Lesson learned - a question of who to trust

Yesterday as I picked up a few essentials at Super Lake, bemoaning the fact that I had thirteen dollars left until my pensions come in at the end of the month and wondering how I was going to make it, and, yes, feeling sorry for myself, when I came out of the store I noticed a young girl standing just outside the entrance. She had a crude cardboard sign with English and Spanish scrawled on it saying "please help me. I need food for my baby".

It's a sad fact of life here that Mexicans are forced to beg. Kids are often trying to sell you something. Ladies sit outside places like Super Lake with a cup in their hands hoping you will give them a few pesos. The vast majority of Mexicans live in abject poverty.

As I came out I reached into my pocket and gave her the few coins I had planned for the bus. I couldn't carry what I had on the bus so I was going to need my driver to come and get me, something I could ill afford.

As I stood outside waiting for him I watched person after person just ignores this girl, not even returning the hello she said to them. They saw her sign but just walked by her. As usual with Super Lake, there were no locals coming out because they can't afford to shop there. I wondered if local folks would ignore a woman begging for food for her baby?

After a few minutes watching this I couldn't take it anymore. I asked her to come back to the store with me to get some food for her baby. I told her I was not a rich American so I couldn't get her very much but I would try. She got bread and some small jars of baby food and I treated her to some chocolate for herself. It was only a couple hundred pesos.

She was thrilled at this very small gesture. She told me her name was Melissa and she showed me a picture of her baby, Daniel Alexander. I gave her my card and told her that if she ever faced a day when she had no food to come to my place and I would feed her something. She couldn't stop smiling and even helped me with my groceries when my driver arrived.

My point in telling this story is simply to encourage you to give when you can, especially if you have more money than you need. The locals are an admirable, warm, proud people, happy with little but when someone like Melissa needs our help please give. It will make you feel very good, as it did for me.

As that old radio program used to say, "And now for the rest of the story." Oh, and this is a good one. If all you get out of it is how stupid I am, well, you are SO right.

First, Melissa called me yesterday and asked to meet me at Super Lake so I could buy her more food for her "baby". I told her it wouldn't be much because I don't have it to give her but I would buy some for her. I said I would be there around 3:30 and we agreed to meet. She wasn't there but called me later to tell me she was now at Super Lake and expected me to come back. I said no but told her if she came to my house I would give her a little money. Big mistake!

She showed up a while later with a friend in tow, no doubt because she didn't want to be alone with a man in his apartment, regardless of the fact that I could be her grandfather. So be it. I understood. I fed both of them. Her friend and I went out on the terrace to have a smoke and Melissa asked where my broom was because she was going to do some cleaning for me for the money I gave her. Nice, I thought. Then she said they had to go because her "baby" was sick. We said our goodbyes.

Oh, read on. This gets a lot juicier. A little while later her friend came back alone. Needless to say, I wondered why. I thought she might have forgotten something. She then tells me that Mellissa had shown her my diamond ring and said she was going to sell it! Sure enough, I checked and it was gone! This was the thanks I got for helping her?

We called the police who showed up fairly quickly. They took all the information and then told me to call Uber to take us to the Chapala police station where they would meet us and then go to Melissa's house together. When her friend and I arrived at the police station it was closed. No sight of the two officers that came to my apartment. An officer outside said we couldn't do anything more tonight and we had to come back in the morning.

I figured that my thousand dollar ring would be sold by then so I convinced her friend to go to her house and confront Melissa to give back my ring or she could deal with the police tomorrow. She didn't answer the door and when her friend called her on my driver's phone so she wouldn't recognize the number she hung up on her. Now the plan is to go to her house in the morning with her friend and the police to confront her to get my ring back. No doubt she has either sold the ring by then or will simply deny she stole it. The police believe her friend who Melissa was dumb enough to show the ring to and tell her she was going to sell it.

We gave her the chance tonight to just give my ring back and be done with it. No police. No charges. No possible jail time, but she refused.

The bad part of my story is how stupid I was to trust this girl. It turns out she has five children, all of whom have been taken away from her. For me, as dumb as I know I was to trust her and try to help her, the good part is that I know her friend could have simply gone home and forgotten about it. Instead, she came back to my place to tell me what happened and then she spent hours with me dealing with the police, going to Chapala, confronting Melissa, and now she's doing it all again tomorrow.

I have hesitated to name her until this is hopefully over and maybe I get my ring back, but she works at Super Lake and I hope to be able to disclose this amazingly honest girl's name so you can tell her she did the right thing when you see her.

I pray that tomorrow will bring a better ending to this story. Even if she hasn't already sold my ring and gives it back I don't know how things work here in Mexico. Will she still be charged with theft now that the police are involved? Do I have the right to stop her being charged if I get the ring back? Do I even want to? She's clearly a thief and I don't want her doing this to anyone else. I am trying to warn anyone who sees her begging at Super Lake to avoid her like the plague.

Live and learn.

Just when you think it can't get any worse....

After the police station was closed last night my driver, Salvador, suggested we go to the police station at 8:30 when it opened today. I handed my phone to her friend to make arrangements to pick her up this morning. When she hung up I asked what time he was picking her up and she said 8:00 o'clock. I asked if she had given him her address and she said yes.

This morning I'm anxiously waiting for them to show up at my place. It gets later and later and she has to be at work at Super Lake at 10:00 so I begin to panic. I text Salvador asking where they are? He calls and tells me he is in Chapala, knows nothing about picking her up and doesn't know where she lives. By now, with all this total screw-up, Melissa has had plenty of time to sell my ring. The police no doubt wonder where we are and drop the case.

A very bittersweet end and a huge loss for me. A thief gets away with it. and will no doubt do it again? For me, my trust is gone. Never again will I try to help a local. Expensive lesson learned.

A final note. Just when I thought Melissa's "friend" was so wonderfully honest and was being so helpful, she told me she worked at Super Lake and was working 10:00 until 2:00. My very confused driver, Salvador, and I went to Super Lake to see if Estafan could come with us to the police at 2:00 when she finished work.

Yup, you guessed it. She doesn't work at Super Lake. Although I am still absurdly confused as to why she came back to tell me that Melissa had stolen my ring, I guess she was in on it from the start. Maybe she came back to see if she could steal something else. I'll never understand all this. I'm out my ring and there's no hope I'll ever get it back And the little thief gets away with it.

If you are at Super Lake and see a girl holding a sign begging for food for her "baby" rip the sign out of her hands and tell her to scram!

As the saying goes, "Is that all there is?"

Unless you are Albert Einstein or Bill Gates it’s probably not a good time to summarize your life. Have you been “successful” in the eyes of others? Has your life had a positive impact on people’s lives? Have you made costly mistakes that have now put you in such a depressive state that you want to end it all? Do you matter to anyone? Has your life just been a waste? Is anyone going to miss you?

After some very tough years, ending up living in a group home in Belleville, Ontario and, in fact, overstaying my welcome there, I had no idea what to do. After disastrous experiences moving to Panama and Ecuador I wanted to give it one more try in Mexico, so I hoped to go for six months on a tourist visa. By a quirk of fate I was given a Canadian Tire MasterCard, which I didn’t deserve having gone bankrupt twice, but it allowed me to book my flights. I had found an apartment in Ajijic that was cheaper than just my room in Belleville. A lot of research told me the cost of living was much cheaper, so off I went last September.

I fell in love with the area the first day I arrived. My apartment was even better than I expected and thanks to my new friends, Francis and Anastasia, I met a lot of great people who I thought were going to be great friends. A couple of weeks after I arrived I met the love of my life, Elba. It quickly became the relationship of my dreams. I had never had this kind of love before. Relationships are always complicated but this one was just incredible. Despite our age difference of twenty years and the fact she spoke no English, every minute together was pure magic, for me at least. Although not what was intended when I gave her a replacement ring on New Years everyone congratulated us on getting engaged. Her two sons, Jonathan and Kevin, loved calling me Dad and her family kept telling us to hurry up and get married. I had never been so happy in all my life.

My plan to just check out Mexico for six months quickly changed. I needed to go back to Canada to apply for my temporal visa to return to Mexico and get married. Elba insisted on joining me on the trip although I told her I could not afford her flights, so she agreed to pay for them. I have gone into great detail on what a total disaster the trip was in another post, so I won’t repeat myself here. As far as it relates to this post what happened only contributed to where I find myself today. When we returned and she ended our relationship in a simple text message it nearly killed me. It was the hardest thing in my life. I felt totally worthless and just wanted to end it all. The future was destroyed and I didn’t even know why I was back in Mexico now. Getting married and all the dreams we had shared together were now shattered. I saw no reason to go on.

Thanks to a couple of good friends at the time they convinced me that I wasn’t worthless and urged me to go on. Time heals all wounds. Not true for me. My life had been turned upside down and the wonderful memories of our time together have haunted me everywhere I go. I also had no clue why she had so abruptly dumped me. Still don’t. She refused to tell me why. She refused to answer my pleading text messages or talk to me. At one point she simply said she wanted me to “disappear”. What a great thing to say to someone who’s suicidal.

Then a month or so ago I discovered I had only twenty-eight dollars in the bank and I whole lot of month left. I had also run out of my critical medications for my diabetes. No food. No meds. No hope. I reached out for help from anyone. I offered to sell an interest in my website business. I applied to the local Canadian Legion for a small loan to get me through. Although a couple of people offered small amounts of money for food this was not a solution to the mess I was in. After a day of not eating and drinking far too much, which is not normal for me, I was crying my eyes out in horrible depression and just wanted to end it all. A friend sent over a doctor and two of her colleagues to talk me down. She offered help in not letting them take my dog from me. She offered help with money and some work. She offered help with getting my meds. She gave me hope. She took my bottle of rum, which considering the condition I was in was probably a good thing.

The next morning they came without warning and took my dog, Rollie. Then despite all the offers of help Dr. Lupita basically disappeared on me. Luckily John Kelly, President of our local Canadian Legion, called me and we had a very long conversation. We talked about getting my meds through Seguro Popular, which I didn’t even know was possible. We talked about a small loan from the Legion to help me get things in order, most importantly to keep my business alive that I had worked so hard on for so long. Again, that glimmer of hope appeared.

Now, three weeks later that glimmer has gone dark again. Seguro Popular said they can’t help me with any of my meds. My blood sugars have been hovering around thirty, which is very dangerous because at thirty-two you risk slipping into a coma. Although I couldn’t afford the hospital anyway, falling into a coma would mean the end because no one would discover me in time. At least I would go quietly and not need to deal with suicide.

All the horrendous issues coming at me every day, like the numerous issues with my idiot landlord, like no hot water, no electricity and no internet, were just daily hurdles that challenged my patience, but nothing was worse than what happened with my “friends”. The reaction to my painfully honest post about ending it all was such vicious attacks on me. How these people could be so cruel and not get how dangerous their mean words were to someone already on the edge just baffled me completely. The only way for me to survive was to block and ban them. I simply couldn’t take anymore.

That no one in my long list of six hundred supposed Facebook “friends” gave a damn came as quite the shock. Even my new found granddaughter, Mackenzie, didn’t respond. I had been so looking forward to meeting her finally when she came to Mexico for a wedding next year. I apologized that I would not be here and explained why, but even that got no reaction from her. I got the same reaction from colleagues back in Canada, some of whom are rich beyond compare. I had sent detailed investment proposals to them, not just investing in the website business. Things that would make them a lot of money, but got zero response.

Still fighting not to just give up I started a GoFundMe campaign asking for just a dollar. I had seen sixty or seventy million people view and comment on the dumbest things so I thought they might be willing to invest a single dollar. Not a single response. I even asked my famous friend Andrea Pearson to add a post on her Facebook page encouraging people to visit my campaign but got nothing other than a private message that she hoped things would improve for me. I even asked her if she might donate that first dollar to kick start the campaign, but got nothing. My life is not even worth a person donating a dollar? How’s that for “is that all there is?”

I’m not looking for pity or charity. I am looking for a reason to go on. I just hope that anyone who knows me understands just how hard I’ve tried to go on. Without my critical meds it will all be academic soon. I don’t know how I will be remembered, if at all. Maybe just some nutcase, but I just want anyone who ever cared about me in any way to know how hard I tried.




The decision to move to Mexico involved a lot of research before I made the final decision. My time in Belleville was coming to an obvious end because I had overstayed my welcome at the group homes I had been living in. That and they had put my rent up from $379 to $479 which was a lot for a single room and not affordable on my lowly pensions. First I considered going back out west where I had spent fourteen wonderful years, the best of my life at that point. There were two factors that convinced me that moving back would not work. The first was that the cost of living had skyrocketed. The apartment that I had rented for a time for $350 a month was now being rented for a thousand dollars! The Okanagan was now becoming a place only the rich and famous could afford. The other and more important issue was that my life would be a pale shadow of what it was before, for many reasons. My mum and dad were now gone and my relationship with my brother and sister was over for many reasons. I also wouldn’t have all the toys I had before, like my dirt-bike, my boats, and my snowmobile. No biking with my Dad which we had done for years. No floating on the lake tied up to other boats and no skiing. I wouldn’t even be able to afford things like my roller-blades, which I did every summer on Sundays, or bike the Kettle Valley railroad which I did many times. Yes, life would be a lot different. The only good thing would be going dancing at the Corral and my many wonderful friends, and, of course, living in the most beautiful place in Canada. 

My thoughts about Mexico were tempered by my very poor experiences in both Panama and Ecuador. I wondered if Mexico would be the same, but it was worth investigating. Life is timing and something happened that made Mexico possible. My credit rating was terrible because of my bankruptcies and how I left BC for Panama, owing everybody. When I first bought my bicycle a while ago Canadian Tire had a credit card promotion. They suggested I buy the bike on credit and pay for it right away. I would get some kind of points so I didn’t see any reason not to take advantage of the promotion even though I knew I would never get a credit card. To my considerable shock, they sent me a card with a two hundred dollar limit. Over the next few months, everything I bought went on the credit card and I paid it off immediately. Before I knew it they were increasing my credit limit, over and over. finally to an absurd ten thousand dollars! They even gave me another promotion where I paid off four thousand dollars and got another four thousand dollars of credit with no interest. So, even though by this point I owed them a lot of money I had enough credit to get a flight. At the time I had zero idea how I would ever pay it all back but at least I could go to Mexico. Yippee!

Now that I had the flights possible I started researching where to go and discovered the Lake Chapala region. My first impression looking at photos is that it reminded me of the Okanagan. A very similar lake, at least I thought so (I was wrong) and surrounded by mountains. Looked great. Then I started looking for rentals and found an apartment in what’s called La Floresta, an upscale neighborhood. I contacted the owner to see if I could get some photos of the place, but he didn’t have any. That’s when I met Francis Dryden. He was kind enough to go over to the apartment and take some photos for me. It looked really good and the rent was six thousand pesos a month, less than I was paying for just a room in Belleville. I agreed to rent it and sent the owner the one month deposit. It looked like I was on my way to Mexico!

As it turned out I fell in love with Ajijic the day I arrived. It was so beautiful and the weather was incredible. I met the owners, Perry and Kathy, of the apartment and it was everything I expected. Francis and his wife, Anastasia, were just wonderful those first few days after I arrived. They took me out just about every night that first week. We did the bars where fantastic groups were playing. This is when I first met Jonathan, who was playing in the Ajijic Jamm Band at Adelitas, a place that would mean a lot in my future. I made so many great friends those first few days. I didn’t think I could ever be happier, but I was wrong.

On Monday nights it’s impossible to get a table at Adelita’s but Francis and Anastasia had a permanent reservation so I usually sat with them. One fateful night my friends Bill and Violeta were sitting at a table with the most gorgeous, sexy girl I’d seen and they invited me to sit with them. I asked her to dance despite being terrified that she was way too much for me, but we were great together. It turned out she smoked so we went outside for a cigarette. When we finished she snapped her fingers at me to go back in. I said she wasn’t my wife so don’t be snapping your fingers at me. She responded with those fateful words. “Come on baby”, about the only English she knew. It was a moment I will never forget. The night ended and I honestly thought nothing would come of it because she was way too gorgeous to be attracted to me. She was also twenty years younger than me so I knew she wouldn’t be interested in me.

Fast forward a few days later and I get a call from Bill. They are at La Bodega and he says she, Elba, wants me to come. I am surprised, to say the least, but I figure she just wants someone to dance with, so off I go. It’s hard for me to describe the night as anything more than magical. At one point we go for a smoke and it just seemed to be the right moment to try to kiss her, so I gave her a little peck. She responded with the most passionate kiss I’ve had in my life. To make a long story short she moved in with me and it was pure heaven. We were so in love, the best I’ve had in my life. It’s a long story I told elsewhere but we got engaged that New Year’s Eve. Life could not have been better. I was so happy.

Not only was she the unconditional proverbial love of my life, but her family also made it all even better. When I went to stay with her in Guadalajara over the holidays I was going to meet her extended family. I had already had Jonathan calling me Dad and our relationship could not have been any better. I was so nervous about meeting her mother because I was Canadian and more because of my limited Spanish. No sooner had we got to her mother’s place and I met her and chatted a little than Elba told me her mother really liked me. I was so relieved! It was the same with all her other family. On Christmas Eve I met her other son, Kevin. We had a great night and the last thing he asked me if he could call me Dad. When we met her brother he said “welcome to the family”. Given what had happened with my own kids abandoning me for years Elba’s family was the new family I now had. I was even more in love even though I thought that wasn’t possible and I was so very happy.

She ended up coming with me to Canada to apply for my temporal visa so I could come back to Mexico, to get married. Little did I know the tragedy I was about to face. 

Our trip to Canada was the trip from hell. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. They took my tourist visa by mistake in Mexico City so they wouldn’t let us on our flight to Toronto and then they wanted nineteen thousand pesos to book another later flight, which I refused to pay, of course. It was a nightmare and I had quite the argument with AeroMexico because it wasn’t my fault that the guy had kept my visa. Finally, they agreed and put us on standby for a much later flight. This was going to screw up everything from our booked train to Belleville and our hotel reservations. The hotel turned out to be yet another nightmare. It was also the coldest I had ever experienced in March. It was freezing and I worried that Elba couldn’t handle it because she had never been anywhere that was this cold. Regardless of the problems we had she was a trooper and handled it all beautifully. It just made me feel even more in love with her. We spent ten days together, going through every challenge imaginable but somehow we survived.

Our flights were equally screwed up on the way back. Somehow AeroMexico had us booked on different flights from Mexico City to Guadalajara. Not great but they were short flights and only an hour apart. When we got to Mexico City I reminded her that the time was an hour different so she needed to go early to catch her flight. For some reason she ignored me. I kept telling her that she should get to her gate. She finally went very late and of course missed her flight. Now more grief with AeroMexico. I had to pay another three thousand pesos for something that was clearly her fault, not mine. Now she was booked on another flight later than mine. 

When we finally got together in Guadalajara this was the first indication I had that something was wrong. We needed to find an apartment for the end of the month so I thought she was coming back to Ajijic. Instead, she said she was going to her apartment in Guadalajara because she “had an appointment the next day with her lawyer”. I sensed that was a lie but I figured she would come the next day after. When she did come to our apartment I was out for a few hours. When I came back she had a bunch of her clothes packed, plus some of the ninety pairs of shoes she had brought from Guadalajara. When I asked her what she was doing she said we were going to get a smaller apartment and there wouldn’t be room for all her things so she was going to sell some of them. Again I sensed that was another lie. When we went to Adelita’s she didn’t sit with me. She sat with some of her girlfriends. When I asked her to dance she said no for the first time. When we finally danced she kept looking at the floor instead of laughing and looking at me. I knew something was very wrong. She was supposed to come back to our apartment but instead she said she was going back with Jonathan to her apartment. Now I was really worried. 

That night the most fateful, distressing, hurtful, life-changing thing happened. She sent me a text in Spanish ending our relationship. Although I knew something had changed after we came back, I never thought this was ever going to happen. I couldn’t deal with what had happened. I had no idea why she had done this and begged her to talk to me, but she refused. To this day, a year later, I still have no clue what happened. I fell apart, crying for days and felt my life was over. I felt totally worthless. I considered swimming out in the lake far enough not to make it back. I saw no point in going on. It was the first time in my life that I considered just giving up. I barely made it through the most difficult time of my life.

A year later I’m still struggling, even more now because of other problems. The apartment I moved into last May has been a nightmare because of the landlord from hell. There’s probably been a least a hundred days that I’ve had no hot water but he refuses to repair it, whining that he has no money. He has no clue about a landlord’s legal responsibility to provide basic services. The electricity has been out for days. The internet, which is so critical for my work, is up and down every day and often down for hours. I’m currently in the midst of trying to find a place for the end of the month but so far nothing. The biggest issue I’m facing is with my meds. Another long and complicated story but I’ve now been without most of my diabetic meds for six months and I have no idea how to get more. I am at great risk of having a heart attack or stroke, neither of which I can afford if I end up in the hospital. It doesn’t look good. 

When I first made the decision to come to Mexico I knew I had two problems. One, my meds and two, my pensions. I had started working on the city portal site for Ajijic, something that I had done in both Panama and Ecuador. I had done a ton of research on websites here but they all had an ulterior motive like selling Real Estate. There were no sites to provide information to both tourists and residents. I figured it would be possible to make enough to replace the pension I was going to lose because I was out of the country for more than six months. It would also allow me to get my meds, most of which are cheaper here in Mexico. So far despite my best efforts, I haven’t made a dime.

And now as is said here’s the rest of the story. Shortly after the breakup, my good friend Don Row asked me if it was okay to date Elba. He had already told me when I first met him that he would have gone after Elba if she hadn’t been with me at the time. I told him he certainly didn’t need my permission because she dumped me. They recently got married so I guess it worked out for him. 

A Fool In Love

Despite my horrible experiences in both Panama and Ecuador, including my fiancee in Ecuador who just ripped me off, I wanted to give it one more try with Ajijic, Mexico. Anyone who follows me knows how I was thrilled with Ajijic from the minute I got here. My plan quickly changed from spending six months here and returning to Canada to finding a way to never leave here. That was before I met the love of my life.

The first night we met she was sitting with two of my dear friends, Bill and Violet. I asked her to dance and she was an incredible dancer, plus we seemed to have an instant connection on the dance floor. She was absolutely gorgeous and I knew this might be trouble.

When we went out the front of the restaurant to smoke and finished she sort of snapped her fingers and told me to come back in. I pointed at my ring finger and said she wasn't my wife. She replied in perfect English, "come on, baby". How could I resist that? After every subsequent smoke she said the same thing. One time as we came in I said to her if she was my wife one night with her would probably kill me.

I went home that night thinking how much I liked her, but at the same time believing that there was no way a girl like that would go for me. I could not have been more wrong.

The following Friday night she was out with Violet and Bill and Violet called to ask me where I was. We had got our wires crossed about an earlier dinner with the Munch Bunch. I reluctantly said I had just got home from the dinner and couldn't go out again. Not ten minutes later Elba phoned me to tell me she wanted me to come down.

The next day Bill phoned me to say that Elba wanted him to invite me down to La Bodega that night. Still somewhat surprised that she wanted to see me I agreed and met them there. To say that it was one of the best nights of my entire life would be a gross understatement. We danced. We talked. We laughed. We had a great time.

At one point the band played a slow song and we were the only couple on the dance floor. I did my usual fancy footwork, the kind that only a woman who has danced with me for years can get; but Elba was there step for step. It was a very romantic dance. When we went out for a smoke I told that was the best dance I had had in my life. She smiled and said she was going to tell me the same thing.

I thought it might be a good time to sneak a little kiss to sort of test the waters. She responded with the most passionate kiss I had ever had. From that moment on we were hugging, kissing and holding hands the rest of the night. It was pure magic, tainted only by the fact that she had to go back to Guadalajara the next morning. It all ended far too quickly.

The next morning I wondered if it had all been a dream and she wasn't feeling the same way as I did about her. I sent her a text message and the next thing I know we're texting each other all day Sunday and most of Monday even though she's back at work. She was coming back Monday night to Adelita's so I booked a table for us with Bill and Violet again, their friends Bruce and Helen who are visiting Violet from Washington, and Jack. It was yet another wonderful night. She was supposed to be staying at Violet's, at least that's what she told her son, Jonathan, but when they first arrived at my place he brought in her luggage, so there went that plan. Obviously her son is far too smart to be tricked.

Obviously as a gentleman I can't tell you anything about our weekend, except to say that it was literally the most wonderful, amazing, romantic, happy as hell weekend of my entire life. Despite our obvious language differences we talked for hours and hours. We discovered we had more connections than anyone either of us had been with before. To be corny, but blunt, I was the first time in my life that I knew what true love really felt like. She was quite literally the women of my dreams.

We've been together for coming on two months now and although we've had some communication issues, mostly because of the language, we're still very much in love. She's retiring at the end of this week so I am hopeful that she will be able to spend more time here in Ajijic.

Stay tuned.



Friends, Romans, lend me...okay, friends. HELP!

Sadly I lost my oldest and dearest friend with whom I spoke for hours before deciding to move to Ecuador. She was very helpful and helped me make that important decision. If I had to make a guess I think her hubby wasn't keen on her talking to me for hours. So be it, but now I really don't have anyone to bounce ideas off of to know if I'm just crazy or thinking straight.

The issue is what do I do with my life and where do I go from here? Ecuador obviously turned out to be a disaster on so many levels, not the least of which was the falling Canadian dollar which meant I could not afford to live there, or anywhere for that matter. When I made the decision to move to Ecuador after months of research I never planned to come back to Canada, ever. As John  Lennon famously said "life is what happens while you're making other plans". So very true for me.

The last couple of years have been more the result of a series of unfortunate events. Things certainly did not go as planned in Ecuador, forcing me to return to Canada and somehow end up in Belleville, Ontario, the very last place I ever thought I would be. I viewed it all as temporary to just give me time to figure out what I was doing and sort out some of the messes I had, like needing to replace my passport (still a nightmare). Living in the reno was a big mistake but I appreciated the help when I came back with no plan. Then I moved into a group home in Belleville, then to another one a few months later and stayed for over a year. Again, not planned. My time was up at the group home and I ended up in the hospital and also had nowhere to move to once I got out. Graciously I was allowed to move to yet another group home but with only three months max. As I have for the passed several months I've been looking for an affordable room from Trenton to Kingston. Having visited Kingston last year several times I really like the city. There is so much more to do there than there is in Belleville.

The issue with finding a place in Kingston is the thousands of students who live there during the school year. They pay outrageous rents, or should I say Mom and Dad pay them, plus they rent for the whole year when they are only attending college or university for eight months. It's crazy! I need something under five hundred at the most and that's hard to find. In the meantime I'm also looking in Belleville only in case I can't find anything in Kingston.

The primary issue here is whether it matters where I live here in Canada. I've been researching a place in Mexico to death, called Ajijic (Ah-hee-hick). It sounds wonderful but so did Panama and Ecuador. The climate is described as the second best in the world. Unlike Panama and Ecuador it's not hard to find things you are used to because the Walmart is just down the street. Food is cheap. There's tons of things to do. There's a very large Expat community, many of them Canadian. Spanish is the local language but apparently even most of the locals speak English, mostly those working in the stores and restaurants. The community in both Ajijic and Lake Chapala, which is not far away, is vibrant. Everything I learned encouraged me to start designing a city portal website. It's called AjijicToday.com but it's not ready for the public yet. My primary goal is to create a unique business directory for people to find things and then charge modest fees for local businesses to become members. Eventually I want to expand the city portal sites to everywhere in Mexico and hopefully generate enough income to replace my lost pension.

Obviously a big consideration is housing. It's not cheap and most rentals are in US dollars, which is worth far more than our Canadian dollar these days. The dollar has closed under 73 cents recently. Not good. I have found a gorgeous fully furnished house in a gated community with a pool. It's two bed two main bath so I would need to find someone to share it with for the six months, October to the end of March. If I look at the prices for a small one bedroom apartment I could easily get three hundred dollars in rent, leaving me paying less than three hundred a month, which I could handle. I've been in touch with the owner and he has confirmed that everything is included. I only need to buy propane and that's only a few dollars a month. I can take the bus anywhere I need to go.

A new wrinkle in things just happened. I was sipping a coffee when I suddenly felt something metal in my mouth. I spit it out and it turned out to be a decades old gold crown that had fallen off. I went to the dentist hoping that they could recement it back on, but no luck. It was worn down very thin and had a hole in it that could not be repaired. I asked how much a new crown would be and was shocked when they said a thousand dollars! Not a prayer I could ever afford that. As you may know dental costs in Mexico are far less than in Canada. I've asked a friend to check for me but I think we're probably talking two hundred max. That means putting eight hundred towards my budget for Mexico. Although I doubt I will ever have any extra money, a few years ago I had an estimate done on all the dental work I needed. It was over four thousand dollars and that was without the crown. I assume that I could get whatever I need done in Mexico a lot cheaper. Might even be worth putting it on my MasterCard if it's that much cheaper.

The first consideration is whether I can stay where I am for another three months. Given the normal terms of transitional housing, which is a maximum one year stay, I am confused as to why I was only given three months here. In all of their homes there have been exceptions to the rule, often for those who don't deserve it. I have been a model tenant, always paying my rent on time and helping out wherever I was. If Mexico is in the cards for October and I am out of here at the end of June that means I only need somewhere for three months. Obviously it would be a lot better for me to simply stay where I am for an additional three months, but I don't know if that is even possible. First job is to ask.

If I can't stay here then the decision is do I find somewhere, anywhere actually, to live until next year when I might be better able to go to Mexico. There are issues with that of course, like paying probably more than five hundred a month for a simple room, which will eat into the budget for Mexico. If I can stay where I am that puts another hundred and twenty-five dollars a month for three months towards my airfare and getting a new passport. Also, according to people I am chatting with in Mexico I can rent a decent place for far less than the five hundred a month I would be paying here in Canada. Everything costs a lot less in Mexico, especially food which is very expensive here. I figure I am spending at least three to four hundred a month on food here and that's just for the basics.

Yet another factor is what do I do with all my "stuff"? Over the last year and a half I have invested in far too many things for my own good. Much of it was things that where I lived didn't have, like a coffee maker, dishes, utensils, even cutlery. For work on my websites I invested in a Dell 27" monitor because the screen on my laptop is too small for my failing eyes. Back when I lived on Foran the TV was monopolized by guys who loved sports and not much else so I rarely got to watch any TV. I was at Best Buy on Boxing Day and they had an amazing sale on a Toshiba 43" TV/Monitor. The guy I was with said they probably had an extra TV box and there was a cable running to my room, so I jumped to buy the TV. That didn't work out and I tried to sell the TV at a huge discount but never did sell it. It's now our TV at the new house but the owner hasn't expressed any interest in buying it, so either try to sell it again or leave it here at this house until I return to Canada. It's not something I could easily put in storage because it didn't come with a box.

Thanks to the dollar store and some of the really cheap places in Belleville to get stuff I have far too many clothes to take plus many of them are things I would not need in Mexico, like winter coats and boots. If I'm coming back it would not be for the winter months so I wouldn't need any of it, but just like what happened when I intended to move to Ecuador, I gave all my winter stuff to Value Village, then needed it all again when I was forced to come back to Canada. To be safe I think I need to put anything I don't need in Mexico or won't fit into my luggage in storage. That means renting a locker at about fifty dollars a month, but I think that's the safest route given that I will be coming back in April next year when I will have a better idea if I am moving to Mexico permanently or not. Not sure about things like my bike or my bird feeder. What was I thinking? lol

A very big consideration is family, just like it was with Panama and Ecuador. Although I will never understand it until the day I die and not even then, my family has abandoned me long ago. I haven't spoken to my daughter in almost twenty-five years, despite ongoing efforts to reconnect. My son has blocked me on Facebook and I've never met four of my grandchildren. My son's oldest daughter requested that I remove her photos from this website. Really hurt. One of my grandkids has just recently connected with me on Facebook and she was very upset that her parents had prevented her from making her own decision on whether to connect with me or not. I'm beyond thrilled that we have chatted. The issue with moving to a place like Mexico is the same one I struggled with for Panama and Ecuador. The choice was to sit here in Canada, waiting, possibly forever, for my kids to change their minds and reconnect with their Dad, or go, knowing that if they expressed any desire to reconnect that we could Skype or I could come back to visit them. I hate to accept that I will die without ever again seeing my family, but it's been something I cannot force. I've tried everything to no avail.

Well, there you have it. Confusing, eh? If you've read this far, well, congratulations! I would honestly welcome frank opinions from anyone, no matter how blunt. For the first time in my life I am very confused and not able to make a firm decision. I've usually made a list of the good and bad to help me, but this time there is so much to consider, so much that could go wrong, and all of it tempered by my experience with Panama and Ecuador.

Women or culture in Ecuador or maybe me?

Anyone who has been following me knows that I intended to move to Ecuador back in December of 2014. I had done months of research on where to go to live out my life. I knew that I could not survive in Canada on my limited pensions so I had to find a country with a lower cost of living. I was also a little sick of winter so I was looking for a good climate, not too cold or not too hot. Ecuador appeared to fit the bill on just about everything. I knew that there would be culture shock, but I felt that I was prepared from my time in Panama.

Even with the much lower cost of living in Ecuador I still needed to find a way to earn some money, partly because I would lose one of my pensions, the GIS (Guaranteed Income Supplement) after six months out of the country. I knew that Ecuador was becoming a retirement destination for Canadians and there wasn't a lot of good websites with factual information about Ecuador so I created a website, WelcomeToEcuador.ca. I intended to sell advertising on the site to make a little extra money, plus I hoped to travel the country taking photos and writing a blog. That was the plan.

Prior to actually leaving I met a women on Facebook, Anna, who initially offered to help me find a place to live. Over the course of several messages she eventually expressed an interest in working for me on the website. I knew that I needed someone who spoke Spanish to deal with clients so it was a good fit for us to work together. She arranged for a driver to pick me up in Quito and because her English was very good we kind of hit it off. She was also very attractive which was a bonus. She ended up helping me with things like going shopping for food and dealing with the person who turned out to be my landlady, Jessica. I had only booked a week at Balcon de Lago but ended up making a longer term deal when I could not find an apartment in Otavalo. More on this later.

Since the first day we met I had been asking Anna to come over so we could discuss the business, but she kept delaying it saying she was busy. Finally we set a date and time for her to come over in the morning, but she never showed and never called which I wasn't impressed with. Then we set another day for her to meet with my landlords to discuss the longer term arrangement. She said eight o'clock in the morning and I reminded her that she wasn't all that reliable that early in the day, but she insisted. Eight o'clock came and went with me sitting at the table with a bunch of people who spoke no English, awkward to say the least. Then Anna shows up an hour late. She comes in like a queen with no apologies for keeping everyone waiting an hour. All I could think about was if she would pull this with clients. I questioned if this was actually going to work out.

The meeting with my landlords involved me telling Anna something in English and then she would translate. I had to trust that she was saying the right thing to them and that they understood what I wanted. After I thought we were all in agreement apparently we weren't. My landlady came down to my cabin in tears because she and Anna had quite the argument on the phone. Somehow she understood that Anna was just trying to find me another place to live which really upset Jessica. I knew that this was the end for Anna and I. I emailed her my concerns and that ended us.

Fast forward a couple of months of things not going very well with my landlords. Among the many issues was the situation with the fire. My place was freezing and I could not work without having a fire going constantly. I had expressed concern about the lack of ventilation and they were going to install a fan but nothing was ever done. One fateful night I felt tired and thought I would just lie down for a bit. Big mistake! Jessica came down, which she had never done before, and tried to wake me, which she had also never done before. When she could not wake me they called an ambulance and rushed me to the local hospital in Otavalo. I woke up some three hours later and remember the doctor saying that I would have been dead in twenty minutes from carbon monoxide poisoning. It's a close to death as I had ever come and certainly freaked me out. Apparently it also freaked Jessica out because she asked me to move out, and in only a couple of days.

At one point she had come to me and asked me to prepay two months rent because they "needed the money". I wasn't crazy about that because things were not going well so I agreed to pay her one month in advance. When she asked me to move out we had a discussion about the rent she owed me, the firewood I had paid for, the two bottles of rum they had drank on me, the DirecTV I had paid for that I never got and we agreed on her giving me two hundred dollars. When my taxi was loaded ready to go I asked her for the money but she said she had not been to the bank. I offered to take her to the bank but now she was apparently waiting for a check from someone. She said that she would come to Cotacachi and pay me the money. She never came and that was in February 2015. She just ripped me off.

When I planned to move to Ecuador I had gotten a six month Visa in Canada, planning to file for my residency when I got to Ecuador. I was going to pay for my residency with the money from my GIS pension, which I had been told I would receive by the end of January. That did not happen. It took me months to finally receive the GIS, which caused me a lot of grief. I had to go to Guayaquil at the other end of the country to apply for my residency. It was around this time that I realized the issues I was going to have getting my meds, most importantly my insulin. Obviously I could not survive without my insulin so it looked like I had no choice but to return to Canada. The Canadian dollar had also crashed and I was already struggling to live so paying for my insulin was out of the question. I had sent my facilitator, Katty Fajardo, three hundred and fifty dollars, the government fee to get my cedula but had told her to hold off until I knew if I was going to be able to get my insulin. I emailed her that I could not and would need to return to Canada so I could not file for residency. I asked her to return my three hundred and fifty dollars along with my passport so that I could fly back to Canada. She refused to return the money or my passport. I had to jump through all kinds of hoops and get a temporary passport so I fly. Although she did return my passport it had been cancelled. So she ripped me off for my three hundred and fifty dollars and cost me a lot of money to get another passport.

Shortly before all this happened I met a woman who I admittedly fell in love with at first sight, Patricia. Our short but passionate romance was amazing and we planned to marry as soon as I could return to Ecuador. I was going to be back in Canada for what looked like six months and we knew it would be hard to keep our relationship strong but we were sure that we could. We talked just about every single day on Facebook and things were going well between us. She was struggling financially and of course I was living on only my pensions so it was very difficult for me to help her, but I did. I had sent her my bank card and every month I sent her money that I really could not afford. Before I knew it I had sent her five hundred dollars US, money that she agreed to repay me when she got her twenty thousand dollar settlement from her ex. I also sent her a hundred dollars to give to my friend, Dutch, but she used the money saying she would pay him back. Then she took the fifty dollars from the fundraising campaign account, saying she would return it. Then she moved to Quito out of the blue, blocked me on Facebook and will not respond to my emails. Total ripoff six hundred and fifty dollars American.

So my question is if all this was just the different culture of Ecuador, the wrong women or was I responsible? If it's my fault what exactly did I do wrong?

More to the story...

Interesting that my last post about Ecuador was September 7th. I knew that I had no choice but to return to Canada, mostly because of the falling Canadian dollar, but I had no idea what was about to happen to make my life even more complicated.

On one of my many nights at The Bar I met a woman who I admittedly fell in love with  at first sight. I thought she was with a friend of mine because I had overheard him say something about his "girlfriend". Turned out to not be true but I didn't know that at the time. She came out to have a smoke and we talked probably for an hour or more, even though she didn't speak a word of English. She told me she ran a spa in town and you can bet I planned to go there. I offered to walk her home but she declined. I was confused by the fact that she left alone when her supposed boyfriend was still in the bar.

My friends, Deb and Dutch, had planned a going away party for me at The Bar. I had run into Bobby and Becca from my favorite group. Three Shades of Grey, downtown and asked if there was any chance that they would play that night and they immediately agreed, which was awesome. Not quite sure when I asked her to come, although I think I had run into her downtown one day at the market. I asked her to bring her mother to encourage her to come but The Bar is not popular with the locals so I didn't know if she would come or not. She did. 09_25_01

The minute she walked in the door she took my breath away. She was gorgeous. Although it was a bit of an unusual affair because there were many women who I wanted to dance with on my last night, I still got to dance with her. We were good together. At some point during the night we ended up outside for a smoke and I asked her about the "girlfriend" thing. She laughed and said he was only a friend, not a boyfriend. I found that very encouraging.

As the night came to a close I invited her and her Mum back to my place, hoping, of course, that her mother would decline, but she didn't. We talked and we danced, but the funniest part was every time her Mum went to the bathroom we would kiss and fondle each other, passion raging unchecked. At one point I mentioned that I was hungry and she disappeared. She came back with a full meal made from stuff I didn't even know I had. It was delicious. On top of everything else I loved about her she was also a great cook.

The night came to a close and they needed a taxi to get home, although it wasn't that far to walk, but it was late and maybe not that safe to venture out at that hour. My regular taxi guys would have long since gone home to bed so I wandered out on the street hoping to find one. Luckily there was a concert still going on just down the street and I found a taxi for them. I felt like a hero when I came back to my place and they were waiting outside, although I regretted her leaving.

No sooner had they left than I got a phone call from her telling me that her sister had locked them out of their place, so I told her to come back. Her mother got the bed and she and I pulled the cushions off the couch and chair and put them on the floor. I want to keep this post rated "G" so I won't go into details, but let's just say that it was interesting trying to stay quiet when her Mum was in the bed in the next room.

Dutch and I had planned a parting dinner at Jeanine's the next night so I invited her along, thinking that Dutch would be okay with that, which he was. When she arrived, right on time, I was a little sorry that she and I basically took over the dinner because his Spanish was too rough to understand her. For me it's the little things that I'm impressed with, probably because very few women had ever done those little things. When we got our soup, mine a broccoli base, I think and hers, tomato, she asked me if I liked it, which I didn't. Without a word she immediately switched our soups against my protest. Then she buttered my bread for me. Again, little things, but I was impressed. After dinner we wandered around town doing things she needed to do. The funny part was she held my hand and hugged me, but only when no one was around to see us. She said it was a small town and people would talk if they saw us.

She ended up spending the night at my place and again, let's keep it clean, so no details. Let's just say that it was incredible to say the least. I was falling totally in love with her, more than I had with anyone for a very long time. I knew that this was what real love was about, for the first time in my life.

09_29_01Over the next few days we spent some amazing time together, but, of course, nothing had changed for me to stay in the country, so that weighed heavily on our relationship. Because that b*tch had stolen my money and refused to return my passport I had to go to Quito to the Canadian Embassy to get a temporary passport so I could fly. She came with me and we had a wonderful bus ride down, talking and laughing the entire trip. In Quito I got to meet her son who I instantly got along great with. He was very happy that his mother had found someone to marry, yes, marry. That was the plan. On the trip back she suddenly grabbed me to get off the bus for some unknown reason. We ended up walking down to Puertolago, a five star resort on the lake. We shared a drink 09_29_02outside and it was very romantic.

As our final night in Cotacachi approached I knew that I wanted this last night to be something to remember. I phoned Puertolago and got a special deal based on promising them promotion on the website. Our driver, Dillan, picked us up and she had no idea where we were going. Finally the suspense was killing her so I told her where we were going. She was delighted. We had an incredible time at Puertolago. We enjoyed a fabulous dinner. We played some pool. We sat on the porch overlooking the lake. She had brought a bottle of champagne for us to celebrate our last time together, at least for a while until I came back. That was the plan.

Our driver picked us up the next morning to take me to the airport. Leaving her was a killer. There were a lot of tears but I planned to come back as quickly as possible, although I sure had regrets about leaving.09_26_0109_29_03 It was not a fun trip back to Canada. All I could think about was how I was going to get back to her and get married.

As many people know, long distance relationships are tough. Ours was even harder because we had the language issue. My Spanish was rough but we managed to talk on video for hours. Still, there were times when we just didn't communicate well. She began really pushing me about coming back, ignoring the many challenges I had with things like getting a new passport, a new criminal record check and all the documents I needed for a visa. She was trying to get a special visa based on me returning to marry her, but this worried me. If we didn't end up marrying, which was a possibility that she had raised, I would be stranded in Ecuador and forced to again return to Canada. I wanted to get my six month visa again and then apply for residency when I got there so that I would be protected from leaving again. That did not sit well with her and our relationship began to suffer.

Then all kinds of things happened with the business, none of it good. She introduced me to a lady who was going to sell for us. It so happened that she was gorgeous and soon my lovely fiancee was jealous of her, suggesting that maybe I wanted to marry her instead. All ridiculous but it showed me a side of her that I wasn't crazy about. Soon things really started to unravel and it looked like the marriage was off and the relationship was over. It was a very tough time for me because not only had I lost the love of my life, but now my whole future was in jeopardy. I didn't know if I would ever return to Ecuador now.


Why I don't regret leaving Canada

There was a recent article in CuencaHighLife about why Expats go home. Many try to avoid that I told you so from friends and family by making up a cover story. It's a sick parent that needs care. My kids need my support. I need surgery and would feel more comfortable having it at home. Many simply admit that they miss some of the things back home, like Christmas with family or being able to shop at Wal-Mart.

This got me thinking about my own decision to move to Ecuador and, most recently, the thought of being forced to return to Canada if I couldn't get my residency here, on which I came close. What would I be returning to? Basically I would have been homeless in Toronto, a city I loathe. My pensions would not have been enough to live on pretty well anywhere in Canada. I would have my meds paid for which helps, but, as my dear friend put it, I would basically be "molding", waiting to die. Not much of a life.

As with any major life-changing decision, there were many, many factors involved. Someone said to me that you need to consider why you are moving to somewhere and not why you are moving from somewhere. That's easier said than done. I knew that I was far from happy living in London, Ontario and had to make some kind of move. It boiled down to leaving the country or moving back out West where I had spent fourteen of the best years of my life.

The problems with moving back out to the Okanagan were numerous. First and foremost, it's very expensive to live in the Okanagan. It's become the lifestyles of the rich and famous to live there and my pensions would mean I could barely afford rent. At sixty-five there's little chance that I would find any kind of employment and for the life of me I couldn't think of any business idea that would make me some extra money. The other issue was lifestyle. My wonderful years in the valley were spent with numerous friends and loads of activities, pretty well none of which I would be able to do now, both from a financial standpoint and my deteriorating health. My life was full of physical activity, like skiing, roller-blading, dirt-biking, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, playing racquetball, hiking, biking and dancing two or three nights a week at the Corral. When I first left the Okanagan to go to Panama I sold everything I had. I no longer had any of my "toys" like my snowmobile, my dirt-bike, my boat, my truck or anything like my water skis, my cross-country equipment or my downhill skis. I would be starting over with nothing and my health would mean I couldn't do pretty well anything anyway, so moving back out West was ruled out.

Another huge factor about moving out West was that my parents were now both gone. I originally had moved out West back in 1993 to be with my mother who had been diagnosed with fifth stage melanoma and was only given a five percent chance of living another six months. She defied all odds and lived until 2007 so I got to spend a lot of great times with her. Although my relationship with my Dad was rocky at times, we still had great times dirt biking around Kelowna and in Revelstoke. They lived on the lake in Westbank so we had a lot of great times at their place. After Mum was in a home I had sold their place, so that was gone now. My sister had pulled my mother out of the care facility I had worked so hard to get her in and that was a total disaster. I blame her for basically ending my mother's life, for which I cannot forgive her. My brother was useless from the start and couldn't even care for Mum for one day to give me a much needed break. It boiled down to not having any family out West.

As for my own family, when I came back from Panama to Toronto in 2009 I hoped I would be able to reconnect with my kids and meet my five grandkids as well. Despite my best efforts I had not seen or even spoken to my daughter since moving West in 1993. My brief connection with my son when he found himself in trouble with the law about his work ended just as quickly. We had reconnected briefly when his job brought him to London but that ended badly as well and we haven't spoken since. Despite my horrible situation with my kids I am a strong believer in family and hoped that we could put things back together, but my dear friend again said I could sit around waiting for them until I died. If I moved to Ecuador and somehow magically they wanted to reconnect there's always Skype and I could return to Canada for Christmas maybe. It sounded like a much better alternative.

Of course living in Canada means dealing with winter. When I was out West I loved the winter because I cross-country skied two or three times a week. I ran the hiking club even in the winter. I snowmobiled around Kelowna and mostly in Revelstoke with my brother-in-law and we had a ball. I downhill skied at Big White and Silver Star as often as I could afford. I even got to skate on the lake one year when Green Bay froze. Once I moved to London, Ontario the winter was just cold and miserable. I froze waiting for the buses. Driving was horrible. I never did a thing in the five years I was in London and it was just plain cold. Nothing was good in the winter. I knew I wouldn't miss it a bit.

Since arriving in London I had worked all day, every day, trying to find a job and I had applied for over a thousand jobs and never got one interview. The only job I got was at a call centre, Stream Global, the worst company I had ever worked for in my entire life. I was making the grand sum of eleven dollars an hour, thirty percent of which went to my landlord because I was in a geared to income building. Revenue Canada also came after me and got a garnishee for another thirty percent of my income, so I was left with pretty well nothing to live on. As I approached sixty-five I accepted that I was never going to find a job anywhere. I had been accepted into a self-employment program but that was running out in December so I would only have my pensions to live on. I was also looking at London Housing and ODSP coming after me for undeclared income which would only make things worse. I had declared bankruptcy and had just finished the two years paying for it and didn't want to go through that again. I knew that they couldn't touch me in Ecuador.

So, I get it. If I had a great relationship with my kids and grandkids naturally I would miss them terribly and this might well make me want to return to Canada to be with them, but this isn't the case, much as I wish it were. Christmas? I've spent the last five years alone with no real Christmas. Friends? Despite my best efforts I was never able to make a single friend in London. It's a cold town. Winter? Nothing to miss there. I much prefer year round spring here in Ecuador.

Finally, is life in Ecuador perfect? No. Things are a lot different here. The language barrier is huge and I need to improve my Spanish. The pace of life is a lot slower and getting things done can be frustrating. There's a ton of things I miss, like being able to buy my much loved President's Choice products or treating myself to Wendy's. I can't get things shipped overnight like I so often did in Canada. I can't go to see a movie in 3D. It's hard to find products you are used to, but you make do. The most important difference is that life here is a lot more affordable and less stressful, so it's all well worth it.

So, I have no regrets about the decision to move to Ecuador. Not a one.


Costa Rica or Bust

September 29th, 2012

It was that time again. Three months since my last "out of the country" trip required for my tourist visa. The friend I had gone with before, LizAnne, had just received her pensionado visa, so she didn't need to leave the country again. I really didn't want to go and spend four days sitting in a room by myself at the hostel in Sabalito.

I was also very worried, with the new immigration laws in Panama, that I might have problems coming back into Panama and would be lost without the language skills. I thought of going to Puerto Viejo this time, just to check it out for my websites, and my friend, Magaly, wanted to come along. Having no money (another story) I decided to get creative and I emailed a number of hotels in the area, offering to do a story for our website. One, Banana Azul Guest House, offered me a special rate of $25 a night, much less than the normal $79, so we booked three nights.

Did lots of research on the various bus schedules, David to Changuinola, then to the border, then to Puerto Viejo and we were heading off early Thursday morning. My worker guy, Amilkar, suggested we rent a car and he would drive us to the border, and possibly all the way to Puerto Viejo if he could get the car into Costa Rica. It would only cost us $15 more than the bus, so that sounded like a good deal. He was to take the bus to David early to get the car and then pick us up around nine. As usual with Amilkar, he didn't show up until 10:00, and we were off.

He said he knew a "shortcut" going to Caldera and then connecting with the highway to Bocas, which would "save us" an hour or more. The word "shortcut" is always dubious, and this turned out to be true. We ended up on roads that a four by would find challenging, so we ended up crawling along, trying to avoid the huge rocks that would rip the bottom of the little Toyota off. No time saved at all, although much more adventurous.

We took the turn-off for the highway to Changuinola and this relatively new highway is beautiful, except for the oh so scary old railway bridge you need to cross. They are building a new one right beside it. Not a moment too soon. We crawled across the broken wood pieces, worried the wheels were going to drop into any one of the large gaps.

We finally made Changuinola around four something, Panama time and headed to Panama immigration. The last time I had entered Panama it was on a Sunday and there was nowhere open to buy the necessary stamps, so the border official had just initialed my passport. At the time I remember wondering if this might be a problem for me if I got stopped for ID in Panama. It was now!

We stood in the stifling heat for an hour, watching the frenzied officials run back and forth between offices, on the phone and in heated discussions about what we were going to do. Finally they got it sorted out, with much help from Magaly, and let me pass.

The bridge between Panama and Costa Rica is beyond description. This old railway bridge is literally falling down around you and even walking across is an adventure. It's hard to believe big tractor trailer trucks use it. When a truck comes across you have to do your best to get out of the way or be killed.

We got to Costa Rican immigration and filled out our forms to enter the country. Magaly handed my passport to them and they did their thing, then stamped it. As soon as she handed her documents to the official I saw him shaking his head back and forth and knew this was not good. Although her documents were perfectly valid in Panama, the customs guy would not accept them for Costa Rica. This sent us into panic mode. We had no idea what to do. Magaly was obviously upset, but she said she had no choice but to return with Amilkar to Boquete and not go.

Just then a guy who had been watching all this came up and, in perfect English, suggested he might be able to help. I knew this would come at a price, so I asked how much. One of the best lines I've heard from anyone was when he said, "open your heart". lol. I said my heart said twenty bucks, so he said to go to a restaurant and come back in an hour when his boss had gone home.

We spent a very worrisome hour going over all the options, finally deciding, out of desperation, that we would just continue on and take our chances at getting stopped. Even if we got stopped I simply suggested that we had stopped at customs and, for whatever reason, the official had forgotten to stamp her documents. Bad plan, I know, but we were desperate.

I sent Amilkar back to the border to see what was happening and he phoned me and told me to come to customs. Her documents were all ready to go, magically, after paying the ridiculous bribe of $40 of course. $20 for him and $20 for the customs guy.

So now we went looking for the bus to Puerto Viejo, which I knew cost about three dollars each. We asked at the restaurant where we catch the bus and they directed us to the bus terminal. A guy standing nearby at the restaurant said we had missed the last bus, which had left at 4:00. Obviously upset at more problems, we thought we should go to the depot to check this out for ourselves.

When we got to the terminal another guy said the next bus was at 6:00, which meant about a half hour wait, but at least we could get a bus. Then yet another guy reminded us that Costa Rica was an hour behind, so that meant we had to wait an hour and a half. Not great, but at least we could take the bus as planned. So we said our goodbyes to our friends, and prepared to wait by the parked bus.

A few minutes later I guy came up to us and asked what we were waiting for? When we said the bus to Puerto Viejo, he laughed and said we would be waiting a long time, because the next bus wasn't until the next day! Naturally he was a taxi driver, who offered to take us for the princely sum of $40!!! By this point we were growing ever more frustrated, and we had no real choice, so we loaded into his taxi.

No sooner had we traveled a few hundred meters down the road than the driver slowed for the police check. Magaly and I quickly realized how foolish it would have been to not have her documents correct. Had we not done this and taken our chances, not only would she be sent back, but Amilkar was gone. I told the driver we were staying at Banana Azul and he said nothing, so I assumed he knew where I meant. We hit Puerto Viejo and he pulled up in front of Casa Verde and stopped. When we asked what were we doing here, he said that is where we said. When I said, no, I had clearly said Banana Azul, he had no idea where that was. We stopped to ask someone and soon discovered it was twenty minutes back out of town.

When we finally made it to the hotel, hours after we planned to arrive, the only good thing that happened was that we were greeted warmly. I gave them the briefest of details on how challenging it had been to get here and the first thing I said was now I didn't have enough money to pay for our hotel when we arrived, as I had promised. They said not to worry. Go put our bags in the room and come down for a drink.

With all the problems we had that day neither of us had eaten a thing, so we were starving. We dropped our bags and headed to the restaurant/bar. Michel came up and said, on behalf of the hotel they would like to offer us a free drink of our choice. We met Franklin, the bar tender extraordinaire, who made us two of the best drinks I have ever had in my life. We then had an amazing meal, Cordon Bleu with vegetables to die for. This was obviously a very expensive place and we had no idea what the meals cost, but we were so frazzled we didn't much care at that point. We later learned it was $10, which was a bargain for such an amazing meal.

After more drinks and a fantastic meal we headed up to our room. The room was amazing, with an incredible attention to detail. Photos and knick-knacks and beautiful hand laid tiles in the bathroom and plants and hand crafted wood furniture. It was completely open to the outside, which made me wonder about insects. In researching hotels in the area they all made mention of mosquito nets, but our room didn't have one. Turned out we didn't need one and we slept like babies with the doors wide open and the ocean breeze and the sounds of the waves.

We awoke early to the sounds of light rain on the roof. It soon stopped and it's amazing how quickly it turned warm. We showered and headed down to the restaurant and had a delicious breakfast - real bacon (one of the owners is Canadian, so naturally bacon is high on his list), homemade tostada and excellent fried potatoes with peppers and onions. A great start to a "new" day.

We headed off down the beach on the twenty-five minute walk to town and wandered around checking out the town. There was nowhere to get colones in Panama, so we stopped at the Bank of Costa Rica to exchange our dollars. I wish I had taken this opportunity to check that my debit card worked as my bank, HSBC, had told me it would.

We stopped at Might Rivers for ice cream and met Lealea, the owner. We had delicious chocolate ice cream in waffle cones and shared some great conversation with her. She mentioned that because Costa Rica was so expensive she traveled over to Panama "all the time" to shop for groceries. When I said that must be such a pain going through immigration all the time, she said, no, she just walks across the bridge and never stops. The only time she does stop is, like me, when she is doing her Costa Rica/Panama three month trip. I had to wonder at spending my $40 now for Magaly, if Lealea just goes back and forth all the time! Crazy!

Headed back to the hotel, showered and changed for dinner. Michel had told us that there was an excellent steak house run by Argentinians where you could get an actual USDA steak. We weren't sure about walking the beach at night, but Roberto told us all we needed was a flashlight, which, of course, we didn't have and the hotel was out of them too. Magaly showed me that her amazing little phone had a flashlight, so we headed off. We remembered from our walk down during the day that there were a number of little streams we had to cross, but Roberto assured us it was low tide and we should only have one "small" one to cross.

We fumbled along in the dark and eventually came to the "small" stream. It was not so small. I had to take a run at it and jump over and barely made it. Magaly wasn't so sure she could make it and it was quite comical to watch her count down one, two, three and not actually jump. Eventually she took off her shoes and waded across.

We found the restaurant and I had my very first real steak in eight months. We each got two bacon wrapped filet mignons, cooked to perfection. We started with salads that came with a most unique and tasty homemade dressing. Fresh warm bread. Two very good drinks. Pricey at 27,000 calones, but worth it, and everything in Costa Rica is pricey.

After dinner we wandered around town, taking in the nightlife. Lots of open air bars with great music playing, some of it live. I had a craving for chocolate and we remembered going by a place called "Bread and Chocolate" so we attempted to find it. As we got there they were just closing the door, but the guy said we could still buy something to go. I got the best piece of chocolate cake I have eaten in my life, and Magaly got a brownie that she said was equally amazing. About 4,000 calones for both.

Earlier we had gotten the phone number for a "taxi" guy who agreed to only charge us $3 for the ride to the hotel, as opposed to the $4 everyone else charged. We quickly discovered that Magaly's phone didn't work in Costa Rica, as she had been told it would, so we had to take another taxi from the taxi stand in town.

Magaly had been receiving numerous text messages from her kids back in Boquete, but for some unknown reason, she couldn't send them replies. When we got back to the hotel I thought I would try my Skype and it said the messages were sent okay, but the kids never got them. Frustrating!

The next day, Saturday, our first task was to head to the bank to get more money, then we were heading off to Punta Uva, a beach we were told was very secluded and perfect for swimming and snorkeling. Our driver stopped at BCR and I went into the ATM. My card didn't work and all we got was some cryptic message in Spanish that even Magaly couldn't understand. We had passed this huge line of people waiting to get into the actual bank, I thought, and we knew we would be standing there for at least an hour before getting into the bank. I asked the driver to go and check with the security guy that my card would work in the bank and he said yes.

After standing in the hot sun for an hour we finally got close to the door. I could not figure out why they only let one person in at a time and wondered why only one staff would be working on a Saturday. As we got close to the door I saw the sign on the door that they closed at noon, and it was a few minutes to noon. I could only envision that, after standing there for an hour, they were now going to close in front of us. The security guard soon started handing out numbers to the people in line, so this looked promising.

It was finally our turn and we entered what we thought was the bank, but it was only one teller in a small cage. I handed him my debit card and he immediately said "no". After an hour I was in no mood to hear "no". I showed him the symbol on my card, which was the same one as on the bank, but he said this only worked for Visa, which I did not have. I tried to suppress my growing anger and explained to him that we had asked the security guy, an HOUR ago, if the card worked and he had said yes. Didn't matter at all to this guy and he simply repeated the "no".

Now we were in real trouble. I did not have enough money with me because it is never smart to travel anywhere with a lot of cash and my bank in Panama had assured me that my card would work. I called Michel at the hotel and explained my predicament. He said to come back to the hotel and we would figure something out. I was hoping that Michel would allow me to write him a cheque and give me the cash.

Just before we had left for Costa Rica I had changed my PayPal account to my prepaid MasterCard from my now defunct bank account. Michel suggested he could use PayPal to make a payment to the hotel and then give me the cash. I had no idea how much money was left on my card but tried to get something on it. To my considerable surprise it worked! We could still eat!

So we headed back to town, intending to rent a scooter for the day. We figured we would go out to Punta Uva for some beach time, the go back to the hotel to shower and change, then head into town for dinner and back. We wouldn't need to return the scooter until mid day the next day, so we could make a lot of use out of it to travel around and save a lot in taxi fares in the process.

The driver took us to the scooter rental place and I asked Magaly to check exactly what they needed to rent a scooter. After the fiasco at the bank I just was expecting problems now. She came back saying just a credit card, so we paid our driver. Smart man. Luckily he didn't leave us.

I handed the girl my card and she immediately told me it was no good, because it didn't have the raised lettering. I explained that I did not want to charge the rental to the card; I would pay cash. No good. She said she needed the raised lettering to run it through the machine. I explained she had the numbers and the ID from the back of the card and if we took with her damned scooter she could charge the card. No good.

By now I was losing my patience with Costa Rica and all the challenges we had already. I asked her why people in Costa Rica made it so damned difficult for tourists? Her answer? "Well, if you don't like it maybe you need to go to another country." The Puerto Viejo tourist board would just LOVE her attitude!

Thankfully we saw our taxi driver sitting across the road, waiting to see that we were okay, which we were not. We asked him to take us part way out to Punta Uva and drop us off and we would walk the rest of the way. He showed us where he would drop us off and that it would be about an hour walk from there.

Despite wearing my 45 sunblock the previous day Magaly has gotten a bit of a burn on her shoulders, so we thought walking the beach for an hour in the blazing sun was probably not a good idea, so we headed down the road. We had been told there was a trail through the jungle beside the road, but, of course, there was no trail. There was almost no shade on the road, so it was not good for Magaly's burn. We managed to find a store along the way where I bought her a sun umbrella, so that was better for her. We asked where this trail was and were told to turn at the Internet place.

We walled and we walked and we walked, forever, but finally came upon this little grass shack in the middle of nowhere with a sign that read "Internet". The trail was right across the road and it lead down to the beach. Although there was little more shade available there, it was the most beautiful beach I have ever seen. We walked and we walked and we walked. I thought we would soon be back in Panama, it was so far, but we eventually, two hours later, came upon Punta Uva. There are no words to describe how amazingly gorgeous this beach was.

We were starving and knew there were two restaurants at Punta Uva. We came to the first one, which was so beautiful, with little private thatched huts with one table. We were greeted by Pancho who made us two more amazing tropical drinks and brought us the menu. There was so much to choose from. We decided on salads and hamburgers.

When they brought the salads, the presentation was just amazing. The large square bowls were filled to overflowing with excellent greens and they had placed little flowers around the outside of the bowls. They were delicious.

The cheeseburgers were equally amazing. They were huge and were on the most unique tasting bun, more like a pita bread than a simple bun. They came with the most delicious, obviously homemade, fries. We finished off with chocolate sundaes, which were the only small disappointment because the ice cream had bits of ice in it, no doubt because it is a challenge to keep ice cream in this climate.

When we talked to Pancho about our web site he had Mark, the owner come over and talk to us. He told us they had only been open about a month and a half, and offered to email me some more info for our site. We had also been served by the lovely Anna, who wandered around in her bare feet serving people. All so very tropical. We had arranged with our driver to pick us up and the other restaurant at six, so we headed off to find it. Yet more walking, but we found it, had a Coke and headed down to wait on the beach. We enjoyed the most beautiful sunset. Our driver showed right at six and we went back to the hotel.

We fully intended to shower and change and head into town to see the nightlife on a Saturday in Puerto Viejo, but we laid down, just for a quick nap, and woke up the next morning. No doubt because of all the walking we had done and we were exhausted.

Sunday was by far the best day we had on our trip. We had originally planned to return to Panama on Sunday, but I realized we had not crossed until about 5:00 Panama time on Thursday, so I hadn't spent the required 72 hours out of the country. Although this had not been a problem when we returned through Rio Sereno, the challenges had at this border at Sixiola made me think we might have trouble. If they made me wait until 5:00 o'clock there was no way for us to get back to Boquete by bus at that hour. So, we decided to stay at least one more night and return on Monday.

We were enjoying our breakfast of pancakes with fruit, when Roberto came up and asked if we were interested in going on a tour he was organizing for the guests. First we would visit the sloth rescue center, the visit the "chocolate lady", then get to swim in a mountain waterfall. It sounded good, so we said yes.

We left for the sloth rescue center at 10:30 and traveled for about forty-five minutes up towards Limon. The most amazing part of the trip was that, after traveling the mostly four by four roads in the area, we were on a perfect paved highway most of the way. We didn't think any such thing existed in Costa Rica.

Although the presentation was a little long, and it annoyed me that it was only in English, even the movie, which meant Magaly hardly understood a word, it was interesting. We especially enjoyed seeing the babies. They were all so darned cute!










From there we headed up towards Bribri to visit the "chocolate lady". She was quite the treat herself, taking us to see the cocoa tree on the property, then giving us a demonstration of all the steps required to end up with chocolate from the fruit. She only spoke Spanish, but a girl who I assume was her daughter, spoke perfect English and translated as her Mum spoke. At the end of her demonstration they offered us a chance to taste a wide variety of different flavors of chocolate, some pretty strange, like pepper chocolate. Naturally they had lots of product for sale, but, as much as I like chocolate, the thought of it melting in the van stopped me from getting any. In her own cute way Magaly had been giving me or denying me permission for chocolate anything on the trip, and the frown on her face told me I best not buy any anyway.

From there we headed further up the mountain, past Bribri, where we stopped for some much needed junk food, at my request because I was starving. We parked the van and started up the mountain. It was a most arduous journey as we crossed back and forth across the river, stepping on slime covered rocks and doing our best not to fall in. Three of our group didn't manage to avoid falling in, and one guy watched his camera disappear down the river. The trail grew ever more slippery and steep and it was incredible that no one bought it on the way up.

Yet one more crossing and the waterfall came into sight. Again, no words can explain how gorgeous it was. Everyone quickly stripped off down to their suits and headed into the pond beneath the waterfall. Even this was a challenge as the water was way over your head and we had to shimmy down a slime covered tree laying in the crevice between the rock walls to get to the waterfall.

Stupid me, when I reached the waterfall I jumped into it, not realizing that the water was cascading down several hundred feet from above. It hit my body like so many pieces of concrete. It was an instant full body massage. Not painful, but very intense, to say the least.

The trip down was a little better and this time no one managed to fall in. It all took a couple of hours to to the trip, but worth every second of it. An experience I will never forget.

We had been told to try the bank in Bribri, the National Bank, so our driver graciously agreed to stop for me. No luck though, as we only got yet another cryptic message that even he couldn't understand. I was growing more panicky as we had no way to pay our hotel bill, but neither bank had worked, so we didn't quite know what to do. Washing dishes for a very long time came to mind, although we certainly would not mind staying longer at the hotel. lol

Monday we planned to have one full day just lying on the beach at Punta Uva, just to try to avoid any more problems, get some sun and totally relax our last day, to be ready for no doubt yet more challenges on the trip back to Panama. I talked to some of the other guests and a couple agreed to share the taxi with us to Punta Uva.

It turned out that two of them had forgotten that they were scheduled to go rafting and had left leaving their apologies. Skylar also said he was going to grab a bike from the hotel and go into town, so we ended up going alone. On the tourist guide map for Puerto Viejo it showed that the Punta Uva lounge was closed on Mondays, so we were glad we had planned the trip for Tuesday.

When we mentioned to a girl at the desk how much it was to get to Punta Uva, she said she had a friend who ran an actual legitimate cab with an actual meter. We soon met Kale, who drove a clean new four by with air! When we got to Punta Uva the meter read 4,500 calones, about $9, much cheaper than the private guys. We made arrangements with him to pick us back up at 4:00 o'clock. He said he had to go to Limon, but he should be back. If not he would get his partner to pick us up.

We had borrowed some beach chairs from the hotel and set them up in the shade. We laid our towels out in the sun, intending to catch some rays later, then go for a swim. Not an hour later the sky started looking very threatening. We laid down on our towels and were glistening in minutes. It was so hot and the sun was so intense. Just as we planned to go into the water there were some lightening strikes and the sky looked even more threatening. We decided it was best to avoid going into the water and headed up to the restaurant, which, of course, was closed. Can't win for trying.

One of the locals explained that there had been several events planned for the area on Mondays, so the restaurants had all decided to close on Tuesdays instead. GGGrrrrrrr! She said one might be open, the one we had stopped at before, so off we headed for yet more walking. After the challenging climb the day before, neither of us were in the mood for yet more walking, but we were starving.

To our considerable delight the restaurant WAS open. Yippee! We had one of the best meals ever there. Huge salad and had the penne and Magaly had a chicken sandwich. We were stuffed.

The sky had opened up and it looked like it was only going to rain all day now, so we had the restaurant call Kale to see if he could come early. He was still in Limon but would send someone else. It turned out to be a private guy, who, once we got back to the hotel, tells me it's 7,000 calones, about $14. I protested, informing him that we only paid 4,500 calones to go in the other direction. No good. He wanted his $14. More ggrrrrr.

Can't remember which night it was now, but one night we had gone into town to eat at Chilly Rojos, a place that had been recommended to us by the hotel. It was a fun place, absolutely packed but the owner offered us a drink at the bar while we waited, which was about two minutes. We enjoyed an excellent meal of chicken falafel. Very tasty and not too expensive. Only about $10 for both of us, minus the not so good drinks. Small and bar mix.

When we had first booked the hotel Colin had said we could stay in the Ocean View room, up on the second floor for one night, but we would have to move for the next two nights, into the sloth rooms, which were in the separate, original house. To our delight after the first night they said they had managed to reorganize and we could stay in the same room.

When we decided to stay another two nights they didn't have room at the hotel, but Michel gave us the "little house" which was where he had lived when he first came here from Montreal, and which was just a short walk down the road. It had a bedroom and a kitchen, which meant we could now cook and avoid the expense of eating out. It was a very cute, very Costa Rican house with a thatched roof and a separate building with a suicide shower and a separate toilet room. All very quaint.

Monday we had gone into town and shopped for dinner and breakfast stuff - bread and coffee and juice. That night we cooked together for the first time. The hamburger had looked a little dubious at the market, more gray than pink, so we had bought frozen patties. We had hamburger with my special mushrooms, fried potatoes with onion and delicious fresh green beans. Felt like we were married and in our own place. Fine with me!

Much to our regret we had to leave on Wednesday. We had arranged for Kale to pick us up at the hotel at 8:00 o'clock to get us to the bus which left at 8:30. We were up at six and ready early so we headed to the hotel to pay our bill, hopefully, and have one last breakfast at the hotel. Michel most graciously agreed to let me write a cheque, so that wasn't a problem. The problem is only that I barely have the money to cover it, but that's yet another story.

After the expense of getting here we were pleased that the bus to the border was only 1,500 calones, $3 each - a whole lot better than the $40 cab ride here. It took just over an hour to reach the border at Sixiola. Just before we got there I reached into my pocket and found the keys for the little house. I thought I remembered Michel saying they only had one set, so I panicked at what to do to get them back to him. I asked a taxi at the border if he would take them back, but of course he didn't know if he would have a fare or not that day. Our ever so helpful "guide" at the border suggested he would take them to the bus driver who could leave them at the ticket office in Puerto Viejo for someone from the hotel to pick up. This came with a price, naturally. He wanted the equivalent of $10, but he got what change I had left on me, about $4.

We were in and out of Costa Rica customs in minutes, walked back across the bridge and stopped at Panama customs. I had this lump in my throat and could almost feel myself shaking at what might happen, with the new law and all the challenges we had the first time crossing. I was dealing with moving and watching our luggage so Magaly took my passport in. Except for not having change to pay my $5 fee, everything went smooth, to my considerable relief. I should learned by now that this only meant something bad was about to happen.

We asked where we caught the bus to Changuinola to get the bus back to David and were quickly informed that there was a strike on and there were no buses running between Changuinola and David. There was a guy with a van who would take us to Almirante instead and we could get a bus from there to David. Instead of the $3 naturally it was $10 a piece instead. We had no real choice so we piled into the van with a whole lot of other people.

When we got to Almirante we were surprised to see a gorgeous highway coach sitting there, the kind with air and a washroom and comfortable seats. I just knew it couldn't be ours, but it was! For the very first time on this whole trip I was pleasantly surprised, because the fare to David was only $7! A true bargain compared to everything we had been experiencing the last six days in Costa Rica.

We had planned to catch the bus back to Boquete, but quickly realized we would need to pay extra fares for all our luggage. I suggested we see if we could possibly find a cab who would give us a good price. We got off the bus and Magaly approached a taxi, who agreed to take me to my place, then Magaly to hers, for $15, not much more than bus fare and then taxi fares back in Boquete.

We got home around three, exhausted, totally broke, but happy to be back in Boquete. I was welcomed home by even more problems with the house, but I won't go into that here.

My First Day in Boquete

Friday, December 28, 2007

My first full day in Boquete. Bit of a crazy one. Sonia had helped me shop yesterday. I bought a coffee maker ($7), cream, sweetener, and coffee. Went to brew coffee this morning and what I didn't buy was filters. So much for my morning Java fix. I was starving so I headed off to the Panama House – the one that was closed yesterday.

As I came out my gate Harland was standing in front of his place, on his cell phone. I said a quick Buenos Dias and kept walking. He called me back and asked where I was heading. When I said coffee he asked if I minded if he and his son and his son’s girlfriend joined me. Obviously no.

We were there in two minutes and he knew the owner well. We sat outside to smoke, but his son and girlfriend sat at a different table. My first thought was how gorgeously warm it was and I harkened back to standing in Westbank waiting for the bus. Quite the contrast now. Harland and I started yacking. He has been here four years and he is a fountain of information about relocating to Panama. It was excellent for me because he covered all the ins and outs of what is really the truth here – who you know and who you pay what to to get things done. He will no doubt prove to be a valuable resource for me.

I was really struggling with the no hot water issue, and I got my first, expensive lesson in dealing with the Panamanians. I was talking to Karinthya online and told her I could simply not live without hot water, so I would be moving and hoped her Mum would treat me fairly on the rent and my deposit. She called her Mum and a few minutes later told me her Mum had agreed to “fix” the hot water. Knowing things are all too easily “lost in translation” I said I wanted to be perfectly clear on what exactly “fix” meant. She asked what I thought it meant, and I replied that replacing the water heater that they removed was my idea of “fixing” it. She agreed, and told me Sonia would meet me at the house.

When Sonia got there she proceeded to turn on the infamous "suicide" heater in the shower to show me that it worked, as though somehow this is what I wanted. When I said, no, I wanted hot water to the whole house they started making calls to find out the cost. Garcia was totaling up some numbers on a piece of paper and wrote what looked like $760.00, which came as a shock to me. When I reacted Sonia showed him his “1” looked like a “7” and we laughed. But they were obviously waiting for some indication from me that I was going to pay the $160. At this point it was either pay or find another place, possibly losing my deposit in the process. Harland had said there were nicer places, but they were not in town, and they were around five hundred a month – more than my limited funds would allow. It also looks less and less like I am going to be able to afford a vehicle, at least not until the house sells, so moving out of town is not an option at this point.

Garcia agreed to drive us to David to get the water heater at the Do-It Center and we would install it tomorrow. Still not sure what “fix” meant to Sonia, but at least I will finally have hot water. They are also going to replace my broken taps.

On the way out we stopped at their house, which was very nice. I met one of their daughters, Deanna and her daughter, Michelle. I had mentioned to Garcia that I was mucho humbre (hungry) and hoped we could stop in David when we got there. Before I knew it Garcia and Sonia were cooking away. They made the best spaghetti I think I've ever had, along with fried bananas and fresh pineapple juice. We sat outside on their patio and enjoyed a great meal. Deanna lives in Costa Rica and her English is better than Sonia’s or Garcia’s, which isn't saying much, but it was nice to be able to have more than broken word conversations.

Off we headed to David – one guy who hardly spoke English and one guy who hardly spoke Spanish. It was an interesting drive, but somehow we managed to talk all the way there and back. At least I know my numbers in Spanish now, well, up to ten anyway. I got a big kick when, if there was a moment of silence, he’d start with “uno” and we went up to ten.

We got the water heater, a better coffee maker and a toaster, of course both of which I have at home. I hate spending money like this, especially when I don’t have it, but I have to live. And the way things are going I certainly cannot afford to eat out, despite the lower prices. The money has to last or I’m in bigger trouble than I was. It would have been incredible to have sold the house and everything I owned and came here with the money to be able to do what I wanted to do. Maybe it’s just not my destiny to be “stress free”.

I was writing this at Roxane’s, The Grill House, salivating over trying my first steak. The place was packed and there was a line-up outside. I asked a waiter if I could sit at a table outside to smoke and got a “si, senior”. I was going to try my first beer, but no one came to serve me. The window behind my table was open so I asked a waiter to come. Again, “si senior”. Fifteen minutes later, still no one. Two girls who had sat down only a few minutes earlier got service from a guy I assumed was the owner within minutes. I was not impressed.

Then through the window I hear a group of about ten Americans place a very large order, so I knew even if I did get served it would be an hour before I saw food. I got up and left.

Sonia and I had eaten at a very nice place, the Rendezvous, yesterday, so I thought I’d see if it was still open, which thankfully it was. The owner greeted me, but spoke zero English, so I was struggling to order from the all Spanish menu. Just when I thought we had got it straight, he comes back babbling away in Spanish. I thought maybe he was asking me what kind of steak I wanted. After my “no comprende” he went in and came back with the girl who served us yesterday. She broke out in a big smile, obviously recognizing me from yesterday, which was nice. I told her about my horrible experience at Roxane’s and she said they were all family here at this place, and she would take good care of me. She’s cute and had no idea what I thought take me of me meant to me. What he was trying to say was to ask me how I wanted it done. Language is always an adventure.

Karinthya is a big fan of what happens does so for a reason. Not only did I have a fantastic steak but I met two wonderful people – Paolo and Samuel. She was from the Bahamas and he was from Switzerland. They spoke Spanish but more often French, so I got to dust off my grade 10 French. After dinner I invited them to walk back to the house, which they did and we had many drinks and laughs and good conversation. I wish they lived here in Boquete as I think we would have become great friends. Paolo gave me her email address and asked me to let her know how I was doing. Now if I could only meet someone my own age that is as nice as her.

Tomorrow we install the water heater and I can hopefully have a shower, one without zapping myself. I am supposed to take Karinthya, Hossman, Garcia and Sonia out for dinner tomorrow night to thank them for all the help they have provided. With not having a car I would have been lost without them. Karinthya and I did speak about me going with them to Bocos del Tora for New Year’s, which would have been a blast, but the way I’m spending money I didn't count on, I can’t afford to go anywhere.