The Other Side

After seeing the response and concerns raised by my “A Word of Caution” post, maybe I should balance it with the things I like about Panama. Normally, good bars on the windows (a way of life in Latin America), good friends, and an inside dog and a little common sense will take care of the thefts and other problems.

So what do I like.

I like all of the friends I have here.

I like it that the secretary of my church would think of me when a humming bird built her nest and laid an egg and wanted me to take photos.

I like the fact that a Colombian friend would call at 1AM in the morning, following an earthquake to see if I was all right.

I like the fact that no matter where I am people pass, speak and smile.

I like the hint of a smile I get with my poor Spanish, but they know I try.

I like the fact that I don’t fight Dallas traffic jams, even though David is growing and there is now more traffic. I can still get to anywhere I want in David in no more than 15 minutes.

I like that a doctor will spend up to an hour talking to make sure I understand something and that the price for an office visit can be a low as $5.

I like that my dentist is as good as my specialist in the US and has a personality that is not an ice cube and cares about patients.

I like that I can go for a walk in the morning and be greeted by friendly neighbors on their morning walk.

I like that I can go out to eat for as little as $1.75 and get a good plate lunch as I did yesterday.

I like that I see flocks of parrots flying by and hear them chattering in the mornings.

I like that I can drive for 30 minutes and be up in the mountains or 30-50 minutes and be at a beach looking at the ocean.

I like that following a rain I may see some of the most beautiful rainbows I have ever seen.

I like that at the end of a month, I still have some money in the bank.

I like that I can attend an English class with Dario and help dispel concepts about gringos and help the youth of Chiriquí.

I like learning new things and that everyday still feels like I am on a vacation in a foreign land.

I like helping people like Tom McCormack and Jorge Cedeño who are helping the people of Panama.

I kind of find that life is what you make it. While I am always cautious, I try to live each day and enjoy it. I spend more time thinking about living each day to its fullest and not dreading the end of my days.

Luckily, I have learned that carrying a camera helps me to notice things that in the past would have completely slipped by my eyes.

For me, with all of its warts, ticks and fleas, I still love Panama and would not move. Well, not unless I won a 5 million dollar lottery.

27 thoughts on “The Other Side

  1. I like that we have a great view of Panama from a person with a great appreciation of living!!

    Thank you, Don Ray, for providing the REAL view of Panama.

    jim and nena
    fort worth, tx
    (no snow today!)

  2. Don,
    Paradise is in the eye’s of the beholder. Let all of the fanatics that believe the United States is going under stay where their at. They wouldn’t make it here anyway.

  3. Don,
    Living in Panama couldn’t be any worse than other places I’ve lived or currently live in. When I lived in Orlando the news was constantly about murders, foreign visitors being duped, robbed, assulted, or worse. I currently live in Baltimore, where the Mayor has neen found guilty of embezzlement, of gift cards (meant for the needy, no less!) and this story has taken the shine off the fact that last year it was the “murder capital of the US” with 37 homicides per 100,000 people.
    Due to my income, I live in a high crime area, where prostitutes walk the street and you can get your drug fix at 7 eleven. Panama would surely be a paradise by comparison.

  4. I just read your “Note of Caution” and all the comments and now this. For me the other side is what makes me smile. I look forward to being able to make the move to Panama full-time having received my Pensionado. The only thing still keeping me here in the States is trying to sell a boat I own and these days I don’t think you could sell someone a hundred dollar bill for fifty bucks.

    The whole cringing at the thought of “living behind bars” mentality puts a smile on my face. It’s a Latin thing. I lived for 7 months in the “motherland” of Spain and all the windows are barred there, too. But I understand that some people consider it something they can’t live with. But here in south Florida a lot of people need the bars as well. Home invasion stories hit the newspaper weekly. People shot and killed while enjoying coffee and a donut at their local Dunkin shop.

    Paradise is something you create for yourself. I always found it remarkable that people in the streets of Panama City would greet me with a “Buenos” as a matter of course and even more so in the hinterlands. I think I’ve mentioned in your comments previously that people who move to Panama and then lock themselves up in Gringo ghettos and make little or no attempt at learning Spanish and then bitch and moan about being treated with contempt by the locals get what they deserve. They’ve earned it.

  5. Don,
    This is Lynton, we met once for lunch in David. Thank you for this wonderful article and i know what you are talkin about. Wish i was in David having a couple cups of cane juice!!
    Your friend Lynton Lam

  6. I really enjoyed this piece of writing. As a reflective person, I loved the way you analyzed the good things about living in a foreign place. I sometimes experience the same while living in North Carolina, and even though I have not lived in Chiriqui for the last 21 years, I still miss home. As a matter of fact, I will spend the holidays in David. I can’t wait.
    See you,

  7. We are living so well in San Pablo on what we have that I am not sure how I would be better off with more money. Would it get me better neighbors? would the weather be any better? Would the bananas ripen one at a time? would the night blooming flowers smell better? would the fruit I get from the truck that stops at our gate taste better? I am not of the more is better school of thought. We are creating a better life evey day.

  8. I guess 5 years in Costa Rica make this a paradise for me. You can not leave anything outside there for a minute or it will be gone. I got use to not carrying my wallet or more cash then I needed for the day there. Here my cars are parked out in front of the house without garage, in Costa Rica the guards would get mad if you left the gate open for a second longer then needed to get in!

    When i first visited here with a Tico friend he was amazed at the central park. He looked at me and said in San Jose they would be ripping the pipes out of the fountain and the flowers out of the ground within a day after it was completed.

    My neighbors have Christmas decorations outside along with washes and other things on the side of the house. That would last 2 seconds in Costa Rica. Yes, there have been a few small problems near here, a car radio and some cloths stolen that were drying. However no one has been shot in the face for a cell phone near my house here.

    I have few worries here, outside the obvious ways of protecting yourself. I just took a trip to the US and came back with some cash. Caught the midnight bus in Panama to here, did not have a second thought about it. In Costa Rica I always had friends pick me up since I worried the taxi’s would rob me. When I got back the house was fine, my neighbors helped keep an eye on it.

    I do however have some small concerns and yes my house has bars. While i am not rich, I look rich to many of the locals here and that does make my house a target. While I don’t lose sleep over it, I do try to be careful, no large amounts of cash in the house or so-on. I am often up late and sometimes keep the front door open for some fresh air, that is suicide in CR.

    Bad things can happen anywhere but if security is your main concern it would be harder to find a better place in Latin American then Chiriqui (at least from what I have seen). Given the good quality of life like new plazas, casinos, restaurants and big supermarkets, life is pretty good here.

  9. Scott,
    I agree with your comments completely. The positives here in Chiriqui far out weigh the negatives.Having spent time in C.R.your comments are all true.
    I think to live here happily you need to learn the customs and the culture. You won’t find these things in any book but rather by cultivating Panimanian friends. Learning the language is important to communicate with the average person. When you can sit and talk with an old timer, this is when you can start to learn the pulse of the people.Spend some time sitting in David’s beautiful park,and soon you will be talking and learning from regular people.
    Remember when the people look you in the eye,in the street, they are waiting for you to say”Buenos”.
    To learn Spanish here you only need a passion to learn. We have few problems here compared to other parts of the world. My 2 cents.

  10. Hi, questions for Scott and Tom: do you think any of the thefts/attacks are the work of people from CR? Since the border is so close could the same criminals just be expanding their “territory”?
    My wife is originally from Boquete and is not happy with the thought that locals could be doing this but it has been decades since we lived there, times change.
    jim and nena
    fort worth, tx

  11. I think the thefts are from people residing in Panama. They are not coming here from Costa Rica to rob and returning. Now whether they are young Panamanian gang members, other Panamanians or from other Latin America countries, I don’t know. I just feel pretty sure they live in Panama.

  12. Don,
    Most foreigners try comparing Latin America to the United States (especially Chiriqui) Please realize there is no comparison. You should know that your from Texas? The entire country of Panama is not as big as the state of South Carolina, so how can narrow minded people compare Boquete & David to the USA? It is impossible!

  13. Would like to know how in the hell this is starting to happen here and all over the world….We are losing the family values I was born and raised with. I can’t stand TV anymore as every channel has constant brutality. When is the last time you saw a good movie, really enjoyed it and laughed? The Good Stuff is out of our reach anymore. I am glad I am as old as I am so I don’t have to contend with all that the future holds for the kids, …..but I think that we are in a world of “change” but, not to our previous values.

  14. When I first visited Costa Rica (about 10 years ago) it was nicer. When you walked down the street people would say hi, just like here. The main problem with CR is that there is no penalty for breaking the law. I believe that any crime with a sentence for 3 months or less and you don’t do any jail time.

    AM Costa Rica did a piece on a guy that was put in jail, it was called something like 57th time is the charm. The guy was arrested 56 times and never spent a night in jail. Recently a off duty officer was assassinated near the Panama border. The guy that murdered him had been arrested 114 times but was still walking the street. Human nature is to always push the envelope, if you get away with the little things, why not go after more?

    Ticos in general are good people (except while driving, then they want to kill you). Their problem is they just are complacent, they refuse to demand better even though they pay way more in taxes and services. You pay a special tax on your car for road repair, yet the roads are some of the worse in the world. While sales tax here is 5% it is 13% in Costa Rica, now they just increased property tax, a big increase. All this will do is build a bigger mansion for the politicians there, yet Ticos continue to pay it and demand nothing in return for it. So when the justice system fails they just say “well that’s CR” and built a bigger wall around the house.

    Anyway getting back to the question, no – crime here is not Ticos crossing the boarder, it is Panamanian. While you will read about drug murders done by Mexicans or Colombians here, chances are you will never see it (unless you are doing things you should not be doing). Crime here is mainly small time done by small time local bandits. Just like 90% of the Crime in CR is done by nationals (they will tell you different but that is the government numbers). These type of people steal a car radio to sell for $15, maybe to buy crack or what ever. They are looking for an easy buck and will avoid complications. Most are just too lazy to work, that is why, as Don said, bars on the windows and other small things help a lot. It will not stop the pros but a few small things will keep out 98% of them.

    While I love the new Rey, Conway and other things that make this town a great place to be, I fear it may invite more crime, time will tell I guess. Like others have said, if you come here and fit in with your neighbors you will have little to worry about. If you start throwing money around wanting to be a big shot that gets noticed, you will, but by the wrong people. Fact is life IS different here, the only people impressed with how much money you have is the people that want to steal it.

  15. Hi Don Ray, as a natural “chiricano” I can say that, most of the robbers are coming from panana city, this people know that in chiriqui people is not so scare about kidnapping or assault meanwhile you take a walk or you are in home as here in panama city, in David, boquete people usually dont take caution of this kind of violence, because you know your neighbors and is easy to recognize people living near to you or in your area. I think that there are some kind of gangs in panama city very well organized that move to chiriqui just for robbery and crime. Some reports of the local police have mentioned this alert before. Im not saying that couldnt exist some rats in chiriqui but, i have strong reasons to think that high violence crime is coming from outside of chiriqui.

  16. Don Ray, Scott, and Harmodio,
    thanks for that information. I do believe that the increase in “riches” coming to David/Volcan, etc is a big draw to those looking for easy money. And David’s easy-going life style makes for less risk for the bad guys than in Panama City.

    As Willie Sutton said, “I rob banks because that’s where the money is”.
    jim and nena
    fort worth, tx

  17. Hi all: I’ve been here over 10 years, have lived in Costa Rica 4 years before moving here. My take on all this, it’s not anyone from Ticolandia, it’s not anyone from Panama City. It’s locals, mostly young, under 18, but maybe controlled by an adult using a child to slip between the window bars and open the door. They know your comings and goings, they know your car. They communicate with cell phones when you leave and they have a stake out on the road to announce your return. The laws here are very lax on under 18 individuals. In my neighborhood I know who they are, the police know who they are and where they hang-out but unless caught in the act, are powerless to do anything. If you employ the actions I posed in a previous post concerning this, you probably will not get robbed, they will look for an easier target. There is NO comparison between living here or Costa Rica. It would take up more space then this website could hold to relate the times in C.R. I was robbed, conned, scammed and a lot more violent type crime then here.

  18. Patrick
    That is true but a lot of the crime in all these countries is drug related, small time users and big time movers. One good thing is that at least Panama and the new president is trying to fix the problem you brought up.

    There is a curfew in effect for kids under 18 after 9PM. Being more on the left side of things I can’t say I love the idea but the getting older side of me kind of likes the idea – although I will never admit it out loud.

    Another quick point to bring up is that people who live in areas with just other foreigners seem more likely to be robbed, not 100% of the time but there is truth to it. People that live in neighborhoods with the local population seem to be hit less. For what ever the reason, they think we are rich, they think we will not miss our things or we don’t understand the legal system enought to go after them, they believe this and target the foreigners.

    Well even thoght it is not perfect, you must be glad, like me, you don’t need to walk down the street anymore looking over your shoulder with a can of mace in one hand. Pura Panama?!?

  19. Right, Don Ray, a good dog.

    No doubt that robbers in your place would be terrified by Koki. Hard to believe that I’m the first person to take note of that.

  20. Hahaha Tom. No Koki’s only benefit is to alert me. She would frighten anyone if they saw her. However they will here her barking from the other side of the door. Maybe they will think it is a Doberman with laryngitis.

  21. Hola Don
    Gracias por unirse ala causa de los niños cuya actividad sera ya el sabado ,y este articulo esta de lo mejor una refleccionar soy de Costa Rica y reconozco que en mi pais como en todos hay personas buenas y malas ,considero que uno como ser humano puede con una buena actitud ayudar a cambiar el lugar en que vivimos porque muchas veces estas personas malas empezaron siendo niños buenos y las circustancias y la sociedad los lleva a ser peores cada dia ,creo que debemos de unirnos y apoyar a el municipio y cualquier otra entidad en esta ciudad y tratar de cambiar un poco lo que nos rodea ,seria una manera linda de estar ocupados ….tambien …
    gracias a todos por las donaciones a los niños del barrio sera ya el sabado les enviaremos las fotos de todo ..

  22. Things I like about Chiriqui.

    I like seeing the ice delivery man delivering ice with tongs.

    I like the waiter that brings me coffee con leche as soon as I sit down.

    I like sitting in the park talking to seasoned citizens about life.

    I like it when kids look at my blue eyes.

    I like it in a restaurant when someone asks”Is this seat taken”.

    I like it when people call me by name even if I can’t remember theirs.

    I like the beautiful blue skies and bright sunshine almost every day.

    I like it that the neighbors on my street know my name and the kids call me gringo.

    I like sitting by my pool and thinking about all the nights I worked outside in the freezing cold.

    I like being able to walk to the baseball stadium,sit behind home plate,and only pay $1.00.

    I like going anywhere in David on the bus for only .30

    I like the fact I came here to give and not take.

    I like the people the food the climate and most of all I
    like life.
    Gracias Adios

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