Boquete’s Tuesday Market: Something for everyone!

Blog by Terry Richmeier

When you come and stay with us here at Casa de Montaña Bed & Breakfast, you will be served a different International Breakfast daily with most of the products coming from the Tuesday Market vendors. Along with that, if you are here on a Tuesday, we will encourage you to go to the Tuesday Market and check out all the different locally made and grown products it has to offer! The market is open from 9 AM to 12 Noon and is located across the small bridge downtown in the building known as the BCP Teatro. The market offers something for everyone. Our special favorites are baked goods by Mort’s Bakery, Gluten Free goods from Gluten Free Gold Bakery, designer “Chox” chocolate and Anna’s fresh produce.  While you are at the market, see what “Tuesday Talks” are about! Below is a story of Joyce Kinnear’s experience with the Tuesday Market and Tuesday Talks:

One of the things we like about living in Boquete is the Tuesday market. For us, it fills our need for a Farmer’s Market—enabling us to purchase organic produce, bagels, hummus, freshly made food from Germany, Hungary, and the Caribbean, and also filling our Trader Joe’s requirement for premade frozen food that we can whip up during the week. The fact that said food is tasty Thai, spicy Creole, or wonderful Indian is even better, since we lack restaurants for those and other spicy foods in the area.

We also enjoy most of the Tuesday talks. One of the women in the community spends a lot of time finding interesting speakers on a variety of topics of interest to expats in Panama, from attorneys discussing changes in laws, to geologists describing the potential actions of our local volcanoes, to so many other topics. Today, we listened to four Peace Corps volunteers in small villages between here and the Costa Rican border.

Two of the volunteers are with the part of the Peace Corps that works in education and English language education. Two others work on environmental issues. They all had interesting discussions about how they live and develop projects in small communities to enable people in those areas to access available assistance and increase community interactions.
Of particular interest to us was one young man who is working to improve the quality of home cooking fires among the indigenous. He has gotten grants from the Panamanian government to construct 14 units (and
is working on 20 more) that will reduce the amount of smoke put off by cooking fires in the home and thus reduce asthma related diseases, as well as improve local air quality.

Another young volunteer is working in a school of 700 students in Volcan, a town of about 15,000 near the border. She is doing many things, from teaching English, to teaching Science classes to leading student clubs and groups. Her school gave her a room and some assistance in developing the first library in that town or school. With funds she was able to get from her own meager stipend and local teacher’s equally meager funds, they have been able to start a library with about 20 books in a school of 700 elementary students.
She told us that among these low income (and many indigenous) students, reading comprehension is extremely low. Families are mostly illiterate, books are not around, and students never learn comprehension. The majority fail college entrance exams, because they are unable to pass tests at a fourth grade level. This volunteer is working with the local government, teachers and community to try to increase reading comprehension and improve future life potential for these students.

It was inspiring. Listening to the talks gave several people in the audience ideas for ways to assist the volunteers and local communities to help to enhance the lives of these students and their families.

This small town surrounded by the Mountains of Boquete, Panama is a wonderful place to gather anything from souvenirs to intellectual stimulation! Casa de Montaña Bed & Breakfast is extremely proud of our community, volunteerism, and the Tuesday Market. Come and stay with us and experience this special place!

Cell phone coverage in Boquete, Panama

Blog by Terry Richmeier

The first month that we moved to Central America and stayed in Panama City, Panama. We thought, “What have we done!?” We were without communication to the states! Within days of arrival, we ran up to the mall, purchased some in-expensive phones and minutes, along with a phone number! Now, we thought, we will be ok!

However, I sat on the bed in the condo that we were renting and plugged in the phone to start charging it. (We had to stay in the City in order to finish up our residency.) And realized, this is a local phone with no way to call my Mom and Dad or my friends back in the states! Which I desperately needed to call! I felt lonely and scared!

So, I began to look for different ways to communicate with limited Wi-Fi. (Our condo only had a small phone device for Wi-Fi.) Well, it wasn’t easy, however, we did end up Skyping to our friend who would take over her laptop to my parents and we had set up a weekly. Boom, connected again!

So, my question is, “Is it just a problem here in Panama? Or all around the world? Is my experience an isolated experience based on my own lack of knowledge?”

Here is another story from Amy Kinnear and her experience with a U.S. carrier before moving here to Boquete, Panama:

The Joys of Communicating Overseas. Before getting a new cellphone carrier, I made sure to let them know that it was extremely important that I had a phone that could work in Panama. They promised me that when I went to Panama I would was have unlimited text and data, as well as be able to make calls. It would just be more expensive. I stupidly believed them. A few months later I decided to move to Panama and would be flying to Panama City to meet my parents, for our connection to David, Panama. I had only been to Panama once before and was nervous because my Spanish is horrible. I was not stressing much at first because my carrier assured me multiple times that my phone would work in Panama. I would just call and let my parents know when I got to Panama City, so that we could meet before the flight to David. A soon as the plane landed, I called them. No signal! My heart dropped. What was I going to do if they needed to reach me? “No worries,” I told myself. I would follow their instructions on how to get to my next gate. I had a gut feeling that they were not going to make our connection. How on earth was I going to get to Boquete? What was I going to do once I got there? I had no way to get in their house without the keys, and I needed a place to stay. If my carrier would have worked the way they promised, I could have just called my folks. I did not even have data like I was told I would. So I could not message them on Facebook either. I was able to pay to use the airport’s Wi-Fi. I tried to contact my mom on messenger, but her phone was not working. I had to message my ex-boyfriend, so that he could text my mom to see what the plan was while I was also messaging everyone I had met in Panama last year to see if I could get a ride from David to Boquete once I landed. Finally I Facebook called Manzar to see if Casa de Montaña Bed & Breakfast had a room available and if they knew anyone I could call for a taxi. It all worked out in the end, but needless to say I am very upset with my ex-provider. I went a few weeks without a local phone, but I felt uncomfortable only to be able to call if I was connected to Wi-Fi. The phones are very affordable here. I have a very basic local phone, but it is nice to know that I can communicate with people while I am out and about, and it only cost about $20!

So, there are several options available for you here in Panama. First, if you are just traveling here, you can get International coverage by contacting your own cell phone provider. Or you can purchase a worldwide usage phone. And another option is to purchase a SIM card upon arrival so you have a local phone number and then purchase minutes through a purchased cell phone minutes card. And also remember that you can buy a monthly data plan which has unlimited data use. This would be good for use wherever there is WIFI and you can connect with family and friends back at home through WhatsApp or contact an Uber or taxi driver without costing any more money!

Now, if you are planning to relocate to Panama, outside of the options that are listed above, you can bring with you a Vonage phone and keep your local number. You will be able to stay in touch with all your family and friends!

We here at Casa de Montaña bed and breakfast know how important staying connected is! We do our best to keep you connected and we can help you with contacting people close or far! So, come and stay with us and relax knowing that you can get in contact back at home!

How does one become legal to live, work and get health services in Panama?

Blog by Manzar Lari

Panama is a country full of natural beauty, laid-back people ready to embrace individuals from other countries and a government that welcomes expats to make Panama their home. We did our research several years ago and realized that there were many different visa options available for us. We picked the one that most suited our needs and hired a lawyer highly recommended by International Living to help with obtaining our permanent residency as well as making sure we could open a business. It took only 4 months to accomplish this! Sure, it cost us thousands of dollars but we felt that it was justified. The system is designed for people with the financial means to go through the residency process relatively painlessly.

There are many health care options available as well. We chose an option that gave us health coverage not only in Panama, but internationally as well. All this for a reasonable price! Unfortunately, not everyone has the same level of accessibility here. Yes, even the ones who were born here in Panama – there are bureaucracies one has to navigate.

Here is another story from our friends Joyce & Scott who moved here five months ago:

This afternoon a hummingbird got in the house. It panicked, naturally, and started flying crazily through the rooms and into the walls trying to get out. Scott spent about 15 minutes directing the bird out of different rooms. Eventually, the bird, exhausted, just froze in place on top of the hall dresser. In a concerted effort that came from years of trying to work together to tie down a cat to give it medicine or cut its claws, we were able to get the bird surrounded, so that Scott could carefully grab and hold its tail feathers to carry it across the house and outside.

The crazy actions of the frightened bird and the quiet skill needed to get that bird safely out of the house reminded me somewhat of how you have to work through bureaucracies—not just government ones either. We have been spending some time figuring out how to get packages mailed to us through a mail service in Miami. They are good and said to be the absolute easiest to work with, yet it has required a couple of weeks and several trips down to the office to make sure things are working. We are told that the packages are now in Miami and should arrive here in a couple of days. We’ll see.

This, however, has been a complete breeze compared to some government bureaucracies. As an example, Panama requires all citizens to have a cedula (identification cards with numbers). In order to have a cedula, a person must have a birth certificate. A cedula is required to access any government agency—public hospitals/clinics, education, or anything.This system is not unlike what has often been advocated for in the US as a way to reduce illegal immigration. However, the largest effect that we have seen is that it keeps a large number of indigenous people, who should have the most right to access government services of anyone in Panama, from getting those services.

The problem is that, as mentioned previously, a large number of indigenous people, especially women, are illiterate and uncomfortable with modern society. Their children are often born at home, delivered by other indigenous women, and do not get issued birth certificates. Because their mothers or both parents are illiterate and uncomfortable with modern society (and perhaps not even able to speak Spanish very well, just knowing their own language), the children never get birth certificates or cedulas. Thus, they are never able to go to school, get medical care at a reasonable cost, or access any government service. Lest you feel too much righteous anger at the parents for not getting the children these documents, consider how difficult this process is for literate people who are comfortable with bureaucracy.

A North American couple we have met here in Panama have been living among some indigenous people and trying to help their neighbors. They have spent over 18 months trying to get two children birth certificates and cedulas. One finally has hers, but the boy is still waiting on his cedula. Two college educated people, fluent in English and somewhat competent in Spanish, with the help of lawyers that they were paying, have spent 18 months trying to get these children the documents to prove that they are legal residents of a country that their ancestors have lived in for thousands of years. It’s quite a depressing tale of bureaucracy, but also with a ray of hope. The two children are, at least, in school, after the couple were able to talk the local school and the district administration in David to allow the children to attend during the birth certificate and cedula process. These two children can now read, write and do basic math. Their children will, in turn, be that much higher on the path to a comfortable life.

We feel fortunate to be able to live in paradise called “Boquete”! We try to live with gratitude for what life has given us and the wonderful people who either live in our little town or visit us from all over the world. Please come and visit us any time of the year and if you decide to make Boquete your home, we can assist you with information and connect you to people who can help as well. See you soon!

Gluten Free or Celiac Disease and travel don’t mix … or do they? In Boquete they do!

Blog by Terry Richmeier

Over the four years that we have been open as a business, we have encountered many guests who are Gluten Free or have Celiac’s disease, and we’ve made every effort to provide breakfast that they can eat and enjoy that would fit into our different International breakfast themes.Well, we believe the problem has been solved for good!

According to an article in “LiveScience” Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to overreact to two proteins in gluten, which is found in wheat and other grains. If a person with celiac disease eats gluten, it can trigger an immune response that damages their intestines and prevents them from absorbing nutrients.

Recently a friend of ours, Colleen, has opened a Gluten Free Bakery and Kitchen called “Gluten Free Gold Kitchen”.  Colleen has always cooked since she was 5 years old. She cooks according to her cravings. She wants a certain taste and tries to find recipes or ingredient’s that she can put together for that taste! This is a weird concept to her since a lot of the things she craves she has never had before, so sometimes it takes days to get it right.

Colleen had seen Boquete, Panama, mentioned on a retirement Facebook advertisement. So when she decided that she didn’t want to complete the last 10 years of her working life with snow, she started researching snowless places.

Her journey to learning about Gluten Free living started six years ago at a farmers market in Alberta. Some of her regular customers had spouses that were celiac and they asked her about doing something for them. She started with two items in October and by December 85% of what she made was gluten free and by spring she had her kitchen renovated and converted it to a dedicated Gluten Free Facility. Colleen felt that she has always had grand ideas when it comes to the business but she has now concentrated on getting her kitchen going.

It was not easy to get her flours in Panama. It took her six months to find a company here in Panama that produces Gluten Free flours. Now 85% of her ingredients come from here in Panama! Her biggest challenge is to get the flours that she can’t get here in Panama in large quantities and at reasonable prices. However, it seems that the Panamanians are finding out about Gluten Free Diets. A lot of the kids here have been diagnosed with celiac. Here in Panama, Gluten Free awareness has tripled! People don’t realize how sick Gluten can make you. Being on the bathroom floor, writhing in pain for days because someone didn’t take your allergy seriously.

Colleen tries to work the menu around what her suppliers can get to her or what is in season. Mostly she gets bored quickly and prefers to offer an endless variety! The exciting part about offering such a variety is that 50% of the guests that come to the Kitchen are not Gluten Free. They just love the food! And Colleen offers her breakfasts and lunches “to go”.

And as if that’s not enough, every day, the “Gluten Free Gold” offers a vegetarian choice and about three times per week a Vegan Choice!

We here at Casa de Montaña Bed and Breakfast are very excited to have “Gluten Free Gold Kitchen” arrive in Boquete, Panama and open. So when you are making your reservation to stay with us. Let us know right away that you are Gluten Free or Vegan and we will be contacting Colleen and bring her products here for you to enjoy for breakfast along with our other great International recipes! We will work together to make your stay free from that bathroom floor and withering pain! And when you are here, you can visit the “Gluten Free Gold Kitchen” for lunch and also bring home your dinner! Oh, and by the way, go and like Colleen’s Facebook page ! She loves to talk to anyone about Gluten Free and Vegan products.

 

COPA AIRLINES – Several flights between Panama and other countries!

Blog by Debra Harwood

1It seems that most airlines these past 10 years have been cutting services left and right. On most airlines you have to buy your food, pay for all checked luggage and at times deal with unpleasant employees. The exception seems to be Copa Airlines.   I have been flying with them for many years and they continue to impress me with their consistent great customer service and on-time flights.

Who here in Boquete was not thrilled when we heard they would start flying into David again? Copa resumed their flights between Panama City and David on January 15th, 2015. They brought the cost down making it much more affordable to fly between Panama City and David. This forced AirPanama to bring their prices down as well. This was a huge win for the travelers! During the short 50 min flight Copa serves you a drink and snack. It’s unheard off in this day and age! On their international flights they not only serve a meal free of charge, they offer beer or wine free of charge as well. I believe some other major airlines could take a lesson from Copa on the importance and need for great customer service.

So I decided to do a little research on Copa Airlines since I not only fly with them I recommend them to my friends as well.

Copa was founded in 1947 by a group of prominent Panamanians investors with the 2assistance of Pan American World Airways. It began domestic operations to three cities in Panama shortly afterwards. The airline then abandoned its domestic flights in 1980, in favor of international flights and at present fly to 75 destinations in 30 countries with their fleet of 105 airplanes. In January 2015 they re-started their domestic routes within Panama.

As of 2013, Copa Airlines employed over 9,000 people, most of them residing in Panama and is one of the fastest growing and largest companies in the country. It is headed by Chief Executive Officer Pedro Heilbron. I say a big thank you to Mr. Heilbron for his excellent management skills!!! Oh and thanks as well for starting the direct flights to Toronto, Canada in 2011. Makes it very convenient for myself, family and friends to travel to Panama. I can now leave my home in Boquete, fly to Panama City, wait a few hours and then take a 5 hour direct flight to Toronto all with Copa. No overnight needed in the city any more!

3In its history Copa Airlines has had only one fatal crash. It happened on June 6, 1992 on a flight from Panama City to Cali, Colombia. The aircraft crashed in the Darien Gap and all 40 passengers and 7 crew were killed. It also has had one hijacking attempt which was on Aug 7, 1994 on a flight bound for Guatemala, this later was reported as a “misunderstanding” by Panamanian authorities.

4In April 2015, the airline announced an order for 61 Boeing 737 MAX 8/9 aircraft worth $6.6 billion at list price. Making an investment of that size shows the confidence that Copa has in going forward.

So when planning your trip to Panama make sure you not only book a stay at the beautiful Casa de Montana Bed & Breakfast in Boquete, you as well book Copa Airlines for your travels. I am confident you will be happy you did!!!

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