Tom (yes, name changed) is no longer looking for a house sit posing as a rental.
He has been in the Las Tablas area about a year now. When he first arrived his timing was poor – Carnaval was less than a month away and there was definitely no room at the inn. But he had friends here, and they fortunately had an extra room which he rented from them until the end of May when he signed on for what was essentially a house sit.
His house sit was a nice place on one of the local beaches. It was owned by a pair of snow-birds who needed someone to play caretaker for the wet season. Tom liked the setup quite well – beach access, decent road, restaurants nearby, lots of privacy, air conditioning and internet access.
He was to pay them “only” $250 plus electricity for the privilege of taking care of their situation, promising to handle the maintenance (light housekeeping and supervision of the bi-weekly cleaning and yard help), watch over the dog and occasionally supervise some construction the owners had previously contracted.
An enigmatic sort, when asked about his experience, Tom snorts. His ideas about life in Panama, what constitutes a great place living space and what is appropriate rent have undergone some change. For instance, the place had an outdoor kitchen. At first that was great. All his snow-birdy gringo friends were jealous. Then, in June, bug season arrived. First, the termites swarmed, by the thousands. He was constantly cleaning up dead bodies and fallen wings. And, of course, where there is a rich source of prey, there will be predators. He had hungry iguanitas (literally, little iguanas; actually, a variety of gecko) partying down. And pooping. A lot. Any housewife in Panama will tell you how dirty that is.
Finally, that was over.
Then the beetles began mating. At dusk, life anywhere near a light bulb became an ordeal. Mobs of beetles – no, hordes of beetles…. No. ZILLIONS of beetles swamped the outdoor kitchen. They dive-bombed him and went for his ears. They seethed over every available surface, like a plague from a horror movie. When he retreated to his room, they followed him and crawled beneath the door to be with him until he blocked access with a towel. In the morning their little dead bodies covered everything. It took about forty-five minutes to sweep them out.
You think this is exaggeration? Not at all. Ask anyone down here who has stayed near the beach for the wet season. Fortunately, beetle season only lasts about three weeks. Also fortunately, the beetles are basically harmless. They don’t bite or sting, and are really only interested in boy beetle – girl beetle kind of stuff. And given an opportunity, they can save you money on dog food, because if your dog was ever a beach dog, it will eat them. Lots of protein. Yum.
Then it was fly season. In fly season every fly egg in Panama will hatch, and every fly in Panama will come for the party. The three weeks or so of fly season are the equivalent of Fly Carnaval and no matter what you do flies will visit your house by the hundreds. It’s not quite as dramatic as the beetle invasion, but more annoying. You can bait them, spray them, trap them, snag their little feet in sticky tape or swat them. It doesn’t matter. There are more where those came from. If you leave a glass uncovered, be sure to check before you take another drink. Be alert for unexpected texture before you swallow.
And then the flies are gone for another year. You’ll see one from time to time, but nothing like the past three weeks.
Tom said he has had more than enough experience of outdoor kitchens.
Tom’s next biblical plague was frogs. There is a swampy area not far from the house he was watching. At first the frogs were a source of pleasure. He enjoyed listening to them in the evening. “Ribbet. Ribbet.” A very pleasant, relaxing sound. It lulled him to sleep.
Then, it was mating season. And, in the morning when he came downstairs the porches had piles of blackish-green stuff all over them. It seems the frogs wander at night, and they really enjoyed wandering up onto the porches. Most of them aren’t housebroken, having never had the opportunity to learn that skill. Hence, the piles. And a couple of hours hosing down the place for Tom.
The first time he stepped on a scorpion, he said he thought he must have dropped his cigarette and stepped on the burning coal. But then he saw the little demon and realized what had happened. The pain lasted several hours. The second time, he knew instantly, and promised himself two things: first, to always carry a flashlight after dark, and second, never to walk barefoot again. Both sensible vows in Central America.
Some time during late August Tom admitted that if he had to do it over, the owners of the place would be paying him, not he them. The amount of work involved in his commitment was incredible. “But to be fair to them,” he said, “I don’t think they realize how much is involved because they have never spent the wet season here.” Would Tom ever do it again? “Never.”
And then, at long last, October was over and his snowbirds flew back.
Tom had already begun looking for a place to move on their return. Unfortunately, once more timing was everything. The snowbirds fly north around the end of May, and return south the end of October. So Tom was once more looking for living space at the same time as the rest of the nesting horde.
His search method had three main prongs: he drove around on his motorcycle looking for Se Alquiler (For Rent) signs or apparent vacancies. If he spotted a vacancy, he would ask the neighbors how he could find the owner and then telephone to inquire about possible terms. He didn’t have a lot of luck, especially because his Spanish is almost non-existent.
His second prong involved the advertisements placed in local grocery stores. The mother lode is at Super Rosa, where the adverts are on the wall between the entry and exit doors.
He told me that mostly the adverts state only the address, the number of bedrooms, and a contact phone. They seldom say whether the place is furnished or unfurnished and almost never have a price. Of course, the price is different for non-Spanish-speaking gringos anyway. Tom looked at a few that way, but had no luck finding anything suitable.
Nor did he have any luck with what he found at the other local spot for finding advertisements – the stores in the block between pharmacies (one at each end) that starts across the street from Todo a Dollar (The Dollar Store).
So he put up his own signs. He had a friend who speaks fluent Spanish help him with the wording — furnished rental wanted, 1 or 2 bedroom house for single man, phone number, no mention of gringo-hood. He said he put 10 signs out around town. He didn’t get a single call.
The third fork of his three pronged attack was talking to people. Actually, one of his very good friends found the place he rented. It belonged to the woman who lived behind his friend, and the subject came up in casual neighborly conversation.
Next Friday, we will hear Anna’s Story, Lila’s Tale and, if I can chase him down, Willard’s Woes in the 5th installment. The 6th and final post in the series, a roundup of (IMHO) the most effective ways to find living quarters here in Las Tablas, will follow that. If you missed any of the previous hilarity about renting in Las Tablas, it can be found at these links: