Saturday, February 22, 2014

Rollin' On The River.....

Yesterday for the first time we ventured out in our NEW...two- year old kayaks.  Let me explain!  Soon after we moved to Panama me being fitness conscious decided we should buy kayaks. It would provide us with exercise, something to do, and a way to explore the beautiful waterways throughout the country.  Immediately we ordered some from Price Smart, a local warehouse members only store and a few weeks later we picked them up.

It was simple for me to come up with this great idea, but now how to attach them to the top of our car for transport, well that was Clyde's problem. We found the brackets needed at a local car parts store in Panama City to hold the kayaks on top of the car.  But they wanted the ridiculous price of $130.00 each for them,  we needed two and the store only had one. So Clyde knew he could come up with some other way much cheaper.  Then as it happens life got in the way. We bought this house, moved out of the rental house and ended up remodeling the whole thing. Painted every room, changed out ceiling tiles, ceiling fans, lights, a complete kitchen and bathroom remodel before we were done. Not to mention the acre of outside space that Clyde takes care of.  Plenty of mowing, trimming, picking up fruit, burning brush, replanting and so much more. 

Getting Ready To Go
Clyde's New Kayak Rack
Fast forward two and a half years and Clyde came up with a rack design made out of PVC pipe to attach to the top of the car for mounting the kayaks. Yesterday was our maiden voyage on the Rio Chame.  Winds were calm, the day was gorgeous as they all are and sunny and we headed just a few miles up the road to the turnoff. We drove through the little town of Cabuya where the locals were pulling large float parts out of a garage in preparation of their celebration of Carnival next month. The road dead ends at the river where a few street dogs were lazily hanging out and locals kids were playing in the water.

Terry Ready To Paddle Her Butt Off
Some Locals Under A Bohio Along The River
More Locals Enjoying The Day
After scoping out the situation we took down the kayaks and pulled them down to the river.  I immediately noticed millions of tiny tadpoles swimming nearby and was thankful that I was wearing water shoes so they didn't nibble on my feet. After mounting the boats we paddled down stream having to stop at one point where the water was too shallow.  We had to walk over the rocks pulling the boats behind us, me struggling and Clyde had to help with the heavy load. Once again we paddled some more until we realized the water was just too shallow and rocky, so we turned around and went the other way. We explored in the other direction until we hit a dead end there too. This is the dry season and since we haven't had any rain in months water levels are low.  But the kayaks handled great in only a few inches of water and felt very stable.

A Tadpole In Clyde's Hand
 Many More Tadpoles
Chame River

Terry Paddlin' Up Ahead

Captain Clyde

Headin' Into A Tiny Inlet.  Clyde Had To Pull Me Out Since It Was Too Narrow
 To Turn The Kayaks Around And Too Narrow To Keep Going

So at least we've had our trial run now and we'll see where we head on our next kayak adventure.....along the gringo trail.

Friday, February 21, 2014

It's A Good Day In Panama When....

A few days ago in the middle of the day we heard a truck outside.  Our dogs along with all the neighborhood dogs began barking at this strange sensation pulling up to our property. Men dressed in bright red jumpsuits walked up to our trash bin and picked up the bags and took them back to the big truck.  Clyde and I were excited and thought, "it's a good day in Panama because the trash was picked up."  Never before in my life do I remember being so happy over the trash pickup. When we first moved to Panama and were told we had trash pickup, I was actually shocked.  I really didn't expect it here at all.  The trash is supposed to be picked up two times a week but for the past six months we're lucky if they come once. And for a while they'd only come once a month because from what we heard, the truck was broke. When they don't come pickup for a while Clyde takes the bags to the office of the trash company where he and many others drop them in front of the door. Now frustrating as this all may be, the upside is that our trash pickup costs around $5 per month.

So this got me thinking about the things we accept as "normal" here that wouldn't be tolerated back in the states.  These are the things they don't tell you in those pricey magazines that write about how wonderful it is living abroad.  And our life here is wonderful but we have changed our definition of what's acceptable now, and you'll see why as you read on.

My dear hubby recently read that Panama has reliable water and electricity.  The part they left out is that it's reliable only when it's on. Frequently our water goes off for no apparent reason for anywhere from an hour to a whole day.  Fortunately we have two holding tanks of water along with a pressure pump that pushes it through for those many times when the city water is off.  When the town water is off we conserve, not doing six loads of laundry that day, watering the lawn or washing the car. But the upside is that it only costs us between $4.50 and $5.50 per month for good, drinkable water.

Our Two Water Tanks
Pump is in the purple box

As for the electricity, it's common to have short breaks in power for a few seconds, just enough to screw up the microwave clock. Some of our friends experience longer periods without electricity but for us it hasn't been too bad.  Because of the breaks in power we have surge protectors on all major appliances to keep them from being zapped. The upside of the electric here is our monthly bill costs us between $30-$40 per month, but we do live comfortably without air conditioning.

Surge Protector
One for Fridge and one for Microwave

Since the rate for electricity is high Panamanians try to use much and instead use propane.  We use propane for cooking, heating our water, drying our clothes and our bbq pit outside. We have four of these small propane bottles and when they run out, Clyde swaps it with one of the others.  So when cooking and the gas runs out we borrow one from the dryer, or vice versa.  Next time we're out he swaps out the whole tank at a local store, paying around $4.85 for a filled bottle, obviously the upside of using propane here.

Our On Demand Water Heater
with Propane Bottle

Go into any public restroom in Panama and there will be a sign on the wall in Spanish saying not to throw paper into the toilet. On a good day there will actually be paper in the restroom, but that's another story. Most of us that live here follow this practice and don't flush paper.  I know here at the house we have a septic but elsewhere I'm not sure why no one flushes paper but again it's something we've come to accept as normal.

More than once we've been at the checkout in a department store and the scanning bar on something we want to purchase won't scan.  The cashier tries repeatedly to hand key the number and sometimes even calls over her supervisor.  Still the item won't scan and the cashier tells us this indicating that we can't buy the item, end of story. I spent 13 years working in retail management in the states and know there are ways to get an item rung into the register, but not in Panama.  If it doesn't scan they can't sell it.....period!

And since we're on the subject of shopping, they don't like letting anyone try on white clothing, for fear it will get dirty. One time I tried on five different white blouses and was instructed by the clerk in Spanish, "not to get them dirty." Another time Clyde asked to try on a pair of white shorts and was told, no.  Apparently he looked dirtier than me.  Then the clerk asked him to put them back on the rack and he told her in Spanish, "no I'm too dirty."

Another time I was shopping for bathing suits and even though the sign said, "bathing suits could not be tried on," I played dumb and stood in line.  The clerk had to ask her manager who said it was ok but after carefully examining the suits one was missing the sanitary shield that protects the crotch. The manger took the suit away from me and I was not allowed to try it on or buy it apparently because it was gone when I came back out.

And one time Clyde tried on a button down shirt over his shirt in the middle of the men's department. A clerk quickly came over and told him he was not allowed to do that and would have to go into the dressing room. But the upside of all these clothing issues in the store, are the cheap, cheap prices for good quality clothing, sometimes with tags from US stores like Macy's, Walmart, Sears and more. Recently I picked up a Ralph Lauren gown that had a Macy's tag marked $150, but my price was just $50. And one last note on shopping is that once a purchase is made it cannot, never, ever be brought into the next store despite the many staples they put into the bag to seal it. They have packaterias that hold you purchases until you're done shopping in their store.

The roads here are not maintained the same as they are in the US.  Potholes are patched with loose rock which only lasts until the next time it rains.  But the upside is that we pay no taxes to fix the roads so we really can't complain.  The main highway is in good shape it's only the side roads that we have to watch out for.

We get asked a lot, "does it really rain in Panama for eight months?" to which we say, "it can."  The prolonged rainy season here simply means that it CAN rain at anytime during that eight month period, but doesn't mean that it WILL.  Just like in the US some days it rains, and some days it doesn't. It usually never rains for the whole day, just a quick shower or downpour sometimes accompanied by lighting and thunder for a nice display of mother's nature force.  The benefit of the rain is obviously that everything grows! We're surrounded by lush, tropical flowers, fruit trees, plants, shrubs and so much more.  Our hair and skin is enveloped in moisture all day long which makes me feel soft and supple.  I use less hair conditioner and moisturizer here if any at all.  And my pin strait hair now has body, sometimes even curls in this hot, humid environment.

Panama is hot and humid year round with cooler temps only up at the higher elevations.  Despite the hot temps Panamanians only wear shorts at home or on the beaches.  In public wearing long pants or jeans is the norm.  Women like to dress them up with sexy tops and high heels too. So to fit in with the locals and not look like tourists, we do wear jeans when we head into Panama City.  Clyde wears jeans all the time around our area too but I go with capris or dresses for the cooler approach. And some of the government offices and banks don't allow people in wearing shorts or flip flops so that's another reason we have to be careful. Squeezing my butt into jeans when it's 90 degrees outside is one of those things we've come to accept as normal here.

A few days ago on the highway we got stuck in the middle of a political parade.  Cars were all decorated with colorful flags and banners, honking and waving to people along the roadside.  Clyde turned off the highway attempting to take back roads to where we were going, only to drive straight into a political rally. Streets were packed with people, large tanks filled with water spraying the crowds and more. Quickly we turned around and went the other way. And yesterday on our morning walk we had to move aside to let a local band of kids go by, playing instruments and all. Yes, life is different here, but that's part of the fun that we've come to accept as normal.

Despite the different way things are done here it's a good day in Panama because we don't have to go to work.  Instead we might pack up our kayaks and take them to a nearby river for a day of paddling up stream.....along the gringo trail.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

An Unknown Sweet Treat In Panama......

The Santa Rosa Sugar Refinery was an unknown sweet treat that we discovered yesterday.......or maybe not. Let's back track.....two blog followers Kay and Farouk visiting from Arizona are staying at a local resort.  Since we first met them we've hung out with them several times, showed them around to some of our favorite spots, and had a blast. So we get an email inviting us to join them on a trip to the town of Aguadulce yesterday.  The letter says that they're headed out to find the Ingenio de Azucar Santa Rosa, better known as the sugar refinery.  SWEET.....we thought.....ok so I just had to throw that in there since we're talking about sugar, get it? Actually, we'd never heard of the place but it sounded like something fun to see.

"borrowed" picture
of Sugar Cane in

Immediately I did some research only to discover that tours of the plant had to be booked 24 hours in advance.  Clyde called yesterday but was told, "no more tours," but we took the road trip anyway since Kay said there was also a museum in Aguadulce.  After asking a few locals for directions we managed to find the museum. The small two story building housed rocks from the area on the first floor.  The second floor had a display of art, artifacts and history of Aquadulce and it's people.  The women that showed us around appeared proud of her heritage as she carefully explained in Spanish everything about the assortment of stuff.

Small Museum in Aquadulce

Local Rocks

The women in the museum gave us directions to the refinery so we headed back onto the highway to find it.  In the distance we saw large plumes of black smoke and wondered if they were burning the sugar cane?  We stopped at the guard gate and were asked if we had an appointment, to which I explained no.  The guard sternly told us that we could not enter without one especially since there was a fire today.  While sitting there a fire truck came flying by with sirens blasting, apparently the dark smoke was from a real fire and not a routine burning.  We pulled the car over and attempted to call inside for an appointment, but then realized if the place was on fire it would better be left for another time.  As we drove back toward the highway several more fire trucks headed over to the sugar refinery indicating that this was a real problem.  This time of year in Panama is the dry season and Panamanians love to burn. They burn grass, trash, shrubs, fireworks and more so fire is common around here these days.

Cemetery outside of Aguadulce
You can see black smoke
from the fire in the background

The Santa Rosa Refinery processes 6500 tons of raw sugar cane per day from mid January to mid March each year. Because of the rocky, hilly terrain the cane must be processed by hand with the help of some 4,000 hired hands. They work fast and furious for six days a week, 24 hours a day.  Approximately 300,000 pounds of cane enters the mill each second by a huge conveyor belt that's fed from trucks coming in from the field.  By the end of each day they yield 1.5 million pounds of sugar.
But since we didn't make it past the guard we'll have to try another time before the season ends.

On our way back we stopped to explore the town of Penonom√© before heading back to Chame.  Since Farouk loves to cook our new friends invited us to dinner at their place.  We dined on delectable osso buco made with beef shanks instead of veal. This traditional Italian dish is a combination of meat and vegetables braised in white wine, slow cooked until the flavors blend together. Farouk served it with pasta, salad and wine for a delicious end to a wonderful day. An assortment of gourmet ice creams for dessert satisfied our sweet tooth also.

Kay and Farouk

We've made some great friends through this blog and love to meet readers while they're visiting Panama. So if you're out there lurking drop us a line and maybe we'll meet up someday.....along the gringo trail.

Update:  Just got back from our walk around the neighborhood.  Had to stop to let a high school band go by that was marching, instruments and all.  Then the road was taken over by cows that knocked down the fence onto their property.  We didn't know how bulls would react to gringos in their midst, so we thought it best to go the other way. Always an adventure in Panama!

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