Sunday, October 18, 2020

COUNTDOWN TO PANAMA: A MIXTURE OF EXCITEMENT AND FEAR

by Gary Stamper



If all goes well, I will be landing in Panama City at 1:58 in the morning on Tuesday, November 3rd. I anticipate an easy tour through Panamanian Customs in spite of having to take a COVID test before I can enter the country. I could have arrived at a better time for almost twice the money.  I must be on the pauper flight.

The test will cost me $30. I could have taken a test in the U.S. (at a cost of $180), but if I failed, I understandably would not be allowed on the airplane and would have to reschedule everything including airline flights. lodging reservations, attorney, and immigration appointments. Because of the care I've taken, including what I consider to be my successful COVID immunity regimen and extreme self-isolation, I really don't anticipate that happening.

I'm sure my daughter's friends think I'm a completely anti-social liberal, paranoid, or both, but social distancing and masks don't seem to apply in Texas unless you're in a store where it's required by law but often ignored. At 75, I'm okay with being cautious to a fault.

IF, on the outside chance I were to test positive upon arrival, Panama would require me to quarantine for seven days in a hotel room that they would pay for, but even that's a much better outcome than not getting there.


About That Mixture of Excitement and Fear... 

I'm not sleeping as well as I'd like. Part of it is age, but I normally don't have a problem falling back to sleep. I have a technique I developed that generally allows me to fall asleep in about 30 seconds (yes, it used to piss off sleeping partners). But then there's that anti-meditation monkey mind that is particularly busy in times of stress, and no one can doubt that even without moving to another country, these are probably the most stressful times many of us have ever experienced.

I accept the inability to sometimes quiet my mind between the hours of 3am to 6am in spite of twenty years of meditation. It doesn't happen often (maybe a couple times a week), but when it does, my mind races with all of the things I have to do and what I'm afraid I might miss. It's obviously a bit of overwhelm, and I miss having a partner that I could experience and share the stress with,  as well as the division of responsibilities, although I wouldn't wish that on anyone.

Of those 2-3 nights a week when my monkey mind is in full bloom, two out of three times I'm generally able to quiet my mind and fall back to sleep.  When I can't, I accept it and get up and do something productive. It doesn't matter what, but I try to address the "why" of my racing mind and if I can't hone in on it, I go to my task list and find something that needs to be done and just get busy. Nothing like a little concentration and accomplishment to quiet me down.

So what's going on that's contributing to this mix of excitement and fear, self-exploration wants to know?

Well, of course, leaving the country I was born in and having lived what I consider to have been an extraordinary life would be stressful under the best of conditions, and these are not the best of conditions, some external, some internal. Let's examine the external conditions first.


Politics and Worldviews

Let's start with the obvious: The world is still in the midst of a pandemic. As of this writing, the US is averaging more than 55,000 new coronavirus cases a day, and 10 states reported their highest single-day case counts last Friday. Now, only two states, Hawaii and Vermont, are seeing a significant improvement in their numbers. It’s the same story in Europe. 'Nuff said...

If you're a regular reader of my FB page or this blog, you probably know where I stand politically and philosophically. The U.S. has always been an imperfect democracy and depending on one's race, gender, and economic standing, we'll each have a different perspective on how imperfect. Regardless of any of the above three criteria, perspectives can change with developing our ability to feel and experience compassion and empathy. 

That we, as a nation led by a narcissistic psychopath who lacks both compassion or empathy (don't forget integrity), stand where we are today, breaks my heart. As a privileged white male, I completely understand that my perspective is limited, and that to a degree, my ability to move away from the political pathologies, are in some ways, indicative of that white privilege. I am grateful that I've had the opportunities I've had growing up and living here, but am also intensely aware that a lot of people around the world have not had positive "accidents of birth."

Under "normal" circumstances (whatever the fuck those are), I might have been willing to stay and "fight for my country," but there other "circumstances" at play, my age notwithstanding. Long time readers of my work will understand how man-made climate change has also affected my decisions. From a global perspective and as an American citizen, I realize that while I'm also a victim of, but more responsible for, human-caused global Climate Change than most people.


Damned if we do, damned if we don't.

My long-time readers will also be aware that I believe that we reached the point of no return of being able to "fix" the climate damage we've caused in the latter part of the first decade of this century.  That means that nothing we can possibly do at this point can reverse the damage that industrial civilization has caused. Even if we were to stop all contributions to climate change today, this juggernaut of successive tipping points of "irreversible feedback loops"  will continue to grow and heat up for at least another 10,000 years.

But we're not going to turn everything off, because that would mean the end of civilization and life as we know it.  Not doing anything, which is what we're doing now, also means the end of civilization and life as we know it. Damned if we do, damned if we don't.

I'm no longer willing to fight "losing battles." What I am willing to do is to try to be a model for how to make the most of what we have left and that is to live with as much grace and integrity as possible. Does this mean the end of humanity or all life on the planet? Possibly, but I won't address that here. What is irrefutable is that no matter who wins the election, life is going to drastically change for all of us. How fast it happens is the question...

For me, I'm choosing the way I want my life to change, consequences, and all. So are you, consciously or unconsciously. as always, not choosing is a choice.


Internal Fears: the "Biggie"

More difficult to flesh out are the internal fears that exist in each of us and I'm no different from anyone else with mine, except these are my fears... what shows up for me in the internal realm, the shadows, the hidden parts that we don't want to face.  As someone who works with men and the light and the dark shadow of masculine (and feminine) archetypes, I may have a bit of a head start on these compared to most.

When doing shadow work, we typically look at the dark shadows of ourselves, but, yes, there are light shadows, too. These are often self-limiting beliefs that prevent us from realizing how big we can be! Many men are more afraid of failing than anything else. This comes from being told things like "you'll never amount to anything,"  "you're no good,"  and "you're stupid" or "evil" by our primary caretakers, teachers, religious, and other authority figures.  

English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (see Hobbes and Locke) believed that men were inherently evil and that they should be ruled by absolute kings whose absolute authority could not be questioned as men were incapable of ruling themselves. The Hobbes and Locke political debate continues today and somewhat explains the major differences between liberal and conservatives. Shadows of the light are often created by people who haven't done enough work around their own dark shadows.

I have my own "light" shadow about not being "good enough." It shows up in later stages of decisions I've made that others think are "stupid" or "careless" (like moving to Panama). "Who do you think you are?" is one I've sometimes heard.  Another I've heard is "all my friends laugh at you behind your back." These kinds of statements - which are actually projections - are designed to keep you in "your place." Once I got over the shock that someone I loved and supposedly loved me, would try to hurt me this way, I quickly realized that the statement was bullshit and that it said so much more about them than it did about me.

My most powerful shadow is around money and finances and I've been working on this for a long time. I've never worked a job that had a retirement program. And since I've been self-employed for much of my life, I've always done what I wanted to do, even if it meant making less money and not being able (rather, not wanting) to save for retirement, So while my SS is thankfully higher than the national average, it's also more than enough to live comfortably in Panama... but not in the U.S., and I'd rather live a comfortable middle-class life in a Caribbean beach town in Panama than be poor anywhere the U.S.... or anywhere else, frankly! 

I've been living off savings plus Social Security for about three years, but my move to Napa from Asheville for almost two years was a huge and expensive mistake, and I'm using what's left of my savings to get to Panama. What if I have an emergency that requires me to use more of my savings? I'm not shipping a lot to Panama, but all in all, it's going to cost me about $6k to move what I want to take with me, including my art. 

Could I have done it for less? Yes. But while experts suggest leaving everything behind and starting over, what I'm taking is a big part of who I am and I'm not running away from me.

One last thing about shadow: Our shadows are deeply embedded in us and they never really go away. They are part of who we are. Then why do the work, you ask? While shadow never goes away, recognizing and facing them provides us with an opportunity. The opportunity is that when shadow comes up and I recognize it, I'm no longer at its mercy. It no longer controls me and I have a choice: I can either fall victim to the emotions it might raise, or I can acknowledge it and just let it go. You can choose how to respond instead of being in a reactive mode.

I'll probably have more sleepless nights before I'm settled into my new home, but I recognize what's going on and can act accordingly... and hey, it's just a few hours of sleeplessness now and then. I'd still be doing the same thing if I were to stay. I'd just be a lot poorer.


Read More about my Journey in previous and future posts and follow me by scrolling on the column to the right to "follow me."

Monday, October 05, 2020

WILL THIS BE THE LAST CAR I'LL EVER OWN? IT'S FOR SALE.

 by Gary Stamper


I grew up in California so my affection for cars was almost predestined. When I was in high school I drove a 1938 white ford pickup with a hopped-up '53 Merc flathead with a 3/4 high lift cam with two Stromberg carburetors, and headers hooked up to a Cadillac LaSalle transmission.

When I was a senior in high school, I graduated to a 1958 Chevrolet Pickup that my Dad and I worked on. We added a cam and two 4-barrel carbs to the 283 ci Chevy V8 and 4.10 positraction rear end, threw some sandbags in the back of the bed, and Voila! I was supposedly the car to beat!

Custom paint, black tuck ' roll upholstery, stained wood bed deck, matching tonneau and spare tire covers, Hurst shifter on the floor, lowered, chrome wheels... you get the idea. The image at the right is a painting I did of it while still in high school. Some of my classmates who see this will likely remember it.

Had a '53 Merc Woody in college and used it to go to Santa Cruz and Stinson Beach north of San Francisco to surf what we later learned were great white shark-infested waters. Today I never go where I'm not at the top of the food chain.

A brief stint as an automobile design major in college (I changed majors when I realized I'd have to live in Detroit), taught myself custom pinstriping when I opened my first sign shop, hand lettering NASCAR race cars, owning a series of custom cars throughout my life... all coming to an end.



 

Some of the cars I've owned - a story behind each one.

Part of Bocas Del Toro is an archipelago of six larger islands and dozens of smaller ones. There are very few cars on the islands and people get around largely walking, riding bikes, or taking 1-$2 water taxi rides. You just don't need a car and I love that! Besides being good for the environment, it's also healthier. 

Who knows? Maybe my next vehicle will be a cargo bike to bring groceries from one of the Supermercados or just trekking around the islands while listening to reggae on my Bluetooth ear buds? 

Sounds pretty good to me!

PS: Here's my craigslist ad for my listing: https://houston.craigslist.org/cto/d/bacliff-2007-mazda-3-sport-touring/7208325711.html



Sunday, September 27, 2020

GET TO KNOW THE BOCAS DEL TORO ISLANDS

by  | Feb 17, 2017 | ActivitiesBeachesBocas del Toro 


The Bocas del Toro Islands Are All Unique

Just like any city has its own quirks, each of the 5 Bocas del Toro islands has its own distinct flavor and characteristics. Despite their close proximity, popping around between the Bocas del Toro islands is like going in and out of different worlds. Let’s go through them one by one, so you’ll know exactly what to expect when planning your Bocas del Toro island vacation. This is a very brief overview of the characteristics of each island, more information can be found about each island specifically on our blog.


1. Isla Colón, “The Main Island”

 


Isla Colón (named after Christopher Columbus)  is where most of the action happens in the archipelago. The international airport and all of the main water taxi ports, as well as the ferry port from the mainland, are all found on this island. What you see in the photo above is the most populated area of all of the Bocas del Toro islands, however, the majority of this island is thick jungle and is much larger than what is pictured here. It is connected by a small isthmus. Isla Colón has many restaurants, bars, nightclubs, bed & breakfasts and hotels.


2. Isla Carenero, “The Little Surf Island”


Isla Carenero is the little brother of Isla Colón, located a stone’s throw away (or a $1 water taxi) and is much smaller and more relaxed than its close neighbor. This is the least populated of the Bocas del Toro islands and is mostly known for its boutique restaurants, tiny hotels, a few restaurants and surf spots. From the backside of Isla Carenero you have an amazing view of both Isla Bastimentos and Isla Solarte. It’s a great place to get away from the hustle & bustle of town for a quick lunch or a sunset meal with a view. The interior of this small island is swamp, so there tend to be slightly more sandflies around sunrise and dusk. It is wise to carry a bottle of oil (which you can purchase locally) or some bug spray to save you from some discomfort during those times.


3. Isla Bastimentos, “The Wild Island”



Isla Bastimentos (or “Basti” for short) has some of the most developed areas of Bocas as well as some of the most wild. The Red Frog Villas development is situated here which is a large complex of 2 to 7 bedroom villas with ocean views and a large marina that can accommodate sizable yachts. It is also home to a diverse population and unique Afro-Caribbean culture complete with its own dialect called “Guari Guari”.

There are remote beaches and hiking trails throughout the interior of the island, but it is always recommended to travel in groups for safety and navigation. Some of the most stunning beaches in the archipelago are found on 
Isla Bastimentos. There are eco-hotels, tent lodges, and remote bungalows that can accommodate any traveler’s vibe and budget. There are also bat caves filled with wildlife and some of the rarest species of frogs to be found on Earth. Isla Bastimentos is a must-see!


4. Isla Solarte, “The Quiet Island”


Isla Solarte is a less populated area of the archipelago located directly parallel from Isla Bastimentos. Aside from a few homes and small hotels, most of this island is dense jungle. There are some unique scuba diving and snorkeling areas around the edges of Isla Solarte, and some hidden coves that have been enjoyed for hundreds of years. Christopher Columbus’s fleet passed by here in the 1500s. One of the most historical features of this island is called “Hospital Point” and is an area where those afflicted with malaria were sent to be treated. There are still some concrete tombs that can be found on this island. Currently, there are many native Ngobe indians who live off of the land without electricity or running water.

 
5. Isla Zapatilla 1 & 2, “The Castaway Islands”



The Zapatilla Islands are a popular day trip due to their remote location and picturesque white sand beaches. This is the embodiment of the “lost on a deserted island” mindset, as they are both completely uninhabited. So, what top 5 records would you bring? While small enough to circumnavigate on foot, most people will find a shady spot and spend the day watching the water lap against the shore. These islands are not always accessible when there is heavy surf, but on a perfect day the water will be flat as glass and it’s an experience unlike any other Bocas del Toro islands can offer.

Make sure to pack a lunch and plenty of water as there is definitely no restaurants or shops here – it’s just two tiny islands in the middle of nowhere. Zapatilla 1 is where most tours typically stop, so Zapatilla 2 is even more remote. Although you’re still in Bocas, a day trip out here will make you feel lost at sea.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

ONE STEP CLOSER TO MY PANAMANIAN PARADISE

 by Gary Stamper,  Sept. 23, 2020

Bocas Del Toro Sunset

Were it not for the COVID-19 virus, I would already be in Panama. That said, I am also intensely aware that so far 200,000 of my fellow Americans have died of the virus and related causes, a much worse outcome than not being in Panama. Perspective, Gary, perspective...

One of the people I've met here in Texas doesn't believe that the virus has killed 200,000 people in the U.S. or that's it's a serious threat.  They told me they'd much rather catch COVID than the flu, and I mentally wished them good luck with that and Fox News.

Yesterday I bought my airline tickets for my exploratory visit to Panama, Panama is scheduled to open to tourism again on October 12th and I'm leaving on November 2nd, the day before the election, providing Panama doesn't have a relapse in cases between now and then, requiring them to re-enter lockdown. 

The people of Panama have conscientiously worn their masks, socially distanced, and endured extremely strict curfews, which is why they've had better results and fewer per capita deaths than say, the country that has the leading COVID death rate in the world, the U.S. 

I'll likely be there from 10 to 14 days. I bought a round-trip changeable ticket with trip insurance so I could change my return date if needed, or get a refund should I not be able to go, and even with that my airline tickets from Houston were less than $400. 

I'll be spending the first two days in Panama City, a modern bustling city by any standards, playing tourist (Hey, you gotta see the Panama Canal and other attractions, right?) and meeting with my immigration attorney about a permanent resident Visa. I'm applying for the world-renowned Pensionada Visa, created to entice ex-pat retirees with a minimum guaranteed-for-life pension of not less than $1,000 a month. 


Panama has put together the most appealing program of special benefits for retirees you’ll find anywhere in the world today…and the program is open to foreigners.

In Panama, resident pensionados or retirees are entitled to:

  • 50% off entertainment anywhere in the country (movies, theaters, concerts, sporting events)

  • 30% off bus, boat, and train fares

  • 25% off airline tickets

  • 25% off monthly energy bills

  • 30% to 50% off hotel stays

  • 15% off hospital bills*

Plus a lot more perks.

After two days in Panama City, I'll catch a smaller commuter plane to the "Isla Colon International Airport." The airport is located in the provincial capital of Bocas Town, the tourist center of the group of islands and my final destination. The airport is only about 1 mile west of the city. 

Bocas Town, where I plan on living, is a bohemian, waterfront town on Isla Colón. It's the largest and funkiest town in the Bocas del Toro archipelago and is visited by travelers from all over the world. Hotels, restaurants, gourmet grocery stores and other tourist facilities crowd the small town, making it one of the most popular places in all of Panama. It's particularly popular as a destination surfing town and also well known with hikers, the club scene is hot and heavy into the late hours and the whole place is supposed to have a light Jamaican vibe, an I've got my eye on a local reggae band that might need a singer.


I'm traveling light with my phone, a computer bag and a backpack carry-on containing one pair of pants, 2 pair of shoes(sandals and tennis shoes) a small grooming kit, 3 pair of shorts, two shirts, some assorted t-shirts, and my Soul Train Cruise ball cap. While there, I'll be looking for a downtown storefront for a business idea I have and connecting with a realtor I'm already talking with, meeting with a new friend who is the editor of the local paper, "The Bocas Breeze," who is also a musician and artist, connecting with the local ex-pat community, local Shamans, local artists and business people and anyone else I can talk to make sure this is where I want to live.


Does this photo look like someplace you'd like to live? I'll also be connecting with a local Spanish school, Habla Ya, as they trade Spanish lessons for volunteering in their organic gardens, a win-win for all since I'm an organic gardener and I'll learn the peculiarities of organic gardening in the tropics.


This and more, my trip is all about making connections and firming up if this is where I want to be. Tourists can enter Panama with a passport and a ticket out and stay for 90 days before they have to leave. 

I may or may not come back. Everything I'm not taking with me now will be ready to ship at a phone call, and, if need be, my daughter can sell my car...probably my last car...It partly depends on whether I can get my Pensionado Visa this first trip or not, and how I feel about Bocas Del Toro. I've been all over the Caribbean during the past 20 years, and I know I love the laid-back Caribbean vibe... I'm going to find out if Bocas Del Toro is the right place in the Caribbean... 

I'm pretty sure it is, and I'm really tired of moving.