Monday Chat, a collaborative online database, provides cost of living comparisons between cities and countries of the world. It has just released its first six-month index for 2022. From this, let me point out some data for the US and Panamá (where most of my readers reside) and then Ecuador (where I’m currently based). Other indices presented are rent (with and without cost of living), groceries, restaurant, and local purchasing power (the amount of goods or services that a unit of currency can buy at a given point in time).

In the paragraph above, the most important word is collaborative. This database is made up of information provided by individuals; it is not fact checked. Despite this criticism, I think the data it provides is worth considering. My blog is intended to be a travel blog (though I didn’t do much traveling during the pandemic); it is not intended to seduce people to move to one of the countries I have attempted to explore.

The big picture shows that parts of the United States, Bermuda, and Switzerland are the most expensive countries in which to reside. The least expensive are parts of the Middle East, India, and Southeast Asia. Ground zero for comparison is New York City with a score of 100. All cities and countries are reflected either side of this figure.

Based on 510 cities of the world with cost of living and purchasing power, Hamilton, Bermuda ranks at 145.98 (81.89) while Peshawar, Pakistan comes in at 15.69 (27.15). Quite a spread. In the United States, Honolulu at 101.93 (92.17)  and Santa Barbara at 100.58 (84.95) are the only two cities to rank higher than New York City. The least expensive US city, of those compared, is Wichita, Kansas at 59.45 (96.19). Panamá City is the only Panamanian city on the list, showing a cost of living of 50.27 (33.42). Cuenca, Ecuador’s cost of living is 38.19 (29.92). Two other Ecuadorian cities, Quito and Guayaquil, show up as 37.77 (31.37) and 36.12 (38.83) respectively.

For me, all of  this means that I can live more cheaply almost anywhere than I can in the United States. From this list, there are only 9 cities more expensive than New York City, but 499 less expensive. The world is my oyster. Perhaps I’ll find a pearl in it.

Fact: The COVID-19 pandemic caused a shock to the world economy, resulting in higher prices.
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No Way to Travel: A Message to My Panamá Friends

Is there a best way to travel? Of course not; it has many individualistic factors to consider. What’s right for you may not be right for me, and I’m beginning to think that what was right for me may not be right for me forever. I travel lightly: backpack and computer bag only. Let me tell you about my trip to Ecuador.

I flew from David to Panamá City and that’s when the problems began. Copa airlines landed at their new Terminal 2, but I had to walk outside to Terminal 1 in order to find a shuttle. I discovered there would be no free shuttle to the Crowne Plaza Hotel due to the strike that was taking place. Consequently, I tried to use Über to get to the hotel, but the Über drivers couldn’t get through. I had to cancel three requests. Finally, a fourth drive got through, but we could not find each other, even after extensive communication back and forth. I still would like to learn if there is a specific spot at that airport for Über pickups. Let me know.

All the while, what taxi and van drivers were at the airport kept hassling me to take their $10.00 ride. I refused, knowing I could do better. After an hour of standing in the hot sun, a man came up to me and said he had seen me standing there for a long time and was there anything he could do for me. I told him I was trying to get an Über driver. He then gently told me he was a taxi driver and that he would get me to the hotel for $5.00. I took him up on the bargain. However, that left the last Über drive hanging and I was charged over $12.00 for cancelling that ride.

The taxi ride to the hotel took an hour due to the strikers nearby when it otherwise should have taken 5 or 10 minutes. The ride went through slums and down dirt roads in a circuitous route, through areas I would never have seen or wanted to see. But he got me there. He was an educated, English-speaking former Texan driver I can recommend to anyone who like to use him when in Panamá City.

I had to leave the hotel early the next morning before the strikers took up their stoppages, so I was able to use the shuttle and got there in time. I had to wait a couple of hours, only to find in the last 20 minutes that they departure gate had been changed from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1. This time, I could move to Terminal 1 through the inside, but I had to run with my backpack and computer bag flaying on my sides. I had done a self-check in originally, but for some reason my name wasn’t in the system. So, I arrived at the gate with the wrong boarding pass. This took a while to straighten out, but because of the gate change, the plane left late.

I arrived in Quito and had to wait a couple of hours. I then quickly made it to Cuenca, when a 6.1 earthquake occurred upon my arrival (no smart remarks!). Whatever could happen next? Fortunately, nothing. I got to my apartment and settled in. I then discovered I had two bruises on my right hand from constantly having manhandled my backpack.

Why am I telling you all of this? Probably to relieve my own frustrations with travel. I had waited two weeks for the strikes in Ecuador to come to an end, only to then have to endure strikes in Panamá. Traveler beware. Never travel during strikes. I recommend flying with only carry-ons, but not when those carry-ons contain your whole life. Luggage or shipping would be better in that case.

As a traveler then, how am I going to travel the next time I make a major move? I’ll have to let you know what I decide. In the meantime, I will start to write about Ecuador, with the sights and learnings that I am encountering.

Fact: Only 19% of travelers carry on their luggage
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Chiriqui Province, Panamá

At the western edge of Panamá lies Chiriqui Province, the second-most developed province in Panamá (after Panamá City’s province). Its diversity means there is something for everyone. There are miles of deserted pristine beaches along the Pacific Ocean, scenic mountain regions with numerous hiking trails and waterfalls, and Panama’s only volcano Volcan Baru (dormant). This volcano is the highest point in Panamá, and from its peak of 11,398 feet, both the Pacific and Caribbean oceans are visible.

These pristine, often deserted beaches, allow not just sunning but big-game fishing, diving, snorkeling, and bird watching. Among Central America’s densest mangrove forests is the National Marine Park, home to 25 islands and 19 coral reefs. Las Lajas and Boca Chica are two of the best seaside beaches. Further out in the Pacific are Boca Brava and Playa la Barqueta which will feel like your own private beach.

This Province is also a mecca for the adventuresome hikers and rock climbers, as well as the waterfall sightseers. These upper elevations bring cooler temperatures with lush rain forests and coffee farms. Flower growing is big business here in Chiriqui, also. These activities center around the small towns of Boquete and Volcan. Both of these have drawn international visitors and retirees.

Chiriqui Province is the bread basket of Panamá. Fruit and vegetable farms dot the landscape. Boquete is the center for Panamá’s award-winning coffee, while Volcan and Cerro Punta are known for their prolific crop farms. The cattle industry is also not to be overlooked.

There is always something to do in Chiriqui Province, from major shopping in its capitol city David (da-VEED) to quiet contemplation in the forests. Boquete has become a major location for about 5000 international expats, making English the second predominant language. Still, the province is Panamanian, with local festivals throughout the year. The colors of Chiriqui Province shine in its natural surroundings and in its people.

Fact: At least some English is spoken in many of Panamá’s larger towns
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Fun Facts about Panamá

Panamá is no exception when it comes to the quirky and quacky. Here are some of the best.

Nicaragua postage stamp

After the French gave up trying to build a canal across the isthmus of Panamá, the United States took over under Theodore Roosevelt. The US Senate debated  whether the canal should be constructed in Panamá or Nicaragua, so Roosevelt mailed a Nicaraguan postage stamp showing a land of volcanoes to every Senator. The Senate quickly decided on Panamá! Panamá was then a part of Colombia, and the Columbian government rejected the financial terms offered by the US. Roosevelt positioned warships at each end of the proposed canal. The Colombians could not navigate the jungles to reach the American presence at the canal, so the Panamanians declared independence from Colombia and the rest is history.

Panamá was the first country outside the US to sell Coca-Cola (1906). It was also the first Latin American country to adopt the US dollar as its currency (1904) following its independence from Colombia.

Photo of Edward Murphy, Jr.

Murphy’s Law, “anything that can go wrong will go wrong,” was coined by Edward Murphy,  Jr., born in the Panamá Canal Zone in 1918.

Angela Brown of Bocas del Toro married the Prince of Liechtenstein in 2000, making her the first Afro-descendent member of a European royal family.

Panamá takes the honor in 1510 of creating the first Roman Catholic diocese on the American continent. Six years later, the first city to be built by a European was constructed on the Pacific side of the American continent.

The first conquistador arrived in Panamá in 1501, one year ahead of Christopher Columbus.

Museum of Biodiversity

The Museum of Biodiversity in Panamá City is the first building in Latin America designed by world-renown architect Frank Gehry. He designed the building to tell the story of uniting two continents, separating a vast ocean in two, and the planet’s biodiversity forever.

Fact: Panama City is the only capital city in the world having a rainforest within the city limits. 
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Boquete on the Rocks

Boquete, Panamá, haven for North American and European expats (ex-patriots) has gained worldwide attention for being a superb retirement community. Former residents of many countries have flocked to Boquete for a new life. The reasons for this include a moderate climate (yearly average 70º F), clean air, no hurricanes, and sometimes a lower cost of living.

Expats, however, arrived late on the scene in Boquete. The town is nestled in a valley with mountains rising on the sides. As such, it was a pass through to reach more distant lands. Miners going to the California Gold Rush of 1868 often stayed, but they found no gold here. There were no roads in the early days; most people traveled by horseback. The district was founded on April 11, 1911, but people have existed in the area since about 600 BC. This is evidenced by petroglyphs in the outlining community of Caldera.

There is evidence of even earlier habitation. Anthony Ranere from Temple University conducted an archaeological survey in western Panamá in the 1970s. What he found has astonished not only archaeologists but also general history buffs and inquisitive people. Outside Boquete, Ranere excavated a site which came to be known as Casita de Piedra, a natural cave-like indentation in the mountainside. His discovery shows this structure had been used for thousands of years for domestic life and work, as well as for shamanistic practices.

A natural cave-like indentation in the mountainside
Casita de Piedra –

In 2007, Ruth Dickau, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Exeter, arrived on the scene and discovered a cache of unique stones. Below these rocks was a piece of charcoal radiocarbon dated to be 4800 years old. A similar fragment was found in the layer above which was dated to be about 4000 years old.

Carbon dating further indicated the base of the rock shelter showed this area had been used about 9000 years ago. The way these rocks were placed, as well as their composition, suggests they were used by a shaman. If so, this would be the earliest material evidence of shamanistic practice in lower Central America, according to Richard Cooke of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panamá.

It is a known fact shamans used rocks and crystals in their practices. These rocks were often unusual in some way. Some of these would have been quartz, pyrite, and magnetic minerals, carved or uncarved. This evidence shows the Boquete site was most likely to have been used by a shaman.

Quartz, pyrite, and magnetic minerals

Why these pre-human beings gathered crystals is still a mystery to modern science, but it is possible to deduce crystals had some intrinsic value for these people, and if they were making cave drawings, they had a spiritual life and, if they had a spiritual life and, if they gathered crystals too small for use as tools for manipulating objects, the crystals may well have had a spiritual or energetic value to them. [attrib. to Richard Cooke, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute]

Crystals are more than a power object for the shaman. He and his practitioners believe these are living beings from the spirit world and they transmit energy for healing and can affect a change from negative energies such as sickness to health.

The receivers of shamanistic knowledge were hunters and gatherers living off the land. They gathered fruits, nuts, and roots and captured animals and fish. These people progressed to be herders and farmers. Farming is an indication people moved from finding food to growing food. This occurred some 10-15,000 years ago, a significant practice which is still primary for survival.

Expats have made their mark on Boquete, but Casita de Piedra shows a handful of rocks are an even bigger mark for the town. Even though this excavated site must remain in seclusion for its protection, just knowing the importance of its existence puts Boquete on the map.

Fact: Boquete is home to Barú Volcano National Park
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Behind the Scene in the Boquete Library

Boquete is blessed to have a wonderful library, thanks to a generous doner and others who raised over a million dollars to construct a 3-story facility. It holds the distinction of being one of the few lending libraries in the country. Until coming to Panamá, I thought all libraries loaned out their books. Such is not the case in Panamá. I find this hard to comprehend.

Boquete Library building

There are more than 40 libraries and branches in the country. The largest is the National Library of Panama, a branch of the Ministry of Education’s library system, with over 200,000 volumes. The Biblioteca Pública Morales has 280,000 volumes, while the University of Panama library has over 267,000 volumes. All of these libraries are located in Panamá City. Lastly, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Balboa has 44,000 volumes.

The Boquete Library has a growing collection of books. As of 2020, the catalog totaled over 26,500 books, with 30% being in English. There are also a few holdings in French, German, and Italian. This library is so much more than books. The intent is to have a place of pleasure and discovery; it is not intended to be a research library. Books are taken to the local schools for children and youth to use.

Children's library

The facilities offer a meeting room and hall for monthly rotating art exhibits, classical music series, and community talks. There are English classes for both children and adults and story times for children. There are computers throughout the library as well as Wi-Fi being available for personal computer use. Books can even be checked out via the Internet and picked up later.

Library shelves

When an architectural design for the library was created, it was modeled as a cross between a lending library and a Barnes and Noble bookstore. This meant the space would be bright and open, allowing for a comfortable and welcoming mode. This has proven to be true, as the number of users and patrons is high for the size of the community.

The Boquete Library is often ranked as the best public library in the country. Residents of Boquete are proud of their library as they should be.

Fact: The Boquete Library was the first lending library in Panamá
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At the Chocolate Factory

Once again, I have asked my friend Myra to share with us one of her recent posts. She has been in Boquete longer than I have been and gotten to places I have yet to visit. I see no reason to reinvent the wheel, so I welcome her post which I think you will enjoy:

Please visit Myra’s blog at Thanks, Myra.

Fact: Chocolate is big business in Boquete
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Panamá Has a Desert

A desert in Panamá. Doesn’t that seem contrary to tropical living? Yet, a desert does exist and the worst thing about it is that is man-made. The desert is now a national park, a contrast to the Ecoparq of an earlier post.

A northeast portion of the Azuero Peninsula has been stripped bare from over grazing and cultivation for thousands of years. What had been there were coastal forests and mangrove trees. This vegetation was chopped down in the 20th Century to allow for farming. Unfortunately, the loss of trees caused the soil to be blown away and farming was at best difficult to sustain. The Azuero Peninsula is the driest region of Panamá, and this desert area has higher temperatures and less rainfall than even adjoining areas. The rock pictured was split due to heat.
cracked by the heat

Fortunately, this area has become the Sariqua National Park in an attempt to revive the land. It consists of 20,000 acres or 18 square miles on the Pacific Coast. It had once been covered by the sea and remains a salt-encrusted land. What mangrove trees remain at the edge of the park serve as breeding grounds for shrimp. These shrimp have contributed to the renewed growth of vegetation, which has slowed the loss of soil due to winds, rains and tides. Sariqua might be more correctly called a salt bed than a desert.

Sarigua is likely to be the oldest, pre-Columbian settlement in Panamá. The area was settled by fisherman 11,000 years ago and was a farming community from 3,000 BCE to 500 AD. There still are remains of ceramics and tools used to farm.

This land was farmed until the 1900’s when the devastation began. Eventually the farmers had to move to greener pastures. The land they left remained devastated for decades until recently. See nature’s attempt to revive the land in this 6 minute video:

People come to this sad-looking park to see the beauty in eroded valleys, the salt deposits, quartz, and volcanic rocks. What they also see is a park on the mend with flocks of pelicans, and 162 migratory birds that have stopped on their way to somewhere else. With the slow growth of new trees, forestation is taking over where it once thrived and now this land is beginning to show a new life.

Fact: There are 16 national parks in Panamá
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Some Panamá Romance

Laura Ann Neuleo. Messages to Jake. Author published, 2021 Romance          Softcover, ISBN 9781736349205; ebook

The villagers in Almagro worry about Emma living by herself. But between teaching English, the arrival of HIV testing, and monitoring a mysterious path by her house, loneliness isn’t on her mind. Nonetheless, she experiences moments that trigger thoughts of home—in particular, text messages she used to receive intended for a stranger named Jake.

When Emma discovers that Almagro has cell phone reception, she tracks down Jake’s friend via unexpected help from a villager. Meanwhile, Jake, a third-generation American with Panamanian roots, confronts his past and learns about Emma. After failing to get in contact with her, he heads to Panama.

Emma and Jake develop feelings for each other, but Maya, a villager who resents Emma, gets in the way. To complicate things, Jake has a history of leaving, and Maya holds a secret that affects all three of them.

Will Jake leave Almagro because of village conflict? Can Emma and Maya overcome their differences?

Messages to Jake is a novel about love and loss, secrets and trust, and the danger of assumptions. It showcases the beauty and struggles of living in a rural village, and the challenges of health care in a developing country.

Laura Ann Neuleo. Messages to the Mule. Author published, 2021 Romance          Softcover, ISBN 9781736349229; ebook   

With her boyfriend gone, Maya is offered a choice: join a South American drug cartel or risk the cartel entering her village of Almagro. Treacherous months hiking through the jungle and lonely nights sleeping on coconut husk mattresses ensue.

Maya knows the cartel’s weapon is to use relationships as a threat. Despite that, she makes a friend, visits Almagro, and develops feelings for a fellow mule-all while banking on the trustworthiness of those she encounters. Meanwhile, scenes from the past reveal information about Maya’s first love.

While she struggles with loving a new man after having lost another, a revelation happens that could upheave her life as a mule.

Will Maya succeed in keeping her relationships a secret from the cartel? When faced with life and death choices, will she be able to resist leaving Almagro’s residents out of the drug lords’ hands?

Messages to the Mule is a story about forbidden love, the power of choice, and discovering self-worth under oppression.

Two other Panamá fiction works can be found here.

Fact: 7 books about Panamá have sold over 10,000 copies each (see:
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How Does the Panamá Canal Work?

What is your conception of the Panamá Canal? Many think it is a slot of land which has been dug out from one ocean to another. It’s true that it goes from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean or vice versa, yet it is anything but dug out. The Pacific Ocean is nearly 8 feet higher than the Atlantic Ocean. Ships can’t travel uphill or down, so a series of 12-18 locks (depending on lanes used) were built to raise and lower the ships. Here is an animated video of this process (see the first 1:32 minutes):

or perhaps you would like to take a real ride through the Canal:

The Canal is 85 feet above sea level. Ships take 8-10 hours to travel through the Canal; each lock takes 8 minutes to fill. The Chagres River supplies most of the fresh water needed to keep ships afloat. Each ship displaces about 52-million gallons of fresh water to the oceans. Nearly 1 million ships to date have passed through the Canal.

How does the Panamá Canal compare with other canals in the world? Panamá’s is not known for its length (51 miles) but for its construction. By comparison, the St. Lawrence Seaway is the world’s longest natural waters passage at 2,342 miles. The Grand Canal of China, 1,103.5 miles, is the world’s longest man-made canal. The Suez Canal is 120 miles long.

The Panamá Canal is what makes Panamá famous. Not only ships but also a swimmer have made this Canal known.. It is one of the busiest waterways in the world. About 15,000 ships pass through the Canal each year. An average of 38 ships use the waterway each day. How much money does the Canal produce? Panama’s GDP is approximately $68.5 billion with the Canal taking in about $2 billion a year in revenue, of which approximately $800 million goes into the country’s General Treasury each year. Still, the Canal overrides everything in the Country.

The Canal is important not only to Panamá but to the world. Ships no longer have to cross through the dangerous Cape Horn of the Tierra del Fuego Archipelago at the tip of Southern Chile. This saves about 8,000 miles, 12 less days of travel, and a large amount of money not spent. Most countries of the world make use of the Canal. Panamá has reason to be proud of the canal, while at the same time profiting greatly.

Fact: 12,000 lives were lost building the Panamá Canal (mostly from cholera and malaria)
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