Sunday, March 30, 2014

Dear Faithful Blog Followers........

Just a quick note to let you know that're silly, tell it like it is blogger......has been asked to speak at International Living's - Fast Track Panama: Lifestyle and Opportunity Conference to be held Panama City next weekend! The conference begins on Thursday, April 3rd and runs through Saturday, April 5th. I will be closing out the day on Friday, April 4th at 5:20 for a twenty minute talk along with a slide presentation.

Just thought I'd mention this IN CASE any of my faithful followers will be attending!  If any of you are there, please come up and say hello as we always love to meet blog followers.....along the gringo trail.
Clyde and  Terry on our bohio, Chame, Panama

Panama.....The Land of Endless Summers!

Riba Smith.....Not What You Think

The first time we spotted the store called Riba Smith, it brought to mind the name of a famous country singer. A far cry from reality, Riba Smith was actually the first supermarket chain in Panama started by two families, one named Riba and the other Smith. 

It was back in the late 20's when Jose A. Riba Robira began selling groceries back in the old Panama City, which is known today as Casco Viejo.  Business began to expand too quickly for Riba to keep up with so Lloyd W. Smith joined forces and Riba Smith Supermarkets was born.

Today many a gringo living in Panama ventures into one of their stores to find familiar products from their home countries.  Considered to be the most Americanized supermarket in Panama, Riba Smith is known to carry many of the US imports that some of us just can't live without regardless of the price. Last year Riba Smith Select opened in nearby Coronado with a special assortment of those products that might not be carried in the other three grocery store across the highway. 

And unlike the other grocery chains here, Riba Smith grows much of the produce and plants that they sell in their stores. Yesterday we were allowed a behind the scenes tour of their nursery operations here in Chame. Organized by CASA (Coronado Area Social Association) about twenty gringos set foot onto the grounds of The Riba Smith Vivero.

Our tour guide was Javier who spoke fluent English as he explained the four methods from which they grow plants: seeds, cuttings, grafting's and tissue.  Each of the four types has their own zone within the green house because each requires different amounts of water, fertilizer, sun and shade. Javier received a degree in Agriculture from a US University where he had the chance to practice his English before returning to Panama to work in the family business.

A big thanks to CASA'S Louise and her husband Barry who organized the whole event. Just another day of new experiences and the chance to learn something new.....along the gringo trail.

After taking the tour Riba Smith offered our group a selection of sandwiches, pasta, fruit and drinks. Many CASA members picked up a few new plants to add to their gardens before heading home for the day. 

View of Nursery and Plants Just Starting
Javier explaining things to gringos

Attentive Gringos

Another View
Riba Smith Workers
Irrigation System and More Plants
Entrance To Riba Smith Vivero, Chame, Panama
More of the Vivero Grounds

And More

Making a Purchase

Expansion Project Across The Road


Friday, March 28, 2014

Under The Big Top.....At Renato Circus

Since we've lived in Panama several small traveling circus' have popped up here and there, and last night we finally entered one of these big tents to see the show. "Circo de Renato," or Renato Circus is a Mexican based business that seems to travel through Latin America.  A few weeks ago they made themselves known as they drove into the area showing off the animals in large trucks. A Panamanian friend raved about how great the show was so we decided to check it out ourselves. Besides......our electricity was out yesterday for six hours and we really didn't want to have to talk to each other we went out for the night.

Entrance to Circus......
Notice the dead grass, this is the dry season in Panama
Tent with animals

Camels and Elephants
Posing with hunky performers.....and Renato.....
Yes I do realize it's just a photo!
Clyde dreaming about Cat Ladies

Along the side of the road in the little village of Coloncito, sat the large, colorful tents of "Circo de Renato." We parked the car and joined the crowds that were standing around admiring the animals who looked rather undernourished to me.  Among them were elephants, zebras, horses, camels, tigers and a kangaroo too. "Boleto's" or tickets to the circus were $5, $10 or $15 depending on where one wanted to sit.  We paid just $5 each being jubilados (retirees) but were directed to the cheap seating area anyway. Seats were orange, plastic seats with backs on them which turned out to be a nice surprise as we'd expected wooden bleachers. All seats no matter the price had a great view of the ring since they were elevated in the huge, nicely built tent. In a world where locals live on little money, I thought ticket prices were rather high.  Not to mention the tons of junk food, toys, photo's and other stuff they were selling once inside to get more money out of people.

The worst "raspaduro" ever.....a snow cone topped with a jelly-like syrup
and sweetened condensed milk.  Way too sweet....the Panamanians make them much better!!
Good thing we only bought one!

Ladies dressed in Funky Cat a cage because they're dangerous
Or to keep Clyde away?

Tigers.....oh my!

Renato being silly
Renato seemed to be the main performer who entertained the crowds dressed as a clown for the most part. But this talented performer appeared in just about every stunt sharing the stage with all of the other performers too.

Michael Jackson is Alive.....traveling with a Mexican circus!

Michael Jackson character doing stunts

Renato again.....interrupting the trampoline act

Clowning Around

Camels performing and Renato

Horses....and yes Renato again
And more....

Clyde thought this might be one of the illusive "zonkey's?"......
Half donkey, half zebra?  But we all know Clyde's not quite right!

Elephants.....and guess who that is?

And more.....

Still more.....
Unicyclist performs

A kangaroo boxing with Renato.....Clyde thought this was hysterical

The kangaroo kept kicking him, looked painful.....
perhaps he's had enough of this guy?
The animals acts started the show with Bengal tigers, camels, horses, elephants and even a kangaroo with boxing gloves to delight the crowds. The crew quickly dismantled the animal cage and set up for other acts like trapeze artists, clowns, motorcycles in a cage, daredevil acts and so much more. I'll let the pictures tell the rest of the story since Clyde took a bunch.  And once again we were the only white faces in a crowd of Panamanians, as we enjoyed a fun night under the big top.....along the gringo trail.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Our Ship Came In.....So We Climbed Aboard

This year Clyde and I celebrated our 10th Wedding Anniversary and decided to take a cruise out of Colon, Panama. We mentioned it to a few friends who decided to join us as we set sail on Royal Caribbean's Vision of the Seas.  Although our anniversary was on Valentines Day, February 14th, we didn't cruise until March when prices were more reasonable.

Our Floating Hotel....Royal Caribbean's Vision Of The Seas

Our Final Night Of Dinner With Our Waiters
From Left To Right: Raul, Rey, Anand, Barry and Clyde
In Front Terry, Olive and Louise
Formal Night on the ship


We jumped aboard on March 15th just in time for lunch.  This would be the first of many more trips to the dining room to shovel food into our bellies in massive amounts.  My technique was to start with a salad and lots of vegetables followed by a taste of the fifteen desserts that Clyde had on his plate.  After all we all know that calories don't count if they're on someone else's plate! But seriously by tasting what he had I could decide IF the sweet treat was worth having a whole piece of or if I wanted to try another ten or so. I woke up early and hit the gym a few times in between taking the stairs also.  Our cabin was on deck four and the dining room was on deck nine which made for a nice climb before digging into the food.

If you remember.....a post from last year when we did a similar cruise out of Colon on Pullmantur Cruise Lines? We only saw Cartagena, Colombia from the inside of a hospital since Clyde broke his big toe in the middle of the night in our cabin and needed surgery to fix it. So this time we wanted to see the sights and take advantage of all they had to offer.

Our friends Louise and Barry joined us as we walked past hundreds of taxi's and tour buses that were in our face hoping to get our money. Our strategy was to hold out for the best offer and the longer we walked, the lower the prices went.  Finally one female tour guide followed us asking, "how much did we want to pay?"  She said she'd give us a tour in her air conditioned van for $80 so we kept walking.  We let Barry do the negotiating and finally she agreed on $50 for all of us only if WE could decide where we wanted to go. Last time Louise and Barry were in Cartagena they were pushed into more shopping than they cared for, especially in the area of emeralds which is what the city is known for.

Cartagena, Colombia....This Is For The Birds!

Shopping In Cartagena, Colombia.....Terry and Barry
Two Colombian Ladies

Where's The Beef.....This Was Also In Cartagena

Real Gold Filigree Inside A Museum....Cartagena, CO

A Pretend Emerald Mine In The Emerald Museum, Cartagena, CO
Joyeria Caribe.....Emerald Store  And Museum....The Green In Those Rocks Is Emerald

Time To Make The Jewelry
Natural Emeralds Behind Glass 

New Parrot Friends In Cartagena, CO

Our tour guide named Bigloniza drove us around the town and did stop to encourage shopping here and there.  And she did take us to see the emerald museum where one can also buy expensive emerald jewelry, but the four of us passed.  Hundreds of locals were directly in our face pushing us to buy tee shirts, rosary beads, necklaces, cigars, watches, artwork and hundreds of other items. Clyde and I (or should I say just I) wanted a few things.  I picked up decorative maracas along with a "guiro"....a hollowed out gourd in the shape of a fish.  It has a raised section to scrape a stick on to make music and seemed to go with the purchase of the maracas for $15. And since Colombia is know for coffee, I thought I'd pick up some.  I stopped to look at one selection of coffee when Bigloneesa said, "you can buy if you want, but it is expensive."  So I gave up on that idea until much later when she pointed out a stand selling coffee to us.  She said, "if you want coffee that one is good and cheap." The brand is Don Chico and for $25 we bought three large bags that we divided up with our friends. As I write this I'm enjoying a cup and wished I'd bought more since it is rather tasty.

After our long day walking the streets of Cartagena in 90 degree temperatures, the next day was a day at sea to rest.  Clyde slept in while I hit the gym early before joining him for breakfast.  We found our friends Louise and Barry along with other friends Rey and Olive in the dining room for a breakfast that lasted until noon. We soon realized that the dining room was empty as the crew changed over the food to a lunch buffet.  One of the waiters named Efram stopped to chat and we joked with him about us sitting there to eat all day long.  For some unknown reason he said, "well maybe if you drink green tea it will help everything come out and then you can eat some more." We all laughed about the strange comment but within a few minutes Efram approached our table with six cups of green tea. He said, "here this is for you and now my shift is ending, so I see you later," indicating that we all might just be there when he came back to work the dinner shift? It was funny and we all did drink the green tea as we laughed about it.

After that Clyde and I put on our bathing suits for some fun in the sun.  The outdoor pool was packed with passengers, lots of wind, screaming kids and loud music.  Instead we decided to try the inside "adults only" pool which turned out to be chilly so we squeezed into the hot tub.  The pool featured a retractable roof that allowed the sun to shine through but featured a much more tranquil atmosphere.

The next day found us on the island of Curacao which was our favorite stop on our last cruise.  Since we'd been there before we decided to walk around the town on our own which got old fast in the hot, dry temperatures. We found a city tour for just $25 for the two of us, then bumped into Barry and Louise who came along too. One of the stops was the liquor factory where the famous "curacao" liquor is produced and we took advantage of the sampling of six different flavors.

Our Ship Docked In The Port Of Curacao
The "Wedding Cake" House, Willemstad, Curacao....Unique Architecture

More Affordable Homes In Curacao

The Beaches Of Curacao, Antilles Netherlands
Crisp, Clear Waters Of The Caribbean Sea
More Beautiful Waters In Curacao

Our next days adventures brought us to the island of Aruba where Clyde had his heart set on snorkeling in the beautiful waters of the Caribbean.  I had never snorkeled before in my life and was a bit unsure about the whole process.  Our day began on a large catamaran with about 28 other people.  Winds were fierce as the guide explained that there's NEVER a good hair day in Aruba with the heavy winds. We were treated to water and juices as we sailed to our first snorkeling stop. The guide named Robertson explained nicely that snorkeling is nothing more than floating face down in the water. He went on to instruct us to simply lie down in the water, listen to the sound of our breathing and before long we'd become one with the water just going with the flow. I have to say it really was that wonderful as we floated in the chilly Caribbean waters marveling at fish, coral and other creatures in front of us.  I was hooked on snorkeling and wanted more!  So many more things to discover in this underwater world. We climbed back on the boat and headed out to a deeper spot where we'd be snorkeling over a ship wreck.  The Antilla has been under the water in Aruba since 1940 and is one of the famous diving sights in the area. Our guides warned us to stay close to the boat since the deep waters were rough and choppy not to mention cold. But venture out we did as the waves knocked us to and fro and came up over our heads and down into our snorkels at times.  Because of the rough waters many of the people didn't stay out too long and by the time I climbed aboard I'd felt as if I'd been beaten up a bit by mother nature. 

Our Guide Robertson On A Catamaran In Aruba
A Snorkeling We Will Go

A Stranger Parasailing By Our Boat In Aruba

We Have Arrived At The Beach In Aruba.....Absolutely Gorgeous!!!!
Sipping Rum Punch In The Caribbean Sea In Aruba... Our Boat The Pelican In The Background

Back on the boat we were treated to an open bar so Clyde and I took advantage and sucked down some rum and cokes. Next the boat took us to a gorgeous white, sandy beach where we enjoyed a swim in the crystal, clear blue waters. Robertson our guide walked out into the water with a tray of rum punches to quench our thirst.  Afterwards we were treated to a bbq lunch at a local ocean view bistro and many more cups of rum punch too.  A large meal of grilled ribs, chicken, corn on the cob, macaroni salad, beans, bread and fruit salad filled our bellies. Back on the boat we sucked down some more rum punch on the way back to the pier.  After all with the price of alcohol on the ship being so pricey this was the only time we'd be treated to free cocktails, so why not indulge?

The Bar Is Open Now That Snorkeling Is Done

On Our Way Back To Port We Pass The Carnival Breeze Parked
 In Front Of Our Ship, Vision Of The Seas

After two tiring days in port we had one more, our final stop on the island of Bonaire.  Known to have the best diving in the world we booked another snorkeling trip.  Once off the cruise ship we were greeted by our crew that helped us climb into rubber rafts.  Once again the winds were howling as our raft turned into a white water experience that brought us to our next stop.  From the raft we climbed up the side of an old, wooden Japanese Junk Ship for today's adventure. The crew served us a combination of juices since it was too early for adult beverages just yet.  Our boat soared along the beautiful blue waters and stopped just short of a beach.  Once again we climbed down onto rafts along with our snorkeling gear and walked out onto a white, sandy beach. We hiked maybe a quarter of a mile along the beach following alongside a coral reef. The crew instructed us to do so in order to find a break in the reef to swim in between. The water was crisp and clear with all sorts of beautiful coral and sea life to be seen.  But once on the other side of the reef the waters became deeper and opened up to a spectacular world of sea life.  A virtual amusement park under the sea and we were in awe at the wide array of plants, fish and other creatures allowing us to share their waters. A new experience to me happened as soon as I put my face into the water and felt a painful sting on the side of my face.  Unsure what caused the horrible pain I thought perhaps the mask was pulling on my hair but soon realized I'd been stung by something?  The pain subsided after a few minutes only to start again in another part of my body as I made my way through the underwater pathways. Later I found out I'd encountered "wasp fish" a small version of a jelly fish that appears like a red string in the water.  Our guides said the stings were harmless and would go away in a few days but I still have a few red spots on my body as reminders of our day in Bonaire. Right before exiting the waters Clyde was stung one time, unlike me who provided lunch for many a school of wasp fish.

The Little Raft Took Us Out To Our Ship.....An Old Japenese Junk Ship In Bonaire
Our Captain Steering The Junk Ship.......By The Way That Wheel Moves
I Know Since I Leaned On It And Almost Fell Over.....It Was The Fault Of The Rum!
More Scenery In Bonaire
Our Ship From Afar
The Streets Of Bonaire In The Dutch Caribbean

Posing In Front Of A Time Capsule....Bonaire

A Local Artist Personalizes This Painting For Us Of A Boy And Girl Flamingo.....
Bonaire Is Known For It's Flamingos

Back on the Junk Ship we were pampered with rum punches on our hour long trip back to port.  By the time we picked up our belongings and climbed down into the rafts for our final journey back, I was rather tipsy.  For someone that rarely drinks anything with alcohol I was feeling rather happy that day in Bonaire.  But when you figure the average drink on board the cruise was $8-$10 before they added tips, our free drinks nearly paid the $70-$90 we each paid for snorkeling excursions.

Our last day on the cruise was a much needed day of rest at sea.  We slept in, ate a late breakfast and relaxed by the outdoor pool listening to loud music.  On this cruise we realized there's a world of Latin line dances that we know nothing about.  Besides the typical beat of salsa, rumba, merengue and such there's a whole world of dancing that we need to learn about in order to enjoy our lives in Panama.

Back On Board......A Tour Of The Galley On Vision Of The Seas

500 Gallons Of Soup Anyone?
Some Kind Of Soup For An Appetizer With Tentacles From Octopus

Escargot In Butter And Garlic...The Ship Had Great
 Appetizers And We Usually Had Two Each
First Time We Had This

Lobster And Shrimp With Veggies

Leg Of Lamb....A First For Clyde

And for anyone reading this that's never gone on a cruise, the selling point is this.  You get a lot for the money especially IF you watch the prices and book it while they're down. We booked through and I watched prices until I thought it wasn't going to drop any lower, then booked it. For a seven-day cruise we paid $459 per ticket plus $57.99 for taxes for an ocean-view cabin. So for $516.99 each or less than $74 per day we received this:  ALL the food we cared to eat, from early morning till late at night.  A nice cabin with a large window to see the ocean passing us by.  It had a comfy king-sized bed, tv, private bathroom with shower, sitting area and vanity. We could choose to dine at a buffet or a sit down dining room where they served a three course meal.  During the week we ate lobster, escargots, duck, lamb, prime rib, and filet mignon along with many other varieties of food too. We could drink all the iced tea (unsweetened), lemon aid, fruit punch or coffee we wanted daily or purchase alcoholic drinks and sodas. Plus we were taken to four different ports where we could explore ourselves or book shore excursions either through the cruise line or in port. We absolutely loved  the pampering onboard by a staff from around the world. Crew members represented 51 different countries and all spoke fluent English, as well as other languages. They work a 70-hour week for 7 months at a time, then go home for 3-months to see their families.

A Show In The Six-Story Centrum Theater.....
The Chocolate One In The White Hard Hat Looked Yummy!!!!
A Stingray Towel Creature On Our Bed
All Of  The Wait Staff In Aquarius Dining Room Posing
On Last Night Of Cruise

Last Night Show In Centrum.....The Crew Represents 51 Different Countries Each Holding A Flag And Performing A Bit Of Song And Dance

Today when Clyde woke up he asked me, "so what port are we in today?" And last night he showered and threw his towel on the floor waiting for the maid to pick it up.  Needless to say the maid was not amused and will refrain from saying what part of Clyde's body that towel now belongs to, but at least neither of us went overboard.....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...