Thursday, January 1, 2015

Back With Adventures of an ExPat's Border Run

Hi Folks,

Well, though I announced almost exactly one year ago that I was done with this blog, to focus on my www.MoneyloveBlog.com , and this is even more true now as that blog is under reconstruction to accompany the release of my new book, Moneylove 3.0, I have a tale to tell that is not about prosperity consciousness, though it is a triumph of the human spirit over unexpected challenges.

I write this to share with friends who might be interested, as well as on expat forums to let fellow expats know what the latest situation is at the border at Paso Canoas, shared between Panama and Costa Rica. The rules and implementation of those rules change so often, that it has never been the same in the four runs I have made since moving here in 2013. Until official residency, an expat is here on a six month's tourist visa and has to leave Panama and then come back to renew that visa.

On Monday night, December 29th, as I have done all four times, I went to Allbrook Mall at about 4pm and bought an express overnight bus ticket for the seven hour ride to the Frontera. It cost $14.50.
As usual I chose to hang out at the huge Allbrook Mall next to the terminal until the bus left at 10pm. You have to buy the ticket by 4:30 and it has to be bought on the day of travel at the terminal.

The bus ride was uneventful, and I arrived about 5:30am, having to wait 90 minutes until they did a cursory search of my backpack and stamped my passport to exit Panama.

So far so good.  I walked the two blocks to the Costa Rican border post and found a lovely agent who was friendly and spoke passable English. Different from last time in July, they did not ask to see a bus ticket showing I would leave Costa Rica within six months, or $500 in cash to show I could survive there. But still require a receipt for a $5 exit tax, which you can get right there at bank office ATM with a credit card. But, when I walked over to the Salidas or exit window, which the same lovely agent had just moved to, she told me they were refusing to do same day exit stamps as Panama would not allow people to enter without having spent 24 hours in Costa Rica. Panama border agents had forced me to stay 24 hours last January, so I was prepared for this, even though in July I did an immediate turnaround.

I found a motel, Johnny's,  that had WiFi, air conditioning, cable TV, and a shower, though I'm surprised they could fit a full sized bed in the tiny room as well as a writing table and chair. I could check in immediately at 7:30am and the price was $26.  It was also across the street from the InterAmerica hotel I stayed at last January (no WiFi, but bigger room for $30), which had a very nice restaurant.
Deciding I wanted to wait for lunch instead of having breakfast, about 11:30 (which was actually 10:30 Costa Rica time, an hour earlier than Panama) I walked over to the restaurant and tried to figure out what the menu items were with my almost nonexistent grasp of Spanish. Unfortunately, when I had my iPhone set up to get Johnny's WiFi, it didn't seem to want to translate on my Jibbigo software. Everything I typed in Spanish came out exactly the same in Spanish again. So I really had no idea what I would get when I ordered Casados con carne en salsa, except in the picture it looked like some kind of combination plate. I know carne is meat, usually beef, so I went for it. Got a lovely platter, and while the chunks of beef were a bit fattier than I prefer, it was all pretty tasty Costa Rican fare.
Luckily, I had uploaded chapters of the new book onto my Kindle for a final edit, so had plenty to occupy me.  Even went over to the restaurant again to try an appetizer plate that looked appealing as it had a bunch of items listed, but would have been too much to add to my lunch combo plate.

The tortilla chips were hot, as were the refried beans and the sweet salsa with some kind of peppers, and the regular salsa was tasty, too.  So another good local mystery meal choice.  The next morning, I got up at 5:00 Costa Rica time as the attractive agent had told me to come back at 6am sharp, and I anticipated a quick pass through to go onto Panama border station. There was a small crowd already at the Costa Rica exit when I arrived at 5:30.
So we waited, and waited some more, and finally, near 6:30 am, someone came by to tell us that it was a holiday and windows would not be open until 8am.  A whole lot of waiting ensued, but I still had my Kindle and was able to sit for a good bit of the time. By 8:30am I was stamped quickly and walked over to Panama (by this time on my previous border runs, I was already on the bus headed home). The line at Panama exit didn't look long, but moved very very slowly. I thought maybe the border agents were asking for more details, and might even discover that my computer printed airline ticket was really only a reservation to Miami in June on Copa, and would be cancelled if I didn't pay for it by that afternoon. I still don't know why it was so slow, well over an hour with a line that wasn't that long, but I went through very easily and quickly, after showing my pseudo ticket and $500 in cash.  I found a bus where I usually found one loading for Panama City. This time, it was a Panachif bus and I went to window to buy a ticket (on previous trips, I just paid on the bus, about $18-$19) It was the same big, new, clean kind of bus that usually makes this run. But for some reason, it was only $11.25. I kept on asking the Spanish speaking clerk if this was actually going to get me to Panama City. I got on at 11:20 Panama Time, about three hours later than on previous trips, but was so happily relieved to have made it through all the delays, and be on my way home, that it felt like a big win to just climb up and find a free seat, with an empty one next to it so I could put my backpack on it.  But my challenges were not quite over.
The driver looked even younger from the front than this back view. If you look you can see that he has his left hand up to his ear, where he is holding a cellphone.  Chiriqi Province is the mountainous western part of Panama, and the roads up and down mountains are precarious even for two-handed driving. Our young driver rarely used both hands even during rather high speed trips up and down mountain roads. He either was on the cellphone, or waving one arm and bouncing up and down in rhythm to the incessant Salsa music he was loudly playing. I considered it a major triumph that he wasn't feeling suicidal, and I even heard some locals expressing concern at our survival chances.
But I had my Kindle and my new book chapters, plus an old Edgar Wallace mystery to read between making notes for edits.  I was able to also be a bit distracted by an attractive woman and her very cute son, who seemed to stare at me with fascination a lot. She smiled a few times, but definitely didn't look friendly in the one photo I took.



At about 8pm, we pulled into the terminal. I got to McDonalds, where I was planning to get a large bag of fries to take home to have with a tuna submarine with hard-boiled egg slices I was looking forward to, but they closed just as I got at the end of the line, and would not allow me to even get some fries. Then I felt all good things were back on course when I found Antonio, a very friendly, English-speaking taxi driver. The drivers leaving Allbrook or the Gran Terminal usually want to charge $10 to go back into the city, despite the fact that it was only $2-$3 to come out from the city. But Antonio didn't make any requests, and he had two pretty young Panamanian girls in the backseat, on their way to go shopping. He told me how he refused to drink as long as he was a taxi driver and was spending New Year's eve with his large family. His thanks were effusive when I gave him $5.  

I even got to see some of the fireworks being set off throughout Panama City on the ride home. I made my tuna sub, savored it while watching an episode of The Mentalist on my computer, and was in bed and quickly asleep by 10pm.  A long 52 hours from Monday afternoon to Wednesday evening, but also another successful visa renewal. I hope and plan to do it differently for my summer renewal.

Friday, January 3, 2014

FADING, FIZZLING, FINITO

It must be evident to followers of this blog that it has been fading and fizzling on the way to some sort
of finish.

The posts have been few and far between, and my focus and energy connected with it have been on the downswing as witness using a cliché like "few and far between."  The truth is, it's purpose has been fulfilled--as a way to express myself after my release from prison in 2008 and as I got my life back in order. 

My creative attention swung more and more to my other blog,
http://MoneyloveBlog.com

There are lots of exciting projects in store for me in 2014, but I cannot think of one that would fit this blog more than my other one. What I didn't anticipate was how much interest is still out there, generated by my book, Moneylove, and my bestselling cassette album inspired by the book and produced by Nightingale-Conant.  It took years of effort, but I finally got all the rights back to both the book and album. 

I have converted the tapes to digital mp3 files, and have been approached by a number of entrepreneurs who want to market both the album and the book, in a host of languages. This coincides perfectly with my own desire to get away from any duties involving the logistics and marketing of my prosperity teaching  products.

I will choose to put my full attention on producing content--in other words, writing and recording new audios and doing some workshops around the world. Others, much more gifted than me in that area, will take care of the marketing. I also hope this frees me up to enjoy more of a tropical lifestyle now that I am living in Panama, and to explore my comedy writing and performing in addition to my motivational teaching and coaching.

For those of you who have been faithful readers of this blog, I hope you will continue to follow my adventures on the remaining one.
As to my 234 posts for this blog, I will take some time to decide whether it would be useful to mine these for a book or other create project in the future.     And have a great, even transformational 2014!
                                   Jerry

Sunday, December 8, 2013

From Terrorist to Beloved World Leader

When I visited South Africa in 1989, apartheid was still in effect and Nelson Mandela was still in prison. But signs of the coming changes were everywhere. Many of the seminars I led were attended by both white and black South Africans, something that would have been unheard of just a couple of years earlier.

I was most surprised at discovering how harsh the segregationist laws were. Having covered a great many stories about the civil rights movement in the U.S., I assumed the South African struggle was similar. But it was much more violent and dehumanizing. I was surprised when I found out that the black South Africans had been forced to move on very short notice when apartheid was first put into effect following World War II. They all lived in what were basically huge shanty towns twenty to thirty miles outside the cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban. Blacks could not be in any of those cities after dark. I was told of several wealthy black South Africans who actually had luxurious homes in Johannesburg, but kept out of sight at night and had white friends or employees pretend to be the real owners of their homes.

Every public building, even supermarkets, had airport type security, including X-Ray conveyor belts for any packages being brought in. There were charts with photos of the kinds of bombs the African National Congress used in their war against apartheid. The man who brought me in was a minister as well as the owner of a motivational tape company. He was originally from Rhodesia, and his voice broke when he told me of his young assistant. She had died three years earlier when an ANC bomb went off in a drugstore she was shopping in.

The white government was just as violent, and I visited the township of Khayelitsha outside Cape Town. A woman friend who had emigrated to South Africa from California took me into the township, even though her Xhosa (the tribe best known for its "click" language) housekeeper warned us not to go. South African police had shot and killed a protestor there just two weeks earlier. But the residents came out in huge throngs to warmly greet us as we arrived. 

Overshadowing all of this was Nelson Mandela. Though still in prison, he was undisputedly the leader of the black population. Everyone knew he would be released soon, as he was a few months later in 1990. And though he surely deserved the title "terrorist" in his early days, most people, black and white, seemed willing to give him the benefit of the doubt in terms of any future leadership role he might have. He more than proved that confidence was not misplaced.

It was election time in September, 1989, and the major excitement was focused on the Liberal Party, and their signs reading Vote Your Hopes Not Your Fears were to be found on every block. Though they won little power, it was considered a real breakthrough that they got some members elected to the South African parliament.

I was very impressed with the warmth with which I was greeted by white South Africans. Most of them seemed to really be working hard to convince Americans they were not the monsters being portrayed in the world media. In hospitality and friendliness they reminded me of the Pennsylvania Dutch people I had met over the years in my home state.

And the abundance present at the ubiquitous buffets all over was breathtaking, but that will have to wait for another post.
                                Jerry

For new prosperity ideas, check out my other blog at:
                                 http://MoneyloveBlog.com

Friday, November 22, 2013

THE DAY THE WORLD CHANGED

As do most Americans who were alive then, I vividly remember the day JFK was assassinated. As a fledgling newsman and announcer at WTVR in Richmond, Virginia, it was rather a surreal experience. Virginia had voted for Nixon in 1960 over Kennedy, 53% to 47%.  The management of the station initially refused to suspend commercials, but gave in when the entire on air staff threatened to walk out if they didn't follow the lead of all other broadcasting outlets.

At the time, of course, no one realized that an era of innocence and optimism was suddenly ending. Our TV station was a CBS affiliate, so Walter Cronkite was creating a note of calm in chaos as he soothed the nation with his mellifluous tones, while a somewhat hyper Dan Rather reported from Dallas, thus becoming a national figure for the first time.

Like most TV stations then, we went off the air following the 11pm news and a video of the Star Spangled Banner. No nonstop cable news, so we had to wait until the next morning to pick up what was happening.

We all knew something momentous had happened, but had no idea what was coming next. Some feared the Russians would attack, especially when it came out that Lee Harvey Oswald had spent time in Russia. In Richmond, I heard more than one supposedly patriotic citizen voice satisfaction at the turn of events.

There was a lot of attention focused on Vice President Lyndon Johnson, and celebrating of the elevation of the first Southerner in a long time to the White House. This was, after all, a time when
it was still illegal for a white person to marry a black person in Virginia, and where the concept of "massive resistance" to the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision continued after nine years. The antipathy to Kennedy expressed by many Virginians was due in no small measure to the fact that most black voters had favored him over Nixon in 1960.

Speaking by phone (rotary dial phones were all we had then, Bell Telephone, in fact, introduced the first push button phone just four days before the assassination.) to friends and family in Philadelphia, it did seem I was on an island of disconnect. They described how people were gathering in groups to mourn together and offer each other comfort. This was not happening in Virginia. My girlfriend and I comforted each other in isolation and silence once I got home.  We were only 106 miles South of Washington, but might have been in another country altogether.

A few years later, I was working at WRVA Radio, also in Richmond, and filling in for Lou Dean, the all-night talk show host. For two straight nights, my guest was Mark Lane, author of Rush to Judgment, the first book to despute the Warren Commission's findings about the assassination. My opinion then is pretty much unchanged now. I felt that if any conspiracy was involved, someone would have come forward to tell their story. Today, with so many more media outlets available, and so much money to be made for stories like this one, it is inconceivable to me that the truth wouldn't have already come out.
                             Jerry
Check out my prosperity blog:  http://MoneyloveBlog.com

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT, REALLY!

I suppose for many people, reaching a certain age, say 70, allows one to feel he or she has been a part of a large segment of history. This has to be much more so in our current world of rapid change, when I think we have gone through more social, technological, political and economic changes than in any other times.

On a number of occasions, my own life reminds me of two films describing this via characters who get to sample a huge swathe of important things and people around them. These are Woody Allen's 1963 mockumentary, Zelig, and Forrest Gump, with Tom Hanks playing the everyman who seems to be everywhere.

I was reminded of this when looking at the two political races the spotlight was most focused on in Tuesday's election. The gubernatorial contests in New Jersey and Virginia. These felt familiar to me, somewhat like local news. 

I was born and raised in Philadelphia, so New Jersey was my backyard, and all our family vacations were in Wildwood on the Southern Jersey shore. When I worked at KYW Newsradio, our Jersey bureau was the biggest radio news coverage for that state. As a state, New Jersey is somewhat unique in that it doesn't have any powerful TV stations of its own. It lies between the huge markets of Philadelphia and New York, which both make a fortune when political advertising dollars are spent in The Garden State.

I had a further connection in that, for about 8 months, I actually worked at WBUD Radio in Trenton, and learned how very small town New Jersey politics was. And how corrupt. I even became personal friends with the young mayor of Trenton, a very liberal hippy type who was trying to make big changes.

On to Virginia, where I was much more involved by virtue of several years as a top newsman at WRVA Radio, the top-rated station in the entire state at the time.  We were located right across from the famed Capitol Building designed by Thomas Jefferson, and had our own studio in its basement. I was in charge of recording and editing for distribution throughout the state, the governor's news conferences, and was often the reporter who closed the session with a "Thank You, Mr. Governor." 

I myself was approached on several occasions about running for political office, starting with something local in Richmond. I never was interested. For several months, filling in for an injured colleague at WRVA, I wrote speeches for U.S. Senator Harry Byrd Jr., and was very friendly with the up-and-coming political star, J. Sargeant Reynolds. Sarge was just starting out when I got to know him, eventually becoming Lt. Governor when I had already moved on to New York. He was often touted as the next JFK. He was part of the illustrious Reynolds family--his branch was the aluminum one, though he was also related to the tobacco family. Like the Kennedys, the Reynolds family had more than its share of tragedy, and Sarge died at 35 of an inoperable brain tumor. 

So it is no wonder that I feel somehow connected when I watch all the political reporting from Virginia and New Jersey. But the truth is, like the world itself, politics are vastly different today and a lot less personal than they were forty-some years ago, and not nearly as much fun. But I was there, so following it all  is something like comfort food to me.
                                     Jerry

If you haven't been there yet, please visit my prosperity blog:
                         http://MoneyloveBlog.com

Friday, October 11, 2013

FURRY SADNESS

My closest friend, Rupa, just lost her closest companion, Eric. He had participated in many of our long distance visits via Skype and FaceTime, as reflected in this screen shot I took of one of our video calls, when Rupa was speaking from her Vermont garden with Eric roaming about.

It takes a pet lover, I believe, to truly empathise with the devastating loss such a passing can bring. It reminds us of our own similar losses. Because of their much shorter life spans, all those with cats and dogs will experience this loss, perhaps several times. 


Eric reminded me of my own black and white cat, Quincy, and how hard his death hit me when the vet called with the news. He had some kind of rare blood disease and was even given two separate transfusions from other cats in an effort to save him. I needed to be alone with my thoughts and memories, and I remember my girlfriend at the time was very upset that I didn't immediately turn to her for comfort. 


Something was true for me then that I've never admitted or talked about in the twenty-some years since I lost Quincy. This is simply the fact that his death affected me more deeply than that of my mother. I felt sort of guilty feeling this, but my mother had been mentally gone for several years when she died, so that I had already mourned her by the time her body followed. Quincy, on the other hand, was with me every day, a bundle of unconditional love, great fun, and the mystery that any cat brings into any human's life.


Cary Dennis, writing about the loss of a cat, said this in Salon:

It is awful but after its weight lifts there comes a new kind of life. The new kind of life that comes is perforated, aerated, wrung out and less rigid, more patient, more devout. Strangely so but true.

As was true for Eric, what sometimes makes the loss of a cat more difficult is that we have to make the final decision as to when to let it go, and direct the vet to take that final action. That the decision is always tempered with love and compassion, and to end or avoid extreme suffering, doesn't take away the pain of that responsibility. 


Though those who haven't been personally impacted by the loss of a wonderful furry companion cannot fully understand this, it is sometimes more difficult and a greater source of grief than even the loss of a human loved one. In the case of beloved cats, no matter how independent and sometimes ornery they can be, we have created much of their world for them and they have repaid us with unconditional love and the taste of adventure having a direct link with the jungle and our own primordial past provides.


More than most people in our lives, cats are endlessly interesting and entertaining, and so the gap they leave behind is often larger. I have lost four of the fantastic creatures--Quincy, Hobbes, Brandy and Lucifer. This means I can really "get" Rupa's loss, but also relive some of my own magical memories. And I am often reminded of what Morrie Schwartz was quoted as saying in Tuesdays With Morrie, as he himself was dying:

"we live on in the hearts of everyone we have touched and nurtured while we were on earth."
                                                  Jerry


Monday, September 30, 2013

THE DIRTIEST SIX LETTER WORD

"retire"
That's it, and many thinking people have stopped using it since I first railed against its use and the whole concept of retirement back in the 1970s. This was originally based on much research that showed retirement was deadlier than most diseases--that people who retired into a so-called life of leisure, often died within a few years, having lost their passion for life.

As a writer, I am lucky to have a profession that has a long history of non-retirees. 

When I meet someone new here in Panama, I am often asked if I retired here. A fair question as I have passed the stereotypical retirement age. But like most people in the creative arts, whether it be music, writing, theatre, painting, etc., the word "retire" is not in my lexicon. I am writing more and involved in more projects now than at any time in the past forty years. As a result of all this, my income is entering an impressive upward spiral, and projections are it will increase at least tenfold by the end of 2014.

However,  as a sort of objective bystander, I can say that retiring in Panama is a great and affordable adventure. I have a few retired friends who love the lifestyle, the bargain/booming economy, and the tropical climate. 

I do have to pay for my prescription drugs, though they are cheaper here--the same for doctor visits. No Medicare coverage or Affordable Care Act here (tho I can fly back to U.S. for any major medical needs under Medicare) and Sara Lee and Stouffer's prepared foods are much higher priced. But the average quality restaurant meal is well under $10, and produce and local meats are cheaper than fast food in the U.S.

Panama can be a great place to live, if you enjoy the things that are very reasonably priced here. But it is not as well-organized as the U.S., or as fast-paced. Anyone who moves or retires here without checking it out with a personal scouting expedition first is a fool.  I came for a visit last October for ten days, but was planning to move here in February. I knew, however, that I could easily pack up my two carry on bags and two checked bags and move somewhere else if I didn't like it. I wasn't relocating a family or a whole house full of possessions. And I wasn't planning to retire anytime ever. 

This is a great place to not retire to. Even though you can't get a job if you are not a resident or citizen. If you can earn a living through some creative activity you can market online or through agents outside of Panama--or simply if you are lucky enough to have passive income coming in that will let you live comfortably (about $2000 to $3000 per month will do nicely, tho it can be done for half that with a bit of belt tightening), life can be a relaxing tropical dream.

And the biggest selling point is not bargain prices, or a happy-go-lucky culture. The best thing going for you coming to a foreign land with a new langauge to learn is that much research has shown that your brain will stay more youthful and grow more creative when challenged by learning and speaking a new language and being forced to even modestly change your lifestyle in a new environment.
                                                 Jerry
Check out my prosperity blog at:  http://MoneyloveBlog.com