Part Four of the “Costa Rica On The Cusp” Series
By Gary Davis Please Recommend This!
See The Introduction to The “Costa Rica on The Cusp” Series Here
The trip I took in which I found the lot I ended up buying included a trip to Panama because I had become discouraged about ever finding what I wanted in C.R. Trip after trip I was led on wild goose chases by realtors or the lot was out of my price range or had some other drawback.
And with each trip the prices were getting higher and I realized that very soon they would surpass what my budget would allow. Prices have been escalating at the rate of about 20% or more per year for several years now. (p.s. this story occurred in 2008…) It seems that all of a sudden C.R. has been discovered by, my theory is, gringo baby boomers.
The Restaurant Panama (but the beer was cheap)
Since I began living here (3 years after this episode) I’m on a plane once a month back to Ca. for business purposes and it seems that most of the people I talk to fit into that category.
And for good reason. After all, most of us grew up spending every penny we made on our “keep up with the Jones’s” lifestyles and with retirement looming we look at our retirement account and realize that no way will it sustain a comfortable lifestyle in the U.S. after the “job” ends. So where can we go where our dollar stretches further?
Well, C.R. has been a stable Democracy for 100 years, it’s emerging from the 3rd world (albeit with interesting growing pains), has a climate almost identical to Hawaii’s along the beaches and near perfect inland, is actually prettier than Hawaii, very American friendly people, 25,000 U.S. expats sprinkled throughout already so no matter where you go you can find someone to talk to (although you really need to know some basic Spanish), and is affordable now.
However I’m thankful I found and bought my lot when I did because 2 months after escrow closed someone sent me an email offering twice what I paid for it. I got in just before the door closed that would have priced me out of the market. But back to Panama.
Because I had encountered so much frustration trying to find exactly what I wanted in C.R. with zero favorable results I had decided that maybe I was just barking up the wrong tree.
Panama and Nicaragua were next on my list and since the U.S. had had such a strong presence in Panama I decided to start there.
I must say, Panama still in many ways is more attractive than C.R. If your budget is somewhat limited like mine was I would actually start looking there. As far as investment goes, any of the 3 are fantastic. I don’t see prices really leveling off until we run out of baby boomers or there is a major down turn in the U.S. economy (it’s now November 2008 and sure enough… the U.S economy crashed in 2010 and so did C.R.’s).
I arrive in Panama City
The airport is south of the city so I ask the friendly car rental person, who speaks pretty good English, to go over my map with me. Mainly just to navigate me through the city. I knew that once I got through the city I’d be fine. Well, it’s hard to describe how confusing, or many times non-existent, Central American road signs can be. Signs sometimes even point the wrong direction because somebody hit the pole and no one ever bothered to set it straight. Panama City is a big city with a beautiful modern skyline. You really see the American influence there. They even use the U.S. dollar as their currency and it stretches much further there than in C.R.
Where I slept in Panama my car that got stuck in the mud
Unlike C.R., the roads are great and well maintained. I was beginning to like the place already. I’m navigating my way through the city when I begin to realize I’m lost. No problem, I can figure this out. Uh oh, I’m more lost. Now I’m confused and losing my sense of direction. Uh oh, now not only do I have no idea where I am or what direction I’m even going, I notice there are police armed with what looks like machine guns every couple blocks.
And I’m obviously in a neighborhood I don’t want to be in! So the next cop I see I pull up to him and point at my map. He starts rattling off in rapid fire “Spanish” god only knows what. I put Spanish in quotation marks because in Panama they speak a slightly different form of Spanish. It’s like the difference between Ca. English and a deep south accent. In Panama they drop their D’s and S’s. For example, the word for fish is “pescado”.
In Panama it’s “pecao”. So I’m totally confused and the cop finally realizes this. But then I figure out he is asking me if he can get in my car. You bet! Because the one thing I know is they are almost always proud to be of help. So I indicate yes. He waves to another cop across the street and they both climb in, machine guns and all, and literally, escort me to the highway. Fantastic! I’m saved.
The next stupid thing I did was the next day. I’m lost again in some little pueblo where I had wandered around looking for the beach but I see this lady walking down the road so I pull up and ask in my best (what a joke) Spanish where the main highway is. She say’s please speak English. Turns out she a gringa married to a Panamanian lawyer and politician who lives part time in both countries. She tells me how to get to the main highway and I proceed to turn my car around. Bang!
My back wheel falls into a concrete drainage ditch that had been concealed by weeds. Fortunately she hadn’t gone very far so I got her attention. Of course she’s fluent in Panamanian Spanish and there was like a ranch house nearby. She goes up to the house and in a few minutes here comes 6 guy’s who simply pick my little American 2 door up and set it back on the road. I try to pay them ($5). They totally refuse. I say it’s for cervesa. They happily accept. I’m off and on to the next adventure which occurs at the next hotel.
I happily discover that Panamanian cops, who set up speed traps the same way C.R. cops do, also accept your “payment” of the “ticket” on the spot. Except with Panamanian Spanish it was harder to figure that out. It was still early in the afternoon when I arrived at the next beach I wanted to check out so I told the person in charge of the place I had decided to sleep and that I wanted to drive around.
She said don’t go down that road
Well, that happened to be exactly the road I had planned to go down. So I proceed carefully and it didn’t look that bad to me. And not 30 seconds after I have that thought I’m stuck in mud up to the frame. I walk back to hotel, find 3 young gringo surfer dudes and say “come on, the beers on me”.
This was when I really got the picture of just how far the dollar goes in Panama. Between the 4 of us we had about three 6packs of beer. I figured that would eat up most of a twenty so I handed the waiter $20. He gave me back $15 change!
Damn I wish I had liked Panama as much as C.R. but… I didn’t. So I looked at a few more beaches. Actually all the way from Panama City to just below the Costa Rican border. Didn’t do anything else stupid. Went back to C.R. one day early.
Which allowed me to meet. #4(see WOMEN, MUJERES, DELICIOSAS). Lucky me!