Monday, February 27, 2012

Surrounded By Panamanians.......And Lovin' It......

The little village of Las Uvas, which literally translates as "the grapes" is on the road leading to the more well known town of El Valle.  About a ten minute drive from the beach community of Coronado, we were in search of a swimming hole with a waterfall.  Known to the locals as El Chorro de Las Lajas, which translates as "waterfall of the sandstone or rocks."   Someone told our friend Daniel about this hidden gem, and he was determined to find it.  He stopped two young boys for directions, and the boy said "drive as far as you can go, then the rest is by foot."  The boy looked at Daniel like he was nuts to even consider visiting this hole in the ground, and we soon found out why.

He's taking the easy way down, we walked

Guess who?

The Happy Couple


Chatting with Daniel

It's a long way down!

The rocky, dirt road came to an end only because to drive any further would have meant driving over the edge of a cliff, straight down into the river below.  We could see the waterfall off to our right and local kids climbing onto cliffs to jump off.  Several showed off since both Daniel and Clyde pulled out cameras.  The three of us looked straight down over the edge, contemplating if we should attempt the trek.  Local families ran down the ledges barefoot, carrying babies, coolers, bags of food, and cans of open beer like it was nothing.

Local kids climbing up

Cute little Panameño girl

Notice the bare feet

The hills are alive with kiddos

Us three amigos descended the first set of rocks, taking some of it on our butts.  Looking skeptically over the next ledge, a young local boy ran up telling us exactly where to step to make it easier.  Apparently Panamanians are part monkey, or mountain goat since they ran up and down this ledge like a walk in the park.  Slowly and steadily, we all made it down to the river for a well deserved romp in the water.  Surrounded by fit, radiant brown skinned locals, we looked like the filling inside of an Oreo cookie.  But warm and friendly as always, the kids proudly posed for pictures, as the adults swim around us chatting to us in both Spanish and a few words of English.  Although we stand out like a snowman on the beach, we absolutely never feel unsafe or out of place when surrounded by Panamanians.
Coming up for air

It's a long way up to the high dive

Going up

Not a happy camper

After a few hours of cooling off in the river, we climbed back up the ledge.  I'm sure some of our moves back up made us look more like Three Stooges, rather than three amigos on an outing.  With short legs I had a tough time reaching up and over some of the ledge, and made some rather un-lady like moves.  But I'm sure it was an amusing show for the locals watching below since I was wearing a bikini and my butt was probably dangling over the edge.  Next time we head out to this swimming hole I'm sure it will be easier.  After all the sure footed locals have probably been climbing up and down that cliff since they first began to walk.

Unique water lily

Say "queso" and smile for the camera.  More local kids

Tranquil and serene

We spent the evening at Daniel's house eating home-made fish tacos, and beans with a few rum drinks.  He even threw in some "arroz con leche" or rice pudding as a local dessert treat.  A fun day in the sun and water, and good company with friends made for another enjoyable day in paradise.

This tree looked pregnant

A home-made sugar cane press. 
It can be operated
by hand power or horse power.
Just saw it while driving by.


Since Daniel lives in the same neighborhood where we're buying the house, we drove by the property.  Amazed to see hundreds of mangoes popping up on just one of our mango trees.  Still need some time to ripen before pickin', but should be ready by the time we close on the house. I've never been a big fan of mangoes when we lived in Texas, but I'm sure I'll get to love them here since they're free for the pickin'.

In a backyard not far from the house we're buying.  
An ostrich, goats, deer and more.
We think Old McDonald is our neighbor.

A deer in some one's backyard

Another amazing day of natural beauty, and being one with nature and the locals.  A bit of rock climbing, to discover new heights in Las Uvas, Panamá.....along the gringo trail.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

House Buying Process......in Panamá

Buying a house in the U.S. with cash, is usually a pretty easy proposition, but not in Panamá.  Once we found the house we wanted, the seller wanted 10% down when we signed the "promise to buy/sell contract."  She explained that once this document was signed, she was not allowed to sell the house to anyone else.  But since our funds were in a U.S. bank, we would first have to transfer the funds. 

Our lawyer told us it was perfectly safe for us to transfer funds directly from our account in the U.S. to the bank account of the seller in Panamá.  But the seller didn't like that idea, and insisted that we open a local bank account for the fund transfer.  Since our lawyer was already involved, it was easier to have her open the bank account for us too, for an extra fee of course.  The first bank she called would not accept a money transfer from the U.S. so she keep looking.  Next she presented us with the requirements for a foreigner to open an account in that particular bank.  The requirements were: Two letters of reference from a bank for Clyde, and one for me.....four personal letters of reference each....and copies of all bank statements from those banks.  We had to show copies of our passports, along with our pensionado visas, and identification from the U.S., are old drivers licenses' from Texas.  The whole process took about two weeks, running back and forth to Panama City to meet with our lawyer at the bank.

Once the bank account was active the money could be transferred from the U.S. and the seller was issued the 10% down payment, in front of the lawyer and a notary.  All parties involved had to sign the "promise to buy/sell contract" which was all in Spanish of course, and stamp our fingerprints on the documents. The sale of the house is now locked in and the seller would pay a stiff fine should they sell it to someone else at this point.

Even though we had ALL the funds transferred at one time, Panamá requires that all these steps be followed.  It would have been much easier to just issue the seller the full amount instead of just 10%, but things are not done that way here. Then the bank issues a certified check for the balance due, to the seller.  This process takes another two to three weeks, and once again all paperwork must be signed with a lawyer and notary present.  The check for the full amount is NOT given to the seller yet at this point in the process.

Next the lawyer submits the paperwork to the some government office, like a department of registry, who takes several more weeks to draw up the final paperwork.  We meet once again with the seller, the lawyer and the notary to sign the final documents.  At this time the lawyer presents a certified check to the seller who gives us the keys to the house.

Let me mention that there are two types of property here in Panamá.  One type is "titled" and the other is called "right of possession."  The only thing I know about ROP property is to stay away from it, because without a title, we could come home one day to find someone living in our house.

One of the perks of home ownership in Panamá, is that when someone buys new property, they pay NO PROPERTY TAX for 20 years!  And on existing property let's say that's 10 years old, they pay no tax for 10 years.  The house we're buying is close to 30 years old so we will pay property tax, but it should only be a few hundred dollars a year.


So one of these days we should make it to the end of this long process, and be homeowners.  Until now all we can do is be patient, and wait.  Waiting is just an everyday part of life here in Panamá, better known as "the manaña syndrome."  And that's just what we're doing right now....waiting for friends to come over, to hang out or maybe go out on some a new adventure.......along the gringo trail.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Poco loco gringos.... Buying a house!

The cat's out of the bag now since I wrote about it and it was published in International Living Magazine.  We're in the process of buying a house, another first in Panamá.  And just like everything here in Panamá, it takes time.

Front view with driveway and carport

Terry in front of gate to property

Front view, other side

Way back in December while visiting a friend in the little town of Chame, we drove by a stately house, surrounded by a beautifully landscaped yard. On the fence was a sign that said "se vende," which means "for sale."  Clyde immediately called the number on the sign but it was not in service.  So off we went and whenever we were over that way we'd drive by again, hoping to catch someone home.  Since the house seemed abandoned, we assumed that it must be a weekend house for some Panamanian that lives in the city. Several more times we called the number but it still didn't work.

 
Front left view, gazebo under a coconut palm

The gazebo

One day Clyde typed up a letter in both English and Spanish, wrapped it in a plastic bag and tied it on the fence in front of the house.  The letter stated that we are interested in buying the house but have not been able to reach them by phone.  Days turned into weeks which turned into about a month.  And one month later Clyde received a call while at the gym in Punta Chame.  It was the owner of the house who told Clyde about the home, how much he wanted for it and how much it was appraised for.  Immediately we headed over to meet the owner and see the house. 

Close up of  gazebo,
the thing hanging down is an old deflated beach float

Front corner of property


We were greeted by a well dressed, mature, classy Panamanian gentleman who introduced himself and his son in English.  He soon told us that he is the Chancellor of a prestigious medical school in Panama City, and encouraged us to inquire about him to discover his honest reputation and well known family name.  His son works as a French translator and spoke only a little English.
A coconut palm

A very large Mango tree next to the gazebo

He proudly showed us around the grand house that sits on 1.6 acres of lush, tropical land with lots of mature fruit trees.  In the back of the pristine garden sits an old guard shack with an attached full bath and shower unit.  To the left of the house a clay tile covered gazebo with a barbecue for parties, and enough room for a table and chairs.  There is even an outdoor shower to rinse off after a day at the beach.

See how the flowering hedges run
 the whole fence line of the property


Tiny guard shack with full bath way in back of property


Once inside we walked into a good sized entry way, and I immediately noticed a huge kitchen straight ahead. The gentleman explained that he personally designed the kitchen so that three women could be preparing food at the same time.  At the end of the long kitchen sits a tiny bedroom with a full bath which served as the maids quarters.  It even had a door to the outside so that the maid could come and go without disturbing the family.  Maids quarters are common in Panamanian style homes, since domestic help is very cheap here.

Living dining area, from this picture
 bedrooms are to the left and kitchen to the right

Huge kitchen, in the back is the maids room with full bath
through door on right is the living room

Off to the right was the living room-dining room combination.  The dining room is so big they had a table in it that could sit 10 people.  To the right two bedrooms with an adjoining full bath, and behind them the master bedroom with a full attached bath and big walk in closet.  A huge outdoor terrace wrapped around two sides of the home making for an ideal place to relax.  The overall square footage is 3000 square feet, but that includes the terraces too.  Technically the house has 4 bedrooms and 3 full baths, plenty of room for friends to spend the night and to accommodate visitors. 

Back view of house

Close up of guard shack, on back of property


Now having said all that, this still IS a Panamanian style house, which means hot water is only piped to the showers.  And although the house has windows with bars on them (common here) and screens, there is NO GLASS in the windows, except for in the master bedroom since that room has an air conditioner.  Life in Panamá includes living with open windows day and night to let in the breeze, so they feel no need for glass windows. And several of the outside doors only have screens and bars too.   And since this was a family vacation home for many years, another reason to keep it open.  So, part of our project before move in, is to get windows and doors installed.

Side of property with path to guard shack,
which will probably become a tool shed for Clyde

Driveway and carport

After weeks of negotiations and coming to an agreement on the price, we had to have our lawyer draw up the documents and open a bank account.  All of this takes time and we're still a few weeks away from closing on the house.  Many trips back and forth to Panama City to meet with our lawyer and the sellers.  I will explain the house buying process in another blog along with opening a bank account.  All of this red tape and paperwork really make us realize that we're not in the U.S. anymore.  Things are done different here, and we just have to be patient and do what we're told.

Outdoor sink covered with colorful tiles

They are leaving this hutch and dining set.
 The door leads into the master bedroom at the back of the house, and notice the light which leads out onto the porch.

          
Just a ten minute drive from where we live now is the town of Chame where the house is located.  From there it's a five minute drive to the gorgeous beaches of Gorgona, and just ten minutes to the shopping malls, restaurants, and clinics of Coronado.  And we'll be just five to ten minutes from a choice of two different gyms also. 

View of kitchen facing out the front door

Dining room, wall needs some patching

We certainly had no intentions of buying a house this soon, but fell in love with the piece of property, and know that the house has potential.  When two crazy gringos make up their mind to immerse themselves in a new country, they jump head first into the unknown.  Here we are only six months later feeling comfortable, buying a house, and loving our new life here.  Call us "poco loco"

Dining area facing front of house.
These leather chairs are hand made here and very common.  Yellow wall is living room on front of home, and the door to the right leads into the entryway


Side porch

 (a little crazy), and that's OK because we don't have to work today.  Instead we are enjoying the good life, living the dream in Panamá.......along the gringo trail. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

We Survived Carnival....Day Four

Fat Tuesday is the last hurrah before the long fast for lent, and is celebrated big on the last day of Carnival here in Panamá. On day one we soon realized that being packed like sardines among wet, drunken, dancing strangers was more enjoyable after a few alcoholic beverages.  So we sipped on some seco and cranberry juice, and danced the afternoon away under the hot sun making new friends.

Terry anticipating her "pat down"


One Seco and Cranberry para va (to go),
see the big bottle

The gays went all out on this final Carnival Day


Princess of the Float


Close up of one of the queens

Here, the queen is waving directly at Clyde, so he thinks

An Angel posing with Angie's daughter

Scary looking float


50 cent Raspador con Leche
They add sweetened condensed milk on top


Yes, they do have blue cotton candy 


Seco Herrerano, is the national alcoholic drink of Panamá and sold at 70 proof.  Locally produced since 1908, this popular brand of seco is shipped to more than 65 countries throughout the world.  Traditionally it's taken straight, but can also be mixed with fruit juices or milk.  Unlike some other adult beverages, seco seems to come on strong and the effects last long after the bottle is gone.

At one point during the day, a float was going down the street and was too wide to pass by an old sign post sticking out.  This stopped the procession, they tried to back up the float, tried to remove the sign post and basically were stumped.  Finally they moved the float over toward the other side of the street, barely inching by. We stood underneath hoping something didn't get knocked down on our heads.  All the while the people on the float kept dancing, waving and throwing kisses to the crowds, and Clyde of course, as if nothing was wrong. 

The Night Parade


Elaborate costumes adorn the queen


A close up


Another queen


Up close

This guy is REAL....and they didn't move at all, just amazing!

Amazing....the adorned face of a real young man


A future queen?

One of the queens attendents

Gives you an idea of how big this float is,
see the queen in the middle

Just beautiful!



The loud music and merriment was occasionally interrupted by the procession of elaborately decorated floats, carrying the Carnival queens.  We made our way back home in time for dinner and to peel off our clothes and shower.  A while later some friends called to say they were headed over this way, so we asked them to pick us up and we headed back over to see what night time at Carnival was like.  With less people than during the day, it was much easier to see the floats up close for pictures. It was midnight when we arrived home after an exhausting day of fun in the sun.  And so another first in Panamá comes to an end, as we survived Carnival.  We made new friends and showed the locals a different side of Americanos.  Two crazy gringos that enjoy life, and love to have fun in retirement......along the gringo trail.