Panama

Snake Oil Salesmen

These slippery and slimy individuals still exist.  They are not gone like the five and dime alcohol cough syrups they used to sell.  If you don’t know the term ‘snake oil salesmen’ you are most likely the wrong generation which means you are not their target audience.

Today they try to sell Baby Boomers on the ‘this place is paradise’ lie.

You have seen the ads; come to Panama and buy your slice of Paradise.  The infamous and well quoted International Living keeps touting certain locations as the best places to retire (they have relocation tours you see where they are making a lot of money).  These headlines make me crazy because they are so untrue and so unfair and unfortunately, so legal.

First of all there is no such thing as Panama being Paradise.  I have lived in Panama.  Panama is suffering from a serious draught right now and the coffee trees and the banana trees are suffering blight.  Crime against expats is on the rise in certain areas; so much so that the local police have told expats to protect themselves.

These tours where people want to show you the ‘real’ Costa Rica or the ‘real’ Panama are as bogus as the day is long.  They are making, depending on how many people are a part of your tour, upwards of $1,000 a person on you to show you around.  And they aren’t really showing you around.  Or you aren’t asking the right questions.  If you aren’t asking kick the tire questions you aren’t really being shown around.

Ask them about legal documents and the fact that the one in Spanish is the only one that is legal.  If you do not speak Spanish why would you enter into a legal agreement about buying property?   And how do you know you have clear title to the property?  There are tons of stories on the internet about expats not really owning the property they think they own mostly because they do no understand what that contract in Spanish says.

How about asking them where the water supply comes from and where the water sewage plant is located (there isn’t one in Panama and the water comes from the mountains and flows into the ditch’s which get clogged with dirt; that is the water you will drink and cook with and wash with).  Ask them about electricity outages and how often they happen.  Ask them about scorpions and how to deal with them.  Ask them about the constant fight against mold and mildew and I’m going to bet they tell you to get an air exchange machine for your house.  Someone has something to sell everywhere!

No one should be buying property in any foreign country until they have lived in that foreign country no less than 6 months.  Pack a suitcase and move to whatever country you think is paradise and see if all the hype is true.  Do the touring on your own.  If you can’t travel the country on your own you shouldn’t be living in that country.  If you don’t speak the language but you think doing these tours is the answer you are moving to someplace that you shouldn’t be living.  Who is going to be around to help you when the tour ends?

Expats in some of these areas are more crooked than the locals and you can’t trust many of them either.  Do not fool yourself that many of these people will be your friends.  Most of the expats we met while living in Panama are long gone now; in fact most of the expats who try to live in Paradise are gone within 3-5 years.  These are the folks you need to chat with and ask them why they left.  They will tell you.  Compare their stories with those of these snake oil salesmen and then you will have a real picture of what it’s like to live in these places.

Alcohol consumption is a common theme among the expats as well. For some reason because the cost of living is so low they move to these places to drink themselves into happiness.  If drinking is not your favorite pastime rethink moving to a third world country.  Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and the rest are all third world countries.  I don’t care if you can have granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances and hot water on demand.  You are also going to have to live behind a gate; with iron bars on your windows; no maid to clean up after yourself because they will all rob from you; respiratory issues from the mold and mildew that you are not accustomed too and scorpions in the house; snakes and bugs on the front lawn to the point where you cannot walk through the grass; and wild dogs roaming the streets who tear through the garbage and leave a mess.  Does that really sound like Paradise?

The other snake oil pitch is how your family and friends back home will love coming to visit you every year.  Back the truck up.  Why on earth would you think that someone else is going to spend their vacation going to the same place over and over again just because you think you are living in paradise?  This has been one of the largest realities for people when they realize that after the initial visit the generations after you want to go someplace else and so no one comes to visit.  This is when people realize that they miss their families more than they want to live in Paradise and they leave.

The rules still apply; if something looks too good to be true it usually is.  This applies to living in Paradise as well.  If like I said you can live in any of these countries for 6 months and really live in these countries without trying to change the locals and without trying to bring your home country with you; then more power to you.  You have successfully learned to live in Paradise.  But if you want to change the environment around you to suit you and your needs; if you want the locals to learn to be more like the people and workers back home (which means they show up on time and they are ready to work); if you want to live just like you did back home; why did you move?  If you don’t want to learn their language, don’t expect them to learn yours.  The world does not revolve around expats.

So the next time you are approached by any of these snake oil salesmen ask them the tough questions before you spend your money on any of these tours they offer.  You might be better off taking the whole family on a trip to Europe or someplace exotic.  After all, isn’t spending time with family and good friends really the Paradise everyone is seeking after retirement?

And as always I will say what I have said many times; if it was paradise, why are there always so many homes for sale?

Florence Lince

http://www.about.me/florencelince

And The Poop Wins!

I think what might surprise people is what tourists remember of their city.  Yes, we see the pretty vistas and the beautiful buildings and the nice museums.  Then we see the real city and that is what we remember the most about your country.

Nicaragua has to be one of the dirtiest countries I have ever visited.  The trash was everywhere.  I also never once felt safe while in the country as a whole and Nicaragua is not on our list of countries we would return too.

In Panama you can walk the streets and have the person in front of you toss their trash right at your feet; to them the whole country is a trash can and someone else will clean it up.  Sadly, no one does.  Panama is a beautiful country and has things to see but cleaning the country will be a big undertaking.

Sarajaveo will long be remembered by me for its beggars and how much of a turn off it was to try to walk the streets.  I would have loved to have walked any street without being confronted by some pretty aggressive families begging for money, but that was not the case and Sarajaveo comes off my list of places I would return too.

Iquique, Chile will long be remembered by me for its charm along its waterfront and its attention to keeping families together along its beaches.  They have done an excellent job in creating a great family environment for everyone along its waterfront.  The rest of the city however is another story and the further you get from the waterfront the less safe the city streets become until you are in some neighborhoods that some gangsters might be afraid to go to.

Santiago, Chile was a real surprise.  Loved this city.  Loved its vibe, its great attractions and the streets were pretty clean as well.  Yep, this city stays on my list and I could see myself going here permanently.

Rome will always be the place where Mike got pick pocketed.  It will also be the place where we remember that we tried to tell the police more than once what happened and no one cared enough to take a crime report.  It is a shameful and disgusting way to treat tourists and we heard from residents it is pretty much the same for them so why would I ever want to return to this city.  I don’t’ and I won’t.

Torrevieja, Spain is turning into the dog poop capital of the world.  So many expats walk their dogs here and many more dog owners do not pick up the poop that their dogs leave behind.  It is a mine field out there on any given street on any given day.  You can’t look up and enjoy the scenery because you run the risk of stepping in dog poop almost immediately.  There is no block that is not covered in dog poop somewhere.  Frankly, it’s revolting.  There are campaigns and laws on the books now about dog owners being fined for allowing their dogs to poop on the streets and then not picking up that poop.  Not sure what good that does.

So while you think that your city tops the list of one of the most beautiful places on earth to live; next time look at your city as if for the first time and see what tourists might be saying about your city.  It’s not too late to fix those things that might be wrong with it; we haven’t been everywhere yet.  And when we visit we’ll be sure to let you know what we think of your city.  I mean, if I need a pooper scooper to visit your city; I don’t think I’m coming to visit.

Florence Lince

http://www.about.me/florencelince

A Look Back

 Reflections of 2013

I love this time of year.  I have always written a ‘Year in Review’ letter to family and friends highlighting the crazy things I have been up too and stuffed that letter inside a Christmas card.  With the advent of so many social media channels I find that I really don’t have to recap my year because everyone has come along for the ride.

However, this is my first year with a blog and sometimes I want to tell my story in more than 140 characters or have more connection than just filling an album with pictures.  There are stories behind the pictures that just need to be told, and memories that I want to expound on beyond a tweet.

This was quite a year.  As 2012 ended we had thought we would be in Panama for at least two years but things changed quickly and we realized that our time in Panama was at an end.  It was while we were leaving that I came up with an inkling of an idea and we turned our lives into The 6 Monthers; a concept where we would stay 6 months in every country we wanted to live in.  Six months allows us to really get to know the locals and to explore more of the country on a completely different basis than just being on a two-week vacation.  So our adventure began.  I started out looking for countries where we could live for 6 months on our regular visas and while there are some, not all the countries we want to live in allow it.  Those that don’t we will deal with them on a case by case basis.  I also began in 2013 to work on obtaining dual citizenship for Italy which we hope will help with our request to stay someplace longer than 3 months.

Where we thought we would live for two years turned out to be no more than 6 months but it gave me an idea...

Where we thought we would live for two years turned out to be no more than 6 months but it gave me an idea… © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Leaving Panama we looked north and decided on giving Mexico a try.  Other than stopping in various Mexican cities during cruises I had never spent any real time in Mexico.  Arranging our time in Mexico was easier than I expected and we found the ideal location to begin 2013 in Cuernavaca.  Mexico was a nice surprise and nothing like what the news media would have us believe.  We never heard a gun shot and we never felt unsafe.  We met nice people and we ate wonderful food.  We visited amazing places and loved every second of our time there.  Yes Mexico has its challenges but there is nothing about Mexico that should stop someone from exploring this beautiful country.

See more about Teotiuachan by clicking here

See more about Teotihuacan by clicking here. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

We returned to the US for a short period to exchange clothing and to clean out the last few boxes of items we had left in my parents’ garage.  We then packed for our move to Scotland.  Hindsight they say is sometimes best and sadly living in Scotland was not the dream that I was hoping it was going to be.

Being ever alert to prospects for new adventures, and wanting to build our 6 Monthers brand, earlier in 2013 I had connected via LinkedIn with the manager of Dhar Media in Zagreb, Croatia.  They were looking for journalists interested in exploring Croatia and filming a web series called Discover Croatia.  Filming was scheduled for the month of September.  September couldn’t come fast enough and while our 24 day filming schedule was grueling our time in Croatia was fun and filled with great contacts and new friends.

I know this was supposed to be serious business but I was having so much fun!  Our visit to Zelingrad Castle happened during the filming of Discover Croatia. Loved it!

I know this was supposed to be serious business but I was having so much fun! Our visit to Zelingrad Castle happened during the filming of Discover Croatia. Loved it! © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

But we returned to Scotland because we had prepaid our six months rent.  We were however increasingly unhappy in Scotland and wanted to leave.  The people were not friendly or in some instances unkind.  I received more than one look from strangers where I just felt that if anything happened to me on the street no one would help me.  The weather was turning colder and the costs to heat our small apartment that had no TV, no internet and no elevator was getting to be ridiculous.  We talked with our landlady who would not return our money since she said the banks didn’t allow money to flow in reverse but that if we found someone who would take good care of the place we could sublet to them.  And the hunt was on.  I told Mike I was determined to find someone to get us out of Scotland.  He wanted to know where we wanted to go.  I told him Sibenik, Croatia.  He was surprised since I have family in Sicily and they could have arranged a place for us to stay, even on short notice.

Scotland is a beautiful country and there is a lot to see. It was just not the right place for us to live.

Scotland is a beautiful country and there is a lot to see. It was just not the right place for us to live. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Luck was on our side, or fate intervened, and we left Scotland without looking back on October 26th and landed once again in Croatia. Since we had already spent 24 days in the country we were only allowed to stay in the country on our regular visas until early January 2014 but we didn’t mind.  We found a great apartment to rent in Sibenik for 2.2 months and we grabbed it.  We connected with several locals who toured us around and we learned more about this region and this country.  To thank everyone we had met and who treated us so warmly we threw a Holiday / 6th Wedding Anniversary party.   It was a happy event and we are glad that we did it.

From left; Our own Personal Insider - Biljana Lambasa, Tina Vickov, owner of Sibenik Plus Tourist Agency, Mike and Me.  We were in good hands with these two who showed us the Sibenik we called home.  We wouldn't have learned as much without them.

From left; Our own Personal Insider – Biljana Lambasa, Tina Vickov, owner of Sibenik Plus Tourist Agency, Mike and Me. We were in good hands with these two who showed us the Sibenik we called home. We wouldn’t have learned as much without them. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Holidays in other countries are always interesting because so many customs and traditions are different from our own country.  Here in Croatia they celebrate St. Nicholas day (December 15th) and the Epiphany (January 6th) which hold just as much significance as the main event; Christmas.  New Year’s Eve is yet to come but we already know there will be parties to attend and more stories to file away.

Mike and I met St. Nicholas along the waterfront in Sibenik - he tells me I've been a good girl this year

Mike and I met St. Nicholas along the waterfront in Sibenik – he tells me I’ve been a good girl this year. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

So while 2012 ended on a sour note we turned 2013 into a time of new beginnings, new friendships and new memories.  After all, isn’t that what the ball drop on New Year’s Eve represents?  Isn’t this why everyone cheers and sings and toasts the coming year?  New Year’s Eve is a time to say goodbye to the past and to look forward to the future.  New Year’s Eve is a time to make a toast to the coming year’s possibilities and a time to sing to let the world know that you are coming.

Here we come 2014, let’s see what you’ve got…

Florence Lince

http://www.6monthers.com

Visiting Nicaragua

Or, Never Again

When Mike said that he wanted to add the country of Nicaragua to our list of countries to explore I had my misgivings.  Turns out I was right. We toured the cities of Estelí, Cerro Negro, Granada, Leon, Masaya, Ometepe, Matagalpa and San Juan del Sur.

Upon landing in Managua the staff at the hotel wouldn’t let us leave the hotel without an escort.  We said we were only going to walk a few blocks away to the cinema and they told us that even that would not be a safe thing to do.  It was broad daylight.  That was enough for us.  We never left the hotel.

Our only picture of Managua is of the water cooler in the hotel lobby.

Our only picture of Managua is of the water cooler in the hotel lobby. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

 

 

The following morning we were picked up for a seven day escorted tour of the country.  Our driver and our tour guide were both friendly and wonderful people.  Even they however gave us warnings about places to go and what time to be back inside our room.  Sitting in a café one day looking at one of the countries most famous beaches I remarked how empty it was.  We were then told that the water was actually polluted with sewage and locals won’t use it.  Lots of expats build expensive homes on this waterfront and I wouldn’t go near it with a ten foot pole.

One of the safe beaches frequented by locals

One of the safe beaches frequented by locals © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Since we were exploring Nicaragua for 21 days we had rented a car for the last 14 days of our trip.  Bus travel in Nicaragua is spotty at best so it was deemed safer by our tour operator to do our own driving.  We were also headed to some places that would have been nearly impossible to find or get to without having our own vehicle such as the coffee finca Selva Negra in Matagalpa.  Our time in Selva Negra is well documented and we wrote our first children’s book about our time there.  This truly was an oasis in the middle of a no man’s land.

We stayed for four nights in Leon using it as our base.  The wonderful women at the hostel we stayed at insisted that Mike park the rental car behind the locked gates at night (and before dark) so that it would be safe.  In Granada we watched people eating out of garbage cans because they were starving.  One of the hardest things to watch was people standing around and watching other people eating and when those people got up to leave those who were watching would swoop in before someone else got to the plate and take the uneaten food to have something to eat.

In Granada we also met an expat who married a local woman.  He said he hardly ever leaves his home because one day he dared to ride his bike outside the safety zone and he said he knew he had ridden too far that day and before he could turn around he was pounced on and they took his bike, his camera and his pride.  They hurt him only a little bit.  He said he will never do it again.

We watched in first fascination and then in horror as people would do tricks or cartwheels or other dangerous routines at red lights.  While people were waiting for the lights to change those desperate for money would do something to earn a coin or two.  And then of course there were those who would blatantly walk up to your car windshield to wash it to earn money.  These people are at every street corner and to get them to stop you simply turn your windshield wipers on and they go away.

Sound harsh to you?  Three weeks of people begging for money, of seeing the filth and trash thrown in the streets and the constant car horn honking will turn even the most civilized person into a hardened tourist.  I asked Mike to get me out of Nicaragua.

The people we met and dealt with at hotels and restaurants were warm and friendly.  This fact however does not make up for the constant bombardment of begging that we were subjected too.  If the leader of Nicaragua would spend more on his people instead of wasting money putting airstrips on Ometepe Island or in building a canal to rival Panama’s perhaps his people would not be starving in the streets, or doing dangerous things at red lights or even in eating other people’s leftovers.

They are putting in an airstrip on this beautiful island so that tourists can get to the island faster.  They are plowing up beautiful rainforests to do it.

They are putting in an airstrip on this beautiful island so that tourists can get to the island faster. They are plowing up beautiful rainforests to do it. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

If you wish to see the country of Nicaragua take every precaution imaginable and stay safe.  Stay with an escort and keep on the beaten path.  Our paths will not cross in Nicaragua.  Been there, done that.

Florence Lince

http://www.6monthers.com

Life in Boquete, or that’s not my idea of Paradise

Everyone talks about Boquete, Panama as if it was paradise.  Funny, paradise to me isn’t filled with the problems that life in Panama represents.

Now to be fair we didn’t live high end.  I mean we didn’t live in a 5000 square foot home with all the expat comforts. You know what I mean, things like expensive granite countertops, fancy kitchen appliances, or even a car.  Most locals cannot afford any of those things in Panama and I wasn’t interested in living my life worried about ‘stuff”, I mean that’s why I sold it all in the US, so I didn’t have any ‘stuff’ to worry about.

We lived in a one bedroom cottage with hot water only in our shower and that is because most Panamanians do not have hot water in their homes, that is another N. American luxury.

We only had one incident with a scorpion and it was just a baby but other expats deal with scorpions on a more regular basis.  I think we would have moved sooner if that had been the case for me.

We had no clothes dryer because 95% of the country cannot afford a clothes dryer.  We are not the type of expats who go to a country and look to live the way we did in our own country.  What’s the point of that?  And the cost to do that is the same as staying in our own country.  Why would I spend the same amount to live in a third world country as I could in my own, I might as well have stayed in the US.

Kids can’t ride their bikes on the streets because most of the streets are not paved.  Try walking down a street that isn’t paved nor has any sidewalks.  And because of the bugs most kids cannot play on the grass or on their front lawns.  Some of my happiest memories as a child are from when we were able to play in the front yard; I cannot imagine not being able to do that.

We lived without water at times because in Panama water is rain water and when the water stops, or when the water flowing through the ditch stops, you have no water.  We had one situation where for a month we had water and then we didn’t, it would trickle in from time to time.  Seems that the pipe had gotten clogged with mud and it took them a month to figure out how to get the pipe unclogged. We left before it could happen again.

You cannot bring jewelry or anything of value with you to Panama.  The national income average is still less than $600 a month.  Think about that a second.  The average Panamanian family is trying to feed themselves, cloth themselves and take care of their bills on less than $600 a month.  Can you do that?  We tried.  Our rent was $300 a month and food was around $300 a month.  We never went out and we shopped like locals.  It’s not easy living like that.  We were able to save a lot of money but as a woman after a while it wears on you having to cook and clean and chase bugs all the time, and then there was not having any hot water.  Nothing bothered me more than not having an endless supply of hot water.  I wasn’t raised like this so I know there is a better way to live.  It’s called being in the US where we have screens on our windows not bars; were we have hot water tanks; were we have water that we can rely on; good roads that won’t gauge tires; yards where children can play, and more.

The scenery in Boquete is beautiful.  In fact Panama is a beautiful country and I think everyone should see it and explore what it has to offer.  But paradise, I don’t think so.  And like I have said countless times, if this was paradise, why are there always homes for sale?

                                                                                                            Florence Lince

www.6monthers.com