No Luz, No Electricidad

Losing power is not a rare thing in Chiriqui but it’s usually for only for an hour or two at most. Usually losing power is no big deal even in a restaurant.  Iphones have flashlights and businesses have candles so life goes on in the dark.   Our stove is gas, we have lots of flashlights and candles and we have surge protectors to save our more expensive electronic goods from blowing out with the surges.
lights out

Last week our power left us at about 6 PM.  We already had plans to pick up a pizza so dinner was no problem.  As the sun set, I lit candles.  We read with our Kindles so everything was good.  Until we realized that one Kindle was almost dead, our cell phones were on life support and the laptops couldn’t get wifi.  Those were the minor inconveniences.  A very big problem for us is that our water system uses an electric pump to distribute water into our showers, toilets and every other faucet.  We were very lucky that we had already showered after a sweaty day at the theater.  We used bottled water to brush our teeth.  We are also very lucky to have a spigot in the back yard that is not connected to the pump so we used a very large pot of that water to flush.

Then we noticed that the streets around us were lit while ours was black.  We hoped that our small small problem only involving a few houses didn’t put us at the end of a long, long list of power failures.

This week had been very windy.  There was a storm in the Caribbean that dumped a lot of rain along the Gulf coast.  We are getting rain (yay, it’s dry season so I love every drop) but also, really strong winds.  It’s like feeder bands before a hurricane arrives.  Rain and powerful wind and then beautiful weather to be interrupted by more wind and rain.  The gusts blew over some very big trees onto power lines, affecting hundreds who are living in the dark.  The wind just howls at night.

In the morning the power was still off so David did some investigating.  One of our neighbors had already called Union Fenosa to let them know.  David then went to where we pay our electric and they explained that it was already on the list and we would have power back in 2 hours.  I don’t know if it was actually 2 hours since we weren’t home, but it was on when we returned.

When we first moved to Panama, there was probably 30 gallons of water stored inside the house in various types of containers.  We lived there well over a year and never needed them.  Although we also got our water using a pump, the electricity had never been off very long to worry about it.

All is well now.  The winds continue but with less moisture.  But the toilets flush on demand, and that’s always a good thing.

 

 

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Snakes, Why Did it Have to be Snakes?

Another week and another snake.  This time I was just walking in the side yard and about a 15 inch red-black-yellow snake slithered away.  Now I’m trying to remember the “black touches yellow” is a friendly fellow or is it “”yellow touches red and you are dead”.  This isn’t the time to be a bad poet.

I am not afraid of snakes.  Because of that lack of fear, I would have been very careless with last week’s discovery of a pit viper on the other side of the lawn.  Luckily, Carlos the gardener took care of that problem.  This time it was just David and I.  David hates snakes.  He even hates little grass snakes.  So his best guess was that this snake was a Coral Snake and he severed its head.  After our scary incident last week, we weren’t taking any chances.  This wasn’t because of us since coral snake attacks are really rare.  But we have pets that would think this thing was their latest toy.

If this wasn’t a Coral Snake, I wanted to make sure we never killed another one in haste so the research began.

They sure are similar.  So this is the one we executed this morning.  What do you think?

snakeLooking at our dead snake and the two pictures above, I think David made the right call.  It may be time for snake repellent.

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Making a House Our Home

We’ve owned our home now for 2 1/2 weeks.  We got our container a week ago.  Mucho trabajo for the last 19 days.  Much progress too.

Paint makes an immediate difference.  Most of the living areas were painted a light pink.  We chose to go in a much different direction.

Foyer before

Foyer before

Foyer After

Foyer After

The foyer was easy and we are really happy with the results. Then we moved to our bedroom. We painted the walls and the ceiling. There are no pictures yet since I can’t put on our new duvet cover due to our cat.
Side note: Henry, the cat, spent the first several days here in the closet. Then he moved to the bathroom cabinet. Finally he came out and disappeared. When we saw him again, he was really dirty. Then he disappeared the next day, reappearing even dirtier. We knew he was going into the fireplace so we tried to block it. The third day he went around our makeshift blockade. We found the he was going high into the rafters of the chimney. He returned the next day completely filthy. So no new linens until he is cleaner.  And the chimney?  An effective blockade has been installed until a fireplace grill is purchased.

Henry covered in soot.

Henry covered in soot.

chimney

 

 

 

 

 

Patio beforeThe patio is being transformed. Since outdoor living is most important in Boquete, the patio was among our priority tasks.  The ceiling was made with drywall.  That doesn’t work well with this high humidity but is more common here than one would think.  When we moved in, there was a large hole in the ceiling where an entire section of drywall had fallen out.  It was painted a very dark color that wasn’t appealing to us.

patio in progressWe went with a lighter color and installed a new ceiling.  New fans and a bar light and it is coming together.  We still need to add shelves for liquor and glasses and a cabinet for the sink, icemaker and a refrigerator.

We also ordered enough dinner seating for 12.  We have 5 barstools and other seating left by the former homeowner.  Our first party is currently being planned,

Tomorrow we begin priming the rooms that will become our travel room and our office.  Once those are ready for furniture, we can move stuff out of the guest room and begin decorating that.

I have spent many hours on the overgrown lawn and hired gardeners for several days.   Still much more to do.  It looks much better and I’ve planted about 12 new trees.

What have we learned so far? 1-10:  Nothing is more valuable than a skilled handyman.  11.  Speaking Spanish imperative.  12.  Gardeners don’t work in the rain (even though it’s rainy season) or don’t work at all if something else comes up on their assigned day.  13.  There are weeds that grow here that defy all attempts to remove.  14.  Glidden is better than Sherwin Williams in Panama.  15.  Going to David several times a week is our new normal.  16. Moving furniture to Panama is a waste of time and money.  17.  The more you are able to do for yourself, the happier you will be.

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Homeowners at Last

This morning we signed the paper (singular) that makes us homeowners.  It took almost 4 months for this to happen.  We learned you must have a lot of patience to complete the process without losing your mind.  In fact, you must have a lot of patience for most things or you will go crazy here.  Someone told us long ago that the more you can do yourself, the easier your life will be.  Absolutely the truth.

IMG_0291

Getting painted ASAP

I signed (since I am the president of the Casa Calibri corporation that owns the house) one piece of paper in front of a notary in David.  I told our attorney how buyers and sellers sign maybe fifty papers to complete the same process in the States.  I was just as shocked only having to sign just a single piece of paper.

We met our attorney (who is the BEST) at the notary office at 9 AM and were on our way out by 9:15 AM.  After waiting so long, it was very anticlimactic.  With our early start in David, we made our first stop – Sherwin Williams.  I wrote before that Panama is not big on paint chips and I am a huge fan of them.  While in the States a few weeks ago, I got a full collection of both Sherwin Williams and Behr’s paint chips.  We bought 5 gallons of wall paint and 1 gallon of waterproofing.

Houses in Panama, and most of Central America, are not built with a moisture barrier under the foundation.  Because of the amount of rain that we get, after a few years water seeps up into the cement block walls.  We will paint the bottom 12-15 inches with the water-block and then put the color over it.  Problem solved.

At the house, we met the electrician, Luis, and the guy who will weld our wrought iron bars, Carlos, and, Amilcar who will do some basic handiwork.  Tomorrow the gardener comes again and the pest control guy exterminates inside and out.  It took a long time to close but we are moving quickly to get things together.

I painted the foyer this afternoon.  Not a big room but one room closer to being done before our container arrives.  Tomorrow I will paint the hallway and then our bedroom.  Once the electrician tears up the living room wall and it gets repaired, it will get paint too.  Then the kitchen.  With 3 more bedrooms and 3 bathrooms, we will be painting for a while.  But I have a ton of paint chips to pick colors.

We also got news today that our container is in Panama City awaiting inspection.  Depending how long that takes, we could have our stuff as early as Saturday or as late as Wednesday.  I am hoping for Monday.  But as we have learned so many times in Panama, it will be when it will be.

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First Timer @ Ringside

If we were any closer, we would have gotten drenched with sweat.  yuck!

If we were any closer, we would have gotten drenched with sweat. yuck!

Last night we went to the fights.  That’s one activity I never thought I’d be a part of.  But friends got tickets and I decided it would be interesting.  We had a table for 8 near the ring.  There were  6 different fights.  These guys were young so they only had 6 to 8 rounds.  The headliner was ‘Chicho’ Concepcion vs ‘El Caciqu’ Pendroza.

The only boxing I can remember seeing is Cassius Clay/Mohammad Ali.  We didn’t see anything remotely like that last night.  There was no ‘float like a butterfly’ or ‘rope a dope’.  It was 12 men swinging at air until they were too exhausted to stand.  Only 2 bouts were called before the end.  I found it difficult to determine the “winners” of most bouts.  It became Last Man Standing rather than great fighting.

"the Invisible" (in red) won (against fringy yellow shorts) despite his crazy intro mask that made him look like a TB patient.

“the Invisible” (in red) won (against fringy yellow shorts) despite his crazy intro mask that made him look like a TB patient.

All the fighters had a moniker.  “The Invisible”, “the Chief”, “the Rock” were some.   It takes some pretty big cajones to name yourself “the Rock”.  He “won” the fight, but only because he remained upright while his opponent, Thunder, could barely stand.  Chicho, slang for amphetamine user, was the headliner but was out in 3 rounds. Several of the guys had fringe on their shorts that looked like their mom was getting them ready for a 1920s party instead of a fight.  The biggest cheers went to the local Chiriquí fighters.  In the end, the Cuban, “El Cacique/the Chief”, won the main fight.

They also had some ring girls (I am sure they have an official name) that promoted products.  The Toyo Tire girls were definitely crowd favorites, although the Abuelo girl certainly held her own.

Doors opened at 6 but it was about 8:30 by the time the first fight began.  It was a fun night.  It’s not something I would do every week, or even every month, but entertaining.  If I go again, I hope it would have more “sting like a bee” instead of “let me hold on to you so I don’t fall down”.

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If it’s Tuesday, it must be Curacao

We no sooner got our laundry done after our trip to India and we were off again.  This time we joined several other couples from the Boquete area and went on a cruise to Cartegena, Bonaire, Curacao and Aruba.  David and I had wanted to visit each of these places so this was the perfect opportunity.  Going with people we know made it all the better.

We drove to Panama City rather than fly ($90 each way with pensionado) or taking the bus (no explanation needed about a 7 hour bus ride).  We drove with another couple and driving allbananasowed us to stop more frequently.  You see some unusual sites on the Pan American Highway,  This truck had hundreds of pounds of bananas placed perfectly so they didn’t drop.  We stayed at the Hotel Milan ($38 with pensionado paying cash) which is a clean hotel in a great location.  The next morning, we drove to Colon.

 

This cruise was quite a deal.  Royal Caribbean will be leaving Panama in 2 weeks because they are not getting enough passengers to make the trip profitable.  That is really bad for Colon who spent a lot of money to dock their ships.  Many people are employed as dock workers, taxi drivers, etc.  This decision will definitely hurt Colon. But it meant greatly reduced prices for us.

We left on Saturday and arrived in Cartagena on Sunday morning.  There were excursions, taxis and busses of all types waiting at the port to take people to town.  We were told that we could walk to town, so off we went.  It was hot.  And we walked.  It was really hot.  And we walked some more.  One of our group stopped for water and asked how much farther.  ONE more hour.  Someone lied to us.  We grabbed a public bus and got there in about 10 minutes.

Major problem:  Even though Royal Caribbean has been docking in Cartagena every Sunday since last November, nothing in Cartagena was open.  Except for aggressive taxi drivers and street salesmen, the doors were locked. flamingo The most exciting part of the stop was the animal refuge at the pier.  It seems that either Royal Caribbean would change their schedule to hit the town on a weekday OR the town would open for the weekly infusion of revenue.  So we had an ice cream (and the worst service ever) and went back to the ship.  We also found that taxis wanted $10 for each person to take you to town but we paid only $5 for four of us in a cab on the return trip.

This stop marked the 6th continent we have visited.  Only Antarctica remains untouched by us.

Monday was an “at sea” day.  This day proved yet again that I am not a cruise person.  I do not gamble, cannot lay in the sun, and barely drink.  That doesn’t leave a lot of entertainment.  Royal Caribbean has a solarium that is a shaded area around an adults only pool.  I read until my Kindle ran out of juice.

Royal Caribbean unexpectedly changed our port stop schedule so Tuesday we were in Curacao.  CuracaoDavid and I carried our scuba gear since we heard that this island has great diving.   The seas were a little rough.  The beach is very rocky.  The combination made getting into and out of the water with 50 lbs of equipment difficult.  The dive itself was ok.  Not a lot of fish and not great visibility.  The reef was very polluted with fishing line and garbage.  What a shame.  But we found that David’s new camera housing is waterproof.

Bonaire is known for beach diving and beautiful reefs.  This was to be the jewel in our diving experience on this vacation.  We dived at two locations.  The first was,Dive Bonaire again, very rocky.  Even with wetsuits, we got pretty banged up getting out of the water.  The second dive was from a real beach.  The dive was beautiful.  We saw so many tropical fish and beautiful corals.  The reef was pristine.  We will probably fly to Bonaire for a week or so of diving.

iguanaOur last stop was Aruba.  These islands are so incredibly clean and colorful.  We didn’t dive as this was a short stop and reefs are only reached by boat.  Aruba has beautiful beaches but not much else.  I don’t understand why this island is so popular.  We were back on the ship for lunch.

 

Friday was another “at sea” day.  This reminded us of why we fly.  When it’s time to go home, I want to get home.  We again stayed in the solarium much of the day.

Docking was very early on Saturday so we were in the car heading back to Boquete by 8 AM.  Home by 5 PM.

In less than 2 weeks, we are going to Peru.  Have I mentioned today how much I love being retired?

 

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Muñecos in Panama

P1000643We drove across Panama twice in the last few days. Since it is the week between Christmas and New Years, we saw an unusual (and really cool) sight. Around the Santiago area, there were life-sized dolls, Muñecos, dressed as sports figures, action heroes and other personalities all along the Pan American Highway. They are really well done. They are made from paper mache, painted, decorated with clothing, hair and accessories. They take weeks and weeks to complete one.

P1000642

P1000644

In the past, there have been muñecos of television personalities, George Bush, Osama bin Laden, sports stars and local militants.

P1000645

One of the customs in this area is to make these Muñecos to burn during the New Years celebration. The idea is to burn off the old year. The figures represent team members, political enemies, and others. They are filled with firework. It’s believed that by burning them, the fire and explosions will ward of bad spirits and evil forces. What is surprising is that these dolls are all happy, not looking at all like enemies.

We live about 3 hours from the Santiago area but I think we may burn one next year.

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Los Desfiles en Novembre

November is holiday month in Panama. There are even more holidays in Boquete. Since every holiday means a day off – and sometimes includes the day before and the day after – not much gets done in November.

Every school is practicing for the desfiles (parades). This is really just drum practice. For the last several weeks drum practice has started before 9 AM and goes almost all day. For several weeks before the 9 AM practice, it began about noon and lasted until 6-7 PM. Now they also practice marching in the streets. Last week we saw them practicing after 8 PM. It is a big deal for these kids and their families.

At the school where I used to teach, our drum line was phenomenal. They practiced several hours after school. I often think how I would love to bring a few of them here to teach a few kids here some of the flashy things they can do. I really enjoyed watching them. I think the drummers here may be more traditional and focused on that rather than flash.

Women and girls will dress in traditional polleras. The dresses are works of art that take many months to make. The headdress is made of pearls and made in several pieces that are connected when worn. Many of the fabric markets cater to the making of polleras. pollera_panama

Today I was told that the best thing to do during all these ‘celebrations’ is to stay away. There is no way this new-comer is staying away from the excitement and pageantry. But, we will walk to town and leave the driving to people coming from other areas. I hope that I don’t become jaded and want to avoid these local celebrations after a few years.

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Trip to the Dentist

In Florida, our health plan allowed 4 trips a year to the dentist. We chose to continue with the same maintenance program here. Last Friday, we walked into Dra. Luz’s office to get appointments for cleanings. Surprise, surprise – no 3 month wait. Our appointments were this morning.

Dra. Luz is located in town. We arrived on time and she met us at the front desk. We filled out one form and spent about 30 minutes each in her exam room. dentist office Dra. Luz has two exam rooms but we only saw one. Everything was immaculate and our procedure was exactly what we would have received at my old dentist’s office.

She speaks good English though I tried to speak to her in Spanish only. At the proxima cita, we will have x-rays. The cost for the cleaning = $30 each.

In the last week, we have gone to two doctors. What they have in common: 1. the doctor is the caregiver, receptionist, billing clerk and extremely professional. Being accustomed to Florida’s bustling medical facilities with several intake personnel, tons of paperwork, an entire billing department, and waiting for weeks or months for an appointment, this is a wonderful way to be treated!

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Better than US Border Protection

Today we started our first border run to Costa Rica. For the last three years, this has been a half day process – according to everyone who has been doing this for a while. We went with Scott, our neighbor, who has done this numerous times. So frequently, in fact, that he is familiar with the border agent on the Panama side.

Panama Border

Panama Border

The plan was: 1. leave early 2. cross into Costa Rica 3. Cross back into Panama 4. Have 90 more days of driving privileges. Reality was: Not going to happen. So close to the border.

In Panama, visitors are allowed to stay 180 days but a driver’s license is only good for 90 days. Until our pensionado is approved, we have to leave the country. Officially, the law states that you must be out of the country 48-72 hours, depending on who you ask. But Panama has allowed us gringos to go across the border, have lunch and then return. Two weeks ago the government of Panama issued a statement that the law would be followed. The agent at Rio Sereno followed the new procedure.

P1000517The drive to Rio Sereno is beautiful. It takes about two hours to get there through mountains, farmland, coffee fincas and waterfalls. It is also much cooler than using the main border control at Paso Canoa. We got to the border but the agent said he would not allow us back into Panama that quickly. It is an easy border to use as not many people go there. But it also means that they don’t have hotels and restaurants where you would want to spend 48 hours.

The town of Rio Sereno is a typical border town but much smaller. They have a brand new Duty Free store so our visit wasn’t a total waste of time. P1000522 Yes, that does say $12.99 for Grey Goose. P1000523

P1000521

We drove back, stopped for lunch and were home by 1. We still have about 2 weeks to drive so we will go again. This time we have a plan. We will go to Paso Canoa and plan to stay in Costa Rica a few days. Playa Zancudo is known for its beautiful beaches and very close to the border. This is low season so there are plenty of rooms. It’s near two national parks filled with monkeys.

We have so many things on our calendar and finding 2 nights was a problem. We must cancel our trivia night, reschedule our hot stone massages, and plan dinner for another night. Life his tough, but we will somehow struggle through and spend three days at the beach.

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