Life Goes On

Life Goes On

Lief and I were out all morning in meetings with colleagues, readers, and friends here in Panama City. As we moved from one end of town to the other, the phone rang nearly nonstop.

“Another roller-coaster week,” reported one investor friend from the States.

“People are selling indiscriminately. Panic selling,” explained a broker friend who happens to be in Panama for a few weeks. “I’m taking my boat out this weekend for a cruise to Contadora Island. Would you guys like to join me? We’ll leave early tomorrow morning. It’ll be good to get away from the phone, from the laptop, from all the bad news…”

Unfortunately, we can’t make it to Contadora this weekend. I asked for a rain check.

And then I returned to the office to find this e-mail from friend and roving retiree Paul Terhorst, reminding me that, beyond the market chaos, life goes on:

“A young girl laughed at me the other day,” Paul writes, still on the road in India, “for eating with a spoon. Her parents explained in hushed tones–at least this is my best guess–that we foreigners are less evolved and that we foolishly insist on eating with utensils rather than our hands.

“At a temple the other day, I saw hundreds, maybe thousands of people wait in line for hours under fierce heat to get inside. I figured they must take their religion very seriously indeed to risk dehydration and sunstroke.

“Then later that day, I saw hundreds, maybe thousands of boys wait in line for hours under the same heat. I asked one of the kids what they were queued up for.

“‘Tickets to a movie.’

“We went to the zoo on a school day, hoping to avoid the crowds. Even so, there were so many people we were forced to follow along the path, as in a receiving line. Rather than choose which animals to see, we were carried along by the crowds. Helpful signs every so often pointed ‘this way,’ keeping us well organized. If we lingered too long in front of a given animal, the guards would ask us to move along.

“At another temple ceremony we saw a priest play with fire. Unlike the long lines we’d seen at other temples, only five or six worshippers watched this priest toss this and that into the flames. He looked for all the world like he was cooking, carefully measuring and dipping, a pinch here, a leaf there, then throwing ingredients into the pot/fire.

“The fire ceremony was accompanied by recorded music with a Western feel to it–that is, with chord changes.

“So far we’ve had electricity cuts every single day, sometimes for minutes, sometimes for hours. Blackouts are more than a common problem; they’re a way of life. Some hotels and tourist restaurants maintain backup generators or batteries.

“One day I was walking along a path through the jungle when something hit me on the top of the head. I cried out, ran for cover, and looked up. A man above me was chopping down coconuts. Apparently I’d been hit by a stray bit of pulp chipped off the plant. I noticed the coconut cutter had tied a rope to the main stem of coconuts, to avoid dangerous, free-falling coconuts when he cut through.

“All along the coast we see sea eagles, huge reddish-brown birds with white heads and chests. They glide over the water looking for something to eat. Magnificent.

“We liked Kovalam beach so much we decided to stay for a week. We asked our innkeeper how much for a seven-day stay, and he promptly dropped the price from US$9 a night to US$6 (Sunset Hotel, We’re in shoulder season here; the monsoons have ended, but the snowbird crush has yet to begin. December and January are the big months, with the week between Christmas and New Year’s very busy.

“Up the hill behind our guesthouse there was a rental, a nearly new apartment, two bedrooms with bathroom in between, no view. The dining room was larger than the living room and had a big table and chairs.

. Price: about US$20 a day, with a 20% discount for the month ($480). I pointed out that one should get a bigger discount on a monthly rate, and our man Rias laughed and said we would have to talk to his parents about that. You can email him at to find out more.

“We saw many other places with ‘For rent’ signs, but the owners were away.

“Remember, we’re out of season. I get the impression we could rent houses/apartments for as little as US$100 to US$150 per room per month. We’re in a buyer’s market, with the locals at our mercy this time of year. It seems largely up to us what we pay.

“For another take on rentals, here are pictures of a place in Udaipur in north India:

“Taxis charge at most 10 rupees per kilometer, which comes to about 21 cents a kilometer (34 cents per mile). That’s for the round trip. That is, if you ride 20 kilometers, you pay for 40, thus paying the driver’s trip back home. I wonder if these prices will fall now that the price of oil has fallen. I suspect they will. Whatever, we use taxis all the time. I’d be terrified to drive here, with potholes, bad roads, rusty buses, and hidden dangers.

“I’ve noticed that Indians who own cars tend to let others drive them. I guess if you’re rich enough to own a car, you’re rich enough to avoid the aggravation of driving it.”

Kathleen Peddicord

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