Monday, December 28, 2015

Our 5th Christmas On The Isthmus.......A Good Day In Panama

This year we decided to do something different for Christmas so we booked a fancy hotel in Panama City to enjoy a mini getaway.  While my first thought was to stay along the Cinta Costera, a road that runs along the waterfront, a good place for viewing the midnight fireworks but that didn't work out. With just a few ritzy hotels along that strip they tend to be pricey, ranging close to $200 and  that didn't even include free internet.  So we went for a more mid priced but very upscale hotel a bit more inland. 


The View From Our Room


Before leaving home I was working online and decided to reboot, since things seemed to be moving slow.  To my surprise my laptop didn't come back on and apparently had taken it's last reboot, never to start up again.  But since the thing was only four months young and still under warranty we thought we'd drop it off at the service center where we bought it in Panama City, since we were going there anyway. 

We made it to the computer service center around 2:15 pm and since this was Christmas Eve things were closing early and we had just missed out.  So we headed over to the hotel to enjoy our mini getaway in style.




Hotel Lobby

View Of Room


Picture On The Wall
 


The Sortis Hotel, Spa and Casino features its autograph collection of shops, large outdoor pool, equally large casino, restaurants, a fitness center and more.  Very much geared toward tourists some of the staff spoke English and all of the signs were printed in both Spanish and English too.  Our room was spacious with a wall of storage cabinets, mini bar, fridge, coffee maker (not commonly found in hotels here in Panama) and large screen tv.  The bathroom was huge and featured a large glassed in shower big enough for a group shower which included a long bench for lazy cleaning up maybe? 

After settling in and relaxing a while we headed out to the pool that featured lovely beds in the water for lounging. I just had to go lay out on one while Clyde snapped a few pictures.  From there we made our way to a double lounger for some poolside cocktails that we made ourselves. Even though the temperature outside was hot and humid the pool water felt cool and we didn't stay in for too long.

Poolside Lounging
 

Jacuzzi And Beds In The Pool Nearby


I Had To Try One Out
 

Since this was Christmas Eve and the city was rather quiet we expected that many restaurants would be closed for the holiday.  So we opted to dine at the hotel in one of it's exclusive restaurants where Clyde enjoyed a tuna steak and I had a veggie burger. 

A Giant Veggie Burger And Patacones.....Fried Plantain

Tuna Steak With Veggies And Rice With Guandu Beans
 
 
 


After dinner we passed some time in the casino playing the slot machines and managed to walk away with a small win, making the night a success.  Here in Panama the locals spend Christmas Eve with family then go to church before opening presents later that night.  The typical midnight fireworks began to light up the city and we watched what we could from our large hotel room windows.

The Casino Inside Hotel


The next morning we enjoyed a free breakfast buffet at the hotel, probably one of the best we'd seen in a while.  It featured everything from eggs, cereals, breads and pastries, fruits and veggies, yogurts, meats, juices and more.  We checked out of the room around noonish and toured the city a bit before heading home.

The day after Christmas we headed back into Panama City to drop off my computer at the service center.  Thinking back we really should have spent another night in the city to avoid the drive back, but we did have to get back to feed the dogs.  We made out way to the service center and Clyde explained our problem to the clerk who told us how they would resolve our issue.  My Asus laptop would need to be shipped back to the US to be repaired or replaced, whichever was more economical for them.  It would take at least six weeks to be returned to Panama and since nothing happens in a timely manner here we're expecting that six weeks to be a conservative number. So now I'm thinking, "great......so I have no laptop for next two months or more.....I only have my little tablet to work on?"  Sensing my frustration my loving husband said," let's go back into the computer place and buy you another laptop." So we headed out for some lunch first and then went back to see what they had.  Since the busiest season of the year had just passed they didn't have much and we decided to go elsewhere.

Down the road we stopped into a store called Multi Max, a chain store here that sells electronics.  Quickly we picked out a new laptop and proceeded to the register to pay for it.  As typical here in Panama from the register everyone proceeds to another area where the item is taken out of the box and checked.  The clerk then turns it on to assure the customer that it works and is leaving the store in that manner.  This is done because usually it's almost impossible to return anything here.  As the clerk was turning off the computer we thought to ask him IF the language could be changed and explained that we needed it to be in English. He said that yes it could be easily changed.....not a problem and we took the package and left the store.

We made the 90-minute drive home again and Clyde proceeded to hook up the laptop for me and install all of the necessary programs that I needed.  At one point I heard him exclaim, "oh F#*).....and asked him what was wrong? He explained that while the language was changed to English he could not change the language of the operating system.....so Windows 8 would still be in Spanish.  And since the operating system was in Spanish so was the keyboard.  He changed the keyboard to English for me but then half of the symbols didn't work.  Also whenever I typed something spellcheck was underlining every word since it wasn't recognized in Spanish.  Yikes.....what a mess.....I was upset and said, "I'm not using that thing.....you use it or let's take it back." 

So the next morning we decided to drive to a closer Multi Max in Westland Mall, about 45 minutes from our house.  In we went expecting to have to argue our point and fight with management IF they didn't agree to take it back.  We spoke to a gentleman dressed nicely and assumed that he was management.  He assured us that they could issue us credit and we could buy a different laptop with an English operating system.  So while Clyde was waiting for three different clerks to take care of him I went to look at laptops.  Nearby was a clerk who I started chatting with in Spanish asking if they had anything in English?  He pointed out one then went to look on his store computer to see if there were any other types.  In the meantime I noticed an 11 inch Acer Aspire in bright pink.......just what I was hoping for.  With our pending travel plans a 15 inch laptop is heavy to carry in my backpack and I was actually thinking I'd like to have a smaller one.   Eventually the clerk explained that he didn't have the one I wanted in stock.......just the display model.  I asked if they would sell they display and he said, "si," and even knocked down the price.  He did manage to find the original box and paperwork to give us so we really aren't missing anything.  While it does have a full sized keyboard I'm still getting used to typing on it.

My New Little Pink Laptop And Matching Mouse



We returned home absolutely thrilled that we were able to return the unwanted laptop, came out with just what we wanted, and realized it was a good day in Panama.......along the gringo trail.



Monday, December 14, 2015

Selling It All To Become Retired Nomads......

Clyde and I have been bit by the travel bug and have decided to sell our house in Panama to become retired nomads.  This all started with a month long trek through Europe last April that Clyde was against.  For years I'd been dreaming about travel but knew it was too expensive on our small retirement budget, yet I knew there had to be a way to pull it off.

For the past year whenever we'd make extra money I'd try to stash it away.  Occasionally I'd have an article published for some extra cash or Clyde would do handyman work or sing and play his guitar in a restaurant, and both received payment.  Unbeknownst to Clyde, whenever he left his wallet around unattended I'd snag some money out of it and stash that away also. Then one day after having saved up a few thousand dollars I proposed the idea of Europe to him. "We can't afford Europe," was his response.  "Well if not now then when?" I asked? " Should we wait until we're too old to walk?  Will we have the money then?  And what if we die or become sickly in the meantime? Then it's too late, so the time is NOW. 

After much prodding he finally agreed that a Mediterranean cruise was the way to go. If you're a blog follower from way back you've followed along on that trip, or can go back and read all about it. Our travels began with four days in Paris, then we flew to Barcelona, Spain for another four days.  There we boarded a ship for a 12-night cruise.  Our itinerary included stops in France, Spain, Greece, Turkey and Italy.  We disembarked in Venice, the most beautiful place in the world where we enjoyed another four days.  On our flight home we did a long layover in Zurich, Switzerland where we enjoyed touring the city by bus.

Something changed deep within our souls during that month long journey.  We came back to Panama longing for more adventure.  Our comfortable, safe lives here would no longer work for us as we needed more.  We both craved that feeling of stepping out of our comfort zone, that adrenaline rush we got from seeing a place for the first time and just had to do more. 

So we decided that our first step would be to sell the house and all of our stuff.  This would give us the freedom to go whenever and wherever we wanted along with extra cash in our bank account.  We'd no longer have to worry about a house, large garden and dogs.  Maybe we could find an inexpensive, furnished rental where we could just lock the door and go? Or perhaps we'd have no home base at all and just become retired nomads?

The concept of travel is easy with so many choices on the horizon of new places to see. But the daunting part is the idea of getting rid of our stuff......yes ALL of it.  Our idea is to hand over the keys of our house to the new owners, when they find us along with ALL of our belongings.  The furniture, pots and pans, dishes, sheets and towels, decorations, knick knacks and so much more.  Yep, you got the idea now to sell the whole kit and caboodle and to walk away with a few suitcases of clothes and personal items. 

So as time progresses and we think about this more we begin to look at our stuff differently. This coffee cup from which I'm drinking out of....nothing special so it stays behind.  The stuff we shipped here from Texas, yes that stays behind too.  All of the furniture that my wonderful husband built with his own hands stays too.  My beloved workout equipment as much a I enjoy it, it won't fit into a suitcase so it stays here too.  Hopefully the next owner will use it as much as I have. I just have to tell myself there are gyms everywhere and surely I'll enjoy trying out new ones along the way as we travel.  While it's  "just stuff" we all do become attached to our stuff and find it hard to let go.  But let go we must IF we want to pursue other endeavor and be free enough to travel the world with less baggage.

For the first time in our lives we really have no plans, or shall we say our plans are open ended?  Once the house is sold we'll decide on our next move.  Depending on how long this all takes we may choose to visit more of Latin America in the mean time.  We've been wanting to visit friends in Nicaragua for some time now.  Also we'd love to visit Chile, Peru, Medellin, Colombia, Belize, and Argentina just to name a few. After we're free of our ties to Panama meaning that our house is sold and our dogs have found a new home, we can head to Europe. My idea is to first make a trip back to the US to visit the kids in Texas.  Then we'll either fly or take a repositioning cruise to Europe and house sit our way around for a year or two.  And who knows how we'll feel after that or where we'll choose to go?

Within Europe there are 26 countries that have no border checkpoints or passport control..  This area is known as the Schengen zone.  While it makes it easy to pass from one country into another it also limits our options as to how long we can stay. As US citizens we can only legally stay in these countries for a maximum of 90 days out of every 6 month period. While this makes travel more difficult it will also make us move around more and not get settled or comfortable in any one place.
But since the United Kingdom and Ireland are NOT part of the Schengen area we can move to one of those two places allowing us to legally live there longer. 

For example we might take a house sit in Spain for one month and another in Portugal for two months before we'd legally have to exit the Schengen zone.  Then we could house sit our way around London and the rest of England for the next six months which would reset our time to legally go back into the Schengen area. Then perhaps we'd pick up a house sit in Italy and some in France before having to leave the Schengen once again.  This time we could cross over to Ireland for a three month stay before going into Croatia for a bit. In between house sits we can rent apartments or hotel rooms for shorter intervals.  And our plan is to do all of this without a car which will be more economical as public transport is reliable and reasonably priced.

So there you have it my friends the next chapter of our lives laid out before you in writing.  And now comes the plea for anyone out there that might be considering  retiring to Panama who is looking for a house.......why not buy ours? Our spacious house is absolutely lovely in a very safe neighborhood with plenty of other gringos nearby in Coronado.  Please click on the attached link to view the full listing of the property. 

 
 

Panama has been good to us and we love it here but we'd also love to see other places in the world.  We're certainly not leaving Panama for good as we plan to leave our car here with friends and return after a while. We've made some wonderful friends here and have fond memories of many good times here that we'll cherish forever.

So perhaps we can help someone out there fulfill their dream of moving to Panama by selling them  our house?  And in turn someone can help make our dream of traveling the world come true by buying it? Together we can all grow from the experience of living abroad and expanding our horizons a little more at a time........along the gringo trail.




Friday, November 6, 2015

Breathless Day Touching The Sky.....In Ecuador

The next morning was bright and sunny which seemed like the perfect time climb the Pichincha Volcano to 15,696 feet.  How we chose to do so was with the help of a cable car which is Spanish is called a "telefèrico." Our taxi dropped us nearby and we had to hoof it up a long hill to buy our tickets. The cable car whisked us from 10,000 feet up to 13,451 feet in a matter of about ten minutes. Even the slightest amount of exertion caused us to become slightly breathless and we had to take it easy.  Clyde and I walked around climbing partially up the trails to the top.  Quickly we were both breathing hard with little exertion since the air was thin and oxygen was minimal.  The trails to the top of the volcano could be tackled by foot or horse since there were some for rent. But since Clyde was already experiencing a slight headache, a sign of altitude sickness we opted for safety and didn't venture out too far.

We're Going Up There?

Heading Up On Cable Car


Those Squiggly Bars Are To Take Bikes Up
For Riding Down


Baby It's Gonna Be Cold Up There!


I'm Not Drunk Just A Bad Picture

Posing Near The Top




 
On Our Way Down We Caught Some Pics Of Cyclists Going Down
 
Clyde And Some Llamas On Top
This Is A Mother, Father And Baby 
 


But it was on our way back down in the cable car that we were alone with no other passengers. Perhaps had enough togetherness and were getting on each others nerves? Perhaps Clyde was tired of me and decided to jump out of the cable car at 13,000 feet?  Or just maybe I'd had enough of him and decided to give him a bit of a push? Or maybe the reality of it all is that there was a photo shop at the top that was making cutsy photos for the tourists?  Yes it's the later that's true!  We had this photo made for just $4. It was done against a green screen with me standing on a stool and Clyde lying on the floor propped up on his elbow. Then he was made to lift his leg and arm so I could hang onto him as if I were trying to save him from falling to his death. Afterwards the girl carefully edited out all of the green from the background before adding a new background of our choice. No we aren't tired of each and get along wonderfully wherever we are and are looking for more adventures in the future.

Here's The Proof That I Saved His Life.....Maybe?
View Of Volcano In Background
 
 


Back in the city we went out exploring as this was our last full day in Quito.  First stop was at the Presidential palace to see if we could get in. The next tour wasn't until 5:30 and since we needed to get to a hotel near the airport for an early flight out the next day, we had to pass. Instead we took a taxi over to La Basilica for our next adventure.

Heading To The Church Towers
The Streets Were All Uphill And We Were Tired Before We Got There
 
 


La Basilica allows tourists to climb 375 feet to the top of its clock towers, but this climb is not for the faint of heart.  We paid our $2 each and began our trek up the first set of stairs which were rather easy.  We came upon a platform thinking the worst was over when we noticed a rickety, wooden suspension bridge.  It spanned over the large arches of the basilica which were nothing more than a deep pit of concrete.  It did have some ropes to be used as handrails and wasn't as bad as we thought it would be. In front of us was the first ladder we'd have to climb up to the next level.  The ladder went straight up to a tiny platform which led to more ladders of the same kind. Eventually we made our way to the top which offered up a 360 degree view of Quito in all its splendor. But now we had to make our way back down the ladders.....one step at a time.

Yep We're Going Up There!


Looking Down Into The Church

Another View

Wobbly, Wooden Bridge To Cross
See The Tiny Ladder At The End


Going Up


We Made It!!!



What.....More Stairs? There's Another Tower Over There

And Another View From The Top




Large Stained Glass Window

Large Organ


After leaving the basilica we were tired but pumped that we'd made the climb after already tackling some thin mountain air and hiking.  Since it was way after lunch time we managed to find a place that was still serving.  A tiny hole in the wall family run restaurant offered soup, a hamburger with salad and rice for just $2.00. For some reason the women thought we only ordered one meal which worked out being fine.  Clyde ate the soup with some of my rice while I ate the burger patty which was served without bread, and the salad.  Alongside we were served a bowl of "canchas" similar to corn nuts. They are a special type of corn that's toasted and to me they tasted like burnt popcorn.  But Clyde liked them and even took the leftovers in the plastic bowl to go.

Lunch....Bowl Of Toasted Corn Nuts

The Menu Of The Day Sign
Sopita Colada de Haba con Tostado
Segundo Amburgesa, Jugo $2.00
 

Toasted Corn Nuts
 


Since we had just a few hours left to explore the city we opted to pay $4 each to check out a local church.  The Church of the Society of Jesus, (Iglesia de La Compañia de Jesus) is one of the best known churches in Quito.  A Jesuit church most famous for being covered entirely in gold on the inside is a breathtaking spectacle of Baroque architecture.  While I was against paying to enter a church I'm glad we did.  It was worth seeing this magnificent, opulent building completely covered in gold leaf.  On our walking tour our guide explained that Ecuador become world known for its technique of gold leaf before it was commonly used. The church took 160 years to complete and is to this day rather expensive to maintain and that's why they charge for admission.  We were absolutely forbidden to take photos inside but I managed to borrow some from the internet to be shown here.

Iglesia de Compañia de Jesus Catholic Church




Inside......All That Glitters IS Gold!

Just Amazing!

Everything Is Covered In Gold! 
 
 
Then we stopped into the tourist information center and Clyde asked the girl what was the best museum in the city to visit?  She suggested the Museo de la Ciudad which used to be a hospital. Founded in 1998 it was once San Juan de Dios Hospital and featured various collections including some old hospital equipment. But once again no photos were permitted and there was not much to borrow from the internet either. I also think by this time we'd had enough of picture taking and were just looking to relax.
 
Puppies For Sale On The Street

Museum Of The City



 
Since we had an early flight in the morning back to Panama and the airport is about an hour outside of Quito, our plan was to settle in for the night in a hotel nearby the airport. Clyde had made reservations and we jumped into a taxi for the ride.  The taxi driver immediately knew where the hotel was but insisted that it was NOT near the airport.  With that in mind Clyde phoned a friend for advice on another airport hotel.  Our friend John called to make reservations for us in a family run hotel.....B&B sort of place.  Located in the town of Tababela, Hosteria San Carlos was a lovely surprise just a few miles from the airport.  Immediately I felt like I was at home with cozy rooms and a warm welcome. The hotel was situated on a large piece of land with beautiful trees, chirping birds and silence from the hustle and bustle of big city life. 
 
Outside Our Room

View From Balcony

Outdoor Patio


Dining Room
 
 

 
We enjoyed a home cooked meal in their dining room sitting in front of a nicely decorated Christmas tree.  The meal consisted of soup, grilled chicken, rice, mashed potatoes, green beans with carrots, fresh juice and a scoop of ice cream for dessert. We retired in luxury for the night with plenty of blankets on a soft, fluffy mattress after taking hot showers.  The cost for this luxury in Tababela, Ecuador was $70 not including the price of the meal that was around $7 each. The next morning they drove us to the airport bright and early where we waited patiently for our flight back to sea level. 
 
Sunset Over Tababela, Ecuador
 

 
Our trip to Ecuador was just wonderful filled with excitement, new friends, and reaching new heights in the Andes Mountains.  Perhaps if it was just a tiny bit warmer we might go back again to stay?  So many countries to visit, with plenty more on the horizons as we explore this wonderful world of ours.....along the gringo trail.
 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_the_Society_of_Jesus_(Quito,_Ecuador)