Saturday, April 10, 2021

BOCAS: AT THE THE END OF THE (SUPPLY CHAIN) ROAD

A Model For The Planet?

by Gary Stamper, CPC, MISP, DSPS

See link below for recipe... Mmmmm!

As a child, I pretty much ate anything except  Brussel Sprouts. As far as I was concerned, they tasted like dirt. 

It wasn't until my 60's that I learned it wasn't the Brussel Sprouts - it was the fact that they and the water they came in were simply dumped in a pan and heated on the stove and served up as they were - little green dirt balls.

My conversion came when my partner Anyaa introduced me to 
Grandma’s Iron Skillet Roasted Brussel Sprouts and they surprisingly became my favorite cruciferous green.

Where am I going with this? I can't get brussel sprouts or artichokes (also a favorite although I can get canned or seasoned artichoke hearts in water or oil) in Bocas. Not the same as a steaming hot artichoke globe.

Artichokes need "chilling," full sun and well-draining soil and with 145" of annual rain in Panama, they would be challenging to say the least. 

Anything that can't be grown here (unlike bananas, plantains, pineapples, various roots like Yuca (prounounced "chooka" and not to be confused with yucca) and a few other exotic edibles, has to be shipped in (we're on an island, remember?). 

Because we're close to the Equator, we don't get the chill period that brussels sprouts (or parsnips or horseradish) need to develop their special flavors. 

Not only are we on the largest of 9 major islands in the Bocas Del Toro archipelago, but we are also the last stop for products being shipped here. Anything leftover in the shipping process winds up being a loss, so planning becomes the art of the shortage.

This week's  Bocas Veggies

The same thing happens with avocados, especially since they became a recognized superfood. With the huge rise in their popularity, corporate agri-business and investment markets took over their distribution and there are now shortages. Rarely does a week go by that there aren't days that avocados are just not available in Bocas. 

It takes so long for avocados to get here, that what does make it here has to be eaten quickly as they are already soft.

In addition to steeply rising demand, droughts in California and Central America, and Cartels in Mexico and South America, prices are also rising dramatically and water is even being diverted from people to have enough water for thirsty avocados.

If there's good news, it's that here is that avocados, particularly the Panamanian Hass variety, is ideally suited for cultivation in Panama. The bad news is that Panama exports nearly all of its avocados. I've got one plant going and three more germinating, but who am I kidding? It can take 5-13 years for an avocado plant to grow fruit from a seed. 

But what about brussel sprouts and artichokes? 

Brussel sprouts can easily be frozen, packaged, and shipped, even though they're not, so I'm left with thinking that the absence of brussel sprouts is cultural and the fact that there's just not enough demand.

Whole artichokes, on the other hand, cannot be frozen, and must be shipped requiring particular temperature, humidity/moisture and ventilation conditions. Attention must also be paid to proper crating and securing in such a way that they are prevented from damaging each other.

Distance is also a factor as Italy and Egypt are the world's largest artichoke producers with the US #9, Mexico #18, and  Costa Rica #29 seriously following. Panama's not even the top 30.

Any true artichoke aficionado knows that artichokes should be eaten within a day or two of purchase and that leaving them on the counter for just 2 days produces hardening and shrinking.

The imported food arrives at the dock

But the biggest problem with food in Bocas is the fact that we're the last stop on the supply chain for food and everything else that has to be shipped in. That's exacerbated by the fact that we really don't produce anything. We're  a tourist town and that can't be exported, so when supplies are brought in, the costs can't be mitigated by what's going out and so shipping costs are high.

It isn't just avocados, brussel sprouts, and artichokes, though. 

For instance, my dairy is personally pretty much limited to butter and feta cheese. I use plant-based cheese and milk substitutes whenever I can (thanks to Super Gourmet, the only ex-pat owned food store in town). But even that's limited, and organic products are rare. I prefer oat milk because of its health aspects and consistency but it hasn't been available here for a few weeks and no one knows when - or if - it might be available again.

Super Gourmet, ex-pat owned

On the plus side, frozen wild-caught Pacific Salmon has suddenly appeared in some of the local stores. Up until now, the only available salmon has been "Atlantic raised" - read Omega-6 laden and diseased farm-raised - salmon that I will not eat. I am stocking up on the new salmon while it's still available.


Ultimately, if food shortages become the norm - which is already happening around the world due to climate change along with the accompanying population migrations that we're already seeing aroung the globe - this problem will continue to get worse. 

And it won't just be us.

What I've noticed here in all of the grocery stores is that they get - and offer - what's available to them - and it's constantly shifting. Part of that is because we're at "the end of the supply chain" road. 

And when it comes down to it, we'll eat what's put in front of us, and, worst-case scenario, if there's nothing, we'll move or die.

Just like the refugees from Guatemala and Nicaragua who are fleeing drought and violence to the U.S. southern borders. 

For them, it's already move or die.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

WORKING FROM HOME BEFORE IT WAS COOL (AND MANDATORY)

by Gary Stamper, CPC, MSIP, DSPS


If you google "Work at Home" today, you'll get about 3.7 billion results. Since COVID hit and changed the way we work, there's been a huge uptick in interest in the subject for obvious reasons. 

Here's a very good article called "How to Work From Home Without Losing Your Mind" from Wired magazine that covers pretty much all of the pros and cons as well as the "what-to-do" and "what-not-to-do's" of working at home. 

Long before COVID-19 struck the planet in full in early 2020, a lot of us had already been working at home. I've officially been working at home since I moved to North Carolina in early 2008.

First, there was designing and building a new home on a ridge overlooking the part of the beautiful Smoky Mountains. I designed two offices inside the home knowing we'd need the space and privacy for each of us as well as being able to "leave" work to keep our boundaries (mostly) and our sanity.

Then there were the multiple workshops my wife Anyaa and I were doing, individually and collectively, the planning, the graphics, marketing and advertising, each holding space for the other, getting people to and from the Asheville airport an hour away, and logistics for individuals, couples, and larger group gatherings, sometimes with groups of about 20 people in attendance. We had a 500 sq. ft. built-in workshop space (the temple) perfectly designed for that. Sometimes we'd travel internationally to the workshops we'd created and facilitated.

For me, there was also my education process of getting my Masters and Doctorate degrees, the writing of my book, the book tour, adding solar for the house and well, a water tower, creating a large organic garden, adding fruit trees and a 2-room root cellar built into the ridge slope.

After we amicably separated and I moved to Asheville, I was still working at home and have most always had a separate home office.


Working at home in Paradise 

Now that I'm safely ensconced in Bocas Del Toro, Panama, I'm living in a one-bedroom apartment a block away from the beach and the remainder of my personal belongings are finally on their way.

Those include about 25 of my remaining original framed paintings and drawings which will eventually decorate the stark white walls of my apartment, my art supplies, tools and art papers, books, the remainder of my clothing, kitchen appliances (I need my Ninja blender, my air-fryer, and my crockpot) and personal items.

Also coming are my work tools consisting of a high-end gaming and graphics desktop computer with side-by-side dual monitors, a drawing tablet, battery backup, various range expanders, a stand-up adjustable desk, a circular lamp for ZOOM lighting and video conferencing... and more.

What I am paying here for a furnished 1-bedroom apartment one block from the beach is half of what I would pay in Napa for a single room with a shared bath. I bring this up because it nicely segues to a brief conversation about what to wear when you work at home in a Caribbean resort beach town.

(Brief conversation about "working at home" dress codes and more in a Caribbean beach town):

1. Shorts (of course), and a Tommy Bahama silk shirt work fine for me. A quick change to a swimsuit and a 3-minute walk to the beach and VOILA! Problem solved.

2. Relax. Everything takes longer here. Very little gets done right now, and learning patience is required. "Manana" does not mean tomorrow. It only means "not today."

3. Breaks. Take lots of them. Get up and move around at least every hour. Walk or take a bike to the beach. Go out to lunch once in a while. Meditate. Breathe...

4. Count your blessings. Working. from. home. is. a. blessing. stop. Too many people don't have that option, which is especially worrying in a time of precarious health care and disease.

I'm totally blessed to be fortunate to be working from home, especially because I haven't been ordered to  by a boss who probably resents their "work-at-home" staff. But the genie has been released from its bottle and there's no going back for a great many of us.

Personally, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Gary -
The Right Reverend Dr. G

Friday, March 26, 2021

WE DON'T NEED ANOTHER DEAD HERO

poetry by Gary Stamper, CPC, MSIP, DSPS

Wayne Thomas Batson


We don't need another dead hero...
Another martyr who didn't need to die
or endless cycles about motives
of people with easy access
to killing machines.
This is the return to normal
and the endless cycle of "whys"
the never-ending rebirth of psychopathic killers
who have morphed into
the very thing they fear.
Who protects the masses from the people
who care more about their killing machines
then they do about life?
Who are we that we care 
more about gun rights
than we do about human rights?
No more ultimate sacrifices.
No more killing machines.
No more victims.
No more dead heroes...



copyright 2021 Gary Stamper
 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

LOOK INSIDE TO FIND WHAT YOU SEEK

 by Gary Stamper, CPC, MSIP, DSPS


Look Inside to Find What You Seek


Painting of the Oregon Coast by Gary Stamper


All my life I've pretty much been a Jack-of-all-trades (except for math). I've been called "a renaissance man" more times than I can count as a result of all the things I've done (and still occasionally do).

I've always been, and still am, an artist and a musician, spending ten years as a professional singer, which was one of the highlights of my life. Here's a song I recorded in California last year during lockdown.


I've owned multiple businesses, been an award-winning sign painter, a 3-time international award-winning designer, and have done stand-up comedy (until I was told to sit down... just kidding... hardest thing I've ever done). I've been a business consultant, created and facilitated men's and couples' workshops, an ordained Shamanic Minister, and have degrees in Graphic Design, and Masters and doctorate degrees in Shamanic Studies and Practices. I also designed and built a hybrid (on/off grid) solar home in an intentional community high in the Smokies, where I became an organic gardener, the author of a book on men's spirituality and consciousness, an award-winning blogger, and a meditation teacher. That's also where I got my advanced degrees. As a Certified Professional Life Coach, I help men find meaning and purpose in their lives, particularly helping older men in re-becoming bad-asses after they retire.

The very last part of that is of particular interest to me at this time because I'm semi-retired and am living in a Caribbean beach town with a Jamaican vibe in Panama.

I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do when I got here, but you never know how something like that is going to work out until you've had a chance to live in a place for a while. 

As a known community-builder, I wanted to join some community groups, build connections and friendships, and see where they led and where my various skills might take me. That's always been easy for me to do, but it's been very difficult during the continuing pandemic. 

 Bocas Town from the water on Isla Colon, Panama

I
'm also still considering opening a small fine art gallery featuring my and others' local art, and where people can watch me work on my featured eco-art. However, that thought is on hold until I have a better understanding of when tourism might come back and what it might look like when it does. I've never been here when there's no pandemic, and at my age, there aren't many second chances.



But while I've been sitting here in mi Apartamento in Bocas Town, I've had lots of time to think about what I really want to do, and some of it comes down to what I can do. 

At almost 76, everything takes longer - including sex - which I actually appreciate, because it's a lesson in the journey, not the destination! I look back and I can't imagine how I got everything done when I had to work full time. I also look at how my ability to effectively converse with others has deeply suffered as a result of spending so much time alone with just my thoughts for the past year because of lockdowns and quarantines.

I've learned I can do it, and don't want to be on a schedule and, for the most part, don't want to have to be somewhere at a specific time. That includes zoom meetings. I'm also petty much done with wanting to change the world, for the most part, because most people have no desire to change. 

I still enjoy posting what I think is important on Facebook, but I know I'm basically preaching to the choir of voices who already agree with me, as I've pretty much run off everyone who doesn't. That's okay with me. I can't change their minds, nor can I have a rational conversation with them because they're not rational. So I'm pleasantly resigned to being as entertaining as I can so at least people enjoy what I'm posting.

So here's where I'm at in this moment: I want to be creative. As soon as my art and my art supplies (materials, tools, desk, lamps, etc.) arrive in a few weeks (all in process as of the last couple of days), and I get my apartment set up the way I want, I'm going to start painting and drawing again, but now with a spiritual eco-art approach that comes from living and being here in my present awareness. Some of my previous work will give you an idea of what that means.

Composite of Gary's Drawings and Paintings

I hope you'll continue to enjoy this journey with me. Follow me here and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/garystamper. 
It hasn't been easy,  but I really do love it here. If I can find a really smart someone to enjoy it with me, then even better!

Buena Suerte for now!

Gary, the Right Reverend Dr. G





Wednesday, March 24, 2021

A UNECESSARILY BAD EXPERIENCE WITH PAYPAL CUSTOMER SERVICE

 FINALLY... GOOD NEWS for me about PayPal and Panama!

by Gary Stamper, CPC, MSIP, DSPS


After haranguing, cajoling, and, yes, shaming PayPal (in Panama and the US) about their horrid customer service and seemingly "screw the customer" attitude, I finally was able to get them to link my US bank into their system. It only took two weeks of constantly harassing them without mercy to make it happen.

Here's how that happened... and how it almost didn't.
For new readers, I recently semi-retired to Bocas Del Toro, Panama, on a laid-back Caribbean beach town with a Jamaican vibe. I came here for the Caribbean and for what is considered to be the best ex-pat retirement option in the world for ex-pats everywhere, the world-renowned Pensionado Visa. You can read about that here.
The paperwork for that VISA is enormous and if you decide to come here, you're advised to find a good Panamanian lawyer. If you get that far, I've got a great one I highly recommend.
I expected to go through a long and difficult process for my Pensionado Residency VISA. I did not expect the process to move my PayPal account from the U.S. to Panama to be that difficult.
I couldn't have been more wrong... or frustrated.
First, how difficult would it have been to have a PayPal guide on how to move your account to another country? No such luck. I only discovered I needed to do that when I closed my U.S.-based Phone cell phone service and phone number that I could no longer access my U.S. PayPal account and I could not add my new Panama phone number to my U.S. PayPal account.
The laws applicable to PayPal accounts differ by country, so you can't change your address to a country that is different from the country you used when you opened your account. If you're moving abroad, you'll need to close your existing account and open a new account. You'll also need a verifiable phone number that includes texting in the country where you're opening your new PayPal account, as that's how they verify your phone number when you log in. Others like Google, Amazon, and even my U.S. bank use text or email verification - some even go further than that - to make verification simple while maintaining good security. NOT PayPal... there's only the verified phone number for SMS and texting to get you into your account. This is where the difficulties with PayPal's customer service began and went horribly awry.


First, you cannot call customer service. You have to dive deep into their website to find a way to contact them at all
- their chat/message service is buried 3 links deep in small letters - and it becomes apparent very quickly that they don't really want to talk with you. Instead, their preferred method of helping you is to get you to sign up for their community forums to get the answer you're looking for, apparently from other PayPal customers who know as little as you do about what you're looking for. The chat/messaging is as cumbersome as possible: Small boxes that only display one line of copy at a time that are impossibly difficult to scroll up and down to edit or review. This cannot be by accident.

In addition, no one comes onto chat to say "how can I help you?" Instead, you get a series of programmed response that say things like "we cannot respond at this time," "check our community forums," and my favorite, "due to heavy traffic, we will get back to you soon as we can and we will notify you by message," which was sometimes hours or even days away, but I had to go online again to see if they had messaged me. One of the latter messages said, "we've sent you a code to activate your Bank link that must be activated in 10 minutes." How can PayPal possibly assume that's going to work? The longer this went on the more determined I became to break through this obfuscation.

I kept calling them out on the chat/message until after a week I finally caught up with the agent when we were finally on at the same and insisted that they send the code NOW, as I was online and could respond. I honestly don't know if they're doing this because they really don't want to talk to us or if they're just amazingly incompetent but the result is the same: One more pissed-off customer who will continue to look around until I can find an option other than PayPal.

Meanwhile, finally getting my U.S. Bank verified yesterday on Panama PayPal so that my clients can send me money is huge. Once again, I can now move those payments to my U.S. Bank where I can easily access it from my debit card. All is good in paradise. Now you may well ask, why don't you just open a bank account in Panama? Reportedly, it's much harder to do as a result of new Panama banking regulations put in place after the Panama Papers Scandal from a few years ago.

That's another story, maybe to be addressed in another blog when I eventually do try to open a Panamanian bank account. We only have one in Bocas town. (See 6 Alternatives to Paypal at the bottom)


Thursday, March 04, 2021

QAnon's BIG March 4th Trump Inauguration Bust

 No One Showed Up for the Party

(or) What If There Were A Revolution and No One Showed Up?

by Gary Stamper, CPC, MSIP, DSPS


QAnon's conspiritorial credibilty took another huge hit today, and I'm wondering if any of the conspiracy theorists even noticed?

Not only did they fail to show up for their own whacked-out conspiracy theory party - where Donald Trump would somehow be inaugurated today as the 19th President while Biden was to be marched out in handcuffs - but they seem to be completely silent. Not a peep. Nada.

Of course, this is not the first QAnon conspiracy theory that has failed to come true, but don't expect any "true believers" to change their minds. They are way too deep into the kool-aid.

Pardon me for my "moment of smugness"...

Where was the apparent former friend who told me that the conservative right "Had all the guns and that the military was on Trump's side," and that I was going to be proven wrong as they took back the country?

Where was the other friend who told me I was on the wrong side and the "Satanic Democrats and Hollywood elite pedophiles who traffic sacrificial children and drink their blood in obscene orgies would be arrested and executed at the order of Donald Trump" in what QAnon supporters refer to as "the Storm?"

Remember Pizza Gate?

The best thing they can do now is just quietly sink into the shadows, hoping we'll all forget, but I'm not counting on that. This is very likely not the last we've heard from them, but it appears that Trump's - and QAnon's - dreams of insurrection and a coup were dashed largely because they grossly overestimated the pipe-dream of support they would receive from the US Military leadership.

The biggest irony to come from the January Capital insurrection is that the insurrectionists who are found guilty of felonies as a result of their actions will no longer have the right to bear arms AND THAT may well have been the reason that no one showed up for the March 4th event.

Like Trump, they're full of blather and threats, but are actually just immature bullies, and it's time to clamp down on the bullies from both parties. Fascism, and elite Oligarchies, have no place in the US.

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

FOUR MONTHS IN PANAMA

(or) The Complexity Beyond Simplicity
by Gary Stamper, CPC, MISP, DSPS



Four months ago today, I arrived in Panama at 2am, thinking I would grab a bite to eat, get oriented on how to get to my hostel in Panama City, grab my luggage, breeze through customs and arrive at the hostel and my private room in time for breakfast.

Panama had other plans for me.

First, the largest airport in Panama is apparently closed overnight. Immediately after deboarding the plane, we were hustled to the mandatory Covid health check where we had to either prove that we had passed a covid test 24 hours before getting on the plane or take and pass a test before we would be allowed to enter the country.

Even while I knew I would pass the test, I still breathed a sigh of relief when the test came back negative and I began my official entry into the country, picked up my luggage, and headed toward immigration.

After some minor glitches at immigration, I got my passport stamped and was allowed to proceed.  Walking through the door leaving immigration, I found myself standing outside the locked airport with no bathrooms, restaurants, taxis, or buses anywhere in sight so I parked my luggage next to a concrete bench, sat down and waited. About 45 minutes later, a cab showed up and agreed to take me to my hostel 45 minutes away in Panama City.

I arrived at the hostel at almost 5 a.m. in the morning and had to awaken the manager to let me into the place that I would call home for the next two weeks while I worked on getting my Temporary Visa with my new attorney as my first one resigned with no warning.

Bocas Del Toro Surf

Jumping ahead four months later to today, as I've already posted about my arrival and subsequent two weeks in Panama City and my time in my new home, the laid-back Caribbean beach town of Bocas Del Toro, I want to address what it means to try to simplify your life by moving to what is essentially a third-world country as Panama is, in spite of the modern Panama City.

Calipso Apartamentos. My apartment, secong floor, right

The websites that promote ex-pat living say one can live here for under $1,000 a month, and I guess you could, but it would be a very basic lifestyle. You could live very comfortably here for around $1400 a month, close to the average Social Security benefit.

Yes, you can live cheaply here. Average rent here is about a third of what you would pay for the average rent in the US, and most rentals here include utilities, cable, and wifi and come at least partially furnished. In the US you could easily add another $500 or more for cable, wifi, and utilities. You can get along fine without a car, and besides: walking is good for you. And so are ATV's!

Flying Pirates ATV Rentals

Most people have bikes, many of them electric, and you can get to all of the beaches on the island and back on one charge. There are also lots of golf carts and 4WD quads, and what you can't buy, you can rent by the hour, day, or week.

Food is cheaper here for the most part, especially if you're buying from the indigenous vegetable markets that are pretty much everywhere. 

Bocas Veggies

What you find in the mostly Chinese-owned markets is a combination of more expensive indigenous fruits and vegetables, foreign (to me) canned and packaged foods, some "American" canned and packaged foods (most of which I wouldn't buy in the US and are more expensive here because of shipping). The Chinese-style markets also have no concept of what customer service means. You get used to it.
 



There are few organic products here and what you can find is very expensive and sporadic at best. I pay a lot of attention to avocado mayo and oils,  coconut oils and milk substitutes (hemp if I can get it, never soy... it's a man thing) and extra virgin olive oils. 

The only salmon available here is Atlantic farm-raised salmon which I won't eat because they are high in unhealthy Omega 6's - as opposed to healthy Omega 3's found in wild-caught Alaskan Salmon that we can't get here (we're just a precursor for what's coming). As for packaged and canned goods, I read labels a lot - when I can - but labeling is also a bit sporadic here and often too small to read.

I'm eating less meat here, as local ribeyes have an unusual flavor that I believe is a result of what they're fed. There's a small ex-pat owned market called "Super Gourmet" ( below) that has imported grass-fed ribeyes that I'm going to try, but as I said, I'm eating less meat these days, largely because of environmental concerns around how much water it takes to produce it.


Avocados are always in high demand here (I've started two plants on my balcony), the only artichokes you'll find here are canned and I would not buy meat in any of the Chinese markets. I don't know if they're bad... they just look bad.

Buena Vista Restaurant

There's a lot of really good restaurants here, but they mostly cater to tourists and there are few tourists here at this time because of Covid, and the prices are pretty comparable to US restaurants, maybe slightly under. You rarely see locals in them and the ex-pats I've met tend to frequent bars that also serve food. The restaurants that are open have mostly outdoor dining - very common here because of the year-round warm weather and who doesn't want a water view when dining?


Il Ultimo Refugio Restaurante

There are also lots of food carts that serve "street food," which I stay away from since they mostly serve deep-fried foods that are kept warm under heat lamps, and what doesn't sell today is back tomorrow. I rely on local friends to keep me posted about the good ones. I'm also concerned about how, and if, they are regulated.

Street Food

There's an Ayahuasca journey on Basti Island this coming weekend and because I've been a Certified Shamanic Breathwork Facilitator for almost a decade and have facilitated Ayahuasca guides, I've been wanting to do one for years, but when I spoke with the Columbian facilitator, he told me it would be inside (strike one) and that the Ayahuasca medicine protected the people because it made them immune and no masks would be required (strike two), and I'm declining. There's absolutely no evidence that it's true, and there are a lot of new-age
and indigenous teachers who are very deep into magical thinking even with a room full of people who are throwing up because of the medicine. Maybe another time, maybe with another guide.

Alex Grey Wallpaper Cave

After four months, I am still loving living here, but a bit more about Complexity beyond Simplicity. This is certainly not true for everyone, but my being in Bocas right now is to be between two cultures: the culture I lived in before I got here and my expectations about simplicity that I brought with me, and the culture(s) that exist here. I believe I can let go of the expectations I brought with me as long as I can find a way to live simply while not feeling overwhelmed with the complexities...

And isn't that the way it goes for us all?

Gary