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A Break From The Real World

“I’m traveling in the far south of the country with friends Roger and Naree,” writes intrepid Correspondent Paul Terhorst in his final dispatch from Laos.

“Our last stop was an island (Don Khon) in the Mekong River. The Laos call this area ‘four thousand islands,’ although some of the islands are just clumps of dirt.

“From one part of our island we could see Cambodia over on the right bank. Going farther south, there’s Vietnam, with the Mekong delta and Saigon. But Cambodia, Vietnam, and, indeed, civilization itself seemed far away. The people on our island continue to live as they have for centuries, growing rice and catching fish, without roads or even electricity.

“These days some of the guest houses have generators that provide electricity for guests between 6 and 10 p.m. But that’s the extent of modern convenience.

“In the 1920s, the French built a railroad and bridges on these islands in an effort to get around rapids in the Mekong. These days, the rapids–the guidebook calls them waterfalls–make for a pleasant tourist outing. We saw the old train tracks and an old locomotive, courtesy of the French, and old bamboo footbridges. The French even fought a battle with the Thais here, or near here, over some disputed border or other. I’m fuzzy on the details, but the French won and the borders have been fixed ever since.

“These days, our island has a new concrete bridge connecting us with Don Det, the next island father north. Don Det has a reputation of catering to kids, while our island caters to adults. I met a young traveler who was staying on Don Det and asked him about the famous parties there, carrying on until all hours.

“He replied, ‘How much carrying on can you do when they cut the electricity at 10 o’clock? All the bars and restaurants close, except one, and there isn’t much to do there without light, without music.’

“One day walking in the jungle I tripped and cut my foot. Neither Roger nor I had any disinfectant, and there were no pharmacies on the islands. When we got back to the village, we saw a building with two red crosses over the gate. We took it for a hospital and went in. ‘Anybody home?’…

“The hospital (let’s call it that) was deserted. In the first room, we saw four wooden bed frames, without mattresses, sheets, or pillows. A second room had records and other paperwork piled up, covered with dust, and beyond was a lab without any equipment.

“Finally, in the rear, we came to a counter and reception area. On the counter were four or five medicines. Roger picked up a bottle and showed it to me: Betadine.

“Perfect. I squirted some Betadine disinfectant on the small cut on my foot. I handed it to Roger, as he, too, had some scratches.

“Just then, the attendant came in and saw us. ‘Self service,’ Roger said.

“She smiled and asked if we wanted cotton or bandages. I said, yes, please, and she rattled around in some drawers for a while before shaking her head sadly.

“I said, ‘That’s all right, thanks.’

“She smiled again, and we left, possibly the only patients of the day.

“I stayed at the Somphamit Guest House, US$5 a night. Cheap enough, although, remember, this was without electricity and, consequently, without hot water. My room had a balcony with hammock, suitable for watching the river go by.

“Roger and Naree stayed at the Souksanh Guest House, farther down the path, same price, similar hammock and balcony. Both guest houses offer the same thing: pure relaxation.

“This is the place to come when you want to give your mind a break from the real world.

“We generally ate our meals at Roger and Naree’s guest house. We liked the food, and the beer was cold (hard to come by without electricity), but the cooks were exceptionally slow. On our last night, Naree finally went back into the kitchen to speed things up. Soon food came flying out. First several dishes for the guy at the next table, then for Roger and me. Finally, Naree showed up and joined us.

“‘Fantastic,’ I said. ‘How did you get them to hurry?’

“‘I didn’t,’ Naree said, as she grabbed some sticky rice. ‘I cooked this stuff myself.’

“Early next morning it was time to leave. Roger came over to get me, and I told him my landlady had disappeared. In fact, since I’d checked in, I hadn’t seen anyone except other guests. Who could I pay? Roger speaks the local language. He talked to the neighbors, who in turn pointed to another neighbor. Roger chatted with this last woman, and she pointed to her chest with her index finger.

“‘You can pay her,’ Roger translated. I did, and we were off.

“On the boat to the mainland, I saw three 10-year-old girls wearing school uniforms paddling a canoe to school in town. Once at the bus station, Roger and Naree headed south, to Cambodia and Angkor Wat. I headed north, back to Pakse. From there I got a bus across the river and back into Thailand. I changed buses and rode ‘home’ to Chiang Mai, where Vicki was waiting.”

Kathleen Peddicord

TODAY:

“I crossed the border into Mexicali,” writes new Correspondent Dan Millington, “and began my two-hour drive south along the Sea of Cortez to San Felipe. My mission? To visit El Dorado Ranch just north of San Felipe town.

“When I last visited, 15 years ago, there was a trailer that represented a sales office and a small palapa eatery.

“Things have changed. What was barren desert is now a master-planned, eco-friendly resort community. Mostly Americans have arrived in large numbers, bought property, (lots start at US$30,000), built their dream homes or bought condos, and settled down for a comfortable, affordable retirement.

“On the grounds are two restaurants, a community pool, a championship 18-hole golf course, all overlooking the glistening Sea of Cortez. For more information: www.eldoradoranch.com or www.laventanadelmar.com.”

***

“I wonder why there aren’t more people here?” asked my young marketing manager Harry.

I’d been wondering the same thing myself. This bright and clear Sunday morning, we had this stretch of Panama City’s Causeway nearly to ourselves. On one side, views of forest-covered islands and the Bridge of the Americas…on the other, across the bay, the towers and high-rises of central Panama City.

“I guess not many people realize how nice it is over here,” I offered.

The long, flat Causeway, lined with palm trees and park benches, is an ideal place for an early-morning bike ride, we discovered. Two shops offer bicycle rentals (US$2 to US$4 an hour, depending on the size of the bicycle). Along the way are restaurants and kiosks. At the far end, weekend mornings, a small flea market.

Workmen were out, even Sunday morning, sweeping up litter. The entire stretch was remarkably clean and tidy.

“Can we come over here every Sunday?” Jack wanted to know.

“No problem,” I replied, as I challenged him and Harry to a race back to the car.

MAILBAG:

“My husband and I have been living in Mexico for a number of years. We are considering a move to Panama in large part because of two new businesses we are setting up.

“The timing of your May Live & Invest in Panama Conference is good for us, but what about the temperature? May is steamy in most of Mexico.

“I am particularly interested in the area outside David. We have Panamanian friends there. I have had enough of living in American-style communities in a new country. We have lived in many parts of Mexico.

“I am also interested in Casco Viejo. I am looking at the possibility of purchasing there with the intention of restoring for the purpose of renting or resale. (I have experience in that field.)

“Also, are there rental properties within a half-hour to three-quarters-of-an-hour drive from Panama City? I would prefer this property to be at an altitude that would provide a somewhat cooler climate than the city.

“We must have high-speed Internet and dependable phone service. This has been a challenge in Mexico, and it is at the top of our search list.”

— Wendy L., Canada

May is the beginning of the rainy season in Panama, so it is possible that the humidity could be high…though it’s never as hot or humid in Panama as it is in some regions of Mexico.

Also, “rainy season” doesn’t mean rain all day in this part of the world. Typically, showers fall for a couple of hours, then the skies clear and the sun returns.

Our experts, contacts, and friends will be speaking in detail about both David (the city you fly to from Panama City to get to Boquete in the mountains) and Casco Viejo (the World Heritage Site old town where the French hung their hats during their attempt to build a canal across this isthmus) at the May conference.

The two places I can think of in the mountains within 45 minutes or so of the city, where the temperatures would be a bit cooler, are Altos de Maria and Cerro Azul. Again, we’ll be able to tell you more when we see you in May.

Meantime, if you’d like to begin researching available rentals in either of these places (or, indeed, purchases in Casco Viejo or David), contact local real estate professional Giulia Gonzalez by e-mail: Panama@LiveAndInvestOverseas.com

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