Tuesday, June 25, 2013

How Things Have Changed......

As I sit here drinking my cup of cappuccino topped off with a layer of frothed milk, I realize how much my life has changed over the last two years. Two years ago I was a devout, confirmed, anti-coffee, tea drinker that didn't even like the flavor of coffee in ice cream.  But after we moved to Panama and visited a coffee farm in Boquete, I sampled the coffee at the end of the tour and thought "I could get used to this." And get used to it I have so much that not only do we grind our own beans, but just recently we even bought a cappuccino maker with a milk frother too. 

In Texas we ate tortilla chips, here in Panama we eat plantain chips.  Those long, green, things that look like bananas are sliced either lengthwise or into chips and fried to make tasty snacks.  The best "platanitos" or plantain chips can be found at these little grocery stories called "chino's."  These little stores are all owned by Chinese people, that's where the name comes from.  They're packaged in tiny, cellophane bags which makes me wonder if the store owner cooked up a batch earlier that morning in his kitchen?  And that brings to mind another common practice done here that would never be done in the US....eating things from the kitchen of a stranger.

Be it plantain chips, baked goods, candy, cups of fruit or anything else that one can buy on the street corner here that was processed in some one's personal kitchen.  Although I'm a bit of a germaphobe, I've never hesitated to pick up some local goodies from roadside stands to help support the poor, innovative, hardworking Panamanian.  Things are different here and people don't seem afraid to buy this stuff out of home kitchens.  Perhaps people here are naive, crazy or just still trust other people to do the right thing?  We've bought cookies, breads, meringue candy, tamarind candy and other stuff from local stands alongside the road.  Drive through Panama City on any given day and it's easy to find bags of cut up fresh fruit, pizzas, cooked meats, breads and other delights.  Vendors stand in the middle of the street and sell things to drivers stuck in traffic.  But how great is that to be driving home after a long day at work and be able to pick up fresh cut pineapple for very little?  Or a loaf of fresh baked bread to take home to the family?  Yet despite the home made nature of this stuff, the package always seems to have an expiration date listed on it, crazy as that sounds!

My innovative husband decided to try his hand at making plantain chips because he likes to cook, or more likely because he's cheap?  He even picked up a handy-dandy, wooden, plantain slicer to slice up the hard, green gems before frying.  They actually came out good and one plantain between us was plenty for a cheap snack. 

Plantain Slicer

This is what the plantains look like,
For frying, the greener the better

The plantains peeled and
ready to slice

The perfect slices ready to fry

Yes, I am using vegetable oil
they don't seem to soak up the oil
as bad as potatoes do

The finished product
perfect "platanitos"

A few weeks ago it was time for Clyde to get the stitches taken out of his toe after he broke it on the cruise (refer back to blog called "Caribbean Cruise To Hospital"). Our Spanish teacher Jasmine suggested a local clinic located right on the highway and told us we'd be charged $1 to $2 per "punto," or stitch that had to be removed.  The place was called something like Montenegro Clinic and probably had 20 people waiting to be seen by a doctor when we walked in.  Jasmine said there's three doctors there, her favorite being Dr. Ortega but there's also Dr. Montenegro and a female doctor too.  Clyde explained to the receptionist what he needed and she asked us to come back in one hour which we did.

We were escorted into a small room where I sat in a chair and Clyde sat up on the exam table.  Next to the chair where I sat was a stash of drug samples piled high on a book shelf.  Having worked as a medical assistant back in Texas, I know drug samples are NOT made accessible to the public for obvious reasons, but here things are different and there they sat right out in the open.  The doctor entered the room, a middle-aged man wearing a dress shirt and slacks with a stethoscope hung around his neck.  He chatted with Clyde in Spanish inquiring as to what happened to his foot before removing the stitches.  As we left the clinic we paid the receptionist $10 cash for his services, so apparently we were charged $2 per stitch, less than we paid WITH insurance back in the states!

Our computer died beyond repair, so yesterday we made the trek into Panama City to buy a new one.  The computer savvy young man that diagnosed the problems on our old one suggested one particular store to shop at, so that's where we headed.  A place called YoyTec who's up-to-date website listed all of the models that they had in the store, and which ones were in English and Spanish.  Before we left  I suggested to Clyde that he write down the name and model number of the one he was interested in, before we left for the long drive and it's a good thing he did.

Inside YoyTec was a large counter with one line for internet purchases and another for sales.  To one side was a row of computers for customers to use, apparently a type of virtual showroom since there was NO actual showroom with items on display.  Clyde gave the item number to the man behind the counter who sent a runner to fetch the computer.  Next we were sent to the cashier to pay for the laptop that was still in a box and we hadn't actually seen yet.  And then to one more window we we'd pick up the item.  It's at this station that the clerk usually opens the box, sets up the device to show the customer that it's in working condition before it leaves the building.  You see here in Panama it's takes almost an act of God to return anything, so it's important to make sure it's really what you want before purchasing.  But since the electricity was out in this computer store we were sent next door to their service department where a generator was running.  There the man plugged in the laptop and had Clyde go through the prompts for initial setup, verifying that it  worked and that nothing was missing from the box. 

While driving through Panama City we noticed the price of gas was a bit cheaper than here in the interior.  It was selling for $1.01 per liter which is something else we've been forced to finally learn a little of.....the metric system! 

Yesterday was a cool rainy day with temperatures hovering around 22 degrees Celsius which translates to around 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Recently while grocery shopping Clyde ordered two kilograms of turkey breast, thinking he was asking for ONE pound.  The clerk kept cutting and piling the meat up high on the scale.  Clyde was getting upset and finally told him, "no mas, solomente dos kilos."  Finally we figured out we had the conversion backwards.  Two kilos is about 4-1/2 pounds so instead we should have asked for 1/2 of a kilo instead of asking for two.  Instead we walked away with over four pounds of meat which turns out freezes nicely and we just take out what we'll use that week.  The grocery stores here recently converted from pounds to kilos making everyone confused.

On the roads here we drive between 60 and 100 kilometers per hour instead of miles.  Land is measured in hectares instead of acres or meters squared and not square footage too.  When I bake it's at 176 degrees instead of 350, since the oven is also metric.  So besides struggling with learning Spanish we're also learning a bit of the metric system, something we probably should have learned years ago.

Well I think it's time for another cup of coffee which is brewed so strong here that it's served "mitad y mitad," or half and half. I didn't realize this until one morning on the cruise when the waiter asked this question and I watched him pour half a cup of coffee into the cup and top it with half a cup of hot milk.  Funny to think we live in a world of people pumped up on coffee here when they move so slow at everything they do. And I do think we're moving a bit slower now too since there's nothing that really has to be done right now, since there's always tomorrow....along the gringo trail.


  1. Yes, we Americans should have really learned the metric system ages ago (I mean, isn't that what we started on way back when)--we should be in sync with the rest of the world (in my opinion). Also, did you and Clyde ever take pills (I don't know name) every four months when you first got to Panama to ward off upset tummies from the changes in food, bacteria, etc I am reading that other bloggers are doing this, but I hadn't thought of the need. Just curious.

  2. Just a quick note to tell you guys that I really enjoy reading your blog. You have writing skills I can only dream about and Clyde has excellent photography skills.
    Keep it up and thank you for keeping in touch. I am heading for Oklahoma August 2 to attend a Wilson family reunion. By the way, I was in Portland a couple of weeks ago and I went by and had lunch with Barry and Marybeth Coles. Great fun. We plan on spending more time together.

  3. Concerning the food made in people's kitchens. Remember one of your first blogs, about the eggs, in the US, they require the farms to wash the eggs, thus removing the natural protective coating. Requiring refrigeration, end result more spoilage, more people getting sick. Our rules and regulations, not always for the best. Keep enjoying your roadside goodies...


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...