by offering him five dollars bonus per species for the two days he had with us.

As a result of this, I was able to photograph something like 23 differently colored poison dart frogs. It was perfectly amazing. Sometimes when would we get to the island our new guide would run off and find a local person to help guide us just to speed things up. The locals knew which color frog was where. You might start down one path and find blue frogs and go down a little further and find yellow and black frogs. Truly an experience of a lifetime.

 

b 19 dime   b 20 blue frog   b 21 on hand

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Setting off four our New Life in Boquete, Panama

Mistress had wanted to limit us to three bags each.

But we were not sure when we’d be back. Packing the bags was very stressful, as I wanted enough of our formal dinner clothing to feel “at home.” Now: that’s a fundamental schism between Mistress and me: she wanted to “go native” and I wanted to live as I lived, just in a different place. Thus, our ideas of what to pack differed.

Without going into gruesome details, here’s a picture showing how heavily we were traveling.  Had I to do it over again, I wouldn't do this.  Mistress was right. Just take three suitcases, not three duffle bags.

b 01 our luggage

We flew out of San Antonio directly to Panama City. Fortunately, an ex-pat person in Boquete was guiding us through this process. I assure you, without that help it will be very hard figure out how to get from the International Airport in Panama City across town to the national airport, have the bags taken by van up to Boquete, be met in the city of David, receive the car we had pre-purchased from another ex-pat from Boquete who did this as a full-time job, and follow him the hour trip from sea level to Boquete—at 3,900 feet. 

This image was taken in the middle of this little community. It gives you a sense of the place.

b 02 in town

We stayed in a motel for a few weeks while our ex-pats’ contacts found a place for us. It was stunning. Here a couple of shots of the two-bedroom bungalo where we stayed for the year.

b 03 distance shot  b 04 rainbow over house

The town was lovely. It is the center for high-altitude coffee plantations for Panama. It was settled in the early 1900s by some Swiss couples. In the 1980s a wealthy American developer began what is today a five-star resort and spa called the Valle Escondido Resort and Spa. You can look it up on the Internet. It’s actually a mostly-American community that exists separate and apart from Boquete. Guarded gates, secure walls.

I mention Valle Escondido because it was the catalyst for what became the explosive growth and development of Boquete. Now, it’s rather like living in Vail, Colorado. It’s inexpensive to live there and you can dine at marvelous restaurants or at local dives and cafeterias. In fact, you can get far more food than you can eat for about $6 in these cafeterias; there are three of them in Boquete.  Here, slave mindi are at our favorite restaurant.

b 05 dining out

They also had a good number of festivals in Boquete: here is a selection of images:

b 06 festival   b 07 festival   b 08 festival   b 09 festival

Lower left: Mistress (Karen) and slave mindi.

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How we Decided to Move to Boquete, Panama

b 00 boquete

This is the view of Boquete from the Visitor's Center at the top of the hill just before you drop down into this valley. Boquete is at an elevation of about 3,800'.  The bungalo we rented for the year was about a thousand feet higher. The 5,000' elevation point was about two miles up the road past our lovely home.

Summary post: It happened on a Sunday evening. We were all in the living room of our spacious 4-bedroom apartment leading an undisturbed life of high protocol M/s and traveling the country making presentations. As it was February, we had a fire going in the fireplace. We had finished a lovely full-formal dress dinner and were in the living room. Out of the blue, Mistress made a declarative statement: “I’ve decided to move abroad and teach English, preferably in an orphanage.” Looking directly at me she asked: “Are you coming with me?”

“Well, yes, Mistress. Of course, Mistress. Where are we going?” I said, realizing that I was at my absolute peak of my conference presentations around the country; I was in high demand. I’d already been out to three that year and had something like nine to go.

“You will help decide that. You have two months to prepare a briefing book for me. You are limited to five choices. I want pros and cons for each. Remember, I like to boss around little oriental men,” she said.

“Yes, Mistress. And when will we be leaving and returning?” I asked.

“We will let slave mindi have the Christmas Holidays with her family and then leave. I want to be out of the US by the third week of January. I have no plans at this point to return.”

Wow. As in we have a two-car garage packed with “stuff” and a storage facility out in Liberty Hill and a 1,700 square foot apartment.

At the end of the two months, I’d prepared a briefing book. It said: South Korea—best ESL salaries, very risky because of North Korea. Would have to teach away from Seoul for best salaries. Mainland China: our kink would not be tolerated, too risky. Taipai—very sophisticated and upscale, but we’ll still have troubles with our kink. Tailand—very possible. It would be a lot of fun and a great home base for photography all around that part of the world. VERY hot and humid. Boquete, Panama—recommended by a close friend who had lived there many years and was a former special forces guy. Said that knowing us, we’d integrate better there and it has a solid ex-pat community.

Extensive research into Boquete gave us a favorable impression. There seemed to be ex-pats who would help smooth the way.

Mid-summer, we took a one-week trip down there, accompanied by Jac (owner of The Jungle, already mentioned). He knows a lot about a lot.

We loved it; he hated it. We said we thought we’d do it; he said that the savings from living there would be eaten up in round-trip airfares returning to the US.

I worked out a time-and-task chart and got to work. I purchased all the tickets, found out how to rent a 10.5’ x 40’ cargo container, and Paul let us install it on his property far out in the country southeast of San Antonio. It was in place by early December.

In early December we had Rose and Blake (our favorite movers ever) transfer everything.  

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