Monday, January 30, 2012

A Crash In The Night.....

After a relaxing day on Sunday we had dinner with friends and on the way home another car decided to plow into our car.  Clyde was trying to make a left turn not far from our house, when another car also tried to turn left but went right into our car.  Now the passenger side door barely opens due to dents, and the front bumper and front fender were smashed too. 

The car that hit us was full with two young Panamanian couples, a baby and a toddler, neither seemed to be restrained.  Clyde pulled our car off the road since traffic was heavy, being a Sunday night as weekend beach goers headed home.  The young man left his car in the middle of the highway with his wife and two children sitting inside.  Clyde offered them the use of our back seat and encouraged him to move his children since it was very dangerous to leave them in the car in the middle of the highway.  He declined our offer but after a while he did pull his car off the road too. 

The young man driving the other car asked Clyde "tú eres es culpable?" which means " are you taking the blame?"....he was asking Clyde if he was admitting fault.  Clyde said NO which didn't make the man happy.  We called 911 to get police to the scene, but the call didn't go through.  Police drove by but none stopped.  Our insurance company never answered the phone either, so we'll have to contact them today.  Both Clyde and the other guy filled out paperwork that was provided by the insurance company and mandated by the government to have in our vehicle , sort of like a police report in the U.S.  We both filled out our own forms, shared information and signed them.  On the form it had a box to check off if we "took responsibility" for the accident.  We both checked off the "no" box. 

The other driver did have insurance which is good, and he put down that his car is a 2012 but we thought it looked old. After we left the scene I encouraged Clyde to drive to the local police station. We asked the police if this form was all that we needed and he said yes it was so we went home for the night.

Today it was off to Panamá City to find Mapfre, our insurance company and file a report with them.  On our way into the city the man that hit us last night called Clyde.  This guy doesn't seem to understand that we don't speak much Spanish and likes to hear himself  talk.  To shut him up Clyde said that we were on our way to Mapfre for a 4pm  appointment.  We had no appointment with the insurance company and had just planned so show up.  We easily found the building for Mapfre which was located in an impressive office with lots of dented vehicles parked outside.  They did provide us with an agent that spoke English who filled out the report very quickly and efficiently.  He told us to wait a few minutes for someone to come look at the car and take pictures.  We had another appointment with our lawyer Alexandra, to open a bank account and had to leave the insurance company office to meet with her.  After explaining to the receptionist that we would return in a few hours we took off to meet the lawyer. 

Anxiously hurrying through traffic, we were already late for our 2pm appointment with Alexandra the lawyer, and the bank she was taking us to closed at 3pm.  Opening a bank account in Panamá is not an easy task and is much easier with a lawyer involved.  First we had to provide 4 personal letters of reference for each of us, along with two bank reference letters for Clyde and one bank reference for me.  Clyde also had to access statements from each bank and provide the bank here with these, before we could begin the process.  The first bank that Alexandra tried would NOT accept a money transfer from a U.S. bank, so she tried another one.

Today we had to appear at the bank and show our original passports, some form of identification from the U.S., along with our Panamá identification. After signing about a dozen or so papers each, we were issued a debit card for a checking account here.  By now it was after 3pm and the cashier at the bank was closed, so they could not accept our $1000 deposit to open the account.  We were instructed to go to another branch of the bank that was open until 7pm to make the deposit.  If we did NOT make the deposit TODAY by 5pm, the account would be no good and we'd have to begin the process all over again.

While sitting in the bank, Carlos the man involved in the accident with us called Clyde's phone three times.  He ignored it since we were in the middle of business.  Off we went to the other branch of the bank to make the deposit by 5pm as we were instructed to do.  Then we would try to make it back to Mapfre before they closed at 5pm to finish the process we had started. 

Right at the stroke of 5pm we pulled into the Mapfre parking lot and Clyde ran to the door before they closed.  The guard would not let him in so we got back into the car and called Carlos, the man involved in the accident.  Since he didn't answer his phone, Clyde left him a message in Spanish telling him the office was closed.  As we started to pull out of the parking spot Carlos came walking toward our car.  Clyde opened the window and he proceeded to yell at us in Spanish. From what we understood he showed up at Mapfre since Clyde mentioned we had a 4pm appointment there, and had been waiting two hours for us to arrive.  Upset about the wait and insisting that we accept blame for the accident, Clyde yelled back telling him again that we did not understand what he was saying.  Come to find out that an insurance agent was waiting inside for us to meet with Carlos. 

Once inside the agent explained that Carlos believes that Clyde was at fault.  If we choose NOT to accept the blame then both parties must go to the transit authority to file a report and it will go before a judge and he will decide.  The insurance agent also explained IF we were at fault we would still only pay our insurance deductible and Mapfre would pay to repair both cars.  If the other guy is at fault then his insurance would have to pay for repairs to his car.  And he said that unlike the U.S., our insurance premiums would NOT increase since this was only a minor accident. 

So tomorrow it's off to the transit authority in La Chorrera. We are hoping to bring along a friend that speaks better Spanish than we do to help us out.  Another exhausting adventure filled few days, here ....along the gringo trail.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Massage Party on the Mountain.....

The gentle breeze rippled through the sheets of the massage table caressing my body beneath it.  The lush tropical jungle provided the background music, while the sun-drenched mountain vista entertained my mind.  As I lie face down on the table my ears filled with the sound of chirping birds and the wind rustling through the rain forest.  It felt a bit naughty being outside naked, under a sheet, on top of the world, ready for my first massage in Panamá.

No one thought to take a picture until the sun
began to set and it was Clydes turn.

Last week at an expat mixer in Coronado we met Shannon, a licensed massage therapist that recently moved here from Austin, Texas.  Before long our friend Sharon had booked a few massages, and Shannon agreed to come to us.  Canadian expats Sharon and Phil offered the use of their home at La Joya de Chicá, a soon to be B&B Mountain Lodge.  It soon developed into a full day massage party, with five of us booking massages, including us.  Clyde and I decided we could use a break from our hectic lives of retirement. 

La Joya de Chicá 

Since five of us booked one hour long massages with Shannon, I knew we'd be spending the day together and would need some food.  So I volunteered Clyde to make some Gringo Enchiladas and Mexican rice.  The poor fella cooked all morning and I sort of felt bad that I got him into this, but then again he'd be getting a long awaited massage, so it would be ok.  Our friend Sharon made some home made strawberry ice cream for dessert, which is Clyde's favorite, so that along with his massage made him a happy man. 

As the sunset over the little village of Chicá we relaxed even more with a few drinks, and chatted the night away.  There was a chill in the air as the mountain temperatures dropped to 66 degrees.  As another wonderful day in paradise came to an end we bid farewell to our friends with big hugs and appreciation, until next time we get together.....along the gringo trail.

For those of you reading this in Panamá treat yourself to a massage today!
Shannon Burns, Licensed Massage Therapist
Phone:  6989-1469

Prices:  Swedish Massage with Aromatherapy
                  60 minutes $30
                  90 minutes $45
             Deep Tissue Therapeutic Treatment
                 60 minutes $35
                 90 minutes $50
            Pregnancy Massage (after 13 weeks)
                 60 minutes $35
          Chair Massage...have her at your for details

      Add on to any treatment
            Peppermint Hot Towel Foot Treatment $10
            Lavender Foot Scrub $10
   *Prices subject to change, please call Shannon for current prices and services

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Early Retirement.....From Dream to Reality.....

Sprawled out on a lawn chair by the pool yesterday, I made the comment to Clyde that our friends back the U.S. are working today and we're not.  Some of them are even older than us, buried under a mountain of bills, they just can't imagine how they can ever afford to stop working.  Clyde and I were in the same boat a few years ago. A high mortgage, two car payments, electric bill, taxes, cable and phone, gym membership, credit cards and so much more.  Clyde had always dreamed about being able to retire when he turned 57 but just didn't now how.

One day I came home from work and noticed a box sitting on the desk, apparently Clyde had ordered something off the internet and it arrived in the mail.  He explained rather sheepishly that he'd ordered a get out of debt program by John Cummuta.  This is one of the many programs out there and I was skeptical to say the least, but also couldn't complain since he was trying to better our situation. 

Since Clyde always handled the money in our household, I had no idea how much debt we had until one day he sat me down and explained.  Then once Clyde read through the program he explained his plan of attack to get us out of debt so he could retire by the time he reached 57.  Briefly explained this is how it worked.

First of all we would stop borrowing more money which meant no more credit card use.  Next we would agree on a certain amount of money to set aside every month.  And we all know that if we just change a few little things, we CAN come up with a few extra dollars a week.  Not as many dinners out, bring lunches to work, no more impulse buys etc. Then by putting aside an extra amount of money every month, we would pay off the smallest bill we owed.  Let's say we agreed to set aside an extra $200 a month.  I think the program suggested more but we still wanted to live life while getting out of debt.  Let's say our smallest bill was $1000 and we made monthly payments of $300, but now we would add an extra $200 to those payments to pay if off quicker.  Once that bill was paid off we would tackle the next one.  So now we not only have an extra $200 a month, but we also have the $300 that we're no longer paying to that bill. So now we would have an extra $500 a month to pay toward the next bill.  This snowball effect is how we managed to pay off all of our bills in 2 years.  I have to say that my darling husband did well and I'm proud of him.  Today we have NO debt and everything that we own, or will own will be bought outright.  If we can't afford it, we don't need it since we're not willing to go into debt again. 

We are living proof that debt issues can be cleared up without living like paupers.  Those of you that knew us in Texas would have to agree that we were out there having fun, and living life to it's fullest even while we were getting out of debt.  On September 3rd, 2011 the exact day that Clyde turned 57 we retired to Panamá.  We found a country to move to with a cheaper cost of living, and cheaper health care to make the dream of retiring early a reality. 

So when you're sitting in work on Monday grumbling,  just think of us, laying by the pool or sitting on the beach with a rum drink in hand.  But don't be envious of us, instead realize that you can become like us.  Take action and don't be afraid to make some changes and perhaps one day soon, you too will be living the dream of early retirement.  We packed up our cowboy boots, put on some flip flops and jumped into the sea of the unknown here in Panamá....along the gringo trail. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

No One Is A Stranger.....for very long

Since the weather is just perfect here everyday we sit outside to eat most of the time.  The other day we realized how much our understanding of Spanish has improved.  While sitting there eating we heard the neighborhood kids say"nah nah nah nah nah nah" and then heard the neighbor yell at his dog "eh eh eh."  The neighbor on the other side was outside and he answered his cell by saying "alo."  And then there's those other Spanish words we understand like Subway, McDonalds, Burger King, Dairy Queen and Pizza Hut. But we stay away from those places because they charge "big bucks" instead of "poco balboas."

My dear husband is SO friendly, we make friends in the strangest of places.  A few days ago while out getting a few groceries, Clyde suddenly pulled into McDonalds for ice cream.  While standing in line to order he started talking to a gringo looking young man who we learned was visiting from Canada.  This couple from Canada visits Panamá every year for one month and will possibly retire here someday.  After we got our ice cream we looked for a place to sit in a crowded restaurant.  I was hoping that friendly Clyde didn't park his butt next to the Canadians interrupting their lunch.  Clyde must have read my mind as he found us a seat elsewhere.  Yesterday at an expat mixer in Coronado, who'd we bump into but the same couple from Canada.  This time we had the opportunity to chat for a while and learn more about them.

Also at the expat mixer we met a young couple who just moved here from Austin, Texas.  The female half named Shannon is a licensed massage therapist who was trying to drum up business by introducing herself to the crowd.  Our friend Sharon signed up herself, her friend and her husband for massages  on Saturday.  She encouraged Clyde and I to follow along and we agreed to join the massage party on Saturday at Sharon's home in Chicá.  Another expat from the U.S. who was  a retired chiropractor, is now back in business here in Panamá, just in case we need his services someday.  It's truly amazing the people we've met here, from different countries, from different professions and from different income brackets.  Yet we all share one common thread, that our homelands are too pricey and we all moved to Panamá for a cheaper, more peaceful, better way of life. 

It's hard to believe that only five months ago we stepped off the plane knowing no one, and now we know hundreds of people from around the world.  I had no idea that retirement would include international relationships with truly amazing, adventurous people.  And although Clyde's friendly nature sometimes annoys and embarrasses me, I have to give credit where credit's due.  If it wasn't for Clyde we would not have made so many friends so quickly.  No one is a stranger to Clyde and no one is exempt from his friendliness.  Whether you meet him in a doctor's office, a fast food restaurant or on the street, he will likely introduce himself and start up a conversation whether you want to talk or not. 
His enthusiasm and charisma are contagious and before you realize it, you too will be new friends of ours and just may be included in the next episode of along the gringo trail. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Schrooms Make Us Smile......

Whether you know them as schrooms, toadstools, mushrooms or hongos, the image seems to bring a smile to our faces.  Maybe it's the cartoonical way they're depicted as cute, colorful plants with large shafts and rounded bulbs on top.  Or the fact that a mushroom is actually just a term that refers to a fungus, some of which are edible and some are not.

Last week if you remember, I had to find a "ginecólogo" or gynecologist for a pap smear, necessary as part of a physical to apply for health insurance.  I neglected to mention this part in that blog because I thought it was too personal. But since my dear husband has been teasing me about it ever since, I thought it might make a cute story. 

After the exam I returned to the first room where the doctor sat at his desk talking to Clyde.  The doctor looked at me and said he noticed a clear discharge during the exam.  Then he asked "do you know what hongos means in Spanish?"  I said yes "hongo means mushroom" and he then he said "what do you call that in English?"  Then I realized what he was getting at.  He was trying to tell me I had a fungal infection, better known as a yeast infection in English.  He went onto explain that since Panamá is hot and humid, fungal infections are quite common here.  I've had a few yeast infections in my lifetime, but they usually include symptoms like itching and burning which I have not experienced lately.  So the doctor pulled out what looked like a 5"x8" note pad with his letterhead on it, and wrote down what I needed to get from the farmacia (pharmacy).

So the joke around our house has been that I have hongos and I'm picturing a garden of brightly colored mushrooms growing inside me with little elves working nearby.  And since the soil is so furtile here in Panamá, and the climate is perfect, everything grows well here.  Thank goodness the good doctor caught it before it spread and formed a forest of internal, hidden hongos here... along the gringo trail.

Monday, January 23, 2012

La Feria Internacional de la Chorrera......

Tonight we hit the big city of La Chorrera for some culture at the annual International Fair.  Clyde splurged a whole $1.00 each for tickets prior to entering the fairgrounds.  There were TWO seperate for damas and another for caballeros (or ladies and gentlemen).  Women had to open their purses so the police could look inside. This is a common practice whenever a women enters a bank in Panamá also.  And the men were frisked by guards before being allowed to enter the fair.  I was hoping that the hunky uniformed police would have frisked me, but they just stood there holding their rifles. 

A cute litte Panamanian boy

                                         Some native little dancers posed for the camera

Yes, those are real Panamá hats and they are commonly worn here

                                                  The hats are worn flipped up in the front

Our nostrils filled with the smell of grilled and fried foods immediately.  A sign for 25 cent hotdogs caught my attention, since a hotdog in the U.S. at a fair sells for about $2.00.  A hamburgesa or hamburgesa con queso sold for a mere $1.00 and $1.50.  We were hungry but I had reservations about eating the food since it was all pre-cooked with flies hovering over it all.  My eye caught some kabobs with chicken, bell peppers and onion that looked safe enough and tasted pretty good.  Still hungry I opted for a cheeseburger since they were wrapped in paper.  Not a good choice since cows in Panamá are skinny and ground beef here has a stretchy, dense texture with little to no fat.  It wasn't too good but something to eat. Clyde ordered a tamale which usually has meat in the middle but this one was just cornmeal.  It looked more like a banana and I thought he ordered plaintain by mistake.

Tons of pre-cooked food everywhere, and the flies were enjoying it too

Don't know what was in this sausage, but it was speckled

A Panamanian tamale

My sad looking hamburguesa con queso

Wow, they even make cotton candy here!
And she didn't give us one in the bag she made us a fresh one

This little thing only cost $1.25

The fair was huge with a wide assortment of foods, vendors, rides for the kids, music, dancing and more.  There was also the agricultural part where local farms showed off their prized cows, and horses for the kids to ride.


Only $1.25 for ALL the rides in the kiddie section

No seat belts or safety harnesses even on the big adult rides


It's been many years since I'd been to a good ole' fashioned country fair and I had no idea that I'd find such a thing here in Panamá.  The fair for the locals is a great place to take the family for some good clean fun at reasonable prices.  For us it's just another adventure, another first here in Panamá along the gringo trail.

Sugar Cane Juice...We just had to try it but we didn't like it

Sugar Cane, they grow it here in Panamá

Sugar Cane Press to make syrup

Model of some type of indigenous dancer in costume

Picture Perfect in Panamá....

Photos from here and there!

Found this beautiful flower on a very
scraggly looking bush across from our home

Plastic wrap to the rescue!
Notice the absencee of tail lights? 
Lights on cars don't seem to be mandatory in Panamá.

This Overlook area was built by China
in 2004 to commemorate 150 years
of the Chinese presence in Panamá

Many nationalities were brought in to build and run the Panama Canal. There is a large "chino" population here today as they own most of the small stores.  They speak Spanish with a Chinese accent to make things more difficult.

A view of the canal and
Puente Centenario

This guy keeps following me around. 
I think he's a writer groupie!

We found this Pummelo tree in one of our adventures

We bought one from the store.
It's basically a large grapefruit, but
sweet and tough....kinda like me!

The inside of a pummelo

                        Every thing's in bloom at the Feria de las Flores
(Flower Fair) in Boquete

After a brief shower we were rewarded with
"el arco iris" a rainbow.

A plant growing up into the window of Tammy's Restaurant in Boquete. 
The menu said "Mike's Restaurant"
so we were confused but starving so it was all good.

The same restaurant, this plant was growing out of the ceiling.
Strange huh?

Curly Q "meat on a stick" at the same fair

Candy Apple anyone?

This is Original Luwak Coffee or civet coffee, one of the worlds most expensive coffee's. The coffee berries are eaten by the civet (a wild cat) and then the beans are pooped out.  After that they are processed and the coffee sells for up to $160 per pound.  It was made famous in the movie
 "Bucket List" as CAT POOP COFFEE.
BTW this coffee is from Indonesia

A local boy and a street dog. Stray dogs are everywhere in Panamá and like everything here they move slow.  People just step over them on the street as they are very passive and don't seem to bother anyone. 
Note the tile on the ground that is common here too.

A man and his pet monkey.  Panamá does have wild monkeys too, six different types in fact.  The biggest and loudest is the howler monkey.

Yes, Panama has Budweiser Girls in the grocery store.  What a fashion statement....a jogging suit with heels. Apparently she was giving away two free glasses with the purchase of a six pack. 
The local beers are much cheaper than the imports. 
Big spender Clyde spent $2.89 for a six pack of Balboa beer today. 

Sunset from Chica, Panama
  Our Canadian friends Sharon and Phil will soon be opening a
B&B here called La Joya de Chicá (the jewel of Chicá) 
Stay tuned for details here in the coming months.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Feria de las Flores y Café.......

Earlier this week we hit the road at 6 am with friends, for a five hour trek to the mountain town of Boquete.  We took this boring ride to the other side of Panamá in search of the annual Feria de las Flores y Café (flower and coffee fair).  Due to it's cooler temperatures, Boquete has become a favorite for tons of expats looking for a retirement haven.  Unlike the rest of Panamá, temperatures in Boquete range from 60 at night to 82 in the day, eliminating the need for air conditioner's or heaters.  But for these wimpy south Texans, we froze our butts off at night.  I slept in winter pajamas under a heavy down comforter that the hotel provided, snuggled up next to Clyde for warmth.  This was not the Panamá that I came to know and love, and I couldn't wait to get back to the warm side of the country.

The fair offered an array of beautiful flowers surrounded by vendors selling coffee and other touristy items.  Along with indigenous art, baskets, tapestries, molas, shoes, masks and pottery was a large assortment of knitted hats, scarves and sweaters for this frigid weather.  As the night progressed and the clouds rolled in, the winds howled and a few sprinkles fell over us causing a chill.  Our chilly group headed back to the hotel where we played a game of Mexican Train Dominoes, had a few drinks and laughed the night away.


The next day after a tour of Cafe Ruiz Coffee Farm (in another blog) we went looking for the Caldera Hot Springs. The word "caldera" means boiling pot and hot springs exist in this area due to volcanic activity.  We followed the tiny signs, put the vehicles in four wheel drive and slowly crawled over some extremely, rough, rocky terrain that led to an even worse road conditions.  Thinking we'd have to get out and walk, we talked to a few local kids who said the path was very difficult so we turned back. In writing this blog I researched the springs only to find they're on a private farm, hidden away in the jungle and are not easy to get to. Clyde and I tried to find them last year on our first trip to Panamá but gave up since the road is nearly impassable. But on this trip we did stumble on some pre-Hispanic Indian 'petroglyphs' or rock paintings on a rock in the middle of a field.

Many North Americans are fascinated with the Boquete area and think it's the perfect place to retire.  For us it's too cold, too expensive, too Americanized, and too far away from Panama City for our liking.  But isn't it wonderful that there's something in Panamá for everyone! Beaches, mountains, big city living, hot and cool climates along with something for every budget.  We've come to realize that every retiree comes here with a different ideal, and a different situation. Some have a monthly pension or social security to live on. Other's have a lump sum of money in the bank from the sale of a house back in the states.  Whether you have a budget of $500,000 or $50,000, want to live in a gated community or in a local village, there's something for everyone here in Panamá.  Come explore this beautiful country, bring an open mind and lots of patience and perhaps you too will fall in love.   We fell in love with the country, the people and each other all over again as we made a new life in Panamá, here along the gringo trail.

Life In Portugal....At A Snails Pace....

Yesterday was just another day in Portugal when my dear husband Clyde said he was going to run to the pharmacy for a few things. Time passed...