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Phil McGuigan and Other Heroes in Panama and Beyond

Phil McGuigan has some stories to tell. In this interview, he recounts to Jet Metier about his ties to the man who eradicated malaria in the Canal Zone and about the time he wrestled the richest man in Belize. McGuigan bought land and a house in Panama almost as quickly as he now buys hundreds of pounds of dog food for animal rescue in Boquete. Ask McGuigan about an event, and he probably knows someone involved directly. There is a story about how friends redirected the InterAmerican Highway and how a phone call from an aunt brought him to the country his father had left for good.
 
Editor’s note: Although it is not covered in this interview, it is important to note that Phil McGuigan is the driving force behind Chiriquí United (formerly Boquete United), an association of nine humanitarian organizations that work together to serve those in need, and that he also leads the effort to feed thousands of Boquete school children and provide them with other items.  Phil doesn’t talk about himself, but it is important to note that, along with others in Boquete, he is definitely one of the heroes in this area.
 
 
Jet Metier:  Happy New Year! What's happening in your fair town of Boquete?
 
Philip McGuigan:  It's pretty wild here. We've got the Flower Festival that just started on the 9th (of January). The place is just crawling with tourists. It’s the largest event in Boquete and it is to celebrate the coffee and the flowers here.
 
Boquete has long been a destination for rich Panamanians. It has always been high end, which is why there are some stunningly attractive houses. And it's all about having a cool place to go. I was just in David, where it was 95 degrees and humid. I come up here and it's 78 degrees.  We are experiencing what we call a bajareque. Its's heavier than a mist, but not quite a rain, so the heavy mist will hit you and it will dry on your skin.  And as a result, there are rainbows everywhere.
 
Jet Metier:  Does the bajareque affect all of Boquete or just certain parts?
 
Philip McGuigan: Different parts of Boquete will get different weather. There are many ecosystems. But where I live so far, last year, we had 132 inches of rain.
 
Jet Metier: Can you tell me what that is like? How much rain falls in an hour or all day?
 
Philip McGuigan: Someone asked me that the other day who I knew had an agricultural background in ranching, so I said, “Okay. A Panamanian rain is the essential equivalent of six cows peeing on a flat rock."
 
Jet Metier:  That's quite an illustration.
 
Philip McGuigan: And if you've ever seen a cow pee, you"d get the understanding. It's just amazing.
 
Jet Metier: Got it. So do people keep umbrellas with them or is there just understand that they're going to get wet?
 
Philip McGuigan: I've never seen the indigenous people carrying umbrellas. You see men and women walking in the rain; the men will wear a hat, but they don't seem to mind. The Panamanians, however, will tend to bring an umbrella.
 
The heat and sun is so brilliant, that in David, I had to take about a five minute walk to do some errands, and I had my umbrella, which I used because it was just searing hot. And being an Irish light-skinned guy, it just makes sense for me to do that. One of the things that a guy who moves here does after he finishes shaving, is to put on minimum 30 SPF sunblock.
 
Jet Metier:  What's the difference between what it is like in David and in Panama City?
 
Philip McGuigan: The nearest city to us in Boquete is David, which is the second largest city in Panama.  David is a big operation and increasingly sophisticated with increasingly nice hotels and other amenities, so you can pretty well get anything you want in David. If it's a specialty item, it may be more difficult. For example, I was looking for a tripod for studio lights recently.  There are two to three places that I could get it in Panama City, but no place in David that had it. So it's stuff like that that you would have a tough time getting in Boquete. But the grocery stores in David are the equivalent of anything you'd see in Arizona or Chicago. They are beautifully maintained. The floors are gleaming; everything's put up in a very appealing way, and so it's pretty sophisticated in that regard. There are two or three big chains, some bigger than others, so you have choices. And there are some grocery stores that have particular areas that they devote to products that expats would look for.
 
Jet Metier:  That's good. What about for women? We need a change of clothing and accessories. For example, we like home accessories that reflect Easter and Halloween. Do you have stores like that where we can go?
 
Philip McGuigan: Absolutely. In Panama City, you have a bazillion of them. I mean every time you walk down another area, there's another very high-end boutique. It's almost like New York on Madison Avenue. There's one particular mall that tends to be on the very high end. Therefore, it's very popular.  Panama City is a pretty dressed up place. People wear suits. It's very much like Miami. There are a whole bunch of restaurants and wonderful hotels to dress for and lots of things to do. The shopping is pretty sophisticated.
 
Jet Metier:  What about shops like good discount stores that are nice and comfortable, and that are the overstock from other higher end stores? Do you have that?
 
Philip McGuigan: You mean like T. J. Maxx?
 
Jet Metier: Yes! Exactly!
 
Philip McGuigan: We do not have those types of stores. What we do have, however, is Price Smart. I was just there today. It's a Costco-kind of store or like a Walmart. That's where we go shopping; we will load up because the discounts are pretty good and the quality of products is high. Last year, I purchased 2,500 pounds of dog food and cat food.
 
Jet Metier:  And you have two little pooches, don't you?
 
Philip McGuigan: We have two dogs and three cats.  Molly and George are the dogs, and Cleocatra Cat is "her queenliness." And then we have Schroeder and Fred.
 
Jet Metier: Is the pet food you buy American quality or is it from China and have weird melamine?  And who receives your largesse?
 
Philip McGuigan:  I buy Kirkland. There are a number of recipients. One is an outfit called ARF, which is stands for "adopt, rescue, and foster. " And, the other is a group that basically feeds the street dogs, so we don't have problems with that.  But we do have a few street dogs.  One group of street dogs we call "The Tres Amigos" (the three friends).  They're part of the landscape. They're wonderful dogs. And so I get a hundred pounds for them, too. I usually get a hundred pounds a month for ARF and a hundred pounds for the street feeding. And then, my friend, Wendy Burton, has had up to thirteen dogs, so I give her a bag. Wendy runs The Lost Waterfalls, which is the most popular hike here. And I got to know her early on. She's just terrific.
 
Jet Metier:  Does she live out in the country with her dogs?
 
Philip McGuigan: No. She's about three minutes off the highway that goes from Boquete to David.
 
Jet Metier:  So, I'm assuming you don't have any city ordinances about the number of dogs you can keep?
 
Philip McGuigan: No.
 
Jet Metier:  Well, God bless her heart. That's wonderful.
 
Philip McGuigan:  Another terrific woman here, Judy, has over 30 cats she takes care of.  She has two people who work for her full time, taking care of the cats and now the four dogs she just took in recently.  But it's all fenced, so dogs aren't getting out and free-range dogs aren't hurting the cats.  I also give Judy a bag of cat food every month.
 
Jet Metier:  What was the traveling time from Panama City in the old days, when these families used to come to Boquete without using air travel or good roads? How difficult was it?
 
Philip McGuigan: I don't know. It was not until they built the Inter-American Highway that car travel became much easier, probably in the 1960's.  I have two friends that rode horses all the way from Panama City to David as a protest to the plan at the time not to complete the Inter-American highway all the way to David, and then on to the Costa Rican border.  And my friends were, in fact, successful in putting pressure on the government to complete the road.  They didn't want to have David to be isolated by not having a good highway connecting it with Panama City.
 
The road just sort of crept along towards Costa Rica. I don't know how far it had gone. I think there were roads, but they weren't quality roads, and so my friends rode horses as a protest. They got a lot of support; a lot of press, if you will, and the government stepped up to the plate.
 
Jet Metier:  Were your friends who did the protest Americans or were they Panamanians?
 
Philip McGuigan: They were all Panamanians.  I happen to know one of the protesters-- Anayansi Menendez, who is a wonderful woman. She owns the Oasis Hotel here in Boquete. Oh, she's quite the lady. A lot of people don't know her history, but she has a strong technology background. She worked for one of the generals, not Noriega.  It was in the United States where she became an information technology expert.  She's Panamanian, of one of the earlier families in Boquete.
 
Jet Metier:  She took her horse and she's a woman. Was she with her husband or father?
 
Philip McGuigan:  No, she's "single and in charge," thank- you very much.
 
Jet Metier: So how many people were on the ride?
 
Philip McGuigan: I'm going to guess eight or ten. It could have been more. I don't think less.
 
Jet Metier:  And how long did it take?
 
Philip McGuigan: I think it took five days or six days. It could have been longer, I just know about this because she and I have talked about it, and because another guy I've gotten to know, Roger Patino (Panama's first federalist), was on the road as well.
 
Jet Metier:  So on this trek, when Anayansi stopped along the way, how did people react? When she came into town, did they rejoice? 
 
Philip McGuigan: I think, yeah. Everybody was pretty happy. It was quite the show. They stopped along the way.  They stayed at the hotels, and then they'd get on their horses in the morning and ride all day, and then spend the night.  They planned for stops because being on the horse for eight hours would make you tired. But they did it.
 
Jet Metier:  Please tell me about Panama City.
 
Philip McGuigan:  My wife has become quite the driver in Panama City. She's really good in knowing where she's going.
 
Jet Metier:  She can drive like a Panamanian?
 
Philip McGuigan: There's a secret to that. What you do is have your right foot on the accelerator, your left hand on the wheel, and your right hand on the horn, and then you're in good shape to go out in Panama City.
 
Jet Metier:  Isn't that amazing? And it's kind of a like a warning toot, isn't it? If I remember correctly, drivers are just trying to say, "I'm changing into your lane."
 
Philip McGuigan:  Yeah, beep! Panama City is not tough to get around, once you have a couple of landmarks behind you. The last time she went, my wife drove from Boquete to Panama City because her sister was here and she wanted to take her sister to a whole bunch of different places.  They spent the night and drove back to Boquete.
 
Jet Metier:  Sounds great. I’d like to ask about your memories about your family in Panama and what they told you, because I love that story about your aunt when she was a child, winning a contest to name Atlas beer. If you were to take us back, what are your earliest memories of your family in Panama?
 
Philip McGuigan: I came to Panama for the first time in 2005. My father grew up in Panama. He left at age 16 to go to college and he never returned.
 
Jet Metier:  Why did your father grow up in Panama?
 
Philip McGuigan: Let me start at the beginning.
 
Jet Metier:  Please do. I'm really looking forward to this story.
 
Philip McGuigan: John Gayle, the seventh governor of Alabama, had twelve children.  His last child was Edmond Dargen Gayle, who was my great grandfather. Governor Gayle's first grandchild was General William Crawford Gorgas, who was the man who cured yellow fever and malaria first in Cuba, and then he came to Panama and did the same thing here.  So, my grandfather was General Gorgas' uncle.  They were the same age and great friends.  In 1906, as soon as General Gorgas felt that it was safe, he asked my great grandfather to join him in Panama.  My great grandfather, great grandmother, and grandmother set out right away.  [Editor's note: Gorgas Hospital in Panama City was named after Army Surgeon General William Crawford Gorgas. Pictured in 1914.]William Crawford Gorgas 1914 – Best Places In The World To Retire – International Living
 
Jet Metier:  What kind of name is Gorgas, though?
 
Philip McGuigan:  It's Southern. His father was the head of ordinance for the confederacy in the Civil War. (“Ordinance" is basically artillery and everything firearm oriented; it was shotguns in the right hands, that kind of stuff.)
 
Jet Metier:  Can you tell me more about malaria? So why was he interested in it? Was there malaria in the south at that time?
 
Philip McGuigan: Well, yes. He actually got malaria and so did his wife while in Texas. As a result, he got interested in it. And because he survived malaria and his wife had survived malaria, they were both immune to it. And so, it made it a little easier. And then he was posted to Cuba.  He was a doctor who eventually became the Surgeon General of the United States.
 
Jet Metier:  So, he's a medical doctor in Texas. What year is this?
 
Philip McGuigan: Oh boy, I'm going to have to say it would have to be the late 1800s, perhaps the1890s, something like that. My grandfather fought in the Spanish-American War, then to the Philippines, then he came to Panama in 1906.
 
Jet Metier:  So you have both sides of your family in Panama?
 
Philip McGuigan: Well, yeah. And then, all they did in Panama during all of 1905 was work on draining swamps, doing all the malaria and mosquito control.  I believe that he worked for the Panama Canal Corporation.
 
Jet Metier:  And what are the places now that were once swamps? Are there buildings now? Are there neighborhoods that we would know?
 
Philip McGuigan: Panama City looks like Miami now. It was really a primitive place in 1905, a terrible terrain with huge rivers. Malaria was all over. Whenever you had standing water, you were going to have mosquitoes in that area and yellow fever. Basically once Gorgas took control, if you had a water tank, you had to keep it covered.
 
Mosquito eradication was all about getting rid of the breeding areas, whether it was spraying oil on the water to kill the larva or whether it was making everybody cover the water tanks that they used. It was all about destroying the habitat for the mosquitoes.Map of Panama Canal before construction of the Canal 1911 or older – Best Places In The World To Retire – International Living
 
The French experience in Panama was a disaster. They came very close to bankrupting France because of two things: one, malaria and yellow fever, and two, the equipment they had, was too small for the job.
 
Jet Metier:  What kind of equipment? Dredging?
 
Philip McGuigan: Dredging or their big shovels weren't big enough. That was the major difference between the American work on the Canal and the French. The French just did not have the equipment big enough. The Canal is 50 miles long, so you have to have pretty major equipment to deal with it. And the other thing that the Americans did was that they built the railroad, and they used the railroad as a major component in building the Canal for delivery of items back and forth. 
 
My understanding of what happened in the Canal really is more than I just read in books; it really came from my aunt.
 
Jet Metier: Please tell me. What is your aunt's name?
 
Philip McGuigan:  Kathleen Mary McGuigan.  Her mother married JJ [Joseph Jerome] McGuigan, who is the gentleman who fought in the Spanish-American war, went to the Philippines and came here.  He worked on the Canal for eight years from 1906. She was born in Panama in 1914.  Actually, I've seen the house where my dad and she grew up.
 
Jet Metier:  What does it look like?
 
Philip McGuigan: Well, it's fancy now. It was decently fancy before, because you know, your living conditions were based on your rank in the Canal Corporation, so the higher up you were, the more attractive your living quarters were.
 
Jet Metier:  The pictures that I saw, the houses were on stilts and had beautiful deep wrap-around porches.
 
Philip McGuigan: Yeah, that was very standard. The house I saw had been modified sufficiently, so I can't really tell you, but she said it was a very nice house. My aunt was born here, and went to high school. She was valedictorian of her high school class at age 15.
 
Jet Metier:  What did she excel in?
 
Philip McGuigan: Everything she did. She was an incredible woman. At 15, she couldn't join the Canal Company, so she became a paralegal for three years until she was 18. And then she joined the Canal Company.  When she retired, she was the administrative officer of the controller of the Canal. She was single her whole life.  Her work on the Canal was her life.
 
Jet Metier:  Tell me, what was she responsible for?
 
Philip McGuigan: Well, I asked her that when I first met her, and she told me the following, "Well, we pretty much hired and fired everybody." So that's what she did.
 
Jet Metier:  Remarkable. Did she tell you what life was like for the expat community?
 
Philip McGuigan: It was not the expat community, keep in mind. This was The Canal. They were called “Zonians.” And you know, it was separate; it was quite apart from Panama. There wasn't that much interaction with Panamanians, except at the very top. Your servants would be Panamanian, and so on, but by in large, the people who were working on the Canal were either US or they came from Europe or the Caribbean.
 
Jet Metier:  Where were the offices? Panama Canal Administration Building, Panama  – Best Places In The World To Retire – International Living
 
Philip McGuigan:  It's right near the Canal. There is a huge administrative building that is the center. It was one of the first major buildings built.  I remember driving by it for the first time with my aunt, who she looked at me and said, "There's my window. That's where my office was." It's huge and very imposing, very "Washington DC" sort of architecture. (Canal administrative building, pictured.)
 
This was 2007.  My aunt and I had gone out for lunch with her caregivers.  I said, "Aunt Kathleen, you worked at that building for 43 years. You retired in 1977. What was the last time you were there?"
 
She said, "You know, I don't think I've been there since probably 1980."
 
I said, "Great, let's go back and check it out."
 
She said, "What a wonderful idea."
 
So we drove up to the administration building with Rene Guardiola, who is a wonderful fella who runs Your Man in Panama. 
 
I had never met my aunt before that.  We talked on the phone once, and I just jumped on the plane to meet her. I spent several hours with her, and we agreed to have lunch the next day. She had trouble getting in Rene's Kia van, which he noticed.  So he pulled over under a shade tree, left the air conditioning running, and he said, "Five minutes."
 
He came back five minutes later and had stairs built, so she could walk up into his van. He had a guy that had a woodshop, and he cobbled it together in five minutes.
 
Jet Metier:  What a lovely person.
 
Philip McGuigan: He is the best. I needed to thank him, so when I got back home, I had a website built for him that described the tours that he could take you on. Rene has an encyclopedic knowledge of Panama. Since I had the website built, it has been taken over by my friend, Dennis, who has done a really great job.
 
Rene drove my aunt, her caregiver and me to my aunt’s former office building.  Renee said, "This lady is Kathleen McGuigan. She is the retired administrative officer of the controller of the Panama Canal Corporation. She wondered if she might be able to go in and see her old office and see old memories.
 
They said, "Absolutely." They rolled out the red carpet; deluxe.
 
Jet Metier:  What did they do for her?
 
Philip McGuigan: All of a sudden, we had an entourage because these guys weren't there when she started.
 
She said, "Okay, over there was where the controller was."  She knew the entire layout of the building.
 
She knew the history; how things happened, why a portrait was in one location as opposed to another. She knew the entire history of the Canal from the very early days.
 
Jet Metier:  What did you find fascinating when you were on that tour?
 
Philip McGuigan: I was just impressed by the building. It is a really inspiring place to go in and see how the operation worked and had been in place, since the very beginning. It was the landmark; the artwork, the architecture inside. It was very elegant, I would say.
 
Jet Metier:  So is your dad younger than your aunt, or older?
 
Philip McGuigan: No, he was two years older. He was born in 1912. She was born in 1914.Balboa School, Canal Zone, Panama – Best Places In The World To Retire – International Living
 
Jet Metier:  So tell me what your dad said about being an active kid, living in the Zone. What was it like? Was there alligator wrestling? (Balboa School, Canal Zone, pictured.)
 
Philip McGuigan: I have pictures. It was a pretty active deal. I think he felt that he got a darn good education. He basically lived at the gym and at the pool.
 
Jet Metier:  What about that telephone call with your aunt made you want to see her right away?
 
Philip McGuigan: She was the estrogen based equivalent of my father: smarter than hell with a wonderful personality.
 
Jet Metier:  Is there a community online of people who used to have family in the Canal Zone? What kind of activities do they have or what is their group like?
 
Philip McGuigan: It's called CZBrats. And actually the last time I looked, there they had been a series of fascinating articles, many of which were written based on interviews with my aunt.
 
Jet Metier:  Marvelous. So when you went to visit your aunt, did she encourage you to come and live in Panama? Did she influence you in any way?  
 
Philip McGuigan:  At that point, my dad was dead and my mom was in a hospice setting. My aunt and I were just delighted to have each other.
 
Jet Metier:  Were you working at this time?
 
Philip McGuigan: Oh my God, yeah.
 
Jet Metier:  So you had a very busy life and you went to Panama. Can you tell me what your early impressions were of Panama City? What did you see? What was 2005 Panama like?
 
Philip McGuigan: I was fascinated. Panama City was already a very sophisticated place. I stayed at the El Panama Hotel, which is just wonderful; it's the grand dowager of Panama. It's sort of like The Ritz in New York. All I can say is it’s a classic. You walk in there and you expect some sort of spy to be hiding behind the palms. It's got all that atmosphere. The rooms are just gorgeous; they had just done a re-do . It's a big hotel complex with a swimming pool and casino. Just everything you can imagine. It's in El Congrejo area. At the time that it was built, you could stand there and you could see both oceans. I've seen pictures where it was high enough, so you could see. I think it was built probably the 20s- 30s, if I had to guess. In the ancient pictures, there was nothing around it.
 
Jet Metier:  But could you see two oceans?
 
Philip McGuigan:  Yes.  Now, there are 30 story buildings all around it.
 
Jet Metier: So what did you discover about your family when you went to Panama?
 
Philip McGuigan: I was fascinated. And I didn't really have a clear understanding of what my family had done until I came here. I went to the Canal museum, and I walked in, and the first thing you see is the portrait of General Gorgas. Gorgas Hospital, former Canal Zone, Panama – Best Places In The World To Retire – International Living(Gorgas Hospital, former Canal Zone, pictured.)
 
Jet Metier:  What does he look like?
 
Philip McGuigan: He's a handsome guy. And you don't accomplish what he did, first in Cuba, and then with the Canal, and becoming a surgeon general, if you don't have the combination of being darn smart, hardworking and having a charismatic personality.
 
I understood for the first time that my grandfather had come here after the Spanish-American War, worked on the Canal from 1906 to 1914, and then he did special projects. He became first a magistrate judge and then the US attorney in the Canal Zone.
 
Jet Metier:   What else did you notice about Panama that you thought, "You know what, this might be a nice place for my second chapter." Did it occur to you during that trip?
 
Philip McGuigan: Panama City was sophisticated. We thought we would retire to the Bahamas. We bought two beautiful beachfront lots in Long Island in the Bahamas. Just gorgeous. But the more we went there, the more we realized that it was a pretty darn small community. If we had a cat or dog that got sick, we'd have to rent a plane and pilot to fly to Nassau. There was no good healthcare. Again, you had to go to Nassau. And it was pretty expensive because not much was produced there.
 
To get there, we'd have to fly into Miami to Stella Maris airport, which consisted of two planes, and they'd pick you up and fly you to Long Island. It's just a wonderful island and great, but it became clear that as much as I love to scuba dive, and it was so beautiful, it just didn't fit right. Then we looked at Belize.
 
Jet Metier:  What was your impression of Belize?
 
Philip McGuigan: I had a different perspective because one of my friends from boarding school was the richest man in Belize.
 
Jet Metier:  Who was this? Is he a banana person?
 
Philip McGuigan: Well, if you drank it in Belize, he produced it.  Whether beer or coca cola, he had the bottling company. His family had the operations.
 
Jet Metier:  Was he a person of British extraction?
 
Philip McGuigan: Yes, absolutely.  His name is Barry Bowen, although, he invited me to call him “Sir Barry Bowen” because he was knighted by the Queen of England.
 
He is the reason why I didn't go out for wrestling the second year. He just beat the crap out of me. And I said, "This isn't really as much fun as I thought."
 
Jet Metier: So what's the name of his brew?
 
Philip McGuigan: Belikin Beer.
 
Jet Metier:  What does it taste like?
 
Philip McGuigan: Great. And his brewery is stunningly beautiful. We're talking elegant, deluxe. He has a fancy tasting room for people who come in. Not just anyone can walk in. It's not like he's doing tours in it. It is just for special events.
 
Jet Metier:  What town was it then?
 
Philip McGuigan: It was in Belize City. He lived in Ambergris Caye. He had two planes that he used to go back and forth out of Belize City. I started going to Belize probably in the early 90s.
 
Jet Metier:  And you would stay in Ambergris Caye.  So why didn't you think that would be a good place to retire?
 
Philip McGuigan: It was a little too small. In the final analysis, Panama is what made us happy.
 
Jet Metier:  So how did you find Boquete?
 
Philip McGuigan: Boquete is pretty famous. I mean when you come to Panama, there are only two or three places where people want to stay. They want to live in Panama City, if they're city folks, or maybe Coronado, in that area, or Boquete.
 
Jet Metier: What were your impressions of Coronado?
 
Philip McGuigan: I've only been there a couple of times. It's a nice beach community; lots of nice condos there. It didn't appeal to me, because if I'm going to be on the beach, I want to be able to go to scuba diving. The beach there isn't very good for that. Scuba diving is not really good in Panama, unless you go on a live-a-board, because when you have a lot of rain, the run- off clouds the water.
 
Jet Metier:  So you went to Boquete.  Did you go by yourself or did your wife come with you?
 
Philip McGuigan:  Alicia came with me. On the first trip, we liked it enough to buy a piece of land. I think it was 2005.
 
Jet Metier:  What about Boquete said to you, "Yeah, this is the place."
 
Philip McGuigan: When I came to Boquete, it was like coming to Aspen when Aspen was just emerging. That's the feel I got. I'm thinking, back in the 60s, 70s, when Aspen was coming up. It was sophisticated; it was mountainous. And there was something very appealing with that same sort of feel.
 
Jet Metier:  So was your wife excited about building a dream house?
 
Philip McGuigan: We had a wonderful guy, Rene Bacil, who was our architect. He also is, I think, although he won't admit to it, a marriage counselor, because, if you build a house you need someone who can steer you through the difficult decisions.  He was just the best.  Recently, he served as "Beastmaster" of our project to provide backup power to the fire department and police in Boquete and, as a result, the project went smoothly.
 
Jet Metier:  Between you and Alicia, were there different ideas?
 
Philip McGuigan: We sorted them out, and it's worked out fine. I can tell you if you ask Alicia what she thinks of the house, she will tell you, it's her dream house.
 
I basically was on the property every single day for probably four hours a day while it was being built.
 
Jet Metier:  Do you have a contractor's background?
 
Philip McGuigan: No, but I knew enough to ask questions. And I developed relationships. I wasn't too happy with my general contractor in the end, but I was extremely happy with the guys who did the work. I was here, I got to know them, and they got to know me. I think that was a lot of why it all worked out.
 
Jet Metier:  What are your views of? Do you have a veranda?
 
Philip McGuigan: We have a porch. We have stunning views of Volcan Baru. Our lot is pretty good sized, and we have a beautiful stream. We have a bridge that goes over the stream on our property.  I think we're on 1.25 acres.
 
Jet Metier:  Do people build large homes on their lots or do they build small homes on their lots?
 
Philip McGuigan:  I would say, the average house here, where we are, and there's only six of them, would probably be 5,000 square feet.
 
Jet Metier:  Do you have help for your wife to take care of your house?
 
Philip McGuigan: We have a woman that comes in once a week who normally works from 9 to 2. And we have Ramon.
 
Jet Metier: I know Ramon from your other answers on Best Places.
 
Philip McGuigan: Ramon is fabulous.  He can do anything. We have him two days a week, Monday and Friday, and then my next-door neighbor has him Tuesday and Thursday, and another neighbor has him Wednesday.
 
My experience is that when a Panamanian knows that your family has been here since 1906, they like it a lot.
 
Jet Metier: It really must be heartwarming.
 
Philip McGuigan: That's why I have so many Panamanian friends, because it really makes a difference to them. And the fact that I'm doing my best to speak Spanish.
 
Jet Metier: How's it going?
 
Philip McGuigan: Pretty good. I'm a full believer in that attitudinal approach.
 
Jet Metier:  Have a wonderful walk with your dogs and thank you so much.
 
Philip McGuigan: My pleasure, Jet.
 
Posted in  My Life In Boquete, Chiriquí Province, Panama
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