Gone Fishin’

We have the very best landlords possible.  Jonathan and Melissa are a young couple that own our apartment complex.  They have been super accommodating and are just the best.  When we’ve had any issues, they’ve dealt with them promptly.  They have made adjusting to Panama so much easier.

Guy chats with Jonathan about hunting, fishing, Panama…whatever comes up.  During one of these conversations, Guy asked Jonathan about beaches and diving.  As they were talking, Jonathan offered to take us out for fishing or diving or just boating around to see what is out on the coast.  All for just the cost of the fuel.

What a deal!  We took Jonathan up on his offer and his first free day, we headed out at 6 a.m.  We drove for about an hour to Boca Chica, a coastal town, where his boat is stored. Carlos, the marina owner, is Colombian and speaks excellent English.  He launched the boat using a tractor to take the boat down the ramp.  We boarded the boat and were off on our mini cruise by 8 a.m.

It was such a gorgeous day!  Blue skies, huge, cottony clouds and blue, blue Pacific Ocean.

It took us about an hour to get to our destination, Islas Secas, a group of islands southeast of Boquete in the Gulf of Chiriqui.  I think that the only place there are people living is on the largest island.  This island is private and has a cool looking resort, the Islas Secas Resort.  The resort has 7 casitas that are styled after yurts (used by various Asian nomadic peoples.)  From the water it looks like a place I’d love to stay at.  But I’ll have to save up some dinero first.

Jonathan’s set up was 4 poles in the water as we trolled around the islands.  At first he was a little disappointed at how many fish we got.  But once we figured out that we averaged over a fish an hour, we all were pretty pleased.  Especially since most people that we heard over the radio weren’t catching anything.  We caught 4 needle fish, 2 bonito, 1 barracuda, 1 mackerel and 1 rainbow runner.

The fishing was fun and so was just being on the boat.  But the highlight of the day was the dolphins.  Heading out to the islands we saw a few.  Later in the morning though, we were cruising along and had a huge pod of dolphin join us for a race across the ocean.  It was soooooo cool!

Check out this video Guy was able to make with his iPhone.  At about 14 seconds in you can see a pair jumping together.  It’s a mom and baby.  It was  awesome!

A bit later Guy wanted to go swimming.  We had forgotten our snorkeling gear (we’ll never make that mistake again!!!) but Jonathan had a spare mask on board.  So we found a shallow area safe to anchor the boat and Guy jumped in.  Earlier in the day the beach was several feet deep.  By the time Guy went swimming, the beach was almost gone with the tide.  He saw many very cool underwater fish and took pics with his Lifeproof-covered iPhone.  But unfortunately the Lifeproof cover failed and the pictures didn’t turn out.  Oh, the iPhone and cover are going back to Lifeproof for replacement.  Brand new phone and cover.

In the shelter of a couple of the islands that we circled as we trolled were 4 or 5 shrimping boats.  It was a holiday so they may have been taking a few hours off to celebrate.  I loved how they looked against the islands.  Reminded me of a pirate movie.

I love being out on the ocean and I love boats.  The water was so deep blue and there was just enough wind to make the water interesting and yet not rock the boat too much.  And the islands were beautiful.  The wild beauty of nature that you know will never be conquered by man.  These pictures just don’t do it justice but I hope that you can at least get a sense of the awe and even peace that I felt.

As we headed in the seas were rougher as the wind was picking up.  It was a bit rough but exhilarating at the same time.  But I was glad when we hit the marina area and slowed down coming in.  It was almost dark when we finally docked.

Jonathan pays $60 extra each time he takes the boat out.  This includes the launch, bringing the boat out, cleaning the boat, cleaning the fish and filling the fuel tank as well.  Our total for the day, including gas, fish and everything was $200 total. Not bad for a full day of fishing, cleaned and bagged fish and nothing else to do but get in the truck and go home.

This has nothing to do with fishing but it’s definitely part of being in Panama:

A whole herd of cows heading down the road to who knows where.  At the head and end of the pack were several vaqueros.  The cows seemed really focused on getting somewhere else so they didn’t really mind us.  We simply passed slowly on the left.

We didn’t cook any fish until the next day as we didn’t get home until after 9 p.m.  But we cooked up some mackerel and a chunk of the large needle fish.  Both of them tasted amazing and I, the non-eater of anything fish, loved it.  But I really wanted you to see these pictures.  The needle fish bones, when cooked turned blue!  So easy to pick out the bones.

We had a blast and can hardly wait until the next time.  Hopefully we can land a dorado, wahoo or tuna!

Daytripping

It was a crazy week for us.  Along with school and studies, we went to a local Sunday brunch with friends, figured out how to maneuver the medical field (sort of), enjoyed a concert, visited another beach, went to a roof raising party and attended a birthday bash.  All within 7 days.  Whew!

We started the week with Sunday Brunch.  Our neighbors, Chuck & Jeannie and Dwayne, walked with us about a mile to San Francisco Plaza for the once a month German Sunday Brunch at Zum Enslander.  The chef is from Germany and is quite the cook.  All was delicious and plentiful!  It was good times with good food and good people.

On Tuesday I went to a doctor’s office in town after school.  Appointments are not taken so it’s first come, first served.   The lobby was small but clean.  Check in was similar to offices in the USA in that you talked to the receptionist first.  She asked for my ID and phone number.  Then I took a seat and waited.  It wasn’t busy so within a few minutes she took my weight and blood pressure while I sat in the waiting room chair.

The doctor’s office door was right off the lobby so as soon as the patient before me came out, I could look straight into the office.  The doctor then called my name and waved me in.  I sat and, once she realized I spoke very little Spanish, conversed with me in excellent English.  The medication that I need required blood testing, so she wrote me an order for a blood draw at a clinic in town and asked me to return on Thursday.  My visit was $20.  Total.  No copay, no insurance, just $20 cash.

Wednesday morning was my trip to the laboratory for the blood draw.  The lab was a nice clean clinic.  The tech, though perhaps a bit inexperienced, was easy to understand and work with. She then told me that I could pick up the paperwork the following day at 3.  This was $45, again TOTAL.  No copay, no insurance, just cash.

So on Thursday, I picked up my paperwork and headed over to the doctor.  It was just after 3 and the office was closed.  The hours were posted as being 8-6.  Hmmm….we spoke with an American friend that we saw and he smiled.  Apparently, Panamanian lunches can run for a few hours.  So we headed back to the office and, maybe a bit surprisingly, it was open.  When I approached the receptionist, she recognized me and informed me that the doctor was out of the office until Tuesday.  WHAT???  I just can’t figure out why she said to come back on Thursday if she wasn’t going to be there.  Oh well, I guess that’s a little of the mañana, mañana I’ve been hearing about.

As an update, I ended up finding another doctor since my first doctor still wasn’t back in town the following week.  My second doctor took an appointment and I was able to see her the next day and get a prescription that I needed.  Her office visit was twice as much:  $40.  Once again, no copay, no insurance, just straight up cash.

At the pharmacy I handed over my prescription, got 7 weeks of medication and was handed back the prescription since it was an ongoing medication.  Never gave my name or anything.  I guess they don’t track that stuff here.  Back home, a similar medication was over $300 for 30 days.  I got the whole 7 weeks for $55.  No copay, no insurance, just cash (there seems to be a pattern here.)  Now, back to the original story stream…

Since we didn’t have time to worry about it, we ran (well, actually, drove the rental car) home and grabbed a quick dinner before heading to a local church in town to attend a concert, Concierto Viento Madera.  It was a 5-piece woodwinds group. We figured we’d probably enjoy it, but we were totally blown away!  These guys were very good and way better than we expected!  Here’s a very short excerpt taken from my iPhone:

On Friday we decided to head out to the beach since we had the rental car.  We drove out about 2 hours to Las Lajas.  The beach was quiet as no one was there but us.  It was difficult to figure out how to get to the beach because much of the area seemed to be private.  We passed a resort that had a $10 (!) per person day pass to use their facilities.  Not what we wanted to pay just to look out at the beach.  So on we drove.

Further down the road, we met a couple, Peter and Astrid.  They own a dive shop there in Las Lajas.  They explained that the beaches are all public and we could pretty much park anywhere.  So we found what seemed to be a suitable spot and headed down to the beach.  It was a black sand beach as it’s all volcanic.  Not the prettiest beach I’ve ever seen, but the crabs were cute and it was a nice day for a drive.

On Saturday we had 2 events to attend.  The first was a traditional Panamanian roof raising.  During construction, when the roof is completed, a party is thrown with friends, family and workers joining together to celebrate this big step.  

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This is a 2 story condo with 2 units, side by side. Sorry the pic is so small. I got it from the real estate website at insidepanamarealestate.com

Construction here is not wood and stucco.  I guess the constant moisture creates ideal circumstances for big time mold and deterioration issues.  So the basic building block is concrete.  

Our friend, Carolina, gave us a tour of the building and I got to see for the first time the unfinished insides of a concrete structure.  Food and drink was served and it was nice to chat with several of our real estate friends.  Lunch was BBQ marinated chicken, Panamanian chorizo (good, but not like what we’re used to in California–not too spicy, almost like a kielbasa), salad and chips and salsa.

Afterward the roof raising we went into town.  Our friend, Mike at Mike’s Global Grill, was celebrating his 43rd birthday.  So beers at the bar were 43c and a DJ played party music.  We saw many people we knew and had a great time hanging out and socializing.  What a fun and relaxing way to end a busy week!

Birdwatching

About a year before we got here, I signed up for a Boquete email newsletter.  It’s primarily used by expats and anyone can post about events and such to let the community know what was upcoming.  It’s a nice way to find out what’s going on in the Boquete expat world.

One such notice was from the Boquete Birders Group for a birdwatching hike open to anyone, newcomers and experienced alike.  Boquete is known for its birds and it was going to be an easy going walk around the side roads in town.  I think birds are cool and I can always use practice taking pictures.  So Guy & I decided to go.

There was a group of about 15 people, most armed with binoculars or a camera or both.  Some were very experienced birders.  A few, like us, were first timers out to see what this was all about.  There were even a couple of people who were not too interested in birds, but came along to hang out with their spouses, chat with others and get in a really nice walk.

I was really surprised by the fact that we were never more than 2 streets away from the main drag.  Just slowing down and looking around can often reveal just how much there is hiding in plain sight.

I brought my trusty camera and took tons of photos.  There are almost 1000 species of birds in Panama.  No worries, I didn’t include that many pics.  But we saw lots of birds, which, I found out, are difficult to photograph.  The little ones especially are so full of energy that even sitting still on a wire, they seem to be constantly moving.  Most of my shots came out blurry.  Of course, my being a beginning amateur photographer is probably the biggest part of the problem.

I included the following bird pics, even the ones with imperfections, to show some of the variety and color that we got to see.

I am still constantly amazed by the beauty that we are surrounded by here.  I love that just by relaxing my pace, letting go of any stressful thoughts and looking around instead of just down, the world begins to open up and reveal itself.  These pictures show much of the flora that we saw on our walk.

There is so much to observe around the town when we take the time to see it.  I had a lot of fun with my camera :).

It was a beautiful day for a walk.  We got to meet nice people, see so much and get in some exercise to boot.  Fun times!

An Expression of Gratitude

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I have always loved Thanksgiving Day.  Turkey, pie and everything in between.  Today is the first time that I haven’t been with my family for Thanksgiving ever in my life.  Ever.  So I decided that I would post today about having Thanks.  Thanks (according to several online dictionaries) is “an expression of gratitude.”

So today’s post is my expression of gratitude.

I am thankful for my Dad and Mom.  Who I am was formed from parts of who they are as well as how they trained me.  They raised my brothers, sister and myself to be strong and good people.  And we all still love each other.  I think that says a lot.

I am so grateful for my children.  I miss Micah, Bree, Jacob, Caroline and Mikayla and Jayce every day.  They are always close in thought but almost 4,000 miles away.  But Micah and Jacob have grown up to be amazing men and chosen incredible women.  I miss them but I trust them to live well and be happy on their own.

I am grateful for this beautiful earth.  As I walk into Boquete or travel down to the beach, I am constantly in awe of the beautiful countryside I see.  I have taken hundreds of pictures of clouds and sunsets just outside of our kitchen window.  God’s creative intelligence is so much more than I’ll ever understand but I sure appreciate the results.

I am grateful for my friends.  I have some close friends that no matter where I am, I know that I can call or text or write and they are there for me.  We have met many new friends here in Panama, several of whom are our neighbors.  Today we met a couple of our neighbors at Mike’s for an American style turkey dinner with all the fixings and pie.  Then we shared a taxi home and gave hugs all around before heading to our separate homes.  I think we all felt a little less sad so far from our families by creating a bit of family here.

And, most of all, I am so thankful for my husband and best friend, Guy.  Without his love I wouldn’t be who I am today.

Be blessed with a wonderful day with your families and friends!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING DAY!

Celebrating Independence Panamanian Style

For Panama, November is the start of the holiday season.  They don’t have Thanksgiving as we do in the States.  But they spend pretty much the whole month celebrating Panama’s becoming a country.

Here’s a super brief, and hopefully accurate, history of the holidays.  For the sake of flow, I’m listing the dates historically.

10 & 28 November:  Back in the 1800s, most if not all of current day Central America belonged to Spain.  Within Panama, there was much unrest and plans were in the works within governing groups in Panama City to declare independence from Spain.  On 10 November there came the First Call for Independence from Spain from the province of Los Santos (they must have been tired of waiting for Panama City.)  This prompted a speeding up of the whole process and on 28 November 1821, Independence from Spain was declared by the colony now known as Panama.

3 & 4 November:  After Independence from Spain, Panama chose to join a southern alliance and so, along with Venezuela, Colombia & Ecuador, became known as Gran Colombia.  It seems that though connected, Panama has always considered herself an independent country.  So, with support from the US, on 3 November 1903, Panama declared itself separated from Colombia.  On the next day the Panamanian flag was flown for the first time and has become known as Flag Day.

5 November:  This day is celebrated as Colón Day memorializing the day that Panamanian officials apparently bribed Colombian forces based in Colón not to fight against the separation.  I don’t know if this was the reason, but the whole process was a rather peaceful movement that resulted in the birth of the nation of Panama.

With so much to commemorate, there are parades and celebrations throughout the country.  We’d heard about the schools and their drum corps that march in the parades.  We’d also been hearing the bands practicing up above our apartment, sometimes till the wee hours of the morning.  So on Monday, 4 November, we went into town around 10 a.m. to see what we could see.  There were tons of people everywhere, mostly around the square in the middle of town.  As it was sunny, we found a spot next to a tree with good viewing and shade.  The parade didn’t begin until about 11 a.m. and went until about 2:30 p.m.  The bands all played the same rhythms and the marching dance groups all did the same steps.  But since we’d never seen any of it and there were lots of cute kids, it was fun.  Even though it was sunny when we arrived, it ended up being overcast and drizzly most of the time.

The parade started with the VIPs, a Rotary Club group (I think) and the Fire Department.

Each of the schools had marching groups, the boys playing the drums and girls playing the xylophones.  Each school had different uniforms, mostly in red, white and/or blue, Panama’s flag colors.

There were also baton groups made up of girls.

There were a few groups who performed.  A couple groups did military style marching, while one group from a gymnastics school did stunts.  There was one group that really didn’t perform, but they had Carnival-type outfits.  By the time the various groups reached where we were standing, it was raining.  But they continued even kneeling on the wet ground.  They were obviously proud of their group and their hard work.

There were many examples of traditional dress.  Traditional Panamanian outfits are quite beautiful with dresses with full skirts and colorful makeup and hair pieces.

At one point we thought that the parade was finished as one of the bands was being followed by a big truck.  As it got close, we realized it was the one and only “float” in the parade.  Not sure what was being depicted, but the kids were cute.

There were many different people in attendance at the parade.  Panamanians, Ngöbe-Buglé Indians (Boquete is located near the Ngöbe-Buglé Comarca, basically an administrative region for indigenous Indian groups) and gringoes.

The end of the parade was followed by all the cars parked further up the street heading out of Boquete.

After the parade was over, we decided to wait for the traffic to die down before grabbing a taxi home.  So we walked to Mike’s Global Grill to grab lunch and wait out the crowds.  By the time that we walked out to get our ride home, it was pouring.  Such is the weather here in Boquete :).

All in all, a great day to watch as Panama celebrated its independence!

¡Viva Panamá!

The Simple Life

When traveling with all you own in 2 suitcases, life necessarily becomes very, very simple.  Living simply is allowing us to meet our goals, especially Getting Out Of Debt and Decluttering Our Lives.

We rent a studio apartment.  It is rather large at approximately 600 square feet.  There is no oven or regular refrigerator.  Just a portable 2 burner electric stove top, a small microwave and a tiny fridge.  There is a small bathroom, but the shower is roomy.  The main living area has room for a queen bed, an entertainment center with a flat screen tv, a couch and a small table with seating for 4.  Along with the apartment, access to laundry facilities & wifi and water, electricity & trash is included.  Our rent is $500 a month.

We have no vehicle so we have no fuel or insurance expenses.  We can rent a car for $30 a day when we feel the need.  The taxi ride to town is about 5 minutes and costs us 60c each.  We’ve never had to wait more than 2-3 minutes for one to roll by.

Our needs are few BUT…simple for us just does not mean that we are skimping and missing out.  There’s a farmer’s/flea market we go to on Tuesdays. We buy fresh Caribbean lobster for $10 per pound, shelled or in-shell.  Fresh tuna costs us $5 per pound.  Today we bought a week’s worth of veggies for $7.60.  And there are awesome restaurants we can eat and drink at on the cheap!

Plus, the only thing we have to “work” at are our Spanish lessons, which is also the only thing that we have to set an alarm for.  If we choose not to ride the taxi, the walk is about 35 minutes at an easy pace to and from town.

Another aspect of living simply is, of course, owning and having fewer things.  “Things” many times provide convenience.  One example is that we have been applying for international insurance.  We needed to download and print documents that needed to be faxed or scanned and emailed once completed.  That ended up taking 2 trips into town as we don’t have a printer/fax/scan machine.  This lack of convenience has been interesting to get used to because it wasn’t that long ago that printers weren’t common household items.  It’s definitely easier getting used to having electronic convenience than figuring out how to deal with not having it.  But it was still relatively easy and, ultimately, no big deal.

Although our apartment meets our needs and is quite nice and clean, I do miss having an outdoor area.  We don’t have a porch or balcony currently.  And though we are experiencing less rain as we head into the dry season, I would love to sit in a covered outdoor area with Guy & a glass of wine, enjoying the lightning displays and sounds of the rain and thunder.  But we can still have our window wide open and hear and see the weather.

It’s not that some day we won’t own a home again and have all the stuff again.  But having less means less work on maintaining the stuff and more time for other things.  I feel freer. Having less clutter around me seems to equate to having less clutter in my head.  I like that feeling.  We have fewer bills so it’s less time-consuming dealing with our finances.  It takes so much less time to clean.  I find that with more time, I can enjoy learning Spanish, working on hobbies (photography and knitting), seeing the sights and doing things that are fun and more interesting to me.

One of my favorite fun things is to drive around just following roads and checking out the area.  Within minutes of anywhere, you can be out in the jungle.  It’s amazingly beautiful everywhere.

Recently we took a trip to one of the many beaches in Panama.  It was about an hour and a half drive, with an additional half an hour trying to figure out how to traverse the city of David.  Difficult with no street signs.  Finally we made it to La Barqueta, an area that is pretty much one hotel and some condo properties.  There’s not a town.  But there are a couple of restaurants, so we stopped and looked through the hotel and ate lunch at Benny’s.  Unfortunately I forgot the camera so only got a couple cell phone pics.  We were told that the beach is well visited, but the road to get there made us feel like we must have missed a turn somewhere.  It’s seems remote.  And then on the way home, we got to see a caiman.  A couple of guys were parked on the side of the road with this critter tied up.  We stopped and got a picture of it.  They caught in the creek next to the road.  Yikes!!!

As we become accustomed to and embrace this more simple lifestyle, I find that I’m much more relaxed.  Living a simpler life has been a growing and amazing experience.  And I feel richer every day for it :).

Finding Shangri-La and Lettuce

The volcano Barú as we look out of our apartment window.

Volcán Barú out of our apartment window.

Even though we live in a studio apartment and our one window overlooks a rock yard, we have an amazing view of Volcán Barú.  It’s a beautiful and (supposedly and hopefully!) dormant volcano.  It reaches 11,398′ at its summit.  Due to the narrowness of Panama, you can see both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea from its heights.  We hope to hike up to the peak during the dry season.

Because of the volcanic soil, the areas around the volcano are extremely fertile.  One of the areas on the west side, Cerro Punta, reportedly grows 90% of the region’s produce.  The region, Chiriquí Province, yields a great portion of all of Panama’s produce.  As we drove through this town and the surrounding areas, it was easy to believe.  The hills were covered with various crops and looked like a patchwork quilt.

I think that one of the most amazing things about this place was how I felt as we drove through the valley.  The day was cloudy and the rain and mist in the hills created an otherworldly sense of being in a different time, place or even dimension.  It was surreal.  I felt such an incredible quiet and peace.  

Lining the road were various stands selling produce.  It reminded me of the old Blood Alley, near San Jose, CA, before Highway 101 went through.  Shop after shop full of the freshest fruit and veggies.  And the prices are pretty amazing.  We were able to bring home several meals worth of food for only $6.50.  And that included several snack-sized bags of chicharrones, Liz ;)!  The oval, red things are tamarillos or tree tomatoes.  Not my favorite but big here and apparently in New Zealand as well.  I looked for recipes online and most of them were posted by Kiwis.

Even with the incredible soil, I think that the constant moisture during the rainy season and the constant sun during the dry season may cause problems for farmers trying to grow crops year round.  Greenhouses are used to farm in the area as well.

One farmer using greenhouses is Rodrigo.  He’s up by the castle, a local landmark, about 10 minutes outside of Boquete.  As addresses aren’t really used in many parts of Panama, we got directions to his place from our friend, Melissa, who drew us a map.  The directions were basically to go up the main street, go to the right by the gymnasium, turn right again by the bus stop between the 2 beautiful gardens and follow the road around past the castle and by the big chess set.  Seriously.  What’s even funnier is that, believe it or not, we found the place exactly as she had described it :)!

Rodrigo is the coolest guy. He’s a 1961 Texas A&M alumni (go Aggies!)  Through the use of hydroponics he is able to farm lettuce year round, use a minimum of land and grow some of the most amazing and beautiful lettuce I have ever seen.  He spent about 45 minutes with us talking about his system & hydroponics, choosing crop types and his philosophy on health and life.  He’s in his early 70s and so has quite a few years of life experience behind him and is super interesting to converse with.  Plus he has toucans!  He lives in one end of the greenhouse, very simply and yet very contentedly.