A retired American expat in Panama becomes a mentor.

UPDATE: November 29, 2020 – I will soon be updating this blog and hope to maintain it regularly in the future. For more details, please go to my “About” page via the above link.


I moved to the highlands rain-forest town of Boquete, Panama near the Costa Rica border nine years ago at the age of 70.¬† After losing my retirement investments in the stock market, it was either move to subsidized senior housing – or move to a less expensive location place where I could live more comfortably on my Social Security pension. So in February of 2012, I moved to a place they call¬† the “land of eternal spring and rainbows.”

I am now a permanent legal resident of Panama – a “pensionado” – a retired person (jubilado) with a guaranteed lifetime income (pension) that met the government’s requirements for a permanent visa.  However, I cannot work full time or earn significant income here – and in particular, I cannot take work away from Panamanian citizens.

After I settled in, and realizing that there are over 2,300 species of trees in Panama and Costa Rica, my desire to continue my hobby of woodturning here became a reality.   I had taken up woodturning as a hobby in my mid-sixties when I worked at a Woodcraft sttore to supplement my pension.  In 2011, at the age of 69, my skills and sense of design had advanced enough to create a piece that won a top place award in juried competition.  The event was the 24th annual “Artistry in Wood” exhibit at the Sonoma County Museum in Northern California in 2011.

So, a few months after arriving, I purchased a benchtop wood lathe and had it shipped to Panama.  On my next trip back to California, I retrieved my turning tools and accessories, and broght them to Panama in my suitcases.  I began turning plates and bowls, honey dippers, bottle stoppers and coffee scoop handles, and selling them at a table at the local Tuesday Morning Market at the Boquete Community Players center.  I didn’t make much money, but I at least covered the costs of my hobby.  Here is a picture of some of my turnings in 2013:

2015-11-10-BCP TMM 01Then in 2016, a fellow vendor, Richar Huisa stopped by my table at the market.  He is a Peruvian artist, and asked me to make some wooden plates on which he could paint tropical birds.  It was the beginning of a wonderful friendship and collaboration that I will document in upcoming posts.  He is teaching me Spanish, and I help him with English – and he is learning much more quickly than me.  The bird plates are gorgeous, and I sell them for him at my table. His talent, drive and sincere friendliness are to me irresistible.   He works incredibly hard, has a positive attitude, and I will do everything I can to help him find success and move out of his tiny, two-room apartment

As our shared affinity for combining wood and other natural substrates for art developed, Richar wanted to try some new ideas.  I introduced him to painting and carving on tagua nut slices, and bought him both a beginner’s professional pyrography kit and rotary power carving kit as early Christmas presents.  (In the past I sold rotary carving and pyrography equipment at the Woodcraft store, but I had neither the talent nor skill to use them to make good art.)   Richar instantly took to the new media and techniques, and within days was creating incredible art.   I’m going to close this post with a few photos of his recent work – you can see for yourself how versatile and talented he is.  The first photograph is from a Christmas celebration that I spent with with Richar, His wife Roxana, and their 3 y/o daughter Michaela.  They have become like family to me, and I am starting a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to ensure that they can complete the immigration process and get their permanent resident papers.  More soon!

Michaela 2017 Christmas - 12
2017-12-30 Quetzal Plate Large
2017-12-12 DVH TMM 01
Richar - Pyro 17