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Panama and The Theory of Relativity / "Panama East"

Reprinted with permission from Bob Adams of Retirement Wave
 
A Voyage to Another Galaxy
 
I am very fortunate. A few months ago, I had the chance to visit a planet in a galaxy a thousand light-years from ours. The planet I visited was a little like Earth, but it was also a little like Mars, what Earthlings often call "the Red Planet", only the red was much stronger.
 
Panama City Panama at sunset – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingI stood on a balcony of a building on the top of a hill, looking down on the alien city. My eyes were not made for viewing on this planet, so it was difficult to see detail. I saw other buildings down the slope. In the far distance, I could barely make out the line separating the red ocean from the red sky. In the middle, I could see a point of land stretching out into the ocean, the surrounding water looking a little "milky", or at least that is what occurred to me at the time. It was alien, but somehow familiar too. Whatever, it was beautiful and I was captivated by its beauty.
 
Do you think I am making this up? I imagine you do and I am, but I am not at the same time. You see, I took a photo and I want to share that photo with you today. So take a moment to look at an alien planet in a galaxy far, far away. 
 
Dramatic, isn’t it? I think it is both beautiful and mysterious. I would love to go back to that planet and spend more time. I was only there for a second, just enough time to take this photo, and then I was back on Earth. As I will mention later, I am hard at work, trying to get back to this dark and spectacular city.
 
Okay, by now you are probably thinking that Bob has finally lost his mind. Or he is playing with Photoshop. You can trust me on this, I have never used Photoshop in my life and I would not have any idea what to do with it if I suddenly tried. I would have to learn a great deal about it and I do not intend to spend the time doing that, so I never expect to be able to Photoshop any photo, ever.
 
No, that is the original photo I took that evening. It is completely real. No change in color or in saturation or anything else. What you see is the photo the camera took, only a smaller version to fit into this webpage. Otherwise, it is exactly as it was. How did this happen that evening a few months ago?
 
It was one of the most beautiful sunsets I had seen in Panama City. I stood on my balcony and took more than a dozen photos from different angles at different times, trying to capture it. When I downloaded them onto my computer, I went through them, one at a time. I came to this one and stopped.
 
I was really shocked. I thought, what is this? Where is this? It was a complete mystery at first glance…and at second glance. I was confused.
 
Let me help you understand my confusion. Panana City Panama skyline – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingHere is a photo taken of the same scene in the daytime.
 
Is this a dull and ordinary photo or what? There is nothing special about it and it certainly was not taken on a planet in a galaxy far, far away. I could walk there right now, if I wanted to. I have many times.

How did this happen? Well, the color was provided by the sunset. Much of the rest of the difference is due to clouds, some dark and some light, some near and some far. In addition, I finally decided it must have something to do with my focus, my use of a "zoom function", and moving my camera hand at the time I took the photo. I was so busy trying to catch the scene in different ways in only a few minutes that I had apparently combined two or more "mistakes" and ended up on that alien planet!
 
My point in sharing this story with you is very simple. Two people can look at the same thing and see something very different. The photos above were different because the circumstances were different. Most of the time, although we have many beautiful sunsets, we do not have sunsets as spectacular as I saw that night.
 
Let me put it this way. Maybe you have seen a movie with a friend and, when it is over, said something like, "That was a great movie!", only to have your friend say something like, "That movie sucked!"
 
Or maybe you heard a speaker with a friend and afterwards said something like, "That was fascinating!" only to have your friend say something like, "That was boring!"
 
So even though the two of you see and hear exactly the same thing at exactly the same time, you see and hear something totally different than your friend sees and hears.
 
You might say that each of us has his or her "private universe" in their heads. Each of us experiences life from a different perspective. And, like the photos above, this is especially true when you see the "same thing", but under different circumstances and at different times.
 
A Different "Theory of Relativity"
 
Everything is "relative" (there is my excuse for borrowing Albert Einstein’s words!). For example, in the last couple years, commercial "international" websites have pushed retirement in Ecuador. I have worked in Peru and Bolivia, only briefly visiting Ecuador, but it was instantly obvious that Ecuador shares the beauty of the Andean mountains with its neighbors and I am sure their beaches are beautiful too.
 
But I also read the comments of an Ecuadorian government official a few months ago complaining that Ecuadorians were moving their money out of Ecuador. He specifically mentioned that nearly half of that money was going to one nation – Panama. A decade or more ago and that would probably have been the US, but today, it’s Panama.
 
So there you have it too. Two different perspectives for different reasons, but as I have said before, people who speak Spanish fluently and know the Latin culture intimately are bringing themselves and their families, not just their money, to Panama from all over Latin America for reasons that may or may not be important to you, but are very important to them. You need to be aware of their perspective as well as the "international" websites if you visit Ecuador to see for yourself. Their perspective may make no difference to you, but it is important not to ignore it.
 
It Is Not Just Outside Panama, But Inside Too
 
I am facing this problem in my own work today. Some of you who have read my essays are aware of my interest east of Panama City, not west where most people go if they leave the city, or even north toward the Atlantic. This region has been ignored and neglected for so many decades (some would say, centuries) that very few people, Panamanians definitely included, ever think of it. It includes the Districts of Chepo and Chimán in Panama Province (that includes Panama City) and the entire Darién Province.

I have followed the region closely for seven years. From the beginning, my 46 years of experience in "developing nations" told me to take a much more careful look. I did and I was convinced that one part of this area, Lake Bayano, was simply too beautiful, too tranquil, and too close to the city to be ignored for long. Further east, there were fewer people and the potential may have been obvious to me, but it would not be to most folks with different professional backgrounds.
 
So I bought land at Lake Bayano and another parcel further east in Darién Province. Many of my Panamanian friends thought I was "ambitious", to put it politely. A few thought I was crazy. But everything I had done in my professional career all my life told me this was where I should focus my attention, so I thanked them for their concern and did what I knew I had to do. I have never regretted that decision for one minute.
 
Recently, a business associate and I went to Torti, a small city on the border of Panama and Darién provinces and a place I had visited before, but it had been awhile and I wanted to check in and see what was happening with a Panamanian friend who lives there.
 
I was amazed. We were very much aware of rumors that there were major land purchases being made in the east, but we were unprepared for what we found.
 
The rumors are true and things are moving rapidly. I had expected this eventually, but there was no way to predict when it would actually begin. It has begun. We had lunch with my friend at his hotel and all he talked about was the number of foreign investors who had arrived. Although, as expected, many were Colombian and Venezuelan, he was especially impressed with the Italians. His hotel and restaurant are very popular and, as we ate, four of these folks came up to greet him and be introduced. One was from Colombia, one was from Venezuela, one was from France, and the other was from South Africa. Not far away, he pointed out a table with four Panamanians looking prosperous and cheerful. They were local real estate agents. They were not there a year or two ago, but they are today and they look quite happy and busy.
 
We asked him about Panamanian investors and he had to stop and think, than remembered one who had set up a tourist operation. We asked about American and Canadian investors and that brought silence to the table for a couple minutes as he thought. Well, maybe one or two had visited, but no investors as far as he knew. Panamanians and North Americans were not the moving force, but there are plenty of other nations involved.
 
The important thing is that these folks have invested millions of dollars already. A few have purchased not just hundreds of hectares (a hectare is roughly 2.5 acres), but thousands. This is not something they are thinking about or planning for the future. They have made their initial investments and work is underway.
 
So much is happening. The Pan-American Highway from Panama City to Torti has almost entirely been upgraded. A trip to Torti once took four and a half hours of weaving through miles/kilometers of potholes. When some of the highway furthest east was improved, it only took three and a half hours. I told my associate who was driving us out to expect that, but I forgot to consider the recent repaving of the highway from the city to Lake Bayano and the installation of new bridges to replace the very old one-lane bridges of the past. It took us about two hours and fifteen minutes! And there is more.
 
The government has announced it will spend $30 million to improve the highway further east from Torti (to Metetí, for those familiar with the area) and a very important $69 million project to pave a road as long as the Panama Canal from the Pan-American to the Pacific Ocean, the first such paved road in the history of the region. And, of course, there is the discovery of substantial amounts of natural gas and oil, primarily off-shore we are told, that will bring a great deal of attention to the region later this year and next year.
 
You see what is happening? Two "photos". One is based on stories and events of the past and the other based on today’s reality. Many people here will tell you how "dangerous" it is in the jungles of the east and how "primitive" it is. I know from experience that most of these people have never visited the east, even an hour east from Panama City, and the few who have are talking about an experience of years, even decades, ago.
 
If you like photos, let me give you an example. Cheap hotel – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingPeople used to warn me that there was no decent hotel to spend the night in the east, none at all. I suspect they thought any hotel in the east would look like this one.
 
That photo is not from Panama, but it probably is a good example of what they meant.
 
While we were visiting, my associate took a picture of a portion of the hotel which is set back, up a hill, away from the main road and the hotel restaurant whose roof you can see below. You can judge for yourself whether it looks primitive.Hotel east of Panama City Panama – Best Places In The World To Retire – International Living 
 
Now let me make it clear that this is the one hotel of its kind in that area, although more can be expected in times to come. The owner is doing very well. Who are the guests? For a long time, they have primarily been "birders" from North America and Europe. The Audubon Societies and similar groups have kept him profitable since he opened, but now he has a growing clientele who are not there only to watch the birds and I think he is not going to have to worry about clients for a long time.
 
There is much more to be done before Panama East is integrated properly into Panama, the nation, but it is already underway. The sense of potential I felt so strongly seven years ago is now finally being realized. As a result, I will be spending much more time in the region, including Lake Bayano, and putting a great deal of work and effort into it, along with a great team of associates. You do not have to write and ask me if I am giving up Retirement Wave. I am not. The website takes up very little time. It is email correspondence and visits here in Panama with Members that take up 95% of my time with RW and I do not intend to stop that. But I will be dropping many other activities as I turn my face and my life to the east.
 
However, the point is the same. What some people can see, others do not. In this case, many who do not see it are people who have never visited the east before and only repeat what old stories they have heard, or if they have visted, it was a long time ago. For them, Panama East is definitely a planet in a galaxy far, far away. What happens outside Panama can happen inside Panama too. Although this is not a "Panama Report", I will still remind you that what I say above is a matter of my opinion. I cannot predict the future. However, I feel strongly enough about this that I am committing myself to it as best I can.

In Summation
 
We each have our way of looking at life, our "personal universes" in our heads from where we get our perspective. When you read incidents or opinions about Panama that seem extremely negative or extremely positive, you need to remember that someone is looking at Panama from their personal universe, not from yours, and that includes me. Comments made by others, both positive and negative can be helpful. They can provide you with questions to ask. However, they cannot provide you with your photo. They are different people looking at different tiny pieces of a much bigger picture at a different time under different circumstances.
 
Forgetting this can be the cause of great concern when reading on the Internet. I know. I read your emails and I do my best to respond. But never forget what you always need to remember.
 
There is only one person who can provide you with a "photo of Panama" that is accurate for you. You know who that is. It is you and only you.
 
Collect the "photos" you see in images and text all over the Internet. But if you are seriously interested in Panama or any other nation as a new home, you eventually have to take a deep breath, make reservations, and come on down. You have to take your own "photo tour". My experience with Members who have done that is that they answer the majority of their concerns far more accurately by themselves than by anything that I or anyone else can tell them.
 
Oh yes, I said I would say something more about that Red Planet photo. I am learning not to do it by accident, but on purpose. That is harder than you might think, but I am making progress. For fun, I am putting together my own portfolio of alien worlds, cities, countrysides, people, etc. We are told that we can learn from our mistakes, so why not? And it keeps me out of trouble!
 
Posted in  My Travels in Panama
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