A personal story
-Part Two-

Soft sand, gentle ocean breezes, and lunch with a peacock who kept us too busy to take pictures of him.

At home in Panama:
Sharing our lunch with a peacock

by Jeannette Ryder
Second in a series

We were excited to be returning to our future home in Panama. As our plane landed at Tocumen Airport, the rain started suddenly, pelting down in typical tropical style with raindrops as big as marbles.

Fifteen minutes later, just as suddenly, it stopped and the sounds of birds singing and the scent of wet grass and flowers hung in the air as my husband and I got in the taxi headed for Panama City.

It had been six months since our last visit, and this time we had arrived in the 'rainy' season. We anticipated that it would rain all day, every day, and that the sky would be covered in dark grey clouds.

Rain gear stayed in hotel

We had come prepared, for rain with umbrellas, light raincoats, and waterproof shoes, but as the sun was already high in the sky by the time we were ready for our first appointment next morning we decided we did not need them. But we took our rolled up umbrellas 'just in case'.

Isla Taboga, just a $10 boat ride away from the skyscrapers in Panama City.

When my husband and I returned home to the U.S. after our previous visit, we made a list of all we liked and did not like during that trip, and had pretty much decided that a home in Panama might just be what we wanted for our retirement.

This time we were staying for two weeks. We had brought papers to open a bank account, and notarized documents required to apply for pensionado visas. We had also decided to put a deposit down on a three-bedroom condo that was being built in El Cangrejo in the center of Panama City.

Bank account set up

Our first appointment was with the bank manager who checked over the information we had brought with us: a letter from our U.S. bank, stating how long we had been banking with them, and that we were customers in good standing; references, and a letter indicating the source of our income. The application was approved, and we were able to deposit an opening balance right away.

Our real estate agent then took us to see the builder of the condominium in which we were interested. We scrutinized the plans, asked lots of questions, and chose one on the 12th floor. This is to be our retirement home in Panama.

High enough to catch a breeze

We liked the view we were promised: glimpses of the ocean from our front balcony, a panoramic city view from our kitchen window, and, we were assured, usually a breeze at this level.

The floors will be ceramic tile throughout, with marble counter tops and floor to ceiling windows in the kitchen area. There will be a large balcony off the living room.

In Panama, most homes have maid's quarters with a sleeping room and full bathroom. We will not have a live-in maid, so we will use the area for storage.

Deposit paid

By the end of the day, we had paid a deposit to have the apartment placed in our names while the developer and lawyers got together to prepare the actual sales agreement. Our home in Panama was one step closer to being a reality.

A familiarization period is often recommended, but we decided to purchase immediately, rather than rent for several months after we arrive here permanently.

There were two main reasons. The property we're buying qualifies for a 20-year exemption of property taxes, a benefit expected to be replaced by something a little less generous in August 2005. Added to our sense of urgency was the fact that property prices in Panama seem to be escalating rapidly, making it a sound investment.

Wanted our home in Panama City

For us, location is also a major factor; while many retirees have decided to make their homes in the outlying areas, we prefer to have our home in Panama City. We will be within walking distance, or within a short taxi ride, of restaurants, stores, theaters and the chance to meet other ex-pats on a regular basis. We even have a 7-Eleven on the corner.

The next day, we met with our lawyer to sign forms and hand over the paperwork that he needed before he accompanied us to the immigration office to register our request for a pensionado visa. We had already completed and faxed the application forms (in English) to make our home in Panama weeks prior to this trip. The lawyer had translated them into Spanish for presentation at the immigration office.

Documentation presented

We brought with us a copy of our marriage certificate, a police report from the police department where we live, and a letter stating how much government pension we receive each month - all necessary if you plan to make your home in Panama. These were handed over to an immigration official and we received an official stamp in our passports indicating that we were applying for pensionado status.

It all went smoothly. Our fluently bi-lingual lawyer knew exactly what documentation was required to make our home in Panama a reality. Just as well, because our Spanish is not good yet, and there appeared to be only one person at the immigration office who spoke English.

Island of Flowers

Our business completed, the following day we decided to escape the humidity of the city and took a day trip to Isla Taboga – Island of Flowers – about 12 miles away. If we were going to make our home in Panama City, we wanted to see some of the surroundings.

The trip on a small diesel-engine boat that had room for about 50 people cost $10 each. Apparently, on weekends, it is nearly impossible to get a seat, but only half a dozen people made the trip on this day.

We got underway at about 8:30am, and chugged out into the bay under the Bridge of the Americas. We leaned against the rails on the upper deck, the sun shining in our eyes, a mild wind fanning our faces, and choppy little waves sparkling like small diamonds in the sun.

Brilliant display

When we reached the island, the tide was out. We docked on the beach, in front of Hotel Taboga, the island’s main hotel. Its retaining walls are covered in a brilliant display of red hibiscus, white oleanders and creamy yellow and pink wild orchids, Panama’s national flower.

Walking down a gangplank onto the white sandy beach, we found the sun just as hot as in Panama City, but a gentle tropical wind diminished the effects of the heat as we made our way across the sand towards palm trees lining the shore.

This island of approximately 1,000 inhabitants has churches, schools, parks and a few small restaurants, but no cars.

Too hot for hiking

My husband and I had planned to hike on one or two of the trails that lead from the beach, but found it too hot to go far. We just stayed put under the palm trees, the water lapping around our ankles as the tide returned. And we talked excitedly about our soon-to-be home in Panama.

At around noon, we decided to try lunch at the outdoor café in the garden of the Hotel Taboga. Settling into comfortable wicker plantation chairs under slowly turning bamboo fans, we ordered the hotel’s specialty, piña coladas.

Each was served in a freshly harvested hollowed out pineapple, along with straws. We were also given knives and forks to eat the chunks of pineapple piled near the bottom of the shell.

Being spied upon

It was then we realized we were being watched by someone else who already had his home in Panama.

A very large peacock was peeking at us around the corner of the patio. After another round of piña coladas, we ordered sandwiches. That's when our friendly peacock sprang into action.

He boldly strolled over and presented his profile for a photo op, after which he expected lunch. (We were so surprised, we forgot to take a picture.)

He ate from our hands, and walked around our feet, picking up crumbs. A waiter spied our uninvited guest and chased him off with a white napkin, but he was back moments later for more tidbits.

Followed by a peacock

After lunch, and with the peacock following us, we wandered along the beach wall to the area where the boat would return to take us back to Panama City. It arrived promptly at 3.30pm, and on the trip back to the city we made plans to re-visit Isla Taboga as soon as we could.

We had plenty of other adventures over the next week, including a trip to the beaches of Coronado, the mountains of Boquete, and more time exploring the various ruins in and around Panama City, left behind by Captain Morgan and his fellow pirates when they briefly made their home in Panama. (Or would it be more correct to say when they unmade everyone else's home in Panama?)

We received our residency visas in exactly three months, and building is underway on our condominium. We expect to make our home in Panama in 2006.

Jeannette Ryder retired two years ago from the event planning industry after 25 years of running her own company. She currently lives in Arizona, but will relocate with her husband to Panama in 2006 for what she describes as her "next adventure".

Read Jeannette Ryder's previous article here.

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