Retirement Detectives

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Flying from Calgary or Edmonton to Panama

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Here is another response that just came in from Regina. R.C.

Flights from Regina, SK - Denver, CO - PTY are running around $1000 CAN return taxes in.  Not cheap.

For other information on flights from Western Canada, click on read more.

Last Updated on Friday, 11 June 2010 14:45 Read more...
 

Drug- related deaths in Panama City increasing

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 Do not buy the real estate agent and tourism hype that Panama is totally safe. This is a notice from Southern Pulse newsletter:

PANAMA

Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli inaugurated the Preventive Security Cabinet, which will create a strategy to deal with the most violent municipalities in the country, on 5 May 2010. Officials have recorded 289 murders in the first four months of 2010, 46 more than at the same point in 2009.

 

Editor's note: The USA is building 4 navy bases in Panama to help fight drug-smuggling. Three of them will be on the Pacific side, one on the Caribbean side.

The most violent municipalities in Panama City are where the 80 known gangs or pandillas live, including Santa Ana, San Miguelito, Calidonia, parts of El Chorillo and the entire city of Colon are considered no-go areas. I have many articles on this website about crime and murder rates in Central America.

Panama is less than 10% of the Mexican drug war rates, and safer than almost any other country in Central or South America.

For example, Casco Viejo (Old Town) is right next to Santa Ana (a very bad area) but they have Tourist Police everywhere in Casco Viejo and it is very safe place to go and visit or to live. I take visitors there all the time, it is a "must-see" part of Panama.

We were broken into the first week we were here - while we were sleeping in the house - before I had any bars on my doors and window, before I had any alarms on the doors or windows. 

My realtor had foolishly suggested that I leave the front and back windows open to allow the breeze to flow through. I did as she suggested. Well the soft breeze did come through, and swept away my laptop, my camera, my cell phone, my wallet and my cash. Don't make yourself a victim.

In three years we have lived here, neither of us have personally witnessed or been a victims of violent crime. However, it does happen and some areas are worse than others as I indicated. Get a map and learn the city.

We were broken into or had our stuff stolen many times from our secure, fenced-in backyard when we lived in downtown Toronto, and it happened so many times in Picton, ON; a tiny town of 4,000 in Price Edward County,  that they cancelled my insurance - so theft can - and does happen anywhere.

I feel safe in Panama, including Panama City. I do drive at night in the interior. I am careful where I drive, especially at night. I feel much less safe in most large North American cities at night. Panama City is hard to get around as there are no street signs. If you are going to spend the night in the City and don't know it well, park your car at your hotel and take cabs. All cabs in Panama are supposed to be painted yellow. Cabs to anywhere in the city are $1.50 - $3.00 ($5.00 if you get one right outside your hotel - walk down the street)

Be smart, and stay healthy my friends. Roberto Chocolaté

 

Last Updated on Saturday, 15 May 2010 13:10
 

Where should I land if going to David/Boquete?

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 A reader asked where she should land if she was going to David or Boquete:

Dear Marianne,

     First, Panama City (PTY) is the ONLY place international flights land - if you choose, you can take a cab into the city, across town ($30 cab ride) to the Allbrook Airport and take another flight to David ($148) - but not at 1 a.m. Or you can take a bus to David ($15 one way) from the National Bus Terminal across form the Allbrook Mall.  

     It is a 6 - 7 hour trip by bus to David/Boquete.  That is one of the draw-backs of Boquete/David - although there has been talk of expanding the airport to permit direct flights from Canada to David sometime in the future - I wouldn't hold my breath.

 

     Yes, Panama City is still bustling at 1 a.m. The bars are open until 5 a.m. I have been told (I can't stay awake much past  9 or 10 P.M.)
 
     Make your hotel reservation in advance, and some hotels will arrange to pick you up at the airport. 
     Check air transat, west jet, and sunwing for cheap flights, also www.kayak.com for last minute tickets. 
 
     Roberto

 

Last Updated on Saturday, 15 May 2010 17:38
 

Finding work in Panama

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 Here are two e-mails about finding work in Panama. I have asked Yassar (Alex) Williams Arosemena to answer them. Roberto

 1) Hola Roberto.....My husband & I are from Edmonton, and looking to join our Canadian Expats in Panama....We are still fairly young (46) and would still like to work. My husband is an auto mechanic and BMW salesman, and I am a Realtor. Will it be difficult for us to find work as Canadian citizens ?? Any advice you may have would be greatly appreciated.

2)Roberto,

I have very much enjoyed your humorous stories in The Retirement Detectives.  I hope you don’t mind me contacting you directly.My wife and I are planning to move to Panama in the near future. I will be utilizing the pentionado program but I don’t intend to truly retire. I am an internationally certified Facilities Manager and plan to start a business helping other expatriates maintain and upgrade their homes and businesses. My wife is an Advanced Nurse Practitioner which in the US is a step between a nurse and a doctor. She manages her own family practice clinic treating as many as 20 patients a day. We have not been able to find much information on non-Panamanians working in the medical field. She would be happy to work just as a nurse if necessary. I do know from research and your web site that Panama uses US trained medical personnel, we just can’t find if an American could work in the field. Perhaps you know someone we can contact for information concerning this.

Any direction you can point us for information would be very valuable to us.

 

Thank you in advance for your time.

 

 

Regards,

 

 

Nick

 

 Here is my response:

 
Dear Teri,

Below is the response from my lawyer regarding a nurse wanting to work here - being a Realtor is the same - you must be licensed and you must be a Panamanian citizen - However, I am considering investing in a Panamanian Real Estate company - and if you invest - you can help manage the business - let me know when you are arriving - and we will talk. 

 
Your husband will have no problem working as a mechanic. However - especially if he opens his own garage/business and employes three people, there are tax benefits. Roberto
 
     PS: Read my article about being a Real Estate agent in Panama - I provide the entire Realtor license requirements in English.
 
     Roberto
 
 
     Here is Yassar's response:
 
Rob,

There is a minor problem. If his wife (Nick´s) wants to practice as a nurse
and apply injections, etc., she would have to be qualified in Panama to do
so.

I would have to check about nurses, but with Doctors you have to go through 2
years of internship in Panama before being able to practice here, plus they
have to obtain the Panamanian Nationality first (some fields require the
person to be a Panamanian Citizen, like lawyers)

So this means that practicing certain professions in Panama as a foreigner
is very difficult.
Now, if what she plans to do is set up a business and hire nurses to do the
work while she handles the PR and oversees everything, then we are talking
about sense.

 

 

Last Updated on Friday, 19 November 2010 17:21
 

Panama's Kuna Indians at risk from climate change

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Rising Tide: On the Islands of the Kuna

by Ruxandra Guidi
Panama's indigenous Kuna people are at risk from climate change.

Early one morning last October, my husband and I boarded a small 20-seater plane in Panama City and headed to Usdup, a village in the Kuna Yala archipelago. The fog was receding through mountain valleys as the sun peeked over the horizon. Only 45 minutes northeast of the capital, this island was a world away. To our north was a seemingly never-ending row of thatched roof huts, and beyond, the Caribbean Sea; to our south, the mainland, densely forested, covered by mangroves, banana trees and coconut palms. But this tropical paradise is also being overtaken by the effects of climate change.

Usdup has a population of about 5,000 people. As we walked through its maze-like footpaths with Toyo, a young Kuna man who took us in a cayuco (dugout canoe) half-way around the island to the only hotel in the village, it was easy to get a sense of how densely populated the place really was. The locals, mostly fishermen and subsistence farmers, lead busy social lives, conversing with neighbors and extended family as they swing in the hammocks hung between their houses, or going to the nightly congreso, the traditional town hall meeting. “Everyone here makes a living from nature, and each family has a small parcel on the mainland where they can grow coconuts, manioc, cocoa, yucca, corn, and bananas,” said Toyo, who works for the local airline that services the archipelago. “I’ve lost the custom of heading out each morning to harvest; but when I was a kid, I would always go in the cayuco to help my father.”

As he spoke, Toyo’s kids sat in front of a TV set (one of only about a dozen in town) watching cartoons. They too were losing their Kuna ways, Toyo lamented. But despite a few modern-day distractions and comforts, the lives of most residents of Kuna Yala are shaped by their proximity to the sea and the cycles of nature.

And that is precisely what now puts them at risk. Changing climate trends now seriously threaten the Kuna way of life. In November and December of 2008, abnormally high tides and persistent heavy rains flooded a majority of Kuna Yala’s small islands, ruining their subsistence crops, wood and straw huts and schools.

During our visit last October, Usdup’s foot paths became calf-deep little rivers after each downpour. Eventually the waters receded, exposing the landfill (that covers about 40 percent of the island) atop which locals live. They have been covering and treating the same land regularly for the past five years with gravel from the beds of nearby rivers.

Deities and Displacement

Studies by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute from 2008 show that since 1910, the average sea level in Kuna Yala has risen by almost six inches, and it’s continuing to increase by around three-quarters of an inch each year. All the islands sit slightly above sea level, and researchers estimate that at this rate they will be under water in the next 20 to 30 years. In addition to rising sea levels, climate change brings with it an increased risk of diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, higher incidence of drought, more extreme storms and hurricanes, and changes in the biodiversity on which they stake their livelihoods. So far, only the rains and tides have affected the Kuna way of life—a warning of more challenging times ahead.

Environmental conservation isn’t a new concept to the Kuna. Primary forests are considered bonigana, or spirit sanctuaries, which may not be cleared of their vegetation for fear that the spirits will unleash a wave of disease against the transgressors. Kuna mythology says that when the male deity Bab Tummat created the world, it was just deserted land until he decided to populate it with human beings who would be rooted deeply into the ground.

Originally from the Gulf of Urabá region in Colombia, the Kuna have lived in the border region between Panama and its eastern neighbor for centuries, since before the Spaniards arrived. By the mid-nineteenth century, entire Kuna villages relocated to the current archipelago, near the mainland forests and its rivers.

Now, the Kuna have been warned they will have to move the majority of their communities to the mainland in coming generations if they want to preserve their culture, religion, environment, economy and history. “...can you imagine how difficult that would be?” said Toyo. “And how would we pay for it?” The Panamanian government has discussed the need to help the Kuna with the transition in the next 10 to 15 years, but the nature of this help hasn’t been defined, nor has its cost.

In what may be an indication, last year, the small coastal village of Newtok in Alaska voted to move 350 people inland due to large waves and floods caused by climate change. The U.S.Army Corps of Engineers has estimated the move would cost more than $130 million. In the case of Kuna Yala, a similar effort would need to assist 10 times as many people, and factor in not only the cost of rebuilding homes, schools and clinics, but also road, electrical and water systems infrastructure.

Representation Without Recourse

Whatever happens, the Kuna people are sure to have a say in their future. Kuna Yala has a form of selfgovernance that is unique among indigenous communities in Panama. The comarca of Kuna Yala was established in 1938, after more than a decade of negotiations with Panama’s central government. The negotiations were sparked by a violent rebellion in February 1925, when Usdup native, Nele Kantule, and dozens of his fellow community members traveled by cayuco to the Kuna islands of Tupile and Ukupseni
and attacked the abusive Panamanian police stationed there to subjugate the Kuna. The confrontation left 27 people dead and drove the state police from the area.

Their hard-won new status allowed the Kuna people full voting rights in Panama along with territorial autonomy and final say over their resources and development. To this day, the Kuna have prevented foreigners from investing in resorts and tourism ventures on their islands; and all development or infrastructure projects must get consent from the Kuna leadership.

The Kuna General Congress, their highest government body, is represented at the Panamanian government level by three caciques, or chiefs, who are elected among the local communities. The Congress sits twice a year in Kuna Yula with five delegates from each of the comarca’s 48 communities, which in turn meet on a nightly basis to discuss issues and vote on them. Almost 85 years later, this democratic form of government gives the Kuna the greatest degree of self-rule of any indigenous group in Latin America, while helping them to keep their culture, and their relationship to the islands close to intact.

“Other indigenous groups around the world have fought very hard to keep their land and their traditions, but haven’t been as successful as we have,” said Toyo’s friend, Feliciano Jones, a gentle 70-year-old who lived in Panama City for 15 years, but returned to his plot of land and a simpler life. “We come from a tradition where the cacique often says: ‘Who said we are tired of being Indians? We will only stop being Indians when Bab Tummat calls us to go join him above.’”

Their revolutionary spirit has been much in evidence over the past 30 years. The Kuna have successfully fought mining concessions, plans to build a major highway, and other infrastructure projects that threatened their rights over their land and forests. Recently, the elders, or sahilas, have been meeting at nightly congresos to debate a proposal to extend an electric power line that starts in Colombia and would pass through Kuna territory in order to supply the rest of Panama and even other parts of Central America.

On our last evening in Usdup, Feliciano and Toyo met us at sundown inside the enormous thatched roof congreso. While dozens of people sat around on the aged wooden benches, the sahila was reciting Pab’igalas, metaphorical songs about the Earth, its resources, and its sacredness in Kuna culture that are passed down from generation to generation. “Do you know why the bird raises its head towards the sun each time he swallows?” said Toyo in my ear, translating the sahila’s words. “Because he’s thanking Bab Tummat for giving him food and drink.” The sahila went on: “The Kuna should learn from the bird, and be humble, and thank Bab Tummat for our food and water each day.”

As we sat inside the congreso, listening to the sahila’s songs, the sky grew dark and another tropical downpour began. We began to hear the people running and splashing around, looking for cover. The debate over their move into the mainland is now an important part of the nightly congreso discussions. Within the year, Kuna leadership will have to reach a final decision. For the Kuna people, the rains are another reminder of the fragility of their livelihood and culture.

USDUP’S CHIEF VILLAGE SAILA, OR ELDER, LEODOMIRO PAREDES

PHOTOGRAPH BY ROBERTO GUERRA.

Last Updated on Thursday, 13 May 2010 23:57
 

Working as a medical professional in Panama

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 These are great questions. I have forwarded the medical question it to my doctor,  Dr. Eric Ulloa, advisor to the National Minister of Health for a response. I will post his response here.

I do know that opening your own business is very easy in Panama - the government actually wants to help - especially if you are going to create jobs. A scary concept: "I am here from the government - and I REALLY am here to help"???

 

 

Roberto,

 

I have very much enjoyed your humorous stories in The Retirement Detectives.  I hope you don’t mind me contacting you directly. My wife and I are planning to move to Panama in the near future. I will be utilizing the pensionado program but I don’t intend to truly retire. I am an internationally certified Facilities Manager and plan to start a business helping other expatriates maintain and upgrade their homes and businesses. My wife is an Advanced Nurse Practitioner which in the US is a step between a nurse and a doctor. She manages her own family practice clinic treating as many as 20 patients a day. We have not been able to find much information on non-Panamanians working in the medical field. She would be happy to work just as a nurse if necessary. I do know from research and your web site that Panama uses US trained medical personnel, we just can’t find if an American could work in the field. Perhaps you know someone we can contact for information concerning this.

 

I would like to hire and train Panamanians to work in Facilities Maintenance as well as the installation of building systems such as air conditioning, tankless water heaters, solar electrical systems and water purification systems etc. I have always focused on customer service and in my business Manana will really mean tomorrow.

 

Any direction you can point us for information would be very valuable to us.

 

Thank you in advance for your time.

 

Regards,

 

Nick

 

Here is Dr. Ulloa's response:

In order to work in Panama, you will need to bring all the documents from your nurse training and licensure, and convalidate them at the School of Nursing of the University of Panama. We do not have nurse practitioners, but you probably can work as a nurse.  The documents probably need to be authenticated and then translated.  You also will need a work permit to work in Panama.  There might be oportunities to work in private hospitals, and you may also look at the DOD at the US embassy in Panama.
Feel free to contact for any other information
Eric Ulloa, MD, FACP

 

Here is my response to the other questions: 

 

Dear Nick,

I am not a lawyer, and hesitate to answer legal questions. It is better to go to the horse's mouth (as opposed to talking to the other end)

My lawyer is Yassar (Alex) Williams Arosemena (Arosemena & Arosemena) His website is: www.arosemenalaw.com

His e-mail is: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

He specializes in helping business's start up, forming corporations and foundations, and Pensionado Visa's. He also does real estate law. 

Roberto

 

PS: Have you had any experience with copper ionization or ozone generation water purification systems? I am just finishing my new 33,000 gallon lagoon-style pool and installing the first truly chemical free pool in Panama. 

Roberto

 

PPS: A word of caution about promising next day service: While you may intend on offering next day service, you will still have to deal with real issues here - like the power going out all day in your area, a bus crash on the InterAmericana that halts all traffic for an entire day and night, etc.

Another uniquely Panamanian example; the national census is this weekend. It is federal law that every single person must stay in their own home all day until they are counted and a permit is issued to allow them to leave their property. That is one day that no-one is showing up to work on my pool - an unexpected delay. It is not laziness that causes the delays. It's life, in Panama. Roberto

 

Last Updated on Saturday, 15 May 2010 13:55
 

Safest place to live in Panama City

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 Here a reader asked where the safest place to live in Panama City would be. They want to be near China Town. Roberto

I think you should check out Casco Viejo (Old Town). There are no single family houses there - but some charming 2 - 3 story old 1700's - 1800's building, gorgeous colonial architecture, with some restored areas, lots of bars and restaurants, things to see and do - like New Orleans French Quarter before it was fixed up - the area is just under renovation, and it is near ChinaTown.

 

Safest areas Punta Patilia (high rises, Jewish area) Obarrio, El Carmen, Buena Vista (expensive), Marbella - (older, nice - could be an option), the Banking Districts, and San Francisco - I am thinking San Francisco may be the place for you to start looking. They have single family houses there.
 
If you send me a list of hotels I can help advise which ones are best - but a taxi anywhere in Panama costs $1.50 - $3.00 - and Panama is NOT a walking city - sidewalks are too broken up, the cab and bus drivers are too aggressive, diesel cars belching smoke - not a great strolling city.
 
Roberto
 
Here is the list of Hotels she sent:

Ok, I will go through the ones I know:

- Marriott - good area, but not late at night as the Royal Casino is right next door. It is NOT 1 mile north of airport - it is downtown, in the banking district  - $30 cab ride, 25 - 30 km
- Decapolis - just off the Main Drag (Balboa) downtown, near Punta Patillia, nice hotel, 
- Le Meridian - right on the Main Drag - across from one of the only walking areas in Panama - the Cinta Costera - oceanfront walkway - again - not 0.2 km from airport - 30 km
You have picked  5 star = VERY expensive hotels - there are many less expensive,  nice hotels. Buy some guide books from Chapters or Indigo. Roberto
 

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 13 May 2010 14:26
 

Can I get house in Panama for under $250,000?

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 Lynn is from Canada, and is asking about buying a house in Panama. Her family is originally from China and she asked about buying Chinese food products in a previous e-mail. She also poses a number of questions about cars, dentists and housing prices: 

     Hola Roberto:

 
Thanks for getting back to my questions so quickly.  I am glad that you will have the opportunity to do some "new" detective work on the Chinatown question.  We saw Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations show where he filmed in Panama's Chinatown and this is what actually peaked our interest in Panama. 
 
 As for the housing question we would prefer a small house. No more than 2 bedrooms and 2 baths.  Ideal would be 1 bedroom and 2 bathrooms. Little to no maintenance.  Newer better. If there were views of the ocean or mountains that would be fine.  Do not want a pool.   Initially living there off and on.  As for the price range we want good quality but upper limit would be $250,000.00 but if what we seek cost's more then let us know or LESS than would be great!
 
Would like to stay in the City as we are use to being close to everything.  We love New York City and when we are there we take public transporation.
 
However, those great areas within 1 hour of the city how is the public transportation to and from these areas? 
 
We have a car we could drive down.   It is a 2004 Kia Amanti what would tags and license fees cost to register it there.  Are there auto repair shops for Kia?
 
How far is the airport from Panama City?   Are there neighborhoods along the way to the airport that are worth looking into?
 
By the way, I also read your 101 things to do in Panama article it is AWESOME what you put together!!
 
I am curious how did the dentist work out?
 
Have fun in the city and Chinatown this Friday.  I look foward to hearing back from you. 
 
Gracias,
 
Lynn
 
MY RESPONSE:
 
Dear Lynn,
 
     The quick answer is yes you can buy a house for a lot less than $250,000. You can also spend a lot more too. The City is more expensive, but there are deals to be had. The interior is less expensive, and safer as far as I am concerned. Less drug/gang issues.
 
     I have just helped friends Bruce and Melody from Ontario buy a gorgeous 2 bedroom townhouse overlooking the ocean in Gorgona (in the interior right next to Coronado) for $89,000 (shared infinity pool with 18 other townhouses) and helping my brother buy a single family 4 bedroom house on a good sized lot for $40,000 in Chamé (also in the interior about 45 minutes form Panama City)
 
     Your price range for a house is good - I think you can get a good one for less - I will ask around for you, see if there are some good deals. 
 David is the second largest city in Panama - but it is still quite small/quiet - I think you will happier being nearer Panama City (1.3 million).
 
     Regarding cars, I have articles on my site about bringing cars to Panama that will help you -  a Kia would be good - is it 4 x 4? Better to have a 4 x 4 here. Yes, there are repairs/parts for Kia - in fact any Asian vehicle is preferred over a North American one here.
 
      Public transportation (buses) are excellent and cheap. New, air conditioned, some show movies (in Spanish).
 
     Thank you for your kind words on my article. I am still working on the 101 Exciting Things To Do In Panama - I hope to some day make it a
 
directory. 
 
      Madame Chang's in Calle Uruguay area is the best Chinese Restaurant in Panama City - but there are many really good ones. 
 
     Here are responses to your other questions:
 
     We have found an excellent Panamanian dentist - the quote from the gringo dentist was outrageous - $3,500 - my wife got 9 teeth worked on
 
(fillings replaced), a cleaning,  6 xray's and a repair on a cap for $27 - that's right - $27. To be fair the $3,500 price included a root canal which
 
she has not done yet - that will cost $375. When everything is done, she will have saved over $3,000. We have to drive an hour further to go to
 
this dentist, but it is worth it.
 
     The airport is 25 - 30 km from the City - a $30 cab ride.
 
     Hope this helps - Roberto
 

 

Last Updated on Friday, 14 May 2010 12:34
 

Paradise Worth Fighting For

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I'’d finally made it.

After twelve thousand kilometers, 18 border crossings, and a month in a mini-van with my wife and two dogs, I was at last floating in my pool in Panama.

The sound of the near-by Pacific Ocean waves soothed my weary soul, as I sipped white wine and listened to exotic birdcalls and other, less distinguishable, sounds. Truly, this was paradise found … or so I thought.

The first sign of demonic pool possession revealed itself in the form of a tiny scorpion lighting on my shoulder as I reached for my wine. Its stinger poised to kill; I carefully flicked it off my shoulder.

I reported my brush with death to the woman who had sold us our home. She stuttered with amazement. “I have never seen a scorpion in Panama! Are you sure it wasn’t an ant or a spider?”

New to this tropical jungle life, I was lulled into a sense of calm that lasted several days, and ended upon my first visit to a Panamanian hardware store and found an entire aisle of products designed to rid your home of scorpions.

Undeterred, I continued to enjoy my pool, with can of scorpion spray at the ready.

I spent many afternoons in my pool admiring the surrounding colorful leaves and flowers. One day I noticed that the bright yellow leaves of my favorite plant were gone. I asked Felix, my gardener, what had happened. His one-word reply, “Hormigas".

I nodded and walked away, pretending to understand.

I consulted my translator that evening. Ants? Ants had eaten the leaves off a five-foot shrubbery in a single night? I challenged Felix on his assessment the next day. He informed me that these ants only come in the night. I didn’t buy it, and I decided that he’d probably forgotten to water the plant and was simply too embarrassed to tell me.

The next day a bright pink bush was stripped bare to its branches.

I consulted the woman who’d sold us the house. She declared that she had never seen plant-eating ants in Panama. I began to suspect that Felix might be right.

That night I sat in the dark, waiting with a flashlight, a bottle of chilled white wine and can of Raid at the ready. I don’t recall much about that evening, save for waking up the next morning with a very stiff neck, shocked to find two more of my favorite plants stripped to their bark, and a path that had been chewed from the surrounding grass to the sidewalk.

I followed the path. What I found made my blood run cold. Something had chewed my sidewalk. Can Panamanian ants chew concrete?

I had visions of giant ants feasting on my retirement investment.

How does one go about exorcizing cement-eating ants that attack under the cover of darkness? At night I dreamed of cows being devoured, my bed crawling with imaginary swarms of chewing, chomping ants.

Something had to be done.

I found a professional exterminator in Coronado rumored to have a secret, lethal weapon against these tiny, ravenous nocturnal killers.

I managed to convey the urgency of my situation in my embarrassing Spanglish, to a lovely young woman at the front desk. She seemed to understand my plight and promised me that someone would be there “mañana,” which I took to mean tomorrow. Help, it seemed, was on its way.

Still new to this country, I did not yet understand contractor speak. I since learned, and I share for other newcomers, the following:

When a contractor says they are coming “right now,” it means you’ll see them sometime in the next few days. When they say they will be there “today,” they mean they’ll come sometime this week or next. When they say “mañana,” they are not coming, ever, but want to avoid the confrontation of telling you something you don’t want to hear.

After three more nights and seven more plants stripped bare, I faced the prospect of having to deal with these demons on my own. I donned steel-toed boots, bought an extra can of Raid, new batteries for my flashlight and tip-toed my way over to the last few plants that still had leaves.

I did not have to wait long.

There they were. Their fist line couldn’t have been more obvious if they’d sported regimental flags and marching drums. I stood my ground. As the front of the line reached me, I laced them with a double blast of Raid. Beside me, movement caught my eye. I spun around to see that a second line of ants was crawling up another plant. I sprayed that plant until it dripped, unaware that spraying Raid on plants actually kills them. It did not matter: this was war.

I followed the ant trail, blasting at them with both cans, all the way down the sidewalk towards my driveway. Suddenly, the cans hissed air. I panicked. I was not even half way down my driveway, with the stream of ants still marching toward me. I began stomping on them, following their trail out the front gate. I did my best impression of Riverdance, stomping on as many and as fast as I could.

I finally turned my flashlight down towards the side of the road and froze in horror at what I saw — a two-hundred-yard long line of ants, each with a huge (relative to their size) piece of green or red leaf on their backs, marching in a straight line away from my gate. They passed an equally long line headed towards me.

I stepped into the center of the road and followed the retreating line of ants at a safe distance until I came upon the most sickening sight of my life. The trail ended in a virtual city of red sand mounds, many two or three feet high, all swarming with ants going in and out of huge holes at the top.

There wasn’t enough Raid on the planet to conquer these demons and they knew it. I ran back to my house and locked the doors. As I removed my boots, dozens of ants crawled out of my boots and onto my legs.

I stomped them to death and threw the boots outside, securely locking the door behind me. No sleep for me that night.

I considered selling the house, but no one except some a naïve fool from Canada would buy property in an ant-infested jungle. I began keeping my doors locked and rarely ventured out at night. Each day my garden got thinner and thinner.

Finally, I paid my gardener a triple bonus, as I would no longer need him since there were few plants left to tend. He patted me on the shoulder as though he knew what I meant, perhaps, I thought, for the first time.

That very night a stranger strode onto my property, sporting a trench coat a sombrero pintada. It was too dark to see his face under the brim. He pulled a bag from his knapsack and cut off the end with a knife. Nodding as he turned away, this mysterious man disappeared out of my gate and began pouring the powdered contents of the bag onto the ground.

Who was this masked man?

Turns out it was Felix, my gardener. It also turns out he had been asking me for over a week for money to buy Hormotox, a powder to kill leaf-eating ants. He must have thought me mad, waiting until almost all the plants were eaten before giving him the cash to make the purchase.

At any rate, the Hormotox did the trick. The ants have not returned, and the plants — except for the ones I had killed with Raid — began to sprout new leaves.

Since the ant infestation of ’08, I have learned a lot more Spanish and learned to make sure that I understand what Felix is asking me for, or telling me.

I have also learned that any paradise worth having is worth fighting for … and I intend to enjoy mine to the fullest, while floating in my rebuilt, formerly possessed pool - which I have been told by my contractor will be ready mañana.

 

Last Updated on Saturday, 08 May 2010 12:54
 

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