Friday, June 26, 2009

It's Mostly About the Birds

The wildlife of Panama is one of the most enticing reasons for our relocation. Adding to that the climate and the Panamanian people make it an unbeatable combination.

Birds have been our first love and the focus of much of our lives for the past 24 years. A few of our most unusual sightings are documented on our website, PETRELS. Pelagic birds (seabirds) hold a special fascination for us and videos of some of them have documented first North American records. We have been on a few hundred pelagic trips off the coast of Northern California. These trips have mostly been with Shearwater Journeys, which has been in business for over 30 years, organizing trips specifically for people who want to get offshore to see pelagic birds and mammals. Spending the day with albatrosses, shearwaters, whales, dolphins and other pelagic creatures is one type of heaven.

Panama doesn't have a regularly organized pelagic birding scene, but there are occasional sea ventures.

So, although Panama will not offer us our customary 8 to 12 pelagic trips each year, we know it will not be too difficult to adapt. We are ready to get to know the mind-blowing birds the country has on-shore. Neo-tropical rainforest birding is a relatively new and exciting aspect of our birding explorations.

For many, Pipeline Road is the highlight of birding in Panama. This area has had the highest number of bird species in many past Christmas Bird Counts. During our first birding trip to Panama (December 2008) we visited Pipeline Road with Carlos Bethancourt of Canopy Tower. Carlos is the Top Guide at the Canopy Tower, one of the most awesome birders in the country, a really cool and energetic guy, and we are delighted to include him among our friends. We will be birding with him again at the Tower next month - we can hardly wait. Play the movie below for a few seconds at an ant swarm during our last visit to Pipeline Road:

We plan to spend more happy hours on this road in between times spent looking at houses, comparison shopping and getting to know the country better.

First Full Day of Retirement

Here's to us! We're not at work, we're not ill, it's not the weekend and we're not on vacation. We must be retired! Long live us.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Getting information on Panama isn't really a problem. I guess it's knowing what information to ignore which is the difficulty. There are many internet forums available and entire days can be spent sifting through the wisecracks and unedited posts to find valuable information that can actually be put to use.

Which doesn't mean we haven't spent our time subscribing and reading through hundreds of messages. As we come across a hidden gem it gets tagged and put into favorite bookmarks or saved as a file or even printed out as hard-copy.

Yahoo Groups is the home to a wide-range of Panama related forums. Enter "Panama" in the search box and several will pop up to get you started.

Our favorite website for Panama is Panama Guide. Owner, Don Winner, provides many english translations of Panama news articles with an ex-pat slant. Valuable and highly recommended.

We're told that finding your way in Panama City can be a chore. The streets can have multiple names and there are few street signs. People give directions by landmarks. Our lawyer says her office is past the Shell station and across the street from the CitiBank. So, I was very happy to find a GPS map that works with Garmin Mobile XT on my AT&T Tilt. Routes & waypoints created on the PC can be downloaded to smartphone. I'm hoping this will make it a bit easier getting around town.


Friends –

Les and Cindy put all their eggs in one basket by both working for the same employer, and the bottom has fallen out. The company that has employed us for a combined half-century, is closing its doors, effective June 30, 2009.

Let’s cut to the chase: We will soon join the ranks of the unemployed, so we have decided to retire and move to Panama. Is it loco, drastic, wild, extreme, psycho? Perhaps it is. Exciting, invigorating, awesome, rad, crazy and challenging is how we see it. It sounds fantastic to us, except for the part about leaving our friends - that’s the biggest downside to all this.

We were of course shocked and nearly speechless when the bomb was dropped, and it took us a day or two to remember how to breathe normally again. But we were not surprised to learn that we would soon be jobless; the world economy is on the skids and business at our employer's company was right in step. It was announced to the clients that the company would be "going virtual.” Translation - jettison the overhead: rent, equipment leases and maintenance, employee salaries & benefits, insurance, etc. We have no hard feelings – our boss works very hard and deserves to make a profit.

As our reeling minds got back on track and returned to normal speed, the shock morphed into relief. We are weary of the working life, and the prospect of being done with it soon makes us happy and giddy.

Like everyone else, we have been watching our retirement investments lose much of their value over the past several months, and the impending loss of both our incomes complicates our future even more. This part of the story did not make us happy. So we had to figure out what to do with the rest of our lives, as much as that is possible for anyone.

Instead of searching and scrabbling for jobs we don’t even want, we hatched the Panama plan. We are not kidding when we say we love it there. We are especially attracted by the warmth and the birds, along with the cost of living, the sheer abundance of the flora and fauna, and the Panamanian people. We think living there will be much more interesting than working for another 10 years to accumulate enough money to be able to retire comfortably in California. This summer, we are going back for 6 weeks to confirm our feelings about the country, experience the “green” season, consult with an attorney, look at houses, explore the feasibility of this scheme, and of course, go birding a bunch.

We are not fooling ourselves – this will be a long and complicated process, full of logistical challenges and frustrations. Fer de Lances, Bullet Ants and chiggers will be awaiting us, but so will antbirds, antvireos. antshrikes, antthrushes, antwrens, antpittas, ant-tanagers, ant swarms, anteaters y mucho mas. If we can make it work, we feel it will be exciting and invigorating, taking us outside our “comfort zone” into a fascinating new world.

In any case, we will not be abandoning ship immediately. Early 2010 would probably be the soonest we could work everything out, and it could easily take longer than that.

Through this blog we hope to keep our family and friends updated on the ongoing saga. Your comments are welcome.

Cindy Lieurance