Medical Tourism… Everything We Learned and Need to Pass Along

Living in the USA, we all feel entitled, if you will, to everything from beautiful groceries at the market, clean water, good healthcare and creature comforts we seem to feel we need. All of this comes with a huge price to pay.

The world is aware that our crazy commander and creep has made it his mission to take as many of the above away as he can. Of course he is “rich” and can afford medical care, medical insurance and the sky high deductibles that we are forced to sign up for in order to bring down astronomical premiums.

Then you look at treatments like dental work. Even if you do have insurance for this, you will still pay hundreds and hundreds of hard earned dollars in order to get a painful tooth handled. It’s not like you can ignore it until it’s more convenient… therein lies the reason for this post.

Chris broke her back molar a year or so ago and went to the dentist who “patched her up”. Temporary fix $400. Last week she was on a trip for work and the “temporary fix” fell off. She was in immediate pain and called the doc. They quoted her $1200 for a permanent crown. OMG! So $400 plus $1200 is way too much and hard to stomach. Enter Mexico…

For years I have been reading about Medical Tourism. Hundreds of thousands of people travel to other countries for life saving treatments, why not travel for dental work? Why not travel for minor procedures that at home would be outrageous?

A few years back I twisted my knee chasing some howler monkeys on a muddy trail in Costa Rica. It swelled up and became too painful to bear weight. I had travel insurance but they required me to go see a doctor in country.  I took a taxi to the doctor’s office.  It looked like a small storefront shop with a shingle hanging outside with the doctor’s name.  I walked in and was warmly greeted by a young man who spoke perfect english. His office was quaint with a few chairs and a coffee table, a small TV and AC.

He took me right into his exam room which was clean and looked like any exam room you’ve ever been in. He asked me a barrage of questions and then proceeded to examine my injured knee.  He called his assistant in to take me to get an x-ray right in the next room.  Twenty minutes later I walked out of his office with a full explanation of what he felt was wrong and a knee brace and pain medicine… all for $50 USD.  At home the x-ray alone would have been more than $50, PLUS the doctor would have buzzed into the room pulled and pushed on my leg and left the room never to be seen again. In a week or two I would receive a bill for $650 for the inst-care.

To wrap this up, if you are afraid and nervous, that’s fine.  Just as in the US or where ever you may be from, do your homework.  There are hacks everywhere.  There are sites you can access that give you step by step instructions.  They have done research and you can reach out to them if you have questions.  The world is a much smaller… and expensive place.  If you are too scared and need to live in your little comfortable box, I get it.  There’s a lot out there… outside of your little box.  LIVE!

This is the dentist we just used:

www.tijuanamexicodentist.com

More reading and links:

www.medicaltourism.com

www.patientsbeyondborders.com/medical-tourism-statistics-facts

www.en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medical_tourism

A Proud People

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Weekly Photo Challenge

Decompressing

One of the reasons we are traveling to so many strange and new places it to “try them on for size”. Last year we went to Cotacachi, Ecuador… before that Belize, before that Costa Rica (8 times), Mexico, Peru, Chile, Argentina and all over the Caribbean.

The last time we went to Panama our experience was less than a good one. One overpowering event molded our opinion. The fact that one company took advantage of five gringos by putting us on a rafting trip on a river deemed unsafe by SINAPROC, and putting our lives in danger, was an impression that burned deep. We chose to give Panama another chance. This time… the Islands of Bocas del Toro.

Now I’m not saying we are professional travelers, and heaven knows we are not perfect. Not saying that every now and then we compare our lives at home to what we see and experience in our host country. We both are looking for those special places we can settle into for a while, some place to call home, even if it’s for a month or two. One important thing we look for is how the indigenous people take care of their homes, their people, their natural resources. How do they treat travelers?

Bocas was a bit of a let down. Online it was painted as this beautiful “Caribbean type” place. The people, bright eyed, smiling and inviting… an up and coming eco-friendly set of islands with beautiful beaches. What we found on this trip was far from that. Not to say it was all bad… we made it enjoyable and definitely relaxing. In decompressing though we found that it was a bit disappointing.

Now let me say that I was not expecting an “American 5 star resort”. When the places you are staying average 80-100 dollars a night, you would think that they would be top notch. In our experience, a country where the people are living a modest life, at best, the locals and expats usually rent their homes at lower rates… and if they do charge a premium… at least there should be screens on the windows, a working fridge and stove, and a bed big enough for two normal sized adults, not one child. The property should be free of trash and debris. When they say you can snorkel “right off the peer”, there should be some resemblance of a reef or at least some fish.

I guess we are partly to blame for wanting to believe in people and what we see on their websites. Believe that those that live there… depend on tourists to improve their current station in life… these people would want to modify their behaviors, clean up their beaches, repair their homes and not overcharge their guests, and lastly not prey on visitors. Perhaps they should not over embellish what they have to offer, so that when we arrive, we find what was presented online.

Please… I know that there are many places that cater to travelers, but we are not “rich”, we cannot afford 200-300 dollars a night… or more. The restaurants we had to eat in charged prices like a European restaurant but with local cuisine and their establishments were in disrepair. We were afraid to walk on the floors thinking the rotted boards might fall through. Walking on the boardwalk trails around the marine park we visited, was like taking your life in your hands. One gentleman told us that they have cut back flights to the islands. It’s not because they want to punish local tourism, but perhaps that more and more people, like us, are seeing this in real life and seeing the pretty pictures painted are far from the truth. Sad…

As a travel writer I feel I have an obligation to tell it like it is. This is my opinion of course. I understand that countries try their best to grab their share of the million dollar tourist industry. The internet has made the world a small place. Just don’t believe all the pictures… or everything you read. At the same time these countries/people have an obligation to at least try to represent what is true and accurate… not just from a Tuesday when they raked the beach, photoshopped the buildings and used a wide angle lens to portray a fantasy world. When we arrive it is a huge letdown. We spend hard earned money and dedicate our precious limited vacation time to this online fantasy. Not only does it harm us but the people who are trying to improve their lives through our visits.

I don’t really know if there is anyone to blame… at the same time, perhaps the locals might make a concerted effort to clean up, make repairs, and improve the level of service they offer. Take pride in their country and the impression indelibly etched into the tourists mind. Feedback is everywhere. We need to stop sugar coating it and be honest. Change will never occur if we continue to paint a rosy picture of a destination in serious need of renovation and cleanup. Travel abroad can be dangerous, not only to your safety but also to your health. If we don’t sound the alarm, and get honest, nothing will change. The next time we are afraid to hurt someone’s feelings… do you really think they will care if you are mugged or seriously hurt just walking around? Travelers beware.

While we were in Bocas del Toro, a lady on a jungle path on Isla Sorte was mugged walking on a recommended trail, another was lost on Basementos where there is a known gang who hate the gringos on their island and hold up people at gun point. My partner almost fell backwards while stepping off a floating swimming pad, provided by the lodge we were staying at,onto their dock which had a loose board. Had I not had her hand she could’ve been seriously injured only three days into our two week trip. If you don’t think it happens…think again!

A Night on The Town… Bocas

After a nap in the middle of a rainy day, we decided that we would head “out on the town”. Now Chris and I are not much for partying… those days are long gone… at least the staying out till 2am drinking and dancing. No I am afraid we are a bit wiser and more controlled than in our younger days. That’s not to say we won’t go out for a nice dinner, meet strangers who become friends, drink a few glasses of wine, have a good beer at a local brewery or take a long walk around a new town. Last night we did a little of each.

We went out to a Pizzeria called Ciao Pizza in Big Creek, Isla Colon, http://www.ciaoepizza.worldpress.com , They had real wine, not the boxed Clos wine served everywhere in the islands. The pizza was cooked in a wood fired oven and the atmosphere was quaint. We met some folks that had just arrived on the island and warmly invited them to join us. Filiberto came strolling in and viola we had a party. We shared good food, good wine and listened as Filiberto told us of his exodus from Venezuela.

We next strolled down the muddy road side to a local brewery. There we found some locals enjoying some good craft beer and more conversation. http://www.bocasbrewey.com. We sat through a few rounds until the heaviness of the night air lulled us into a drowsiness that followed a great day!

The Artist’s House on The Sea

The third stop on our journey was The Artist’s House on The Sea, on Isla Colón. We packed up to head out from Un Puerto Particular via water taxi back to the main island of Colón. We notified Filberto of our arrival and planned to meet him at the dock at 13:00. Filberto said he would be driving a Kia Double Cab and wearing a leather hat. He said we wouldn’t be able to miss him. In Island time he showed, as planned, and he was wearing a top hat made of leather… no doubt he made it. He is an eccentric type of fella. His thick accent was easy to listen to. He carried himself well. On the short ride to our new home he told us a quick synopsis of his life. Recommended eating establishments and told us how to get about.

Upon arriving we entered a small mud path that was lined with garbage. He explained that the neighbor was piling it there to eventually claim the property for himself… some convoluted law about him using the property that eventually he could claim it as his own since the owner didn’t care to take care of it? We were getting used to seeing large garbage piles sitting about… this was not the act of nature but of man.

Shaking off the vision, we entered into Filberto’s domain. There was a small wood planked walkway that lead to a charming three story building. Once inside he showed us his works of art. He told us about building this house and his own house 300 mts off the main house. We have left Kansas Dorothy. The home was basically three large bedrooms with three baths and one stand-up shower on the main level. The bathroom on the second level has a shower that you sit on the toilet to use. The third floor bath is tucked away in a small slanted closet, good for children but an adult might find it difficult to use. The main level has the cooking area. Stove, shower, fridge, table and chairs and a small washing machine. Totally open to the world.

On each level there was an eclectic assortment of art work. Filberto gave us a tour and explained each one, where he found it or where his inspiration came from. His art was expressive and down right strange… but totally reflected his demeanor and personality. The more I watched him, listened to him and grew to respect his choice of lifestyle, I couldn’t shake my grandfathers image from my head.

He left us and departed to his home on the water in a small Zodiac inflatable boat… that no longer was inflated but served his purpose of traveling to his small home on The Sea. His home was now ours…