Today as I sit on the garden patio listening to the quiet rainfall, I was compelled to write something on this blog. I am enjoying the freedom I have experienced since I have retired to my life here. And I feel blessed to have such a beautiful tropical garden to look out upon with our resident hummingbird hovering over each Heliconia flower or the feeder, occasionally taking a rest at the top branch of the bougainvillea. Life is good, but it is not without its challenges.
Pedasí is home for me now, but living in a different country than from where I have always lived before can be a challenge within itself. I have written about these challenges previously – many things very new and different. This time I am just sharing some of our recent challenges, although they may not be any different from those I could face in the U.S. The first thing is it took me almost an hour to navigate onto this blog so I could start writing. I thought it might be slow internet service, but I checked the speed and although it is slow compared to that of what we would receive in the U.S. or possibly even in Panama City, 5.15 download megabits are the norm for us. It could possibly be that more than the usual use of internet is being used in town (available broadband), or it could be WordPress is having some problems. My password wasn’t even accepted at first and I had to go on another computer and change it before returning to my iPad. Or maybe my iPad is having issues, although I had some of the same issues on my desktop. But I have finally been able to start writing after several tries, going back and forth between computers. Technology has made things easier in some ways, but when it doesn’t work right, it can be a real challenge.
The other challenge recently has been with the car. Again we have faced major mechanical problems with our car, the 2nd car since we moved here. In the U.S. when something went wrong with the car, where we lived, there were many choices as to who could fix it and where to get parts. Here, not only are there not many choices, especially when you live in a small town, but when you have car problems outside of the areas you are familiar with, that can be a real challenge finding someone reliable. In our case, Mikkel was fortunate to know some people in Playa Coronado near where the car broke down on his way to pick me up at the airport when I was returning from the U.S. in July. Through those contacts, he was able to have the car towed to the recommended car lot and mechanic. After spending 3 days in a local hotel while waiting for the radiator and starter to be replaced, it was determined that the head gasket was also blown and it would take another week before it could be fixed. So Mikkel returned home after paying the owner for what was determined to be the cost for parts and labor so far. Unfortunately, unlike what I have reported before in regards to low cost car repairs here in Panama, Coronado is considered more of an expat community with higher prices for not only car repairs, but life in general. Unfortunately expats are considered to have lots of money and many do. Some expats like us live on a fixed income. Mikkel calls us social security refugees. Compared to many Panamanians, most of us have more money. The car lot owner & mechanic were both expats take advantage of charging much more just because they can. The term used is that they can “gringo” us with higher prices. I am not trying to say anything against the people who live in Playa Coronado area, but it is what it is. It is the same in the U.S.; California is much more expensive than many other states and certain areas of California have higher prices than other areas. And since we had no other choice being stranded in that area, we have to pay the “gringo” price. In other words, not everything in Panama is less expensive than the U.S.
This is not the end of this story though. Mikkel returned by bus a week later to retrieve our car. But the mechanic could not get it started; I think it was something about lining up the heads properly. Mikkel spent another night at a hotel waiting for the mechanic to finally finish, but it just wasn’t happening. The owner told him that they would have to rebuild the engine. But after Mikkel paid him more for what had been done so far, he was told that he would not have to pay anymore because they were so perplexed about not being able to fix it properly in the first place. Maybe he took pity on us, who knows. So Mikkel returned home and waited for a call. Almost a week went by and we hadn’t heard a thing. One night Mikkel was reading a post online from a Yahoo forum and discovered that the owner of this car lot had been brutally murdered; his body found chopped up in 3 suitcases or bags on a beach. OMG! Now what? The next few days Mikkel tried to find out what was happening; no one was answering the phones and obviously the police had ceased all assets for the investigation. Finally through another acquaintance on the Yahoo forum he was able to get the “whatsapp” number of the mechanic. Eventually the mechanic called to tell him the police were releasing all the cars that did not belong to the deceased owner and that his car was ready. But he would have to come that afternoon to claim it. So Mikkel rushed to hop on a bus to Coronado. When he arrived, the mechanic wanted another more money for his services because he had not been paid by the owner. Mikkel negotiated him down about 1/2 the amount and paid him so he could finally drive the car home. I am sorry what had happened to the owner; it was horrific. But it was not our fault that the he was killed before paying the mechanic. Yet we wanted our car back, and Mikkel felt he was between a rock and a hard place.
Again, not the end of this story. Almost at the start of driving the car back to Pedasí, it was discovered the air conditioner did not work. It was working fine before the car broke down. Mikkel told the mechanic who claimed it was cold when he started it up that morning. But now it was not. Then when Mikkel arrived home and parked the car in the garage, we kept smelling gas fumes. A few days later, Mikkel took the car to our local mechanic here in Pedasí. Come to find out that the mechanic in Coronado replaced the gas hose with the wrong one and it was disintegrating, leaking fuel onto the engine. Thank God we had taken the car in when we did; it could have started a fire. Fortunately, there is also now a car parts store here in Pedasí, “Boogie Auto”. Boogie, who speaks good English, will find the part if he doesn’t have it, and even take it to the mechanic here in town to fix the car. He has helped others in replacing tires and changing oil. He actually drove us home from his store which is located just outside of town. The next day the local mechanic brought our fixed car to our home. He did inform us that the car needed the oxygen sensor replaced; it is why the car engine seems to run roughly. But we could wait on replacing that. The cost for replacing the gas hose, topping off transmission fluid, and doing the required annual registration inspection? Less than $100 – that’s more like it.
The next day we then drove to Los Santos where our car is registered to turn in the proper paperwork and receive this year’s license plate. This time it took 5 minutes to have our annual plate and sticker in hand. This was certainly unlike our experience with the Pedasí municipio over a year ago when we were trying to register and receive the yearly license plate for our previous car, but never did until several months later and a few months after we had sold it. Not everything is a challenge.
So now our car is in the shop to fix the air conditioning. The fan does not work, the freon is low, and there might be a leak. I am not sure if this is the neglect of the mechanic in Coronado or just another separate issue. I am expecting the cost will be lower than what we would be charged in the U.S. though. But I have to admit, our finances have been challenged.
After writing about our internet and car challenges, I still feel blessed. The rain has not stopped, but the temperature is very nice and cool. The internet connection or WordPress seems to have improved somewhat. I know there will probably be other challenges in the future and we will face them as they come. I still think I deal with these challenges with less stress and thank God for His strength and blessings. Overall, this is a good life for “our third life”.
I receive a “Thought for the Day” in my email, many of which I save to review and remind me when I am challenged. Here’s one I think is appropriate to share today.
“You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control your attitude toward what happens to you, and in that, you will be mastering change rather than allowing it to master you.”