Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Different Breed Of More Crazy Gringos.....

Those of us that move our lives to a foreign country are a different breed.  A little crazy, adventurous, daring, willing to step out on the ledge hoping not to fall over the other side. Willing to leave our kids and families behind, and start all over making new friends to replace the loved ones we left behind.  Since we've been here we've met some interesting people from all over the world, and some are crazier than others. 

Last week we attended the monthly expat mixer in Coronado, and as usual mingled among other retiree's, along with a few younger couples.  During the mixer in walked this young, nerdy looking, lean but muscular man, maybe in his 20's dressed in bicycle shorts and a tee shirt.  He introduced himself as Patrick and went on to tell his story. 

Patrick a young American with nothing more than a bicycle, was riding from Panama City, Panama to Miami, Florida.  He needed to pick up his dog in Miami who would accompany him on his journey across the United States and down into the New England states.  The dog would be placed in a small trailer he said and secured for his safety.  Apparently his ex-girlfriend was holding the dog for him until he could pick him up. 

After having a bite to eat at the mixer he was headed toward  Costa Rica, then down through Mexico before entering the US through Texas and heading up to Florida.  This courageous or shall we say absolutely crazy young man, doesn't speak a word of Spanish either.  In awe everyone wished him well and he was on his way.

Today while walking over to a friends house we noticed a gringo looking gentleman outside of his house.  We stopped to introduce ourselves to yet another gringo neighbor living in this Panamanian neighborhood.  His name is Tom and he's been living outside the US for some 30 years now.  Before settling in Panamá he lived in Ecuador, Columbia, and Brazil.  He worked as a pilot and still carries a valid license to fly a plane which he does here on a regular basis at a nearby, one-runway air strip.

In the house between Tom's house and ours is a young American man named Tico and his Panamanian wife and kids.  On the next street over is our American friend Daniel and over near the airport is yet another gringo named Ron that also plays with planes for fun.  So despite the fact that we live in a Panamanian neighborhood, we're surrounded by gringos.  In this tiny little neighborhood known as "celaje" which means "sunset cloud" there are five gringo households that we know of, thus far.

New flowers discovered
on our Finca

A different view

New Friends found on our morning walk

Another new friend!

Our mean guard dog on duty!

See?  The click of the camera woke her up!

Actually it's rather cool to have the comfort of other gringos around, for those silly questions we still have about life in Panamá.  It just goes to show that one never knows who they might end up living next door to, way across the ocean in Panamá....along the gringo trail.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Chilly In The Tropics.....

As the first light of day peeked through my bedroom window, I pulled the sheet over my body. A slight chill ran over me from head to toe as the breeze rustled through the curtains.  The past few mornings here in Panamá began with a chill in the air, as the temperature dropped to a bone chilling 74 degrees.  The low hung clouds kept the sun away keeping temperatures right around 75 all day long on Tuesday.

Found this pretty girl on an
exploratory trip thru the mountains
Tuesday continued nicely as we met up with some blog followers at a favorite restaurant.  A couple from California considering Panamá as a retirement option in the future, here on vacation with their teenager daughter.  The conversation was delightful and flowed easily as we chatted the hours away enjoying some great food. 

Going backwards to the weekend, we enjoyed time with friends and other expats at Picasso's Restaurant in Coronado.  The well known Gorgons played some rock sounds, as we relaxed the night away with a few drinks and lots of chit chat. Because my pushy husband made me get up and dance, we ended up winning a bottle of SL Seco.  Since no one was dancing, the few that did were rewarded with extra tickets which were used for door prizes, and our number came up.  The SL brand of seco is five times distilled, which I guess makes it five times stronger although we haven't opened it yet.

Last week another blog follower was in the country visiting from Texas.  He originally read my article of our move to Panamá when it ran in International Living Magazine, and just had to contact us. He entered our names into a search engine and found this blog, then was able to email us.   His story is similar to ours since he's been a cop for 26 years, like Clyde was a firefighter for the same amount of time.  By the time he left Panamá he had bought a condo and was planning to retire sooner than later.

Yesterday a visit to our friendly dentist in La Chorrera for a $21 cleaning took up our morning.  After that a walk through a HUGE produce market in the same town to pick up some great buys.  This market has produce that looks professionally grown at reasonable prices. 

We were excited to find this
HUGE fruit market

The produce looks excellent here

Nicely displayed selection

We believe this fruit is called
Rambuton also called Mamon Chino (not really sure)

Seed in the middle
not much fruit
After our mid-afternoon nap we stepped out for a night under the stars at another expat mixer in Coronado.  Made some new friends and visited with old friends over dinner.  We lucked out again and won a bottle of Argentinean wine to add to our liquor cabinet.

Some curious sheep checking
out Venus on our morning walk

We have added this hill
to our morning walk
Are we NUTS or what?
A view from the top
Sunset behind the cloud covered
 mountains from our Finca

Taken at our Finca

The weather is back to normal today as it's already 82 degrees with 94% humidity which means it's just a normal day in the tropics. No plans for today, just hanging around the property taking it easy, working on our Spanish after a morning workout for me.  Just another day of enjoying life, taking it easy, and seeing which way the mango rolls....along the gringo trail.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Portobello... and Fort San Lorenzo...

After our stop in Colon we headed over to Fort San Lorenzo.  Toward the end of the 16th century King Phillip of Spain ordered a fortress to be built overlooking the Chagres River. The purpose of the fort was to protect the land from pirates and slave ships as it offered a clear view of incoming ships.  Originally the fort was built out of wood, but in time deteriorated and was burnt down in 1596 by Francis Drake.  The fort was eventually rebuilt in 1671 but attacked by Joseph Bradley who was one of Captain Henry Morgan's men.  There were 350 men stationed at the fort and all but 30 died in the battle, including all of the officers.  Morgan showed up less than a week later, just in time to see Bradley die of wounds incurred during the attack. 

Our first look at the fort

Cannons at the fort

More ruins

A water view

A new discovery as they expand their digging in the ruins


The castle overlooking the water

The fort was rebuilt by Spaniards but attacked again in 1740 by Sir Edward Vernon, under orders from Britain.  They bombarded the fort with their ships cannons until the Spaniards surrendered.  After destroying the building and killing many, Vernon's men set fire to one of the buildings, destroyed the castle and then sailed off to Portobelo.  In 1761 the fort was repaired and fortified, but never again attacked by pirates.  It was abandoned by the Spaniards in 1821 when Panama became independent.  After Panama became part of Columbia the fort was used as a prison, then as a point of entry for mail from from Britain to Latin America.  During the California Gold Rush in 1849 it served as a campground for adventurers.  The Chagres remained the main inter-ocean route until 1850 when the railroad was built from Colon to Panama City.

The original immigration and customs building


Side view of the fort

Underground barracks, perhaps this is where the officers hid


A large piece of history

Lined up canons

A bird perched on every pillar like they were statues, but they're real

Yes it's a real bird

The 17th and 18th century buildings that remain today are magnificent examples of Spanish colonial military architecture of this era.  In 1980 Fort San Lorenzo was recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.  The fort gives us a fascinating glimpse of what life was like back then.

Church of San Felipe, home of the "Black Christ"

The Black Christ

Close Up of the Black Christ

Old school buses never die, they ship 'em to Panamá where they become chivas

A street dog taking a nap

School kids heading home

An old house in Portobelo

A pet monkey hangin' out on a porch

The town of Portobelo itself, is a run down, sleepy little town with a population of less than 3,000.  Founded in 1597 by Spanish explorer Francisco Velarde Mercado.  Legend has it that Christopher Columbus originally called the city "Puerto Bello" meaning beautiful port in 1502.  From the 16th to the 18th centuries it served as an important port for silver exporting. 
Today Portobelo is a small waterfront community of run down cement block homes, a small grocery store and a few restaurants.  The streets are lined with river rock making for a bumpy walk, while a church and marketplace take center stage in the village square.  The church of San Felipe, has become well-known since it's the home of the "Black Christ."  This carefully guarded, priceless relic is carved out of dark wood which makes it appear black.  Some say it arrived in the village in 1658, but nobody really know when or how it got there.  Every year in October they celebrate the statue with a procession through the streets.  Tens of thousands of pilgrims drive, walk or crawl to the tiny village in October to worship the eight foot statue, hoping for a miracle. 
Our trip was like a step back in time as we walked through ruins of old and towns filled with poverty.  But as we come back to present day we realize how fortunate we are to be able to experience such wonders, as our adventures continue....along the gringo trail.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Our Journey Continued.....Colon

This is a continuation of the last blog, as we made our way to our next leg of the journey.  We bravely ventured into territory where some would say we shouldn't have gone. Colon is the second largest city in Panamá at the Carribbean end of the Canal. Pick up any information on Panamá and it will surely say not to visit Colon.  Downtown Colon is a depressed, run-down area with a mostly Afro-Carribbean population. We noticed hard working, lower class people living in tenements along the waterfront. Some real estate developer could turn this place into a high dollar ocean front city like Miami, if only they had the desire.

Statue of Christ on
the beachfront of Colon

Ships waiting to enter the Canal

View of the town center

The city was founded in 1850 by Americans working on the railroad and was named "Aspinwall" after one of the railroad builders until 1890.  The locals called the city Colon after Christopher Columbus and that name stuck.  Since the city was built on a swampy island it was notoriously unhealthy and often plagued by yellow fever until a new water system and sewerage was installed and the swamps were drained. 

Run Down buildings of Colon

Run Down buildings of Colon

This Apartment doesn't look too bad.
Phil and Sharon's car sneaking in for free advertising

This one is scary!

Some fresh Paint does wonders!

More Freshly Painted apartments

Colon is known for it's Free Trade Zone or "Zona Libre." This giant entity covers over 500 acres and serves as a re-export of an enormous variety of merchandise to Latin America and the Carribbean. An example of a free port, it's the largest one of the Americas and the second largest in the world. It opened in 1948 and sees some 250,000 visitors a year and has 1,751 companies established within it's walls.

Free Zone Warehouses

Sign for Zona Libre

More Warehouses!
It generates exports and re-exports valued at more than US $6.5 billion in 2005, which can count on all the services and facilities offered by the Free Zone, for importing, storing, assembling, re-packing and re-exporting products from all over the world.  From all types of electric appliances to pharmaceutical products, liquor, cigarettes, office and home furniture, clothing, shoes, jewelry, toys, etc.  It is considered the "Trading Showcase" of Central and South America as well as for the Caribbean region.
Dividends arising from external operations or from those operations that are executed or consumed abroad are tax-free. There are no capital investment taxes. Municipal and local taxes do not apply to firms operating in the Free Zone and there are no taxes on shipments to or from the Free Zone from or to anywhere in the world.

During its heyday, Colón was home to dozens of night clubs, cabarets and movie theaters. It was known for its citizens' civic pride, orderly appearance and outstanding native sons and daughters. Politically-instigated riots in the 1960s destroyed the city's beautiful municipal palace and signaled the start of the city's decline, which was further accelerated by the military dictatorships of Omar Torrijos and Manuel Noriega from 1968-1989.

Since the late 1960s, Colón has been in serious economic and social decline. In recent times, the unemployment rate has hovered around 40% and the poverty rate is even greater than that. Drug addiction and poverty have contributed to crime and violence issues which successive Panamanian governments have not addressed effectively.

Our visit just included a walk down the main street for a view of the waterfront.  We managed to survive unharmed as did our vehicles.  We always tell people not to fear going anywhere in Panamá and you can see we follow our own advice.  Life in Panamá is always just one big adventure, for two folks....along the gringo trail.


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