Sunday, April 29, 2012

Being Followed.....By A Panamanian.....

As the road curved around toward the left I could hear a guttural, throaty sound coming from back of a farm.  It sounded like a distressed animal or a human being held against his will locked up in the attic.  Since I noticed tan and black colored large goats munching on grass, the strange sounds must have been another goat just making himself known. 

Up ahead on the right was a fenced in area with tan, brown and black cows who stopped chewing long enough to give us a strange look.  Had they not seen a gringo before, or perhaps they never saw a human walking a dog.  Panamanians don't usually walk their dogs, in fact their dogs tend to just live in the streets and everyone is invited to throw them some food once in a while.

As I admired the majestic mountains in the distance I breathed in the fresh, tropical air. Suddenly it hit me and I had to remind myself where I was.  As my mouth spontaneously curled up into a smile,  a bright wave went thought my brain.  I am an expat living in a foreign country.  With the encouragement of my brave, adventurous husband we really did it.  We paid off the bills, quit our jobs and moved our lives to Panamá.  And during our first year here we bought a house, in a country setting surrounded by a lush, tropical garden.

Making an about face since the road dead-ended, we headed back toward home.  Small private planes perched on grassy areas next to a single runway, filled the landscape along side the road.    During World War II this tiny airport served as an auxiliary facility to Howard Air Force Base in the city. Today small private and charter flights come into this airport which presents such a contrast next to the poor Panamanian neighborhoods that sit nearby.  Every time I hear an engine rev up it brings me back to the day of our skydiving experience. 

As I approached our home I could see Clyde trimming hedges and working on the yard.  I heard someone yell "hey" off in the distance but didn't think anything of it since there  are parrots around that say that word for hours at a time.  .  I kept walking and decided to walk around the block so Venus could see the other neighborhood dogs and they could see the new girl in the hood.  Our friend Daniel was outside his house so I stopped to chat a few minutes.  Two little Panamanian girls yelled "hola" to which I responded the same.  They seemed to tag along joining us on our walk, skipping and looking at Venus.  A man on a bicycle drove by Daniels house and I thought he was with the little girls.

As I made it back around the corner the little girls had taken off but the man on the bike was still riding nearby.  He started saying something in Spanish about the dog and stopped riding to strike up a conversation.  Apparently he had a dog or dogs, and was telling me about them.  He asked me if I spoke Spanish and I said "un poco" which  means "a little."  His smile turned to a frown with that answer as he seemingly wanted to talk.  Asking if I moved here from the U.S. I filled him in with a few tidbits.  Finally I ended the conversation by saying "buen dia.....ciao," good day and bye and headed home. Clyde was happy to hear that I was interacting with the neighbors, although I'm not sure if sure if the man was trying to pick up a gringa or just be neighborly. 

This neighborly encounter made me question "are we really safe here?"  So many foreigners move here and worry constantly about being robbed or taken advantage of by the locals.  Here I am walking alone near a tiny airport early in the morning feeling perfectly safe, enjoying the day and the scenery.  Ok so the fact that I have a 70 pound doberman by my side probably assures my safety, but in general are we safe?  We both feel safe here although we do take precautions like we did in the U.S.  And making some contacts with neighbors we feel also helps.  Our neighbor Victor with his toothless smile, that happily hauled off our old toilets and other junk, is selling the stuff to make money.  Since we helped him out hopefully he'll watch our home when we're away.

A big part of being here and practicing the language is the willingness to feel stupid and say "no comprende."  Clyde adapted well to this quickly since he's the one that talks to store clerks trying to find things. At first I had this fear of what will happen if I don't understand what someone is saying?  Of course the answer is to just admit it to them, ask them to speak slower, and explain that I am trying to learn Spanish.  Funny but many Panamanians have told us that to be successful in this world they need to learn English.  But for us just being able to survive happily in a Spanish speaking country is why we need to speak Spanish. 

Today we'll spend our time wrapping up some loose ends in the house before heading over to the pool in Punta Chame for a relaxing afternoon, as long as it doesn't rain. The birds are chirping and the sun is shining over some puffy greyish clouds hanging low in the sky.  It's a balmy 80 degrees as usual which just means, another day in paradise in Panamá....along the gringo trail.

Friday, April 27, 2012

This Old House.....Our First Night

As the brisk night breeze gently caressed our bodies, it lifted up the ceiling tiles throughout the house.  They flapped in the breeze all night long causing a crashing sound as they lifted and fell.  Finally I had to get up and close the bedroom window, the only glass window that we have in this house right now.  The other windows are just screens with bars in the front.  Apparently our efforts to weigh down the ceiling tiles was not enough, and those in certain areas need further weight to hold them in place.

Living Area

Formal Dining
Fireflies surrounded the palms and fruit trees, filling the night air with a sparkling glow. It almost seemed like the stars fell from the sky like snow, blanketing our property with a magical iridescent light.  The night sky beamed with millions of bright stars that could easily been seen through the vast darkness.  But the front of the house glowed with a few street lights, giving just enough light to see outside.

Kitchen looking into living room

Entry Way
In the morning I was abruptly disturbed by the "Panamá alarm clock," which was a rooster crowing in the distance.  A long morning walk with the dog was peaceful in this country setting where we even spotted a small, black monkey in a tree.  Still having problems with the toilets and showers, Clyde needed to get away from the house so we went shopping.  It was "curtains" for dear Clyde since that's one of the things I was in search of, which was probably not his idea of how to spend a fun day.  Later that night our friend and now neighbor Daniel stopped over for drinks.  We relaxed the night away with some rum drinks which helped Clyde to clear his head of all the tasks that still need to be done.

House Warming Gift from
our friend Daniel

Outdoor Dining
Up with the rooster again today, although not a problem since I tend to be an early riser anyway.  Headed over to the rental house today to tie up loose ends, clean up a bit and collect a few things we left behind.

Our New Hang Out area
with Hamacas ready to go

Venus realizing that with this property
she has a LOT to guard!

It suddenly feels like we're in a movie playing the lead roles of two adventurous souls that moved their lives to a foreign country.  And if that wasn't crazy enough they bought an old house that they fell in love with only to find it needs lots of work, as old houses do.  But in this movie the final scene hasn't been written yet, since it's not a movie but our lives in Chame Panamá.....along the gringo trail.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Lost In The Maze....Of Boxes.....

Up before the light of day packing already, since I couldn't seem to sleep.  Clyde slept in a few hours later and is just now waking up to squeeze in between the boxes to get his coffee.  Took three loads of stuff over to the house yesterday.  Nice that it's only a 20-minute drive from the rental house, so things don't have to be packed too securely.  And since we're putting things away as soon as we get them there, most of the unpacking will be done by the time we move the big stuff in tomorrow.

Clyde took some time to set up the closet in the master bedroom, since the rod was bending in the middle with the weight of my clothes.  And then he decided that he'd let me have the whole walk-in closet......for now......and he'd use the one in the guest room. Our plan is to seal off the walk-in closet and have a dehumidifier running full time to pull out the moisture, which will drain outside of the house.  This should help to prevent a build-up of mold on the clothes, since mold is part of everyday life here in the tropics.  There is still room to the side of the closet for another hanging rod for his clothes. Put up a bright new light in the walk-in too but since it has a window we shouldn't need the light too often.

Cleaned the floors with bleach after vacuuming them with a shop vac. A downpour of torrential rains brought severe lightning and thunder that made me jump with every crackle and pop.  The winds picked up and howled through the house bringing in dust and leaves after we were done cleaning.  By the time we got back here I was chilled from the dampness and severe winds, but of course had no other clothes to put on besides the shorts and tank I was wearing.  Since Clyde's clothes are still here I found a long sleeved shirt to wear until the chill was gone.

More of the same today as our plan is to take over all of the little stuff.  Tomorrow we have friends with pick-ups coming over to help us move the big things.  Then we have plenty of time to clean and do a bit of painting on the rental house to make it move-in ready for the next tenants. 

Of course moving into a new place means not being able to find anything for a while, including my darling husband.  The strange setup of this big old house makes it hard to keep track of each other.  But perhaps that's a good thing since we ARE together now ALL the time and we both need a bit of alone time so there are no murders to report, or dead bodies found......along the gringo trail. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Price Of Home Ownership.....

How many Panamanians does it take to pump out a septic tank?  Apparently 5-6 since that's how many showed up yesterday at our Chame house.  The sixth guy showed up late and didn't do much except help himself to free fruit from our trees.  We're finding out fast that when you have fruit trees people feel free to take the fruit and even fill bags with your fruit, without asking first. 

Anyway, the five men worked on the problem for close to 4 hours and had to go empty the tank on their truck about six times.  They addressed the slow draining showers in the house with snakes pulling out globs of roots that had invaded the area.  One of the men told Clyde that he's a plumber and seemed to know what he was doing.  Clyde was impressed with their work but not with the quoted price of $500. He talked them down to $380 but should have deducted the price of the fruit they walked away with.  At $1.25 a pound the price of those free mangos can really add up quick. 

Our insurance broker recommended her air conditioner guy from Panama City and when he and Clyde talked he agreed to take on the job.  Novo said he'd be here around 10 or 11 but we never heard from him until noon after we had left the house and were 30-minutes away.  Thankfully he was still in the city so it would take him an hour or more to make it to Capira.

Two men showed up around 1:30 and even after Clyde introduced them to Venus, she insisted on running them off the property.  One of the men was seriously afraid of dogs and would walk by her holding a lawn chair in front of himself, even when we were holding her on a leash.  They say dogs can sense how we feel and she felt his fear as a weakness and decided she could take him. 

They quickly removed the split a/c unit from the wall here and off we went to the Chame house to have them install it there.  The whole job took about two and a half hours and another $250 from our wallet, but it had to be done.  Novo is from Cuba and gave Clyde a Cuban cigar which he plans to save for a friend since he thinks cigars are nasty.

Taking the day off from working on the house today for an afternoon party with expat friends.  Still need to scrub the tile floors in the house before moving in sometime this week.  That gives us plenty of time to clean and paint any parts of the rental house that need it.  Since the walls are all white and get dirty easily it just needs some freshening up and patching nail holes where we had things hung.

Nice to take time to relax and smell the humid, tropical air.  The birds are chirping as the sun rises over the mountains for another beautiful day in paradise.....along the gringo trail.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Full Of Poop.....

The ceiling in our new house was literally full of poop, gecko poop that is, or at least it was.  Now we're full of gecko poop, bugs, dirt, fiberglass, and whatever else the previous owners managed to throw up there to hold down the tiles.  Clyde had the messy task of taking down the old tiles to discover the treasures that were buried in the poop, like an old hub cap and wooden planks.  Apparently they put stuff on the tiles to keep them from blowing in the wind, which really wasn't necessary since the old ones were heavy fiberglass.  We were worried that the new styrofoam tiles would blow away when a brisk wind came through the house.  So the solution was to put the old heavier tiles on top of the new lighter ones which seemed like a good idea.  And it also got rid of the old ones at the same time, instead of having me carry them outside to a burn pile. Despite the piles of rubble in the ceiling, we didn't find any money stashed away, which is what I was hoping for.

Tiles have been removed and
ready for new ones!

This is the mess that falls
whenever the old celing tiles
have been removed

Old tiles ready to be placed
on top of the new ones

The last tile
has been replaced
(a little over 300 by the way)

Clyde is having trouble getting the toilets and showers to work properly so on Thursday he checked the septic tank only to discover that the sucker was full.  He called a local company that cleans out the tanks and they came yesterday to access the problem, and quote a price.  They told Clyde they would come back early tomorrow and work on the tank.

Clyde had planned on leaving the gate to the property unlocked so they could begin the work before we got there.  We have to wait in the rental house in Capira for an air conditioner guy to come from Panama City, before going to the Chame house. But as we lie in bed last night Clyde realized that he forgot to leave the gate unlocked at the Chame house.  His plan was to get up at 6am and head over there, but before he crawled out of bed  his phone rang.  To our surprise they arrived bright and early at 6am to work on the septic tank.

So Clyde took off and I'm left here to blog and wait for the a/c guy, who said he'd be here between 10-11am after Clyde yelled him.  First he said he'd be here today, but when Clyde called him last night to confirm he said he was busy.  So mild-mannered Clyde let him have it and he agreed to come by today but not as early as we would have liked.  We need the a/c split unit removed from our bedroom here and then put into the Chame house.  Our insurance broker highly recommended this guy who has taken care of her units for years.

Since we replaced all three toilets and sinks inside the house, and even the one outside at the back of the property, we were left with quite a collection.  We left them at the side of the road and after a few days one of our new neighbors caught us driving onto the property and asked about them.  Clyde happily told him that the toilets and sinks were "gratis" which means "free" in Spanish and he could have them if he liked. Victor our new neighbor immediately ran home to get his wheel barrow and took all of the commodes and sinks.  Later on we put out some old ceiling fans, and once again Victor asked if he could have them.  Now he knows whatever is left outside the gate is free for the taking.  But after a while we heard a female yelling, probably his wife complaining about all the junk he was bringing home.

The house in Chame is quiet and as I worked I could hear birds chirping and someone in the distance saying "buenas" and "hola" over and over again.  As we were leaving one night Clyde stopped the car by Victor's house and yelled over to him, asking what type of birds he had.  His reply in Spanish was "loro."  Suddenly the lightbulb in my head turned on.  "Loro" means "parrot" and it was the parrots at the neighbors I'd been hearing repeating words in the quietness of the breeze.  Parrots are wild in Panama and commonly seen around that area.  Once things settle down for us we'll have to snap a few pics of some birds around our property.

Clyde is so thrilled to have put the last ceiling tile up, and rewired the last of the lights and ceiling fans.  And I'm happy to be able to put down the paint brush, clean up the mess and make it look like a house we could live in.  And we did manage to hang up our hammocks, although we didn't spend any time in them.  And you know what they say.....home is where you hang your hammock....and that would be here in Panama along the gringo trail.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What is taking so damn long???

Clyde here.  Sending out a report on the new house.

If you have been following the blog, you know that Terry and I have been working on getting the house "move in ready" now for over a month.  You would think we would be in by now!

But, things are done a little different in Panama!  There are a few things besides the painting and cleaning that I wanted to accomplish before we moved in.

The house is thirty years old and there are some out of date things in the house.  The electrical wiring is as old as the house with not a "safety ground" wire in sight.  Ok that's easy, I will just pull an extra wire in certain plugs and add a safety ground!  Nope, for some reason every conduit is 1/2" and already has four or five wires in it.  So what to do?  I put in plugs for the computer, TV, refrigerator, washer dryer and GFI plugs in the bathrooms.  How do you ask?  Well I mounted the plugs on the outside of the cement wall and used some "On the wall conduit" to hide my wires.  Now I have grounded plugs! 

This house has a hot water heater, but it is only plumbed for the master shower and kitchen.  I like to use a separate bathroom than the boss but I do like my hot water!  So, I mounted one of those "suicide shower heads" so popular in Panama.  What, you ask is this?  Well it is a shower head that you wire into your electricity and the water is warmed in the shower head.  As I started wiring my new shower head I realized OOPS no ground!  No problem, I just piggy backed on to the GFI plug that I put in the bathroom.

I got this picture of a
"Suicide Shower Head" off the net
My wiring job was much better than this one.
I hid my wires and connections in conduit!

Ok, next project...... install all new ceiling tiles in our Panamanian style house.  We have drop ceilings and the tiles have seen their better days!  So, first we painted the rails and then removed all of the ceiling fans and light fixtures.  So, how did they install all these from a drop ceiling?  Wires and chains that's how!  And of course no wire nuts whatsoever, just black electric tape!  So, I acquired  some metal framing (my buds Phil and Sharon donated this) and I did things right.  Can't have a ceiling fan falling down on us!  I had to do this for every light and fan in the house!  We also bought a few new fans and in order to have separate switches for the fan and light, again I had to add exterior boxes.

Here you see the original wiring
and chain holding up this ceiling fan

This is the new method of hanging fans
(Yes, I straightened it out after the picture)

Here is a sample of the switch I had to put
on the outside of the wall.
This is also how I added the
three wire ground plugs

We also decided to put in new toilets and bathroom sinks.  A pain, but not too bad until......................  I got to the little bathroom (maid's bathroom).  It is a very narrow bathroom and had a small toilet in it.  I found a small toilet but try as I might, I could not find one that would fit the hole in the floor (it was too close to the wall!)  No problem, they make an adapter for that.  It is called an "offset toilet flange".  This hand gizmo actually moves your hole for your toilet a few inches.

Offset Toilet Flange
you just take out the old one and put this one in!

Whenever you put in a new toilet flange, you have to bolt it to the floor, or your toilet will be a rocking!  No problem, I am ready for that, I have a special hammer drill that easily drills into concrete and also the proper screws etc.  So, I lined up the flange and started drilling.  And guess what?  I hit a water line!  I have NEVER heard of a water line placed in this matter!   Would you believe that this added about four hours to the placement of the toilet?

Here is the water line that I drilled a
perfect hole in to!  Yes, this is the opening
into the toilet drain pipe.

So, these are just some of the examples why things take longer in Panama! I consider myself a "handy-man" and have never shied away from any household projects.  But, now you can see why everything is taking so much longer here.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Mirror Mirror On The Wall.......

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who has the most colorful mirror of all?  We do of course at "casa de muy colores" in Panamá.  Our house of many colors came with a large, heavy mirror that hung on the living room wall.  The large mirror was framed with hundreds of tiny, mirrored squares and some of the squares were missing their mirrored finish, which is nothing more than mirror paint.  So I thought I'd paint the little squares using all of the colors that we put into the house.  Four hours later I was happy to see that it turned out just as planned.  And the best part is that the mirror was a free hand-me-down, and the paint was all leftover from painting the rooms of the house.

"Espejo de mas colores"
Mirror of many colors

Yesterday Clyde discovered that the pretty green toilet and sink we bought for the tiny bathroom off what used to be called the "maid's room" doesn't fit.  The room is so small that they found a toilet that sat back closer to the wall than normal toilets do.  Clyde said there is something to buy that can offset the toilet, but instead we're going to look for a different type of toilet today.  But turns out that the green set will fit outside in the bathroom there that's located next to the "guard shack" which will now be a tool shed.

Entry Way Done!
new paint and new ceiling!

So today we're off to pick up our car that was having body work done at a place called "Pretty Car" in La Chorrera. After waiting two months for parts that were on order, they managed to fix the car in only three and a half days.  Excited to see how it looks, and hopefully the paint will match since it's the color that 95% of the cars in Panamá are, which is silver.

master bedroom with new paint, ceiling tiles
and a new ceiling fan

Then off to Panama City to find two new toilets and some other stuff for the house.  Although shopping for the house is exciting, I'd much rather it be done already and we were swinging in our hammocks.  Speaking of hammocks, we did manage to take some "hammock time" yesterday here in Capira.  We only worked a half day on the house and then came back here early since Clyde was badly in need of a hair cut.  But instead he opted for a nap in the hammock first, but I did manage to chop his locks later on before he grilled some chicken on the barbie for dinner. 
And for anyone that cares and remembers when we discovered a lump on Venus our new dog, and the vet said it was an allergic reaction to something.  Well happy to report that the lump has been shrinking and is just about gone now by just giving it time.  A bit sleeker in her appearance as she's taken off a few pounds, she's doing well.  She does fine on her daily walks usually, until the other day when a cat went running by and she tried to take off pulling me behind her.  Quickly I had to correct that behavior as the pack leader before I went flying down the road.

Perhaps our mirror of many colors is just a reflection of our new lives here.  Each tiny, colorful square represents a new adventure so full of vibrant color that it screams out to the world... that we're here.  And when those little squares are put together they create something special, a new life just waiting to be discovered... in Panamá....along the colorful gringo trail.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Hole In The Wall......

Admittedly addicted to HGTV and shows like House Hunters and Property Virgins, I love it when the perspective buyer looks at a house and makes a comment like, "oh we can just take down this wall to open up the space."  We did it in Texas where Clyde just knocked a hole in the living room wall let in more light.  But in the U.S. he was cutting through a layer of drywall, so the process went quick and easy.  Now we're in Panama, the land of cement blocks covered in even more cement on both outside and inside walls.

When we first bought the house in Chame I complained that the living-dining area was too dark since it's in the middle of the house.  It's a long room with a window on the front end only and to get more light it seemed like a good idea, to cut a hole in the wall between the kitchen and dining room.  Next time I suggest any such thing please have someone knock a hole in my head and have me locked up somewhere. 

Clyde made all the plans and had it figured out exactly how he would pull this off.  Although he did make a few comments weeks ago that he hoped the roof didn't cave in when he did this, which made me panic.  But even being panicked about the prospects of a roof falling in, I still wanted what I wanted being the difficult witch that I am.  He discussed it with friends and they gave advice, but no one said it was impossible.

The Cut Was Made, Now The Sledge Hammer

A Little Bigger

So today was the day and he began by measuring and drawing cutting lines on the wall.  He started cutting with a small angle grinder, and the blades ground down to nothing within a few minutes.  Off he went to the hardware store to buy a bigger model, which was really what he wanted in the first place but was being cheap.  Once he cut through on one side of the wall he went to the other side to repeat the same process.  Fourteen blades and many hours later, the cut was made and everything was covered in a layer of gray cement dust.  To keep things cleaner we even bought a roll of plastic sheeting and hung plastic from the ceiling to form a tent around the work area.  It helped to keep most of the dust away from the rest of the house, but it still escaped like a cloud of thick smoke.

A View From the Kitchen Side

The Final Pounding

Cleaning Up The Rubble

The New Opening Looking Into The Kitchen Where I'm Still Cleaning
And NO We Didn't Paint Stripes On This Wall

Once the cut was made he picked up a sledge hammer and pound his way through six inches of cement.  And if that wasn't bad enough, then we had to shovel the mess off the floor and take it outside.  The hole came out great and once it's trimmed with wood it will be a nice addition to our home.  But once I looked around the house to see the walls and cabinets covered with gray dust, I wanted to cry.  After weeks of painting and cleaning, it was now all covered with a layer of thick, dirty cement dust.  Tired and sore we cleaned up the mess, including the walls and came home to relax.  Since Clyde did most of the hard work he's hurting and tired and hopefully he'll feel better tomorrow.

Clyde suggested we grab the camera out of the car to take pictures of this memorable moment to show the world what these two crazy gringos are up to now.  Tomorrow is another day of more work, but at least the worst is over, the hole is done and the house is turning into our home......along the gringo trail.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

If Your Skin Is White......

If your skin is white they assume you must live in Coronado and are a rich foreigner.  Recently after a long day of back-breaking labor on our house, we showered, and changed clothes as usual.  On the way home we stopped to eat at a restaurant called "Delizz."  We'd passed this restaurant hundreds of times since it's directly on the Pan American highway and our friends had mentioned that the food was good.

After we ordered food Clyde took off to find a bathroom and while I was sitting alone the waitress came by to chat. In Spanish she made a statement, something to the effect of  "so you live in Coronado?"  For those reading this unfamiliar with Panamá, Coronado is a ritzy area of gated communities where many expats live.  Surprised by this assumption I answered in Spanish by telling her that we live in Capira but have bought a house in Chame and will be moving soon.  She went on to ask in Spanish, " so you bought a house in Punta Chame," which is also fast becoming an expat haven.  To which I said no and explained that are house is in the town of Chame located in back of the police department and fire station in a Panamanian neighborhood.  Then I went on to tell her that we bought an old house that needs work and we have been doing all of  the work ourselves.  She smiled and nodded in acceptance and when she walked away she passed by Clyde, looked at him and said "tú Panameño!"  He looked at me wondering why the waitress just called him a Panamanian and I had to explain what happened in his absence.

I was surprised at the comment and wonder how many other locals assume the same when they see gringos.  Since my dear, friendly husband likes to talk he usually likes to mention to those we meet along the way where we live.  And then impresses them with him being a retired firefighter and paramedic for 26 years. 

Now let me add that although we don't live in the affluent Coronado community, our house is just a 10 minute drive away.  So we do take advantage of the modern shopping in the area, even though it's a bit more pricey than the stores in La Chorrera where we used to shop. And as for Punta Chame the gym we've been using is located there in an expat resort with a nice swimming pool.  So although we don't live the life of gated community expats, we do slither in at times still wearing our Wal-Mart bargains. 

We enjoyed the restaurant called Delizz, as it's a lovely roadside cafe with scrumptious food.  We ordered "Shrimp Ceviche" as an appetizer and a chicken dish stuffed with spinach, topped with shrimp and a white-wine cream sauce for our main course.  The presentation of the dishes were incredible and the tastes indescribable.  Their prices were on the high side for Panamá (our meal was around $10) but well worth the price.  The place was clean and nicely decorated and the waitress was attentive and friendly.  Delizz will be added to our list of good places to eat in Panamá.

Beautifully Presented
Shrimp Ceviche

Spinach Stuffed Chicken
with Shrimp

As for progress on the house, yesterday we replaced the ceiling tile in the living and dining room areas as well as the master bedroom. It made quite the mess as we tore down 30 year old fiberglass tiles and the dirt and gecko poop fell like rain.  And since Clyde was putting the tiles up, I had the task of taking the old tiles outside to the back of the property to be burned at a later time. The new ceiling looks wonderful and gives the rooms a fresh, clean new look.  He also put up a new ceiling fan in the living room since that room never had one.  Later I added another coat of paint to the side hallway and touched up a few areas too.  Filthy and tired we showered and changed clothes before leaving the house to come back to Capira. 

Into every life some gecko poop and fiberglass must fall, as we continue to fix up and knock down, making a new home out of an old one.......along the gringo trail.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Fumigation....Inside And Out.....

On Monday night around 9pm a young boy was standing outside yelling "buenas"....which is the Panamanian way of saying hello.  So Clyde went outside and the boy handed him a piece of paper.  Once back inside he read it over and it explained that on Tuesday the health department would be fumigating our neighborhood between 8-12pm.  From the way Clyde translated it, he read it to say keep your windows closed and your pets inside during the process. 

So around 7:15am Venus and I headed our for morning walk and upon re-entering our neighborhood Clyde came looking for us. They had started the fumigation process at our house which is at the back of the neighborhood.  There was Clyde making himself a bowl of oatmeal, with coffee brewing and someone wearing a gas mask came to the door to fumigate the place inside and out.  He immediately had to leave the house and the area until the vapors went away.  Here in Panamá they take controlling mosquitos rather serious, since they carry diseases like dengue and yellow fever.

With no where to go, he got into the car and drove off looking for us.  When he picked us up I was covered in sweat, hair up in pony tail, no makeup and un-showered.  We stopped by the house only long enough to grab some food for Venus and off we drove to kill sometime until we could get back into our house.  Since we hadn't eaten breakfast we drove to a nearby McDonalds for a breakfast meal to share. After that we stopped back at the house and when we opened the door a cloud of vapors made it's way out like smoke.  Clyde went in just long enough to grab our work clothes and some bottled waters and we left for the day.

Next stop was La Chorrera to pick up a rental car at Budget before dropping our car off to be repaired from the damage caused by the accident several months ago.  From there we went to the Chame house for more work.  I finished the last of the painting, although the side hallway could use another coat of paint.  Clyde did some wiring and moved the dining room chandelier so it would be over the table and not off to the side.

The cable and internet company showed up in the late afternoon to hook us up which is the last of the hook-ups needed in that house.  Clyde had the electric and water transferred to our name and also arranged for trash pick-up.  On his way back to the house he stopped to pick-up Chinese food for lunch which we ended up eating for both lunch and dinner.  It was 7pm before we arrived back here at the rental house tired and sore from a long, crazy day.  A bowl of  oatmeal still sat in the microwave and leftover coffee still in the pot after Clyde made a fast exit out.

And as the song goes....."hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go," once again today.  On today's agenda we hang ceiling fans and replace ceiling tiles throughout the whole house.  Still more toilets and sinks to install, and a shower drain to unclog too.  It's coming together a little at a time, and this week will be a month so far that we've been working on it everyday.  Eventually we can sit back and enjoy our new home, in our new country, with our new friends.......along  the gringo trail.

Monday, April 9, 2012

It's Raining Ants......

The walls are alive with little black dots that move and then free fall to the ground as if they have little parachutes attached to their backs.  As another rainy season begins so does the birth of millions of flying ants. Apparently these little buggers were discovered by scientists back in 2005 and are said to be the only wingless insect capable of controlled flight.  Although these ants live high up in the tropical rain forest canopy, scientists found that these ants never hit the ground.  Instead they go into a free-fall like skydivers and steer their way to the ground for a peaceful landing.  Peaceful as their landing may be our house has been anything but peaceful with my obsession for getting rid of the pesky critters. 

Yesterday during our Easter socializing with friends was when we first noticed the flying ants.  As soon as the sun went down and the lights went on, the walls were crawling with hundreds of ants. So we did what any normal people would do and turned off the house lights and sat chatting in the dark.  It made it much more acceptable to snooze when the conversation dulled, until the snoring gave me away.

Phil and Sharon join us for Easter Dinner

Deviled Egg Easter Chicks
Compliments of Sharon

At the end of the night I vacuumed up hundreds of ants only to find more the next morning.  Once again I sucked them up but they keep appearing from no where.  Guess we'll be sitting in the dark again tonight with the windows closed until the little darlings die off. Our friends tell us they don't last long and are just a sign that the wet season is upon us.

The wet season is also called the green season because as soon as the first rains came, everything turned green and lush.  Simply put the dry season is the time of year when there is virtually no rain at all.  During the rest of the year rain is possible and if and when it comes, it's usually in the form of an afternoon shower.  But by the end of the rainy season in November and December rain can be extremely heavy and last for hours, if not all day.  But rain is what makes the rain forest thrive and since it's so vital to mankind we have to cherish and nurture it.

Rain forests play a very important role in our daily life whether we are aware of it or not. For example, two thirds of the world's animal and plant species live in the rain forests. Millions of plants, animals and insects are currently living in the rain forests of the world waiting to be discovered. The majority of natural medicines available on the market today come from tropical rain forests. Between 70 and 80 percent of the world's population depends on plant medicines. Hundreds of prescription drugs are made in some part from plants found only in the rain forest, also.

More than 20% of the oxygen in the world is produced in the Amazon rain forests alone. The Amazon Basin is also home to at least one fifth of the world's fresh water resources. There are an estimated 3,000 types of fruit that grow in the rain forests of the world. In the United States, only 200 different types of the available rain forest fruits are used.

As you can see, much of the world's resources come from our rain forests. Even the U.S. National Cancer Institute confirms that many of the plants in the rain forest are effective in fighting cancer cells. At least one fourth of the active ingredients in cancer fighting drugs can be found exclusively in the rain forests of the world. Several companies and organizations are currently researching plants in the rain forests as possible cures for viruses, cancer and AIDS.

A constant concern revolves around the destruction of the rain forests. Rain forests are destroyed so the trees can be used as timber and the land used for grazing cattle and for farming. However, due to the composition of the soil in a rain forest, the ground is not suitable for farming. Rain forests are much more useful to humans and to the earth if left intact. Valuable resources, such as plants, animals, fresh water and oxygen are destroyed and lost forever by rain forest destruction. The destruction of the rain forest is the leading cause of animal extinction.

Other than ants, insects have not been a problem since we moved to Panamá.  Besides the flying ants we regularly get visits from crazy ants and usually can get them under control and then they show up again.  If we could just teach our doberman to eat ants, we'd solve the insect problem and save money on dog food too.  Until then our little bit of paradise may be riddled with annoying creatures now and then......along the gringo trail.

(Excerpt taken from...ABC Article Directory ... The Rain Forest And You:  The Benefits We Get From The Rain Forest,   written by Adrian Adams)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

There Is No Easter Panamá.....

Although today is Easter here in Panamá, there will be no Easter bunny or any other things us Americans associate with this holiday.  No chocolate eggs wrapped in brightly colored foil, no hollow chocolate bunnies to bite the ears off of, no baskets filled with fake grass. no marshmallow peeps and no hard boiled eggs to color.  Like other holidays we've been through here, there seems to be absolutely no commercialism and no food pushing. 

Holidays in the U.S. always involve food being pushed in our faces in every store we enter.  Christmas cookies and candies; Valentine's Day candies; cakes for every occasion and not to mention the food frenzy that goes along with Thanksgiving.  Our old grocery chain in Texas used to push cookies and cakes to commemorate St. Patricks Day, Forth of July, Easter, Fathers and Mothers Day or any other holiday they can come up to smother something in frosting.

And then there's chocolate being wrapped in decorative foil for every holiday too.  Piled high to the ceiling in every store in America making it nearly impossible to ignore.  These monster displays speak to us saying "go ahead, buy some, everyone else is doing it so it's ok."  And we always manage to justify it in our brains as if the calories don't count because it's a holiday.

But here in Panamá there is a definite lack of chocolate or any other sweets for that matter.  They are here but come at a premium price since they're shipped in from the fatter countries like the U.S.  And they don't jump out and speak to us like they did back there, although a few Snickers bars did manage to leave the store with us last night.  We had the choice between Snickers and M&M's at the registers!  A far cry from the assortment of junk food found at registers in U.S. stores.

Easter in Panamá is a time to be spent with family and for many a time of worship.  The week prior to Easter is Semana Santa or Holy Week.  Many businesses wrapped it up on Wednesday and were closed for Thursday and Friday.  This was obvious by the non-stop flow of traffic headed into the interior of the country.  People headed out to the beaches or weekend homes to spend time with family and friends.  Since our new house is surrounded by holiday homes the neighborhood was not as quiet as usual.  Homes that are usually vacant were filled with the sounds of kids playing as families gathered with loved ones for some holiday cheer.

My fingers are sore and swollen as I type from yet another long day of painting at the house.  But the painting is just about finished now with only a few decorative touches left to be done.  Clyde worked on plumbing yesterday and installed one new toilet and sink with two more left to go.  Ceiling fans and lights still need to be installed before putting in the new tiles for the drop ceiling.  And then there's that little matter of knocking a hole in the wall to open up the kitchen. Perhaps the guys can tackle that next week too.

We have been waiting for two months for the body shop to get the parts needed to repair our car after the accident.  Every time Clyde would stop by they'd tell him the parts were still on order.  We found this very strange since every other car in Panamá seems to be a gray Toyota Rav 4 the same as ours.
So last week we had to pick up paperwork from our insurance broker in Panama City and Clyde asked her to call. They told her (a Panamanian) that the parts have been there and that Clyde must have changed his phone number since they couldn't reach him.  Funny how they tell a Panameno one thing and us  So tomorrow Clyde has to contact our insurance company again to make arrangements for a rental car while the work is being done.  Our insurance will provide 11 days of a free car rental and hopefully that will be enough time for them to get the work done.

Easter for us will be spent with friends here at the rental house.  Some food, drinks and good company will make for a relaxing day.  Sometimes friends have to force friends to stop and take it easy for a day.

Clyde said the Easter bunny can't come to our house because we have a dog now and she won't let him in.  Funny but after our morning walk a few days ago I left the front gate open since I know Venus won't leave the property.  Rarely do we get people walking by our house but sure enough I heard voices out front.  Venus immediately ran out to say hello....I guess....and the lady screamed, froze and panicked.  I ran over to get Venus and apologized to the people smiling on the inside all the while.  You see growing up I was the kid afraid of strange dogs and that fear stayed with me into adulthood.  Although I was ok with friends dogs as an adult, I was still never really comfortable around them. And now I'm the women walking the mean dog (at least she looks that way).  I'm comfortable sticking my fingers into her mouth to hold it open when I brush her teeth.  While walking her in a park yesterday I noticed her eating something and pulled a rock from her mouth like it was nothing.

Yes life in Panamá has been a life changing experience for me, full of new experiences.  But this is just the beginning of many more firsts.....along the gringo trail.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

It's Official....We Are Homeowners in Panamá...

Finally today we received the documents in our name indicating that we own the house in Chame!  It's been a long three months of negotiations, opening a bank account and dealing with the Panamanian bureaucracy.  Our lawyer told us to meet with her and the sellers at the bank today at 11am.  After sitting there for over an hour, the bank announced that the check could not be issued today since once again someone was out of the office.  Things started to get ugly at this point, but since the seller seemed to know the bank owner we brought him into the mix.  Being from a prominent family in Panama City, he and his daughter talked to the powers that be and we were told to come back in a few hours when the check was finally issued to the seller.

So tomorrow it's time to have the water and electric transferred into our name and more painting, scraping and other renovations.  It will be a while yet until we can get back to normal retirement life of taking it easy.....along the gringo trail.

The Official Passing of The Key
Terry and Clyde with Dr. Carlos Arellano Lennox and his daughter Noris

The Point Of No Return.......

Before making any purchases here in Panamá make sure it's what you want and that it's not broken because there is NO return policy here.  And for this reason the point of sale process is very different from what we've experienced in the states.  I remember those days of standing in line at Wal-Mart after prying the tape off the box to make sure the item inside was in one piece and that all the parts are there.  But then Wal-Mart is known for taking back just about anything, whether you bought it there or not.  I know this from experience since I was a Wal-Mart Department Manager years ago in ladies.  They would take back clothes that had obviously been worn, washed or bought at K-Mart just to make the customer happy.  But the days of Wal-Mart are far behind us and things are a little different here in Panamá.

Yesterday we went toilet shopping and found some great deals, although it took a while.  Casa de Materials in Panama City has some great "ofertas" or sales.  For $89.95 we picked up a toilet with seat, a pedastal sink, and matching soap dish, toilet paper holder and toothbrush holder.  The salesperson put our order into the computer.  Then we went to the caja or cashier and paid her and she printed out a bill.  We took the bill to the "pickup area" where they looked at it and told us to have a seat.  After a while they called our name and we approached  the window.  The person at the window opened the boxes that contained the accessories and showed us each one, carefully re-closing each box afterwards.  Next we went outside where someone brought out four boxes.  The man opened the first box carefully pulling out the toilet tank and lid, showing us that is wasn't damaged or scratched.  Then he put it back in the box and re-taped the box on all sides.  On he went to the sink bowl following the same procedure until he went through all of the boxes.  A nearby woman was buying tile and her salesperson opened up each package of tile and flipped through them making sure there were no damaged tiles. 

An hour later after all of our toilet parts had been inspected we were on our way.  We have to laugh at the way they do things here but at least we know what we bought is not damaged. Clyde was so happy at the price we went back and bought a second toilet and sink set in a different color for another bathroom.  Our house has a yellow bathroom and I wanted a replacement toilet in yellow, but no one seemed to have yellow.  So we had to go with a different color which will change our color scheme a bit and I'll explain more in a later blog with pictures.

Also stopped at a lighting store for some $59 ceiling fans and a bathroom light fixture for $8.99.  Believe it or not they had a light fixture for $1.99 but we splurged on the higher priced model.  This huge store called Lumicentro has some great deals but does have much higher priced lighting too.

Today we're off to the city again but this time to meet with our lawyer and the sellers of the house for the final paperwork.  Yes after just three short months we are finally closing on the house!  But since the owner was nice enough to give us the keys three weeks ago, we've managed to get lots done in the meantime. 

We've given our notice to the owner of the rent house and will be leaving here at the end of the month.  This comes with a bit of sadness since Betsy has become our first Panamanian friend who has helped us out so much.  We hope to remain friends and expect to see her in our new home whenever she's in the area.  So here's to the next chapter of our life in Panamá.  A new home full of new experiences big enough to entertain friends we've made here.......along the gringo trail.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

In The Shower....With My Clothes On....

Never before have I spent so much time in the shower with my clothes on.  This house we bought has three full bathrooms inside, another one outside in the guard shack as well as an outdoor shower to use after a day at the beach.  Since the house is close to 30 years old, the showers have probably not been cleaned in that long.  I started with the shower in the master bath since that would be my primary one.  A tanish peach color, the tile was coated with white soap scum and darkened sections of filth.  I tried vinegar first with a scratchy pad, then bleach.  Then Clyde tried putting the scratchy pad on an orbital palm sander and it worked until the pad fell off.  So I suggested the sander with actual sandpaper since by this time I really didn't care if the tile got scratched as long as it got clean.  The next day we tried muratic acid and even that didn't work to penetrate the filth.  There was no easy way so I had to use a combination of all these things and sand off the dirt in small sections.

After a week of scrubbing, sanding and wiping the three showers are clean but not perfect.  We went through boxes of sanding pads, a full gallon of vinegar, a gallon of muratic acid, bleach, paper towels, gloves, goggles and other cleaning products.  Tile is some tough stuff that seems resistant to most everything.  Now I plan to pick up some car wax to coat the tile with to prevent a build up of dirt in the future.  And while I was scrubbing Clyde was working on the electrical putting in new three pronged ground plugs.  And since none of the bathrooms had any outlets that was a must too.

So we've worked hard and long at the house, arriving home by dark to wash clothes, shower and crash on the couch before heading to bed to rest up for the next day.  We still have more scraping to do in the living room and dining room before painting that wall.  And Clyde still needs to cut the hole in the wall between the kitchen and dining room to open that up.  The only painting left to do is in the kitchen, living room, dining room and back and side hallways.  The kitchen walls are covered with dirty white tile so more tile to scrub for me too.

Next we need to buy ceiling tiles to replace all of them, after painting the rails or grid that hold them up. And since we need over 200 tiles we're not sure if we'll find that many of the same pattern at any one store. Also trying to find a floor scrubber to tackle a one-time heavy duty cleaning on the floor tile.

Our friend Sharon came over yesterday to harvest our tamarind tree to show us what great sauces can be made from them.  She loves to cook and we don't have time these days so we'll let her do the work and we can taste the results. 

Still waiting to hear from our lawyer for another trip to the city to sign and pickup the final documents on the house.  They are being processed in the public registry and should have been completed by now.  This week is Easter week and businesses are closed from Thursday on, so not sure if it will happen early this week or not.

So lots going on with us even though I haven't found time to blog about it.  But just bare with us and before long we'll have more tales to tell of our adventures......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...