Friday, December 26, 2014

Another Christmas Goes Out With A Bang...........

Christmas Eve in Panama is full of parties with friends and family before an explosive night of fireworks that light up the night sky. Panamanians love fireworks and take every advantage to shoot them off outside of their homes since they're perfectly legal here and not too expensive.


Since Clyde and I had no plans for Christmas Eve this year we decided to head out for dinner.  Surprisingly, the stores were still open but most of the restaurants, other than fast food, were closed.  But Clyde knew one place that was surely open in Nueva Gorgona.  Located at the Bahia Resort is a fairly new restaurant called Bluwater Bistro.  This upscale, open air restaurant is situated surf-side on beautiful Gorgona beach.  We enjoyed some fine dining while listening to the waves crash against the shore, as the balmy night breezes blew gently through my hair.  My food selection was mahi mahi fish taco's while Clyde enjoyed some linguini with sausage. Both dishes were yummy and reasonably priced considering the location and surroundings of the nicely developed resort.

From there we stopped to pick up some margarita mix to go with the tequila we had at the house along with some cheesecake for dessert.  The rest of the evening was spent watching the old classic, "It's A Wonderful Life," while getting tipsy and overindulging on sugar.  But after all, isn't that what the holidays are all about?

Christmas Day we headed up into the mountains to the town of Sorá to see friends Paul and Nancy. As owners of the Sunrise Sunset Guest House of Sorá, this was the perfect setting for Christmas brunch.  A group of about 15 provided delectable delights such as sausage and eggs, pancakes, waffles, egg casserole, breakfast cheesecake, cookies, fruit, flan and so much more. We washed it all down with Mimosa's (orange juice mixed with champagne) and chatted the day away while enjoying the mountain views all around us.

My Festive Ho Ho Shirt.....It's Really An Old Nightshirt

On our way home Clyde wanted to stop in the town of Bejuco for some "fuegos artificiales" or "fireworks." Since we've never bought any in the three years we've lived here, we really had no idea of what to expect. But we were surprised to find the small store neat, clean and the man and women behind the counter were very friendly. Clyde was on the lookout for "sky lanterns, " or "Chinese lanterns" as they're also called.  Last year on New Years Eve we attended a beach party with friends and for the first time in our lives we were enchanted by these gorgeous, light filled bags that floated into the sky. So this year Clyde wanted to have some of his own to release into the night sky along the beach as we welcome in the New Year. But the store clerk had no idea what we were asking for so we kept explaining until he figured it out.  I think he referred to the things as "globos," which means "balloons" in Spanish.  The funny part of this story is that he could not sell us the lanterns because they belonged to someone else's inventory.  He had to first call the other vendor and we had to wait until she arrived, still getting dressed with her sandal straps undone and dragging behind her.  Although the prices were on the lanterns and the women did absolutely nothing when she arrived, it was the protocol that she had to be present when her merchandise was being sold.

Fuegos Artificiales Or A Fireworks Store

Another View

After paying our $15 for four sky lanterns we headed out and jumped into our car.  I suggested a drive along the highway to take photos of "muñecas" before they go up in smoke with the new year.  A local tradition is to make life size dolls, "muñecas" that look like undesirable people, things or represent something that must go away.  These dolls are constructed from old clothes, paper mache, coconuts or whatever else they can find and packed with fireworks.  At midnight on New Years Eve they're set on fire and all watch as the fireworks explode.  This is a symbolic way to get rid of the old to make way for the new good things that come with the new year.  As another year goes out with a bang we're thankful for our new lives, our good health, our wonderful relationship and to all that cross our paths......along the gringo trail.

muñecas on the roadside




A Politician

Friday, December 19, 2014

Giving Back To The Community.......

For the past few years we've been involved with CASA (Coronado Area Social Association) which is simply a social group made up of mostly foreigners.  CASA members meet monthly at President Louise's bohio (outdoor gazebo area) for a coffee social, wine and cheese event or anything else that comes to mind. But one of our most special events is raising money for 80 baskets of food that are donated to families with handicapped kids around the holidays. Since Clyde is the Vice President on the CASA board he volunteered to help out and go buy the food.  Since it sounded like fun to me.....that is being able to spend money and shop, I went along to help.  Louise gave us a list of what needed to go into each basket, and we set out to three different grocery stores last week to compare prices.

Local businesses also get involved as they buy some of the food to help the money go further. purchased 80 canned hams, Ferreteria HIM (ferreteria is Spanish for hardware store) bought a bunch of food items, and Mailboxes Etc.  donated reusable bags to hold the food. The Coronado Equestrian Club donated space in their office to store the food which will also serve as a place to build the baskets with other CASA members.  And what a treat it was when our favorite band, "Poco Locos" came out of retirement and did a fundraiser performance that helped cover the costs of the food.

Poco Loco's Band
Clyde determined that a grocery store called, "Super 99" had the lowest prices so today he and I were off to pick up the goods.  Originally his idea was to collect one of each item on our list, bring it to the front of the store and ask, "if they had cases of each item in the stockroom."  But instead we just started counting out 80 of each of the 17 items and putting them into grocery carts. One cart went to two, then three, four etc....... until a nearby employee noticed and brought over some boxes. Having a background in retail management and Clyde having one in grocery management we thought the store would be upset that we were emptying their shelves.  We began explaining to the employee what we were doing and asked if they had cases of each item. Turns out they didn't have back-stock of most of the items and they didn't seem to mind us taking from the store shelves.  Before we knew it we had 6-10 stocking clerks helping pull the items and pack them into boxes along with us.  They put each box into carts and helped us get the carts up to the checkout.  We explained to the cashier why we were buying so much also as she diligently counted out 80 of each item. The same stockers helped repack the items into the same boxes before carrying them out to our car.  Although we didn't think we'd fit everything into our Toyota Rav4, surprisingly it all fit.  Clyde thought we'd have to put the toilet paper on top and tie them down but they too managed to slip inside. Our car was so packed with stuff that I had a place to park my butt but literally no leg room.

Stock Boys Loading Up Our Car

In The End The Toilet Paper Fit Inside of The Car

Our Helpers Working Hard
Vacant House Used For Storage Facility

More Stuff Piled Up

And More....
Ferreteria HIM In The Back Of This Mini Mall

The baskets will be distributed on January 6 which is also the Feast Of Three Kings here in Panama.  Each child will be made to feel like a king or queen as they're crowned with foam crowns made prior to the event by CASA members.  A local woman and church get involved to serve up lunch and ice cream as CASA volunteers hand out balloons.  Many of the gringo's like ourselves get involved with local orphanages, churches and other groups that serve to help the community.  It's nice to give a little something back to the community and help those less fortunate than ourselves.  The holidays are a time of giving, sharing and being grateful for our new lives in this beautiful country we now call home......along the gringo trail.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

An Afternoon On The Town.......

One day last week we were in need of some groceries and I insisted that Clyde take me out to lunch before shopping. Off to our favorite cheap restaurant we went, which coincidentally IS inside a grocery store. "Café Caney" is a large, cafeteria style restaurant that's attached to El Machetazo, a local department store chain but on the grocery side. With a choice of maybe ten different meats and many more sides, there's something for everyone.  But first we had to figure out just what each item was before making our final decision.  Usually on "Viernes" or Friday they have a delicious, lightly breaded, fried fish, but yesterday, "no hay," in other words, "they didn't have any." We saw a variety of "pollo"....chicken and "puerco" .....pork, some of which was pink and resembled ham but the clerk said it wasn't "jamon."   We selected something that looked like a boneless pork chop although it went by some other name.  Pork chops here are called, "chuleta," and this was not that but something else. The girl dished out two pieces of meat which we knew was enough for both of us to share.  We added some sides.....potato salad for Clyde and a Greek salad for me and as always we drank the free water that's offered.  Our whole bill came to a whopping $4 and some change......a cheap, tasty lunch for two in Panama.

Next I wanted some gold shiny ribbon to tie onto ornaments for the Christmas tree, so upstairs we went to the fabric department in the same store. Quickly I found what I wanted and waited at the cutting table for the clerk to come over and cut the ribbon for us but no one ever showed up. Nearby the fabric department is a counter that does gift wrapping along with sales of gift cards.  With Christmas just around the corner there was a long line of customers waiting to have packages wrapped for FREE. Clyde went over to the gift wrapping desk to ask them to call someone to the cutting table.  One of the women told him in Spanish that she would be there as soon as she finished wrapping the package she was working on.  We waited......and waited.....and waited what seemed like an eternity.  The women carefully, and ever so slowly wrapped the box neatly before adding a bow, card and whatever else the customer wanted.  It must have taken here 20 minutes or more before she came over to cut my ribbon.  The pretty gold ribbon was just 15 cents per meter and we asked for 10 meters since it was so cheap.

Frustrating as it might be, Panamanians are the most patient people in the world and nothing, I mean nothing makes move quicker or hurry at anything.  But this trait IS what makes most gringo's fall in love with Latin American countries.  The mere fact that the locals are laid back and seem to live life at a much slower pace then the rest of the world.  Yet it eventually turns into a frustration of every day life here and just something that we have to get used to.

Downstairs we paid for our ribbon and a few groceries at the register. Like so many others, our cashier was amused by our credit card that proudly displays a photo of Clyde and I smiling nicely.  Apparently credit cards here don't offer the option to put a photo on them, something we find a great security bonus.  As usual the cashier showed the card to the baggers and other nearby cashiers, all smiling and making comments about how nice it is to have our photo on the card.

During the transaction before ours the cashier dropped something into the folds of the chair she was sitting on. Without getting up she searched, felt around and did everything she could to retrieve the coin without moving off of the chair.  You see cashiers here ALL SIT at their registers and they WILL NOT move for any reason.  Perhaps they're told when they get hired that IF they move off the stool they will be fired?  Or just maybe there's a special breed of Panamanian that's born with chairs permanently affixed to their butts and they're destined to be cashiers? Whatever the case may be if your ice cream doesn't make it's way down the conveyor belt the cashier WILL NOT, for any reason get up to reach for it.  That my friend is the job of the customer to make sure that ALL of the groceries move along the conveyor belt.  Once the items are scanned by the cashier the baggers on the other end will bag the groceries and tie the bags shut.  On the rare occasion that a cashier does not have a bagger she will NOT bag anything that's out of her reach, but instead it will just sit there.  Typically in Panama EACH cashier will have 3-6 bag boys that stand around, eager to help who we think only work for tips from the customers. And these bag boys will take your groceries outside to your car, a taxi stop or even to a bus stop for a small tip in return.

After lunch we jumped into the car and headed off to the town of San Carlos, about ten minutes away for our produce.  A tiny co-op sits in the center of this busy village that's loaded with local produce, beans, meats, eggs and other stuff at low prices since it's where the locals shop. Typically we spend maybe $10-$15 for enough produce to last a few weeks.  Such items include cabbage, carrots, onions, bell peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, egg plant, celery and fruits such as bananas and pineapple. 

Our next stop was a local "panaderia," or bakery where we could get some ice cream.  At first it seemed strange to us that a bakery would sell "helado"..... ice cream but why not?  We've all enjoyed cake with ice cream at birthday parties so why not merchandise them together?  The prices per large scoop are 80 cents for one or $1.30 for two, served in a Styrofoam cup.  I choose "cereal" which is called that cause it's sprinkled with a grape nut type of cereal throughout. Clyde wanted his favorite "fresa" or strawberry but the closest thing they had was neapolitan so he went for that.  Unlike the vanilla, chocolate, strawberry that goes by the name neapolitan in the states, this version had all three flavors swirled together.....not a pretty sight, but he ate it anyway.

Then off for our usual grocery shopping experience which has become normal to us after living here for three years now.  Some oddities in the grocery stores here:  whole chickens are sold with the feet and head.  Milk is sold in boxes and not refrigerated, although the usual cold version is here too. Eggs are displayed on a shelf near the produce in one store and near the meats in another, but are never refrigerated. This time of year raisins and other dried fruits are sold near the fresh produce since they're used for holiday baking.....fruit cake is popular here and rather tasty.  Dried green tea and other herbs are sold in the pharmacy as well as the tea aisle.  Panamanians go to their garden when ill instead of the pharmacy. Herbal teas made from scratch are widely used here to alleviate all types of ailments. Just heard about a remedy for colds from a friend who heard it from a local.  Take 7 mango leaves from a tree and boil them in 1- 1/2 cups of water. Boil until it reduces down to a small amount then drink it as a tea.  It will stop a cough help the person sleep though the night.

Yesterday was Mother's Day in Panama along with the Feast of The Immaculate Conception.  Stores everywhere had racks displaying nightgowns and pajamas for 99 cents for Mama along with mugs and other silly little gifts. But the day is really all about people going to visit their Mom's since family values are a big part of everyday life in Latin cultures. As for us gringo mother's and father's alike we wasted away the afternoon hours socializing with friends over sangria. It was CASA (Coronado Area's Social Association) Kickoff to The Holidays Party at our friend Louise's house. Everyone enjoyed some adult beverages as we watched the sunset over the palm trees in her backyard. Another end to a great day in Panama with friends......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...