The Dust Storm Edition – Be careful what you wish for

When we were first making plans to move to Qatar, I think I watched every youtube video and read every article I could get ahold of.

This video really captured my attention. (You really only have to watch the first 30 seconds to get the idea).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rv3EELYw4zQ

I’m guessing that most of you watching would say “I hope I never experience that!” But when I saw it, I very excitedly said “I hope we see that!” As time went on and I realized that this is a very infrequent occurrence (like, every 5-10 years) I started to be disappointed. We may never experience that!

Last week on Wednesday night about 15 minutes after I went to bed, the windows started to rattle the likes of which reminded me of a snow storm.

I yelled into the other room, to the other inhabitants “Does anyone have laundry on the roof? You’d better get it or your gitch is going to be flying all around the neighbourhood…something’s brewing!”

Annie ran upstairs to the roof to collect her laundry and when she came back down reported that something really weird was happening outside. It was like fog or something.

We all peered out the front window trying to figure out what we were looking at…fog? Dust? Haze? Then reports started to come in about an epic dust storm heading our way.

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Over the next hour, our house began to take on that fog/dust/haze that had been outside. Windows in this country are not well fitted. When I got up to go to the bathroom in the night, I could feel the dust beneath my feet. We slept with masks on.  This is the indoor haze the next day.

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We woke in the morning to dust still swirling, roads covered, visibility bad and a weather warning to stay inside if at all possible.

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On the upside…a day off school. Making Easter weekend a 3 day weekend. As it should be.

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I realized in the midst of this very unpleasant experience that what I had envisioned and wished for was something very specific.

I pictured myself in the car (which would be well sealed and I didn’t even know I’d like that), in the DAY TIME!!! This baby rolled over us in the dark so we didn’t even really get to see anything except satellite views the next day. Also, I imagined it lasting about 20 minutes. Where did I get these ideas? I’d say partly from 2 minute clips on youtube and my imagination. Thanks to the pair of them.

I can now say I’ve experienced it but now, I hope I never do again. Unless under my imaginary circumstances.

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Aftermath:

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That was last week. This week is completely different. Different air, different temperature, different people, different language, different country, definitely a different moral tone, different culture and a festival that I HAVE been wishing to see. Here’s hoping it doesn’t disappoint.

Stay tuned…

Here is a little video out our window, over looking our car parking area:

 

 

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Coronado 

Coronado was the place where my research for a real estate investment had led me and the place where we were heading now to check out investment properties.  Keep in mind, I’ve been very focused, not on where we want to live, but where would be a good investment, which might also couple with where we’d want to holiday. Because if we want to holiday there…chances are, others would too.

This is what I’d read about it before we got there:

It’s a 1.5 hours from Panama City.

It’s 1 hour from Panama City.

It’s less than an hour from Panama City.

(I kid you not, you can find all of that information).

Coronado is a community that began as a beach getaway for Panamanians (because of some sort of proximity to Panama City) and has grown into a go-to place also for expats, international travelers, beach lovers and golfers.

It is not too far from surfing, a quaint mountain town and of course…Panama City.

What we learned from being there:

Most of the beach front is privately owned and residential. It took a bit of time to figure out the pulse of Coronado. It’s a little spread out and it doesn’t have a town centre. Most Central American towns radiate from a center square with a church and a park.  I had to adjust my preconceived ideas of ‘community’. When I did, this is what I found:

– a definite, growing, thriving, healthy community of both expats and locals.

– many happy expats who were energetic entrepreneurs (most had at least 2 irons in the fire). Without exception every person we talked to who lived there was happy with their decision to move there. Glowingly so. In fact, that is true of every expat we talked to in Panama. I suppose the people who really don’t like it there, are no longer there.

Also…

  • lots of access to beautiful beaches of mixed white and black volcanic sand
  • a good surfing spot and surfing schools just 20 minutes away
  • all the amenities you need as far as grocery stores (I counted 4), even an organic health food store, a state of the art medical clinic (need a doctor? $8/visit, need an MRI? also available)
  • restaraunts in every price range. Our favourite was an open air, wood fired pizza place.
  • golf…not my thing but I know it’s some of yours (we’re going to want to talk to you at some point..hint, hint)
  • within less than an hour drive you can experience an adorable little town called Valle de Anton (it might deserve a short blog post all of its own). The drive there is worth the trip alone, up winding roads, vistas all around, and as you go you feel the changing air…that cool moist air that so enchanted us in Boquete.  When you get there, the little market, restaraunts and mineral hot springs are fun(do take a bath, it’s only $3.00 mud for a facial included!) There are also lots of things there that we didn’t get to, like zip lining, butterfly observatory (we saw blue morphos in a walk through the rainforest…and 2 toucans!)…lots to experience. You can also get a full lunch for 5/6 dollars. A very worthy day trip.

All in all, once I started to get the hang of Coronado I could see that it has a lot going for it. There’s lots to do, either right there or a short distance away and it’s about an hour from Panama City (that was our experience…the discrepencies must be about where you start counting the time…if you’re coming from the airport it might be 1.5 hours). There’s information about a new airport though. Hato International Airport has begun recieving international flights (right now I think just with Sunwing) and is only 25 minutes from Coronado. Very civilized dahling.

Another thing I love about Coronado is the view. Well, the view from a particular condo especially. It’s of both the mountains and the ocean. How great is that? And for you golf afficianados…right on the golf course. So….we scooped it up. And with that we began our foray into investment rental properties in Panama. We hope it’s just the start. It’s our proverbial toe in the water.

That’s right…we liked it all that much. We went for it.

If you’re interested in lovely views, warm weather, beautiful pools, beaches, surfing, golf, day trips into cute little villages…let us know. We have just the place for you to stay. When we get it up on Airbnb we’ll send you a link.

Here are pictures of Coronado.

First up….pictures from the condo we bought. Check out that view!

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And in the other direction…

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That’s right golfers…looking down from the balcony to the golf course. Just walk out the door.

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Rooftop pools.

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This is not ours, it’s a model. But it is exactly like this. We even bought the furniture.

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Imagine waking up to that view!

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The consultation team. We brought our lawyer, our interior decorator and our accountant…aka friends…to discuss the ins and outs of this arrangement. Here they are consulting, in the living room.

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Moving on…our favourite coffee shop. Giant cappuccinos for $2 (if I remember correctly). Also captured here is our favourite realtor.

 

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She also owns guest accommodations that she rents out. Rooms with bathroom and small kitchenette. Home away from home. This is the backyard and what we saw each morning as we came out of our room. Paradise.

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Our favourite local restaurant with open fire pizza oven, a great menu, open air and sangria!

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From the balcony of a condo we stayed in…black and white sand. I didn’t like the look of it in pictures but this is really soft sand. Very cool. I’ve never seen black sand before.

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More beach shots. Dave had fun with these…

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And this one up to the mountains behind…doctored yes, because it was nearing night but I love it. Maybe it’s because I miss clouds so much. When we got back to Qatar to go through our photos, my phone had SO many random photos of clouds.

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Panama City (and Struggles With Fear)

The entrance to Panama City is very impressive but I almost missed it and not because it is over in a flash. My head was down trying to navigate the frustrating GPS app on my phone and when I looked up we had turned a corner and were starting to ascend the Bridge of the Americas.

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I’d like to think it was because it took me off guard that I squealed and assumed the fetal position. Generally I enjoy heights. It’s one of my goals in life to jump from a plane. But at this moment in time, my body and raw emotion, were firmly in the driver’s seat and I felt like a passenger. My husband, calm, cool and collected (but feeling like he’d picked up a random hyperventilating hitch hiker) encouraged me to look at the gorgeous skyline (it was)…

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and the beautiful boats in the harbour (they were).

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I was having none of it. If he had noticed the skyline and the boats that meant he had taken his eye off this crusty old bridge that no longer sported brightly coloured lines telling us where exactly our lane was. SOMEBODY had to watch the road!

The road…

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We had three more occasions to cross that d@&% bridge. Each time I got better at it and each time I enjoyed the view a bit more. Each time I focused on breathing and each time my body tensed in a very strange and involuntary way. People who deal with fear regularly know how to handle it. They have skills in their back pocket that they have developed over time and can pull out in order to function in life. When it’s not a regular part of your emotional terrain…you find out you’re lacking in any skills of this sort. Nothing. Nada.

This is the upside and, I suppose downside, of travelling. You don’t just learn things about the people and places you’re visiting but on occasion you find you are a visitor in your own body and you learn new things about yourself. Especially when important things are being challenged like safety and security but also when your understanding of the world around you is shifting, when your sense of propriety is seemingly disregarded and social cues are misunderstood. Journeys of land and sea and soul are the all-inclusive package of the traveller. Sometimes the terrain is rough but you always learn something. You add experiences to your list and you grow. Or cower. It’s your choice. Sometimes you do both.

Once safely over the bridge we quickly learned that Panama City is a great city in many ways and a city like every other city in many ways. The roads are narrower than what we’re accustomed to and in need of repair. There are many one-way streets. No one lost their gizzards when we accidently went the wrong way on one of them. There are honking cab drivers everywhere…same old story everywhere in the world. Everywhere that I’ve ever been anyhow.

Jogging path, city on one side and ocean on the other.

Jogging path, city on one side and ocean on the other.

Causeway around the old part of the city.

Causeway around the old part of the city.

 

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Pretty elabourate street vendor cart sharing the road.

Pretty elabourate street vendor cart sharing the road.

What we found quite unique was how friendly the people were. Our first encounter with this strange friendliness happened on our first day there. We pulled up to a road toll, during rush hour, and realized that we’d gotten into the line that required a prepaid swipe card. The 5:00 p.m. traffic filled in behind us like a rushing river…and stopped abruptly at the damn we’d created. We tried to quickly get a card from the booth attendant. Nope. We were in the wrong line. So we slowly and arduously started to back up. The people behind recognizing what happened backed up too, and we pulled over to the side of the road. Four or five cars went through and a car of beautiful Panamanians pulled up in their convertible with their fancy sunglasses and gleaming white smiles. “Are you trying to go through?” they asked. My husband explained what happened. Our new Panamanian friend said “I will go through and we’ll run the card back to you and you can swipe it again.” Wow!! How nice. So we pulled back into line behind him. Small glitch. You can’t use the same card twice within 5 minutes. Now we were back in line with no way out again. Just as we started to back up…again…the security guard came over and said “Give me a dollar, I’ll swipe my card.” Nice. Very friendly. People coming to the rescue. But the most amazing part about this whole story is this; in the time it took to do all of that, only one horn honked. And when they saw what was happening they never honked again. Remarkable. We told the realtor we’re using this story and she beamed with pride and said, “That’s my Panama.”

There were other occasions over the week we spent there for people to honk their horns at us. We constantly overshot turns and hesitated at corners (while the blue ball on the GPS caught up to us) but overall it wasn’t bad. We’ve become a little impervious to horn honking from driving in Qatar. “Are they honking at us?” yawn “I don’t know, I don’t care.”

People were very friendly off the roads as well, no one selling anything was pushy, the traffic was normal city traffic, cabs are very reasonably priced and even without meters no one tried to rip us off. The subway is new and being used. No complaints about the city really. People’s experiences will all be different of course. It’s what you’re used to. We’re used to crazies ruling the roads and constant obsessive checking in the rearview mirror for people going super fast in the city or on the highways, people wandering into your lane because they’re texting or talking on the phone and constant horn honking. So Panama City seemed like a very sweet version of a big city.

Police are everywhere. I read on a discussion forum that this is new since the government change less than two months ago. While this made me feel very safe, it had the opposite effect on my friend who wanted to know why that was necessary. Crime is part of city life. Every city. Where there is disparity between rich and poor there will be crime. I never once felt nervous. Granted…we were in bed pretty early every night (I’m not telling you how early because it makes me old and lame). Likely I would have felt differently walking around late at night. We were three weeks in Panama without incident…and we were obviously tourists which should have made us targets.

Real Estate: This is what we learned. There’s a glut in the rental market in P.C. I didn’t notice that prices have yet reflected that. Maybe if the prices dropped I’d be interested in buying a rental there but for now…it doesn’t make sense. It’ll be a great place to visit when we have a place in xyz though. (That’s not code for somewhere that we know we’ll live…that’s we-don’t-know-where.)

More pictures for your enjoyment…

End of the 3 weeks splurge was spent at lovely hotel overlooking the ocean and the city...chairs in water, good food and chilling with friends.

End of the 3 weeks splurge was spent at lovely hotel overlooking the ocean and the city…chairs in water, good food and chilling with friends.

Dave...chillin'.

Dave…chillin’.

Finally some good vegetarian, gluten-free food...mushroom burger. Yum!

Finally some good vegetarian, gluten-free food…mushroom burger. Yum!

Holidays are always made better when shared with good friends.

Holidays are always made better when shared with good friends.

The famous Panama Canal.

The famous Panama Canal.

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Panama Canal

How do more things not get lost in shipping?

How do more things not get lost in shipping?

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There's a sloth in this tree. I stood and stared at it for a long time, on three occasions, waiting for it to move. It finally did. And I may have squealed. (So easily thrilled).

There’s a sloth in this tree. I stood and stared at it for a long time, on three occasions, waiting for it to move. It finally did. And I may have squealed. (So easily thrilled).

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Ruins of the original city.

Ruins of the original city.

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The old and the new.

The old and the new.

Lots of picture taking.

Lots of picture taking.

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So much picture taking.

So much picture taking.

Road side fruit vendors...the cheapest and freshest fruit. Look at the bounty!

Road side fruit vendors…the cheapest and freshest fruit. Look at the bounty!

Picturesque dinner spot looking back at the city across the harbour. Had the best ceviche there (ok..it was our first ceviche and we loved it!)

Picturesque dinner spot looking back at the city across the harbour. Had the best ceviche there (ok..it was our first ceviche and we loved it!)

Left by way of the @#$# bridge and off to Coronado. Stay tuned for that post.

Left by way of the @#$# bridge and off to Coronado. Stay tuned for that post.

 

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Boquete the Beautiful

When we started out on this venture there were several people who said, excitedly “OH! Are you going to Boquete?” …no I answered. We don’t have time for bunny trails on this trip. We’re on a mission to find somewhere to invest or retire. I knew that we might actually want to retire somewhere a little cooler than a beach community, somewhere in the mountains, like Boquete, but we’re not ready to retire, we’re needing to invest. So I didn’t want to take the time.

Then plans changed and we decided to visit Dave’s sister and her family in Costa Rica (since we’re so close) and bus to Panama. Well, the bus route was so close to Boquete we decided to spare 2 nights and go check it out.

Does it seem sometimes like the Universe conspires FOR you? We were definitely meant to see Boquete. Wow. It was almost a spiritual experience…no, I’ll say it…it was a spiritual experience. The phrase that Dave and I used several times, hand on heart, with astonishment, “it’s so soul filling!”

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The volcano, the mountains, the waterfalls, the foliage, the flowers…oh my goodness…there’s this flower, it emits this smell at night that is intoxicating, the streams, the fresh air, the people. We loved it.

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Here’s what to know, to decide if Boquete is worth checking out for you:

1) Are you a nature lover? There are trails galore to discover and hike, but just a walk outside your door, anywhere you are, reveals beauty all around. Do you like to garden yourself? The gardens are amazing and look easy to grow. Mangos? Bananas? Strawberries (everywhere!)? Limes? Coffee? Ok, now I’m pushing it, just get your coffee from a local organic coffee grower. They abound.

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2) Do you need heat? So retiring to the tropics has more variety than you might imagine. In January, when Facebook is replete with pictures of yet another snow storm you may want to be basking on the beach. Boquete is not hot. It’s nice and warm. I wasn’t ever cold. I carried a light sweater most of the time but almost never put it on…I couldn’t decide if I needed it. It’s that kind of temperature. It’s like a gorgeous warm spring day. Everyday. There’s mist hanging over the mountains (can we put hand over heart again for a moment and stand in awe and say “soul filling”?) that occasionally sprinkles on its occupants below (hence the lush green gardens).

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On the “but I need heat” side of things…both the Carribean and the Pacific are relatively close by. The undiscovered, under developed Pacific town of Boca Chica is 1.5 hours away. National Geographic described it as a myriad emerald isles strewn like jewels in a sapphire sea.” (By the way, that link will tell you a lot more about Boca Chica and why it might be a great long term investment. The infrastructure is changing and that’s always a good thing for real estate…but keep in mind, the writers of the article are selling something). 

Bocas del Toro is said to be 3.5-4.5 hours away on the Carribean side and is a hot spot for surfing. I’ve read good things and bad about Bocas del Toro, so do some research before venturing out there.

3) While we’re on about the climate, how do you feel about utility costs? In Boquete you need neither heat nor A/C…all. year. long. Opening and closing the windows is all you need for climate control. Electricity bill depends on usage of course but one home owner told us hers was about $100/month for their home and the little casita they rent out.

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4) Do you need city life? The town of David is 40 minutes away is a population of 144,000. We didn’t spend much time there but it didn’t make a hugely favourable impression in our short stay. Boquete is a 5-7 hour drive from Panama City or a 1 hour, $100 flight (from David). How often will you want to do that? Will you feel isolated in a town of less than 20,000 people?

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There is a large and diverse expat community though and they are active! Within 30 minutes of us landing there, we were having lunch at a cute little French restaraunt and the owner came out to talk to us (did I mention friendly?…oh so friendly)…he told us all about his experience of moving to Boquete.

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He gushed (as did the hosts of our B&B who’ve been there 6 years “best 6 years of our lives”) as he spoke of the community and all the groups there are to be a part of if you so choose. From theatre groups to hiking, yoga, bird watching, writing, baking, art…you name it, there are lots of ways to get involved. He also talked about the safety there. Crime (according to him) is very low (I didn’t look up any stats on that but we also felt very safe).

We had fun trying a variety of restaraunts, from nice touristy ones to little local ones. We were never disappointed but while you can eat out very reasonably not everything was jaw dropping cheap. Beer is a dollar – that works.

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Those are the things to consider when considering Boquete. As for Dave and me? We were smitten and look forward to going back. Since leaving there, everywhere we’ve been has been compared back to Boquete, how we felt, how we came alive, how we didn’t want to leave.

It is my one regret, now that I know how much we loved Boquete, that we didn’t schedule time for Boca Chica. I’m thinking that property in Boquete and Boca Chica would make a nice pair to have you all come and vacation at (or to try out retirement in)…next time!

Next up…Coronado. On paper, Coronado makes the most sense to get our investments started. We’ll see.

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Me and my favourite flower.

Did I say intoxicating?

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Why Panama?

To be clear…my blog posts get bogged down when I feel like I need to write something that I don’t want to write. (Every writer is now nodding their heads). We’re here in Panama and I want to write about what I’m seeing and how I’m feeling about it and my observations.

But this post needs to happen first by way of explanation, and it’s been bottlenecking the whole works. So here it is…if you’re wondering what we’re doing here and what the nuts and bolts of this endeavour are, or if you’ve ever thought about investing or retiring to a Central American country…this is for you. (P.s. the only thing worse than writing about my research is having to talk about it later…because you haven’t read it! haha).

Why Panama?

I started reading about investing in real estate overseas a long time ago. I’ve been reading and watching trends especially in Central America because…well because I’m a realtor with a travel bug but also because Dave and I lived briefly in Mexico and Honduras early in our married life and have maintained an interest in the people, culture and language ever since. It’s always been in the back of our mind that there’s a good chance we’d live there again. Dave has been diligent at keeping his Spanish alive.  Mine is gasping for air.

As we talk to people we realize that we’re not the only ones considering this…not by a long shot. With the rising prices in North America people are opening their minds to other options. Why pay an arm and a leg for home and food AND shovel snow! So as we talk to people and hear what they are thinking we mostly hear Costa Rica. Sometimes, we hear Belize. Mostly because they speak English but also the lovely pictures of beaches that you can find.

Here’s why we’re heading to Panama to check it out (yes, this post is late…yes…we’re here already). First I’d say, if you’re seriously thinking about something like this, you need to make a list of what you want and need. Be very honest with yourself and don’t forget that ‘where you go, there you are.’ You’re not going to be a different person when you move somewhere else. Just ask me. My electronic piano was shipped to Qatar where I would surely have more time to play it. It’s so lonely.

For us, at this point in time, we need an investment. Not having a mortgage isn’t the positive thing you think it is. In order to save, we need to push ourselves a bit harder. An income producing investment would be even better. So at the moment, we’re not necesarily looking for somewhere that would suit us perfectly to live out our golden years in happiness. First, we need an investment. This is why we’re thinking of a beach front condo. Something we can attract you to (the proverbial you)…for a lovely holiday.  And of course something we’d enjoy holidaying in as well.

I know us, we enjoy some city life. While spending a holiday in a quiet remote place might be just what the doctor ordered sometimes…I need things to do. This also points to Panama. Panama City is, apparently, the most cosmopoolitan city in Central America. We don’t need to live in it…but having it within a reasonable distance is a plus for us. Who knows, maybe by retirement time we will have changed our mind about this. So far, this is us being realistic about who we are.

The question we most often get is why Panama and why not Costa Rica? I think Costa Rica is more firmly in people’s minds as a beautiful vacation spot. And make no mistake…it is!!

For us, Costa Rica is out because of a few things. First and foremost, we’re not rolling in money. When we do make our investment purchase, we’ll need financing. Costa Rica is no longer offering financing for non-residents. Panama has a number of financial incentives for expats that Costa Rica once had but has discontinuted.  Incentives such as the Pensionado visa for retirees and a 20 year tax free exemption on new builds. It’s also much cheaper to live here (apparently…we’re checking that out).

This chart shows the comparison between Costa Rica and Panama in a nice little summary. It’s worth a read.

If we were younger, and richer, we’d definitely consider Nicaragua. Funny, no one asks us about that. Did you know that Nicaragua has the lowest crime rate in Central America? The real estate prices are affordable and there are wonderful colonian towns, surfing beaches, eco tourism, mountains, volcanoes…and all the other beautiful things you associate with its other neighbouring countries. There isn’t a nice city…but we might be the only freaks who think we need this.

Please check out the summary above and ask any questions you may have. We’re here now and asking questions. We’ve already hit our first snag at the bank…more on that later. It’s still unresolved.

 

 

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Here we go…the Panama Adventure

Tomorrow we fly out to check out Panama as a possible place to invest in a vacation property with the thought in the back of our minds that this might be a good place to retire. Ok, the ‘back of our minds’ is a bit understated. We’re thinking about it.

Warning, the next several posts will be a bit of a departure from my regular writing. If you’re not interested in travel, how to do it effectively and economically you won’t be interested in this piece. Over the next few weeks I’m going to be writing about our trek to Panama, our search for a rental property for vacationers (maybe you!) and our thoughts about possibly retiring there. If you’re not interested that’s fine…you’re dismissed for summer. We’ll reconvene later. If you are…here we go!

Primarily at this moment in time, we need an investment. Let’s just say, it’s not good for people to be without a mortgage. People like us. Our money needs to be going somewhere. We need to be committed to something.

So as many of you know, we’ve been researching the daylights out of the best places to invest/retire. Our research is taking us to Panama.

I’ll answer the question “why Panama?” tomorrow.

Today, I’m going to give you an inside look at how we arrange our travels. There are a ton of ways to do these things. Many different websites and apps to work with. We’ve learned a few things along the way that might be of interest to you.

Flight Booking

This year, we booked our flights from 1) Qatar to Toronto, 2) Toronto to San Jose, Costa Rica, 3) Costa Rica to Winnipeg 4) Winnipeg to Toronto and finally 5) Toronto back to Qatar, for a total of $2003/person. We also booked a flight for Honour to go from Qatar to Australia for $477. How?

For the last 6 years we have booked our flights through cheapoair.com. Why are they so reasonable? I don’t know but I know they are not always the most convenient flights. They are seldom direct. We don’t mind. We would rather fly inexpensively than luxuriously. Besides…who can’t benefit from getting up and taking a walk now and then? Having said that, I don’t think our flight paths look a lot different than other people’s. They’re not crazy inconvenient. Most people coming home from Qatar have 2 transfers. You can fly with just one and you can fly direct (I think). We’d prefer not to fly through the U.S., as it’s become a bit more of a hassle, but truthfully, we’ve gotten used to the routine.

Although it says “this booking is final, no refunds” at the end of the booking process, we have (on no less than 4 occasions) found them to be very accommodating.

Accommodations

Want to find less expensive accommodations than hotel rooms? Try airbnb.ca or vrbo.com. There are a wide variety of homes available in so many locations. You often get less expensive, more spacious accommodations, and the personal touch of an owner to boot. We’ve had great luck with these sites, from a flat in London, England to a cottage in the hills of the Finger Lakes (New York State); they’ve all been great. This summer almost all of our rooms were booked through one of these. Stay tuned…I’m taking you with me (virtually, put your suitcase away) and will show pictures and give descriptions.

Need a hotel room? I’m writing right now from the International Plaza Hotel near Pearson International Airport. We needed a room because of our ridiculously early flight (you’re welcome friends and family, we didn’t even ask you to take us to the airport at 3 a.m.). If you’re willing to take a little risk you could save lots of money. We booked this through Hotwire. Because hotels don’t really want you to know that they’re giving away rooms at reduced prices, the name of the hotel is hidden until you book. This is not a tried and true thing for us. I took the chance this time and it worked great. I was looking for a room near the airport, free shuttle to the airport, free wifi…and that’s it really. I found those things and hit the button…and got a suite for $81 (regularly $130…I checked. I needed to know if it was really a deal). I’ll definitely be trying that again.

Cool Apps

It looks like there are so many great apps out there to make travelling easier. Maybe. How do you know unless you try?

I’m really excited about the one I decided to try. It’s called Tripit.

This summer it was not easy to keep track of flights, layovers, various accommodations, car rentals etc. Even when it’s a one-destination trip, it can be overwhelming.

Tripit is fabulous. It’s connected to my email address. So when a confirmation for a flight, or rental or anything comes into my email box I just forward it to ‘plans@tripit.com’ and it automatically populates, into the calendar on Tripit. It has everything on it, the confirmation numbers, flight numbers and transfers. It has a map with our flights on it. Each accommodation entry has directions and a map and there’s a place to put personal notes (the owner will meet us with the key at the coffee shop – those kinds of notes). Apparently if you get TripitPro ($49/year) it will alert you to flight delays, track your air miles and a number of other things. I’m sticking with the free version. It’s already impressive enough.

An added feature is that you can share your Tripit calendar with friends. You can see ours if you request it from me. Warning, upon viewing exhaustion may ensue. As my friend (who will meet us in Panama later) said after she read it “BTW your travel schedule is crazy busy. I don’t know how you are doing it.” I’m pleading temporary insanity.

 

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Back and Forth – But Never The Same

June, in Doha, has a way of focusing everything in high resolution. Whereas the rest of the year you can almost forget that you live anywhere unusual, June doesn’t let you forget. The heat alone will jolt you into the crystal clear here and now. Walking out of an air conditioned building and feeling the almost 50C air blow your hair back and fog your glasses brings you abruptly here, face to face with the fact that you do indeed live in an Arabian desert. I still love it. I still marvel at the dry heat. It still makes me smile.

 

There are other things that I still love that make me feel like an odd man out. For example, the Call To Prayer that bellows from sometimes broken speakers, sometimes over the speakers at the mall and for those who live close to a mosque, always too early in the morning, is still a beautiful, haunting sound of deep longing for ritual and connection to the Divine to me. Not so much to others haha.

 

Airplanes coming and going over the city and over our apartment are a reminder of the personnel that is constantly transported in and out of this country. It’s a steady flux of hellos and good-byes, of people facing a new culture, struggling to make sense of it, trying to make peace with it and leaving it behind. The ubiquitous Home Center and Ikea trucks are the on-the-ground reminder of new settlers.

 

No one stays here. Ok, Qataris stay here. The 250,000 Qataris that call this home, stay here. The rest of the 1.5 million of us are transient. I’ve never worked anywhere before where regular threads of conversation were, “Are you staying another year?” and “How long have you been here?” If you’ve been here for 10 years you are looked at and revered as a trailblazer, a pioneer, almost a unicorn. As we finish our 3rd year we find ourselves among the ‘long term’ people at the school with only a handful who have been there longer.

 

Last year, on the plane back to Doha after a lovely summer, I said to Dave, “aren’t you excited to meet the new people coming to the school?”  He looked at me like I’d just told him that our plane wasn’t in the air but was actually sliding across ice and going to the North Pole. It was a mixture of “you’re such an alien and after all these years I still don’t understand you” and “unless you’re kidding right now.” It’s not that he doesn’t enjoy new people, eventually, but this thought would have never occured to him. Never.

 

Sadly, for me, and my kind, the alien kind, this is ‘good-bye’ time of year. I am acutely aware, as each day of school passes by in the celebratory count down, that there are people I will be saying farewell to, and who I will quite possibly never see again. Almost for certain I will not see them on a daily basis. My heart is in such a mixed state. Like no other year (here) I am so ready for this year to be over and as I say things like “Yipee! One week to go!”, it’s followed quickly by a sinking feeling that there are souls I’ve grown to love who will be moving on to other adventures. Not the least of which….is Daughter #3, the representative of the final round of parenting. Of course this is mostly blocked. Which means that there will likely be tears all the way home because I’m totally NOT preparing myself for this pivotal moment.

 

It’s been an adventure parenting a teenager in a foreign country, a Muslim country, with so many unknowns, so many missed cues and second guessing. It’s been a pleasure, on the other hand, travelling with her, watching her grow, seeing her reactions and responses to the culture around her. And of course it will be a beautiful thing to watch her spread her wings and head out into the world. Gulp. Of course it will. What? You don’t believe me? You don’t believe this is how I’m feeling? (Please, join me for a cup of happy delusion).

Farewell friends. It has been an absolute honour getting to know you. With each encounter of another spirit in this world I am changed. You never meet someone, especially if you love them, and walk away unchanged. I am changed for the better for having known you. Even if saying goodbye is painful, it is all worth it.

Peace to all.

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