Sunday, September 28, 2014

It's Only A Number......Get Over It....

As a writer I'm a word person and have never been into numbers. I was that kid in school that could suck up to even the strictest English teacher or nun, since I went to a catholic high school.  And although I did ok with math I never liked numbers but managed to get by only because I had to.  Numbers seem to plague us all throughout our lives in one way or another.  Numbers such as our age , the numbers in our bank account, or the dreaded numbers on the scale that can dictate whether or not we're going to have a good or bad day.  Perhaps the scale thing applies more to us females than you guys out there?  And for some of us being up two pounds translates to I've gained 50 pounds overnight.  And then there's the size on the shirt or pants we're wearing that surely tells our brain if we're fat or not.

Just One Food Court At Albrook Mall, Panama City, Panama


Many of you know that I used to be fat....."gordo" as they say in Spanish.  It's been over 10 years now since I chose to undergo weight loss surgery to lose the weight which makes me even more obsessed with numbers.  During my fat years I hated shopping because it was so hard to find clothes that fit.  I wore the biggest plus size which at the time was a size 28 in pants and whatever the largest size was in shirts.  After losing the weight I was in as low as a size 3 in ladies pants and I'd buy extra small sized shirts.  As the years went on and my weight stabilized I was happy being a size 6 in pants with small tops before our move to Panama.

Each Door Has A Different Animal By It So Shoppers
 Remember Where They Came In


Panamanians are small people....short in stature.....so clothing sizes here run smaller than those in the states.  Clothes shopping in Panama is wonderful as long we you're willing to overlook the number on the tag that indicates size.  In the US women's sizes run from size 2 to size 18 while junior sizes (for younger women) are sized 0 to 13.  In Panama sizes can be anything from a "free size" which I guess compares to our "one size fits most," to no size at all.  Just recently I was looking at some colored jeans that were neatly folded on a table in a store. There was absolutely no size on any of them.  I along with many other women were just grabbing them, stretching them out to see if they looked like they'd fit.

Mannequins Here Are Voluptuous


If you listen in on expat women chatting you'll surely hear a thin woman say, "I used to wear size small but here I'm an XL."  Like them I never liked the fact that I might have to go up a size and finally realized it's only a number. But it makes we wonder IF sizes in the US are really accurate? Are we really the size we think we are? Are US clothing manufacturers making clothes bigger so we think we're smaller than we really are?

Gotta Love The Mannequins


The up side of shopping here is that I can pick up a whole new wardrobe cheap! Last week we headed into Panama City with friends Allison and Ray for a day of adventures.  Clyde needed to pick up our new license plates (since we get new plate yearly) and Ray wanted to learn the ropes from an old pro.  So the guys dropped Allison and I off at Albrook Mall for some shopping while they ran around doing things. Six hour later when they guys returned I had spent a whopping $24 and Allison spent $30.  We had bags of stuff with the priciest being a pair of shoes I found for $7.99 all for such low prices. Lunch was a Mexican styled taco salad in an huge edible bowl with a drink for just $5.

 Yes Prices Really Are This Cheap!
 
 


And speaking of numbers, on Wednesday we headed to Westland Mall to take in a movie with Allison and Ray.  We left our house at 2:30 to catch the 4:15 showing of The Hundred Foot Journey.
We arrived in plenty of time but when we went to buy tickets we noticed there was no 4:15 showing, only one at 9:15.  Ray and Clyde asked the desk clerk who verified there was only one showing of that movie.  Since we were just another thirty minutes from Panama City Ray suggested we keep going.  But before we left Westland Mall Ray asked the clerk to go online to see what times the movie was playing in the city's theater. There was indeed a 4:15 showing there so we took off quickly, hoping not to hit traffic along the way.  On our way down the escalator leaving Westland Mall we noticed another large sign advertising the movie theater.  There in bold numbers it showed that our movie WAS playing at 4:15.....although the theater upstairs didn't seem to know that.


Kuna Indians In The Mall
Yes They Really Do Dress Like This All The Time




Despite city traffic we made our way to the theater at Multi Plaza mall on time but the movie wasn't playing there until 4:45.  We were happy with that option because it gave us time for a bathroom pit stop along with time to buy huge buckets of caramel popcorn and drinks. The movie was a feel good movie that we all enjoyed.  Afterwards we stopped for a late dinner at Jimmy's Restaurant before heading home.  We made it back home by 10pm exhausted from another long day of having fun in retirement.....along the gringo trail.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Gone Fishing.....The Tuna Coast

For the three years we've been living in Panama, my dear husband Clyde's been wanting to go deep sea fishing and finally he had his day.  On day three of our adventures at the end of the world it was decided that we'd hire a boat and go fishing in the Pacific Ocean.  Just down the road from where Emmett and TC live is a beach lined with fishing boats just waiting to take money from would be fishermen.  For just $50 we hired a boat with a Captain, provided the gas and we were ready to go......almost.  First the Captain had to get the boat that was anchored away from shore in the choppy water.  So like any good Captain would do he swam out, hopped in and maneuvered the boat back to shore where we climbed in.


Our Captain Getting The Boat To Shore


Originally I had planned to stay on the shore and relax for the day while Clyde and the others fished.  But TC mentioned that they usually see whales while fishing and suggested that we all go along for the ride, even if we didn't want to fish. I had a bad experience deep sea fishing twenty some years ago back in New Hampshire.  It was one of those large boats with lots of people, I was hanging over the side looking down at the water when suddenly it hit me.....seasickness, which only became worse as the day went on. The crew at that time told me not to look at the water but instead just look out over the horizon and the sickness would go away, but it never did. But since that time I've been on several cruises and other boats with no problems so I thought I'd be ok.  And just in case I brought along some scapalomine pills which we bought for a prior cruise just in case we needed them. I had cut them in half and took half since the full dose would put me to sleep.


  All Aboard!

As the boat plowed its way through the choppy waters we bounced around in our seats as the boat was practically airborne.  The rough movement of the sea seemed to be ok with my tummy and I chatted with Allison which kept my mind busy too. But when Clyde caught the first fish and the boat came to a sudden stop, I turned quickly to capture it with a camera.  It was then that my tummy asked what are you doing to me and began to churn.  During the rest of the trip I tried to stay put in my seat and focused on the horizon all around as not to upset things any further.  But the few moments of tummy upset were just that and thankfully never surfaced to anything more and I survived the day at sea.

Crew Helping Clyde
We Assume That This Guy Didn't Know How To Swim
Since The Lifejacket Never Came Off.....At Least Someone Was Safe

I Caught A Fish!!!!
 
 
And Another One

Clyde's dream came true as he caught the first fish which happened to be a bonito.  Although pretty in coloring the Captain told us they were not good to eat and threw it back into the water.  A while later Emmett caught a bonito and the crew followed the same procedure.  Eventually Clyde caught not one but two tuna which made him a happy fisherman and fulfilled his longtime dream of deep sea fishing in Panama.

Clyde And Emmett....Armed & Ready To Clean The Fish


On our way back to shore we spotted a few whales in the distance, although mostly what we saw was the water spout from their blow hole.  But we were thankful that the rain stayed away and didn't wash out our fishing trip.

The funny thing about this fishing trip is that only the Captain and his helper had lifejackets and the helper wore it the whole time.  There were no oars in the boat so we have no idea what would have happened if the motor gave out. Emmett explained that when he registered his boat here he had to have lifejackets for everyone aboard, two oars, a Panamanian flag, a whistle and other safety gear customary to boaters safety.  But Emmett did admit that the water was choppier this day than any other time he'd been out fishing these waters.  Later on Emmett said, "I guess when the Captain puts on his lifejacket you know you're in for a rough ride."


I was just as thrilled to be back on dry land as Clyde was to have caught a few tuna, so the morning was a success for all.  From here we went back to the house to clean up, change clothes and head out for our next adventure.  Our plan was to drive over to Playa Venao in Pedasi and find a place for lunch. Although we had our sights set on Mexican that place was closed so we settled for another.  I'm not sure if you can call it settling when we had our butts planted in a quaint oceanfront restaurant overlooking the gorgeous Pacific Coast.  The occasional bikini clad body would stroll by on the beach for the guys while Allison and I watched the surfer dudes in their board shorts. After lunch we had planned a trip to a waterfall so headed over to meet our guide.

Restaurant In Playa Venao




 
Restaurant In Playa Venao
 
The Happy Couple......Allison & Ray

Say Cheese.....or A Cheesie Pose
 
 
Always Willing To Help A Friend.....Drink A Margarita 

 


The day before we stopped by a house....slash, restaurant.....slash tiny resort that offered fresh juices for sale. Although the place was closed TC knew that the owners lived there so she yelled inside until someone heard her.  A dark skinned Panamanian women came to open the door and allowed us to come in to buy drinks. We all ordered some fresh squeezed juice drinks that were blended with ice and served to perfection. Some outdoor furniture was placed on a deck overlooking the jungle and that's where we parked our butts to relax and enjoy our drinks.  Howler monkeys sang their songs in the distance as we delighted in the sights, smells and sounds of the jungle around us.



 
A Cart In Front Of The Juice Place.....Ride Anyone?
 
Since the owner lives here and the restaurant was closed she had been doing laundry that was hanging on the fence posts all around us.  Clyde, being the typical silly man that he is giggled about her purple panties hanging next to him. He and Ray chuckled like fifth graders that were seeing ladies panties for the first time.  The female owner who seemed to speak NO English laughed at their comments, apparently understanding more English than she admitted to. I'm always telling Clyde not to say something about a Panamanian assuming that they speak no English because sometimes they surprise you. But Clyde does tend to open his mouth and get into trouble occasionally, ok so maybe a lot.....but it's usually all in good fun.



 This Is What Excited The Guys

In the meantime the owner told us about a four hour tour to a waterfall and natural swimming hole that they offered and before long we had booked it. We scheduled the tour for the next day after our fishing trip at a price of $100 for the six of us. But when the next day arrived it started raining as we were on our way over so we called to cancel.

The sky opened up and the rains turned into a downpour as we headed back to Emmett and TC's house.  We decided to take it easy for the rest of the day and relaxed on their back porch enjoying either rum drinks, seco or beer.  There we sat chatting the day away long after the sun set over the Pacific. 

Old Retired Couple.....Ha....Ha...


When dinner time rolled around we thought about something different and decided to stop at an Italian restaurant and pizza joint near their house. Although the restaurant was closed once again TC and Emmett knew that the owners lived there so they knocked on the door.  The owner opened the door but said, "not tonight," because he was painting. As a last resort we ended up at the Hotel Cambutal once again but knew they had excellent food so it was no problem.  We all enjoyed a wonderful meal and drinks while sitting surfside in the humid, tropical air.  Later on back at the house we enjoyed some "arroz con leche," or rice pudding that we'd bought the day before.  The previous day on our way back to Emmett's house we spotted an indigenous indian selling something on the side of the road.  TC said she's usually selling tamales that are excellent but today she was selling rice pudding in plastic cups for fifty cents each.  We bought one for everyone but neglected to eat them until the next night.  Usually flavored with cinnamon this batch of pudding seemed to be prepared with natural cane sugar or molasses along with some coconut to give it a different texture. It was a sweet end to our vacation from vacation and we were sad to think we'd be heading back home the following morning.

Two Happy Gringos......Living The Dream!


In the morning we packed up the car and headed home along the coastal route through Pedasi.  We stopped along the way to check out Playa Venao again but this time it was too early for lunch so the Mexican restaurant was closed.  A side trek through the town of Pedasi was a must and we detoured down some side roads to stop at a few beaches just for a picture.  The sky was full of clouds so we didn't take any snorkeling trips along the way back like we had hoped to. A typical Panamanian style restaurant in Chitre was where we stopped for lunch.  Clyde and I each had a bowl of wonton soup for just $2.50 each.  Allison had some chicken with gravy along with fries that she didn't plan to eat, while Ray had fried rice with chicken and some of Allison's fries.

Had Lunch Here.....Mostly Chinese Food On The Menu

Also A Bus Stop.....Notice The Ice Machine On The Side....Chitre, Panama

A friend had told me a while ago that town of Chitre is known for selling pottery, hammocks, ceramics and other artsy stuff cheap so we stopped to checkout a roadside stand. Clyde and I picked up a large mushroom lawn ornament for $12 and a three piece ceramic pot decoration that hangs on the wall for $12.  The total should have come to $24 but without even asking for a discount the vendor asked for only $20 which made us rather happy. The artesian shops around here sell the stuff for much higher prices so now we know to stop whenever going through Chitre.

Ceramics For Cheap!
Made To Be Hung On Wall
 
Ceramic Lawn Ornament



TC and Emmet
From Texas To Cambutal, Panama......
Also Living The Dream Of Early Retirement!

The four of us had a wonderful time at the tip of the Azuero Peninsula with friends TC and Emmett.  They graciously welcomed us into their home and hearts and eagerly took us around the delightful neighborhood they happily call home. And eventhough TC and Emmett moved here from Texas they found us through this blog and we've since become friends. And the same is true for Allison and Ray who moved here from Virginia.  They were blog followers from way back who kept in touch with us through email and on each consecutive trip to Panama. A big thank you to Emmett and TC for hosting us at their home and another thank you to Allison and Ray for the great friends you've become.  Here's to meeting more wonderful blog followers and having many more adventures with these good friends.....along the gringo trail.

A Walk On The Wild Side.......

On Day Two of our adventure in the Azuero Peninsula, Emmett had planned to take us out on his boat.  After a short drive to pick up the boat from storage we made our way to the Puerto Cañas only to find out that the water levels were too low to launch.  TC suggested we head over to Isla Cañas first and take the boat out later in the day, after the tides had a chance to rise. Back in the truck we headed over to Isla Cañas National Park. TC had warned us that if the tides were out we'd have to walk through muddy water to get out far enough to meet the boat so we dressed accordingly with water shoes.  What I assumed would be a short distance turned out to be a half mile to mile walk through muddy water.  We all walked slowly and carefully trying not to fall further into the muddy waters.  While wading through the muddy trail we passed by a mother carrying a baby, children going to school, and pedestrians carrying large bags of rice.

This is a small part of our walk in the
mud to get to the Water Taxi



Almost there!

Finally, Our Water Taxi!



Admittedly, I felt as if I was in an episode of Survivor or in a National Geographic Magazine, lost in a world so unknown to most of us. We trudged on through the mud until we spotted boats just waiting to transport passengers to the island.  Happy to climb aboard the tiny boat the Captain charged us each $1 for transport and off we went to our island paradise. 

Isla Cañas was first established in the 1920's by a few families that wanted to fish, farm and live on the island.  Today the island is home to about 500 people (although we only saw a few), two stores and one hostel with a restaurant attached.  Isla Cañas is only one of a few beaches in Panama where tourists can come to see olive ridley sea  turtles nesting and only one of two beaches where the turtles come to hatch.  The big draw to the island are the arribadas (arrivals) when 40,000 to 50,000 female turtles flood the beach to lay their eggs. The hatchings usually happen during September and October during the first and last quarter of the moon. Although the time of year is right, TC made some phone calls and we seemed to be there at the wrong time to see the turtles hatch.


school children practicing band

One of the three cars on the island

He's checking us out!

Surveying the beach

Our Guide down the beach

 


We stopped for lunch at Mama Jitas, Hostel and Restaurant since it seemed to be the only place open.  The restaurant is located in front of her house where we literally sat on her front porch.  Mama Jita was warm and welcoming as she showed us to her outhouse around the corner since we all needed to go.  Despite the way the bathroom looked from the outside the toilet was pink, clean, flushed, had a seat and even offered toilet paper.  Outside near the front of the home was the matching pink pedestal sink where we washed our hands before eating our food.  The rustic little house offered conditions so simple most people would be afraid to sit down. But we all enjoyed a lunch of whole fish lightly fried to a crisp outer crust served alongside rice mixed with seafood.  Chickens pecked around at our feet picking up any dropped rice or fish scraps, while street dogs waited nearby hoping for the same. Everyone agreed that the fish really was tasty and prepared well and the rice wasn't bad either.  Of course we were hungry and there's wasn't much else around so that could have helped too.  And for just $4 per meal the servings were so large each couple shared one plate making it even better.

They had fancy signs and everything!
 
Waiting for the food
 
The food is here
 

The hostel / restaurant

Mama Jitas in her kitchen

coming to wish us a good bye
 
Terry coming out of the outhouse
 
 
The island ambulance
 
 

After we had enough of the island we made our way back to the boats and were taken to shore.  But in the meantime the tides had risen and we were able to go from the boat directly to the ramp without walking through the muddy waters again.

Our Water Taxi awaits





We hopped back in Emmett's truck and headed over to Puerto Cañas.  With the tide higher he was able to launch his boat as we all climbed aboard for a ride through the mangroves. It was getting late in the afternoon and the dark clouds were closing in so we eventually had to call it a day.

Enjoying the cruise of the Mangroves

 

Once the boat was safely stored away in lockup we headed back to the house to clean up before dinner. On our way to the house we passed a few people that Emmett stopped to chat with.  Turns out these were the owners of the restaurant where they'd planned to take us for dinner.  The owner simply told Emmett they would be back at the restaurant by 7:30 and if not that he should come pick them up from town.

After we all showered and changed clothes we headed over to the restaurant but the place was dark and appeared closed.  Emmett and TC decided to go out looking for the owner since he suggested they do that, but in the meantime they came walking down the road. We started with  a round of adult beverages and before long the owner brought us another round, before we even asked.


Our Crew at the end of the day
 

Since life moves at a snails pace here in Panama the owners were in no hurry to take our food orders or get started cooking.  They came over to chat about our day spent on Isla Cañas and we discussed the hatching of the turtle eggs as best we could in Spanish.  A few minutes later the owner presented us with a plate of something strange. It was a small plate of dried up round things that looked about the size of a brussel sprout.  The owner proudly said they were smoked turtle eggs and encouraged us to try them. I recall being excited yet skeptical about eating such a thing but had to try one to see what it was like.  They showed us how to peel off the outer dried layer to uncover a small, white round egg inside.  We all agree that it tasted like salty, white cheese and some of us went in for seconds since there were more on the plate. Since I'm not a lover of anything salty I didn't care for the turtle egg yet I'm honored to have had the experience to try one.

Smoked Turtle Eggs


Eventually we ordered our food, more fish with patacones (plantain) along with plenty of limes for our rum drinks and food. It was late by the time we arrived back at Emmett and TC's house and we all were eager to turn in for the night.  We crawled into bed exhausted yet blessed to be part of a culture we didn't know existed before we moved to Panama.  A world of people who welcome foreigners with open arms and allow them a glimpse of life as they know it......along the gringo trail.




Friday, September 12, 2014

To The End Of The World......Or So It Seemed

Just returned home from a fabulous four day road trip to the end of the world, or at least it seemed that way.  Our journey took us to the tip of Panama, way down in the Azuero Peninsula about a 5 1/2 hour drive from where we live.  Recently some friends from Texas, TC and Emmet took the plunge and moved their lives to Panama.  Since they both love to fish they bought a house on the oceanfront and settled in the town of Cambutal, nearly a two hour drive from any major civilization.  As soon as they moved here Clyde rejoiced that he'd now have a place to do some deep sea fishing with friends. Then we barely had to say the word road trip and our adventurous friends Allison and Ray were all for it.  Before we knew it we had Ray's car packed and off we went, four crazy gringo's out for some fun.

We traveled down the red line to the bottom of the Azuero Peninsula


We hit the road around 8am on Monday and detoured off the highway to find the town of Pese along the way.  Pese is home to Varela Brothers Distillery where they make the a local brand of rum called Ron Abuelo along with a local clear liquor called seco.  We had heard they offer tours of the distillery that sits alongside fields of sugar cane grown specifically for the alcohol production. And since the current President of Panama just happens to be one of the Varela brothers, we thought it might be fun. Although we looked online we found no information about the tours nor any way to contact the distillery or make an appointment, so we thought we could just show up. But when we showed up the guard at the gate asked if we had an appointment, and when we said no, he had us pull over and wait for someone to come speak to us. A few minutes later a car pulled up and out stepped an English speaking Panamanian man dressed all in white. He handed us a business card instructing us to email the name on the card for an appointment, which Allison did as soon as we were back on the road. She asked to set up an appointment for four people a few days later on our return trip and the next day she received a reply.  The tour would last for 3-4 hours, and included souvenirs like a Panama hat for each person, a full lunch, and a tasting and explanation of all products. The tour apparently is given in an ox-drawn cart through the fields and the town of Pese with explanations of the aging process and much more.  But the cost per person was $100 per person so we all decided that perhaps we'd leave this for another time if ever. We've been drinking the rum and seco for years now and it's nice to see where it comes from, even though we didn't get to hear the rest of the story.

Ox Carts Waiting For Tourists
 

Varela Brothers Distillery, Pese, Panama

About an hour later we came into the town of Las Tablas where we stopped for lunch at Ponchalo's Restaurant. Owned by another gringo this Mexican themed sports bar and restaurant was conveniently located on the main street going through the town. I selected a mixed salad while Clyde had a quesadilla with a strawberry milkshake.  Both meals were tasty, nicely presented and the owner seemed willing to chat with some passing gringo's.

Ponchalos Sports Bar and Restaurant, Las Tablas

Where's Our Food?

Ponchalo The Clown?
 
 
It was about 4pm by the time we arrived in Cambutal and made our way to TC and Emmett's home. Their charming two bed, two bath home sits high up on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by lush, tropical jungle.  As we sat listening to the surf break against the shore Emmett spotted some whales off in the distance.  Then we were welcomed by a pack of howler monkeys that came to feed from the fruit of a nearby tree.  We all watched in delight at how easily these large monkeys went from one branch to another savoring the small, yellow fruits. They didn't seem to mind us watching them as Clyde and Allison snapped photos and videos of the furry little creatures. After they were done feeding they seemed to vanish out of sight.  We watched as darkness fell over the jungle and the sound of the surf filled the night sky.

View From Back Porch At Emmett & TC's Home

Another View 
Howler Monkey Watching Us From Nearby Tree

Looking For Food



Time To Rest After Feeding
 


These colorful crabs were all over the place at their house
 

 


 As hunger filled our bellies we hopped in Emmet's truck and headed out to find some grub.  At nearby Hotel Cambutal we dined on a delectable assortment of food served in an atmosphere of rustic luxury. The fish of the day was tuna caught earlier that day from the coastal waters right in front of us. Clyde and I selected the tuna which was served with a rice and beans, a side dish so common in Panama.  Allison enjoyed a chicken filet served with red pepper sauce and topped with bacon served with potatoes and a salad.  Ray chomped on a pork chop along with sides that I don't remember. Yet we all agreed that the food was excellent while the staff took care of our every needs.

Hotel Cambutal
 
Dining Room Overlooking Beach


Hotel Bar

 Pacific Ocean, Cambutal, Panama


 Back at TC and Emmet's place Clyde and I fell asleep listening the sound of the ocean, anxious to see what adventures tomorrow would bring....along the gringo trail.