Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Clyde's Little Black Book.....

Clyde started a "little black book" today only problem is that at his age, the women in it are all doctors!  Since Clyde manages to get in trouble just about everywhere, the doctor's office is no exception.  Today he met with an opthamologist in Panama City for the first time, and it just happened to be a gorgeous, female Venezuelan doctora.  She was dressed in a white lab coat, black slacks and zebra printed wedge sandels, none of which Clyde managed to see. The only thing he said after we left her office is "man she was gorgeous" to which I lovingly slapped him upside the back of the head. 

Dra. Maritza Lopez Moreno

Since Clyde has now had two cornea transplants in both eyes, it was important for him to find an opthamologist here that was familiar with this procedure.  We looked for the best in the country and chose Dr. Maritiza Lopez Moreno because she works out of Hospital Punta Pacifica, the premier hospital in Panama.  Punta Pacifica Hospital is an affiliate of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the U.S. and therefore is a state of the art hospital with the best trained doctors and staff.  Having had both surgeries done at Baylor Eye Institute in Houston, TX done by Dr. Bowes Hamill who is said to be the best in the U.S., he went from the best to the best. 

When he would have an appointment in Houston we would enter a huge building and check in at the front desk. Next we went upstairs and sat in a large waiting room surronded my 15-20 doors where patients were being seen.  Clyde would get called in and a tech would start the process with preliminary stuff. Then he'd be sent back out to the waiting room.  Next he would get called in again and be seen by a resident or student doctor, since this is a teaching hospital.  Finally after an hour or so had gone by, he'd get to be seen by the doctor.  Last visit there before we left the states was over $300 since we no longer had insurance.

Today in Panama City we arrived at the registration desk where Clyde was given one sheet of paper to fill out.  A few minutes later Dr. Lopez called us into a small office. She asked him questions, wrote down some notes, did an exam, some further tests, checked his eye pressure, and gave him her card which included her personal cell phone number.  There was no nurse or any other staff in her office, just one doctor.  On the way out we paid $50 to the receptionist and were on our way.  At Clyde's request I will mention again that the doctor gave him her personal cell phone number, which is NOT uncommon for doctor's here, but we won't tell him..... let him think he's special.

After that we stopped at the mall for some holiday shopping and then headed home for the night.  It's been a long day so these two tired gringo's will say good night for now.  If the rain's don't stop soon we may have to get a boat to paddle our way down the next phase...along the gringo trail.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Smell of Pine in the Air......

The smell of pine is in the air as the cider bubbles on the stove.  Apples and cinnamon permeate the nostrils while Christmas carols ring in the air.  As the last of the ornaments are hung on the tree the snow begins to lightly dust the ground.  As I return from my imaginary journey back to the land of palm trees and pineapples I suddenly realize it's time to decorate for Christmas here in Panama.


Christmas in Panama

Actually there's no smell of pine in our house since we brought with us from Texas an artificial Christmas tree.  When I lived in New Hampshire with my ex-husband we had live trees for many years.  Despite the cleaning I'd do after the tree was gone, I'd find pine needles for the rest of the year in the most unusual places.  So now I'm a confirmed believer in fake, plastic trees that last from year to year, leaving the real ones uncut in the woods.  And in case you're losing sleep at night wondering do they sell live Christmas trees in Panama?  Yes they do!  Cost is about $21.00 up to $32.00 I believe.  A lot of money for a culture of people that make about $350 a month.  But the live trees are probably here more for the expats to spend their money on. 


Have to add some local flavor to the tree!

With the holidays fast approaching we realize that this will be our first one far away from friends and family.  Might as well get into the holiday season to ward off any impending sad thoughts of missing those back in the working world.  In fact I've decided to host a holiday party for some of our new expat friends that we've made here in Panama. 

The tree is trimmed and the house is decorated with sparkling holiday trinkets but there's something missing.  Tomorrow we will head out to find some new treasures to add to our collection of old things.  Time to find some Panama holiday ornaments to nestle in among the old gringo one's. 

Today for me started out with a ride on my spin bike at home while Clyde ran out to get some wood for another project.  Earlier today I opened my closet and showed him my messy shoe collection and asked for his help.  So like the good husband that he is, he built me some shelves to organize my closet.
Of course this meant pulling out all the shoes and other stuff on the bottom of my closet for him to fit the shelves in.  One closet lead to another and yet another and before I knew it, I had stuff everywhere.  But I managed to organize my closet and two huge closets in the gym room of the house.  That's when I noticed the boxes of Christmas stuff and decided to make even more mess.

You can't see it in this picture
But the rack is 6' and double this size
 

Still wearing my padded cycling shorts and a sports bra from my workout earlier, it was 4 pm by the time I finally hit the shower.  Afterwards I vacuumed and cleaned up the white tile floors which Clyde cooked up some fish (corvina) and veggies for dinner. 

Last night the same little boys stopped by that sold Clyde the bread pizza's the night before. They explained something about a meeting tonight at 7pm but we have no idea what it's about.  Since they were selling pizza's for futbol (soccer) we assume that the meeting is about soccer.  We were being nice giving them a few bucks for pizzas but have no interest in sponsoring or getting involved with a kids soccer team in any way. Clyde thought about this all day wondering if we should go to this meeting.  He even told me at one point that we should go.  I asked "why".....do you want to support their team?  Buy uniforms or coach?  Of course not so why should we go to a soccer meeting at someones house?  Besides IF the meeting was for any other reason like they just wanted to meet us and invite us over for a get together, don't you think that the Mom's would have asked?  So we are staying home and hoping that we did the right thing.

Once again it's the language barrier that has us perplexed.  If we fully understood Spanish we would have understood what this meeting was all about.  But for now we keep moving forward a little at a time, trying to understand a little more of this foreign world in which we live.  We seem to be the first in the neighborhood to put up a Christmas tree so let's hope that there's not some Panamanian rules about how and when to display Christmas decorations.  I'm sure our neighbors will notice that the crazy gringo house has a tree lit as they wonder who lives inside.  This year we'll have our first real "Feliz Navidad" instead of Christmas as Santa trots his horse down the path... along the gringo trail.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Our New Home.....away from home

Early this morning we headed over to Punta Chame Resort to try out the gym for the first time.  The price of the gym is $30 a month for one person or $50 a month for the two of us.  Included in this price is unlimited use of the beautiful pool area which makes it a very appealing deal.  Only a 15 minute drive from our house, I can see us spending many days hanging out by the pool.  I can bake it the sun while Clyde has some new tourists to talk to every day.  And it's so close and safe that if Clyde wants to stay home and catch up on some honey-do's, I can certainly go it alone.

The Pool and Pavillion

Pool and Restrooms/Showers
We passed on water aerobics and headed straight into their brand new gym.  Once inside we found seven weight machines and some free weights.  Unlike other machines I've used at gyms that only perform one exercise, each of these machines was good for two to three different exercises.  Someone told us that the owner of this resort is or was a "power lifter" and that's why he put only weight machines into this gym and no cardio equipment.  Apparently he tells people if they want cardio go take a walk or do laps in the pool.  And being a "weights" girl myself this place was right up my alley!

WOW!  What a pleasant surprise



Waiting for the rain to stop

Afterwards we showered, changed and hit the pool for some relaxation.  Clyde had cornered a mother and daughter from Canada and was telling them our life story.  Anyone that knows my friendly husband, knows that he LOVES to talk and when he finds someone willing to listen, they become a captive audience.  They were here on vacation checking out Panama as a possible retirement haven for mama, and were interested in how and why we ended up here.  After a while the rain set in and we dried off and headed out to find some lunch.  An accident on the highway caused a traffic backup for many miles, so instead of heading home we went the other way and stopped to eat.  After lunch since traffic still backed up, we headed out to do some exploring.  We finally made it home around 3 pm to see what other trouble we could get into.

We found this roadside furniture store

Future Head Board

What an eclectic bunch of furniture!

I love rustic furniture like this and would love to have a house full of it.  Of course there were no prices on this stuff, and these hard surfaces would be rough on the butt after a while.  But it's fun to just look and get ideas to put on Clyde's honey-do list, since he has plenty of time here......along the gringo trail.



Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Knock At The Door.....

Or should we say a "buenas" at the gate.  Sitting here watching tv it's 8:45 pm and we heard kids outside, nothing unusual.  Then we heard someone say "buenas" as if trying to get our attention. Clyde went out to see what they wanted.  They explained something in Spanish and he explained that he didn't understand and that we are learning Spanish.  I could hear the boys voice slowly speak one word at a time......."tenemos.... un.... actividad".....which means we have an activity, and that could only mean that they were selling something or collecting money.  They slowly explained that they were selling something for futbol, which is soccer in Panama.  Clyde came into the house to get his wallet and gave them a few bucks.  He walked back in with small plates covered with aluminum foil and said "ok, so let's see what I bought."  I started to open one and I smelled pizza. Then I looked at it and what I saw was pizza on white bread, made by some kids that we don't know.  It smelled good and we laughed about it and just had to take pictures, but wouldn't eat them.

Now, what can be in this mystery package?

Why it's "Pizza de Pan"!

Since Panama is known as the "Crossroads to the World" or "where the world meets" we have access to products from around the world.  Since practically every product being shipped anywhere has to make it's way through the Panama Canal, we are fortunate to be able to buy stuff from all over.  As soon as I get a new product home I read the label to see where it's from. For example, yesterday I picked up some healthy cookies called "Go Ahead" that have only 49 calories per bar. They are sweetened with apple and sultana. We had to look up sultana and turns out it's a white grape that's dried similar to raisins but a larger fruit.  These cookies were made in the United Kingdom.

Clyde will be the first to announce to everyone that he doesn't color his hair.  At the age of 57 years old he still has a thick head of curly, luscious, brown locks for me to run my fingers through.  He may not be too happy with me for revealing this bit of information, but I color his hair.  He makes me do it so he can tell people that he doesn't color his hair.  Back in the states we were using a product called "Just For Men," which is a 5 minute hair color that gently washes away in six weeks.  Here we found a product called "Strategy" and it's from Buenes Aires, Argentina.  These directions were in English, Spanish and some other languages too. Clyde has no reason to complain about my shopping splurges on $2.00 shoes since he gets his hair cut for free by me, and I'm usually naked too so that my clothes don't get dirty.  I was a licensed hairdresser years ago and his is the only head that I tangle with these days. 
When he was working in the fire department the guys knew that his hair was colored and when they'd see too much gray his Captain would tell him "Clyde, go home and color your hair."

Both of us still suffering from queasy stomachs, diarrhea and gas we've been eating light and taking it easy.  Today I read yet another article on the benefits of "aqua de pipa" (coconut water) one being that it will help diarrhea and upset stomach.  So we headed into La Chorrera to pick up a few fresh, green coconuts full of this medicinal like fluid.  We stop there so often that the man was happy to see Clyde, shook his hand and asked how he's been.  Home we headed sucking on straws, sipping this "dew from the heavens" as the Hawaiian's call it.  We don't know if it will really help our upset stomachs, but for only $1.20 for two, it's full of great stuff.  Here's a link to the article for anyone interested in reading it.


Tomorrow our trails head out to a brand new resort that has a nice gym and outdoor pool.  They are selling gym memberships which would give us use of the pool too.  Hopefully we'll get some sunshine so I can enter into my "happy place" which is baking in the hot sun.  After all like they say, if mama gringa ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.  Happy trails......under the sun......along the gringo trail.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Tid Bits.....

A little update on my last blog about superstitions, like I knew would happen my dear sister would better remember mama's weird hocus pocus.  Mom or grandma would kiss our forehead three times, each time they would spit slightly away from us, then wipe our forehead.  From there to the bottom of our cheek three times to repeat the same ritual.  We would yawn one more time and then it would pass and the spell would be removed.  This was done when a child was "overlooked" or just looked at too much by a stranger and it would cause us to be over tired.  Hell in my day we thanked our lucky stars when kids were tired and wanted to sleep!

My wonderful husband Clyde finished our new computer desk.  It is amazing what talent he has and he is willing to share it so willingly with me.  If you remember, he finally found the wood he needed after talking to expat friends David and Stephanie.  We decided on Teak as it is so beautiful and affordable here in Panama. The wood was not far away, but in order to acquire this wood, he first had to buy the squared off log and then have it cut into workable pieces. 

The Teak log ready for cutting
Teak Boards stacked up for drying


Solid Teak Computer Desk

Front View of new Computer Desk

The Drawers
I came down with something like the flu last night and couldn't be bothered to get off the couch.  It hit me suddenly with a temperature of 102 degrees, headache, stomach ache, my face hurt and I was freezing and bundled up in winter pajamas.  A while later I began to sweat so I knew something was not right with my body temperatures.  The overnight was spent running in and out of the bathroom so I didn't get much sleep. Today I'm feeling a bit better and my temperature is down to 99 degrees, but still sweaty and not feeling like myself.  I've already taken one cold shower today and will probably take a few more so let's hope that my face doesn't freeze for all eternity.  (reference to last blog on local oddities).

Next on the list of Clyde's honey-do list is that I want some shelves to organize my shoes.  And I also need some storage in my bathroom, probably in the way of an over the toilet removable shelf unit. 

Monday is yet another Independence Holiday for Panamanians. This time it's the Independence from Spain which was achieved in 1821.  I'm sure there will be fireworks, parades and much more since they like to party big here.

We've been looking into health insurance and found a clinic in Coronado called San Fernando Clinic that has 24 hour emergency services, as well as specialists that come in on a weekly basis.  The day that Clyde got stung by the scorpion got us thinking that we had no idea where to go in case of an emergency.  So now we know where to go and if we need serious medical attention they can transport us into Panama City where we can be treated at some of the finest hospitals in the world.  We found an affordable health plan that will take care of all our medical needs in Panama.  Whenever we travel we pick up travel insurance which will cover us during the trip too.  And the nice part about this clinic, since it's in Coronado which is an expat town, the staff at the clinic speaks English.

To my surprise, they actually sell live Christmas trees here.  I always thought spending money on a live tree just to throw it away after a few weeks, was a big waste of money.  Certainly this must be an American thing since we are a country that likes to waste money.  But apparently not, since Panamanians like freshly cut Christmas trees too.

Lazy day at home today shopping for Christmas presents online.  It's more fun doing it the real way, but since shipping from Panama to the states would be pricey, it's better to order from U.S. stores.  I had an idea to send some Ron Abuelo Panamanian Rum to all of our kiddo's (who rarely bother to read this blog) but we couldn't find any such thing online.  So if our darling children get around to following our blog, they can be assured there will be NO Ron Abuelo under their Christmas tree this year.  Oh well, guess they'll have to come visit for some good ole cheap local rum that sells for a mere $6 a bottle. 

Drove over to Coronado to check out the new El Machetazo store, which is Panama's version of Wal-Mart.  Near the entrance we stopped for a free sample of "seco" which is the national drink of the country.  It's similar to vodka and added to different mixers.  These were not tiny samples with one sip in them, but a full size glass of a pineapple juice mixed with seco.  We sipped on our cocktails as we browsed around the store.

Out from behind the camera with my drink
HEY!  I kinda enjoy this shopping thing!
We soon noticed that there were three floors to this place, and headed to the escalator to go upstairs.  Since we had already picked up a few things, we wondered how would we get our cart up to the next floor, or should we leave it here?  In between the up and down escalator was a third section for carts to ride in.  Why has no one in the U.S. thought of this yet?

Only problem is that they make you take
your child out of the basket first.

Lately while driving around we noticed a strange phenomenon for Panama.  Signs on the road!  In our past exploratory trips, we would keep on passing the roads leading to other smaller towns.  Now the Pan American Highway has these wonderful blue signs up for almost all small towns.


You have no idea what a GIANT step this is!
Panama is NOT known for signs anywhere.  There are few street signs since buildings don't have addresses. For example, our address is "Residential del Oeste......ultima calle (last street), casa #26 (house #26)."  Ads for businesses will say something like "next to McDonalds......in front of the water.....next to the hospital."  And people give directions in the same manner.  Something like go straight to the green house, turn right and proceed up the hill until you see where the old cement factory used to be then go a long way until you see the park." 

Back home for the night now, getting ready to veg out in front of the tv and complain that there's nothing to watch.  Same as back in the states, except that most of the nothing to watch here is in Spanish. But that's just the way it goes in a Spanish speaking culture here.... along the gringo trail.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Panamanian Oddities......

U.S. expat friends of ours recently opened up a Mexican Restaurant here in Panama, and were telling us about some strange superstitions that some Panamanians believe are true.  They had to deal with hiring help for the restaurant and while training them they discovered some peculiar issues.  Being the skeptic, I did some further research to validate their stories. 

Weather in Panama is hot all year round, and the locals have some strange beliefs about going from hot to cold.  When cooking over a hot stove, ironing or working outside in the heat they will NOT shower or bathe until the next day.  To do so they believe that the change from hot to cold will cause paralysis, seizures, brain aneurysms and arthritis.  Anything considered to be a HOT activity like working outside, having a baby, sex, or ironing must never be followed by a cold shower.  Most Panamanians do not have hot water, so showers are usually cool.  This dangerous practice of showering could be detrimental and cause non-reversable deformity.  This condition caused by the hot-cold transition is called "espasmo."

When ironing never come in contact with moisture of any type be it the toilet, sink, or a downpour of rain or half of your face will freeze for all eternity.

Panamanians love to drink alcohol but will NEVER eat watermelon in the vicinity of alcohol, because of the same condition. 

Don't let children out at night because there's a "night breath" or fog that carries bacteria.  We see kids outside at night all the time here, so perhaps some are hoping their kiddo's get taken away by the fog.

When attending a funeral if you step on the land, wash your clothes immediately afterwards or harm may come to you.

If a tiny bit of dirt is taken from a graveyard, dropped elsewhere and someone steps in it they can be harmed.

Although it's rare to see a Panamanian that smokes, they will open packages of cigarettes from the bottom. They believe that diseases like pink-eye can be picked up by touching the tobacco end. So they are less likely to spread the disease if someone borrows a cigarette.  That way they won't have pink-eye when dying from lung cancer I guess. 

I remember as a kid growing up in New Jersey my mom and grandmother had some strange, hocus pocus superstitions.  When us kids had a sore throat we were told to wrap our dirty socks around our necks.  Since I was an amazingly, cute,(not) cubby kid I was always getting my cheeks pinched.  Later on when I'd yawn my mom said I had been "overlooked" by that person and she'd perform a ritual on me.  Although I don't remember much of this embarrasing ritual by choice, it had something to do with her spitting on her finger and touching parts of my face.  I'm sure my sister will read this and remember the correct version of this ritual. 

So the next time you see us if our physical appearances have changed in any way, such as more wrinkles, sagging skin, grayer hair, or any other strange symptoms, just chalk it up to too many cool showers.  And I will just keep protecting my health by not touching an iron or frypan to assure that espasmo will never set in.  But as for now I'd better head in to take yet another cool shower to beat the heat and humidity.... along the gringo trail.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Hangin in the Hood

Yesterday I was chillin at home after my morning workout, while Clyde was working away building our new computer desk.  Since he's putting the polyurethane on today he had time to take a break and go have the car washed.  But as usual, everything takes longer in Panama, so he was gone for an hour. But they do a nice job of cleaning the inside and outside of the car, wash the floor mats and vacuum it too for only $5.00.  Usually when he goes to the car wash he has a beer while waiting, since this car wash sells booze too.  He shells out a measly 60 cents for a local beer, and sways in a hammock while watching the young boys clean the car.

Back at the casa our friends emailed us a reminder that there was an expat mixer tonight in Coronado.  There are two expat groups here that we've associated ourselves with.  One is in La Chorrera and the other in Coronado.  La Chorrera, said to be the second largest city in Panama, is well stocked with stores, produce stands, clinics, bus stops and hoards of people everywhere.  The locals in La Chorrera are hard working people that walk or take buses, many commute to Panama City for better paying jobs.  In contrast, Coronado is an affluent beach town full of wealthy Panamanians and expats.  Upon heading into the beaches, all cars have to drive through a security gate with a guard.  He's there to protect the expensive homes and properties and keep the riff-raff out.  Although just being gringo's seemed to be enough for the guard to let us in, so we weren't impressed with their security there.

The first mixer we ever attended was with the La Chorrera group since we frequent this town on shopping trips almost daily. This group is stocked with all types and ages of expats that moved here for various reasons.  Although the common thread that seems to bind all expats here is that they're native countries had become too expensive, so they came to Panama for a cheaper, better way of life.  Here we've made friends with people from all over the world.  Although La Chorrera does have some gated communities, most of these people live among the Panamanians and are forced to deal with Spanish on a daily basis.  From what I understand, there are about 60 or more expats in this area. 

The Pan-American highway runs directly through Coronado and is full of shops, restaurants, clinics and hotels.  Directly off the highway is the road to the beach that leads to the security gate.  There are over 100 expats that call this beach community home and most live in gated communities on or near the beach.  This group also boasts people from all over the world, and the group hosts different events like dances, fundraisers, mixers, classes, craft fairs and more.  Since Coronado is geared a bit more to expats, English can be heard more here. 

Our lives have been enriched by mingling among both groups, to meet a diverse group of people that we can begin to call friends. The mixer was a buffet of turkey, ham and the fixins at a restaurant that started at 5pm and didn't leave there until 8pm.  A few friends joined us at home and we chatted into the wee hours of the morning.

Thanksgiving is NOT a holiday for Panamanians, but there were many restaurants offering over priced turkey dinners to gobble up expats money.  Prices ranged from $25.00 to $42.00 in the few ads I checked out.  Way too pricey for two people that can't even eat a whole meal in a restaurant. So we opted to bake a whole, fresh chicken with the trimmings along with a healthy version of oatmeal raisin cookies.

Chickens are in abundance in Panama and can be seen and heard running around everyone's lawn here.  Roosters can be heard crowing not just in the morning, but in the middle of the night or just about anytime of the day.  We've heard them among the honking, traffic jams of Panama City, as well as in the quiet countryside of the interior.  I don't think there's anywhere we could go in Panama without hearing a rooster crowing.

A happy Turkey Day to All as you gobble up words from this blog and keep them in your heart wherever your travels may take you.  Whether that be to the far ends of the earth, or your own back yard I wish to bid you all happy trails.  As for us we continue to have "viaje feliz" or our own happy journey.... along the gringo trail.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Square Trees....Really!

After our zip-line we headed out to find a patch of trees called "Arboles Cuadrados" or square trees.  We paid our $2.00 each and walked along the trail which indicated that the trees were 800 meters ahead.  Since we're not too good at metric figures, we had no idea what that meant. Turns out that 800 meters is about a half mile and that of course was all up hill, but it seemed like more since we had already been hiking all morning.  Fortunately for us, the trees had a big sign in front of them that said "square trees" or we would have missed them.  The first one was huge and very old with winding, roots at the bottom which made it difficult to see the squareness.  Then we noticed a smaller one which I got closer to and realized that yes indeed, the trunk had four flat sides making it square instead of round.


What makes these trees square instead of round?  Apparently, no one really knows but this part of Panama and Costa Rica are the only two places in the world where square trees grow.  They are members of the Cottonwood family and researchers believe that the shape is probably due to some unknown local factor.  When researchers studied these trees they found that even the tree rings which indicate the age of the tree are also square. 

You can see the "squareness" on this one

Next stop was to find a rock the size of a truck which was said to have ancient petroglyphs on it, and goes by the name "Piedra Pintada."  Since it was getting late and we were tired, Clyde stopped to ask directions from a few locals.  An old Panamanian man pointed and as soon as we got out of the car, a little boy ran over to help us out further.  The young boy named Michael, was maybe 8 or 9 years old and proceeded to point and explain that he would take us to the rock.  Of course he spoke only Spanish, so we didn't quite understand everything that he was saying.  We practically had to run to keep up with him and since the path was mostly uphill, it gave us even more exercise for the day.  After he took us to the rock Michael wanted us to keep following him to yet another waterfall. But it was getting dark and looked like rain, so we thanked him, took a photo and gave him a tip for his efforts and finally he ran back home.  Michael was cute but insistent that he would stay with us and show us more stuff.  For a minute I thought we'd suddenly adopted a Panamanian boy, and I breathed a sigh of relief when he left us alone. Notice that the boy is wearing crocs, or the generic cheaper version sold here for about $1.99.  At first I wondered why plastic shoes were so common in Panama, but then the light bulb came on in my head. Since most locals walk or take buses and it rains alot here, plastic or rubber shoes make sense here. 

Our "Guia", Michael

This is one big rock!


From there we drove back to the Hotel Campestre, a lovely alpine lodge overlooking the mountains.  The room was nicely decorated with tile, stone and rustic touches although the accommodations were basic.  The young man that showed us the room explained that it came with no air conditioning and no television which was ok with us.  Since El Valle is situated in the mountains the night cooled off and we actually slept with the windows closed, under layers of blankets.   Oh by the way, with our Pensionado Discount we paid $49 for the room.

A view from our Porch

In the Stairwell

In front of our room

View of our room


After breakfast we took off to see what other trouble we could find, or should I say might find us. Panama has LOTS of cops everywhere, and they look like military and carry big rifles.  We see them on horseback, motorcycle, in cars, on foot and everywhere else you can imagine.  They stop cars all the time doing random license and registration checks and sometimes we see them pointing radar guns. But so far we've never seen a cop stop anyone other than at a random check.......until NOW.

Clyde was lost and made an "illegal" u-turn or "retorno" as they're called here.  Just then we noticed a motorcycle cop along side our car.  He pointed a finger at us and pointed to the side of the road, as if to say "pull over."  Once stopped, the cop came over and shaking his finger at Clyde he told him that he made an illegal turn. Clyde already knew what he had done wrong and playing the "I speak no Spanish card" he said, "oh sorry officer."  The cop asked "tu hablas Espanol?"  to which Clyde replied "un pequeno."  The cop looked dumb founded like he didn't know how to handle this since he spoke no English.  He tried to explain in Spanish that he would have to give us a ticket just like in the U.S.  Clyde nodded ok. The cop then went on to say the ticket would be $26.00 and began to explain how and where to pay it.  Once we told him that we lived in Capira he explained that we could pay it in La Chorrera, since that's close to home.  After a few minutes of struggling to make us understand, he said "ok,  no ticket today."  Clyde thanked him and off we went.  It was so funny since the officer kept shaking his finger telling us we were wrong, yet he didn't quite know how to handle the conversation and just gave up.  At least now we know what works, and if playing dumb doesn't work, the tickets here are cheap  and don't go against your license like in the states. 

To sum it up, there really are square trees in Panama and no we were not under the influence of Panamanian rum at the time we saw them.  And although it may sound easy to find a boulder the size of a truck, things are not always that simple in Panama.  And I really don't think we adopted a Panamanian kid since Clyde is all the kid I can handle.  After we got away without a ticket Clyde asked me if I showed a little cleavage or more to the cop, behind his back.  He doesn't need to know......but remember, whatever happens in Panama, stays in Panama!  Until next time, we'll try to stay out of trouble, although that's what makes life interesting.... along the gringo trail.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Zipping Through Another Adventure......

Those of you that remember, last year on my 50th birthday I told Clyde I was going skydiving, and he reluctantly went along for the ride.  Although skydiving was never something that he wanted to do,   Clyde survived and enjoyed the jump.  Afterwards, I assured him that everything would be easier after that experience, including zip-lining through the jungles in Panama.  He assured me that he was NOT, ever, going to zip line in Panama.  Well, guess what we did yesterday.......yes I did say WE. 

Since our bags were already packed and ready to go from the day before, we drove up to El Valle de Anton.  A picturesque, mountain community surrounded by jungle, the first place Clyde decided to stop at was "The Canopy Adventure."  There was no arm twisting on my part this time, since it was Clyde's idea to zip-line through the jungle.

What the hell, this place looks like it is
a modern "up to date" type of establishment
After suiting up with a harness, gloves and helmet, we signed our names to a list of other names, perhaps this was the release of liability in case they killed us.  And off we went to follow our guide who spoke no English through the thick, dense jungle.  We crossed over several rickety, suspension bridges, passed a gorgeous waterfall, and carefully climbed over wet rocks as we ascended the steep hill.  Other hikers crossed our path and they seemed in awe that we were geared up for the zip-line and they were just out for a hike.



OK, now what the hell are helmets going
to do for us other than make us look real cool

Finally, we reached the point of no return, and our guide gave us a demonstration of where to put our hands, which hand was the break, what to do if we stopped,  and what to do when we reached the end of the rope.  I had no fear at all until I realized that I didn't fully understand what this young boy was saying.  As he hooked my harness to the rope I felt a bit lost and hoped for the best.  Off I went zipping over the thick, jungle canopy with an ear to ear smile across my face.  This awesome adventure was another experience of a lifetime.  And to think that I never would have had the opportunity had I not taken the plunge and moved to Panama.  As I chatted with the English speaking guide on the other end, I watched my handsome hubby soar over the jungle canopy without a care in the world. 


Yes sir, I understand completely your Spanish





Later we walked back through the jungle paths so Clyde could take some more photos of the beautiful scenery.  Once back in the car Clyde checked the map to see where today's adventure would go next.
But maybe I should keep you all guessing, until next time we meet again.... along the gringo trail.






Saturday, November 19, 2011

All Packed and No Where to Go.......

Today we each packed a suitcase and hit the road for a fun night on the town.  Once inside Panama City we found Amador Causeway, a picturesque part of the city full of shops, restaurants and touristy stuff along the beautiful waterfront.  Clyde has followed the island sounds of a duo called "Slim and Shorty," two guys that grew up in the Canal Zone who write and sing songs about life in Panama.  He read online that they were playing at the Amador Yacht Club tonight, but turns out he was mistaken.  Unfortunately, they appeared there last night so we had to make other plans.  It started to pour so taking in the sights along the causeway would have to be done on four wheels, instead of two feet.

Next, we headed over to Casco Viejo, the old part of the city where ancient buildings line the streets next to multi-million dollar restored properties. Usually an abundance of tourists can be seen here spending money in the tourist shops, restaurants or just taking in the lovely sights.  Clyde and I were on the prowl for clubs we could hit after dark for some hot salsa dancing.  But again the weather wasn't on our side and the downpour kept us in the car.  No tourists could be seen, just soaked locals trying to make their way home. 

Before leaving Casco Viejo Clyde wanted to stop and see the famous Mercado del Mariscos (Fish Market).  The name "Panama" actually means "abundance of fish" and this smelly, bloody, fish market was a fisherman's paradise that lived up to that name.  And for a few local cats that managed to stroll into the market, they must have thought they'd died and gone to kitty cat heaven. 


All joking aside,  I have to admit that I was impressed with a building the size of some grocery stores full of rows and rows of fish vendors.  I'd never seen fish so big right there in front of my face, permeating my nostrils with its stench.  There was tuna, corvina, red fish, lobster, squid and many others that I can't identify.  Shrimp from small, to medium to jumbo langostinos all selling for much less per pound then in the local grocery stores.  And the second floor of this building houses a restaurant where shoppers can buy some fresh fish and have it cooked to their specifications.

 

So I have to admit that I know nothing about fish, don't care to go out fishing, and I really did NOT want to get out of the car in the pouring rain to go into this place.  But Clyde wanted me to see it and I'm glad that I did.  There are smaller fish markets throughout Panama where local fishermen can sell what they catch.   Even in this little town of Capira, we have a local market right down the street from us. 

Since we didn't find any spots to hit for nightlife and the rain never stopped, we decided to stop at the mall before heading home.  Albrook Mall is all decked out for the holidays with Christmas trees around every corner.  Crowds gathered round center stage to watch and listen to some young talent sing and dance to favorite tunes.  Clyde took note of some young, sweet things that rolled by on skates, donned in mini skirts and santa hats.  The stage came alive with costumed characters to delight both young and old as jingle tunes rocked the mall.  I enjoyed hearing favorite Christmas songs sung in Spanish, even though I couldn't quite follow along with all the words.




Store windows changed their "mannequins with attitude" to reflect the season too.  Some of the sexy female mannequins now have their nipples and cleavage covered  up with parkas and scarves.  Other mannequins are bundled up in winter boots and knit hats with itsy, bitsy, teenie shorts not covering much of their bottoms.  Thankfully, I did keep some boots to wear with my teenie, tiny "grandma" shorts!  Maybe next time I head to the beach in my bikini I'll put on some boots to get me in the holiday season.

Funny thing about all of this is that DECEMBER is the beginning of SUMMER in Panama!  Yes, from what we've been told pretty soon the rains will dry up and everyone will head out to the beaches as the dry season begins.  Patiently I wait, since my tan is dwindling and my bikini's are collecting dust waiting to be worn.  I long for the days when I'm sporting a deep dark tan again so that I "blend in" a bit more with the locals.  Back in the states when I was working, my supervisor was a light complected black woman and I would get as dark as her. 

But for now we have fully packed suitcases and no where to go.  Who knows.......maybe we'll wake up tomorrow and come up with a new plan.  But for now we'll just sleep on it and see where our travels will take us in the morning.  In the meantime, I'd better go dig out my winter clothes and boots so I can be a fashion forward gringo, strutting my stuff in the Panama tropics.........along the gringo trail.

Friday, November 18, 2011

How Did We Ever Find The Time To Work?

Back in Texas I used to get up at 4:30 in the morning, spend two hours in the gym, work all day, get home by 6pm and be in bed by 9pm.  There's just weren't enough hours in the day to do all that I needed to do.  On the weekends I'd make lunches and breakfasts for 5 days since I packed both meals to go during the week.  Weekends also included grocery shopping, laundry, house cleaning and hoping to find some time to relax.  How wonderful it would be to not work and have time to do other things.

So here I am in Panama, fortunate enough to have taken an early retirement with my wonderful husband.  Gone are the days of early workouts, stress at work, and no time for me.  I have all the time in the world now, so why is it that I still can't find the time to do things? 

During my working career I'd often hear retiree's say things like "I don't know how I found time to work," as I wondered what it would be like to be retired.  Today some expat friends stopped by the house for a visit and this very subject came up in conversation.  People always ask "what do you do all day" and we have to answer "we don't know but the days fly by."  We can use the excuse that everything takes longer to accomplish in Panama, since things move slowly here.  Just like getting a drivers license that took us 3 days of running into Panama City.  Yet I heard the same complaints from retirees in Texas, so it's not just a Panama thing. 

We spent a few hours chatting this morning with our expat friends. They moved here from Switzerland two years ago because prices on everything kept going up.  It's nice to know that it's not just high prices in the U.S. that drive folks to retire elsewhere, but other countries too.  Then I hopped on my spin bike and peddled my butt off for an hour.  Lunch and a shower killed more time and laundry filled in the gaps.  Now I'm blogging to all my faithful followers who I appreciate so much for all your support.  Leaving here soon to meet another friend for drinks at his home about 20 minutes from here.

Back from a nice evening of chatting to another U.S. expat that moved here from New Mexico six years ago.  The three of us had dinner at yet another Mexican restaurant, near Coronado.  This restaurant was very "gringo-ized" in that every time someone came through the door the blond, gringo owner yelled "welcome" but was immediately able to switch into Spanish when necessary.  We learned that the gringo owner was from Virginia Beach in the U.S. He married a Panamanian woman and moved here with her, and later opened a restaurant.  Everyone here has a different story and it's fun to meet other expats and hear what brought them to Panama. 

Today our trails led us to chat with new friends that we've met along the way.  In many ways I do believe that's it's easier to make friends here in Panama, since all of us expats are here without any.  Whatever the reason that brought  each of  us here, we're all here to find a better, healthier, cheaper way of life and to share our experiences with others that we meet.......... along the gringo trail.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Little Blog About Nothing......

We all remember that episode of Seinfeld where George sat Jerry down and tried to convince him that they needed to write a sitcom about nothing.  Jerry was not convinced but listened and tried to understand the reasoning behind his friend's zany idea.  Fast forward many years and here I am writing a blog about ......nothing. 

Clyde is still making sawdust and I'm exercising, writing and buying $2.00 shoes which means, nothing is new here in Panama.  Hence the idea that this is about nothing. 

A new mall is under construction on the highway near La Chorrera and so far just one store is open.  I've never before seen one store open before the rest of the mall, but this is Panama and things are different here.  The store is called Madison Store and has four floors of great deals.  Upon entering we were enticed with an array of colorful shoes from $1.99 to $2.99. Clyde actually encouraged me to look at them by pointing to some cute ones.  I really didn't want to look at them, but to save our marriage and to make my husband happy, I bought, a few pairs of cheap shoes.  The rows of shoes went on and on taking up much of the first floor of the store.  We also noticed tons of purses, belts and other accessories along with Christmas trees and decorations.

Up the escalator to the second floor which seemed to be more clothing. The third floor was kids clothes along with toys. The fourth floor was housewares, furniture, domestics and more.  After fighting our way through the crowds we paid for our stuff and headed out through the empty mall back to the car.  On the way home while teasing me about my shoe purchases, Clyde mentioned that "maybe I need to find a job" since I have so much free time to buy shoes.  Fortunately for me, because we are here on a Pensionado Visa we are not allowed to work in Panama.

Clyde is building a large computer desk for both of us to sit at, with cabinets underneath. Right now our computer is on a plastic lawn table with the accessories scattered around nearby. So it will be nice to have some order in this corner of our world and be able to empty out boxes of office supplies. 

I am ready to hit the road and travel some more and have encouraged him, in a nice wifely way, to get done with the projects already.  Yesterday we did take off to get lost for a few hours of exploring.  We found a tiny fishing village on the beach, with a great view of the Pacific Ocean.  The problem here was that the tide was out so far we would have had to walk for what looked like a mile to get our feet wet. 

I had a second visit to the same dentist, this time to fix a small cavity.  Since Dr. Luis likes to chat, I asked him how long he's been a dentist since he looks like he's 18 years old.  Turns out he's been a dentist for five years after spending SIX years in the university dental program.  He went on to say that as soon as kids here graduate high school, they immediately go to the university with no break in between.  His schedule during that time was from 7am until 7pm with classes and hands on training, which he said is harder than dental programs in the U.S.  According to Dr. Luis, many people from the U.S. come here to Panama to study dentistry because the training is more intense with much more time actually working on patients.  In one of my many past careers, I studied cosmetology and was licensed when I lived in New Hampshire.  During my time in beauty school I really enjoyed the hands on training on real customers much more than the classroom time.  So I understand what my dentist was saying about learning so much more working on real patients while in dental school.  Just in case you're wondering, the cost of having a cavity filled was $34.00 and of course that's with no insurance. 


We rarely eat pizza but have recently tried a few pizza places here to see how Panamanians do pizza.  Apparently they do pizza without red sauce of any kind.  They top it with cheese and other stuff including fish since it's abundant here, but no marinara sauce.  We stopped at a place called Pizza Express and ordered a Hawaiian pizza which came with the usual ham and pineapple but also included a sprinkling and cinnamon.  Another time we stopped an Italian chain called Leonardo's for pizza. We ordered a combo which came with black and green olives, a bunch of meats but no veggies and no sauce of any kind.  The pizza here is still good, just no sauce.  On a recent trip to the grocery store I priced spaghetti sauce and they are a bit high here.  The pre-made jars like Ragu sold for $4.00  and up, so perhaps that's why locals don't use the stuff for pizza. 

Yesterday a man came to the door selling perfumes.  It's times like these that "no habla espanol" comes in very handy.  Clyde listened to his sales pitch then said no thanks and sent him on his way.

Playa Gorgona is a beach community about 20 minutes down the road.  We headed over that way this afternoon, parked and walked along the deserted beach.  Other than a few stray dogs lying on the beach, we didn't see another human being and had the beach all to ourselves.  The sand was a pretty mix of black and cream colors swirled together like a marble cake.  Free of seaweed and trash, the pristine beach was inviting as the warm, waves of the Pacific splashed onto the shore.


  

News Flash.......tonight Clyde stepped outside to put his shoes on. Since I'm a clean freak and don't like dirty floors, we take our shoes off outside.  Most of our shoes are flip flops or sandals but Clyde went to put on his boat shoes and felt immediate pain.  He pulled out his foot and out ran a big scorpion!  I heard him outside sputtering curse words and went to see what was wrong. Just then he said "look what just got me," and there was the scorpion on the ground.  We scooped up the scorpion in a plastic container with cover, and got online to research it.  Clyde was in pain so I suggested that we head over to the local doctor that he'd seen before.  We took the scorpion with us and off we went.



The clinic is just minutes from our house and when we arrived the doctor was just sitting in his office with no other patients, so we went right in.  He told us that this particular scorpion was common here and not poisonous.  The doctor got up from his desk and rummaged through a pile of stuff on a shelf.  He pulled out a jar that contained a huge, thick, furry scorpion floating in liquid.  He informed us that this is what a poisonous scorpion looked like for future reference.  After checking Clyde's vital signs, he wrote a prescription for a pain killer and Allegra, in case he had an allergic reaction. Next door to the clinic is a pharmacy that sold us two doses of each drug.  The doctor's visit was $6.00 and the drugs about $10.00, which was a small price to pay for our peace of mind.  And a valuable lesson learned that next time we will turn the shoes upside down before putting them on, just in case there's a furry creature taking a nap inside.


Despite his foot pain, Clyde insisted that we continue with our plans of heading out for margarita's at a local Mexican restaurant.  After a half price margarita and some good food, we headed home to elevate his foot. 

Living in the tropics we expected to find creepy, crawlers around but rarely see any bugs.  Other than an occasional fly, ant, spider or lizard we're rarely bothered by pests.  But if we learn something new everyday then today's lesson is check shoes before inserting foot.  Because we have to keep our feet healthy so we can keep walking, exploring, and plodding along where ever the road may lead next ....along the gringo trail.