Mel Gibson, my wife Thalia and me
Friday started off like most other days here in the valley with workers arriving at 7 am to put in a full day of work, but it was'nt going to end like most days. Some friends and I had arranged a golf game to start at about 10am, so the players began arriving at the coffee shop to pair up. We were just heading out to the first hole when I received a phone call from my oldest son who was in Panama City visiting a friend. He told me that Mel Gibson was coming to Boquete to see me. I asked him how he knew that and he said his friend’s father was with Mr. Gibson that day and they had recommended he visit Valle Escondido. A few minutes later I got another call from the Ministry of tourism office giving me a heads up that I should expect a VIP and asked if I could spend some time with him. I agreed and headed off to play golf.
Within just a few minutes came the sound of a chopper and there went my golf game. I headed to get my car and then went down to greet our guests as the disembarked from the jet ranger. Four men got out of the chopper and one by one, they made their way with their bags over to me. Having seen most of Gibson’s movies I had no trouble determining which of the men was him even with his baseball cap and sun glasses. He was not as tall as I expected but everyone is made to look bigger in the movies.
The men introduced them selves by first names and we got in the suburban and headed over to the hotel. Mr. Gibson sat in the front seat and the others piled in the back. With the actor was his son Ed, a friend and fellow film director Sergio and Nader, a realtor from Costa Rica. After getting them into their rooms they asked If I would join them for lunch, so we went to the grill and ordered some burgers and kabobs.
They told me they had come on a whirlwind tour to see as much of Panama as possible, looking at real estate investments. It seems that Mel was not just a gambler in filmmaking, but a risk taker in real estate investments as well. For the next hour and a half they picked my brain about real estate in Panama and where I believed the best areas for investment were. After lunch I asked them what they would like to do and they said, to take it easy for a while and relax, as they had been going non-stop for a few days. I told them about a wine tasting event we were having later in the evening and that afterwards we had a regular poker game in the club house and they were welcome to join us. I was surprised when they agreed.
Our poker games usually consist of 6 to 8 guys getting together to play Texas holdem until 12 midnight or so. But I could tell this night was going to be different. The whole valley was abuzz with the rumor that the famous actor was visiting. By the time the wine event ended it was 9pm and we made our way up to the club lounge. There were the usual guys, Steve, Brad, Mark, Paul, me and these four new ones who were anything but regular. Ed, Nader and Mel sat down at the table while Sergio sat at the bar and watched us play. (I might add a this point the Gibson only drank coke the whole evening) It did not take long before more and more people began arriving to the club to watch us play. I mentioned to Mel that this was the first time any of our wives and friends came to watch us play poker. I jokingly wondered allowed if his presence had anything to do with it. As the game wore on the room filled even more as cell phones and cameras were taking pictures and the ladies were busy calling friends to tell them they were breathing the same air as Mel Gibson and that air was electric. In a few hours Mel was down about $80 and headed over to play pool in the corner with some of the guests. I noticed a distinct diminishing of the crowd at the poker table as six of us continued to battle out to see who would take home all the marbles.
About 1:30 am I cashed in and I asked Mel if he had had enough. His friends had already lost their chips and gone to bed hours ago and only his son Ed was left. Ed was heading to town with some other young people to see what goes on in Boquete after 1am. I accompanied Mel down to his suite and we talked another 30 minutes or so about real estate. He has been investing in properties for many years and he told me he looks for new frontiers where he perceives good value.
Before heading off to bed, I asked him how his new movie Apocalypto was doing. I had heard it was really good, but it had not opened in Panama. He said it was doing well and he considered it to be one of his best efforts. He asked me if I would like to see it and that he had a director’s cut which he would loan me for the night. Even though it was nearing 2am I readily took up his offer and headed home with the DVD in hand. My wife was still up and said she would watch it with me. We crawled into bed with the computer and for the next 2 hours or so we became completely engrossed in this incredible adventure. At 4 am it was over and I found myself still absorbed by the images I had seen on the small screen. Not able to sleep I waited until our appointed meeting time and then headed down for breakfast in the Valle Escondido pueblo. There I found Nader and Sergio and in about 30 minutes Mel and Ed came to join us. As I handed the DVD back, Mel asked me what I thought of his film. I was in all honesty complimentary and told him it was one of the best movies I had seen, a real work of art. I felt very honored that he had loaned me the DVD and that he had inquired as to my impression. This is a guy who has produced and directed Braveheart and the Passion of Christ and acted in dozens more. We talked of other films over breakfast before heading off on a tour of the area.
I took them up to Bajo Mono and an area I call the Yosemite of Central America due to its geological formations and beautiful waterfalls and rivers. I pointed out the various projects under way and shared my opinion of what is driving the market and where I expected things to go in the near and distant future. We stopped on Main Street for Ed to buy some sodas and we walked about the small town. I could tell Mel really liked the old place and found the people very interesting. He told me that he really enjoyed the Latin people and found them to be more genuine than our compatriots back home.
After a few hours we headed back to Valle Escondido to pack up their bags and head to the airport in David. I was loaning them my plane with instructions to the pilot to do some flyovers of certain areas of interest on the way to Bocas del Toro where they were to spend the night.
On the way to David we spoke more of movies and the film industry and it was fascinating to hear them talk about the business I knew so little about. The 30-minute drive went way too fast and before I knew it they were aboard the Seneca and we were waving goodbye. What was my impression of Mel Gibson, a person who has had some highly publicized challenges this year? He was a lot like the people he portrays. Always joking like Riggs in Lethal weapon, a bit of the paranoia of Jerry Fletcher in Conspiracy Theory, William Wallace, the hero of Braveheart, worried about the direction of the world and wanting to do something about it. He is all of these people and more, wrapped up in a package that many women consider to be one of the world’s sexiest men.
As I watched the plane taxi down the runway, I thought about how building Valle Escondido in the middle of nowhere could bring famous and interesting people to my door. I have had the pleasure of entertaining Sean Connery, a Saudi Prince and numerous foreign and domestic politicians over the past few years. In my wildest dreams I could not have expected to meet such important and interesting people. The building of Valle Escondido has been extremely challenging and has provided an education beyond measure over these past 7 years, and I would do it all over again for the chance to play poker and shoot the bull with Mel Gibson. And those who ask if Mel bought property in Valle Escondido, we have a standard answer about all celebrities and politicians. ”We can neither confirm nor deny that report as management has asked us not to make further comment.”