Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Water Again

I think just about everyone who reads this blog also reads Don Ray's Chiriquí Chatter.  Today, June 10th, he posted an outstanding article about the problems with water here in Chiriquí.  It's a must read.  It isn't as if he's saying anything really new; he's responding to a Yahoo group discussion and he's repeating a lot as well as adding disquieting news about the meningitis outbreak--I had no idea it was in Dolega, too.  My post on utility reliability contains much the same information except Don has expanded on the information in his post, and he specifically addresses the situation in David, which is different from the rural areas.

I would have to say that pueblo-wide here in Potrerillos, we have water outages maybe a half dozen times a year.  BUT because of water delivery lines and the fact that people tap off each others' lines (yes, it's illegal--just try to get it enforced), you wind up having far, far more outages than just with the main delivery system.

At any given moment in time, I can take you over a 2-3 kilometer stretch of road and point out to you at least two very visible leaks, plumes of water spouting into the air.  They are not IDAAN pipe leaks--they are leaks from private lines.  There are leaks like that--water plumes, easily visible--as you go down the road to Dolega and to David as well.  If you happen to be downstream of such a line and you're on it--well, if there are outages finally in that line, you, too, have no water.  And IDAAN will not help you.

I posted a comment on Don's blog about the fact that right after the tropical depression that became Tropical Storm Alma left us, Valle Escondido, the over-hyped development in Boquete, suffered a mud slide that blocked one of their access roads.  Fortunately no houses were involved.  Yet.

If you go to the Palo Alto area or the Jaramillo Central area and look at the development on the slopes that has turned Boquete into a slum as far as I'm concerned--if you go look at the steepness of grades of access roads to individual residences (I know there are some that are more than 6%--I've driven on them)--if you look at the way pads for houses have been carved out of the slopes--if you're someone like me who has lived in an area where bluffs are unstable when saturated with water--what you see is certain catastrophe just waiting to happen.

Many of the housing (and access roads) that you see on those slopes would NEVER be permitted in the US.  Never.   And for good reason.  One of these days, too many of those houses are going to wash down the mountainside on what is called here a "patina" of mud.

I don't truly understand the makeup of the soil here--it isn't clay--but I can tell you from sometimes scary personal experience that it layers when wet and you slide on it.  Those layers slip.  And that's on level ground.  4-wheel drive has saved our necks, literally, at least once and gotten us out of some nasty situations at least a half dozen times if not more.  But even 4-wheel drive is not going to help you if you're caught in a mud slip.  I know.  Nearly three years ago, I wound up sliding out of control and lodged gently (thank God) against a small sapling--on level ground.  In order to get out of the situation, we had to chop down the sapling (with a borrowed ax) so that the truck could slide just a little further where the 4-wheel drive could take hold.  That occurred maybe the length of a football field from where we live, never mind in a really rough area.  Or on an unpaved road on a slope, of which there exist many.

So water is a problem in many different ways, and you have to be careful.  Don made a point which he should have put in bold and italics--if you're looking at land, particularly in the Boquete area, ask around about water--don't ask the seller.  DON'T ASK THE SELLER. Should you be lied to, take it from all of us--you have no realistic legal recourse. Contracts are a joke around here.   It's Buyer Beware.  Everyone who thinks you are coming here to a United States on the cheap or Paradise is living in La-La Land.  

I hate to be so negative but Don's post actually alarmed me.  If HE feels he has to post about this yet again, then there are still the sheep out there who are ready and eager to be fleeced, who are ready and eager to come nearly totally unprepared to a foreign country, a foreign culture with no Spanish language skills and no idea of what they're letting themselves in for--and who will join the growing numbers of discouraged and bitter people who are trying to sell their homes and get out.  La Gringa in Honduras estimates that the return rate from that country is a good 50%.  I think that for other reasons--after all, it's a little hard to be pie-in-the-sky blind about a country as poor as Honduras--the percentage here will be similar.

It's not that I think no one should immigrate here.  Far from it.  there is a couple who live near us who have been here 5 years or more, and while they have suffered far, far more than we have (right now, for example, they're in the middle of a fairly grim legal fight with a former employee that could cost them literally thousands of dollars), I think they're good for the long haul.  Yet I see signs of stress in someone else we know, whom I have felt for quite some time does not have either the judgement or the skills to survive here.  Some else we know who has been here for 12 years is finally giving up and trying to sell his home (unsuccessfully) so that he can move back to the US.

I have no actual statistical data to base this impression on, but I would guess that fully 9 out of 10 people who came here during The Boquete Boom have no business here.  I would guess that there is a similar percentage still out there but who think that they're going to be on the right side of the statistic.

I think the best way to describe what it takes to thrive here is that you have to have a frontier attitude--not a Hollywood frontier attitude but the real thing.  A spirit of adventure, a willingness to cut loose from what you know, a good set of real survival skills (not urban commuter ones), and a realistic attitude that on any frontier, there is not the kind of order, never mind law, that exists in more civilized places.  In many respects, Panamá is NOT a "civilized" place if you mean by that the sort of comforts you have and assumptions you make in the US, the assurances and protections.  They don't exist here, and there is simply no use whining about the lack.   And you're  not going to get them soon, either--another common and fatal error--"Oh things will be all right once I get there or in a little while".

This is not a first-world country and it's not going to be one in our lifetimes.

1 comment:

Theresa in Mèrida said...

Hi Joyce, I am busy reading your blog and then reading stuff out loud to my husband. We were torn between moving to Mexico or Panama. We ended up buying here in Merida before we ever visited Panama. Last January we finally made it there to check it out. Husband thinks that the infra structure will be better there but I think it's better here. We are "country folk" and living in the city is hard on him.
I have a lot more to say but it's too much for a comment.
I think the retire to Latin America movement is similar to the "back to the land" movement in the 70s & 80s, most of the people didn't really understand what they were doing.
Also if I read one more forum post from someone who thinks that they will just pick up Spanish by osmosis, I am going to run screaming....