My Journal - Jay D. Mills, HP3AK & K1YJ
I have recently retired and moved from Nashville, Tennessee, USA to Volcan, Chiriqui Province, Republic of Panama. I made the move after over a year of research and 3 previous visits to this area in the mountains of western Panama.
21 October 2007 - Crazy Gringo In Panama (But not the only one!)
It all started when I retired early and began looking for an ideal retirement location. To me that included the high priority items of:
- Low cost of living
- Good medical care available
- Good climate - not hot or cold anytime of the year
- Friendly neighbors & Low crime
- Uncrowded - preferably a rural setting
- Good location for world-wide amateur (ham) radio operation
- Good location for local & nearby photography
- Good transportation - especially public transit
- English spoken by almost everyone (Oh well, you can't have everything!)
After over a year of on-line research, I had narrowed the search to Central America. After rejecting Belize as too financially restrictive and Costa Rica as not as "retirement friendly" as it once was, I settled on Panama.
A friend and I made our first trip to Panama and the Volcan area in February of 2007. We met some friendly and helpful people, he bought some property to build a retirement home, and we learned about some of the local culture and customs.
I returned by myself in April to look at a house in Volcan that was owned by another North American "Gringo". It turned out not to be right for me and I looked at many other houses and land. I did not find anything that exactly fit my needs for ham radio and so I returned to Nashville, TN.
I realized that the search for the "perfect" property for me, with my unique requirements, would take more time in Panama. So, in June 2007, I came back to Volcan and spent every day for 3 weeks looking at properties. Toward the end of my stay I found a great lot in the city at a fair price and bought it. Then, 3 days later I found a larger property in the ranching area East and South of Volcan. I purchased it also and I will be building my new home there. The property is large and I will be selling two of the lots, about 7/10s of an acre (or nearly 3,000 m2) each.
In October (2007) I began packing a 40 foot long ocean shipping container with my household goods for the trip to Panama. As I write this, the container is on its way from TN to Panama.
On 15 October, my faithful dog Blue (Australian Cattle Dog / Red Heeler) and I boarded a Copa Airlines flight from Miami, Florida to Panama City, Panama. A little over 3 hours later we were in Panama City. After clearing customs and animal control, we jumped into our rental car and drove 8 hours in the rain and partly at night, to Volcan. In Volcan we had a clean room at a local hotel for $22.00 US (same currency as the U.S.).
The next day Blue and I moved into our rented house in Volcan. It is large by local standards with a large living room, kitchen, 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. It has a small workroom that will be my ham radio room. We expect to live here from 6 months to a year while our new house is being built. The rental house is less than a 10 minute walk from 2 different markets and several other stores, so it is quite convenient to be without a car for a few weeks or longer.
Local bus service is very good and is used for long distance as well as local travel. Taxi service is available and costs only $1 to $2 for most local trips. For more information on Volcan, see the Volcan page on this site. Jay Mills -- Volcan, Chiriqui, Panama -- 21 October 2007
27 November 2007
Update from the Crazy Gringo in Paradise
Well, my 40 foot shipping container full of furniture, household goods, computers, radios and all kinds of junk that I didn't have time to sort through while packing, arrived one month ago, on October 27. It was a Saturday morning and it arrived at my door at 5:45 am.
A great crew of 6 local men and boys, plus the wife of one of the helpers, had everything unloaded and in the house or yard by 11:00 am. That's when the real work began! For the past month I have been unpacking, sorting, putting things away, searching for missing pieces, and throwing out junk. Blue (the dog) and I are fairly well settled in, with only about another 15 boxes to unpack and find more space.
As I had mentioned earlier, the house is large by local standards and is quite comfortable, even with my excess of 'stuff'.
I have managed to get up some temporary amateur radio antennas and they seem to work well for listening. I have filed my paperwork for a 'radioaficionado' license here in Panama and I'm just waiting for the license to operate.
For most of the past month it has rained for a portion of almost every day, as is usual in the "green" season. However, during the past few days we have had little rain, so the dry, summer season may be starting early for us.
I was invited to a gringo's home (Sean M.) in a nearby town to share a traditional Thanksgiving Dinner with he, his wife and two young daughters. It was one of the best Thanksgiving dinners I have ever experienced.
I have been so busy with unpacking that I have not had much time for photography, but one of my favorite local guides will be available in December for several days and we will have new adventures and new pictures to share with you. Jay Mills -- Volcan, Chiriqui, Panama -- 27 November 2007
9 December 2007
The Adventure Continues\
I am once again operating ham radio (radioaficionado) from Panama as HP3/K1YJ until my new HP3 license arrives. I have been on the air since 29 November and I have made over 500 contacts with other hams all over the world. I am running 400-500 watts with simple dipole antennas up 25 feet in the center (< 8 meters). My SSB operations are mostly on 75 meters, with some on 40 & 20 meters. I am working on better "temporary" antennas for this city lot. I also operated HP3/K1YJ earlier in the year from this same area.
The weather has remained mostly dry over the past two weeks, with a couple of light showers on a couple of days. It rained early this morning and it is cloudy today. I am looking forward to "summer" and the dry season to do more photography in the beautiful countryside.
Things are progressing on the plans for a new house on my property near Volcan. We hope to begin construction sometime in January.
My dog "Blue" has found a new playmate next door. The neighbor has a German Shepherd mix and about the same size as Blue. They are getting acquainted and are past the growling and snarling phase. The neighbor has a large lot, so there is plenty of room for the dogs to run.
21 January 2008
More good adventures with ham radio and photography
My new radioaficionado license, HP3AK, arrived on 16 January. I am very pleased with the new call sign and have already made many contacts with it. I will be ordering QSL cards in the next few days for my QSL manager to send out.
On Saturday I went with a local guide to a very high water fall with a single drop to the pool below of about 50 meters, more or less. It is very high and makes its own "wind" with spray reaching out many meters from the pool at the base. Most of my good pictures were taken from 100 meters or more away, down stream and out of the mist.
The trip is a very strenuous with steep climbs of 1,000 meters or more, up and down. The rapidly flowing river must also be crossed 3 times in (cold) water up to 1 meter or more deep. However, it is beautiful and the trip is worth the 6 or 7 hours that it takes.
My next photo trip is tomorrow to a deep canyon where we must rappel down to reach the bottom. We will also have to swim a short distance across the river, but I plan to travel light with only a single, light weight camera and waterproof bags.
5 February 2008
Just another day in paradise
We are officially in "summer" or the dry season in western Panama. Temperatures are still mild with somewhat warmer days and cooler evenings, but never above mid-80s or below mid-50s F. I have purchased a used 4 x 4 extended cab pickup with 2 large and 2 small seats. Like me, it is old but good for many more miles / kilometers.
I have posted new photographs from my latest photo adventures on this site ... last 8 images in the Photo Album. Ham radio is a continuing pleasure and I can easily work almost any country in the world from here with simple antennas that anyone might have in their back yard.
My friend Art visited from Nashville, Tennessee last week and brought me a few things in a care package from the U.S. The only major item was my new Sony DSLR camera that my daughter had waiting for me since Christmas. The camera is a joy to use and has a great screen on the back for reviewing the pictures.
I have navigated the paperwork jungle to register and insure my new vehicle. I also now have a new driver's license from the Republic of Panama. All governments have red tape and paperwork, this one seems to have more than most. Now, if I could only get the exclusive contract to produce either the round or the square rubber stamps (preferably both) and the ink for the stamp pads, I could retire in style.....
11 March 2008
Plans for my new house
Plans for my new house have been redrawn and now have about 1/2 of the approvals necessary to begin construction. I have been looking at my building lot at the "ranch" outside of Volcan and marveling at all of the very old and large trees on the river side of the property.
The paving project is progressing nicely and the travel time from Volcan has been cut from 30 to 15 minutes. This is because of the smoothing of the roadbed. When the paving is done, the trip will be 10 minutes or less.
The new house is large by Panamanian standards and rather unique, but not "fancy". I would like for it to blend in with the countryside, instead of being an example of "gringo pride" and excess. My dog Blue has visited the site and he approves of the plan to live at the ranch, instead of in the city.
I have not yet decided if I will build a photography gallery onto the house or leave that area of the plan as an open-air patio. In any case, the foundation and floor will be in place for an additional room.
7 April 2008
House Plans Approved
The plans for my new house have been totally approved and I can begin construction as soon as I choose a builder. That could take a little while as it is the most critical part of the building project and I want to be sure that I have the best builder that I can find.
I mentioned the very old and large trees on the river side of the property. I have decided to put my house as close to the river / ravine as possible to take advantage of the varied views without removing any old, large trees.
My dog Blue has been back to 'Paradise Ranch' and has given his full approval to the freedom that it affords both he and I.
There has been interest in the 2 lots at the other end of my property, so I could have new neighbors. Right now, most of the people on the road are dairy farmers or work on the farms, with the exception of a few North Americans who already live in the area.
21 January 2009
Ground Breaking for lower floor of my new house
I have finally begun construction of my new house. I will build the downstairs (basement) portion and live in it for the next couple of years. It is an even better location for ham radio than my rented house in Volcan and the scenery is specular! We expect to complete construction of the lower section of the house in May or June of this year.
It is interesting that some "expert" folks from Boquete looked at the 2 lots that I have for sale next to my new house and concluded (very incorrectly) that there would be "too much traffic" on the road. They were wrong for a couple of reasons. 1. The new 'shortcut' road from Boquete to Volcan will pass through Cuesta de Piedra, NOT up my road. 2. Although the road is now paved in front of my property (NO dust and less noise), the construction company is just now (4-11-09 update) oiling the remainder of the road. It will be less than 10 minutes to downtown Volcan when the road is complete in a few weeks.
22 March 2009
Foundations done and back wall forms are started
We have made good progress in the past few days after several weeks of building reinforcing cages and digging footers for over 16 columns that have to be part of the "small" house project. These columns will hold up the floor of the main house that I hope to build in the near future. The footers also go below the foundation and we finished the foundation after we poured the footers.
I have added a tab to the site menu, "Home Construction", that includes some of the latest pictures from our efforts. I do not have an official finish date, however I am hopeful that we will finish the roof and outside walls before the rainy season begins next month. I hope to move in by the end of May or first of June, although my rented house is very comfortable for as long as I need it.
11 April 2009
Progress is slow on house
We are making progress slowly on building the house. Most of the columns for the upstairs, back and side walls have been poured. We hope to get the roof on next to cover up before the seasonal rains begin.
After the roof is on I plan to do much of the remaining finishing work myself with 1 or 2 helpers. The current plan is to move in during June or July. This means that I will not be able to make my planned trip to the U.S. in May to visit friends and family. I will reschedule the trip when the "dust settles" from construction and moving.
24 March 2010
A long overdue update on the house and myself
Wow! A lot has happened since I wrote anything here. My blog at http://paradisepanama.blogspot.com/ is usually more current. Where to begin?
The house was finished enough to move into in mid-November. The two dogs and I "camped out" for a while until things got connected and hooked up. I'm still working on the inside of the house and will be for some time to come.
In mid-August 09 I had emergency surgery at the Chiriqui Hospital in David, Panama for a bad apendix. The surgery was successful and I recovered well. However, it did delay my work on the house and pushed back the move in date from September to November.
I'm still very pleased that I chose Panama and this area in the mountains in particular. For me it really is paradise on a shoestring.