Panama, madness or magic?

This blog is about our emigration experiences in Panama (2006 - 2011). We reforested our farm on the Western Azuero and opened a bed and breakfast. Reservations and details: Contact us: Visit also our other website: Already in Panama? Phone: 6676 0220 or 6667 6447 Facebook: Heliconia Inn Newer blogs with more photos:

Sunday, April 17, 2011

our residence permit, part 18476396

The application for our residence permit seem to have no end at all. We had fulfilled al the requirements and completed more than the required number of forms, or at least so it seemed, but the end seemed as far away as ever. In 2008 we got a temporary residence permit for a year after we had invested the required amount and submitted all the receipts. That was more or less as it should be. After a year, our reforestation project would be evaluated and if the evaluation was positive, a permanent residence permit would be issued. In December 2009 the project was evaluated and we got a three month residence permit while our application was processed.

In March 2010 Kees came back to Panama hoping to receive the permanent residence permit. Unfortunately, no luck. Our application was put on the backburner while the migration service attended to more pressing issues. We got a new temporary residence permit, this time one for a year. Useful, since Kees was travelling quite often between Panama and Angola, but also a bit worrying, apparently our proces was destined for quite a long time on the backburner.

In the end, it turned out to be not too bad. On 20 December 2010, our application for permanent residence was approved by migration. Our lawyers said there was no hurry, so we had a good time and went to Panama City in January 2011 to pick up our ID. Not quite. We were again presented with a temporary ID, but this time at least it stated that we were permanent residents. Our ID, that would be the next step, which would take ‘a couple of months‘.

In March 2011, indeed a couple of months later, we were told that we could come to Panama for our ID. But this time we had to present ourselves at the ’tribunal electoral‘ the registration office for all Panamanians. Luckily Kees was scheduled to be in Panama in April, so no problem. On 1 April we presented ourselves at the ’tribunal electoral‘. After waiting half an hour we were allowed to proceed to the relevant office to check whether all our personal details were correct. The relevant office also compared our faces to the photos to make sure it was really us. Just as well we had not acquired to many additional wrinkles in the last three years.

We then received a receipt and were told to visit the next office where they would take a photograph and then we could collect our Identity Card in seven days. All Panamanians have told us that those 7 days usually take 2 to 4 weeks. So this was just another photo taken and yet another step in this process.

Were all our personal details correct, you will want to know? Well yes, apart from one small detail. Although we presented a certified and notarized translation of our wedding certificate at the migration service, we had not registered our marriage at the ’tribunal electoral‘. So for them, and thus according to our new Panamian ID-card, we are both single again...


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Looking for a new home

No, we are quite happy in our home and Bed&Breakfast (, but a pair of great green macaws (Ara ambiguous) in Cerro Hoya NP, near Flores, is urgently looking for a new home. The old one has succumbed to their constant remodeling efforts. The pair kept enlarging the natural nesting hole in a large cuipo (Cvanillesia platanifolia) and this year, the tree just broke off at the nesting site during a storm.

Great green macaws like to nest in natural holes in trees, which they make larger if needed. And that is usually needed, because Great green macaws are big birds (80 cm long) and they like large nesting holes. At least 90 cm diameter. And they like to be high up in a tree, preferably more than 25 m above the ground. Such places are scarce and once they have found one, macaws tend to use the nest year after year, like the pair in Cerro Hoya. Finding a new nesting hole is not easy. Due to large scale deforestation, large trees are very scarce and large trees with natural holes in them are even scarcer.

To help them out, a nest box had to be made. Not just any nest box, but one with a diameter of 90 cm, a false ceiling to fool forest falcons (who love macaw chicks). Said nest box has to be hoisted 25 m high into a tree that only starts thinking about producing branches when it gets about 30 m high.

To get this done, the Panamanian NGO Avifauna Eugene Eisenmann ( organized a team of specialists. We had two tree climbers from the USA (Joe and David), an American specialist in Macaw Ecology who lives in Panama (Gwen), a Cuban specialist in parrot nest boxes and parrot breeding ecology (Maikel), a Panamanian specialist in artificial nests (Angel) and a few assistants from Panama and Holland.
In August a first attempt was made to get a line into the Cuipo tree, but that failed. The tree was standing on a steep hill side, there was a lot of vegetation around it and it was pouring down. The only one who climbed a tree, was Justino, who had to remove a branch from another tree to give a better view of the target branch. But Joe and David came back in December and this time, they managed to climb the tree. In the end, the first branch was about 40 m high, which also explained why it was difficult to get a line up.

The week before Joe and David arrived, Justino and his brother had already built a nest box, but Maikel still had to install a false ceiling. And we had to drill some drainiage holes. Macaws are not known for keeping a clean home. A second nest was made out of a 210 liter plastic drum and a third was built according to the Cuban method. This method consists of building a frame out of sturdy wire mesh and draping hessian cloth soaked in cement over the frame. Once dry, a second layer of cement mixed with saw dust and wood glue is applied to give the nest a more natural look and to improve insulation against heat. It also results in a very heavy nest box when you make it 90 cm diameter. We estimate the total weight at around 50 kg.

To put a nest box like that you need more than a few rusty nails or a piece of rope. Especially because macaws are very destructive. So we needed some proper steel cable, covered in plastic to prevent rust. That type of cable cannot be tied in a knot, so you need special whatsamacallits and you need some serious cutters to cut the right length. So Loes and Beatriz (director of Avifauna) went on a shopping trip. In the mean time, a line was put up in the second tree. That was no easy task, the second tree had its base covered in lianas and other vegetation. This earned the tree a name we cannot publish here.

But in the end, we managed to put the two nests up. Kees also climbed up the first tree and can affirm that the view from up there is very nice. On a clear day you can see Coiba island from the nest. By Friday we had two nests up and the third nest was drying. That one will be put up by the end of February 2010. Perhaps not in tim e for this breeding season, but we will be in time for next year.

After all this hard work, we went to Cobachon, at the other side of Azuero to have a look at a natural nest. The macaws were not yet there, but the view from there was beautiful. It is obvious that macaws like a room with a view.

You can see pictures n


Friday, July 09, 2010

The Azuero Painted Parakeet

June is the month of the Azuero Painted Parakeet or Pyrrhura picta eisenmanni.

This bird is endemic to Cerro Hoya meaning it only occurs there and nowhere else in the World. It was discovered and described only in 1979 by Professor Delgado who also told us that we should meet Juan Velásquez. The birds come to Juan’s finca that limits and is partly located in the national park Cerro Hoya. Somehow Venicio – a bird guide and member of the Audubon Society – found us on the web and he brought two Canadian clients. And since he saw the birds he told it to the world on facebook on xenoris on you tube… and told all his friends and the members of Audubon Panama

So we have been very very busy with the hotel.

And after three groups went to the bird party with success leaving after the breakfast from our hotel heliconia – I decided to come along with the fourth group of birders. Because after all you have to know what you promote and up to then I had not seen the bird (nor had Kees) and we also needed some good photos for our new website (still very much under construction at ) and despite all the beautiful digiscopes a lot of people do not have a very good camera to put on it. When I went I did notice that some serious photographers were part of the party so right now the web is flooded with the azuero painted parakeets…

Juan and Fanny and the two children are very happy with all the attention from the tourists as we had agreed that people pay him and they do - often with extras. So hopefully he can now continue with the building of his new house overlooking the river Playita… it is right there that the birds in flocks of 10 20 or 50 come by and eat the fruits of the Nance and fig trees that grow along the river.

And because the birds are sleeping elsewhere – like the birders – the very decent arrival time of eight thirty is convenient for everybody.

Now I have seen the birds too and photographed them and the next project is to make t-shirts for sale … and the t-shirts are going to be as beautiful as the others I have made so far. The latest is of the rufous-tailed hummingbird. For photos of both the azuero painted parakeet and the t-shirt (and many other photos) see as usual:

If you read this and would like to order a hand painted t-shirt than write me an email ( The price is $50 plus the costs of posting one. The rule is that it must be a bird or animal or tree occurring in Panama

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Guestblog: Mangle pinuelo

We came to Tanager Tourism on the suspicion we might find the rare and beautiful plant, Pelliciera rhizophorae, in the nearby rivers. We were operating on more than just a hunch; by chance, Loes had posted a picture of this elusive plant in a previous blogpost. We knew there was at least one tree in the area, but would there be more? Would there be enough trees to study, to help us understand their role in the complex mangrove ecosystem?
Pelliciera rhizophorae is a mangrove, a term describing woody tropical plants that grow in the intertidal zone. It is unusual for plants to live in flooded soils, and it is also uncommon for plants to grow in saltwater. Mangroves can do both. Pelliciera rhizophorae is known as mangle piñuelo in Spanish. It is an odd-looking tree, with fluted, buttressing roots, star-shaped flowers and garlic-shaped fruits. (See photos on )
As biology students, we were curious why the mangle piñuelo only thrive in a small portion of mangrove habitat, rather than stretching from Florida to Brazil as the red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) does. It is more commonly found on the Pacific coast of Central America than the Caribbean, but is still harder to find than most other mangrove species.
With Loes’ directions, we set out in search of mangle piñuelo. After a few potential sites turned out to be barren of mangroves, we turned down a dirt road full of muddy puddles, where grass and tree braches scraped the bottom and sides of our car. Minutes from leaving the comfort of our air-conditioned car, we spotted it. There was our elusive friend mangle piñuelo, standing upright next to the water as though it had been waiting for us. And the first tree was not alone. Before us lay a vast forest, containing many trees bearing fruit. The large scale of the forest coupled with the abundance of fruit signified that the trees were healthy and the forest had potential to continuing flourishing as the older trees die.
Reaching and maneuvering through the forest proved to be an easy task; this was a big advantage over other Pelliciera rhizophorae populations, some of which are only accessible with a boat. We spent the better part of a week there, mapping and making observations in the mangrove forest. Very little is known about the ecology of the mangle piñuelo, so any observations we note will contribute to the scientific knowledge surrounding this species. Though we do not yet know what makes it rare, we were able to at least observe some of the animals that interact with mangle piñuelo trees, including crabs, wasps, ants, caterpillars and a so-far unidentified mammal.
Our days in the field left us covered in mud, sweat, and a combination of sunscreen and insect-repellant. In our exhausted state, we gladly returned to the ranchos of Tanager Tourism. Loes and Kees have reforested the farm where Tanager Tourism sits, and their land has turned into a wildlife refuge of sorts. Hummingbirds buzz through the air all day, geckos dart across the paths, and in the evening a chorus of frogs serenades us. After washing the mud and swamp smell off in the open air shower, we often get a nighttime lightning show accompanied by long rolls of thunder. But we are safe in our rancho, dreaming of mangroves.

By Emily Dangremond and Sierra Flynn, 13 June 2010

Monday, March 08, 2010

Back Again

Back again in Panama for another well-earned holiday. Well, at least I like to think so. First activity was another visit to the department of Migration to renew our carnet. This time we got one that is valid for a year. Usually you get a three month carnet, but the department of Migration receives so many applications, that they need more than three months to process each application. So rather than spending a lot of time renewing three-month carnets, everyone now gets a one year carnet and they contact you when the application has been processed. Lucky for us, since I still have to spend quite a few months in Angola.

The bed and breakfast is now essentially ready. There are of course still some things to do, but we are ready to receive guests. The main constraint is now our licence. We still have not heard whether the ministry of finance will accept our application for registration under law 8 as investors in tourism in tourism develoment zone 10. The ministry thinks we are just outside zone 10. And when I say just, that is exactly what i mean. It is a matter of yards. We hope to get a reply this month.

The main task now is to clean and plant the front garden. Since we are at the height of the dry season, which is not the best moment to plant anything at all, so clearing is the more obvious task. Because, even though the builder did a good clearing job, building rubble is still present around the house and has to be cleared away as much as possible. I am not sure where it comes from, but sometimes I have the distinct impression that building rubble appears by spontaneous generation. The moment you turn your back on a cleaned part, reinforcement iron, broken tiles and chunks of concrete mysteriously reappear. However, it does seem to come back in smaller quantities and smaller pieces, so we just have to keep going.

On a happier note, dry season is also the season that hummingbirds come in large numbers to our feeders. We often see three species feeding at the same feeder and there are often as many as ten hovering around the more popular feeders.

What makes a feeder popular is still something we are trying to work out. Location is obviously an important point. But once the paint of the feeder starts to fade, it does seem to lose some of its attractiveness, even if the sugar solution is identical to that in a newer feeder.

For photo's check out


Friday, February 05, 2010

Guestblogger Diana Roche - February 2010

I am a great believer in first impressions and mine for Panama started in Tocumen airport, arriving from the frozen north. Because I am used to Mozambique, the smiles I received from the airport officials confused me. “There must be a hidden agenda here why are they smiling at me?”
An orderly queue, which rapidly progressed, and I was out of the airport with my luggage in 15 minutes. Warmth enfolded me and Loes was quickly spotted, welcoming me. I am not a city person but I felt comfortable in Panama city. I especially enjoyed the Casco Viejo (San Felipe) an old part of the city that is being tastefully restored.
The journey from Panama city was a bit of a blur, the bus to Santiago only slightly more comfortable than those in Mozambique. It was dark when we finally arrived at Hotel Heliconia and by then I was in no fit state to notice anything but my bed.

For photos see:

I had seen photos on the web but nothing prepared me for the sight that I looked upon when I finally opened my bleary eyes. The hotel building has simple but pleasing lines. The four bedrooms are light, airy and spacious with well-appointed bathrooms. French doors open on to a veranda with a back-drop of trees climbing a hillside. Hummingbird feeders on the trees enable guests to sit on the veranda and watch these exquisitely coloured birds sip at the sweet water.

The land of 8 hectares is very hilly and much work has been done to plant new shrubs and indigenous trees. Two ranchos have been built, together with a kitchen rancho and bathroom at some distance of the hotel. These are for travelers on a budget or those who want to get closer to nature. A walking trail has been mapped round the property where many birds, animals and insects can be spotted.

Within easy distance from the hotel are beaches, each distinctive from the other. A mixture of sand, pebbles, shells and driftwood make them a treasure-seekers paradise. Kees and Loes have made strong links with the local communities and can organise various activities and tours. A lot of hard work and thought has gone into the place and for the past 19 months, whilst Kees has been working in Angola, Loes has shouldered the day to day responsibilities.

Go and see for yourselves, give your senses a treat, sample Panamanian life, the unique flora and fauna and the welcome and comfort of Hotel Heliconia.
Email: or phone: +507 6866 9652

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

More birds and beasts on our land

The last time I was in Panama, was 6 January, some ten months ago. I came back in November 2009 and a lot had changed in those ten months.

Our reforestation project is getting more and more exiting. The trees we planted have grown very fast and many trees, especially cecropias and guava trees have germinated spontaneously on our land. The latter two grow fast and develop rapidly. Some are already flowering and bearing fruit. We also see more and more flowering shrubs and the heliconias and gingers we planted are al growing well and flowering nearly continuoously. The Stachytarpeta cuttings we got from the US are also starting to flower.

There is thus much more nectar andd fruit availabe on or land and that attracts insects, birds and other animals. During my last stay I found a few new bird species on our property (American pygmy kingfisher, striped cuckoo and thick-billed Euphonias). And species that used to be scarce, like the lineated woodpecker and the longbilled starthroat, are now much more common. We also start to s bird-parties (a group of birds from different species that search for food together). Especially tanagers seem to enjoy these parties.

Whether there are also more reptiles and mammals around is difficult to say. Many mammals are nocturnal and shy and reptiles also tend to be discrete. But we often see squirrels. Some of our trees are now touching trees in life fences of neighbouring farms and allow squirrels free access to al the tasty guaves on our land. According to Justino we also have many rabbits on our land and a population of rabbit eaters. We have seen coyote tracks and the boa constricor, a threathened species, is getting some respite on our land.

We are also hosting a norhern ghost bat (Diclidurus albus) on our property. These bats occur in a large area (Mexico to Eastern Brazil) but are scarce everywhere. They are easily recognised by their white fur (possibly the reason for their common name?). Not much is know about these bats. They apparently fly quite high and eat mostly moths, up to a 1000 per night.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Back after ten months

The last time I was in Panama, was 6 January, some ten months ago. I came back in November 2009 and a lot had changed in those ten months.

Our Bed and Breakfast is almost finished. And it looks great. Beautiful materials and excellent workmanship, lots of room, just brililant. While I was in Panama, doors were fitted, the ecological waste management system was installed, hot water connected and the tanks for harvested rainwater were cleaned. I have tested the verandas extensively and can assure you that they are cool, spacious and dry.

But the B&B is not finshed yet. A few more details need to be attended to, the junk has to be cleared away and a garden has to be planted. We are constructing a pond at one side of the restaurant, partially to camouflage the fact that that area is quite high above the surrounding area. We are also going to construct a bridge which allows people staying at the rancho to go there without having to pass close to the B&B. The idea is that everyone has enough privacy.

We are asked almost constantly when the B&B is going to be opened. Well, probably in January 2010, but maybe only in March,. We still need to convince the ministry of Finance that we are really located in Tourism zone 10. This is important because we can apply for tax deduction if the ministry acepts that we are in zone 10. Now zone 10 ends at the other side of the road, so we are on the edge, but definitely inside zone 10.

Unfortunately, the ministry of Finance bases itself on old maps or old coordinates and claims we are outside zone 10. We have had some visits from provincial institutions such as the Panamanian Tourism Authority, who agree with us that we are actually inside zone 10. Our lawyers are working on the issue and as soon as the ministry of Finance agrees we are in zone 10, we will let you know.

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Vamos a introducir ... y despedir

We are Noor and Rike two tourism students from the NHTV in Breda. Since January 2009 we are both working for Tanager Tourism. Noor came to Panama to write her thesis about community-based tourism involvement. She has been working with the population of Palmilla, the tiny village in which Tanager Tourism is located. Rike is doing her internship with Tanager Tourism, and mainly works with the community of Flores with the objective to make the Cerro Hoya National Park easier accessible for tourists.

When we arrived in January 2009 we settled ourselves in the community of Malena. Mainly because of the experiences of Rob, the intern who stayed there in 2008. He was more than enthusiastic about Malena. As soon as we entered the community for the first time, our imagination about this village was confirmed. Malena is a friendly and centered village. Nevertheless, our first days were harder than expected….

fotos on

….There we were: Two blond girls, two backpacks, no house, and plenty of Latinos whose language we were hardly able to speak. However, when we arranged our own house, with a latrina and open air shower we could settle. The cockroaches and bats were included in the rent and soon we realized: You are never alone in Panama! If one of our lovely pets was not giving us great company, one of the locals, mainly the men, would come to visit. We truly got in touch with the way of living of this religious fishermen’s village Malena. Especially after we finally managed to accept our goodbye to the luxury goods of the civilized world, such as, 24 hr speedy internet and cell phone reception. The closest internet spot is happily only four kilometer away, but public transport is scarce in the area. We quickly fell in love with the most common way of public transport: Hitchhiking. It does not matter if we find ourselves in the back of an empty cow truck, or in the cabin of a foreign investor, we always enjoyed ourselves. Usually the first car would pick us – muchachas rubias! – but note that sometimes only 1 car passes in an hour.

We also got more and more familiar with our new lives and found a rhythm for our daily working life, because was that not the actual reason why we are here? Our daily life here included: Taking care of the tourists and the “finca” of Tanager Tourism, visiting the communities, working in our house on the given assignments, food shopping in Mariato and to maintain our social relation with the Malena community, we started to participate very soon in the event of the day “Beach-volley”.

In the last seven months, we exchanged, step by step, the luxury goods of our daily life in the Netherlands towards a life like any member of a rural community. And yes, most of the time we were really happy with this life. Still, we are two girls that like to party and explore. Therefore, once in a while –work permitting!- we left to explore other parts of beautiful Panama. Highlights were Coiba, Santa Catalina and our road trip to the eastern side of the Azuero Peninsula.

Everything comes to an end and so has this adventure. We face it with mixed feelings. On the one hand friends, family and the hot shower wait for us in the Netherlands. On this side, we leave amazing people behind and the chance to see them again is lower than seeing those faces we said goodbye to in December 2008. Nevertheless, we will leave this place in August with a bag full of unforgettable experiences and knowledge. We know that we would never have gathered these experiences without Tanager Tourism. Loes, thank you very very much, for all the effort you put into us and, as well, for your patience. We wish Tanager Tourism just the very best!!!!! Esperamos que vamos a volver otra vez para ver los desarollos en este paradiso....

Saludos Nora y Rike


Thursday, July 23, 2009

The construction of our Bed and Breakfast is in full swing

You have not heard from us for a while, mostly because we have been very busy. And we will tell you what has been keeping us busy in this and other blogs.

First of all, the construction of our Bed and Breakfast is in full swing. Since the back hoe did its work, the builder, mr Zeballos has been very busy. He contracted a large team and almost every Saturday half the team is putting in some extra hours. As a result, work has been coming along fast. Most of the roof is already put in place and in the rooms that have a roof, the walls are being plastered. The tiles for the bathrooms arrived Tuesday but aye, they did not look on the wall like they were supposed to look! And floor tiles is another story. Choosing the latter has been a somewhat agonizing process. There is not too much choice in Panama, and if there is, than they do not have the quantity we need in stock. Photos can be seen, as usual, on

Building will slow down significantly by the end of this week because Santiago de Veraguas celebrates its ‘Patronales’ a four day party that is wilder and more popular than carnaval. All employees worked the whole of last weekend to earn some extra money and they are now partying from Thursday onwards. They Monday is still free because the wise Zeballos mentioned that they would not be fit to work that day...

More than half way through the building we are still on good terms with mr Zeballos. He is an excellent builder who always comes to discuss things that seem unclear or when he has a better idea. He has already saved us from a few small awkward problems because the drawings were not quite perfect. If you happen to want to build in Panama, we higly recommend mr Zeballos (but only after he has finished our Bed and Breakfast).

Our ecological septic tank system has not yet been installed, but since the designer was so happy that we got permission from the Panamanian authorities to use his design, he came personally to supervise the location and will also come back to assist with the installation. So we will be happy that the ecosceptic tanks shall be installed as they should be and the designer is happy because he can now market them to other hotels, etc. And apparently we should get something for that too!

If all goes well, the Bed and Breakfast should be ready by mid November, in time for the next tourist season starting in December. Just as well, because we are now mentioned in a travel guide (Foot print to Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama) so we do expect the number of visitors to start rising in the next few months.