Exposed wires on the main bridge in Boquete
“First, we kill all the lawyers.” The old citation comes from Shakespeare’s Henry 6th, of course. Dick the butcher knows his nefarious ways may be his undoing unless all the solicitors are removed. Then he can have his way, free of the onerous regulations and restrictions impeding him. Lawyers have become the necessary evil in society, the sharks in the swimming pool of free commerce and the butt of many, many jokes. Q: How can you tell your lawyer’s lying to you? A: His lips move.”
In Panama it seems, intervention by the legal profession is a bit less aggressive, authorities a bit more aloof when it comes to running interference for the common man or woman. Or at least this is the impression we’ve gotten based solely on certain initial, and very early sights in the country. The photo above was taken on the main bridge across the Rio Caldera in downtown Boquete. As you can see, the exposed wires are right there, bare and available, within easy reach of anyone, adult or toddler. A lawsuit waiting to happen? In the U.S., yes. In Panama, not so much. I use the image as a metaphor to frame the stark contrast between life in Panama and that in the (heavily policed and legalistic) United States and other places. Indeed, it’s been one of the more noticeable differences here from our home turf, the sense in Panama that we’re on our own, that injury, loss, legal exposure and/or disasters big or small are not a deflectable concern of ‘society,’ but the business of the individual their very own selves. Spill hot coffee in your lap at the drive-thru window in Panama, and guess what? It’s on you, brother or sister. Coffee is hot; deal with it. Don’t contact your abogado to sue the restaurante for serving you ‘hot’ coffee, be more careful and it won’t happen again. Just so, grab the open hot electric wires on the bridge, feel the Burn in a wholly apolitical way and again, it’s on you.
Here are a few more shots taken around Boquete that illustrate the wide open sense that people must be responsible for themselves here in Panama.
Where the sidewalk ends
Open rain drain
Watch your step!
I’m not picking on the Alcalde of Boquete, or his chief engineer. I’m not calling attention to deficiencies in the infrastructure, or citing a ‘better way.’ It’s too easy for us gringos to do that, and we’ve done it too much besides. Suffice it to say that the system of personal responsibility works for these folks, so that should be enough for anyone. There’s a collective sense here that a bit of caution is required to get through one’s day, and that disregarding that caution may come with a harsh reminder.
It involves much more than storm drains and bridge lights, too. It seems to apply to a lot of the services and protective infrastructure we Norte Americanos take for granted.
1-Emergency services: The EMS system is in place, and quite good we’re told, so when you need an ambulance for a medical issue, just call them and they’ll scoot right over, provided… Provided that you give them directions (in Spanish) as they may not know where you live, and no, there is no E-911 system here as there are effectively no addresses. One other thing. The emergency and/or police personnel, while quite competent and helpful, may require a donation to help allay the cost of gasoline to get to you. Much more on this topic can be found in Dianne Heidke’s The Boquete Handbook, 4th edition.
2-Responsibility for bills etc: Any utility bills, water, electric, internet etc. may or may not be delivered to your home. If you lose track of this, the electricity may cut off quite unexpectedly and you’ll have to make your way to the Municipio to pay up. No fair warning; no grace period; just blissfully easing through preparations of the evening meal and all goes dark. “What the f….? Oh, yes…the electric bill!”
3-The basics: One thing we hear a lot as we explore the area is that number one, there’s a real water problem, and number two, there’s plenty of water. What gives? It’s a matter of allocation, delivery and seasonal supply, it seems. Where does the personal responsibility come in? Many folks have learned that a reserve supply, either a cistern or holding tank of some kind, is a must. Friends in Alto Boquete recently went without water for five straight days. Liability for the municipal leadership? Not so much. Just prepare for it, because it happens. Same goes for electric & cable etc., though we’re not aware of anyone owning a backup such as solar panels and/or their own server. It’s common to hear the TV & Internet providers, cable & wireless, referred to as Cobble & Worthless.
4-Miscellaneous: Don’t assume a taxi fare, always ask, unless you’re okay being the mark in what’s called ‘gringo’bingo.’ No, the local people are not, as a rule, either malicious, conniving, desperate or cruel, far from it. The ones we’ve interacted with are gentle, fun, open, extremely kind and trusting people. Still… take responsibility for knowing the going rate. If you own a vehicle, keep a camera in it. If an accident dings your bumper, you’ll want photographic proof of the damage.
Speaking of vehicles, as expats we will have certain considerations as you might imagine, items we’ll need to take care of with no prompting or leeway given by the authorities. U.S. state driver’s licenses are acceptable authorization to drive here, but there are stipulations. As Susan and John write in Latitude Adjustment, concerning their early history in Panama, a border run is necessary once every 90 days until permanent residency is established.
Real estate issues can be a real can of worms. Though the Panamanians seem to be okay with it, and remain, from our perspective at least, to be openly hospitable and kind, it’s true that the expats are coming to Panama, and we will change things inexorably and forever. And that means rising prices, especially for real estate. Holly Carter and her spouse, Scott built a home in Boquete, and we’ve been following that trek on her appropriately titled blog, ‘Let The Adventure Begin.’ Good reading, Holly! In her blog In Da Campo, Karen says the speculators will be playing high stakes ‘gringo-bingo’ and as with anything else, it will be caveat emptor to the max. Again, look out for your own interest.
One last shot demonstrating the need for self-awareness (and perhaps sobriety) in Boquete. This is what’s left of the bridge across the Rio Caldera. Barrier? Guardrail? Warning sign? Nope. You’re on your own.
Available assets for those of us just launching the U.S.S. Expat are many. One of the best resources we’ve found is a site called Chiriqui Life. CL offers many, many categories of useful exchange and NTK info, and it seems to be accurate as far as it goes. The bottom line in this long, intricate post is that we’re on our own when it comes to living in Panama, there are hazards and potholes, but there are also people in the community with an understanding of how to navigate around the reefs and rocks. It will be quite a journey.
One last thing. Right alongside the hazards, potholes and scary-ass dangers that seem to lurk everywhere: the exposed electric wires, open rain drains, cut off sidewalks and predatory real estate speculators, Boquete also offers the following, in abundance, and growing wild. There’s no protection against this, either. Is there a lesson here? I believe so. Enjoy.