Friday, September 30, 2011

Taking It Easy...

Going to the pharmacy in Panama is almost like going to see a doctor.  Clyde and I are still getting over this cold, sinus thing and he's had a horrible cough that's kept him up at night.  So today our way to Spanish school yesterday I suggested he stop at a farmacia and get something for the cough. We went into Farmacia Arrocha and asked the girl at the counter for something to suppress a cold.  She then gets the pharmacist involved who asked "mucosa too?"  Clyde said "yes" and she gave him a box of something.  As soon as we got to school he popped a few pills and it did seem to help a bit. 

Panama City is in the process of putting in a subway system to assist with public transportation and the horribly heavy traffic.  In the meantime they have had to re-route traffic on many streets causing traffic jams everywhere.  For the past few days Clyde and I have enjoyed walking around the city and eating out at open air, steet side cafe's and restaurants.  We have experimented with a variety of new foods since everything imaginable is available in the city.


Two Views of the restaurant at Hotel Parador


Languistino
(Large Shrimp)
This is two of the four



Last night we had dinner in the hotel's restaurant since it was raining outside and we didn't want to walk in it.  We ordered the most expensive thing on the menu.....langastinos (big shrimp) in garlic sauce for $12.50.  It was very good and came with a large garden salad and we had the fries.  By the way salad dressing here in Panama is simply oil and vinegar and I've really come to enjoy it.  Some restaurants have balsamic vinegar too. 

After school on Thursday we met up with our friend Betsy for lunch at an Italian restaurant near our hotel and school.  The front room of the restaurant was small so we headed out the back door where we noticed more tables.  The back yard opened up to a quaint area of tables interspersed with tall trees, rocks and fountains to simulate the countryside of Italy.  On one side overlooking the tables were balconies of an old hotel next door. Still a working hotel one can only imagine that the guests mouths must water and their stomachs must growl with the fantastic smells of Italian food rising up to their rooms. It was a delightful dining experience!


Going to school in Panama City is like going to work again.  We have to get up early and get there on time and even have homework to do.  Once we get done with school I'm sure things will settle down, our stuff will eventually arrive from the US and we'll have time to relax and realize what retirement is really all about.  Oh hell, who am I kidding. We're not the type of people to relax.  Once we're done with school I'll get back on a regular schedule of working out and then we've got mucho mas exploring to do in this beautiful new country that we live. Lots to see and do and lots of new friends to make. 

Yesterday was a major Jewish holiday here, so they tell us and many of the stores were closed.  Apparently it was the Jewish new year and we were told by someone at school that there is a huge Jewish population in Panama City.  But then there is a huge population of everyone in the city.  Since Panama is "where the world meets" it's a melting pot of nationalities, ethnicities and such.  Panama City has it's own China town and our little town of Capira has a large Chino population too.  In fact most of the tiny stores in the local mercado are owned by Chinese here in Capira.

We're back home in Capira for the weekend so I spent the day working on Spanish homework and trying to get a head start on next weeks lessons. Spanish is starting to get a bit easier everyday and we have to force ourselves to use it with each other.  Today Clyde took a siesta (from being retired I guess) in the hammock.  But he did cook some spicy corvina (fish) for dinner tonight topped with pico de gallo (diced tomatoes, onions and hot peppers) along with some cut up fresh papaya and rice.

We sat around all day waiting for the air conditioner installers to come by the house. They said they'd be here around 1pm, let's hope that's not one in the morning.  Today they were supposed to look at the project that had to be done.  Then they would have to come back at another time to actually do the work.  The a/c is what's called a split unit and involves cutting a hole in the wall and the wall is cement.  Half of the unit goes outside and the other half inside and runs off a remote control in the room.  This is Panama and this is how things work here.  Good thing we're not in a hurry to have it installed. Actually we're doing just fine living without a/c since the weather here is just perfect.  It cools down to about 23 degrees at night (no silly that's celcius, lower 70's) and warms up to 30 to 32 celcius during the day (85-89 farenheit).  The breezes are usually light and since this is the start of the rainy season it's partly sunny with some showers these days.  But the rain seems to bother no one in Panama.  Road crews of men keep working even those up on poles.....construction goes on.....people can be seen walking everywhere.......they wear alot of rubber shoes here and now we know why.  Crocs (the shoes) are common here and they even sell knock offs for a few bucks.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Salsa Time....Panamanian Style

Our heads pulsated to the pounding of latino music while our mouths shouted out.... uno, dos, tres......cinco, seis, seite as our feet and hips gyrated to the salsa beat.  Two silly gringos in the midst of about a hundred Panamanians in a huge ballroom in the heart of Panama City.  Yes it took gringo gutsy-ness to take a salsa class here all in Spanish.

Free salsa lessons are one of the benefits that Spanish Panama, our Spanish school offers it's students during their studies.  After we expressed an interest, we were told to show up at the school at 6:15 tonight.  We assumed that the lessons were at the school and expected only a few people.  We met with Ray, the school's social director who took us a few blocks away to a huge ballroom.  Once inside we joined a group of people that were warming up, so we were told.  It started out more like a zumba exercise class than a salsa lesson.  The instructor was a loud, friendly, black man who was gyrating, bumping and grinding his plump hips on stage along with some basic salsa moves.  Clyde and I had taken salsa lessons for about 4 or 5 weeks before leaving Texas so we knew the basic moves already but he lost us on the other stuff. 

After the warm up we were divided up into "beginner" and "intermediate" group classes.  We joined the beginner group but probably could have handled the intermediate except for the language problem.  The black man took over our group and soon realized we didn't understand what he was saying.  He asked us in English if we spoke Spanish and we told him "only a little."  He proceeded to tell us "you need to learn Spanish....you're in Panama now."  We tried to explain that we are learning Spanish.  He announced to the group that this class would be "bi-lingual" for us.  After a while he seemed to forget about the bi-lingual part and we were left on our own to figure out what was going on.  Since dance is about movement we were able to follow along.  When he realized we were counting out loud in Spanish he came over and asked "where we learned to count in Spanish?"  I explained again that we were taking classes to learn Spanish.

I don't know that we really learned anything since what he taught we already knew, but it sure was quite an experience of immersion!  We have buried ourselves in a new world, with a new language and new culture. We are open minded enough to embrace the differences of this new world and allow ourselves to experience all that Panama has to offer.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Escuela fue muy bien hoy

Spanish school was good today unlike yesterday!  Our professora Suzanne is from Argentina and likes to sit and chat in Spanish which is exactly what we all need.  When she see's that she's losing us she starts to use hand and facial gestures to make her point.  She said when she first came to Panama she had trouble with the language since Panamanians drop the last letter of the word and slur words together.  But then she realized that she had to start listening differently, and then she began to understand what they were saying.  So Clyde and I are now trying to listen differently and respond to people here in Spanish. 

When leaving the school today we stopped to chat with two other students that were sitting outside.  A woman from Switzerland is married to a Panamanian man and decided that she needed to learn Spanish.  And a gentleman from Ireland who comes to Panama to work for three months at a time decided to learn the language while here this time.  The two of them had been put into the same class since neither knew any Spanish.  We were put in the same class with Kaitlyn since like us she already knew some Spanish and that way the students in each class are on the same level.

We've been staying at El Parador Hotel in the El Cangrejo part of Panama City and walking to school, restaurants and stores.  While walking around the streets I started to insist that we speak only Spanish to each other so we sound more like locals.  It has forced us to practice the language and begin to think in Spanish.

El Cangrejo is one of the nicer parts of the city with tons of restaurants, bars, clubs, hotels, casinos, stores and more.  We hit the casino's hard tonight and spent some big bucks playing penny slots and walked away with some cold hard cash.  A whopping $6.75 to be exact, not counting the winnings that we put back into the slot machines. 

This afternoon we went to hang out at the rooftop pool here at the hotel.  I was wearing a pure white bikini on a rather tanned body.  I took my wrap off and walked around the pool area taking in the beautiful Panama metropolitan skyline when I heard a loud whistle.  There was a crew of construction workers at a building a few blocks away. They all started to whistle and yell things in Spanish like "mi amore" or my love.  I really didn't think they were looking at me but Clyde insisted that they were.  I got into the pool and the whistles and yelling stopped.  After a while when I got out to lay in the lounge chair they started yelling and whistling again.  Ok so now I realized that they really were looking at me.  It was a pleasant and funny surprise and we both got a kick out of it.  Eventually they went back to work and then disappeared.  Perhaps their work day was over.  So just because I'm an old retired person now doesn't mean I can't still turn heads!

Workman working on this building



Skyline from the pool


More Skyline from the pool

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Gone to Spanish School Hell

Learning a new language just might be one of those things best left for children!  Although we knew that moving to Panama meant that we would have to learn Spanish, and we knew learning a new language in our 50's would be challenging, we had no idea what we were getting into.

Last week we asked Alexandra from our lawyers office how she learned to speak English. She explained that she studied English for two years in college and did three hours each night of Rosetta Stone as suggested by her professor.  She said she really hated doing that much homework but since she really wanted to learn to speak English she was willing to work on it that hard.  Clyde and I realized at that moment that learning Spanish was going to take lots of time, effort and years to master.
Yesterday was day one in Spanish Panama, the school we choose to teach us to speak Spanish.  Being able to talk to the locals would make our life in Panama so much easier.  But as we have discovered so far living here, nothing comes easy in Panama so why did we think this would be any different?


 

We left the house yesterday morning at 7am and didn't have to be to the school until 8:30. It's about a 45 minute drive from our house in Capira to Panama City where the school is located.  We had taken several trial runs to that area to make sure that we knew how to get there.  All was fine until we hit traffic in the city which made us a few minutes late for our first day of class.  Just as we were walking into the school Clyde's phone rang and it was of course the school looking for us.  The first person that we met was Maria our "professora" who shook our hands and guided us into the classroom. We introduced ourselves to our only other classmate Kaitlyn, a young lady from the US.  Maria immediately began speaking in Spanish and writing on the board. We were suddenly, and abruptly immersed in spanish lessons.

As many of you know, Clyde and I have been working on learning Spanish with Rosetta Stone.  It has been over a year of Rosetta stone and we feel like we have a pretty good start on our education of learning Spanish.  The Rosetta Stone concept is that instead of teaching you the grammer rules, they feel that you just need to get "used to" using the right form of verbs instead of learning the rules of conjugation.  Fast forward to our new Spanish Lessons where they where trying to teach us rules of conjugation.  Hell, in our fifties, we almost forgot what "conjugation" means!! 

During our breaks we chatted in the social area with Kaitlyn a sweet young girl that moved to Panama years ago with her family.  Having lived in France and the US she aleady speaks French and seems to be a little more advanced than us in her Spanish.  The three of us felt comfortable in class together and have no problem asking questions or admitting that the professora has lost us. 


Today we went to class with an open mind and were greeted by Suzanne our professora for today.  The school seems to like to have different instructors each day and we're not sure why.  After the first half of the class Suzanne seemed to be packing up her stuff as if class was over.  In walks another woman and Suzanne explains that she is leaving and Isis will be taking over the next two hours.  Isis seems to be lost, does not know what to teach us so just starts talking to us in Spanish and flipping pages in the book. She spent the first hour trying to figure out what to do with us and didn't seem to understand what we were asking us in English.

Isis then attempted to teach us the uses of the verbs Ser and Estar.  The conjugation of these two verbs is irregular and difficult to understand.   She didn't  seem to know enough English to explain it to us and it only got worse when we asked questions.  At one point she was almost yelling at me telling me that I needed to memorize how these verbs were used.  I kept loudly telling her that this was only day two of learning Spanish for us.  Of course we didn't understand something so difficult yet.  It only got worse as the three of us continued to get more confused and frustrated. When we'd ask her what a word was in Spanish she'd hand us the Spanish/English dictionary and tell us to look it up.  I began to get mouthy and asked then what do we need you for if we have to teach ourselves?  We paid $1200 for one month of classes and this is how we get treated?  Due to her lack of English she didn't get that we were all upset nor did my sarcastic remarks bother her.  It seems that when a Panamanian doesn't understand our English they don't admit it, they just nod their head as if they understand.  She apparently gave up on Ser and Estar at one point and went onto something else which confused us even more.  She didn't understand why the three of us were not following her.  Finally Clyde lost it and yelled out "we don't speak Spanish and have no idea what you're doing."   He didn't realize that she had gone on to another subject all together without really telling us!   Then he got up and walked out of the class and I followed practically in tears.

Clyde stomped into the managers office and said (OK, he shouted) "there are three of us in that classroom and we all agree that we do not want that woman teaching us anymore."   Carmen the manager of the school had been listening in on our class and knew that Isis was unable to get her point across to us.  She apologized profusely and assured us that we would not have Isis as an instructor anymore.  In fact she guaranteed us that we would have no more than 2 different instructors for the duration of our classes.  Kaitlyn walked in and put her two cents in also. Carmen also told us that we would not be charged for this class and would be given an additional class in it's place.

Clyde and I chatted with Kaitlyn outside about the ordeal before saying adios to her and heading out to find some lunch.  We stopped at a nice cafe called "Churreria Manola," that specialized in churros.  After sharing a meal of chicken parmesian with pantacones (plantain chips) we splurged on a manzano churro (apple filled long, thin pastry). 

Before leaving the city yesterday we found a hotel and booked three nights so that we could stay in Panama City during the week for classes.  With our pensionado discount being 50% off hotel rooms during the week the room cost only $32.00 a night.  The hotel is just a few blocks from the Spanish school so we can leave the car in a guarded parking lot and walk to school.  In order to make it to class today we left the house at 6:30 and barely made it here on time.  We checked into our hotel for a relaxing afternoon.  After a few hours of homework and trying to grasp the concept of the verbs Ser and Estar we had dinner out and a refreshing swim in the hotel's roof top pool with a little Ron Abuelo on the side (Clyde had a little bit more than a little). On the way home we stopped to pickup a few notebooks and a new Spanish/English dictionary with bigger print.  Clyde was the first to notice that I had picked out a Spanish......French dictionary instead! 






Let me repeat myself, we paid $32 a day for a hotel with a free breakfast and a rooftop pool!  I do have to admit the room itself was plain and not huge by American standards, but for  $32  night, it was a fantastic deal! 

Tomorrow will be a new day!  At least we don't have to drive in from Capira and fight traffic to make it to school on time.  All we have to do is enjoy the free breakfast in the hotel and walk a few blocks to school.  As we open our minds and mouths to learn new things in the hope that someday we will sound more like the locals and less like silly gringos attempting to speak their language. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

We Are Not Alone Here

Tonight we were invited to a potluck dinner at the home of Fred and Linda, two US ex-pats that moved here from California several years ago.  There we had the opportunity to meet other wonderful ex-pats from the US and Canada who like us, were crazy enough to move from their native country to Panama.  In fact Linda estimated that there are about 100 ex-pats in this area.  Each had their own stories as to why they moved here but everyone was happy with their decision and plan to stay in Panama.  And everyone seems to agree that life in Panama is much cheaper than life in the US and Canada. 

Fred and Linda had some friends from Chile there that are renting property from them.  Their little boy had his 2 year old birthday today and we got to be a part of that celebration.  It was my first time hearing Felix Cumpleanos (Happy Birthday) sung in Spanish. Also my first time seeing kids break open a pinata with a stick to get the candy inside.  The paramedic in Clyde feared the worst seeing toddlers swing a stick around to break open the pinata, but no one was hurt  in the process. 

It was a joy to make new friends and see several cultures merge together.  The Chileans spoke no English and the ex-pats spoke litte or no Spanish.  Yet somehow everyone was able to come together over a delicious meal, a few drinks and a child's birthday party. 

A Couple of "Guy" Things

Clyde here, 

Thought I would take over the Blog for a few from the real author.

A couple of things have amazed me here and I thought I would tell you about them.

The first is cutting of the grass.  We have been here over three weeks now and I have seen one lawn mower in action.  The grass is cut with one of two tools here in Panama.  The first of course is the "Machete".  They come in all sizes and I saw a nice display of them at our closest grocery store the other day.   The machetes are normally used for cutting down the big stuff.  We have come across more than one "machete crew" on the side of the road cutting down the big rougher stuff.  Kind of brings to mind what one thinks Panama "should" look like.


Ok, now for the other tool.  Instead of using mowers of any type, they have crews of men with giant weed eaters.  These things are rather large and strap onto the user.  They also have two handles sticking up in order to keep the string platform horizontal to the ground to get a nice even cut.  It is nothing to see crews of ten to twenty men along side the highway cutting the grass with these huge weed eaters.  I took these two pictures from my carport as these two young men were weed eating the lot across from my house.


The second thing I wanted to mention was the Construction of Everything.  Every building and house in Panama is made of cement.  They use cinder block construction for every thing.  They are called "bloques" here.  Not only are the outside wall made of bloques and cement, all of the construction in the house is made this way also.  All of the interior walls are made of bloques and even the frames for the cabinets are made in this matter.  Quite interesting the way they use the cheapest matierial available.  Seems like they use steel 2 x 4's with metal roofing around here for the housing.

Addition under way to extend neighbors carport

The funny part is their method of construction.  My next door neighbor is having his little carport extended.  Not only the base, but the covering also.  So, the truck shows up from the "ferreteria" (the hardware store) with his supplies.  Up drives this flat bed truck with 12" sides.  It has one pile or blocks, one pile of sand and one pile of rocks.  There are also some bags of cement too.  The blocks are carefully placed in the street, and then next to them, they shovel off the sand and then the rocks.  The cement is stored under the carport to keep it from getting wet.


Front of neighbors house being worked on

So, now it is time to start construction.  The laborer takes his flat shovel and scoops up what he needs into another pile right there on the street.   He adds water and mixes everything to the proper consistency.  Then he either transports it to the needed place with a 5 gallon bucket or wheel barrow.

Other Neighbor, his work was done three weeks ago

After the project is done, they just seem to leave everything there in the street in case they need it later for another job.  I have to tell you, one can be driving down a major highway and right there on the side of the road are the piles of materials and perhaps a laborer mixing his batch.  In front of my house, there are no leftover piles of rock or sand, just a cement spot in the middle of the road.


My own concrete spot in front of my house


Barbeque Panamanian Style

Last night we stopped at a nearby barbeque joint located right off the highway or "autopista" as they say here.  Everytime we drive by this open air restaurant the smells of bbq fill the air as smoke surronds the vehicles parked outside.  As we walked from the car latin music pulsated through our heads as the wonderful smells filled our nostrils.  We asked for a menu and the waitress pointed out the "picks of the night" on it,  which was a selection of about 6-10 items.  We choose pollo or chicken for whopping $3.00 a meal.



The balmy night breeze blew gently through the place as we sat on old wooden picnic tables taking in the views.  There were tables of friends sharing a meal and sipping on Balboa beers, probably for a mere 30-50 cents each.  The place was dark and lit only by strings of little lights and the glow of flatscreen tv's.  On the tv's were videos of bullriding or music videos that coordinated with the sounds on the jukebox.  This looked as though it would be a great little place to dance and I wanted to get up and start swaying to the salsa and carribbean beats, but I refrained.  Had I expressed this thought to Clyde I'm absolutely sure that he would have initiated the dancing, because he has done that before. We've danced in parking lots, in the middle of streets, poolside, at campgrounds, etc.....ok so you get the idea. 

We waited anxiously for the food to arrive since the only thing we were sure that we were getting was chicken.  We had no idea what would be with it, and since this IS Panama it's always an adventure.  One time we ordered a corvina fish meal at the mall and it arrived with a tail, head and eyeball looking at me.  After that we made a mental note to ourselves that when the menu says "entero" that means you're getting the whole fish.

This picture "borrowed" off of the internet
ours were grilled with cheese in them


The waitress brought our meals in a plastic basket and we looked down to see a bunch of succulent, barbequed chicken atop a thick corn tortilla.  The tortilla was thick, about 6 inches round, cut into quarters and filled with cheese and grilled.  We soon concluded that this must be Panama's version of a grilled cheese sandwich.  At least that was the reference that our little American brains came up with at that moment. 

These thick corn tortilla like things are called arepas and originated from Columbia where much of Panamanian cuisine was influenced .  They are made from unleavened cornmeal and are either topped or filled with cheese, meats or vegetables and either fried, grilled or baked.  The one hidden under our chicken was gooey and tasty, but probably not too healthy. 

Another "Borrowed" Picture


After that we headed home for a night of nothing to watch on tv just like when we lived in the US.  Today we're taking it easy at home then later on off to a potluck dinner to make some new ex-pat friends.  And tomorrow morning we begin our month long Spanish lessons in the city.  Life is about to get even busier for us crazy retirees living near the jungles of Panama.  As they say here "ciao" or "adios" until next time we meet along the gringo trail.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

We Are Officially Residents.....

We are officially temporary residents that is, and we've already taken advantage of our first discount. 

Today we drove into the city to meet with Alexandra from our lawyers office. She took us to Immigration again for the third time now.  We were both dressed nice since that is a requirement at all government institutions here but my blouse was sleeveless.  As we were walking into the building she handed me a short sleeved tan sweater and said "you need this."  I thought perhaps she thought I was cold and gracefully declined the use of her sweater.  She explained that my shoulders were not allowed to show in the picture, so I needed to put on this sweater.  Had I known I would have brought a jacket to wear. 

We were taken into this tiny 10 x 10 office with a few worn out, torn up chairs where one clerk was working.  We had to wait our turn and watched as she handed what looked like identification cards to two others that came before us.  When it was my turn I sat down she snapped a photo and a few minutes later had me sign the card and then she laminated it and gave it back to me.  Clyde was next for the same process. 

As we left the building with our new cards in hand we realized that we were now residents of Panama.
Alexandra explained that for one year we are considered to be provisional residents.  If at any time during that one year period Panama decided that they do not want us as residents, they can revoke our visas.  In about six to eight months our permanent cards should arrive.  We will have to go have new photos taken and then will be permanent residents (but never citizens) of Panama.  We have also applied for a "multiple entry and exit stamp" to be put into our passports.  Without this stamp we would not be allowed to leave the country during our provisionary period of one year.  If we did leave we would be subject to a $2000 fine upon re-entry.  With the stamp we can go and come as freely as desired.  And now whenever we get off the plane coming into Panama we enter with other residents, not with tourists. 

On the way home we stopped to eat a late lunch.  While waiting for the food to come Clyde realized we can now ask for our "pensionado" discounts.  We were given 25% off the total price of our meal and both had to sign the receipt.  Apparently this must be the way they keep track of the discounts since this is a government regulated program.  Since the meal was only $7.00 it didn't amount to much, but every little bit helps us save a few more dollars in our quest for living cheap along the gringo trail. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Little Piece Of Heaven

Just a few minutes from our house and about 25 minutes down a whinding, hilly country road we follow the sign to Cermeno. We turn down the road and pass by tiny Panamanian style homes with  children walking in the road proudly wearing their school uniforms.  Up the road a bit we see the tiny school with more kids nearby.  Around the next curve the two lanes almost turn into one lane as the overgrown, lush tropical trees and bushes with leaves big enough to wear as clothing hang over the road.  We spot a crew of workers with machetes whacking away at the overgrowth on one side of the road.  Both sides of the road are lined with banana trees, coconut palms, and plants that looked as though they were just bought at a local nursery.  Sounds of birds permeate the air as our drive continues into the green tropical tunnel. We make our way up and down the rolling hills stopping to take pictures along the way. 






The road dead ends at the water front with a few houses nearby.  Our eyes latch onto a tiny beach with small wooden boats scattered about.  It seems as though we've come to the end of the world.  It's so serene and peaceful, not another human being can be seen.  Endless water with gentle waves surronded by a breathtaking jungle landscape all nestled in the mountains of this gorgeous country.  In the distance we see a ship and islands everywhere just waiting to be explored.  We can only imagine how much fun we can have and what we can discover with a tiny boat or kayak.  So many islands untouched by humans, so many miles of beaches on which to dig our toes into the sand. 





Clyde and I make our way into the warm bath waters of the Pacific Ocean.  The bay is shallow and we walk a long way out before deciding to sit down in the water and relax. The waves gently rock us back and forth as we take in the beauty and peacefulness around us almost as if it's a dream.  And then reality sets in and we realize that those we left behind in the US are working right now and we're not.  Ahhh, life is good today in Panama!





Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cardboard Creations

Yesterday we splurged and bought a small tv to hold us over until our stuff comes in sometime next month.  We had been watching tv via the internet but every few minutes it would freeze and we'd never see an entire show from beginning to end.  It's funny to think that a 19 inch tv is tiny by today's standards of the wall sized, mega tv's with surrond sound, 3D and whatever new thing is out these days. I'm not the techie person of the house, that would be Clyde. 

We got the tv home and Clyde quickly went to work setting it up. First we had to create a tv stand to put it on.  He looked around the empty living room to find two long boxes that are storing the split unit air conditioners that are still waiting for the installer to come install.  He stacked them both up and proudly put the tv on top along with the cable box.  Then he moved a settee (padded bench seat that is part of our new dinette set, it has 4 chairs and this thing) just a few feet from the tv for us "old" folks that don't see too well.  On one side is a lawn chair to be used as an end table of course and in the middle a plastic step stool to be used as a foot rest.



Clyde got it all hooked up and figured out how to use the cable box and remotes. Then he gave me detailed instructions.  He held up the remote so I could see it and said "see where it says guide, that's how you find the guide, then you can scroll up and down to find what you want to watch."  Anything beyond that is just too much technical stuff for my blonde brain. 

He begins to search channels to see what's included in the cable package we purchased for almost half of what we were paying in the states.  There are lots of channels and the listings are in both Spanish and English.  We found International House Hunters our old favorite and it was in English, with Spanish subtitles.  I sat down to watch and soon realized that I enjoyed reading the Spanish subtitles more than watching the show. So now every time I watch tv I will be getting a Spanish lesson at the same time. Later on that afternoon I found The Dr. Oz Show in the guide listing and decided to watch.  But there was a problem since Dr. Oz who I'd watched many times via DVR in the US was now speaking Spanish but there were NO English subtitles. 

Betsy our tri-lingual Panamanian friend mentioned to us one day that she uses SAP on her tv so that she can watch tv in English.  We couldn't figure out how that worked so I asked Clyde to email her for directions.  A while later she emailed back with the how to's for SAP. There's an adjustment that allows us to select "English if available," so that the show will be broadcast in English whenever possible.  As we get more comfortable with Spanish as a second language it'll be nice to have the option to watch Spanish shows but it's also nice to have access to old comforts from the US like Dr. Oz and International House Hunters.  Although we didn't move here to watch tv!

All of the commercials are in Spanish and many have notations along the bottom in which countries they are valid.  For example some were valid in Argentina, others in Columbia or Venezuela.  And we even have a Mall Channel. Good thing it's in Spanish otherwise I might be shopping from home since I have lots of free time these days. 

The installers are supposed to come look at the air conditioner that needs to be installed today.  We're not sure if they'll do it today or have to come back at another time with supplies.  Poor Clyde will have to tear down his cardboard creation of an entertainment center and re-construct it again using empty boxes.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Our Clothes Are Falling Off and more....

One of my biggest concerns about moving to Panama was not being able to work out for 2 hours a day in a gym and gaining weight.  We did ship some free weights and a bowflex machine and I even bought the P-90X program.  I can do all of that at home WHEN they get here.  It's what to do in the meantime that worried me.  Most of you know that Clyde and I both have had weight loss surgery.  My gastric bypass was over 7 years ago and his lap band was over 3 years ago.  We both decided that after moving we would eat fresh fruits and vegetables and lots of fresh fish and chicken.  We also decided to stop using artificial sweetners.  We thought if we need something sweetened we'd just use a little sugar.  We even starting drinking iced tea straight up, meaning no sugar and no sweet and low. 

Back in the states we both got into eating lots of convenience foods like Lean Cuisine Entrees, packaged protein bars and shakes, packaged cheese products, yogurts and much more.  Although we knew they were loaded with tons of salt, it was quick and easy while living our crazy, busy lives. 

We moved to Panama to retire on less money and live cheaply.  This process includes buying cheap fruits and veggies from local stand on the side of the road and cooking fish and chicken at home.  To our amazement we both noticed that our pants are falling off.  Ok so I'll admit that we have splurged on some locals rums and the occasional cinnamon roll from Cinnabon in the mall. And other than walking we have not done any other type of exercise, yet our clothes are literally off.  It finally occured to me that we're not eating any processed foods.  Nothing that comes out of box or package, which means nothing that's loaded with sodium to bloat us.  I have been amazed at how wonderful I feel.  Not bloated and my rings are even spinning around on my fingers.  I had always wanted to lose the processed foods but just didn't know how to do that when working full time and working out for 2 hours a day.

I've had a cold the past few days with sinus congestion, cough, and can barely speak.  Since my US stock of cold meds is getting low we decided to stop in a pharmacy and see what we could get here.  The last meds I purchased in the US have pseudoephedrine in them and we showed the package to the pharmacist here to see if they had anything similar.  We were told that pseudoephedrine in Pamana is only available with a prescription.  Interesting we thought, since we had heard that most everything that requires a prescription in the US is available without one here.  And a prescription is not needed for Sudafed in the US but they do keep it behind the counter, in Texas anyway. So we asked for something else for congestion and the female pharmacist presented us with a little box.  On the box was a price tag of 69 cents for a total of 12 pills. Wow, I thought it's so cheap that's great.  Apparently 69 cents was per dose so the total for the package was over $8.00.  No wonder the pharmacist kept saying "doce" to us.....I didn't know why she kept telling us there were 12 doses in the package.  That's why.....because she was going to charge us for that many doses.  Ok so cold meds are not too cheap in Panama but they're not in the US either.  And maybe she "gringoed" us and sold us something high priced.  Maybe there is cheaper stuff here.

Beach View in Gorgona

Volcanic Rock on Beach in Gorgona

Beach view in San Carlos


We have been out beach hopping again today before the rains came down hard.  We found a few beaches on the other side of Coronado which would be about 45 minutes by car from here.  The guy at the Toyota dealership told us about a few places that are "all inclusive."  This made no sense to us since we didn't want to go to a resort, just go for a day to use the beach.  But we did stumble onto one place called Club de Playa San Carlos.  The prices were listed outside and it said "incluyde".......for adults it was $25.00 and is apparently cheaper during the week.
What is included in a Day Pass?
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Snacks
  • Use of all facilities
  • Sodas, juices, coffee and tea
  • Beer
  • Tropical drinks with liquor
 so that might be something that we check out one of these days after the rainy season has gone by.  They do have a website if anyone wants to check it out further. 

Clyde is on several internet boards one of which is Americans In Panama.  We've followed the boards for a while now but recently decided to put out a post.  To our surprise there is a decent size number of ex-pats (people that move out of their home country to live in another country) in this area.  There are some living right here in Capira as well as La Chorrera and the surronding little towns.  They have get togethers once a month or so.  We've already been invited to a potluck on Sunday in La Chorrera.   So it will be nice to meet other crazy people like ourselves that moved their lives to Panama and live among the locals just like we do. 

We just received an email from the movers.  It says that our stuff should arrive in the port of Panama around October 6th, but that is just in the port.  We have no idea how long it will take for us to get the stuff after that.  That involves immigration actually coming to the house and going through the stuff to be sure that we are not smuggling in drugs or anything else bad I suppose. 

I was bored earlier today and started typing some ramblings about our life here.  I had planned to come back to it later on and make it better instead of a mish-mash that perhaps only me, the writer would understand.  In the mean time Clyde hit "publish" and off it went.   So maybe next time things will be better.  After all I am a Virgo and we are perfectionists!  When Clyde first suggested that I start a blog I was concerned about how it would be perceived by everyone.  Thankfully everyone seems to be enjoying it and I do enjoy creating it.  Maybe tomorrow will bring something more interesting......

Monday, September 19, 2011

Life's a Beach

Yesterday we set out with map in hand to look for beaches.  This should be easy since Panama is located between two major bodies of water.....the Pacific Ocean and the Carribbean Sea and it's only about an hour drive from one to the other.  Since we first needed to pickup a few towels we drove to Coronado and stopped at the El Rey Supermarket.  Since we were already there we thought we'd checkout Coronado Beach.   Many of the locals here told us that Coronado Beach is private and one can only get in IF they're staying at at a hotel there or have property inside the community.

We drove to the guard gate and the man came out and starting talking in Spanish rather quickly.  We knew he was asking us some question so when the man stopped talking Clyde quickly said "si" and the man waved us through the gate.  Apparently since we're gringos he thought we owned property in the community and let us in.  I was impressed!

Down the road I drove expecting it to open up to  gorgeous, white sandy beaches surronded by high rise condos.  I expected tons of hard bodies laying on the beach soaking up the sun with surfers catching a wave in the distance.  Because this was the Coronado Beach that I'd read about and seen pictures that looked this way.  This is where all the rich ex-pats go to retire and to live in the lap on luxury on Panama's most wonderful beach. 


Instead we encountered potholes in the road big enough to drop a tire into.  And they were constant, every where never getting any better. The road was horribly rough and rugged yet we were driving by million dollar estates that appeared to be on the waterfront.  We were amazed and wondered why would someone want to live here?  The houses were beautiful and expensive and there must be high home owners association fees in order to live in this ritzy community.

We followed to see where people were going and found parking and a path about the size of an alley way leading to the beach.  The path was sandwiched inbetween houses almost like it was an after thought.  "Oh yeah, let's keep a path open for those poor folks that don't own property here." So we followed the other poor folks down to the beach.


Once on the beach we found black sand with sparkly, white silica crystals in it along with some lighter colored sand.  Immediately I headed toward the water.  First I had to walk over small rocks but once I was immersed the bottom was smooth and the water was warm and wonderful.  The waves were light to moderate but we did see some surfers off to our left side where the waves were bigger.  In the distance were highrise condos and many more miles of beach.  In front of us were single family homes. and hotels and condos all with beach access. There were people on the beach but it certainly was not crowded.  But the day was cloudy and this is the rainy season here so perhaps that's why the beach was not packed with hoards of bikini clad bodies baking in the sun.




On the way home we went down a few more roads looking for other beaches.  We found one that appeared almost like a little fishing village.  There were tiny fishing shacks along the beach that looked worse to me than some port-o-potties I've seen.  And there were dark skinned families that had set up camps, barbeques and hammocks everywhere.  They looked like they were planning to stay for a while.




The sand here was also black sand but there was trash along the beach and it just felt dirty and unsafe to me and I wanted to get out of there.  As we backed the car out of the tiny parking lot I noticed a good looking young man who was parked next to us.  He was driving a new looking Audi, so perhaps my first impression of these people as being lower class Panamanians was wrong?  Perhaps just hard working people trying to relax after a long week of work at the beach.



It was getting late and my stomach was yelling loudly that it needed food immediately. We found a nearby restaurant on the highway for lunch.  It was a barbeque place with both indoor and outdoor seating. We sat outside since we were covered with sand from the beaches.  After looking at the menu we ordered half a chicken with baked potato and cole slaw to share.  First they served us with chips and salsa. This was a nice surprise but the quantity of chips was sparse and not at all similar to the pound of chips Tex-Mex restaurants in Texas serve up.  But it was just enough to nibble on while waiting for the food.  When the food came there was lots of tasty chicken, the potato and even the cole slaw was good.  I'm a bit of a cole slaw snob and always said that no one in Texas makes good cole slaw.  We make it at home lots and our recipe is similar to the way my grandma in New Jersey used to make it when I was growing up. 

Back at the casa we scrubbed off the black sand from our feet and bodies and relaxed for the night in our hammocks.  An ice cream man came by on foot ringing a little bell and Clyde ran inside to get a buck for two ice pops.  They were coconut and sort of like a fruit smoothie with all fruit. 

Last week we did find a tiny beach not far from our house. We'll have to venture out to that one again and this time get out of the car and look around.  But right now I think I'd better get Clyde's butt out of bed already and then we'll see what adventures today might bring.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

In Hot Water

Living in Panama is sometimes like living on Green Acres.  You remember that show from the 60's where they had to climb the pole to use the telephone?  Since we got our appliances installed it's been something like that here.

Clyde was so happy to finally have hot water and be able to take a hot shower, but it's not that simple.  We heat water here with propane which we also use to cook and dry the clothes.  We only bought one propane tank. Clyde was planning on buying a second one to have one inside for the stove and dryer and another outside since that's where the on demand hot water heater is installed.  The man that installed all of these told us not to leave the propane bottle outside because it would get stolen if it could be seen.  And he was a Panamanian telling us this.  Clyde paid $80.00 for the propane tank but the gas cost a mere $5.00.  So although the tanks have value propane gas is very cheap here.  The installer told Clyde that people here steal the tanks and return them to any gas station that has them for $85.00. So for a Panamanian that only makes $300.00 a month, it must be worth stealing the tank and making that much money.



So every morning when we're ready to take showers Clyde takes the tank right out the door and connects it to the water heater.  Then we were told since there's not enough pressure here we need to run the hot water in the kitchen to let the pressure build before using hot water in the showers. So I get into the shower and turn on the hot water first.  Out comes a trickle of water but after a few minutes it does get hot.  As soon as I turn on the cold and start to shower the hot water goes off and I'm back to taking a cold shower. The hot water comes and goes during the shower process.  And many times in the mornings here the water goes out totally.  Perhaps since everyone is getting ready for work and school and using water at the same time.  It usually comes back on after a while.  One day we were both taking a shower at the same time (we have two showers) and the water went off totally.  We just had to stand there a while until it came back on so that we could finish.  After showering Clyde brings the tank back into the kitchen where it sits in between the stove and washer/dryer combo. Once his tools arrive from the US with our other stuff he plans to build a box outside to hide a tank there.



 At first I thought so this is the way we have to live here?  Then I had a flash back to our last months in Texas. We had become obsessed with watching International House Hunters on HGTV. We would DVR it and that was what we watched every night.  If you're not familar with the show it's where a realtor shows someone, usually an American 3 houses in another country and they chose one to buy.  It's fascinating to see how people live in other countries.  Not all houses are square.....not all kitchens are inside the house, some are outside......some living rooms are outside.......some houses are round......some have the living room and kitchen upstairs and the bedrooms on the first floor......some have bathrooms outside.......in some countries the kitchen goes with you so a kitchen is a totally empty room.......un-furnished in some countries means no appliances, sometimes it also means no mirrors or light fixtures......and on and on......  We even got to watch several episodes on Panama with budgets from $500,000 in the old part of the city Casco Viejo to a million dollar budget on the Pacific Ocean.  In many of those episodes the realtor would tell the prospective buyers things like........everyone has generators here since the power goes out alot......everyone has water tanks on their homes to catch rain water in case they need extra water........furniture here is extremely expensive so plan on having yours shipped from the US.......and more. 

So the point that I'm trying to make here is this.  Life is not the same everywhere.  I don't mind taking cold showers and if there's a trickle of hot water that comes along, all the better.  We came into this move to Panama with open minds and realized that we might have to do away with some of our American luxuries in order to live here.  We moved here to try and live cheaply and for a different way of life.  Both of us are now thinking that we really don't even need the air conditioner.  It's been over a week and we have not heard back from the installer.  I'm sure they'll call us someday and then we'll have to make that decision.  We have gotten used to living without air conditioning.  YES that's right......NO A/C because the temperature goes down to 75 at night and only warms up to 85 or so during the day. We do have a fan that we sleep with that helps to block out outside noises like bugs,  wildlife and the neighbors. 

Moving out the US and leaving the expensive perks we've all come so accustumed to is not for everyone.  Panama is not for everyone which is good because we'd be over run with Americans if it was.  But for those of us that are willing to give up a few things to experience a world so different from the one we lived it, there are perks.  We are just beginning to discover those perks like the park we went to yesterday.  The scenery here, the people, the food, the beaches, the mountains and the culture all  make this an adventure of a lifetime.  Whether we live in Panama for a few years or the rest of our lives it will always be a part of us.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Altos de Campana National Park

This afternoon we finally got to do some exploring, which always includes getting lost along the way. We took a wrong road at first and got to experience our very first Panamanian police random check point,  which is very common here.  Good thing that I was driving since Clyde is still without an official US license to use here.  The officer was dressed in an army green shirt and pants, black bullet proof vest and boots and  had a large black rifle at his side.  After an initial greeting I handed him my Texas license and asked him  in Spanish if this was the way to Campana.  I tried to relay the message that we had just moved here from the US.  He looked befuddled at my drivers license, and proceeded to explain in Spanish how to get to Campana.  I didn't understand much of what he was saying but he was cute in that uniform so I didn't mind listening.  It wasn't at all scary since I was not doing anything wrong.



Altos de Campana National Park is located very close to where we live, once we figured out where it was.  From the Pan-American Highway in the town of Capira is a sign indicating where to turn off for the park.  This was a shock to us since Panama is not known for street signs let alone signs to much of anything else.  The 5 kilometer drive was steep and winding with some areas of gravel.   Since the drive was slow it was perfect for taking in the breathtaking views along the side of  the road.  The left side of the road was lined with thick rain forest and beautiful schrubs and flowers.  The right side opened to green lush, rolling hills with un-obstructed views of mountains and the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop.  There were some houses, fruit and plant stands and cantinas along the way too.  There is even a hotel close to the trail heads with a restaurant.  It sits on the top of a hill and appears to have a wonderful view of the mountains and ocean.  We stopped at this little information booth to get a map and pay our entry fees of $5.00 each to the park.  Once we have our pensionado visas we will only pay $1.50 each.
We stopped along the way for Clyde to take lots of pictures and we were thankful that we took the chance to move to this beautiful country with such friendly people.





The first part of the park was the Mirador (look out).  This was a raised platform that we climbed up to that allowed spectacular views of not only the Pacific Ocean but of the beautiful green mountains with misty clouds nestled in the tops.




 Up ahead we found the trail heads although there was no parking lot, just a place to pull off the road a bit.  We found various hiking trails that wind their way up and through very thick, tropical rain forest.  The trails were well marked and easy to follow and the ground was a bit muddy, and rather wet at times and rocky. The trail we picked had a rather steep incline but I enjoy climbing up mountains.   But I never think when I'm enjoying the climb UP that I always have to get back down.  We had a few sprinkles of rain along the way, but the forest canopy was so thick that we stayed dry.  Since we really didn't know how far the trail was we turned around at a certain point since it was getting dark from heavy rain clouds and we didn't want to get caught in a storm.  At the steep parts going down I had my knight in shining armour........my brave husband walk in front of me so I could hang onto him if I slipped on wet pavement. 







Altos de Campana National Park was the first National Park in Panama.  It opened in 1966 and covers 4,925 hectares and the temperatures hover around 24 degrees celcius  (about 75 farenheit) and it gets about 100 inches of rain per year.  It's located on Chame Bay on the Pacific coast.  The park has 39 species of mammals including the black-eared opossum, coati, sloths and Geoffroy's tamarin.  It also has reptiles and amphibians such as the rare Golden Frog, poisonous frogs, geikos, giant lizards, salamanders, snakes, and the giant frog which is the largest amphibians in Panama.  The park is also home many birds, too varied to mention here.







After an hour or more of hiking we headed back into Capira to stop at the local mercado for some produce.  We picked up some cheap bananas, avocado, onions and plaintain at a Chinese  mini-super grocery store for $3.00.  Then off to Quesos Chela for some home made jalapeno canasta cheese.  Now back at the casa Clyde is baking plaintain, to go with beans that he cooked in the crock pot yesterday and some left over fried rice from yesterday's trip for Chinese.  Now for a lazy night at home watching free tv on the laptop sitting in lawn chairs.  Our living room furniture is still out on a ship somewhere or maybe in port waiting......not sure.  Never know where tomorrow will take us but one thing is sure, you'll probably hear about here in our gringo tails.