In the meantime, between the art exhibitions, the photography shows, and the celebrations of the town's suspension bridge (the first in Latin America, completed the year the Eiffel Tower was built), little Santa Fe snoozes on peacefully, encircled by its cloud-encrusted mountain peaks. For not much has changed here since that glorious bid for independence two centuries ago. The town is still no more than a cluster of cobbled streets amid rows of low houses with flower-decked balconies, tall wooden doors, and shuttered windows encased in elaborate iron-work. Cars are few, motor bikes and bicycles more plentiful, but horses far from unknown. Busy, bustling Medellin, with its metro system, its funicular railways, and skyscraper clusters, is the region's unquestioned center; Santa Fe is a mere memory of how this country once looked. The little town has one absolutely first rate place to stay—the Hotel Mariscal Robledo, right in the center and named after Jorge Robledo who founded the place in 1541. Its 36 rooms open onto deep, shady verandas overlooking a swimming pool and hung with flowering creepers. While a portion of the ground floor is kept permanently air-conditioned (for Santa Fe can get very hot), the dining room and bar flow naturally into a garden with pools and streams. A curiosity of the hotel is that just about everything moveable bears a price tag and turns out to be for sale. You can buy the chair you are sitting in, or the bookcase standing near you, even your bedside table. And as if this were not enough, displayed around the public areas are piles of old leather suitcases, ancient scrubbing boards, vintage bicycles, old typewriters, kitchen tables, and similar bric-a-brac—all for sale, usually at quite high prices. What kind of guest would buy such things? Or do the locals regard the hotel as a second-hand furniture shop from which to furnish their homes? The town boasts two museums, both in the same street behind the Cathedral, one secular the other religious. In the Museo Juan del Corral, you can see the table, made locally to a ;British Queen Anne design, on which that famous declaration of independence was signed by the three leading revolutionaries of their day—Juan del Corral himself, who held the office of “President-Dictator,” and the town's Secretaries of “War and Foreign Affairs” and “Mercy and Justice.” Proud titles for such a small place. A few yards away, the former headquarters of the Jesuits (before they were expelled) is today a rather successful religious art museum. Here, to a background of soft plainchant, are displayed paintings, statues, and other religious objects from the town's once flourishing religious life, all in the rather gaudy, extravagant style favored by the Spanish Church. Of particular interest are some fine vases and ewers fashioned from local silver that serve as reminders that the region was originally favored as a mining center for precious metals. There is also an exhibit about Colombia's first native-born saint, Mother Laura, MA, who was canonized in his first month on the job by Pope Francis. Mother Laura was an independent-minded and seriously educated early-20th-century missionary to the local Indians who gave up the wimple and rode a donkey to reach their villages. Apart from this, there is not much else to see or do in Santa Fe. The Cathedral may be large but contains little of interest apart from an optimistic row of 12 confessional boxes. Modern shops and stores have grown up inside many of those low 18th-century buildings, while others have set up bars and restaurants in their cool interior courtyards. But gastronomy is not up to much in Santa Fe despite the steady growth of weekend tourism from Medellin and an explosion of weekend cottage developments on the town's outskirts. The inhabitants of Santa Fe have a taste for heavy stews washed down with beer, for inexplicably Colombia produces no wine of its own and what little is available comes from Chile, Argentina, and Peru. To visit Santa Fe today above all is to marvel at the stamina of those first settlers who crossed so many miles of uncharted country to found a tiny town next to nowhere and dream of making it an independent state. Paul Lewis
“If I had to start over today,” Lief said, “I’d scrape together whatever nest egg I could, and I’d invest in a rental property, something that would generate enough cash flow to pay my bills. I’d live as cheap as I could and put aside every dollar of rental cash flow I could until I had accumulated enough to purchase a second rental property...and so on. “After I’d built a small portfolio of cash-flowing rental investments, I’d make an agricultural buy—timber, say, though that is a very long-term investment. You can get much nearer-term yields from coconuts, coffee, cocoa, and bamboo, all of which I’m either already invested in or looking at closely right now. “If it were just me, I’d continue living super-cheap, saving every possible dollar for additional cash-flowing investments. However, it’s not just me. My lovely wife makes sure that at least some of my income is diverted into non-cash flow-producing investments—like summer vacations and new living room furniture,” Lief continued with a smile in my direction. “Where would you make your first buy?” our friend wondered next. “If I were making the first investment of my career right now,” Lief replied, “I’d be shopping in Panama City or here in Medellin. Both are good markets for generating rental cash flow.” “I want to get rich,” our young friend interjected. “Where could I make more money quicker? In Panama City or Medellin?” Lief and I looked at each other. “It’s not easy to get rich quick investing in foreign real estate,” I offered. “Frankly, I don’t believe it’s easy to get rich quick investing in anything, but focusing your investment efforts on foreign property means adopting a long-term perspective.” “Right,” Lief agreed. “It’s very possible to realize an immediate return from a foreign property investment. That’s one reason I recommend rental properties—you can get a cash return right away. However, rental cash flow isn’t going to make you rich, at least not quickly. And the return from an agricultural investment is even less immediate. It takes 20 years to realize the return from an investment in teak, for example. So you’re making those kinds of buys for different reasons—for diversification and, mostly, to build legacy wealth. “But none of this is a formula for getting rich in a year or two or even three, thinking realistically. Global property investing is a way to get rich slowly. However, it’s real wealth, not paper wealth. It might take you five or seven years or longer to build a portfolio. I’ve been at this for more than two decades now. I’ve built wealth, yes, but I didn’t do it quickly. “When I was closer to your age,” Lief continued for our young friend, “I shared your eagerness. Like you, I wanted to get rich quick. That thinking led to the biggest mistakes of my investment career. I think of those now as my ‘greed’ buys, and they cost me big-time. “Now I’m not tempted by the idea of striking it rich or hitting it big time. Now I’m very happy to buy for a reasonable annual return. I look for a minimum of 5% to 8%.” “Is that what you’d be looking for in Panama City or Medellin if you bought today?” our friend asked. “One reason I like those markets is because it’s possible in both of them to beat my minimum return expectation. Buy the right thing for the right price in either city, and you could see annual cash flow of 10% to 15%. In today’s world, that’s nothing to sneeze at.” “Where do you see bigger upside potential?” our friend continued. “I see Medellin as a market for steady growth. Property values have appreciated in the three years since we invested here, and I believe they will continue to do so, but, again, at a slow, steady rate. “Panama City, on the other hand, is a boom town. It has seen one boom, which was followed by the slowdown of 2008/2009. Now I think we’re leading up to another boom. About two years ago, prices in Panama City began appreciating again, slowly. When the Canal expansion project is finalized, though, I think we’ll see another pop. This will happen in 2015, and not only Panama City but the entire country will benefit. The Canal expansion is a big deal. “I see more dramatic upside potential in Panama than in Medellin for two other reasons, as well. First, Medellin is still suffering from the Escobar Factor. This misperception will continue to keep the average foreign retail investor away for some time. We still get readers asking about Noriega in Panama, so Medellin’s got a ways to go before it will shed this stigma. “The other reason Panama offers more upside is because it’s still the Wild West. Real estate in Panama, including in Panama City, is a cowboy’s marketplace. In Medellin, on the other hand, the real estate industry is more developed, more sophisticated, and more controlled. Prices in Panama are all over the place. It’s impossible to say what something ‘should’ cost. It’s a free-for-all. That kind of chaos creates opportunity.” Kathleen Peddicord
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Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter.
Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.
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