Rod's Life: A Journey from Canada to Panama

Rod and Family. 2001

I was born in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, in the mid sixties, to wonderful parents, and grew up in middle class Canada, with an older brother and sister. I had an uneventful and very happy childhood. Ok, my story is longer than Oscar’s that you may have read a few days ago, I am sure he will tell you that is only because I am much older than he is, and I have more to tell.

I loved music as a kid, and was playing the piano by five, and taking lessons, and by 15 years old, I received a degree in music theory from the University of Saskatchewan. I was also an entrepreneur at an early age, delivering papers, Sears catalogs, and the annual phone book. By the age of 15, I was working part time at a car wash, and became the manager of that car wash, while still in high school at 17. After high school, I took a year, was full time at the car wash, then decided to follow my dream of becoming an architect.

I took a two year course for Architectural Technology, in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, just 45 minutes from home, but it was my first experience living away from home. As the course was quite intensive, living near campus was required. This was going to be my first step to becoming an Architect, so after graduation, I thought I would work for a couple years before continuing my schooling. Right after graduation, I received a job offer with a mechanical engineering firm, back in Regina, so I took the job.

For the next two years, I experienced the 9 – 5 thing, and I really was not that impressed. I guess my entrepreneurial spirit was coming out in me again. We were a small company, and within two years, I realized that I did not like being stuck at my desk drawing building plans, I enjoyed getting more involved with the owner doing presentations for new clients. I came to the quick realization, that sitting at a desk designing buildings, was not my passion, my passion was more into creating business.

So after a short two years, I left my position and the dream of becoming an architect, and searched out my next big adventure and passion in life. It was a bit of a shock to my parents, you know me living the “get a good education, a good job, work hard till your 65, then retire on a nice fat pension” life. Well, I was 23 years old, still living in my parents basement, now unemployed, what now?

It was 1988, and I was about to discover a new passion, computers. I had picked one up myself, so I knew what they were, but this was a time where we did not know what to do with them. I was driving around and saw a help wanted sign at a print shop. Graphic design and sales. I went in, and found a one man show that really needed a lot of help. I started the next day, and within a few weeks I was designing fliers, business cards, forms, letterhead on a computer, and driving around the city doing cold calls getting customers to buy our printing services. Within two years, I helped the company grow from $100,000 annual sales to over $1,000,000 annual sales.

I realized how much I loved creating business, and providing a service for customers, utilizing and learning this new thing called the computer age, and the start of the internet. The owner of this company was happy with my performance, but not willing to share the success of the company growth with anyone but himself, so I moved on, and accepted a job/partnership offer from a current customer, that had big plans, and visions, something I was looking forward to.

This next phase of my life, for 15 years, I would be part of an organization on an ownership level, that grew from some retail locations in Regina, to a 25 country wide location, retail dollar store group, with 5,000 wholesale clients throughout North America. Our head office was in Vancouver Canada, my new home, with offices in Toronto, Seattle and Ningbo China. It was a great time for me, as my skills in computers, website creation, inventory management, and sales grew at a pace that I really enjoyed. By 2001 I was COO of the company, and by 2005 we were a 20 million a year organization, with 250 employees.

In 2006, I learned the biggest life lesson that I have ever had. “Trust but Verify.” Apparently my business partner at the time, head of the organization, had made some really bad financial decisions that put the company in an impossible situation, and things went south.

Rod's Life: A Journey from Canada to Panama

Syd’s Marina

I was not too concerned, although losing a lot of money, I went from an 80 – 100 hour corporate work week, to living on my boat, working online, and over the next few years creating a nice online business, with no business partners, and totally loving it. 2006 – 2009 was the second happiest time of my life, only in my current life which I will get into soon, have I been happier. I had been living on my boat in Syd’s marina, a place we at the marina called “The Shed” since 2002, but had not really been “living” until 2006, as I had been too busy with work.

Now I had the time to create, and learn, build my own business, grow friendships with people like Syd & Angèle and my best friend at the time, Brad who also had discovered the online world for earning income, and I really was enjoying life. It was during this time that I realized that running an online business, I could actually do from anywhere in the world. During the summers, I would take my boat out for extended times, and work from a long range WIFI solution. I was starting to get discouraged with Canada, its regulations and excessive taxation, and just the expense of living there, and by the end of 2009, had singled out Panama, as a possible location to move to and continue my online business.

 

Rod's Life: A Journey from Canada to Panama

Rod with Dad and mom, 1999

Rod's Life: A Journey from Canada to Panama

Rod’s boat, before she sank.

2010, the year my life turned upside down. Life was moving along just fine, not quite ready to make a leap to Panama, Mom and Dad were in their mid eighties, still healthy, I had always been very close to them, and did not see myself leaving the country yet. In spring, I was taking my boat, a 1938 Richardson (Chris Craft) which I had been restoring, over to a marina yard that I had used in the past to do some work. I was crossing the Strait of Georgia, between Vancouver, and Vancouver Island, and got caught in a storm with some big waves, and hit a dead head (a tree floating upwards in the water) which punched a hole in the bottom of the boat. Within minutes the lower part of the boat is flooded, and I called in a mayday, and luckily there is a Coast Guard hovercraft within minutes of my position. They put pumps aboard, and dragged me to shore, but the boat was a write-off, and no insurance as it was under restoration. Then, two months later, Mom dies unexpectedly, then a few more months, Dad.

WTF? Was really all I could say with that year. I remember in mid August of 2010, after Mom’s passing, feeling like many of us are feeling now, “can we not start 2010 over again?”, I said.  But life went on, and in the early spring of the next year, I was traveling from Vancouver to Regina, to see my brother Roger, and take care of some last details with the family. My brother told me on the phone the day before I arrived, “I got a big surprise for you Rod when you get here” It was his 50th birthday. Well his surprise for his 50th he got a tattoo and a pierced ear. Well, you know with brotherly love and needing to be one step ahead, I replied, “Well, I am moving to Panama”. So I guess I won the shock and awe thing that day.

I immediately put the plan into action upon returning to Vancouver, selling everything I owned, doing the research I thought I needed to move there. At the time, I figured, hey I can do this all by myself, as I did not know one person in Panama. I booked my travel for October.

Rod's Life: A Journey from Canada to Panama

Rod moving to Panama party, at The Shed

The day arrived, my best friends, Syd and Angèle drove me to the Train station, with my two very over sized bags, which would take me to Seattle, for my cheap flights, but a very long trip to Panama City. I arrived on October 26, and explored Panama City for five days before boarding a domestic flight to my final destination, an apartment that I had rented on Craigslist in David, Panama.

Arriving at the apartment, all seems good. The Internet was good, so I could get right to work on my online business. I was not too impressed with the cockroaches in the shower, but the owner said don’t worry, it only happens if it rains hard and the water backs up. Well in November, it rains hard every afternoon in Panama. I had picked David, as I figured I needed city life, being from the city, and the cost of living there was much less than Panama City. What I did not realize is that David Panama is the hottest city in Central America. Man, and the humidity. If I went for a walk, I would have to change my clothes when I got back.

Well, I realized that with no Spanish, I really needed some help, so I asked the owner of the apartment if he knew someone. He introduced me to my first guide in Panama. He helped me by my

Rod's Life: A Journey from Canada to Panama

Boquete, Panama

first vehicle, a small motorcycle for getting around, got me some connections for the immigration process, and helped me find another place to live, as I could not stand the heat of David, I went up the mountain, 30 minutes away and fell in love with the town of Boquete. But, I was in a bit of trouble. I found out the guide I was using was not on the up and up, the motorcycle I bought the title was in his name, and the lawyer he recommended, was not very reputable.

I had been here only 90 days, I was a bit frustrated, and a good friend of mine from Vancouver, Laurie, came to visit for a week, and we were going to the different tour companies in Boquete to check things out, and I started asking for referrals for a new personal guide, that could help me out with things. Every place referred me to the same person, Oscar Peña. Well this time I was going to trust and verify so I vetted him real good, then gave him a call. We really hit it off, and within a month or two I was helping him with his website for local tours and expat services in exchange for his services. In a short while we became best friends and business partners, and continue that way today.

Rod's Life: A Journey from Canada to Panama

My First House in Boquete

From 2012 – 2017 I worked with Oscar part time in the tourism and expat relation business, as I continued my online business and served as president of an Austin publishing company for 5 years, with an office in Panama City with a dozen IT programmers and customer service agents. I retired from that position in December 2017, and Oscar and I started Retire in Panama Tours, a company offering semi private group tours of 6 – 10 people, of Panama for relocation purposes. I serve as the web developer, advertising, and customer acquisition, and Oscar delivers the tours.

I can honestly say that Oscar and I are more than business partners, we often refer to each other as brothers from another mother. I have a huge passion for our relocation business, as I realize how people can make mistakes and get in some big trouble by doing it themselves, and honestly, if I had not met Oscar, I think that I would have never lasted here in Panama 3 more months.

If there is one thing I have been very lucky with in my life, is that I have had four best friends, whom today I still consider my best friends, although we may not see each other every day, like Oscar and I do, (I can’t get rid of Oscar, he and Megan live next door). What is a best friend? Someone who always has your best interest in mind, that supports you always and that their kids call you Uncle Rod. So Jerome, Brad, Syd, Oscar, and of course your significant others, you are my best friends.

Rod's Life: A Journey from Canada to Panama

Rod, last time with Syd, at The Shed, 2019

But 2020 is now turning out to be a tough year for me, and others. I lost one of you this year, Syd to cancer, and Angèle to an accident, and now, who the hell could have predicted a global pandemic. Again WTF?. Let’s start 2020 over again! 

Well, I have hope, I think that is the best emotion to have now. Hope will give us anticipation of the future and it influences how we feel in the present. Of course right now our business is not doing tours, but we are certainly not shut down. This too will pass, and when it does, we will be ready to show you the best of Panama as a place for you to live your dream life, like I am doing right now.

 

All the best

Rod