Dual Citizenship

Well….our dream of retiring and living part-time in Panama has finally come true.  The ” life plan” actually began in the early 2000’s with visits to several central American countries with the thought of eventually living there.

We fell in love with the country, and the people of Panama in 2006.  In 2007, we had a house built in a sub-division near the town of Las Tablas, on the Azuero peninsula, about 15 minutes from the ocean.  Here’s a photo of our house, and a happy Jimmy, when we took occupancy in 2008:

For a while, we nicknamed the area “Bullhead South” due to the number of former  residents of the Bullhead City/Laughlin area who planned to live here, at least part time, including our neighbor Lupe Abrego.  She and her family originally lived in the three houses across the street, and we all knew each other from working at Harrah’s and the the-then Flamingo.  Another former “Bullheadian” lives around the corner, another couple built and later sold a house two blocks away, and a few friends originally bought lots here.  Many of you may know Lupe’s daughters: Mayling (and Kevin) McGowen, and Lariza (and Scott) Bayliss.

We wanted to do things the right way when we finally retired and moved to Panama.  Therefore, we started the long, arduous, and expensive process of becoming dual citizens.  This included obtaining a “Pensionado” (or Jubilado) status (with formidable legal hoops), then obtaining our Cedula and finally a Panamanian driver’s license. We began the process in 2015 and finally picked up the last official id card on July 30, 2018.

We are now residents of both Panama and the US.  We retained our US passports, but now can breeze through  Panamanian Customs as citizens of that country too.

And finally, the last piece to fall into place was to obtain a permanent Panamanian phone number.  It’s a lot less expensive than in the US.  I simply bought a sim card and prepaid package with minutes, texting and data for $15/month, and voila!  I’m using my regular Samsung Note 5 and will be able to switch back to my AT &T number upon our return to the US.  We also activated Jim’s US phone number internationally through AT&T.  My only issue that is if we miss a Panamanian call, the caller leaves a message….in Spanish.  We are both concentrating on learning the language, but it’s an uphill climb.

After five nights in Panama City, we asked our friend and driver, Luis, to take us to Coronado, which is about an hour outside of Panama City.  We stayed at an apartment right on the beach for two nights.

Coronado has become quite an ex-pat community and we’d never spent any time there.  We thoroughly enjoyed our stay, but determined that it’s not someplace we’d like to live.  We chose Panama in part because of the charm of the people, and the Panamanian lifestyle.  Coronado is similar to San Diego, and in my opinion, has lost the charm.

We leased a Hyundai Tucson  in Coronado for a month, with the thought that maybe we’d buy it, or if we don’t like it, we can lease a different one next month.  We still haven’t finalized our decision yet (more on that later).  We left Coronado on a sunshiny Monday morning and drove the three hours to our paradise-on-earth.  Our wonderful neighbor, Lupe, had arranged for pest control, service on our air conditioner and cleaning, prior to our arrival.  We are very, very lucky to have such a great neighbor and friend.  The day we arrived, of course, we spend settling in, going to the grocery store, hanging the hammocks, etc.

Jim celebrated his birthday the second night we were in Las Tablas.  We celebrated the day by taking Lupe out to dinner with us at the Presidential Hotel downtown Las Tablas. No pie, but great margaritas!

Since the house was built in 2007/2008 and only occupied for a week or two every year, there are many things that needed to be fixed and/or replaced (like the refrigerator).  We also have been planning to build a block wall with decorative wrought iron around the backyard and eventually create an “outdoor” room and kitchen.  Stay tuned for the next blog posts about our re-model.

Home Sweet Home

20180705_094410-11436543439.jpg

Livingston, Texas is an absolutely wonderful place to call our new home.  Located about an hour northeast of Houston, and near a HUGE lake, the town has everything we were looking for.  However, as the photo says…”home is where you park it” when you’re a full-timer.  Thank you to Emily Brown for this “next-best-thing-to-a-mother” day present.

 

 

We spent three glorious weeks in our new  hometown, preparing for putting everything we own in storage and heading to Panama for three months.

Livingston has everything we want or need, including a regular Farmers Market, yard eggs and much more.  The photos below are of just one portion of Lake Livingston, and some shots of Matthews Street Park, near downtown.

The weather in East Texas is typically hot and HUMID…you can actually see the water in the air.  I took these photos on one of my daily walks:

We had some great food and drink while there.  We couldn’t pass up Florida’s BBQ – and her buttermilk pie is simply to die for.  We visited The Wet Deck, and several Mexican restaurants pursuing Jimmy’s secondary quest for the best margarita in Texas.

Finally, we were ready and put our home in storage, along with the GMC Canyon pickup truck, motorcycle trailer (and motorcycle) and headed to Panama.  More posts coming later.

Vicksburg, Shreveport and a BEAR!!

EntrysignMainWe left Red Bay, AL and drove to Vicksburg, MS where we stayed for two nights.  What a beautiful, historic town.  We toured the Vicksburg National Military Park and learned more about the Battle of Vicksburg.  Then headed downtown to do a bit of shopping, and relaxed at a rooftop restaurant.  Unfortunately it was raining, so the view was obscured, but lovely.  I didn’t take any photos because they just didn’t do the place justice.

Here are some photos of over 1300 plaques and monuments placed throughout the Military Park.  A really awe-inspiring experience and well worth a trip.

We left Vicksburg for an easy drive to Shreveport, LA (actually Bossier City) to stay another two nights at Diamond Jack’s Casino and RV Park.  Driving along westbound I-20, we were amused by this sign:Bear crossing (2)Then…we saw a live bear!!  Really and truly…along the side of the freeway.   I didn’t believe Jim when he burst out “BEAR!” But he was telling the truth (just like he does when he tells about the Florida Panther he encountered).

The bear was standing on his hind legs looking at traffic.  Just as I started to fumble for my camera, he dropped down to all fours and ran away.  I then googled bears in Louisiana and learned that our sighting was quite common – it was a Louisiana Black Bear whose habitat is along the Mississippi River valley, and northeast Louisiana – exactly right where we were driving.

I copied this image from Google – it looks just like the one we saw…louisiana-black-bear

We arrived in Vicksburg, and visited Diamond Jack’s as well as the Horseshoe Casinos.  We head out tomorrow for our “home base” in Livingston, TX.  Stay tuned for those postings.

Site-Seeing Around Red Bay

While waiting for “THE CALL” and subsequently waiting for the coach to be done each day, we did some touristy things to make the most of our time.

First, we took a tour of Tiffin’s manufacturing facility. Tiffin offers owners the opportunity to come to Red Bay while their specific coach is being built. Owners can sit in each work area, working “hands on” with the Tiffin employees who are building the motorhome. The tour was incredibly interesting, and a bit overwhelming when we learned that they produce 13 Tiffins a day, every week day! It’s a well choreographed business. Owners are encouraged to talk with employees, and are given free access to the warehouse, workshops and service areas. Bob Tiffin maintains an open door policy, and owners who are so inclined, can go to his office to meet with him.

On another day, we headed out to explore the area. We’d heard of Coon Dog Cemetary and the Rattlesnake Saloon from several sources, so I plugged in Coon Dog Cemetery into our nav system in the GMC Canyon truck, and off we went. Coon Dog Cemetery was founded in the 1930’s. In order for your dog to attain the elite status of being buried there, there are three rules:

  1. The owner must claim their pet is an authentic coon dog.
  2. A witness must declare the deceased is a coon dog.
  3. A member of the Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard, Inc. must be allowed to view the coonhound and declare it as such.

We had fun walking along the paths, reading the epitaphs. For more information, click here: http://www.coondogcemetery.com/

20180615_203700-collage2096711189.jpg

We then headed to nearby Rattlesnake Saloon, which we’d heard was a bar/restaurant in a cave. While the cave didn’t go very far back into the cliffs, it was indeed the most unique place we’ve been….and beautiful. We thought the place was made famous by the Tiffin Owners Facebook group, until we learned they’d been on the Discovery Channel, Travel Channel and more.

Again, we were made to feel most welcome. Before we left, we stopped by the Gift Shop to pick up some post cards for my friend Lin Clark. The owner of the Gift Shop wouldn’t let me pay for them, since we were “Tiffin folk”. Then I tried to leave a donation…she literally took my wallet out of my hand and stuffed the two dollars back into it before handing it back to me with a very stern look. “Tiffin has done so much for my family and everyone else in this area, this is the least I can do”.

On yet another day, we took off for Tuscumbia, AL, to tour Muscle Shores Music Studio…the first place Lynyrd Skynyrd recorded. It was such a small building that produced so much music. It had been completely restored, including the original furniture.

We got everything done we wanted to do in Red Bay, and certainly enjoyed our time in this tiny town. We plan to be back in about 18 months or so, for the next “annual” service.

Stay tuned for adventures on the road back to Livingston, TX

Tiffin Motorhome Mecca AKA Red Bay, AL

We left Sedalia, Mo and headed to Red Bay, AL, which is the home of Tiffin Motorcoach – (our coach is a 2017 Tiffin Phaeton).  We wanted to go to the factory to get some warranty work done, as well as a couple of upgrades, since we didn’t have very good luck getting work done at a dealer.

What an incredible place Red Bay, AL is!  It’s a very small town on the border of Alabama and Mississippi, just south of the Tennessee state line.

Tiffin is by far the major employer in the area, and several RV support businesses have sprung up throughout the area, since Tiffin is sooooo busy.  Everyone in the town, and surrounding communities are so very welcoming, and cater to the RV crowd.

The way Tiffin service process works is that no advance appointments are given.  When you arrive, you fill out some paperwork listing the items you’d like Tiffin to repair.  An inspector (Norris – a really knowledgeable guy) comes to your coach to review the list with you. He then submits a report to the scheduler, who puts you in line for a service bay.  Then you wait for “THE call”.  It could be within a few days…or maybe a few weeks. This process can be very frustrating, if you’re not prepared for it.  Fortunately, Jimmy conducted his typical, thorough research and we were prepared to stay in Red Bay through the end of June.

Tiffin offers owners the opportunity to stay right in the middle of their service area – affectionately known as “Camp Tiffin”.  20180614_0656521263315932.jpgHowever, when we arrived, they didn’t have any open spaces, so we were placed at a nearby RV “park” – the Bunkhouse.  Both areas are simply gravel parking lots with full hook ups.  The amenities are so limited because everyone typically leaves in the morning headed to either Tiffin or one of the other businesses to get work done, and then return to the “camp” in the evening.  The morning ritual with Tiffin after Tiffin after Tiffin parading down the street, some turning into Tiffin’s service bay area, others turning into other businesses along the main drag was interesting to watch.

 

One of our priorities while in Red Bay was to exchange the sleeper sofa that came with our coach for theater-style seating.  Therefore, one of our first stops was to meet Heather in furniture.  She took us into the warehouse to look at a few options, but none were to our liking.  What we really wanted couldn’t be delivered until July.  That timing didn’t work for us, since we’re headed to Panama.  Heather made a couple of phone calls, and gave us the contact information for Trevor Nichols.  Trevor’s shop is located right across the street from Tiffin and he specializes in furniture, step covers, dash covers, the underside lighting and more.  Trevor had exactly the right theater-style seating – the correct color and everything.  It was installed the next day and I love it!!

We also got some new shelves and drawers installed, along with some additional storage space located behind the fireplace.  The craftsman came to our coach, took the measurements and came back five days later to install.  How convenient!!

Another priority was a complete detail, inside and out, so we scheduled that at a small little storefront, also across from Tiffin, with the busiest person I’ve ever met.  She runs a tiny cafe, RV detail service, barber shop, dog grooming service and oh by the way sells brand name purses…and puppies.  We managed to get away without a new purse, nor a puppy 😦

OUR CALL came on Thursday afternoon (we arrived Monday).  However, we were in the next town over, across the Mississippi state line, having a margarita (Red Bay is dry!).  So we went back to the bottom of the list.  Thankfully, we got the second call the next morning – at 6:30 AM.  We packed up and headed to Bay 35.  20180614_070207Jim went over the list with Greg, who knocked a couple of things off the list right away by simply showing us the correct way to do things (like the road noise around the door was because we weren’t closing it properly).  I feel like the dealer should have shown us these things in the two-hour walk through we did when we took ownership, but they didn’t.  In any case, we left the service bay and spent the whole day in the really well-appointed Customer Lounge.  We met Greg again as agreed at 3:00 p.m.  They completed some of the work, but weren’t finished, so we agreed to bring it back by 7am Monday,  It was in the shop all day Monday, and again on Tuesday.  While really nice, hanging out in the Customer Lounge got really old.  The coach then got scheduled for the Paint Bay on Wednesday for two days.  Then it went back to Trevor’s for down lighting installation.  Finally, we took it to Bay Diesel for its annual service and installation of a “safety steer” thingy that makes the coach more stable in the wind.  All in, we were pleasantly surprised by the final bill being 1/10th of what we expected.  It was very well worth the trek to Alabama.

Here’s our new down lighting at “Camp Bunkhouse” 20180615_202735-collage1418639901.jpg

However, the whole experience was like working full-time again, with the work involved in setting up and tearing down everyday, and having to report in by 7am.  We both are very glad we did it, and are very glad it’s over.

I can’t talk enough about the hospitality of this small little town.  There are Tiffin RV’s driving all over, and the traffic gives them the right of way.  Even the dentist located right next door to Tiffin worked me in immediately when I showed up with a swollen face and extreme pain….just $50…no emergency fee, no waiting.  I’ll be forever grateful to Dr. Ray for helping.

The next post will take you along with us on our site seeing trips in and around Red Bay.