Anyone know where we can relax for the holidays. (Hint: Boquete, Panama)?

Blog by Terry Richmeier

No matter where you are in the world, the holidays can be stressful. From driving to shopping to family dinners. However, we here at Casa de Montaña Bed and Breakfast believe we can help take the stress out of yours.

Even here in Boquete, Panama, for those living here, stress is just around the corner. Here is our friend Joyce Kinnear’s ordeal that caused just a little bit of Holiday stress for her and her daughter Amy:

It’s been a crazy week, and I’ve definitely been stretching myself, my cultural understandings and my knowledge of the community. It’s all good, but it’s been sometimes stressful and a lot tiring.

First of all, this week is the start of a month of holidays in Panama. We had the remembrance days around Halloween and the first couple of days of November. Today, Amy and I saw many, many people taking cut flowers up to the cemetery in remembrance of their passed loved ones.

Tomorrow is the independence from Colombia. It will be celebrated with parades, drum lines that go on all day (it seems), the entire town decked out in the red, white and blue Panamanian Flag, and, of course, a 4-1/2 day weekend that starts this afternoon.

After this holiday, there is Flag Day and the Independence Day celebration from Spain near the end of the month. I’ve been told that the parade for the second Independence Day can last all day, with every school in the area marching and drumming.

In the middle of all of these weeks with multi-day holidays, we are trying to get Amy her Friendly Nation’s Visa. We’ve had lots of appointments to get her to at the lawyer, bank and a doctor/lab (for health status check-ups). Even more stressful was that we had to have a document notarized in an old part of David that we’ve never been to before. The notary had no address (typical) and isn’t near any landmark we know. Maps aren’t really helpful in David, especially if Waze has no addresses to go off of, so it was a nightmare for me, the navigator, to direct our driver, Scott, as we attempted to find the location without dying in a car accident. We survived, but the stress was something.

Scott has since come down with a chest cold, so he’s out of commission for most things. Yesterday, Amy and I went on what was supposed to be a minor errand to pay for an overnight. I left the car at the car wash, where it was supposed to be done 15 minutes (before I got back). We ended up spending 30 minutes at the restaurant, because the brand new manager of this restaurant didn’t quite know how to do the reservations for the second restaurant/hotel. We got back to the car wash, and, of course, our wash had been abandoned mid-job, so that the cleaner could wash other cars. He left the doors all open, and the radio going the whole time. By the time we did get the car back—45 minutes after this, you guessed it, the battery was completely dead.

Fortunately, the young man was helpful in flagging down a woman and her car to charge our battery (as well as a truck driver to do the actual charging). The woman told me (this is all in Spanish, which was making my head hurt), that the battery was two years past its expected life—etched on the top of the battery. She suggested one store to get a new battery and strongly recommended that I get a new one before everything closed down for days. I drove up to that store. They said they had batteries, but none for Toyotas and suggested that I drive to David (45 minutes each way) to find another one. We drove into town, to a store I remembered. They were very nice, but also didn’t have any Toyota batteries.

Someone we know from our hiking group was driving past and needed to give me something. He suggested two other places. Thank goodness the second one had a battery we needed, was willing to replace the battery (for free), and was unbelievably nice. Honestly, I was so wired by this time that his kindness and that of the woman at the register nearly made me cry. She and I had a lovely conversation (all in Spanish again) while the battery was replaced.

I got home so worn out and stressed that I went to sleep on the couch and slept for about the next 12 hours. Today we took Scott to the doctor, and hopefully he’ll be participating in society again soon.

You definitely don’t need to spend your holidays in stress. It’s always good to get away from your regular surroundings. Come down to Boquete, Panama. Stay with us here at Casa de Montaña, set up a massage. Have a manicure. Let us place a free glass of wine or a can of beer in your hand, and relax, read a book, and do the holiday’s the right way – do them your way.

Life Coaching – Happiness is an inside job!

Blog by Manzar Lari

 

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Does being “happy” mean one has to be happy ALL the time? Is that just an ideal that people strive for but can NEVER reach? What is the definition of happiness anyway? Does it vary from person to person?

So many questions come to mind related to happiness that it is impossible to relax about it! When the latest survey about happiness rated people of Panama the “happiest” in the world, did you stop and think what was meant by it? What criteria did they use to measure it? Some of you may agree with the survey and others may be thinking to themselves, I know a lot of unhappy people here in Panama – this couldn’t possibly be true!

As a Life Coach I have a tendency to look at practical ways someone can achieve their goals when I am working with a client. When someone tells me that they want to be happy, I have a tendency to find out from them in tangible terms what happiness will look like for them – how they would be feeling, what they would be doing, how would they perceive themselves, etc. A few months ago I started working with Pinnacle Partners in providing assessments, trainings and coaching related to happiness in the workplace. It all starts with a person’s sense of how happy they are and what contributions they feel they are making to a company while being recognized and supported by their managers. Easier said than done, right?! No matter whether we are talking about our personal lives or our work life, the desire to be happy is the same desire. The term happiness conjures up different images for different people. Most people I have talked to want to be happy but feel that it is somehow an unattainable goal. Happiness in my opinion is a personal journey and that is the reason why the heading of this blog says “Happiness is an inside job!”

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Here is an excerpt from Robert Holden’s book, “be happy” that highlights the point stated above:

Choosing Happiness – The real reason why happiness means so much to you is that happiness is your true nature. Happiness is who you are, and it is what you experience when you accept yourself, when you relax, and when you stop neurosing about being a “size zero,” about “why he hasn’t called”, and about “what I should be doing with my life.” Happiness isn’t “out there.” And, when you really think about it, the blocks to happiness aren’t “out there” either. Why? Because there is no “out there” out there.

The happiness course shows you how your psychology creates the world you experience and how it can either enhance or block your awareness of true happiness. Happiness is not a state of mind; it is your true nature. That said, certain states of mind can either help or hinder your experience of happiness. In other words, happiness is your original nature, but you may well be suffering from psychology. Your psychology (that is, your perceptions, your beliefs, and your self-talk) is what stands between you and happiness now, success now, and love now.

The excerpt above is an invitation for each of us to “alter our psychology” about happiness and embark on a journey that takes us through self-acceptance, changes in perception and living a life of gratitude in order to be truly happy. Happiness really is an “inside job”!

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My own journey began a few decades ago with the realization that I cannot find a “cure” for my own unhappiness outside of myself – a geographical cure or a relationship cure or any other type of external cure was not really the answer. All the answers I had been looking for were already inside of me. I needed to pay attention, change my perceptions and my belief system. This set the stage for me for a life-long journey of exploration. I invite you to start your own journey if you have not already done so.

For more information about Life Coaching, please contact Manzar Lari through the website www.aworldofpossibilitiescoaching.com or directly by calling the U.S. # 952-931-9770 or the Panama # 507-730-9472.

 

Staying at a high standard Bed & Breakfast

Blog by Terry Richmeier & Manzar Lari

 

When planning a trip to Boquete, Panama, or any other place in the world one has many options in choosing a place to stay. For some of us it’s important to have a pool, others a serene space all their own is critical, and still others may have their own quirky demands! That’s why not all “high standard” Bed & Breakfasts and Inns are created equal. Although one thing that these places do have in common is that they are properly licensed, follow strict health codes, and all the other legal requirements of the country they are located in. This “standards of operation” help insure that the guests receive the best levels of service and accommodations and can be rest assured that the facility is functioning in a legal and responsible capacity.

 

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Along with the many choices of Hotels, Motels, Inns and Bed and Breakfasts available, finding the one just right for you can be quite a process. Do you do a “Google” search and go directly to the top websites on the first or second page? Do you use the same hotel search as you used in the past because you understand how that one works? Or do you go straight to “TripAdvisor” to see the top rated places to stay? The options are endless and can seem overwhelming!

In addition to the more traditional accommodations like hotels, Inns and Bed & Breakfasts, recently several websites have come out that offer short-term stays in private homes. Such websites are VRBO.com (Vacation Rental by Owner), Airbnb.com (Air Bed and Breakfast), and FlipKey.com to name a few. With so many choices, how does one make a good decision?

With the new “Private Stay” accommodations and the websites that are used to advertise these places, we wanted to share with you some things you may want to consider as a savvy traveler so that you have the best vacation experience possible. You can then compare these private accommodations with other types of accommodations such as Bed & Breakfasts, Inns and Hotels.

When considering staying in someone’s personal home you may want to think about the following:

1. Are you safe?

 Many private residents may not have a proper fire alarm system. Several may not have an evacuation procedure or an emergency plan should you need urgent help. Many times there are no security cameras and the neighborhood hoodlums know this and may intend to harm you and your vehicle given the opportunity.

 Is there a safe mounted into the wall of the place that you are staying? Often time passports and expensive jewelry can have a way of disappearing from the rooms. This may cause unnecessary problems for you and robbing you of your peace-of-mind. The process to file a police report and filing to re-create your passport can be really daunting.

Is the foundation and structure of the establishment you are staying at strong and stable? Homes often times can have decay that has happened over the years, creating an unsafe environment for your stay. This can happen when places don’t follow the strict regulations to operate as a business. Many times these issues are not known by the owner as there are no regular inspections.

 

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2. Sanitary conditions?

 

Is the kitchen clean and sanitized? With bacteria all around us, it’s very easy to get sick from a piece of meat that was incorrectly stored or an egg that was not properly cleaned off the counter top and created a contamination. Accommodations that have gone through the process of being certified by the department of health are frequently reviewed for health and sanitation and can offer you a peace of mind.Have your bed linens been washed and disinfected? This seems to be a no-brainer item that you would really not think you would have to worry about. The truth is that bacteria can live within sheets that are not properly disinfected and our research shows that some owners try to save money by fluffing the sheets instead of washing them and remaking the bed. Poor housekeeping and shabby conditions of the home that you are staying in should be researched by reading the reviews of the place you are staying at.

 

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3. Is the Bed & Breakfast operating legally?

Each country has its own laws about legal operations of Bed & Breakfasts. In Panama, it is important that the Bed & Breakfast is registered with the Tourism Authority, has legal permits to operate as a Bed & Breakfast, has “Aviso de Operacion” (business license), has had Department of Health certification and, in addition, each individual has to have valid green and white health cards in order to cook and serve food respectively. In order to keep up with the Health Department certification, regular fumigation and maintenance of the facility is also crucial. Since the facility is functioning as a commercial business, proper smoke detectors in each room and fire extinguishers in designated areas are some of the requirements from the “Bomberos” (Fire Department). In addition, a Panama government “Factura” machine has to be installed and proper reporting of taxes for each of the sales has to be logged into the machine daily. These sales taxes have to be filed (and paid) no later than the 15th of the subsequent month to the government.

The above information includes the main requirements to function as a Bed & Breakfast in Panama. How do Panama businesses fare compared to similar U.S. businesses? In our research, this is what we have found:

Regulations regarding Guest Houses and Bed & Breakfasts and even room rentals by owners have standards that must be upheld in the U.S. However, most other countries do not have any regulations that can be enforced upon your behalf. Here is an article on Madison WI to allow room rentals with required regulations: http://reason.com/blog/2013/10/31/madison-wi-votes-to-allow-airbnb-room-re

In one other article, these same concerns are talked about and advice to help you make the best decision for your needs. http://www.independenttraveler.com/travel-tips/travelers-ed/airbnb-and-beyond-tips-for-safe-legal-vacation-rentals

 

In Panama, room rentals and short term rentals effect the entire country as there are no taxes paid by the private room rentals and parties. Our research shows that in Panama private properties cannot be rented for fewer than 90-day rentals. Short-term rentals are only allowed for Bed & Breakfasts, Hostals, Inn and Hotels that have proper permits and licensing to do so. Not following these regulations essentially adversely effects tourism in a big way. Not only does it affect legitimate businesses monetarily, the government is robbed of a chance to rightfully collect taxes and fees on these services. Fewer tax dollars means lower level maintenance as we will watch roads continue to decay and become unsafe for travel, there will be decrease in police and government officials on the payroll.  Without the fire and safety inspections, the life of the tourist can be greatly at risk. In 2009 Panama made it Illegal for private residences to rent short term in Panama. Here is an article from “PanamaGuide.com” that was written by Don Winner:

“On 13 August 2009 Panama’s new Administrator General of the Tourism Authority of Panama issued Resolution Number 52, effectively making it illegal for anyone other than a hotel to rent out private property, apartment or house, for a term of 90 days or less. Their reasoning is that this activity of short-term private rentals of apartments is in effect an unfair business practice, and that these people are operating “on the margins of the law.” The Director of the Tourist Authority, Salomon Shamah, feels people who offer their privately owned homes or apartment for short term rentals are in fact acting as hotels, but they are not paying the same 10% tax as required by the hotels, nor are they subject to the same standards of fire and safety inspections as the hotels. The resolution is clear – this activity is now prohibited in Panama”. (For the full article, please check out PanamaGuide.com)

Here at Casa de Montaña we have done whatever we can to set-up and operate as a legitimate Bed & Breakfast. We want our guests to have a peace-of-mind when they stay with us that we have done our best to meet and exceed the standards set by the local authorities and governing bodies to insure an enjoyable stay for our guests. Hope to see you soon at Casa de Montaña!

 

 

November – A month full of independence day celebrations and parades!

By Eliecer Andres Lay

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As you are planning a visit to Boquete, one thing to remember is that November is a month of celebrations! Good time to put your party hats on and join in with the locals. Many of the parades pass right in front of Casa de Montaña on their way to downtown. Panamanian people, young and old, really take pride in their heritage and are always ready to put on a great show for locals and visitors alike.

Panamanians celebrate throughout the whole month of November for different reasons. The first event that is happening is on November 2nd  , which is the Day of the Dead. This day people usually remember all the families that have died in the past, and people go to the cemetery to bring flowers to the family tombs. The town is usually quiet on this day, not many people go out, and most of the businesses are closed. The next day, November 3rd, is where all the celebration begins. This day is the Separation Day of Panama from Colombia. All the Primary schools, high schools and Independent bands, go out on the main street of Boquete for a parade. Most of the Boquetenians go out to watch the parade which is mostly instrument bands and some musical bands. Also, people from different part of the country come to watch the parade, or just for a vacation since it is a holiday weekend in Panama. All the local schools, the firemen, the authorities and more are part of this parade. The next day, on the 4th, is the national Flag Day. Just like the day before, all the schools, and all the bands from Boquete go out for another parade similar to the first one. This parade starts at the central park and circles around the downtown area. The second big celebration in Boquete is on November 28th which is the Independence Day and all the Panamanians celebrate the independence from Spain. On this day the biggest parade in Boquete takes place where more than 90 bands from all over Panama are invited and they compete with each other to win the honor of the best band in Panama. There are few different categories that the bands are judged on – from best high school bands, best independent band, best primary school band and best music band. A lot of people come to Boquete that day and the parade starts at 8:00 am and usually ends around 11pm.

So if you would like to come and enjoy the parades in Boquete, book your room now at Casa de Montaña. You never know, you may not even need to leave your room to see some of these parades!

Here is some historical information that you may find interesting:

An excerpt from www.kaluyala.com/community/wandering-thoughts/panamas-independence-days/

November 3: Separation Day

On November 3rd, Panama celebrates its separation from Colombia.

From 1821 until 1903, Panama was part of Gran Colombia (a short-lived republic that also included modern-day Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador).  However, Panama wanted independence from Gran Colombia.  In the mid-1800s, Panama tried and failed three times to separate from Colombia.  Moreover, from 1899-1902, a Colombian civil war broke out between conservatives and liberals, with the defeated liberal leaders later identified as the founding fathers of Panama. Meanwhile, the French government began efforts to construct a canal across Panama.  After the French miserably failed, the United States bought out French efforts, but soon found itself clashing with the Colombian government over payment and control of the canal.  In order to secure its right to the canal, the United States (under Theodore Roosevelt) backed a Panamanian independence movement led by prominent Panamanians.  With the support of the United States, Panama declared its independence on November 3, 1903.

The revolution was a peaceful affair and was over by November 6.  When Colombian forces landed in Panama to quell the independence movement, one Panamanian railroad official convinced the officers to ride ahead in a train to Panama City.  When the Colombian officers arrived in Panama City, they found themselves taken prisoner by Panama-based Colombian soldiers who had been paid off by revolutionaries.

November 4: Flag Day

Panamanians celebrate Flag Day every November 4th, the day after Panama declared its independence.  On November 1, 1903, Maria Ossa de Amador secretly began making the first Panamanian flag.  She constructed three flags based on three different designs, one of which was later adopted as the official flag of Panama.  All three flags were flown on November 3, 1903, when Panama declared its independence.

The Panamanian flag symbolizes the political situation at independence – the blue represents the Conservative Party, the red represents the Liberal party, and the white represents purity and peace.

Here is the flag options that were presented:

Design Presented by Phillipe Bunau-Varilla

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Original designed presented

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The original design was modified a bit and this is the result

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November 5: Colon Day

November 5th is Panama’s version of Columbus Day.  It commemorates Christopher Columbus’s (Cristóbal Colón’s) arrival to the Americas.

November 10: Primer Grito de Independencia de la Villa de los Santos

Beginning with the Spanish conquest in the early sixteenth century and into the nineteenth century, Panama was an important colony for the Spanish Empire.  Perhaps most important to the Spanish was Panama City, which was an important port for all of the treasures and resources that the Spanish plundered from Latin America.

On November 10th, Panama remembers its Primer Grito de Independencia – its first cry for independence from Spain.  On November 10, 1821, villagers in the small town of la Villa de Los Santos wrote a letter to Simon Bolivar.  The letter complained about the Spanish governor and asked Bolivar for revolutionary assistance.

Simon Bolivar was an important revolutionary hero throughout Latin America and was the President of Gran Colombia from 1819 to 1830.

November 28: Independence Day

On November 28th, Panamanians celebrate their independence from Spain.  On November 28, 1821, eighteen days after Primer Grito de Independencia, Panamanians took the first step towards this sought-after independence.  A meeting was held in Panama City and it was decided that Panama would cut off ties to the declining Spanish empire and join Gran Colombia.

Panamanians are proud of their heritage. Come and join us in celebrating the freedom that is the right of each and every Panamanian. We are so happy that here at Casa de Montaña we are now part of the culture that embraces diversity and freedom for all.

 

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